DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
5 March 2003
Following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Fred Eckhard, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon. It’s always a pleasure to welcome David Stephen to the briefing. He is the Representative of the Secretary-General for Guinea-Bissau, and he’ll be talking to us about recent developments in that country right at the end of my briefing.
**Statement Attributable to Spokesman/Middle East
On the Middle East, we are expecting a statement attributable to the Spokesman, probably within the hour, concerning the rise in violence in the Middle East in the past few days.
[Before the end of the briefing, Mr. Eckhard received and read out the statement. Following is the text of that statement:
“The Secretary-General is gravely and increasingly concerned by the steady escalation and violence between Israelis and Palestinians, which has left
176 Palestinians and 30 Israelis dead since 1 January. He utterly condemns its latest manifestation, today’s terrorist attack in the Israeli city of Haifa.
“The Secretary-General believes that the parties should take urgent steps to draw back from this dangerous and dehumanizing situation. He once again calls on both sides to respect fully their obligations under international humanitarian law to protect the lives of civilians.
“The Secretary-General remains convinced that violence will produce neither security nor lasting peace. He reiterates his call on the parties to allow the international community to help them find a peaceful way out of this conflict, based on the two-State solution, through the implementation of the Quartet’s Road Map.”]
The picture emerging from the World Bank and UN studies on the Palestinian economy is clear. The Palestinian economy is devastated. The public sector is on life support. The private sector is rapidly deteriorating. The population’s sources of livelihood are disappearing. Those were the words of the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Terje-Roed Larsen, at a press conference he gave earlier today in Jerusalem.
Billions in aid is not the answer, Mr. Larsen said. The Palestinians must be given the means and opportunity to manage their own lives, which calls for Israel to lift its restrictions of movement on goods and people. However, Israel says it will not do this until attacks on its people end. “No population should suffer such murderous attacks, or even the fear of such attacks, ever”, Mr. Larsen told journalists.
The only alternative is a political solution, and the instrument that can do this is the road map. And we need to start implementing the road map immediately, he went on, for this economic and humanitarian crisis can’t go on.
According to figures in from the World Bank, 27 months after the outbreak of the intifada, 60 per cent of the population of the West Bank and Gaza live under the poverty line of $2 per day. The numbers of the poor have tripled from 637,000 in September 2000 to nearly 2 million today.
Press releases and the findings from both the UN and World Bank are available upstairs.
Our daily report on the work of the weapons inspectors in Iraq tells us that a team from the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) supervised the destruction of nine more Al Samoud 2 missiles. Another missile team observed the concrete casing of the two destroyed. And UNMOVIC conducted a private interview with an Iraqi scientist this afternoon. Other UNMOVIC teams and inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency continued to conduct visits to various sites in both the Baghdad and Mosul regions.
For more information, you can see the briefing note upstairs.
**Secretary-General on Iraq
The Secretary-General was asked this morning about media reports concerning an internal UN document about proposals for Iraq, and he stressed, “There is no UN plan for administering post-conflict Iraq.” The United Nations, he noted, has no mandate to make such plans.
He said that his luncheon meeting yesterday with the members of the Security Council included a discussion of the status of the Secretary-General’s contingency planning, particularly on humanitarian aspects, as well as legal and other issues that would be posed if there were to be a war. The Secretary-General added, “There is some preliminary thinking, but there is no plan and no document.”
**Secretary-General on Food and Security
The Secretary-General this morning addressed the meeting of the Group of Eight Contact Group on food and security in Africa. He said that Africa had faced food crises, deadly diseases and governance challenges in the past, but never all three at the same time. “Today, Africa faces a deadly triad of related burdens”, he said, “food insecurity, HIV/AIDS and an emaciated capacity to govern and provide services.” There was urgent need for a green revolution in Africa, he continued, but a viable solution to food insecurity would only be found if the challenges of AIDS and governance were addressed at the same time.
He outlined 11 key actions that needed to be taken to address the issues, including addressing the short-term emergency and structural causes; preventing further HIV/AIDS infection and treating those already infected; and helping small farmers through micro-finance. He said achieving this would require resources and investment on a new scale, reversing the decline in development assistance, which dropped from $4 billion to $2.6 billion during the 1990s.
We have the full text of his statement in my Office.
The Group also heard from James Morris, Executive Director of the World Food Programme; Jacques Diouf, Director General of the Food and Agriculture Organization; and Lennart Bage, President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development. And if any of you have any interest in interviewing any of those three people, just contact my Office.
This afternoon at 3:30, the Minister of Cooperation for France, Pierre-Andre Wiltzer, and the Under-Secretary for Economics, Business and Agricultural Affairs of the United States, Alan Larson, will give a press conference in this room on this meeting.
The Security Council is holding closed consultations today on Guinea- Bissau, which is why David Stephen is here, and on Liberia. The Secretary-General’s Representative for Guinea-Bissau briefed on the deteriorating situation in that country, which he says needs economic assistance despite political uncertainty.
A press statement on behalf of the Council members is expected to be read out by the Council President, Ambassador Mamady Traoré of Guinea, on Guinea-Bissau.
The Council is also taking up Liberia, as I said, and as you recall, the Secretary-General’s most recent report was issued last Friday on the day that the Contact Group on Liberia met here at UN Headquarters. The Secretary-General’s Representative on Liberia, Abou Moussa, is the briefer.
Regarding the Council programme, Ambassador Traoré yesterday announced that Iraq would be taken up by the Security Council on Friday of this week -– first in an open meeting, and then in closed consultations.
The Council President also said that, on 18 March, the Council will be organizing a workshop on the proliferation of small arms and light weapons and the use of mercenaries as a threat to peace and security in West Africa.
**Statement Attributable to Spokesman/Cyprus
We have the following statement attributable to the Spokesman on the subject of Cyprus:
“The Secretary-General was pleased with the support he received in the Security Council yesterday for his efforts to assist the parties in Cyprus reach a comprehensive settlement.
“The Secretary-General has since written to the Prime Ministers of Greece, Turkey and the United Kingdom -- the guarantor States -- inviting them to be represented in The Hague next Monday, 10 March, at a level commensurate with the importance of the meeting. The Secretary-General is looking to the guarantors to give strong support to his efforts so that The Hague meeting has a successful outcome and that the separate simultaneous referenda go ahead on 30 March 2003”.
UN High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers warned the international community not to neglect the rebuilding of Afghanistan as the world’s focus switches to a potential conflict in Iraq, terming Afghan stability a vital security issue.
Speaking at a press conference in Islamabad, Pakistan, Mr. Lubbers appealed for continued aid as the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) begins a three-year programme of repatriation from Pakistan. He said he would be writing to donor governments after his tour to ask them to speed up delivery on pledges.
Last year, the UNHCR assisted nearly 1.6 million Afghans to return home from Pakistan and another 262,000 from Iran. The planning figures for this year involve 600,000 returns from both countries. The UNHCR has so far received only about $25 million of the $195 million in funds requested to support its Afghan regional programme for this year.
The United Nations and its humanitarian partners are lending China assistance after a powerful earthquake in the country on 24 February. The earthquake caused the death of more than 250 people and left 3,000 without housing in winter conditions. Seventy thousand housing units and 103 schools collapsed as a result of the earthquake and its tremors.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) is providing an emergency grant of $50,000 drawn from its own resources, as well as from funds by the Government of Norway. The OCHA is also prepared to serve as a channel for cash contributions to be used for immediate relief assistance.
We have a press release on that.
And out of Kosovo, Michael Steiner, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative there, and Kosovar Prime Minister Bajram Rexhepi today visited the village of Sredska in southern Kosovo, where many Serbs have returned over the past six months.
Mr. Steiner took the opportunity to call upon all those who want to return to do so, since, he promised, “They can return and find a suitable environment.” The Prime Minister also assured all Kosovo’s citizens that Kosovo’s institutions would work for their return and their “good treatment”.
We have a press release on that.
Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Bertrand Ramcharan completed a three-day visit to Tajikistan today, during which he met with senior Tajik officials to discuss topics ranging from compliance with human rights treaties to the enhancement of the justice system and the protection of women’s rights. He also called for enhanced protection of human rights on the part of law enforcement officials.
The twenty-seventh UN International School-UN Student Conference will take place in the General Assembly Hall tomorrow and Friday. Five hundred high school students from eight countries will participate in this year’s conference. The theme is “Youth at Risk: The Future in Our Hands”. Vanessa Redgrave will be the keynote speaker, and other speakers will include children from five war-torn areas.
Also taking place this week is the national High School Model United Nations. A total of 2,100 high school students from the United States and other countries will participate in activities which begin this afternoon and end with a plenary on Saturday morning in the General Assembly Hall.
We have a press release on that.
**Political Affairs Web Site
The UN Department of Political Affairs says its new Web site should be up and running by the end of today. The site includes useful information on the various components of the Department, ranging from Security Council Affairs, to the UN’s prevention, peace-building and peacemaking activities, and the work of the Electoral Assistance Division. And they say it’s a stunner, so we urge you to take a look at it.
In budget news today, two Member States became paid in full for 2003 for the regular budget: Kazakhstan with $370,000, and Grenada with just over $13,000. That makes 59 paid in full.
**Tomorrow’s Noon Briefing Guest
And our guest at tomorrow’s noon briefing will be Olara Otunnu, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict. He is just back from Sierra Leone and will be reporting to you on his visit.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Concerning the Security Council meeting on 7 March, do you have the list of Ministers for Foreign Affairs who will attend?
Spokesman: We don’t have it. So we’ll have to stay in touch with Security Council Affairs. I don’t know when they want to go public with the names. Maybe not till tomorrow.
Question: It’s an open meeting, right?
Spokesman: It’s open followed by closed consultations.
Question: Can you tell us something about the Arab Foreign Ministers coming tomorrow? Who are they? And what is their programme?
Spokesman: I don’t have the details under my nose on that. Amr Moussa, the Secretary-General of the Arab League, is bringing a number of senior Arab officials here to talk to the Secretary-General, and I’ll have to see if I can get any more for you. But at this time, that’s all I have.
Question: Yesterday, the Greek Cypriot President, Tassos Papadopoulos, as well as the spokesman for the Greek Cypriot Government, said that there is still room to change the Annan plan and asked for further negotiations. On the other hand, the Secretary-General yesterday asked both parties to vote on referenda on the basic plan without any change. What is the United Nations position reading that those two approaches can be compatible? What is your position?
Spokesman: I think the reason the Secretary-General went to the region was to make any adjustments to the plan that would be required to bring this whole negotiating process to a close. I can’t say, because I haven’t spoken to the Secretary-General on the subject, what his reactions would be to these comments from yesterday. But as you’ve already pointed out, his expectation is that when they come to The Hague on the 10th, they will indicate to him that they are ready to take the current plan to a referendum.
Question: This is again on Iraq and the contingency planning. You say there’s no plan at this point, but obviously there are proposals and ideas. So the question is, what is the United Nations at this point willing to do, proposing even at this stage?
Spokesman: The Security Council has not given us any mandate to carry out any activity in Iraq, apart from what you’re already well aware of, the “oil-for-food” programme, the Border Monitoring of UNIKOM, the inspection process by UNMOVIC, the compensation commission activity in Geneva. These are all Security Council-mandated activities. Should there be a war, and we still hope that the Security Council can avert war, should there be a war, we have to ask ourselves what happens to these activities, and we’ve looked at it in two steps. First, the immediate humanitarian reaction, where our main concern was internal coordination. And as you know, since last December, the Deputy Secretary-General has been chairing an internal task force involving a number of key UN agencies that would be involved in humanitarian work to do contingency planning. As you also know, Mr. Rafeeuddin Ahmed, a former UNDP official, was asked as an extension of that exercise, to look at what might be asked of us, what might be asked of us after the immediate humanitarian needs had been dealt with, drawing on our experience with past post-conflict situations. Mr. Ahmed put some ideas on paper for the Deputy Secretary-General. Someone, I don’t know who, someone decided you should see this document, or at least the Times of London should see the document. That is very unfortunate, and the Secretary-General reacted to that this morning, emphasizing that while we have no mandate from the Council, we have a moral obligation to do contingency planning. And we still hope that there can be a peaceful solution. Follow-up?
Question: Yeah, I mean, but even the umbrella of contingency ... Having given that sort of preamble and understanding that this contingency is all with the hope that war can be avoided, but you say there are thoughts on paper. So what can you elaborate about those thoughts?
Spokesman: Well, we’ve already said, and I’ve been asked before, “What kind of contingency planning are you doing? What kinds of ideas are you coming up with?”
Question: But on the political side, I guess?
Spokesman: We said no on the humanitarian side. We don’t share; we don’t go public with contingency planning. We’re not going to on the political side either. That’s natural.
Question: There are indications, from the press at least, that the United Nations will participate in the administering of Iraq three months after the end of the conflict. Is this speculation?
Spokesman: To my knowledge, we have not been informed by anyone and certainly not by the Security Council of what would be expected of us post-war. So, this must be pure speculation.
Question: Can you give us an idea of what was said between Louise Fréchette and Jay Garner on Monday?
Spokesman: No, Mr. Garner represented a Pentagon team, although there were also members of USAID and the U.S. State Department that came up to exchange views. I can say that Mr. Garner said that he hoped that the United Nations would be actively involved in any post-war scenario, but there were very few specifics offered. We’ve had talks like this with other government authorities, including governments from the region. We see it as an extension of our contingency planning.
Question: So you mean no political request?
Question: There are provisions in the Charter for the General Assembly to intervene in matters concerning peace and security. We’ve seen it in the Congo; we’ve seen it in Korea. Is there any scenario, if the Security Council felt to achieve its objective, that the General Assemble will step in like they did in Korea or the Congo?
Spokesman: This is hypothetical, but the Council in that case was blocked and unable to act. And then the General Assembly can decide that, since the Council is unable to act, they will take up the matter themselves. Normally, once the Council is seized of a matter, the General Assembly may not address it. So, it’s hypothetical.
Question: There have been reports that the United States might issue an ultimatum giving 72 hours notice for journalists, United Nations personnel, civilians, and others, to leave Iraq, as sort of a warning that war is imminent. Would 72 hours be enough time for inspectors and all of the other United Nations agency personnel to leave with their files, records, equipment, so in the event of humanitarian action in a post-war Iraq, they would have a leg up on what might be needed?
Spokesman: Hypothetical. Yes, our contingency planning has also involved the matter of evacuation of our international staff and our peacekeepers. But I can’t get into details of how long I think it will take us to do that.
Question: (Inaudible) ... receiving a number of members of the Council this morning. Could you specify the subject?
Spokesman: I can’t. We can, as usual, ask for readouts at your request. Those meetings continue through this afternoon. My understanding is they were at the request of the ambassadors, so you also have the option of asking the missions. We’ll see if we can get a readout.
Question: In the event of an invasion, what will the United Nations do in order to overcome all that unfortunate ... ?
Spokesman: I already said we’re not going to comment on our contingency planning. Sorry. Thank you very much.
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