22 September 2008


22 September 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 Enrique Yeves, Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

** Africa -- Development

Good afternoon, all.  I know you’re covering a number of other stories today, but the Secretary-General this morning opened a high-level meeting that he is convening on Africa’s development needs, saying that he is convinced that, through concerted action by African Governments and their development partners, the Millennium Development Goals remain achievable in Africa.

He said that it will cost about $72 billion per year in external financing to achieve the Goals by 2015.  “This price tag may look daunting,” he said, but it is affordable, and falls within existing aid commitments.

He added that perseverance is needed to build peace, and he paid tribute to the people of Zimbabwe for negotiating a Government of national unity.  Similar perseverance is needed to resolve other crises, the Secretary-General added, such as those in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia.  We have his opening statement upstairs; the bilingual statement.

** Pakistan

We issued the following statement on Saturday.

The Secretary-General strongly condemns the heinous terrorist attack on the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad, Pakistan, which has reportedly killed and injured a large number of people.  He expresses his heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims of this appalling attack, as well as to the Government and people of Pakistan.  No cause can justify the indiscriminate targeting of civilians.

** Spain

And we also have another statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the bombings in Spain yesterday and today.

The Secretary-General strongly condemns the recent series of car bombings in Spain, which have resulted in one fatality and the wounding of several others.  He expresses his sympathy for the victims and their families and his solidarity with the Government and people of Spain in the face of such terrorist violence.


The Secretary-General and African Union Commission Chairperson Jean Ping convened a meeting on Darfur at midday Sunday to review the security and humanitarian situation, the political process, deployment of the AU-UN operation (UNAMID) and the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court's decision to seek an arrest warrant for the Sudanese President.

The Under-Secretaries-General for Peacekeeping and Humanitarian Affairs noted the deteriorating security situation on the ground and the impact on their operations to assist the people on the ground in need.  The joint AU-UN Special Representative, Rodolphe Adada, noted calm over the past two days.

On the political process, they reviewed the joint mediator's activities, the Qatari initiative, as well as the Sudanese national peace initiative, and expressed the need for an early normalization of Sudan-Chad relations. The participants highlighted the need to expedite the political process and for all parties to meaningfully engage in that process.

The status and challenges of the deployment of UNAMID was also discussed. The Under-Secretary-General for Field Support outlined efforts to expedite deployment and pressed for much-needed peacekeeping personnel and critical assets.

On International Criminal Court developments, the Secretary-General emphasized the need for justice to run its course in parallel with the peace process.  The AU Commission Chairperson raised the AU’s concerns surrounding the case and explained the AU Peace and Security Council’s position on this issue.

The UN and the AU agreed to use the window of opportunity in the coming months and to keep close coordination to make as much progress as possible on all these fronts.

**Ad Hoc Liaison Committee

The Secretary-General this morning addressed the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee, which deals with assistance to the Palestinian people.

Noting that the Palestinian Authority is facing a budget crisis, he stressed that more predictable donor commitment is needed.  He also said the UN will continue to do everything in its power to create and support those who work towards the goal of a better socio-economic environment for the Palestinian people.  We have his full remarks upstairs.

And here in this room at one p.m. today, there will be a press conference on the Committee’s work.  Here to brief you will be Quartet Representative Tony Blair; Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, and Jonas Gahr Støre, Foreign Minister of Norway, who is the Committee’s Co-chair.  That will be at one p.m. this afternoon in this room, 226.


Meanwhile, on a related note, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) says it is increasingly concerned by the situation facing some 30,000 Palestinian refugees, who were displaced by fighting last year at the Nahr el-Bared refugee camp in northern Lebanon.

UNRWA reports that, unless funds are found in the coming weeks, it will have to stop food distributions to 3,100 families and halt rental subsidies for about 27,000 people by the end of October.

UNRWA says that many of these refugees have already been displaced three times.

** Afghanistan

The UN Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said that yesterday, guns fell silent across much of the country, as soldiers and Taliban all ceased fighting during the International Day of Peace, allowing UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) to begin a polio vaccination campaign.

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Kai Eide, said that the halt to fighting, and marches yesterday in support of peace, showed the huge demand that exists for peace in Afghanistan. He noted that, this week, as many as 1.8 million children stand to benefit by receiving their polio vaccinations.

Eide asserted, “A window for peace has been opened, through which the people of Afghanistan are making themselves heard.”

Meanwhile, the response to the text messaging campaign for the International Day of Peace was a resounding success.  Overall, we have received over 145,000 text messages and online messages about peace from people living in 132 countries.

As you remember, the Secretary-General sent that text message himself on Friday.

**Security Council

And the Security Council began consultations on Afghanistan at noon, to discuss a draft resolution on extending the mandate of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in that country.

** Somalia

Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government and the Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia have completed a second round of talks in Djibouti.

In a joint communiqué, the parties said their meeting, which was chaired by the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, led to an agreement to conduct field assessments and further consultations.

Although they failed to sign a formal ceasefire, they agreed to meet again within two weeks to develop the modalities for an eventual cessation of hostilities.

They also agreed to press ahead with the talks through their respective high-level and joint security committees.

** Democratic Republic of the Congo

On the Democratic Republic of the Congo, UNICEF has appealed for the immediate and unconditional release of 90 children abducted last week by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).

The agency is very concerned that the children will be forced to fight or support fighting in the ranks of LRA, thus putting their lives at risk. The abductions are believed to have occurred last week during concerted attacks on villages in Province Orientale.  The 90 children were forcibly removed from classrooms at local primary and secondary schools.

Meanwhile, the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) confirms that fighting with heavy artillery has continued over the weekend and intensified this morning in the northeast.  The fighting involves the Government and rebels led by General Laurent Nkunda.  We have press releases from the Mission upstairs, and we hope to have more on the situation tomorrow.

** Ethiopia

The World Food Programme (WFP) today appealed for $460 million to feed the hungry in Ethiopia through next March.  WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran notes that the Horn of Africa region is facing its worst humanitarian crisis since 1984.  Many of those most affected live in the arid Somali Region of Ethiopia, where it has not rained for three years.  And on Friday you had a briefing on that situation with Sir John Holmes.

**International Atomic Energy Agency

The Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Mohamed ElBaradei, today addressed that body’s Board of Governors in Vienna. He told them that, this morning, the authorities of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea asked the Agency’s inspectors to remove seals and surveillance equipment at Yongbyon, to enable them to carry out tests at the reprocessing plant, which they say will not involve nuclear material.

ElBaradei said he still hopes that conditions can be created for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to return to the Non-Proliferation Treaty at the earliest possible date and for the resumption by the Agency of comprehensive safeguards.

He added that the IAEA has not been able to make substantive progress on the alleged studies and associated questions relevant to possible military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear programme.  These remain of serious concern.

**United Nations Population Fund

The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and the International Confederation of Midwives have launched an initiative to address the severe lack of midwives in developing countries.

The project will focus on education and training of midwives, as well as developing practice standards and strengthening national midwifery associations.

The three-year $9 million initiative will start in 11 of the hardest-hit countries, all in sub-Saharan Africa, then expand to include 30 countries, if funding allows.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization is holding a round table breakfast with First Ladies and women leaders on maternal health this Thursday.

**High-Level Meeting -- Side Events

And there are numerous side events taking place today, timed to coincide with today’s high-level meeting and tomorrow’s opening of the General Assembly general debate.

This morning, the Secretary-General met with more than 20 advertising agency leaders from around the world.  They launched a new public-awareness partnership to support UN-led efforts on a new global climate change agreement.  Industry officials said they were ready to fully commit their resources to supporting UN communication efforts on this issue.

This afternoon, UNESCO Director-General Koichiro Matsuura is convening a high-level dialogue on financing education for the MDGs.  Afghan President Hamid Karzai will be honoured at that event, which takes place from 1.15 to 2.45 p.m. in the delegates’ dining room.

From 3 to 5:30 p.m. in Conference Room 2, there will be a discussion on “A Response to the World Food Crisis:  Smallholder Agriculture, Food Security and Rural Development in Africa”.  Panellists include the President of Malawi, the Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization and Columbia University Professor Jeffrey Sachs.  The Secretary-General will make opening remarks.

And from 3 to 6 p.m. in Conference Room 3, gender experts are convening the Africa Women’s Forum, to address the achievements made and challenges facing the continent’s women.

** Bakassi Peninsula Meeting

In light of the fact that the President of Nigeria, Mr. Umaru Musa Yar'Adua, will not be attending this year's ordinary session of the General Assembly, the high-level meeting between the Secretary-General and Presidents Paul Biya and Umaru Yar'Adua, initially scheduled for this afternoon, will not take place as planned.

**Treaty Event

Just a reminder that, in conjunction with the General Assembly general debate, the 2008 treaty event will also begin tomorrow at UN Headquarters. As part of the annual campaign, nearly three dozen Member States have indicated that they intend to sign, ratify or accede to at least one international treaty.

Updates and photos of all signings will be available at the Office of Legal Affairs’ new treaty website, treaties.un.org.  Note that there is no www in the web address.


The fourth ministerial meeting to promote the early entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) will take place at UN Headquarters on Wednesday, attended by the Secretary-General and leading international figures to promote the treaty that would outlaw all nuclear weapons testing on Earth.

In the meeting, the Secretary-General will urge all countries that have not done so to sign or ratify the CTBT, so that it can finally enter into force.  We have more information on the meeting and the press conference upstairs

**General Assembly Speech

The Secretary-General tomorrow will tell the General Assembly of the need to respond to the global financial, energy and food crises with collaboration and global leadership, in his address to the Assembly plenary.

In that speech, he will highlight the need to galvanize global awareness and action to realize the Millennium Development Goals; to respond to the global food crisis and to ongoing peacekeeping challenges with new resources; and to tackle climate change.  We will have embargoed copies of his address upstairs later today.

**Press Conferences Tomorrow

There are several press encounters scheduled for tomorrow.  It’s a laundry list, my God!  I don’t know whether you can keep track of all this!

At 9:45 a.m., President Nicolas Sarkozy of France is scheduled to hold a press conference here in Room 226.

At 11 a.m., President Pascal Couchepin of Switzerland is scheduled to meet the press at the Security Council stakeout.

At 2 p.m., Ingibjörg Sólrún Gísladóttir, Foreign Minister of Iceland, and Hjalmar Hannesson, Permanent Representative of Iceland, will brief on Iceland's new fund for the Island Growth Initiative.

At 4:30 p.m. in this room again, Room 226, President Tarja Halonen of Finland, and Alexander Stubb, Foreign Minister of Finland, are scheduled to brief the press.

At 5:30 p.m. in Conference Room 4, there will be a press conference by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran.

And at 7.30 p.m. in Room 226, President Evo Morales Ayma of Bolivia is scheduled to brief the press.

That’s it; you have it all and you have quite a few things to cover.  I’ll take a few questions and I’ll leave, of course, the floor to Enrique who has a lot more to say.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  I just wanted to straighten out the... I saw that on the Secretary-General’s schedule today the meeting with Paul Biya was listed and the Nigerian team was not there.  So I was surprised when you said the Nigerian team was supposed to appear.  I’d like to know, at what point did the Secretary-General get the information that the Nigerian President was not going to be there, and then what was the purpose of this meeting?

Spokesperson:  You mean the meeting with the Secretary-General or the meeting about the Bakassi Peninsula?

Question:  No, no, you said…

Spokesperson:  That it was cancelled.

Question:  Yes.  I wanted to know what is the purpose of that meeting and also, at what point did the Secretary-General know that the Nigerian President would not be coming?

Spokesperson:  I think he found out only yesterday.

Question:  And what was the purpose of the meeting?

Spokesperson:  The purpose of the meeting was to just discuss what has happened with the agreement of the Bakassi Peninsula and actually to congratulate the two on the way the agreement was worked out.

Question:  Now that there was a day-long ceasefire in Afghanistan, is there any plan to have it, in the near future, extended?

Spokesperson: Well, as far as we know, it was to observe the International Day of Peace.  We don’t know whether it will be extended.  We’ll find out tomorrow, of course.

Question:  I have another question about the 140,000 text messages that were received.  Which countries sent the maximum number of text messages?

Spokesperson: I can put you in touch with the people who actually reviewed the whole process.  It’s with the Outreach Division of Department of Public Information, and they can give you all the information that you want to have. 

Question:  Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin is in town tomorrow.  Is there any plan for her to be involved in any of the meetings at the UN, or have there been any requests for her to meet with the Secretary-General?

Spokesperson:  No. There has been no request and as far as I know, she would be coming as a member of the United States delegation, if she came here.  Yes, Pat?

Question:  The UNESCO session at 1:15 p.m., are we invited to cover that or is that a closed?

Spokesperson:  At 1:15?  Yes, I think it’s an open meeting.  You can check our list. I think it’s an open meeting tomorrow.  I don’t have it with me, but you can check upstairs.

Question:  (Inaudible)

Spokesperson:  Well, you can check at anytime with my office about whether a meeting is open or not.

Question:  I wonder if you have any reaction to the announcement of the killing of, the brutal murder of the 12 soldiers in Mauritania that were kidnapped by a terrorist group then they were found dead?  Do you have any reaction?

Spokesperson:  No I don’t have anything on that yet.

Question:  Do you plan to have any?

Spokesperson: I don’t know.  I’ll check with the Department of Political Affairs.  Yes, please, Enrique.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

Good afternoon to everybody.

Since there are many things going on today, I will try to be brief and go to the point.

This morning, in his opening remarks to the high-level meeting on Africa’s development needs, the President of the sixty-third General Assembly, Miguel d´Escoto, said that:

“ Africa has amply fulfilled its own political, economic and social commitments.  To consolidate the progress made and reach our goal of empowering Africa to meet the development challenges it faces, all of us in the international community, especially donor countries and the Bretton Woods institutions, must fully honour our commitments and substantially complement the efforts of the African nations.”

He made a call upon, and I quote again, “the world’s rich countries to redouble their efforts to bring official development assistance, which went from 0.33 per cent of GDP in 2005 to 0.28 per cent in 2007, closer to the Monterrey commitment of 0.7 per cent”.

Mr. d´Escoto added that: “The cry of Africa’s peoples, who yearn not only to survive but to live lives of dignity in decent conditions, does not require that we make new commitments, but only that we have the courage to live up to the words we have spoken many times over, at the Rio, Copenhagen, Beijing, Cairo, New York and Monterrey summits.”

The President concluded by saying: “It is time to move from promises to concrete action.”

After these opening remarks, and those of the Secretary-General as well as of seven other speakers, the participants split into four round tables, two in the morning, which are taking place right now, and the other two will be taking place in the afternoon.

Let me now provide you with the latest figures of attendance of today and the upcoming days.

For today’s Africa meeting there are 26 Heads of State and 9 Heads of Government.

For the general debate starting tomorrow, there are a total of 79 Heads of State and 38 Heads of Government.

And for the MDG meeting starting on Thursday, there are for the time being 56 Heads of State and 36 Heads of Government.

The meeting will conclude later today -- the African needs meeting, I am referring to right now -- with the adoption of a political declaration.

Any questions?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Is the draft of the political declaration available at this point?

Spokesperson:  There is a draft of a political declaration that the participants are negotiating right now.

Question:  Is that available for us to be…?

Spokesperson:  Not yet because it is a draft.  We hope that by the end of the day it will be available for everybody.

Question:  Where is Burma placed on the list of the President’s priorities during this General Assembly session?

Spokesperson:  I can check it for you right after the briefing and I’ll let you know.  I have the list.  Any other questions?  Thank you very much, that was quick.

* *** *

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