DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL AND THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY PRESIDENT
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
25 January 2005
Following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Fred Eckhard, Spokesman for the Secretary-General, and Djibril Diallo, Spokesman for the General Assembly President.
Spokesman for the Secretary-General
The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, Ashraf Qazi, today visited the headquarters of the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq, and reviewed with its chairman and other members the steps that have been taken to ensure the holding of fair and transparent elections in Iraq.
Qazi praised the efforts made by the commission to prepare for the polls, saying the UN “is proud to have been able to assist the commission” in providing technical support and strategic advice.
The Commission has the sole authority in organizing and conducting the elections, scheduled for 30 January, and a team of UN experts has played a leading role in ensuring that it gets all the technical support and training it needs.
Qazi also met with Iraqi Interim Vice-President Ibrahim Ja’fari for talks that focused on the political and security conditions and efforts that are being taken to ensure an environment conducive for the holding of the elections next week.
Earlier, Qazi held talks with the President of the Iraqi Council for Peace and Solidarity, Fakhri Kareem, and discussed efforts to ensure the participation of all Iraqis in the political process.
Qazi also met with the former Iraqi Prime Minister Naji Taleb. He stressed that the UN will continue to stand by the Iraqi people and provide them with every possible support to ensure the success of the political and reconstruction processes.
On the tsunami, UN assessments in Indonesia show that there has been a massive loss of livelihoods, following the destruction of about 40,000 hectares of rice paddies and 70 per cent of the fishing industry.
But fortunately, locals, the Indonesian government, the UN, and other partners have staved off a feared second wave of mortality due to hunger and disease.
In Aceh, emergency food distribution is now reaching about 330,000 beneficiaries. Also, emergency medical and relief supplies, along with hygiene and reproductive health kits, have been delivered to more than 200,000 people. A measles campaign has reached around 52,000 children, and school materials are flowing in, in anticipation of the reopening of schools for up to 70,000 children this week.
For its part, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) has begun helping to move hundreds of tons of tsunami-strewn rubble and debris from key public facilities in Banda Aceh.
But the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, remains concerned that conditions in camps for displaced people and temporary relocation centres remain below international standards. UNHCR and its partners are, therefore, setting up a new camp in the town of Meulaboh. It will have around 170 family-sized tents, for some 1,000 displaced people.
And we have more information on all of these items available upstairs.
The UN mission in Sudan reports that Special Representative Jan Pronk will conduct a routine working visit to Darfur this week. He will be visiting Al Fashir in North Darfur and Nyala in South Darfur and he will meet with the local Sudanese authorities, UN Agencies and NGOs.
Jan Pronk will then be heading to Abuja on Saturday, 29 January, to attend the Summit of the African Union.
Meanwhile, the UN mission reports that last week’s military activity caused population displacements of nearly 10,000 people in Darfur.
The Security Council is holding consultations this morning on the UN mission in Georgia and on Côte d’Ivoire.
The Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Heidi Tagliavini, briefed Council members on Georgia, and she is expected to speak to the press at the Council stakeout shortly.
Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Hédi Annabi, is briefing the Council on the latest developments in Côte d’Ivoire.
**Group of 77
The Secretary-General today congratulated Qatar for its wise leadership of the Group of 77 coalition of developing nations over the past year, and wished Jamaica luck in its efforts to lead the Group in 2005.
He told the Group of 77, which consists now of 132 countries, that we are at a defining moment in the history of the United Nations. We must seize the occasion, he said, to strengthen multilateralism and take decisive steps towards the vision of a world free from fear and want.
The Secretary-General said that it is now clearer than ever what steps are needed, following the release last week of the Millennium Project’s report, “Investing in Development”. That report, he said, shows clearly that, with political will on all sides, we have the practical means to ensure that every country reaches the Millennium Development Goals.
We have copies of his remarks upstairs.
The Secretary-General has renewed Dr. Peter Piot’s appointment as the Executive Director of the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS –- or UNAIDS, for short –- for an additional four years.
We have a press release on that upstairs.
Women and men in developing countries are marrying later, having fewer children, and having them later. As a result, average fertility in the developing countries has declined to under three children per woman.
That is one of the findings from the World Fertility Report 2003, issued by the Population Division of the UN’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs. And we have a press release with more details upstairs.
**SG Message - Disarmament
The Conference on Disarmament still faces the demanding task of finding ways to overcome the impasse that has impeded its work for so long.
That remark is part of the Secretary-General’s message to the Conference, which opened today in Geneva.
The Secretary-General also calls on the Conference Members to seriously consider the recommendations of the High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change. We have the full text of that message upstairs.
**Press Briefing Tomorrow
You’ve been asking for some time for an on-the-record briefing about the Iraqi elections. I’m pleased to say that Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Kieran Prendergast and Carina Perelli, the Director of the Electoral Assistance Division, have agree to brief you, in this room, tomorrow at 11. And that will be an on-the-record briefing, I understand -- 11 in 226.
**Guest at Noon Tomorrow
Finally, Jan Egeland, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, will be joining us at the noon briefing tomorrow to provide an update on relief efforts to tsunami-affected areas, exactly one month after the disaster.
That’s all I have for you.
Questions and Answers
Question: Is it Mr. Qazi’s considered opinion that the environment conducive to the holding of elections has been created by the coalition forces in Iraq at this point in time?
Spokesman: I mean, he has candidly acknowledged the security conditions in the country, which remain a problem. But, it is for the Independent Electoral Commission to decide whether or not to go ahead with the elections. And they have decided to do that, and we continue to work with them to support that effort.
Question: I just wanted to ask -- has there been any UN reaction to the arrest of the man who may have been behind the UN bombing in August of 2003?
Spokesman: We asked for that, but did not get it, I’m afraid. So, the behinder we get, the less relevant it becomes. But we’ll see if we can get anything from them today. They had nothing to give us yesterday.
Question: And has the timetable for the Darfur Commission of Inquiry report, which I know had to go through the six official languages and be translated, in any way, has that been sped up, or will the release for press purposes be moved up?
Spokesman: Well, today is the day that they were to conclude their work. We learned today that they will be submitting their report tomorrow in Geneva, which then has to get it transmitted here. So, we don’t know how that transmission will be done. We do intend, as I said yesterday, to give it to the Government of Sudan for comment, giving them something like three days to react, should they wish to. So, we’re still looking at some time next week before it would be transmitted to the Council. It would be transmitted in advance form in English only. If I gave you the impression yesterday that we would have the translation into six languages done in a week, that was wrong. I don’t think it will be out officially as a document in six languages before the middle of February. But, as I say, we do expect it to go to the Council next week and it will be made available to you the same day it is given to the Council.
Question: The President of Colombia has asked the Secretary-General to fire his mediator. I understand he said that his Government, sorry, has lost confidence in him. What’s the Secretary-General’s response?
Spokesman: We put out a statement yesterday following Kieran Prendergast’s meeting with a high-level Colombian delegation, and I think that’s all we would have to say regarding our good offices effort in Colombia.
Question: On the Colombia issue, on the statement, I was hoping for a little clarification on it. I mean, it doesn’t sort of outright say that the Secretary-General’s good offices have been suspended. But then it says that if the parties request that the good offices resume, that they would resume. So, I guess that means that they have been suspended. But would that then mean that Mr. LeMoyne will not have a successor? There are no immediate plans to appoint a successor to him when his term expires in April?
Spokesman: I don’t think we want to indicate that the good offices efforts are being shut down. Clearly, the heat has been turned down to very low and I don’t think the intention is to not replace Mr. LeMoyne. And we’re looking at ways that we might do that, although we will have nothing to announce immediately regarding how he would be replaced. So, good offices efforts turned down to low heat, replacement for Mr. LeMoyne an open question where, in time, we will announce a way to replace him. And in the meantime, as we said in the statement yesterday, we’ll continue to work with the Government on humanitarian and development issues through the UN Development Programme’s Resident Coordinator in the country.
Question: So, does that mean though... We and other wires and several others, we’ve been reporting, citing anonymous UN officials in Bogotá, as I am sure you’ve seen, that this is being suspended because of the failure, the fact that you’re not making progress in ending the (inaudible) of war. Then we have the President saying he wants (inaudible)... So, would this reflect pessimism on the UN’s part or dissatisfaction with the amount of progress that’s being made towards resolving the civil war?
Spokesman: I can’t answer that question, and we can’t take responsibility for what unnamed officials might have said in Bogotá. Our statement issued yesterday following the meetings with the high-level delegation is our best and fairest reading of where we stand on the Secretary-General’s good offices efforts, and the UN’s efforts generally, in Colombia.
Question: Perhaps the last question. Saying things have gone to low heat would clearly suggest that you don’t think there is a lot of progress being made and, perhaps, there is really no need for good offices right now if there is no progress being made.
Spokesman: Well, neither the Government nor the United Nations yesterday wanted to end the good offices efforts of the Secretary-General. So, I think we have to leave it as I said it. It’s not an active effort at the moment, given the conditions in the country. But it’s an effort that’s going to be kept on the simmer for a while and revived when conditions permit.
Question: Can you please clarify the situation in Côte d’Ivoire regarding the planes, the government military planes that were damaged in November? There has been some confusion over the weekend about reports that the United Nations Mission in Côte d’Ivoire (MINUCI) had given its green light for the Government to have them repaired. Is that a fact or...?
Spokesman: I believe that the Special Representative is going to issue a statement today, if he hasn’t already done so. But, no, that is not accurate to say that the United Nations approved the repair of the planes. But I will let the Special Representative’s statement speak for itself when it comes out as expected later today.
Question: Sorry, I missed it earlier. Just to clarify. So, does the SG receive the report tomorrow in Geneva on Independent Inquiry on Darfur, or has he received it here today already?
Spokesman: He has not received it today. And in fact, it’s not expected to be submitted until tomorrow. But that will be done in Geneva. And what’s not clear is how... (Interrupted)
Question: ...who will receive that tomorrow in Geneva?
Spokesman: Well, wait. What’s not clear yet is how we’re going to get that 140-page document from Geneva to New York. And as soon as we’ve worked that out logistically, we’ll let you know. Yes, sir?
Question: This is about yesterday, the special session of the General Assembly. Now, today’s New York Times says something like “Djibril Diallo, a General Assembly spokesman said 150 of the 191 nations had agreed to the session”. Now, it goes on and says “although the list of who they were was kept confidential...” Now, this is really bothering me. First...(Interrupted).
Spokesman: The list of what?
Question: The list of who they were.
Question: The list of countries.
Spokesman: Oh, who they were.
Question: That means, we now have a list with a total of about 110 countries. Now, this says 150 countries. And it says that we cannot have that list. Is it kept as a secret?
Spokesman: My understanding... (interrupted).
Question: This is the main (Inaudible)... of the United Nations. I mean, I must put it very frankly.
Spokesman: Yes, I understand. My understanding –- now, Djibril may want to comment further -– is that standard procedure in the General Assembly is that when these requests go out for endorsement letters, that those letters are considered confidential. So, according to the General Assembly secretariat, we received 150 letters. But those are considered confidential correspondence.
We were discussing this in the Secretary-General’s office yesterday, and we, too, had the impression that it would be good to make these letters public, but we could not override the decision of the Assembly. But, I believe that we may be talking to the President of the General Assembly in the future about possibly informing Member States, before they actually submit such letters, that it will be our intent to put them on the record in the future. There is nothing we can do about this one, because they were not told in advance; and standard procedure up until now, is to consider those letters confidential.
Question: But can we not have an official list of the co-sponsors of the meeting? I mean that must be, because this is simply a question of transparency.
Spokesman: The co-sponsors are a matter of record. So, we could give you... (interrupted).
Question: When can I have it? Could you provide me a list?
Spokesman: Well, Djibril can provide you with a list of the co-sponsors. But, beyond the co-sponsors were those who wrote in affirmatively agreeing to the idea of holding a special session.
Question: If they keep it secret, that means they are not there. Now, look, the news from yesterday was not that the meeting was held. The news from yesterday was that there are still countries 60 years after the event that still withhold their backing of such a meeting. So, this particular piece of information is the main item about yesterday.
Spokesman: Well, that...(Interrupted).
Question: I was really worried about this. Because, I thought, okay, I don’t have the list. But if, then, one cannot actually obtain it from the United Nations, this is an extremely blotch on the United Nations.
Spokesman: Well, as I said, we will be raising that matter with the General Assembly President for the future. But it has been standard practice until now to keep those letters confidential. But we see your point.
Question: You see my point?
Spokesman: Yes. Richard?
Question: I’d be curious in Djibril later, to find out just how many countries normally respond on special sessions or events. How people know it’s going to happen anyway? They all write in or is it all pro forma? But I was struck by what was the Secretary-General’s reaction to the empty seats or the fact that many countries did not send a representative, for whatever reason, to this special event? Did he have any opinion on that?
Spokesman: I don’t think he did a head count. And he didn’t mention any reaction to me.
Question: Maybe we could have a list of the forty-something countries that didn’t sponsor it. Is that...(Interrupted)?
Spokesman: That’s the same, that’s the same. It’s getting out the same information from the other, the other way. Yes?
Question: Back on Colombia. Has the Secretary-General had enough cooperation from the Government of Colombia in his good offices in the country, and has he spoken to Mr. Uribe?
Spokesman: I don’t know the last time he has to spoken to the President. I can’t answer your question directly. We set up that office five years ago hoping that we could help both the Government and the rebel movements reach reconciliation and sign a peace agreement. That has not been possible to date, but we’re not ready to give up on it either.
That’s really all I can say. Louis?
Question: One on housekeeping, Fred. I don’t know whether we should take this up with you, but getting back to yesterday’s session, is there any way the UN could do a more effective job of providing, particularly broadcasters, with an exact list of the speakers that are going to speak. It’s become, quite frankly, a guessing game. And for us that carry this live on television, it’s a big problem of being given a list by the United Nations saying Mr. A, B and C are going to speak in order and then this is all changed at the last minute.
We’re never notified. And quite frankly, with yesterday’s session it was particularly bad. I got three different lists. I got one from your office, one from Kabbaj’s office one from UN TV; none of them matched, none of them reflected what really happened yesterday. And this is a speakers’ list. This is no secret. And it’s become a real problem for us who have to book satellite time, which is very expensive, when we carry this live. And it’s become a guessing game. And it makes it impossible for us to do our work. Elie Wiesel was not on that list; Brian Urquhart wasn’t on the list.
And, you know, here we were, sort of announcing to our audience that next was going to be whatever, or a foreign minister and it wasn’t so. And it’s just... Honestly, I just don’t know who I should talk to -- whether it’s Djibril, you, or whoever. But, you know, given that there will be a big summit in September; I’d like to -- maybe if you can look into this so as to avoid this kind of problem in the future.
Spokesman: We can probably do a little better than we did this time. Elie Wiesel was on the list put out by my office. Brian Urquhart wasn’t because our list was finalized before the weekend or even over the weekend. But, Brian Urquhart was added late in the weekend. And frankly, some governments switched speakers at the last minute, so that people who are on the original list weren’t the ones to speak, and that’s something we have no control over.
But anyway, the idea of three different lists though, bothers me. I wasn’t aware that there were three separate lists. So, we can look into that, we can try to get our act together as far as the names we give you, and updated at the last minute, as we should have done regarding Brian Urquhart. But some of the switches pulled by the delegations at the lat minute we had no control over.
Question: Or at least the focal point, because obviously the President of the General Assembly knows who is coming up next, because he says so. So, if there are last minute changes -- and I tried to ring a bunch of people on the President’s office yesterday, and it was like, well, it’s none of my business, let me transfer you to a voicemail, where nobody answers. And I mean it was just ridiculous. I know nothing can be perfect, but again, given that we’re booking satellite time and it’s costing us a fortune to cover this stuff, if we could have a little bit of a warning of, at least, a focal point that would pick up the phone.
Spokesman: I’m sure Djibril might want to talk to you afterwards about fixing that as well.
Question: Well, we’ve said this before, I’ll make it brief. I don’t know if you need someone who uses a squawk box system to announce to broadcasters connected, working right next to the GA office, who is coming up, what’s happening and all changes that, the urgency that your office displays for print and other meetings, should be shown to the broadcasters.
And I am sure Mark Malloch Brown, if he’s listening, he should get together, as we have said for years with DPI, UNDP and the Spokesman’s office. There should be much better coordination.
My question, which I’ve asked periodically, is has Secretary-General Annan been questioned yet on “oil-for-food” as Mr. Volcker prepares his interim report? Has he had a formal Q and A?
Spokesman: He has met more than once for an extended period of time with Mr. Volcker and his investigators. So, yes, the Secretary-General is part of the investigation. He’s a subject, like anyone else involved in oil-for-food in the Secretariat, and he has been questioned and most likely will continue to be questioned as Mr. Volcker’s investigation continues.
Question: Were those sessions here? Can you describe the length? How many people were in the room? Were there notes taken?
Spokesman: I’d have to refer you to Mr. Volcker. But, yes the meetings took place in the Secretary-General’s office. I can’t give you the names of the people who were there in addition to Mr. Volcker. How long they lasted, I don’t have a precise period of time. Between an hour, two hours each.
Question: Do you know how many sessions?
Spokesman: I don’t have that specific information. I think it may have been twice. I know at least once.
Question: This year or last year?
Spokesman: Last year. But my impression is that they’re continuing.
[The Spokesman later announced that the Secretary-General has met a total of three times with Mr. Volcker or his investigators: starting on 9 November, 2004 for one hour forty-five minutes; on 3 December, 2004 for 25 minutes and the third meeting took place today and lasted for one hour and thirty-five minutes, approximately.
Evelyn, did you have a question?
Question: Just a housekeeping thing. It also would be nice to know, for those of us with television sets in our offices, what UN TV is covering. You never know which channel. I mean, we had no idea they’re doing the SG today or what. Richard’s point is well taken. There should be someone in your office or somewhere asking (Inaudible).
Spokesman: Well, I think in response to criticism a few years ago by Richard and other broadcasters, we did hire someone who has a television background. So, we try to get a bit more sensitive to your needs. But now that Mark Malloch Brown has taken over as Chief of Staff, if you feel it would be useful to have a meeting with him and to include also UN TV, DPI people, as well, to see if we can’t sharpen it up a little bit more; we’d be happy to do that.
Spokesman for General Assembly President
Two items for you today. One is the participation of the President of the General Assembly in the handover of the Chairmanship of the Group of 77 from the State of Qatar to Jamaica. I have the statement for those of you who are interested.
The President, Jean Ping, said it is the first time that the President of the General Assembly has been associated with this ceremony. He went on to congratulate Qatar, which, during its mandate, spared no effort to promote South-South cooperation, as well as equitable international trade relations as major contributors to development and to the fight against poverty.
President Ping, by way of illustration, mentioned the 2001 Doha Declaration, as part of the international trade negotiations conducted within the framework of the World Trade Organization (WTO), the high-level forum that was held on the 5th of December 2004 on trade and investment and the forthcoming South-South summit that will be held in June, 2005.
The second item is to take place this afternoon, and that is the third informal meeting of the plenary of the General Assembly on the United Nations Millennium Project 2005. A briefing will be given by the Manager of the Millennium Project, John McArthur, on the findings and recommendations of the United Nations Millennium Project 2005.
By way of background for you, the Project, as you know, was commissioned by the Secretary-General in 2002, and its goal was to develop a concrete plan for the world to reverse the grinding poverty, hunger and disease affecting billions of people. The Project, headed by Jeffrey Sachs, submitted its report this month. The report is entitled “Investing in Development -- A Practical Plan to Achieve the Millennium Development Goals”.
As the Secretary-General has made clear, the findings of that report, together with those of the report of the High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change, will provide an input to his own report on the implementation of the Millennium Declaration, expected to come out in March, and which will be a basis for substantive consultations on the 2005 Summit in New York.
That’s all I have for you.
In answer to the earlier queries, regarding the exact list of speakers, we were in touch over the phone, ourselves. Unfortunately, there were changes being made throughout the afternoon, which did not enable us to give you the exact list of speakers before, I think your deadline was 3:30 in the afternoon.
Questions and Answers
Question: Djibril, I appreciate the fact that you got back to me, and the afternoon was fine. But, let’s be clear here -– the meat of this meeting was in the morning, and that morning was a free-for-all.
Spokesman for the General Assembly President: Right. Because of the extraordinary nature of the meeting, changes were made which were not even in the speaking notes sometimes, and there was a lot of flexibility on the part of the Member States because this was an historic meeting, and I’m not aware of such hiccups in the proper meeting of the General Assembly itself, and if there are, you have my cell phone number. You could call me and let me know because we are aware that you’re working on deadline, and we have to make sure that we pull all stops to respect your own deadlines. But there are matters beyond our control. For instance, I think if one looks at the list of speakers -- where Poland spoke was not where Poland was, and this was not something to do with the list and so on. In my briefing yesterday, I mentioned that Member States showed a lot of flexibility even in terms of the rules and procedures, and so on, to make this happen. And, it happened; it’s historic. And, if there is any further hiccup, please again, let us know because we want to make sure that we do everything possible to have you work in the best possible manner.
On the issue of the empty seats, there is no declared policy in terms of countries walking in and out. There is a General Assembly special session that is going on and, in our judgement, it went in the best possible conditions.
Question: That’s not the question that was asked. On the empty seats, there may be 15, 20 delegations who don’t have one person in their seat, I’ve never seen the Hall full except for the high-level GA panel. It didn’t seem to me that unusual yesterday, but is it your impression that there are delegations that send absolutely no one in the GA on a regular basis for whatever reasons, or was this done deliberately yesterday? Usually there has to be one person for each delegation, but there were some delegations who did not have...
Spokesman for General Assembly President: I was not aware of this, I mean, either way, regarding the specific -- okay, I’ll check for you.
Question: Could you make available that list actually? It was an historic meeting, so the list must be transparent --the list of those that co-sponsored.
Spokesman for General Assembly President: The co-sponsors? Yes.
Question: Can we get that from you today?
Spokesman for General Assembly President: Yes, I will get back to you on that, yes. Thank you.
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