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Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York

5 September 2001

Africa will be first and foremost among the Security Council's concerns this month, its new President for September, Jean-David Levitte of France, told correspondents at a press briefing today at Headquarters, at which he distributed the Council's schedule for the month and drew correspondents' attention to some of its highlights and objectives.

Today, the Council would begin its focus on Africa, by welcoming former President of Botswana, Ketumile Masire, the neutral Facilitator for the inter-Congolese dialogue. Also in September, former South African President, Nelson Mandela, Facilitator of the peace process in Burundi, would address the Council at his request.

Mr. Levitte was also planning a reception on Sunday 30 September for the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the Political Committee of the Lusaka Ceasefire Agreement, he explained.

By the beginning of October, he said, it should be possible to organize, in accordance with the long-established tradition, another meeting between the Council and the Political Committee of the Lusaka Agreement on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in order to move forward with that very important question at the centre of the Council's concerns. Members would also engage in preparatory work in that respect before Ireland took over the Council Presidency in October. The renewal of the mandates of two peacekeeping operations -- United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) and United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) -- would also be taken up.

He said his second objective for the month -- "and I say this very carefully," he added -- was the adoption of resolutions aimed at lifting two sanctions regimes -- that on the Sudan, and that on arms sales to the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. However, those two situations remained "extremely sensitive and extremely difficult".

Under a "completely original" plan, the Council would convene a meeting on the tragedy of children victims of armed conflict, over which it was hoped French President Jacques Chirac would preside, he said. This one-hour meeting was scheduled for 19 September -- the opening day of the twenty-seventh special session of the General Assembly on Children. High-level representatives would gather "around the Council table" to put a spotlight on this tragedy.

The Council had already adopted two resolutions on the subject, and it did not wish to compete with the Assembly, he said. But the time had come, through the media, to put pressure on the governments concerned to "go beyond words".

He said that the month of September was always rather difficult and frustrating for a Security Council President. The last week was reserved for Ministers, so he had avoided including in the work programme any activities for that week, since the Ambassadors would accompany their Ministers to various meetings.

Whenever possible, the Council would hold public meetings and open its doors to the press, he said, however that was not always possible. Today, for example, he had honoured President Masire's request to have a private exchange with the Council, after which the Facilitator would brief the press.

He also drew attention to the Council's resolution 1353 (2001) on dialogue between it and troop contributors States. It was very important for the Council to have a constructive dialogue and be ready to hear the views of those countries that contributed troops. He planned two private Council meetings for open exchange with troop contributing countries, on the occasion of the two mandate renewals.

A correspondent asked if the United States had "signed off" on the lifting of sanctions against the Sudan and whether the 75 heads of State and Governments would speak at the Council's public meeting on children.

Mr. Levitte said that Sudan was on the Council calendar for September was a signal to everyone that he felt encouraged –- by the Sudan and the United States –- about moving forward. He said that cautiously, because a resolution had not yet been adopted and "a grain of salt could suffice to block the procedures". "We will do everything in our power to succeed", he added.

Regarding the Council meeting scheduled for 19 September, he said he certainly wished to avoid a long list of speakers.

Asked if the absence of a Permanent Representative of the United States on the Council had adversely affected the Council, he said that the presence of an Ambassador, while not always able to "make the difference", was certainly useful.

However the current acting Permanent Representative, James Cunningham, had occupied the United States' seat with a "great deal of effectiveness," he added. The Council had suffered somewhat from the absence of a full-fledged Ambassador, but the United States representative was doing excellent work and in the best spirit.

He said Council members were very pleased to hear that Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos' wished to meet with them, because the relationship between the United Nations and Angola had been extremely difficult. Evidence of the improved relationship had been the very warm welcome extended by President dos Santos to the Council mission to the Great Lakes region.

Asked about the situation in Iraq and the Council's position on the deaths of Iraqis resulting from action in the no-fly zone, he said that there were two opportunities on the agenda to discuss the issue. Tomorrow Benon Sevan, Executive Director of the Office of the Iraq Programme, would brief the Council on the expulsion of a number of United Nations staff from Iraq. Then, on 14 September, Council members would hear a report by Hans Blix, Executive Chairman of the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), on his work, which would be another opportunity for a broader discussion of the situation.

And he understood that the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Iraq would be in New York during the ministerial week, which would allow for important discussions, he said. He said he would not comment on the question about the no-fly zone.

Asked if Mr. Mandela had asked for the 18 September meeting he had mentioned, and why, Mr. Levitte said that Mr. Mandela would be in New York for the summit for children, if his health permitted, and had asked to address the Council. He had addressed the Council previously but there had been some progress.

However, Mr. Levitte stressed, there were still two armed parties that intended to continue their action, and he expected Mr. Mandela would discuss what the Council could do to help resolve that. Together with Mr. Mandela, the Council would decide on ways and means to progress towards peace, if possible.

Replying to a question about why some of the 45,000 Blue Helmets could not prevent the fighting and killing between Israelis and Palestinians, he said that France had tried to "put through" the Council the idea of having impartial observers to help make it possible to resume negotiations. Last month, the Council had discussed the question of the Middle East and, today, diplomatic action focused around Javier Solana, the High Representative of the European Union, who was trying to organize a meeting.

The situation in the Middle East was not on the agenda for the month and there had been no request to for it to be so, he said.

Asked what Sudan had done to merit the lifting of sanctions, Mr. Levitte invited the correspondent to put that question to the representative of the United States. Progress towards the lifting of sanctions had been blocked for many months by the United States' wish for assurances. The two Ambassadors -- representing the United States and Sudan -- were saying that the time had come and good progress had been made.

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