25 July 2007


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




The following is a near-verbatim transcript of the noon briefing by Marie Okabe, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, and Frehiwot Bekele, Special Assistant to the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.

Briefing by Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

**Guest at Noon

Good afternoon.  I promised I would start as close to noon as possible because our guest today, Jane Holl Lute, Assistant-Secretary-General and Officer-in-Charge of the Department of Field Support, will be here at 12:15, and she will brief you on a number of outstanding conduct and discipline issues, including the situation in the UN Operation in Côte d’Ivoire.

I was also told that there would be a brief General Assembly briefing, but I do not see the Spokesperson here, so maybe that is not happening.

**Security Council

In the Security Council today, Michael Williams, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, told the Security Council in an open meeting this morning that, over the past month, there have been a number of important political developments giving cause for hope.  Most notable is the re-engagement of the international community and Israel with the government of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.  He noted that the Foreign Ministers of Jordan and Egypt have arrived today in Israel to discuss the Arab Peace Initiative.  This is an impressive diplomatic momentum, Williams said, but the positive developments are offset by a problematic and increasingly complex reality on the ground, where violence continues.

He told Council members that it is important that the people of Gaza are not punished for the Hamas takeover there.  Reopening the crossings to prevent the complete collapse of Gaza’s economy remains a priority, he said.  The humanitarian and emergency response has been an effective short-term measure, but a solution led by President Mahmoud Abbas is an urgent necessity.

And we have copies of Michael Williams’ speech upstairs.

The open meeting was followed by consultations in which Council members continued their discussions with Williams on the Middle East.

** Gaza - Humanitarian

And on Gaza today, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says the continued closure of the Karni Crossing is causing significant damage to the Gazan economy.  Rice, vegetable oil and baby milk are in short supply, and rising prices, especially for vegetables, meat and milk powder -– have placed a strain on the ability of households to maintain a balanced diet.

The UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) and the World Food Programme (WFP) have been sending basic foods, animal feed and medicines through other crossings, but OCHA notes that, with the planting season getting under way, the agricultural sector is in serious jeopardy.  And John Holmes briefed you yesterday on this, as well.

** Lebanon

Turning to Lebanon today, at 12:40 [p.m. local time], while a team from the UN Interim Force in Lebanon was clearing unexploded ordnance in a valley south of Shama, one peacekeeper died from the explosion of ordnance.

UNIFIL medical and explosives teams were immediately dispatched to the location and an investigation is under way.  Right now, this is all the information I have.

** Sudan

On the Sudan today, the World Food Programme is condemning the dramatic escalation in attacks on humanitarian staff and food convoys in Darfur, which are hampering WFP’s ability to deliver assistance to millions of hungry people in the region.

In the last two weeks, nine food convoys have been attacked by gunmen across Darfur, WFP says, and their representative in Sudan called on all parties to the conflict in Darfur to guarantee the safety of humanitarian workers so that the UN food agency and other aid organizations can continue with their work.

Due to a lack of security, WFP says it was not able to reach 170,000 people in June, a sizeable increase from the lowest point last March when 60,000 people could not be reached.

The summary of today’s press briefing by the UN Mission in Sudan, meanwhile, notes that the number of humanitarian vehicles hijacked this year reached a total of 76 and the number of convoys attacked and looted was 77.

And the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs also notes that heavy rains are creating other concerns in several parts of Darfur.  For example, a waterway near one camp housing displaced persons overflowed, causing a number of latrines to collapse and the loss of food rations there.  Much of the food waiting for distribution was also reportedly soaked by rains in this one location.  In another camp, flooding forced the relocation of some displaced persons, and yet in another location, transportation has forced stoppages of delivery of food and fuel.

The press briefing, along with the WFP press release, is available –- they’re both available upstairs.

** Iran

And then on Iran, inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will visit Iran’s Arak reactor early next week and more talks are planned for August, the Agency says.  The visit was announced in Vienna after a meeting between senior IAEA officials and a delegation from Iran, as part of a process to resolve outstanding issues related to Iran’s past nuclear programme and to clarify some present safeguards implementation issues.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, the Deputy Director General for Safeguards said that, a week after they visit the Arak reactor, the IAEA team will go to Iran to talk about other outstanding issues, such as plutonium contamination.  There’s more information from the IAEA available upstairs for you.


And on Timor-Leste, the Prime Minister of Timor-Leste and the Deputy UN Envoy and Humanitarian Coordinator, Finn Reske-Nielsen, today officially launched the Consolidated Appeal Mid-Year Review for Timor-Leste.

The international humanitarian community, in close consultation with the Government of Timor-Leste, is appealing for an additional $17.9 million to address the ongoing urgent humanitarian needs in the country for the remainder of the year.  The revision brings the total appeal for humanitarian projects in Timor-Leste to $34.2 million, from January to December of this year.

**International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia

The Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia has issued a statement, marking the twelfth anniversary of the Tribunal’s first indictment against Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic, the political and military leaders of the Bosnian Serbs during the wars of the 1990s.

In it, she called the fact that the two men remain at large “a permanent shadow not only on the work of the Tribunal, but also on the international community as a whole”.  She again called upon Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina (especially the entity of Republika Srpska), and Montenegro to do everything they can to locate and arrest the men, as well as all remaining fugitives.  And we have copies of that statement upstairs.

**Press Conference Tomorrow

And this is to flag for you, at 12:30 tomorrow here, there will be a press conference by Ambassador Alasania of Georgia, who will brief you on the situation there.

And that’s all I have for you.  We have four minutes before Jane Holl Lute comes, but I see that the General Assembly Spokeswoman is with us.  Before I turn to her, do you have something for me?  Let’s start with Al-Jazeera.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  I wonder if you got any information on the special Quartet and who actually is financing the office of Tony Blair, and financing his salary.  Perhaps you can also give us some idea of the relationship between the United Nations and the Quartet, and what is the Quartet’s sort of legal position?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I don’t think I can get into the legal position of the Quartet, but as you know the United Nations is one of the four members of the Quartet.  Tony Blair is the Representative of the Quartet.  I think the question of resources for him, his staffing, that kind of thing, is an issue that is under discussion.  I don’t have anything specific now, but as soon as I do I’ll relay them to you.

Question:  In light of the death of the peacekeeper today, does the United Nations have anything further to say about these unexploded ordnances in southern Lebanon, which, I think, there’s about a million that have failed to explode in Israel’s dropping of four million during the war last summer.

Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything further than this report I just got for you before I came down here, but perhaps Jane Holl Lute might have something more to add on that.

Question:  There’s a quote by Martti Ahtisaari saying that his mission is over and that he hasn’t been asked to continue to mediate.  What has Ban Ki-moon -– has he asked him to continue or is he planning to appoint somebody else?  What is that [inaudible].

Deputy Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General’s position has not changed, and I believe Mr. Ahtisaari will be available on an as-needed basis, should his services be required.

Question:  You said that Ban Ki-moon was being kept up to the moment about Afghanistan and the hostages there.  What has he been told...?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I believe ..he is in constant touch with the UN Mission on the ground regarding the situation.

Question:  Has he been told that the hostage was killed?

Deputy Spokesperson:  We do not have any independent confirmation from our mission on the ground.  Benny.

Correspondent:  I’m going to take one minute out of the four minutes you supplied us to make a speech rather than ask a question in violation of the code.

Deputy Spokesperson:  OK, Benny [talkover]

Correspondent:  The speech is –- just one second –- and the speech is, would you please do us a favour and instead of having 25 minutes of information that you could very easily post on the website, let us have time for questions.

Deputy Spokesperson:  I think on most days, Benny, you have plenty of time for questions, and this briefing, believe it or not, is not just for the people in this room, but there are people in their offices listening to the briefing.

Correspondent:  ... and have access to websites.

Deputy Spokesperson:  ... who are listening on the UN television.  And there are also, believe it or not, many people around the world who are accessing on the Internet the webcast of the noon briefing, and who are listening.

Correspondent:  …and have access.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Benny, we give you plenty of time for questions.

Question:  I just wanted to ask a question about Mr. Tony Blair and his position.  Does Mr. Blair answer directly to the Secretary-General and the Quartet, or is he operating independently, and at what point in time does he come back and report to the Secretary-General or to the Quartet?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, he certainly doesn’t report just to the Secretary-General.  As I said, he’s a representative of the Quartet and if you look at the last statements issued by the Quartet, Mr. Blair’s terms of reference and his role are spelled out in this statement.

Question:  I wanted to ask a question about Iran, would you be able to follow up on this IAEA mission going to Iran.  Are they going to be inspecting all the Iranian facilities as planned, or there will be surprise visits also?  And after that visit, will they be able to issue a report or not?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well the press release upstairs will probably give you more information, but the announcement is that they will visit the Arak reactor early next week and more talks are planned for August, so I think this is again, a part of a process.

As far as the report is concerned, generally the IAEA reports to both its board and to the Security Council.  So that’s the general methodology of how the IAEA works.

With that, if Jane Holl Lute is running out of time, maybe she can go first and then you can go afterwards?  Is that ok?

Briefing by the Special Assistant for the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

Good afternoon.  I’ll be very quick.

**Plenary Meeting

The General Assembly met in plenary yesterday afternoon and elected the Vice-Presidents for the sixty-second session.  These will be Benin, Botswana, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Gambia and Mauritius from the African States; Cyprus, Iraq, Palau, Sri Lanka and Turkmenistan from the Asian States; Bahamas, Honduras and Uruguay from the Latin American and Caribbean States; Iceland and Turkey from the Western European and Other States.

And the five permanent members of the Security Council also serve as Vice-Presidents of the Assembly.

At the same meeting, the Assembly appointed five new members of the Joint Inspection Unit.  They are from China, Cuba, Egypt, the Russian Federation and the US, and they will serve for a five-year term beginning in January 2008.  Details on the appointees are contained in document A/61/962.

The Assembly also adopted two resolutions referred by the Fourth Committee, related to peacekeeping operations.

Since we don’t have much time I’ll just refer you to a press release that gives a summary of these resolutions.  It’s GA/10605.

**Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

People have been asking about the status of consultations on the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Yesterday, the President of the Assembly transmitted to Member States two reports from the Facilitator she had appointed to conduct consultations on the issue, the Permanent Representative of the Philippines, Ambassador Hilario Davide Jr.  In her transmittal letter, the President indicates that the reports outline a proposed way forward to advance this issue.  And she hopes that Member States will consider this proposed way forward in a flexible and constructive manner.

“I am aware that consultations among Member States are still ongoing”, she continues, “and would like to encourage all of you to reach a swift common understanding to allow the General Assembly to take a decision on this very important issue during the first week of September2007.”

We will make copies of her letter and the two reports available upstairs, and they are also posted on the website. 

**Announcement Regarding Assembly Website

And I have been asked to make an announcement on behalf of the Department of General Assembly and Conference Management and the Department of Public Information, who would like to test the utility of the General Assembly website.  They are having people come over to consult with them, to test the website, tomorrow afternoon, between 3 and 5 p.m. in room DC1-244.  They’re allowing about 20 minutes for each person and they are requesting that interested people send them emails at the following email address and register for this test -– it’s dpigaweb@un.org.

This announcement is also in today’s Journal on page six.

I am done.  Yes?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  What we need more than anything else is tentative lists of speakers for both the environment summit and the general debate.

Special Assistant:  For the general debate, we have made the list available.  I’ll make more copies available.  For the climate change debate, there’s no formal list of speakers.

Question:  I was interested in the reasoning about the North Korea-Japan issue that was brought up yesterday.  North Korea had made a request to have something on the agenda, and it was denied in committee and then there was some discussion.  Is there further information I can get about that?

Special Assistant:  Yes, there was a press release on that, on 20 July, when the General Committee met [the symbol is GA/10604].  Basically, the members of the General Committee felt that the matter was not of enough importance or urgency.  So they didn’t think it should be added to the agenda.  And also, there is an item on the “elimination of racism and racial discrimination” under the Third Committee’s work, so they thought it could easily be taken care of there.

Question:  Can I get further information on what was said?

Special Assistant:  The press release gives you a summary of what was said.

Question:  But what was presented and what [inaudible] -– is that available anywhere?

Special Assistant:  TheDemocratic People’s Republic of Korea sent a letter to the President of the Assembly; the symbol for that is also in that press release, and you’ll get more details on the background. [The document symbol for the letter is A/61/236.]

Question:  And Japan’s [inaudible] and the statement…

Special Assistant:  I may have the statement of the Ambassador.  I’ll try and get it for you.  Otherwise, you’ll just have to rely on the press release [or contact the Permanent Mission].

Question:  Same issue.  Does it happen that after the recommendations from this subcommittee on the selection of agendas, that it could be changed during the plenary meeting?

Assistant to the Spokesperson:  Any Member State can request that an item be added to the agenda of the Assembly.  And that request needs to be considered by the General Committee.  In this case, they considered it, and they decided it wasn’t urgent, it was not of enough importance or urgency, and there’s an item in the work of the Third Committee under which it can be considered.  So they didn’t want a new item to be added.

Question:  But why does it have to be confirmed again in a plenary meeting when it was already turned down?

Assistant to the Spokesperson:  That’s how the General Assembly works.  The General Committee makes a recommendation regarding the agenda of the Assembly, and then the Plenary takes a final decision.

Thank you.

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