21 February 2008


21 February 2008
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 Michèle Montas, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon, all.

**Security Council

The Security Council this morning began an open debate on Timor-Leste, and Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Marie Guéhenno informed Council members that there have been no further significant security incidents in that country since the attacks on the President and Prime Minister on 11 February.  Guéhenno said that President José Ramos-Horta, although still hospitalized, is in stable condition and doctors are hopeful that he will make a full recovery.  Meanwhile, he said, the Government and Parliament have acted with restraint and with due respect for the Constitution and human rights in the measures it has taken since the attacks.

He stressed that the fact that Timor-Leste came so close to a real breakdown shows how important and urgent it is to address the issues of dealing with the supporters of the late fugitive Alfredo Reinado, with petitioners and with internally displaced persons.  Those issues, he added, should be solvable with a concerted effort across the political spectrum.

This afternoon at 3, the Security Council expects to hold consultations on Ethiopia and Eritrea.  Council members are to receive a briefing from Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Edmond Mulet about the temporary relocation efforts concerning UN peacekeepers in Eritrea.

Yesterday afternoon, the Security Council adopted two resolutions unanimously.  The Council extended for six months the mandate of the African Union Mission in Somalia, known as AMISOM, and it also approved the appointment of additional short-term, or ad litem, judges for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

** Eritrea

The UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea says that regrouping of peacekeepers and their equipment to Asmara continued yesterday and today.  Even so, Eritrean militiamen have prevented a vehicle carrying two soldiers to travel Asmara from the Temporary Security Zone.  The Mission says the two peacekeepers could not proceed until the militiamen holding them had received instructions from Eritrean authorities in Asmara.

Meanwhile, the four armoured personnel carriers held up by militiamen since 17 February in Om Hajer were allowed to proceed to Asmara today.

**Secretary-General’s Appointment

The Secretary-General has appointed Edward Luck of the United States as his Special Adviser, at the Assistant Secretary-General level, to focus on the responsibility to protect.  Mr. Luck’s primary role will be conceptual development and consensus-building, to assist the General Assembly to continue consideration of this crucial issue.  Mr. Luck is currently Vice-President and Director of Studies of the International Peace Academy and Director of Columbia University’s Center on International Organizations.

We have more information on Mr. Luck in his bio upstairs.

**Department of Political Affairs

At the request of the Secretary-General, the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, B. Lynn Pascoe, left New York last night en route to Japan, the Republic of Korea and the Russian Federation, accompanied by Deputy Chef de Cabinet and Special Adviser, Kim Won-soo.  Arriving in Tokyo Friday morning, they are scheduled to hold high-level consultations on a range of issues of interest to the United Nations and Japan.  They will express the Secretary-General’s appreciation for Japan’s strong support for the activities of the UN, particularly in light of Japan’s recent financial contributions to the operations of the United Nations, which the Secretary-General has welcomed in a statement this week.

In the Republic of Korea, they will be representing the Secretary-General at the inauguration of President Lee Myung-bak on 25 February, and will convey the personal greetings of the Secretary-General and also discuss issues of mutual interest with the new leadership.

USG Pascoe will continue to Moscow for high-level consultations on a range of UN issues.

** Myanmar

The Secretary-General’s Special Adviser for Myanmar, Ibrahim Gambari, in Jakarta today, expressed hopes to return to Myanmar in the first week of March, adding that the authorities there are currently in the process of inviting him.

Gambari arrived in Jakarta yesterday from Beijing as part of his regional consultations.  There, he met with senior Indonesian officials, including Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda and said that they share very common objectives for a peaceful, united, stable, prosperous Myanmar, moving along the path of democracy with full respect for human rights.  The Special Envoy also said the authorities in Myanmar made some significant announcements in terms of timelines for the road map.  He added that the most important part is that Myanmar works together with neighbouring countries, the ASEAN and the international community to enhance the credibility of this constitutional process and to make national reconciliation more inclusive.

Next week, Mr. Gambari is expected to travel on to Singapore and then to Tokyo.

** Iraq

The UN Mission in Iraq has provided an update on the selection of the eight remaining directors of Iraq’s governorate election offices, noting that, to date, 224 applications have been submitted.  Special Representative Staffan de Mistura said that the number of applications received “proves that Iraqis are ready to participate in the selection process and in determining their own future”.

So far, 22 women are among the 224 applications that have been submitted, and the UN Mission encourages all qualified Iraqi candidates representing Iraq’s diversified communities, including women, to submit their applications before the deadline of 28 February.  We have a press release with more details upstairs.


The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, praised Lebanon’s Government for its decision to recognize thousands of Iraqi refugees who had previously been considered as illegal immigrants liable to detention.  That decision, UNHCR says, will benefit thousands of Iraqi refugees in Lebanon, at a time when, as recently as last October, more than 500 Iraqis were being held in detention in Lebanon because of their irregular status.  High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said in Jordan earlier this week that Lebanon’s decision is “a very important and positive development”.  We have more details in a UNHCR press release.

** Gaza

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) says it’s helping Palestinian farmers, shepherds and fishermen in Gaza through a series of emergency projects -- despite restrictions that make it hard to import essential products.  Specific initiatives include horticulture and greenhouse and irrigation rehabilitation.  FAO is also working to help Gazans detect and respond to bird flu outbreaks.  We have more on this upstairs.

** Cameroon

United Nations agencies have helped immunize some 35,000 infants and children against measles and poliomyelitis in Cameroon’s north-eastern district of Kousséri.  The public health initiative took place between 13 and 17 February and placed the emphasis on refugee infants and children from Chad who are spread over two camps in Kousseri after fleeing the latest violence in N’Djamena.

**United Republic of Tanzania/Burundi

The UN refugee agency is seeking $34 million to resolve one of the most protracted refugee situations in Africa.  More than 200,000 Burundian refugees have been in Tanzania since fleeing an internal conflict in 1972.  As part of a two-year programme, UNHCR will repatriate and reintegrate nearly 50,000 refugees who wish to return to Burundi.  The rest will remain in Tanzania, where the government has set up a process for applying for citizenship and UNHCR is helping to develop social and economic integration measures.  There is more information on this upstairs.

**United Nations Environment Programme

At a meeting of global environment ministers in Monaco, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) today launched the Climate Neutral Network.  The project is designed to allow information exchange between nations, local authorities and companies that have pledged to eventually reduce their net emissions to zero.  Four countries, four cities and five corporations are founding members of the network.  They include Costa Rica, Iceland, New Zealand and Norway.  Ultimately, intergovernmental bodies, civil societies and even individuals will be invited to take part.  There is more information upstairs.

**International Year of Languages

Today is International Mother Language Day.  It also marks the start of the International Year of Languages, which UNESCO launched today in Paris.  UNESCO notes that more than half of the world’s nearly 7,000 spoken languages are threatened with extinction, with one dying out every two weeks.  We have more information upstairs.

**Outer Space

The UN Office of Outer Space Affairs reports that it has received a notification from the United States on the successful interception of the disabled US satellite designated “USA 193”.  The UN Office says the US delegation has also communicated the information to Member States attending the forty-fifth session of the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee of the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, presently being held in Vienna, Austria.

This information is provided in accordance with the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies, adopted in 1967.

Come April, a United Nations flag will make yet another historic trip to the International Space Station.  That’s according to the Office for Outer Space Affairs, which adds that upon its return to Earth the flag will be presented to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon before being moved to Vienna later this year to take its distinguished place among the permanent exhibits at the Vienna International Centre.

This time around, the UN flag will be flown to outer space by South Korean astronaut Ko San, who will be conducting scientific experiments at the International Space Station for eight days.  The tradition of astronauts carrying the UN flag into outer space began during the earliest manned space missions.  To date, the UN flag has been taken into Earth orbit, aboard space stations and to the moon.

**Press Conference

Press conference at 1:30 today.  In this room, President Ólafur Ragnar Grímmson of Iceland will discuss “How to Prevent Climate Change -- A Road Map to Success”, following panel discussions on the subject this morning at UN Headquarters.  President Grimmson will be accompanied by Ambassador Hjálmar W. Hannesson of Iceland, and Dr. Leena Srivastava, Executive Director of The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI).  It’s at 1:30 in this room.

This is all I have for you.  Thank you.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  What does the Secretary-General think about other separatist movements wanting to declare statehood, as Kosovo did?

Spokesperson:  Well, at this point, you know, this is a hypothetical question.  We don’t have any such occurrences yet. So it doesn’t have anything specific…

Question:  [inaudible] in Sri Lanka actually want to declare statehood.

Spokesperson:  Well, they want to, but they have not declared that.  So that is a hypothetical question.

Question:  If you can get more information on…

Spokesperson:  No, I will not get more information.  There will be no answer on hypothetical questions.

Question:  My other question is on Sudan, if you have an update…  I know the UN High Commissioner for Refugees had halted assistance to Darfuris, I guess, seeking refuge in neighbouring Chad.  Is it…?  Have they still halted it?

Spokesperson:  We are getting an update on that today.  We can get some information for you, maybe a little later today.

Question:  And another question is:  the UN General Assembly President Kerim, I guess, he was planning on visiting Latin America, but he had cut his visit.  Do you know why?

Spokesperson:  I would suggest that you address that question to the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.  Tomorrow he is briefing you.

Question:  We read that Mr. Ban Ki-moon has described Ahmadinejad’s remarks as intolerable and inexcusable.  Can you confirm that he said so?

Spokesperson:  I would say that the Secretary-General has condemned these types of inflammatory comments in the past and he will continue to do so in the future.  He wishes to reiterate that such comments are unacceptable when used against another Member State.  The Secretary-General believes it is in the interest of all Member States to pay due respect to each other, even when addressing their differences.

Question:  Does the Secretary-General believe that respect for 1.4 billion Muslims is also important, when it comes to publishing cartoons…

Spokesperson:  He has given his opinion on that, and that was a clear one.  It was stated to you yesterday, no later than yesterday, in the briefing.

Question:  Why shouldn’t he use similar language in describing that -- I mean, insulting our Prophet?

Spokesperson:  Well, because he has taken a position on that.

Question:  But his words in that occasion were not similar to his words “intolerable and inexcusable”…

Spokesperson:  I didn’t use those words.  Those words were used in a press statement.

Question:  I mean, Mr. Ban Ki-moon used these words on…

Spokesperson:  Did he use these words?  You have a press report on that.

Question:  Yeah, yeah.  Can you confirm that he used these words?

Spokesperson:  No, what I have read to you is what he thinks and what he says. Okay?

Question:  I may just not be up on this, Michèle, but there was a Middle East debate scheduled for today -- for when has that been rescheduled?

Spokesperson:  Where?

Correspondent:  In the Security Council.

Spokesperson:  You should consult the Security Council schedule on that.

Correspondent:  It’s on the programme of work calendar for the 21st.

Spokesperson:  Well, you can check with the Security Council.  You can check on their website on when it has been scheduled for.

Question:  You indicated that when Mr. Pascoe and his delegation arrive in Tokyo, they will discuss issues related to the UN, in which Japan has interest.  Presumably, that would be reforms of the Security Council -- as you know, Japan is seeking a permanent seat there.  Will they discuss that subject and is Mr. Pascoe carrying any propositions to that effect?

Spokesperson:  Well, as you know, the Secretariat and the Secretary-General do not have any impact on Security Council reform.  This is a matter for the Security Council and for the General Assembly to address, so this is not going to be part of what the Secretary-General intends to raise with Japan.

Question:  They will not discuss that issue?

Spokesperson:  Well, I am not saying that they will not discuss that issue.  I said this is not part of the issues that the Secretary-General is hoping to raise.

Question:  How does Mr. Nimetz feel about the leak of his latest proposal to the press, especially when after the protest by both Governments he was forced to cancel a briefing for the Greek journalists on Friday?

Spokesperson:  What do you want to know?

Question:  How he feels about the leak of his latest proposal?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think he is certainly not happy about it.  He is certainly not responsible for the leak.  The leak occurred outside of his purview and it was not planned.  There was no way the document was supposed to be outside -- it was supposed to stay within the discussion between parties.

Question:  Do you have an idea when the next round of meetings will occur?

Spokesperson:  He hasn’t set the dates, but he hopes to do so in the near future.

Question:  Has he received any reply from either party that they will come to New York in 15 days?

Spokesperson:  He does not have that yet, but Mr. Nimetz is planning to give you a background briefing, hopefully next week.  So we’ll try to get him for you.

Question:  And a final one on Cyprus.  There have been reports that Mr. Møller is going to leave the post in Cyprus -- can you confirm that?  And if we have a replacement?  Because some names were mentioned…

Spokesperson:  The names are just in the domain of rumours.  At this point, Mr. Møller is still in charge.

Question:  Yesterday, South Africa’s Ambassador, Dumisani Kumalo, said that -- in the briefing on Somalia that, in fact, the assessment report on Somalia was finished.  Is that true -- is the report actually finished?  He said, basically, it was finished, but now it’s being delayed until 10 March to be released.  What is the status of the long-requested assessment report on the peacekeeping mission to Somalia?

Spokesperson:  Well, as you know, we sent a fact-finding mission to Somalia from 7 to 25 January and we also sent a strategic assessment mission to the region from 14 to 28 of January to consult Somali and all regional stakeholders and collect information.  A lot of information was collected, and now it is being synthesized, and recommendations are being developed.  That’s why the report is not out yet.

Question:  There also is a report that… the Foreign Minister of Chad is being quoted that his Government of President Deby is negotiating with the rebels that almost overthrew them, but the rebels say that there is no negotiation, they remain in conflict with the Government.  Since the UN is trying to put this peacekeeping mission in, is there…  What is the status?  Are there negotiations?

Spokesperson:  We have no comment on this at this point.

Question:  Who here is tracking it?  Is it being tracked by the UN?

Spokesperson:  The UN is always following very closely the situation on the ground, but we don’t have anything to say about this now, at this point.

Question:  First of all, just for the record, the one report that I saw that quoted the Secretary-General directly use the words “unacceptable and undesirable”, and a report that tells me he has it on record, recorded, so…

Spokesperson:  Which was not the adjective quoted here.  I am not saying that the report that you are referring to was incorrect.

Question:  The question is about Burma.  I understood until now that Mr. Gambari has an open invitation.  Now it seems that they’re in the process of inviting him.  Is there…?

Spokesperson:  No, the problem was the date.  The problem was not the invitation -- the problem was the date.

Question:  So you said before that now they are in the process of inviting him?

Spokesperson:  Well, those are the terms that were used by people on the ground.  I was aware -- we are pretty sure, as the Indonesian President reported earlier, that there will be a visit by Mr. Gambari very soon to Myanmar.

Question:  Bottom line -- the first week of March he is expected to be there?

Spokesperson:  Most probably, but we are not sure yet.

Question:  And what do you expect in that meeting to happen?  I mean, for instance, is he going to bring up the notion in the Constitution -- or the latest announcement -- that there will be a vote by, I think, 2010 and that Aung San Suu Kyi will not be able to run, according to the new Constitution, because she is married -- she was married to -- she is the widow of a foreigner?

Spokesperson:  Okay, now, what the UN has been stressing all along -- Mr. Gambari and the Secretariat -- is that the process should be inclusive, participatory and transparent.  This is what we are saying.

Question:  Does that include Aung San Suu Kyi specifically?

Spokesperson:  Inclusive.

Question:  Any more on what was asked a couple of days ago on 10 former Nobel peace prize winners, who asked…?

Spokesperson:  Well, we don’t know at this point what the exact content of Mr. Gambari’s conversation will be there yet.  I cannot speculate on what will be discussed, but I am just telling what our position is that the process has to be inclusive.

Question:  But what they brought up is that there should be an embargo of weapons on Burma and they said if the Security Council cannot do it maybe, you know, countries can do it.  And the question is, does the Secretary-General support countries imposing such an embargo on weapons, due to the fact that those weapons were used against [inaudible]?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have any comments on that at this point.

Question:  The letter from the Permanent Mission of Eritrea yesterday -- they accused the UN Press Office specifically of levelling unfounded accusations against Eritrea, and they said they did not ask UNMEE to regroup in Asmara, that it was unilateral and that you guys have politicized the fuel issue.  Do you have any reaction to that?

Spokesperson:  We don’t have any reaction to that, no.  As you know, due to the lack of cooperation by Eritrean authorities, UNMEE has been instructed to resort to other contingency plans and to regroup in Asmara.  That is what is being done right now, and all the personnel present in Eritrea are being moved to Asmara.  And this is to facilitate further relocation out of the country.  This is all I can say.

Question:  Just one follow-up.  Do you have anything on any massive troop movements along the border on either side?

Spokesperson:  It has not been reported to us, no.

Question:  What are the latest developments regarding the Brahimi’s panel on staff security?

Spokesperson:  We don’t have the latest right now.  It was in his hands to really finish up the panel set-up and the conditions of work.

Question:  Do you know where he is now?

Spokesperson:  I know he is in the area.  He is not in New York City.

Question:  When will the Secretary-General release the names of those in the Independent Committee?

Spokesperson:  This is going to be done shortly, but we don’t know -- we are waiting for the final decision on this.

Question:  In this connection, there was a tragic death Sunday of a United Nations staff member, an Austrian citizen, and the investigations, I understand, are still going on.  There was some speculation in Austrian media that foul play may have been involved.  Has there been any result so far?

Spokesperson:  So far, it is totally denied by the people who have been doing the investigation.  It is something that we will not comment further on [until the investigation is completed].  But there is no foul play.

Question:  Why is it taking so long to establish this panel?  Are there any complications?

Spokesperson:  Not that I know of.  I think it was a question of consulting the people who were being appointed for the work.  It was just the question of setting the right mechanism to get the panel to work properly.

Question:  What is the level of the UN involvement in the Kenya peace talks that Mr. Kofi Annan was overseeing before?  Is the UN involved in facilitating or funding the talks?

Spokesperson:  As we have said before, the UN is helping Mr. Annan, is giving him technical support, personnel, human resources and there is a special fund, which is set up, which is not a UN fund, but there is a voluntary fund that has been set up for the negotiations.

Question:  Are UN funds going to the set-up, or is the UN just managing the fund?

Spokesperson:  At this point, this is in the hands of Mr. Annan, as you know, with representatives of the eminent African personalities.

Question:  I asked the question because Mr. Annan is now handing over to the SRSG, so it seems that there is a contradiction of some [inaudible] I would like to know if there is a deeper connection of the United Nations, beyond the part that former [inaudible] are involved.  I actually want to know if the UN is making any financial contribution, beyond just technical facilitating.

Spokesperson:  Not that I know of, but I can find out for you.  I know there have been some people -- members of our staff, of the Secretariat staff -- who have been sent to help with the issue.

Okay, I was just informed that the investigation is under way in the case of the death that you mentioned.

Question:  So it is still under way?

Spokesperson:  It is still under way.

Question:  No conclusion?

Spokesperson:  No conclusion.

Question:  The members of the Congress, of the House Foreign Affairs Committee wrote a letter to Ban Ki-moon about Louise Arbour’s implicit support of the Arab League -- I don’t remember what it is -- I think it’s a charter, in which there was…  Basically, they compared Zionism to racism.  Does the Secretary-General have any answer to the [inaudible]?

Spokesperson:  Your question is very unclear.  Can you give me a little more information?

Correspondent:  I can send you the letter.

Spokesperson:  Yes, please do, because your question is quite unclear.

Correspondent:  It complained about Louise Arbour’s support of the Arab League’s Charter.

Spokesperson:  I would need to get more information about this.

Correspondent:  I will send you the letter a little later on.

Spokesperson:  Certainly.

Question:  Michèle, you did mention that there was a special fund established in connection with Mr. Annan’s activity and that it was not a UN fund?  Do you know who established that fund and who has contributed to it so far?

Spokesperson:  Well, I can find out what the fund is.  If it has any UN money, I can also find out for you, what type of money was put into that fund, if any.  As far as I know, and that is what I said, there were some people who were asked to go -- who were seconded to Mr. Annan’s negotiation effort.

Question:  Because there are two UN pensioners on the panel right now, Kofi Annan and [inaudible].  So we’d like to have more information about the fund, if the UN is just managing the fund, or if UN is contributing to the fund.

Spokesperson:  We’ll try to find out more for you.

[The Spokesperson later confirmed that UNDP administers the fund.]

Question:  Would the Secretary-General agree with Ambassador Churkin’s characterization that the situation in Eritrea is unprecedented in its obstruction of peacekeeping?

Spokesperson:  Well, I don’t have an agreement or disagreement -- I think we have the report that was done by the Secretariat.  That will be done this afternoon, I think, it is going to be the meeting.  You will get more information on what our own assessment is.

Question:  Can you tell us -- I spoke to Marie about this yesterday and it wasn’t quite clear, or quite established -- when is Mr. Holmes going to report to the Security Council and/or to us?  Apparently, this room was not available, so he is going to report to us, perhaps, at the stakeout about, among other things, his recent trip to Gaza and Sderot?

Spokesperson:  Okay, we have to check the Security Council schedule.  It is going to be after he briefs the Security Council, which will be probably next week.

[The Spokesperson later confirmed that Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes will be briefing the Security Council on Monday on the topic of Kenya, and on Tuesday on the Middle East.]

Question:  What is the Secretary-General discussing with UNMIS right now?  He is having a meeting with the UN Mission in Sudan.

Spokesperson:  What he is discussing?

Question:  Yeah, what are they discussing?

Spokesperson:  Well, the situation.  They are discussing the Mission -- that’s what they are discussing.  I mean, it’s a normal report by an SRSG to the Secretary-General.

Question:  One more thing.  Mr. Han Seung-soo, the one who was the climate change envoy, he has been now nominated to be the Prime Minister in South Korea.  Is going to be replaced?  Is he going to step down from his post?

Spokesperson:  Well, he probably will be replaced, but I’ll get you the information when I have it.  I don’t have it at this point.

Question:  The other thing is that there is -- in his confirmation hearings in Seoul, there is a controversy that he has somehow underreported his assets.  There is a story that his assets have been underreported.  Given that he filed a financial disclosure here, with the UN system, prior to taking his new position, does the Secretariat stand behind that financial disclosure?  Is that, in fact, a complete accounting of assets, which is now in controversy in his hearing?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have any information on that at this point.  It seems to me like a South Korean matter.

Question:  But since he filed it, it’s a form that’s currently online on the Ethics Office voluntary public disclosure website.  He filed the voluntary public disclosure.  So since it is currently in controversy there, I am just wondering whether the form here, the Secretariat feels that was a full and complete accounting.  Because that would then rebut everything that has happened in South Korea.

Spokesperson:  Well, I will find out for you.

[The Spokesperson later said PricewaterhouseCoopers had vetted all the financial disclosures, and the ones the United Nations had posted indicate no need for further action.]

Now, I get an answer for Benny’s question.  That’s from the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour.  There was a statement issued in January about this, so we will have the statement available for you.

Question:  Statement issued by Louise Arbour?

Spokesperson:  By Louise Arbour.

Question:  Yeah, but the letter from the House members was addressed to the Secretary-General and complained about…

Spokesperson:  Well, we’ll have to receive that letter first.  I will have to check whether the letter was received first.

[The Spokesperson later confirmed that the letter in question, from the United States House of Representatives’ Committee on Foreign Affairs, had been received and would be responded to.]

Thank you very much.

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