31 July 2007


31 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.

**Statement on Hostage Killings in Afghanistan

Good afternoon.  I’ll start with a statement attributable to Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the killing of Korean hostages in Afghanistan.

The Secretary-General deplores the killing of two of the hostages from the Republic of Korea held by the Taliban.  He offers his sincere condolences to the family of the victims and to the Korean people.

He remains deeply concerned for the safety and welfare of the 21 Korean hostages, the German national and the four Afghans who are still being detained.  The Secretary-General notes that these hostages include many young women who came to the country to help the people of Afghanistan, and they should not be made part of the conflict in that country.

The Secretary-General fully supports the Afghan authorities in their continuing efforts to ensure the safe return of all those being held against their will.

**Security Council

At United Nations Headquarters today, at 3 p.m., the Security Council has scheduled a formal meeting to vote on extending the sanctions on the flow of arms within and into the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Immediately after that, the Security Council has scheduled another formal meeting to vote on a draft resolution concerning the mandate for establishing an African Union-UN hybrid operation in Darfur.  A draft resolution on that hybrid operation was circulated by its co-sponsors last night, and has been turned into blue.

The Secretary-General has been invited by the Security Council President to attend that meeting and he is scheduled to speak then.  After the meeting on Sudan is finished, we expected the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean Marie Guéhenno, and Jane Holl Lute, the acting head of the Department of Field Support, to talk to you at the Security Council stakeout microphone.

Today is the last day of the Chinese presidency of the Security Council, and tomorrow, the Republic of the Congo will assume the presidency of the Council for the month of August.  And a briefing is scheduled for you later in the week.

**Humanitarian Update on Sudan

And also on Sudan, we have a humanitarian update from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).  It notes that, following reports of two confirmed cases of polio across the border in Chad, UNICEF, the World Health Organization and other partners are set to launch an emergency vaccination campaign in West Darfur in the coming days.  OCHA also notes that, so far this year, 87 humanitarian vehicles have been hijacked, including two on Sunday.  One of them was later recovered, and no one was injured in the latest attack.

**Secretary-General on Climate Change

And this morning the Secretary-General addressed the General Assembly’s informal debate on “climate change as a global challenge”.  He said that the time had come for decisive action on a global scale.  He called for a comprehensive agreement under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) that tackles climate change on all fronts.  He urged all countries to reach an agreement by 2009 that would be in force when the current Kyoto Protocol commitment period expires in 2012.

The Secretary-General noted that this week’s debate helps lay the groundwork for the 24 September high-level session he is convening on climate change, and in turn for the upcoming UNFCCC negotiations in December.  He added that he is determined to minimize the UN system’s own carbon footprint and make it a climate neutral organization.  And we have the full text of his statement upstairs.

**Secretary-General on Millennium Development Goals

And then the Secretary-General, as you know, this morning met with UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown and attended the Prime Minister’s launch of a new initiative on the Millennium Development Goals.  He noted the Prime Minister’s proposal for a summit-level meeting on the Goals at the United Nations next year, saying that, to make such an event a success, the UN membership will need to be fully engaged in the preparations and follow-up.  He said that we are seriously off track on some of the Goals with some regions further behind than others.  “Some say we will not make it”, the Secretary-General said.  “But I say we still can.”  The Secretary-General added that he was very encouraged by Prime Minister Brown’s strong commitment and support for the Goals and for peace and security initiatives around the world, including Darfur.  And we have the remarks that he made upstairs for you.

** Cyprus

And the UN Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) is welcoming the signing of a Є4 million contract between the European Commission and UNDP in order to complete the demining of the UN-patrolled buffer zone in Cyprus.  The mission commends the ongoing financial support provided by the European Commission to continue the important work of rendering the buffer zone free of all mines and ultimately returning the land to civilian use.  Last year, Nicosia was declared mine-free and, so far, 2,810 mines have been removed from Cyprus.  And there’s a press release on this subject upstairs.

** Somalia

And a bit belatedly, but in response to questions, as was reported in the media over the weekend, the United Nations led a delegation of the International Advisory Group to Somalia over the weekend to attend and to receive an update on the ongoing National Reconciliation Congress.  The delegation to Mogadishu was led by the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Somalia, Per Lindgarde, and also included representatives from Norway, Sweden, Italy, Yemen and Egypt.  The delegation expressed its intention for the members of the international community to have, henceforth, a frequent presence at the Congress.  In addition to their conversations with delegates and organizers of the Congress, the group also met with representatives of the Transitional Federal Government and with the Hawiye Council.

** Niger

And turning to Niger, UNICEF is stepping up its efforts in Niger to take care of an estimated 275,000 children who will be at risk of malnutrition during the months of the lean season, from July to October.  Among other measures, UNICEF will scale up therapeutic care to reach children in need not yet covered by the existing feeding centres.  It will also provide, in cooperation with the World Food Programme (WFP), a two-month free distribution of supplementary food for children under three years old.  And you can find more details on these and other measures being put into place in a UNICEF press release available upstairs.

** Guatemala

And you may have noticed the editorial in today’s The New York Times that referred to a proposal before the Guatemalan legislature to establish an International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), in which a UN commissioner and experts would work alongside Guatemalan prosecutors to combat organized crime and impunity.  That proposal is up for a critical vote tomorrow in Guatemala.

We would like to reiterate, therefore, the position expressed by the Secretary-General in a statement earlier this month about the Commission.  He hopes and urges Guatemala to seize this opportunity to use international assistance to strengthen its justice system in a way that is completely respectful of Guatemalan sovereignty.  We would also like to stress the commitment of the United Nations to do everything it can, provided that the Commission is approved, to make this Commission a success in helping the Guatemalan people and authorities in their difficult fight against crime and impunity.

**Press Conference

And just to flag a couple of press conferences, tomorrow at 11:15 a.m., there will be a press conference by Yvo de Boer, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, who will brief you in connection with the General Assembly thematic debate on climate change.  Our guest tomorrow at the noon briefing will be Jacques Diouf, the Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, who will brief you on the “Significance of Climate Change on Agriculture”.

And I should have said this one first, today at 1 p.m. there will be a press conference by panellists from the General Assembly thematic debate on climate change.  The speakers include Sir Nicholas Stern, of the London School of Economics; Jim Rogers, Chairman and CEO of Duke Energy; and Sunita Narain, writer and environmental campaigner based in India.  They will brief you on the way forward in addressing climate change.

**Comings and Goings

And finally, as this is the last day of the month, I just wanted to note that here’s been a flurry of departures of some familiar faces from the UN press corps.  The departures in the past two months include veteran CNN producer Liz Neisloss, as well as BBC’s Theresa Sturley.  We also bid farewell to VOA’s Peter Heinlein and Laura Angela Bagnetto of the Saudi News Agency.  I am told that Stephanie Hartgrove of Al-Jazeera will also be leaving soon, as will Shogo Kawakita of Kyodo News.  Today, another old-timer is closing shop.  It is Bill Reilly’s last day with UPI, which has decided to shut down as of today the UN bureau after covering the United Nations for 62 years.  We will miss you all.  And as we bid farewell to those who are leaving, on behalf of the Spokesperson’s Office, I would also like to welcome two new recent resident correspondents, Damian Fowler of the BBC and Shoichiro Beppu of NHK.

And that’s what I have for you.  Anything for me?  Yes.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Marie, did the Secretary-General talk recently with Carla del Ponte, the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia?  And if he did, did he offer to extend her mandate until the end of the year since we know her mandate is expiring on 15 September?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have nothing on any recent conversation between the Secretary-General and Ms. Del Ponte, and I have nothing on her assignment either, but if there is anything new to tell you I will certainly do so.

Question:  Do you have any update on the response of the Netherlands Government to the Lebanese Government regarding a tribunal?

Deputy Spokesperson:  No, but my understanding is that the response would be contained in an upcoming Secretary-General report towards the end of August.

Question:  Regarding Gordon Brown’s meeting with the Secretary-General, did they discuss Iraq and the future of Iraq?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, they did.

Question:  And also, did he offer any assistance or help to the United Nations to establish its (inaudible)?

Deputy Spokesperson:  To confirm what you just said, yes, they discussed a wide range of issues.  They had a very good meeting.  They discussed the Millennium Development Goals, Darfur, the Middle East, efforts to combat climate change, Afghanistan and UN reform.  And I think in terms of the position of the Secretary-General, you know, and in terms of the Prime Minister’s position on that, he was asked at the Q&A session and I think that’s the answer from his side.

Question:  The Secretary-General said climate change was one of his primary objectives.  But this Secretary-General has also met with Mr. Bush recently and other senior officials.  Has he made a case for the United States to sign on to the Kyoto Protocol in order to strengthen the climate change measures?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I think he’s been discussing the issue of how to combat climate change as an urgent and important issue that all countries in the world need to participate in.  Specifically on his discussions recently with President Bush, I’d have to look into the readout of that meeting. 

Question:  What is the Secretary-General’s opinion on the resolution that’s ready for a vote.  I know it’s a Council matter, but it’s Darfur.  Is he happy with the changes that have been made that some say have watered it down?

Deputy Spokesperson:  As you know, the draft resolution has just been in the last few hours turned into blue.  It needs to be voted on first.  But the Secretary-General will attend the session, and he will have a statement then, and that will be on the record.

Question:  I have two questions.  Speaking yesterday on the occasion of the National Day, King Mohammed VI said that Morocco would offer autonomy for negotiations and only autonomy.  Given that situation, what does the Secretary-General expect to happen at the forthcoming Manhasset meeting?  And the second question is, you indicated that some important news agencies are closing shop here at Headquarters.  Has the UN been aware of any reasons for that closing?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I think I just mentioned a number of veteran correspondents and others leaving, and it was a major news agency that was closing shop and you’d probably have to ask them about that.  In terms of the upcoming talks, I think I can confirm that the participants have confirmed their participation in the talks on Western Sahara scheduled for the 10th and 11th of next month.  And as far as the Secretary-General is concerned, again, he has entrusted the talks to his trusted representatives, so let’s see how it goes.

Question:  A quote on Reuters, I’m asking about is on refugees in the Central African Republic and Médicins sans frontières is saying they’re there on an interim basis until the United Nations steps in.  Who in the United Nations system is going to take action?  

Deputy Spokesperson:  As you know, the agency on the ground is the United Nations refugee agency and it’s assisting refugees from Sudan in the Central African Republic, as well as in Chad.  In terms of initiatives on the peacekeeping front, I think Jean-Marie Guéhenno had recently gone to Brussels to discuss some EU initiatives on the matter, so that’s where I think the lead is now.

Question:  Seems the refugees are going into Cameroon now. 

Deputy Spokesperson:  If it’s a refugee emergency, if it involves refugees, then it’s the UN refugee agency that would be most responsible for dealing with that situation.

Question:  Also I was wondering, yesterday the Secretary-General met with Kemal Derviş of UNDP and you gave me this readout that says they agreed on additional measures for looking into DPRK that should be taken with Member States and executive boards.  I couldn’t tell from this, what is the status of this second phase of audit that Deputy Secretary-General Migiro wrote a letter about a month ago?  What are the next steps on that or does this replace that?

Deputy Spokesperson:  This is the latest on this subject.

Question:  So has the second part been done or not been done?

Deputy Spokesperson:  This is the latest that we have based on the conversation the Secretary-General had with the UNDP Administrator, which, for the others in this room, did not focus just on UNDP and DPRK, but on a number of other issues of concern.

Question:  You also said they conferred on the appointment of resident coordinators.  Who makes the decision choosing who will be the resident coordinator in a country?  Is that only UNDP’s decision?  Did he confer with the Secretary-General?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, with the Secretary-General.  That’s why they had the meeting together.

Question:  Since the Middle East is high on the agenda of the international leaders, do you know if there are plans for the Secretary-General to travel to the Middle East?

Deputy Spokesperson:  As of now I don’t have any further plans.  His next trip is tomorrow and he’ll be going to Haiti and Barbados.

Question:  Marie, regarding the question I asked before about the closure of some important news agencies in the United Nations, isn’t DPI, and the United Nations in general, interested enough not to know the reasons why they are closing their offices?

Deputy Spokesperson:  You want to know the reason why the UPI is closing shop?  You’d have to ask UPI.

Question:  No, my question is, is DPI interested in knowing the reasons why UPI and other agencies are closing shop? 

Deputy Spokesperson:  You’d have to ask DPI.

Question:  You are DPI.

Deputy Spokesperson:  I’m the acting Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.  I’m simply here today and the only reason I mentioned some of our departing colleagues is because I think all of you are very familiar with them and I thought we should note that their departure will be missed.  The fact that one of the agencies has to close is a sad chapter of a major news agency with a long record of covering not just the United Nations, but the world. 

Question:  Is the United Nations concerned about the fact that some news agencies will no longer be here to cover the United Nations work? 

Deputy Spokesperson:  If news agencies have to pull out for budgetary reasons or whatever reasons that they need to, obviously it’ll be a loss in another outlet to broadcast the news of the United Nations and, of course, that will be a loss and we would regret that.  On that note, have a good afternoon.  Three o’clock, Security Council.

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