24 March 2008


24 March 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, and Janos Tisovszky, Spokesperson for the General Assembly President.

Briefing by the Secretary-General’s Spokesperson

Good afternoon, all.

**Secretary-General on Cyprus

I have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Cyprus.

The Secretary-General congratulates the Greek Cypriot leader, Mr. Demetris Christofias, and the Turkish Cypriot leader, Mr. Mehmet Ali Talat, on the outcome of their meeting, which was hosted by the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Michael Møller, on Friday, 21 March 2008.   He warmly welcomes the leaders’ decisions to expeditiously set up a number of working groups and technical committees, and to meet again in three months’ time to review their work and start full-fledged negotiations under UN auspices.  Their agreement on the opening of a Ledra Street crossing, as soon as technically possible, is also a positive step forward.  The United Nations stands ready to lend its full support to the Cypriot people in their efforts to reach a settlement.  The mission later this month of Under-Secretary-General B. Lynn Pascoe to Cyprus will help the United Nations to determine how it can be as helpful as possible to this process as it moves forward.

** Darfur

On Darfur, UNICEF has condemned the abduction in Sudan’s North Darfur state of a team of four engineers and called for the immediate and unconditional release.  The four employees of the State Water Corporation were kidnapped Thursday night, along with their equipment, while working on a UNICEF-funded project to provide water and sanitation services across northern Sudan, including Darfur.  As of today, the four remain missing, and there has been no claim of responsibility for their disappearance.

** Chad and Central African Republic

On Chad, the UN Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad (MINURCAT) and the Chadian Government this weekend signed a status of mission agreement.  The document lays out legal guidance for the Mission’s work on the territory of Chad.  It was signed by Victor Angelo, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, and by Chad’s Foreign Minister.  Angelo said in remarks at the signing event that the agreement allows the UN to tackle insecurity in Chad while also responding to humanitarian needs at camps for refugees and the internally displaced.  The signing event came a day after Angelo visited the Central African Republic and held talks with State officials, members of the international community and the UN Country Team.  Angelo said that the UN Mission there would open a Liaison Office in the north-east for police, military and overall security issues.  A UN assessment team is expected in the region later this week to conduct a feasibility study.

** Afghanistan

On Afghanistan, yesterday afternoon, a team of 12 Afghans working on a demining project as partners of the UN Mine Action Centre for Afghanistan were attacked by unknown assailants in the province of Balkh, with five of them being killed.  In a statement issued today, Bo Asplund, the Secretary-General’s acting Special Representative for Afghanistan, said he was appalled and saddened by the attack, adding, “It is abhorrent that anyone would target individuals working to free the people of Afghanistan from the scourge of landmines.”  We have that statement upstairs.

Then today, two employees of a different mine-clearance team were killed in the province of Kunduz.  The UN Mine Action Service condemns today’s and yesterday’s attacks.  And we have the press release upstairs.

** Greece and The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia

The Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy for Greece and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Matthew Nimetz, will hold continued talks on the “name issue” with the parties tomorrow afternoon here at UN Headquarters.  Mr. Nimetz has said he’s willing to talk to the press after the meeting wraps up.  We’ll keep you informed about the exact time and place of that press encounter.

** Haiti

On Haiti, the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti has called on the population to help the National Police and UN peacekeepers ensure public safety and security by cooperating at roadblocks and other checkpoints.  The Mission says it has increased its logistical and material support to the National Police in order to combat widespread crime and insecurity, in particular kidnappings, which have surged again in recent months.  This situation has led UN peacekeepers to boost the numbers of routine patrols of the entire territory, bringing the total number of motorized patrols to more than 2,740 and foot patrols to more than 2,152 this month alone.


Today is World Tuberculosis (TB) Day.  In a message to mark the occasion, the Secretary-General says that, if we are to prevent a virtually untreatable tuberculosis epidemic, we must tackle the roots of the problem:  poor services; poor supplies; poor prescribing; and poor use of drugs.  This is a fight that can be won only with the collective commitment of millions of individuals, donors and researchers, doctors and health-care workers, patients and family members.  Noting that tuberculosis is all the more deadly when it intersects with the HIV epidemic, the Secretary-General adds that the UN will convene a Global Leaders’ HIV/TB Forum this June in an effort to boost collective capacity to drive down HIV-associated TB deaths.  We have his entire message upstairs.

**World Food Programme

The World Food Programme has issued an emergency appeal to its donors to close a funding gap of at least half a billion dollars resulting from soaring food and fuel prices.  WFP says that, despite efforts to reduce its costs by buying locally, it is now paying 55 per cent more for food than it was last June.  As of a month ago, the agency had a $500 million shortfall in its food ration budget.  But since then, food prices have risen another 20 per cent and they show no sign of slowing down.  In a recent op-ed, the Secretary-General noted that rising food prices have resulted in a “new face of hunger, increasingly affecting communities that had previously been protected”.  Inevitably, he said, it is the “bottom billion” who are hit hardest:  people living on one dollar a day or less.

**Millennium Development Goals in Asia

In a video message to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Regional Round Table on Promotion and Achievement of Millennium Development Goals through Education and Outreach, taking place in Bangkok, the Secretary-General notes that South-East Asia has made significant progress in such areas as reducing child mortality rates and the number of people living in extreme poverty.  But that progress has been uneven, with growing income disparities and threats to the environment, he noted.  He urged those gathered to help close these gaps by formulating fresh approaches to development challenges and by following through on new ideas.  We have the text of his message upstairs.

**World Meteorological Day

World Meteorological Day was yesterday.  This year’s theme is “Observing our Planet for a Better Future”.  To mark the day, the World Meteorological Organization is calling for greater investment in technology for observing weather, climate and water conditions.  WMO notes that millions of people are more vulnerable than ever to extreme weather.  While state-of-the-art equipment exists in various parts of the world, it is often not available in the world’s poorest countries, which are also the most prone to natural hazards.  We have more information also upstairs.

**Slavery Event

Tomorrow, the first annual commemoration of the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade takes place in Conference Room 1 from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.  Both the Secretary-General and the General Assembly President will take part in the observance.  Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information Kiyo Akasaka will moderate the programme, which features performances by drummers and dancers from Guinea, Mali and Senegal; poetry from Liberia; and a steel band from the Caribbean.  Harry Belafonte will give the keynote address to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the United States’ abolition of the slave trade.  We have more information upstairs.

**Press Conferences Tomorrow

And then at noon tomorrow, our guest will be Jorge Sampaio, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy to Stop Tuberculosis, who will discuss global TB control in 2008.

And at 1:30 there will be a press conference about the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade, with Kiyo Akasaka, Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information; Harry Belafonte, Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF; United States Congressman Donald Payne; and Ambassador Christopher Hackett of Barbados.

This is all I have for you and I have some good news because Janos is going to brief you today.

**Questions and answers

Question:  On Cyprus, I guess Mr. Møller is leaving by the end of the week and until his replacement is made, does he attend Mr. Pascoe’s meetings in the area or is he just leaving?  And then, what dates do we have for Mr. Pascoe’s trip to the region?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have a date yet but we’ll certainly get one for you as soon as possible.

Question:  And on recent FYROM, do we have any other announcement as far as how much progress has been made in these negotiations?

Spokesperson:  You’ll have your opportunity for asking the person in charge himself, Mr. Nimetz, when he comes to talk to you tomorrow.

Question:  Has the Secretary-General been informed by Mr. Nimetz of his latest meetings with the parties?

Spokesperson:  Yes, the Secretary-General is informed on a regular basis on what the progress is and where we are at.  He has regular updates.

Question:  On the issue of tuberculosis, the Secretary-General described it as a virtually untreatable tuberculosis epidemic.  Does he see it as a threat to all nations?

Spokesperson:  Drug-resistant TB is something that has been spreading, as you know.  I think there’s a map of where the dangers are more obvious and more tangible, and you can have more information upstairs on that.

Question:  Will the Secretary-General urge more than restraint on the issue of Tibet, given the unrest there?

Spokesperson:  For the time being he’s just waiting and observing what is happening.

Question:  In Zimbabwe, the elections are this Saturday.  There already have been accusations of vote rigging.  Has the Secretary-General made any comments on that?  Made any statements?  How does he hope the outcome will turn out?

Spokesperson:  He’s waiting for the outcome, waiting for the results.  I don’t think we are directly observing those elections.

Question:  Will he urge free and fair elections?

Spokesperson:  Of course.

Spokesperson:  On FYROM, Michèle, as you know, last Friday in Brussels there was a meeting between Greek Foreign Minister Bakoyannis and FYROM Foreign Minister Milososki, which Daniel Fried attended, the Deputy Secretary of State of the United States.  During the meeting, Mr. Fried submitted some new ideas, some new proposals, regarding the name issue.  I would like to ask if his ideas will be discussed during tomorrow’s meeting and if it will replace the existing ideas of Mr. Nimetz.

Spokesperson:  We have to wait for the meeting to take place tomorrow and then we’ll try to get you a readout of that meeting.

Question:  Is the Secretary-General meeting the Australian Prime Minister during his visit here later this week?

Spokesperson:  I didn’t hear your question.

Question:  The Australian Prime Minister is due here later this week, Friday and Saturday.  Will he be meeting the Secretary-General?

Spokesperson:  I will check that for you.  I’ll check the Secretary-General’s schedule.

[The Spokesperson later added that the Secretary-General would indeed meet with the Australian Prime Minister later this week.]

Question:  Two questions on Nepal.  One is a report about Maoist combatants arrested with US registered weapons, meaning weapons that were to have been locked up.  Given that the UN’s role was to make sure those weapons stayed locked up, can you confirm that and how will that be placed?

Spokesperson:  I will certainly check on the information you’re giving and try to find out what is true and what happened exactly.

Question:  Also, a lot of protestors have been getting arrested in Kathmandu in front of the UN building.  What guidance is the UN providing, if any, to Nepalese authorities?  I mean, are these arrested being made at the UN’s request?  Is the UN saying, don’t arrest people?  There are a lot of protests about Tibet in front of the UN.

Spokesperson:  I don’t think the UN can issue guidance to the local authorities.  I can check for you exactly what is happening with those demonstrators.

Question:  Is it the UN’s position that people have a right to protest right in front of the UN building without being arrested?

Spokesperson:  Definitely.

Question:  Michèle, how do you view the agreement between the Fatah and Hamas groups?  Do you have any comment on that?

Spokesperson:  We don’t have any comment but from what I read, the agreement was already broken.

Question:  Not literally but the Israelis are against it totally.

Spokesperson:  We’ll check it for you.  We’re certainly observing the situation.

Question:  What’s the reaction to the agreement?

Spokesperson:  We don’t have a reaction to the agreement.  We are still waiting to hear more about it.

Question:  But would you encourage agreement?

Spokesperson:  Of course.  The Secretary-General has always said there is one Palestine and he sees the occupied territories as one territory.

Question:  There’s a letter that 125-some NGOs have said they’ve written to Ban Ki-moon on water issues, asking him to withdraw from something called the CEO Water Mandate, claiming that it’s run by corporations and it’s just an excuse for exploitation of water resources.  Did he get this letter?  They’ve put it out, they’ve published the letter but did he receive it and if so, what then?

Spokesperson:  I can check that for you.  I don’t have the letter at this point.

[The Spokesperson later added that the letter had been received and, according to the United Nations Global Compact Office, the Mandate’s purpose is to provide a platform for companies and stakeholders to share knowledge and emerging practices with respect to water stewardship and sustainability.  Regarding a 5 March event, which the letter reportedly alleges was a meeting between corporations and their allies to map out their plan of action for the CEO Water Mandate, the Global Compact Office notes that the learning-and-dialogue session brought companies together with a range of stakeholders, including non-business attendees and representatives from various United Nations agencies.  The Spokesperson added that the Global Compact Office has said, “The UN Global Compact Office has long recognized and stated that voluntary initiatives cannot be a substitute for regulation or government action.  Rather, the two are complementary, with voluntary platforms such as The CEO Water Mandate providing a space for learning and innovation.”]

Question:  Also, there’s reports of a G-77 letter to Mr. Ban, again about this issue of Office of Special Adviser on Africa, that they’re now taking again the position that it should go to the General Assembly and that he should not have merged or had a USG covering that and small islands States.  Are you aware of that letter?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have it, no.  I am aware there is such a letter.  I don’t know whether it was officially received yet by the Secretary-General.

[The Spokesperson later added that the letter had not been received.]

Question:  And what’s his thinking on that?  Does he agree it should go through the Assembly before the move he took on this?

Spokesperson:  I’ll get back to you on this.

Question:  Michèle, do you have an update on the rape charges against Indian peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo?

Spokesperson:  The Indian peacekeepers?

Question:  The Indian peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Spokesperson:  But I told you they were Indian peacekeepers in South Africa.  And I already told you that the charges were withdrawn, so there were never any charges pursued.

Question:  There were new reports out today saying that there were in fact.

Spokesperson:  I would like to see those reports because I’m not aware of that.  All I’m aware of is that there was a complaint against three Indian peacekeepers in South Africa and they were from the MONUC contingent, and that the plaintiff had withdrawn the charges.

Janos, it’s all yours.

Briefing by the Assembly President’s Spokesperson

Good afternoon.  So as Michèle announced, I’m the good news.  Maybe not personally but the fact that I’m here.  Good to see you.  I have a couple of things for you.

**General Assembly President

Let me start with the President.  General Assembly President, Srgjan Kerim, will be on an official visit to Italy and Finland this week.  His programme in Italy includes meetings with Prime Minister Romano Prodi and with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Massimo D’Alema.  In Rome, the President will also have a private meeting with the Pope.  In Finland, he will meet with President Tarja Halonen, Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen, Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Paavo Väyrynen and Speaker of the Parliament Sauli Niinistö.  While in Finland, President Kerim will also attend the Hana Forum seminar on, “Is the UN capable of keeping and building peace?”  And he will deliver the keynote speech at that seminar.  The title of that keynote speech is, “The United Nations in the era of globalization.”  Panellists of the seminar include former General Assembly Presidents Jan Eliasson and Harri Holkeri.

The topics of the meeting that the President will have in Italy and in Finland will of course revolve around the General Assembly priorities, and especially some of those priorities that have upcoming meetings tied to them, such as the Millennium Development Goals -- as you know, on 1 and 2 April, we will have a major meeting on that -- also, the Financing for Development process and of course, UN reforms.  With the Pope, obviously, the President will, amongst others, discuss the Pope’s upcoming 18 April visit.

Michèle mentioned that tomorrow there will be the observance ceremony for the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade.  That’ll be in the ECOSOC chamber at 10.  She mentioned that the President of the General Assembly will be there.  In fact, the President, because of his travel, will be represented by the acting President, who currently is the Permanent Representative of Iraq, and he will deliver a message on behalf of President Kerim.

**Letters Received

Let me mention and confirm a number of letters that have been received by the President’s Office.  First, let me say that President Kerim last week received a letter from the current Chairman of the Latin American and Caribbean Group, the so-called GRULAC, from the Ambassador of Venezuela, informing President Kerim that the group endorsed the candidature of Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann of Nicaragua to the Presidency of the sixty-third session of the General Assembly.  According to the regional rotation principle it is the GRULAC group that the next GA President should be nominated from.  According to rule 30 of the GA rules and procedures the GA should elect the new President at least three months before the start of the new session so that means before 16 June as the sixty-third session starts on 16 September.  So look for an early June date for the election.

Let me confirm that the Office of the President did receive Thursday afternoon two letters relating to Security Council reform.  One was from the Permanent Representative of Cape Verde on behalf of the African Group.  They wrote a letter on proposed next steps as regards the process of Security Council reform.  The Permanent Representative of Cyprus, also Thursday afternoon, delivered a letter on behalf of the so-called overarching group, a group comprised of a number of Member States from all regions, and this letter includes an attached draft proposal on Council reform.  Earlier, the Office of the President also received a letter from the Permanent Representative of Italy on behalf of the so-called Uniting for Consensus group, with a brief attached proposal on the group’s suggestions for the way forward.  The President, along with the other members of the Task Force on Security Council reform -- these are the permanent representatives of Bangladesh, Chile and Portugal -- will study these proposals and initiatives and then will decide on how to proceed.

**Upcoming Items

A couple of things for the week and upcoming things for next week.

The Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary), as some of you have been following that issue, is in its fourth and final week of work as regards the first part of its resumed session.  So that will end on Friday.  Please note that there is a second part of the resumed session and that will be in May and that is also supposed to be for four weeks.

As regards upcoming meetings, the next plenary session of the General Assembly is scheduled for 31 March, so that’s exactly a week from now, and it’ll be on improving global road safety.  I’m mentioning this because in the Journal there’s already reference to this in the context that a related draft resolution, meaning a related draft resolution to the issue of improving global road safety, sponsored by Oman, is currently being discussed by Member States in informal consultations.

And then as I already mentioned, on 1 and 2 April, the General Assembly will have its thematic debate on Millennium Development Goals, concentrating on poverty and hunger, education and health.  And I will have much more details on that towards the end of this week.  That’s all I have.  Any questions?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  You mentioned the group that had nominated Miguel d’Escoto for the Presidency.  What is it?  A rotation?  What is the possibility or probability that he will be confirmed as the next President?

Spokesperson:  If you have seen the way the Member States have been following this or working with this issue in the past years, the practice has been that the Membership of the UN tends to accept by acclamation and not challenge and not even put it to a vote, a nomination coming from a regional group.  In the past, more than 10 years ago (during the forty-sixth session), with the Asian Group you had a case where you had three nominations, but from the same regional Group, and then there was a vote.  If by any chance, the rules say, if there is a vote and not by acclamation, then election is to be by simple majority.

Question:  So most likely he’ll be elected.

Spokesperson:  Most likely, yes, according to the present state of affairs.  Matthew, is that a question?

Question:  I wanted to ask.  The President of the General Assembly has said that he favours a proposal that the Office of the President of the General Assembly should be funded by the UN and not by outside parties, whether government or corporate.  Is he going to be making such a proposal during his term and if so, what are the steps that he’ll be taking to do that?

Spokesperson:  I think that what he clearly said was that he feels that the President himself should receive a salary from the UN and the Office should be funded from the UN budget, so that you don’t get into a situation that past Presidents have been in, in fact all Presidents have been involved with, namely that living costs, salary and residence had been provided by the sending Member State.  This the President had made clear when the Assembly discussed the revitalization of the General Assembly on 26 November. In his speech he made clear reference to do away with this makeshift arrangement and have something clear as regards the finances.

Then, at the same time you may remember, because at the beginning of this year, I think I informed you about the fact that, based on a resolution emanating from the sixty-first session, a Working Group on General Assembly Revitalization has been convened and set up with two facilitators, the Permanent Representatives of Paraguay and Poland.  And they’re carrying this issue forward.  So the issue of GA revitalization, past resolutions on GA revitalization, work of the Office of the President, funding of the Office, funding for the President, all of that together is going to be also part of the discussions on General Assembly revitalization, within the Working Group context.  So let’s see where this issue goes.  Let’s see how Member States want to take this issue forward.

And you’re quite right.  You had asked the President one on one and he had made if very clear that he strongly favours this (new) arrangement.

Question:  You think there’ll be a vote on whatever the output of the Working Group is during the upcoming Assembly?

Spokesperson:  Matthew, the Working Group is made up of Member States so it is very much in the hands of the Member States how they want to carry this issue forward, whether they want to take up this proposal, whether they want to do something or they don’t, it’s their decision, their call.  You know, as we have said, and as the President openly said in his speech on 26 November, he favours a move on this issue.

Question:  Okay.  I have more questions but I’ll send them.

Spokesperson:  Okay.  And if there are no more questions, thank you very much for your attention.

* *** *

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