25 September 2008


25 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

Good afternoon all.

**Press Conferences Today

At 12:45 p.m., we’re going to have another press conference in this room.  So it will be a short briefing by myself and by Enrique after me.  At 12:45 pm, Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero of Spain will hold a press briefing right here in 226.

At 4:15 p.m., Winston Baldwin Spencer, Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda and Chairman of G-77; Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann, President of the sixty third Session of the General Assembly; and Ambassador Francis Lorenzo of the Dominican Republic will brief on the 2008 UN MDG (Millennium Development Goals) Achievement Award.

And at 5:50 p.m., in Conference Room 4, the Secretary-General will hold a joint press conference with President Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania; Prime Minister Gordon Brown of the United Kingdom; and Bill Gates, Co-Chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, on the Millennium Development Goals high-level event.  That will conclude the events of the day.

**Millennium Development Goals High-Level Event

The General Assembly President and the Secretary-General have today convened a high-level event on the Millennium Development Goals.  Nearly 100 Heads of State and Government are taking part, along with many leaders from the private sector and civil society.  The purpose of the event is to review progress on the MDGs, identify gaps in that progress, and commit to concrete action to bridge those gaps.

In remarks to the opening plenary this morning, the Secretary-General noted that the progress made on the MDGs in the past eight years is a sign that we are moving in the right direction.  But we are not moving quickly enough, he said.

With the current financial crisis threatening the poorest of the poor most of all, the Secretary-General called for the injection of new energy into the global partnership for development.  He asked those gathered to “be bold” in their commitments.  “I ask you to be generous.  Tell us what you will do and how you will do it,” he said.

In addition to the high-level event itself, more than 60 side events are taking place during this “MDG Week”.  They include the events on Monday with a special focus on Africa, in the lead-up to today’s event, as well as ones in which civil society organizations, philanthropic institutions and other stakeholders have announced commitments.  You’ll have more on the session this morning from Enrique in a few minutes.

The Secretary-General is taking part in several events today, including –- this morning –- with the Irish Hunger Task Force and Oxfam.  At the latter event, he signed his name to Oxfam’s “In My Name” glass pledge wall, through which signatories promise to call on Governments to meet their commitments to the MDGs.  This afternoon, the Secretary-General is taking part in events on malaria, climate change and gender equality.

At 5:50 p.m., as I said earlier, the Secretary-General is holding a joint press conference with the President of Tanzania, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, and Bill Gates of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, in Conference Room 4.  At that time, the Secretary-General is expected to highlight some of the commitments announced throughout the day.

DPI is preparing a press summary of key outcomes of the MDG high-level event, which should be available to the media before the Secretary-General's press conference.

A final report will be issued in October, in all UN languages.

Following that, the Secretary-General will host roughly 35 world leaders at an evening event to discuss concrete steps for addressing the dual food and climate change crises.  There is more information on all of these events upstairs in my office.  Looking ahead, the next step will be the Doha conference that will review action on the Monterrey Consensus at the end of November.  The Secretary-General has expressed the hope that the momentum of this week will be carried on to Doha.

The UN Fund for Partnerships will follow-up on the commitments and, together with the UN Development Programme, present a report in 2010 on the status of these new commitments. As you know, the Secretary-General has called for a summit on the MDGs in 2010 to further assess the delivery of commitments taken.


On malaria, world leaders are gathering today at the 2008 Millennium Development Goals Malaria Summit to endorse an ambitious new Global Malaria Action Plan and commit nearly $3 billion towards reducing the number of malaria deaths to near-zero by 2015.

The Secretary-General will be dropping by the Malaria Summit in a few moments.  He is expected to laud the great progress we have seen in the fight against malaria.  He will add that our approach to malaria can serve as a model for other campaigns against additional ills –- not just disease, but also hunger, poverty, illiteracy and gender inequality.

Today’s Summit is being hosted by the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Malaria, Ray Chambers. According to Chambers, we will not only achieve the malaria target within the Millennium Development Goals, but we will actually far surpass it.

To halt and reverse the incidence of malaria is not only a specific Millennium Development Goal -- it is also essential to improving maternal and child health, improving education and significantly reducing poverty, he adds.  We have more information on the summit, as well as the Secretary-General’s full remarks upstairs.

**Security Council

The Security Council began consultations an hour ago on the Middle East, to discuss a letter from Saudi Arabia concerning a proposal to hold a formal meeting on Israeli settlements.

Yesterday, the Security Council deferred until 15 December a decision on the size of a military component to the United Nations peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic and Chad, known as MINURCAT, for which the Secretary-General has proposed 6,000 troops.  The Council unanimously extended MINURCAT’s current mandate until 15 March 2009 and expressed its intention to authorize the deployment of a military component, taking fully into account the Secretary-General’s recommendations.

** Myanmar

On Myanmar, the Secretary-General yesterday welcomed the release by the Government of Mymanmar of several political prisoners, including the country’s longest-serving political prisoner, U Win Tin, and six other senior members of the National League for Democracy.

The release of political prisoners, as part of an amnesty procedure, was a focus of discussion between the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser, Mr. Ibrahim Gambari, and the Government of Myanmar during his latest visit there.

Reiterating that all political prisoners should be released, the Secretary-General, in a statement, added that he looks forward to the Government’s further action in this regard.

UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura yesterday also expressed his “immense joy” over the release by the authorities of Myanmar of U Win Tin.

** Somalia

On Somalia, at least 12,000 people have fled Mogadishu in the past week because of intensified fighting between Islamist insurgents and Government forces and their Ethiopian military backers.  That’s according to UNHCR, the UN refugee agency.

About half of the 12,000 newly displaced have found shelter within Mogadishu, while the rest have fled to Afgooye, some 30 kilometres south-west of the capital.

** Somalia – Food Aid

Still on Somalia, WFP's Executive Director, Josette Sheeran, has welcomed Canada’s decision to extend by a month its protection of ships carrying humanitarian aid to Somalia.  Ships sailing off the coast of Somalia have been targeted by pirates, placing at risk the lifeline for some three million people.

As a result, some private ship owners had threatened to cancel their contracts with WFP out of fear of pirate attacks.  That move would have prevented some 100,000 tons of food from reaching Somalia.

The Canadian vessel was scheduled to end its mission on 27 September, but Canada’s decision now extends it until 23 October.

** Nepal

The United Nations and its humanitarian partners today issued an appeal seeking $15.5 million to cover the needs of 70,000 flood victims in Nepal over the next six months.

The appeal, including six NGO projects and 27 UN agency projects, comes in addition to Nepal’s $102 million Transition Appeal for 2008, currently only 44.5 per cent funded.

While the Transition Appeal is helping agencies to address chronic problems in Nepal across all sectors, the flood emergency has added acute needs to an already challenging and complex humanitarian environment.

The flooding occurred in eastern Nepal, when the Koshi River, one of the largest river basins in Asia, breached its eastern embankment on 18 August.  The force of the water led to 80 per cent of the river changing its course.  In addition to the disaster in eastern Nepal, incessant rainfall in the mid-western and far-western regions between 19 and 21 September has resulted in more flooding and landslides in eight more districts.  More than 30 deaths have been confirmed.


UNICEF Executive Director Ann Veneman today delivered a message on the Secretary-General’s behalf at an event sponsored by the Global Campaign for Education to support the Education for All Initiative. In his message, the Secretary-General emphasized that if we forge a broad partnership, we can achieve the Millennium Development Goals by the target date of 2015.

He noted that we have already seen great progress in the area of education.  More children are in school than ever before.  More girls are getting the equal education that they deserve.  Now, he asserted, we have to build on this momentum based on the conviction that education can drive economic and social progress.  We have that message upstairs.

**Treaty Event

And the Office of Legal Affairs says that four countries will be taking actions on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, along with its Optional Protocol.   New Zealand and Uganda are expected to ratify the Convention, with Uganda also ratifying the Optional Protocol.   Pakistan will be signing the Convention while Romania will sign the Optional Protocol, as well as the International Tropical Timber Agreement.  You can have more upstairs on this.

**Press Conferences Tomorrow

And looking ahead, at 9:30 a.m. tomorrow, there will be a press conference by Amre Moussa, Secretary-General of the League of Arab States.

At 11:15 a.m., still tomorrow, Dimitris Christofias, President of Cyprus, will brief.

At 3 p.m., Ali Osman Mohamed Taha, Vice-President of the Sudan, will hold a press conference as well.

And at 5 p.m., in Conference Room 4, there will be the joint press conference by the Middle East Quartet following the Quartet meeting tomorrow afternoon.

And this is all I have for you at this point.  I will take very brief questions, please, because we have to leave the floor to Enrique.  Yes, George.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Forgive me, I didn’t quite catch it.  There was a press conference at two-something.  I’d like to know the exact time, and I assume it’s here, with Ambassador Lorenzo and two or three other people.

Spokesperson:  It will be at 4:15 p.m., an award.

Question:  4:15 p.m.?

Spokesperson:  Yes.  It will be the Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda; Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann, President of the sixty third Session; and Ambassador Francis Lorenzo of the Dominican Republic.

Question:  Thank you.

Spokesperson:  You are welcome.  Yes, Mathew.

Question:  Michèle, in the last few days there have been some reports that the UN has first had its operations looted in Sri Lanka and then has re-started its humanitarian operations.  What’s the status of UN programmes?

Spokesperson:  In Sri Lanka?  I can get the information for you.  I don’t have it with me right now.

Question:  Okay.  Also, yesterday at the stakeout the Foreign Minister of Serbia, Vuk Jeremić, said that his country has asked the General-Secretary -- as he called it so I am assuming that means Mr. Ban -- or the Secretariat to look into the funds in the Kosovo Trust Agency; where the money has gone.  Has there been any letter from the Serbian Government?  I want to confirm that they made that request and what you’re doing about it.

Spokesperson:  Well, there should be a readout later this afternoon on the meeting between the Secretary-General and the Serbian President.  So, we’ll get that for you.  Any other questions?  Okay, Mr. Abbadi.

Question:  Thank you, Michèle.  As you indicated, Saudi Arabia has asked for an urgent meeting of the Security Council to discuss the Israeli settlements.  The Secretary-General, as you know very well, has a very busy schedule.  Does he intend to participate in the discussions?

Spokesperson:  I don’t know yet, but I will find out what his schedule will be tomorrow.  Thank you so much.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

Good afternoon to everyone.  Let’s go quickly, we don’t have much time.  Let me start by providing you with the latest figures that we have on attendance.

For the general debate, we have 76 Heads of State and 35 Heads of Government.  And for today’s event on the MDGs, we have 45 Heads of State and 31 Heads of Government.

Since there are many things going on, and sometimes even at the same time, let me flag to you only a couple of things and then I will take some questions.

One is the data provided by the President of the General Assembly in his opening remarks this morning, which are worth repeating, and I quote:

“For every dollar that the developed countries spend on international assistance, they invest 10 dollars in military budgets.

It is calculated that the amount spent so far on the Iraq war could have paid for a full course of primary schooling for all of the world’s children and youth who are not in school.

The price of a single missile is enough to build about 100 schools in any country in Africa, Asia or Latin America.”

The second issue that I wanted to mention to you is what I believe is one of the highlights of today, which might pass without proper notice due to many speeches and abundant information about the MDGs.

I am referring to the launch of a joint initiative by the President of the General Assembly and the Secretary-General to make global health a priority of their respective mandates.

Both mentioned today in their opening remarks at the MDGs high-level event that they will work together and make use of their leadership to convene leaders of UN health-related agencies and non-UN global health leaders from foundations, the private sector and civil society, along with researchers and academics, to take the necessary action in the immediate and long-term future to address this pressing issue.

And that is basically all I have for you today.  Since we don’t have much time, I am ready for any questions that you have.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Just briefly, the meeting at 4:15 pm with President d'Escoto and the Prime Minister of Antigua and Ambassador Lorenzo; this (inaudible) special topic.  What was the topic of that meeting?

Spokesperson:  It is the status of the MDGs, but I can get some more information for you.

Question:  The President of Ukraine, Victor Yushchenko, brought up the fact in the general debate that this year, Ukraine will mark the seventy fifth anniversary of the great famine, which took the lives of millions of people, and stated clearly it was not directed against any people or State.  Since this item was on the… (General Committee) of consideration by the General Assembly, could you explain the procedure that was used that resulted in the postponement of this item; naming the members of the General Committee?

Spokesperson:  Yes, there was a meeting of the General Committee, as I mentioned here before, where they discussed which items need to be discussed in the agenda, and some were approved.  And on this one there was a discussion and the member countries decided to postpone it.  What does it mean to postpone?  It means that they are going to have more dialogue in order to reach a consensus, or whether they have to go for votes to decide whether that item is going to be included.  Right now it is not included in the agenda, but it could be included at any time.  And if I remember well, because I am doing it by heart, I think for that particular issue they put a deadline, which is the end of this year.  Mr. Abbadi.

Question:  Thank you.  This meeting you mentioned previously, regarding health, included the meeting between agencies and the private sector.  Could you give some more specifics?  Are Governments also included in this meeting and what are the specific goals to be achieved?

Spokesperson:  As I said, and I flagged that because I thought it was not going to be very much noticed with so many things going on.  As you all know, health is fundamental to development, peace, security, and human rights.  And despite rapid technological advances and significant gains in certain areas, major challenges remain.  There are, in particular, three areas which will continue to lag behind:  one is functioning and affordable health systems; the second is maternal health; and the third is the diseases of the world’s poor, or more commonly defined as neglected tropical diseases (NTDs).  The idea is to convene a meeting not only with world leaders, but also with civil society and everybody who is involved in these issues, to try to tackle the issue and make a very immediate plan of action to try to solve the…

Question:  Is this a high-level meeting and where would it take place and when?

Spokesperson:  The idea is that, as it stands now, because we’re working on it, is that during the sixty third session of the General Assembly; on the first step there will be a meeting on “Strengthening Global Health: The Health MDGs and Beyond”, which should be convened here most likely by the end of 2008 or the beginning of 2009.  And then later on, as a second step, there would be a high-level debate, probably by June 2009, to try to call for a General Assembly resolution.

Question:  Sorry, does this concern specific diseases or is it a general meeting?

Spokesperson:  No, as I said before, it is global health.  It is specific on global health.  If you read both speeches today of the President of the General Assembly and the Secretary-General, they both refer to this issue and they both have agreed that they are working together to use their leadership to try to really tackle this issue as one of the immediate steps, obviously under the umbrella of the MDGs.  Matthew?

Question:  A follow-up to Anne’s question about the debate about the Ukraine famine memorial resolution.  Can you either confirm or deny that there was an incident during the debate of that item in which the President of the General Assembly ended up clearing the room due to back-and-forth points between the US and Russia?

Spokesperson:  I can confirm that there was absolutely no incident.

Question:  No incident whatsoever?

Spokesperson:  No incident whatsoever.  I was there.  I was present.  I’ve read your story.  I think it really does not reflect at all what happened there.  There was…

Question:  Can you describe…?

Spokesperson:  Let me finish, please.  There was a normal debate, as any other meeting, with different positions.  They did not reach an agreement and then after further discussions they decided to postpone the item.  Let me make it very clear, because I have seen some of these reports.  The President of the General Assembly did not call any security guards, nobody at that meeting called any security guards, and there was absolutely no need to call any security guards.  So I don’t know how that information got out, because, as I said, I was informing you daily on the daily situation and it was a normal meeting.  It happened with other items where they did not reach an agreement and decided to postpone it.  They could have decided to vote and they did not vote.

Question:  A follow-up question.  Did the Ambassador of Kazakhstan call the interruption of her by the US representative an outrage?  And how many points of order were there back and forth between the US and Russia?

Spokesperson:  Well, that I can check for you.  I have to check on the notes.  But, as I said, there was a dialogue and they had different opinions and mainly it was more on procedure than on the substance.  But let me also make this very clear:  it was only on procedural matters, but I can check a little bit more on that for you.  But as I said, there was absolutely no incident and nobody was calling any security guards, and certainly not the President of the General Assembly.

Question:  When they’re talking of procedure, yesterday at the stakeout, the Foreign Minister of Serbia said that they’re asking for the resolution to send the matter of Kosovo to the International Court of Justice to be considered as soon as possible after the general debate.  Are you aware of that request?  Who decides when it will be scheduled and put on the agenda?

Spokesperson:  The General Assembly does.  I can find out more details for you.  As soon as the general debate ends, they start planning what are the topics and when and in which committees they are going to be discussing it.

Question:  In the General Committee, or where is that decision…?

Spokesperson:  As I said, the General Committee was only to decide which items were going to be discussed and where.  In other words, they will decide now whether it goes to the First Committee, the Second Committee, the Third Committee, so we’ll have a full agenda.  So basically, just to give you an idea, if the Third Committee meets in one week, they will make their own programme and then we will know which are they items and when are they going to discuss them.

Question:  First, I wanted to know, you read out some statements by Miguel d’Escoto; I was wondering where we can get copies of his full address.  And the second question is the four o’clock meeting President d’Escoto will be at, is that also going to have one of the… is one of the other speakers the head of the Group of 77?

Spokesperson:  On the first issue, about where you can find all the speeches, you can go to the President of the General Assembly web page, which is under the UN web page.  And there you have all the speeches available.  On the second, I’ll find out for you and I’ll let you know later.

Question:  Since you tell us, Enrique, that you were present at this exchange over the Ukrainian famine resolution, do you recall off hand which of the American ambassadors it was that was speaking on that issue for the US.

Spokesperson:  I can check that for you later on.

Question:  I mean, whether it was Ambassador Khalilzad or Ambassador Wolff.

Spokesperson:  It wasn’t Ambassador Khalilzad.

Question:  It was not Khalilzad?  So it was either Ambassador Wolff or (inaudible) or some other person?

Spokesperson:  Correct.

Question:  Also Russia, can you state who was the Ambassador for Russia?

Spokesperson:  The Permanent Representative.

Question:  Permanent Representative?

Spokesperson:  Yes.

Question:  Ambassador Churkin?

Spokesperson:  Yes.

Question:  Thank you.

Spokesperson:  My pleasure. So you don’t have any more questions?  Let’s leave it for the next press conference of Spain.

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