13 July 2007


13 July 2007
Spokesperson's Noon Briefing
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York


The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Marie Okabe, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon.

**Secretary-General Returns to Headquarters

The Secretary-General has returned from his two-week trip to Afghanistan and Europe and will speak to you about the trip at his press conference on Monday at 10:30 a.m. here in Room 226.

And this morning at UN Headquarters, he presided over an oath ceremony for the High Representative for Disarmament, Sergio de Queiroz Duarte.  Also starting his first day on the job on the 38th floor today is Nicholas Haysom, the Director for Political, [Peacekeeping and Humanitarian Affairs in the Executive Office of the Secretary-General].

Regarding the Secretary-General’s senior advisors and staff on the 38th floor, which you have been requesting for some time, I can now give you the list at the director (D-2) level and above.  I will read out this list, most of whom you already know:

-- Asha-Rose Migiro of Tanzania, Deputy Secretary-General;

-- Vijay Nambiar of India, Chef de Cabinet;

-- Kim Won Soo of the Republic of Korea, Deputy Chef de Cabinet and Special Adviser;

-- Robert Orr of the US, Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Strategic Planning;

-- Nicholas Haysom of South Africa, Director for Political, Peacekeeping and Humanitarian Affairs;

-- Michael Meyer of the US as Director of Communications and Speechwriting;

-- Alice Hecht of Belgium, Chief of Protocol; and of course,

-- The Spokesperson, Michèle Montas, from Haiti.

There are also a few offices that are administered by the Executive Office of the Secretary-General.  The position of some of these offices within the Secretariat structure will change as a result of the administration of justice reforms and other policy changes, pending Member States’ decisions.

The Ombudsman’s Office, led by Patricia Durrant of Jamaica at the ASG (Assistant Secretary-General) level – as you know, Ms. Durrant will soon embark on a well-deserved retirement and we’ll keep you apprised on the recruitment process of her successor.  In fact, today was her last day on the job.

The Ethics Office is led by Robert Benson of Canada.  The Global Compact Office, which is an extra-budgetary programme, is led by Georg Kell of Germany.  And now that the Global Compact is well underway, the Secretary-General is examining options for better institutional linkages with the UN System as a whole.  And finally, the Peacebuilding Support Office, temporarily administered by Executive Office during the start-up phase, is led by Carolyn McAskie of Canada.

You can pick up that list upstairs in the Spokesperson’s Office.

** Secretary-General Statements on Gaza, Quartet Meeting in Lisbon

And we have two statements attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.  The first is on Gaza and the second is on the Quartet meeting.

“The Secretary-General is increasingly concerned about the situation in the Gaza Strip and its impact on the economic life.  He notes in particular the new figures released by the World Bank, which show that in the last month alone 3,190 businesses have closed down, forcing over 65,000 people into unemployment.  If what is left of Gaza’s economy is allowed to collapse, poverty levels, already affecting an estimated two thirds of households, will rise further and the people of Gaza will become nearly totally aid dependent.

“The Secretary-General calls for every effort to be made to open all crossings into Gaza for the passage of humanitarian supplies and workers, as well as commercial goods.  In particular, he calls for the Karni Crossing to be opened immediately for the passage of commercial imports and exports.  In addition, the Secretary-General calls for the opening of the Rafah Crossing to allow into Gaza more than four thousand Palestinians stranded in Egypt.  The continued restrictions in Gaza will have a severe humanitarian impact and can only cause further suffering to the people there.”

And as I mentioned the second statement is on the next Quartet meeting.

“On 19 July, the Secretary-General will participate in a Quartet meeting in Lisbon.  The meeting comes at a crucial moment and will be an opportunity to assess the recent events and discuss the way forward to advance the cause of peace in the Middle East.  In particular, the Quartet principals will confer with the Quartet Representative, Tony Blair, on how best to assist the Palestinian Authority in building its institutions and economy, which are vital for the creation of a viable Palestinian state.”

Those statements are available for you upstairs.

**Secretary-General Statement on Somalia

I have for you a third statement, this one on Somalia.

“The Secretary-General wishes the people of Somalia a successful beginning to the National Reconciliation Congress scheduled to start this weekend in Mogadishu.  He commends the determination of the National Governance and Reconciliation Committee and the Somali delegates to proceed with this important event in the face of many obstacles.  He urges continued efforts to ensure the broadest possible participation in the process.

“The Secretary-General condemns the violent incidents and threats in recent days aimed at disrupting the Congress.  He calls on opposition groups inside and outside Somalia to renounce violence and join the Congress process in order to give reconciliation a chance to succeed and to work together in addressing the peace, security and development challenges facing the country.

“The Secretary-General stresses that the National Reconciliation Congress is the beginning of the process of rebuilding consensus in Somali society.  He expresses the commitment of the United Nations to continue supporting all-inclusive efforts at national reconciliation and greater international assistance to help bring peace and stability to Somalia.”  That statement is available for you upstairs.

**Security Council

The Security Council, here as you know, just began consultations on Chad and the Central African Republic a short while ago.  Council members are hearing from Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Marie Guéhenno on the concept of operations for those countries.  Mr. Guéhenno intends to talk to reporters at the stakeout once those consultations are finished.  We will let you know when they are.

Then, as I just mentioned, the Council members will have their monthly luncheon with the Secretary-General.  The Secretary-General, however, does not intend to speak to you following the luncheon today.  Instead, he’ll take your questions at Monday’s press conference.

**Secretary-General Statement on the Democratic Republic of the Congo

I also have a statement regarding the DRC:

“In light of a series of recent allegations of misconduct by elements serving with the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC), the Department of Field Support and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations are immediately dispatching a management audit team to Kinshasa.  The team, which will be led by a senior official, will work with all levels of the UN Mission to obtain a full picture of various recent allegations of serious misconduct against UN personnel serving with MONUC.  They will also evaluate management processes related to the maintenance of good order and discipline in the Mission.  The team will report to Headquarters with recommendations aimed at strengthening mission management on this issue.”

**Secretary-General’s Reports War-affected Children in Chad and DRC

Available today are two periodic reports of the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict.  One concerns Chad, while the other deals with the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

On Chad, the Secretary-General describes how the convergence of the government’s battle with armed opposition groups, ethnic strife in eastern Chad and the Darfur conflict have worsened conditions for children.  He says that weapons are becoming ubiquitous, as is cross-border banditry, leading to an increase in grave abuses of children’s rights.  He called on the belligerent parties to comply with international humanitarian law and ensure the safety of humanitarian workers and assets.

On the DRC, the Secretary-General says that despite recent improvement in the situation of children affected by armed conflict, major challenges remain, especially in the north-eastern provinces.  He is concerned that failures to arrest those who abuse children’s rights, including renegade Army general Laurent Nkunda, will eventually diminish the gains of recent months and projects.  In conclusion to his report, the Secretary-General makes a number of recommendations to reinvigorate action for the protection of war-affected children in the DRC.

**UN Refugee Agency Statement on Displacement in Eastern DRC

The UN Refugee Agency (Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)) is expressing concern about spiralling displacement and atrocities in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo province of North Kivu.  It says heightened tensions and militarization, by both government and militant forces, have resulted in the displacement of more than 160,000 people since the beginning of the year.

The UNHCR and UNICEF are today making a joint distribution of assistance to more than 10,000 IDP’s in the Buganga area.  And UNHCR is urging all armed parties to immediately halt direct attacks on civilians and atrocities, which include burning of villages, widespread pillaging and raping of women.  And there is more on this in UNHCR’s briefing notes from Geneva, which we have upstairs.

** UN Envoy Eliasson Meets with Darfur rebel Groups in Asmara

And on Darfur, the UN Special Envoy for Darfur, Jan Eliasson, is in Asmara today, where he was to meet with Darfur rebel groups and Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki as part of his efforts in moving the peace process forward and finalizing preparations for the weekend meeting on Darfur.

Jan Eliasson and his African Union (AU) counterpart, Salim Ahmed Salim, will be jointly chairing the meeting in Tripoli, Libya, on the 15th and 16th of July.  The purpose of the Tripoli meeting is to take stock of the progress achieved over the last two months, assess the implementation of the Joint AU-UN Roadmap for the Darfur Political Process, and review proposals on the way forward, especially on how to launch the negotiation phase of the Road Map.

Invitations to the meeting were sent to Sudan, Chad, Egypt, Eritrea, the Arab League, the five permanent members of the Security Council and key donors, including Canada, the Netherlands, Norway and the European Union.

** Iraq

And in Iraq, Ashraf Qazi, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, yesterday concluded a three-day visit to the Iraqi Kurdistan Region.  During his visit, Qazi attended the opening session of the three-day conference on “Practical Federalism in Iraq,” where he told the participants that, while the proposals of the Constitutional Review Committee are not yet complete, they represent an important step towards establishing a sound federal system for Iraq.

Qazi also held a number of official meetings, including one with the President of the Kurdistan Region, Massoud Barzani, and discussed a wide range of issues, including the Constitutional Review, human rights and the security situation in the country.  He assured his interlocutors that the UN Mission is looking forward to expanding its activities in the Region of Kurdistan.  And there’s a press release with more information on that.

**UN Nuclear Agency Wraps up Two-day Visit to Iran

A delegation of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), headed by Deputy Director General for Safeguards, Olli Heinonen, yesterday completed a two-day visit to Iran.

During that visit, Iran and the IAEA reached agreement, among other things, on a visit by Agency inspectors to the heavy water research reactor at Arak by the end of this month.

In addition, agreement was reached on the modalities to resolve remaining issues regarding Iran's past plutonium experiments.  A dedicated meeting will take place in Iran for this purpose in early August.  And there’s a press release from the IAEA upstairs with more details.

** Myanmar

And a brief update on the activities of the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser, Ibrahim Gambari, who is in Tokyo, where he met with the Japanese Vice-Foreign Minister Masayoshi Hamada and Deputy Vice-Foreign Minister Chikao Kawai.

He had detailed and open discussions on how best the United Nations and Japan can continue to work together to support Myanmar's efforts in implementing relevant General Assembly resolutions.  As you know, Tokyo was the last stop on his current trip to the region.

** Georgia

For those of you who have been asking, the report by the Joint Fact Finding Group on the rocket firing incident in the Upper Kodori Valley on March 11, 2007, was made public yesterday, and it’s been posted on the website of the UN Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG).

Just two more items.

* Sierra Leone Special Court

The Special Court for Sierra Leone and the United Kingdom yesterday signed a Sentence Enforcement Agreement, the third of its kind for the Court, the previous two having been agreed with Sweden and Austria.  The agreement yesterday was signed by the Acting Registrar of the Court, Herman von Hebel, and Mark Malloch Brown, the new UK Minister for Africa, Asia and UN affairs.

After the signing, Minister Malloch Brown said the agreement would give effect to the British Government’s stated commitment to imprison former Liberian president Charles Taylor if he is convicted by the Special Court.

**Rwanda Tribunal

And on Rwanda, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) said earlier today that Juvenal Rugambarara, the former mayor of Bicumbi, a township near Rwanda’s capital Kigali, has pleaded guilty to a single count of extermination as a crime against humanity.

The guilty plea comes after two years of negotiations with the office of Prosecutor, which eventually led to a deal last month by which the Prosecutor agreed to drop eight of the original nine counts levied against the accused.  There’s more on this in a press release upstairs.

**The Week Ahead at the United Nations

And finally, we have the ‘Week Ahead.” I think I flagged for you some of the developments next week that might be of interest to you – the Secretary-General’s press conference here in room 226 at 10:30 on Monday morning; the Secretary-General’s visit to Washington and his meeting with President Bush at the White House on Tuesday 19 July.  And on Friday, 20 July, we have a press conference here by John Holmes (Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator) on Humanitarian issues.

And that’s all I have for you.  Any questions?

**Questions and Answers

Question: On the Quartet meeting in Lisbon.  Is there going to be any kind of special ceremony for Tony Blair since he’s starting this new position? Are there going to be any special meetings with the Secretary-General and Tony Blair?

Deputy Spokesperson: As you know, we were just able to confirm his participation, so details of his schedule and the programme, I believe, are still being worked out.  But as soon as we know, we’ll let you know.

Question: Marie, (Chairman of African Union Commission, Alpha Oumar) Konare is here today and he is meeting the Secretary-General later this afternoon.  Is there any chance that we can get to talk to him somewhere along the line? I know he briefed the Security Council and some others this morning.

[Shortly after the Briefing, the Deputy Spokesperson announced that according to Mr. Konare’s Special Assistant, Mr. Konare did not have any plans to speak to the press.]

Deputy Spokesperson: We can certainly pass along the request.  Yes, the Security Council, I understand, did have an informal dialogue with him earlier today.  We intend to get you a readout, of course, of his meeting with the Secretary-General.  But we will pass on the request for you to speak to him as well.

[The Spokesperson later gave the following read-out to the correspondent:  The Secretary-General and Alpha Konare had a fruitful exchange on various issues of common interest, including political and peace-keeping aspects relating to Darfur, concern about the situation in eastern DRC and the need for international attention on Somalia.]

Question: A question about the statement that’s been sort of published about North Korea requesting a UN representative to help with regard to some negotiations with the US.  Does the Secretary-General have any question about that? Do you have any response to that?

Deputy Spokesperson: At this point, I think we’ve seen what you have seen, which are press reports.

Question: Can you tell us, on this breakthrough in the talks between Iran and the IAEA…would you be able to let us know about the next process the IAEA is going to take (inaudible) or what is going to happen now?

Deputy Spokesperson: Excuse me? What are the next..?

Question: What are the next steps the IAEA will take now? (inaudible) meet Iranian officials…or make a report or give a determination on the other aspects of the Iranian nuclear enrichment programme?

Deputy Spokesperson: Well, generally what happens is that the IAEA submits reports to its Board of Governors and then to the Security Council and then the report is discussed in both fora.

Question: I also just wanted to know another thing…I also… You issued an extensive thing about the Secretary-General expressing concern about the Gaza crossings and details about everything with Israel.  Has he spoken to any Israeli officials about this issue?

Deputy Spokesperson: I think we’ve discussed this.  He has constantly been in touch with the parties on the Middle East.  While I have no specific log of his telephone contacts, I think this statement speaks for itself today.

Question: I have a variety of Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) questions, but just a quick question on Darfur.  A couple of sponsors of the latest resolution are making some headway.  Is Secretary-General Ban planning to go to the region to foster things…to move things along?

Deputy Spokesperson: When the time is right.

Question: But we have no news yet on…

Deputy Spokesperson: As you know during the trip that you accompanied the Secretary-General on in January to the AU Summit, the Secretary-General had agreed in principle to an invitation.  So it’s a matter of when he feels the time is right.

Question: Now I have some OIOS questions.  One is, I asked you – I think the day before yesterday – about Guido Bertucci? Is he indeed retiring? And if he is retiring, what happens to the investigation in his case?

Deputy Spokesperson: I have no information about his retiring, as I mentioned then.  I have nothing further.

Question: Can we get an update on whether the investigation is continuing and where things might be right now and try to figure out his status? That would be great.  And on Andrew Toh, there’s the disciplinary hearing that started a few weeks back.  Do we have any news on him? Is he still in the same status of “on leave but with pay”? Has anything changed? And if it does change, what would happen?

Deputy Spokesperson: I will try to get an update for you, but as far as I know, his status has not changed.

Question: Please, allow me just two other questions now that I’ve got your attention.  One is the OIOS investigation into UNDP.  Apparently there’s some talk that the Procurement Task Force may have taken over some of the investigation.  Can you confirm that or say anything about how that investigation is going?

Deputy Spokesperson: I’ll have to look into that one for you.

Question: Okay.  And one other thing: that department in UNDP and also in the finance end of things, some computer problems happened – some shut downs of computers, apparently – and the word, at least the official word, was that there seems to be some sort of routine maintenance going on and some sort of security software being installed.  Do we have any specific details on what exactly has transpired? Is this something the Secretary-General has been paying attention to, to perhaps relay a message that he wants to make sure that all evidence and information is kept intact?

Deputy Spokesperson: I’m not familiar with the issue you’re referring to, so I’ll have to look into that for you.

Question: Do you have any comment on statements that have been attributed to Mr. Michael Williams today in the Israeli press about what he said during his visit to Syria? Are you aware of this?

Deputy Spokesperson: I’m aware that he does interviews and that he speaks on issues in the Middle East, but no, I don’t have any specific transcripts from him.

Question: Well, they say here that the Special Coordinator, Michael Williams, said yesterday that it was his impression after trips to Damascus that Syria was willing to change the nature of its ties with Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas on the condition that negotiations with Israel bear fruit.  I mean is this accurate to what he said?

Deputy Spokesperson: We could easily check that for you.

Question: One follow-up on Jonathan’s question and then a couple of other things.  Yesterday I had asked you about the OIOS looking at the UNDP computer situation? I’m still kind of waiting to hear what the OIOS’ jurisdiction over UNDP is, but there are two sort of UN system-wide question that I have for you.  One is that it’s been reported that UNDP has been using an outside computer contractor to do its financial stuff without re-bidding it, according to one UNDP official, for nine years.

In the UN system, is there a comprehensive policy on when contracts have to be re-bid and on what basis outside contractors can do this? And also the issue has arisen…are these people staff members? How are they accessing the building?

Deputy Spokesperson: I think you have to ask UNDP those questions.  I mean you’re talking about UNDP contracting out something.  You’d have to ask the specific questions to…

Question: But since it reflects on the UN, what is the UN’s policy on the things that have been disclosed about UNDP?

Deputy Spokesperson: Well, if there’s an OIOS investigation underway, which is what you’re saying, then obviously we have to wait until the investigation is over.  We wouldn’t talk about the investigation.  If you have a specific question about UNDP, you would have to address that to UNDP.

Question: And I’d like to ask about two things on Myanmar.  There’s a Financial Times report today that the UN’s highest representative in Myanmar, Charles Petrie, wrote in a memo that there had been arbitrary land confiscations…and a very bad situation.  So I’m wondering if that’s something Mr. Gambari has been raising? Is that the UN’s position or is that just Mr. Petrie’s position? Has Mr. Gambari been raising this with the leaders that he’s met with on his current mission?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Mr. Gambari’s mission and his mandate have not changed from what we read out to you earlier in the week.  As for the media reports of a leaked report, I’m sorry, but we can’t comment on leaked reports.  I have not seen the report.  I’ve just seen the press reports.

Question: Okay, and I don’t think this is a leak: There’s a report of a letter from a number of US Senators to Ban Ki-moon – one of them is Dick Durbin and there are others – about a person in North Korea facing execution, Son Jong Nam, asking the Secretary-General to get involved, saying that this person is, you know, a political dissident that was returned to the country.  Has Mr. Ban received the letter? What is his response on that issue?

Deputy Spokesperson: I’ll look into that for you.

[The Spokesperson later continued receipt of this letter.]

Question: I just read about the Management Audit Team that’s going to the DRC, which Secretary-General Ban has dispatched.  When teams are sent like this to check out the situation on the ground, is a heads-up given to the mission itself that they are on there way, or is this more like a surprise type of thing to make sure that, you know…

Deputy Spokesperson: Well, if we announced it at the Noon Briefing right now, I would assume that the mission would be…

Question: But is there more advance warning given than what this statement is? Do they know weeks ahead that a team is coming or is it sort of sprung on them just as a spot inspection might be?

Deputy Spokesperson: You know, you’d probably have to address that question to Mr. Guéhenno who would know more about this than I do.

Question: Marie, I’m sorry, I did not catch the beginning when you rattled off all these names of Secretariat people…in the Secretary-General’s Office.  What is this regard to?

Deputy Spokesperson: It’s in response to your request for a list of the senior staff and advisors working on the 38th floor.  And that list is available for you so you can pick it up upstairs.  And the beginning that you missed was that the new High Representative for Disarmament has started.

Okay.  If there are no further questions have a very good weekend.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.