DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL ND BY THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE PRESIDENT OF THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
13 September 2001
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's noon briefing by Fred Eckhard, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
The fresh, smiling face to my left belongs to Mr. Jan Fischer. The General Assembly, of course, selected a new President yesterday. And so, today it's my pleasure to introduce to you the new Spokesman for that President, Jan Fischer of Denmark. He has been an information officer in the UN system for 12 years, including one year in Bahrain for UNSCOM and three years in Australia, where he headed the UN Information Centre in Sydney.
So Jan, welcome to the briefing, and we'll be getting to you in just a minute.
**Postponement of Children's Special Session
Yesterday afternoon, the General Assembly decided that, in response to the tragedy that occurred on Tuesday, it would postpone the special session on children, scheduled to take place from September 19 through 21, and would decide during its present session on a new date for that session.
The Secretary-General addressed the Assembly just before the vote, urging its members to keep concern for children uppermost in their minds. He emphasized, "This is only a postponement, not a cancellation. The issue is still very much with us." He added: "I think we should stay the course, and adopt a concrete agenda for action for this decade.
He said that the draft outcome document for the special session is very close to being finalized and urged delegates, despite the postponement, to keep working on an agreed text. He said, "We are close, and I don't want us to postpone it or relax, just because the meeting is not taking place next week. That is my plea."
The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) added that, despite the postponement, the work of helping the world's neediest children would continue with deepened resolve.
UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy said after the postponement of the meeting, "We regret the awful circumstances that have caused this summit to be postponed, but if this tragedy makes anything clear, it is that creating and defending a world that is fit for children is hard, hard work." She added: “On days like today, it seems harder.”
She reaffirmed that the special session, which was to have reviewed progress since the 1990 World Summit for Children, would take place eventually, adding,
"World leaders have shown they want it, and the children of the world surely deserve it."
We have the Secretary-General's statement and a UNICEF press release in my Office.
This morning at St. Bartholomew’s Church in New York, the Secretary-General, accompanied by his wife Nane, participated in the annual Interfaith Service of Commitment to the Work of the United Nations. This is the fifth such service, which is traditionally held at the start of each new General Assembly session. This year, the service was dedicated to all the victims of Tuesday’s attacks.
In his remarks, the Secretary-General said that the events of the last two days have tested the faith of every one of us.
“At times like this”, Mr. Annan said, “it is all too tempting to jump to conclusions about the kind of people who must be behind such appalling acts, and to identify them with some faith or community different from our own.”
He continued his message of tolerance by reminding the congregation that whoever is responsible must also be human beings. “We like to think of such acts as inhuman”, he went on to say, “but the truth is that human nature can sink to the depth of horror, as well as rise to the highest level of nobility." "It is up to each of us", he said, "to cultivate the best in his or her nature, and to struggle against the worst.”
In her remarks, Mrs. Annan said during this time of crisis it was important to think of New York's children. "Let us stretch a hand of love and protection to them", she said, "and do whatever we can to help them regain a sense of safety and security."
Religious leaders from over 30 different faiths participated in the ceremony, along with Dr. Han Seung-soo, the President of the General Assembly, and Carol Bellamy, the Executive Director of UNICEF.
**State of the World’s Children 2002
Also in response to recent events, the UN Children's Fund has cancelled today’s launch ceremony for the State of the World’s Children 2001 report. However, the embargo on the report is expired, and it is officially out as a document. The report states that many of the goals of the World Summit for Children of 1990 have not been met and much work remains to be done. Three areas are seen to be blocking the road to child rights -– conflict, HIV/AIDS and poverty –- and the report suggests that social spending should be increased over military expenditure and that domestic resources should be used for social development.
Although a significant reduction has been made in the mortality rate for infants and children under five, the target to reduce such rates by one third was met by only 60 countries. The number of malnourished children in developing countries fell from 177 million to 149 million, and the goal of the elimination of iodine-deficiency disorders by 2005 now seems to be a realistic prospect, the report says.
The Security Council is holding consultations this morning on Ethiopia and Eritrea. The Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Legwaila Joseph Legwaila, is conducting the briefing. He is also expected to talk to you once he finishes his presentation to the Council. If he finishes in the next two minutes, he will come into this room, otherwise he will talk to you at the stake-out.
The mandate of the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea expires this coming Saturday. The Secretary-General, in a report he issued earlier this month, recommended, among other observations, the extension of the Mission for six months, until 15 March next year.
Following that item, Council members will discuss Iraq. The Chairman of the 661 Sanctions Committee, Ambassador Ole Peter Kolby of Norway, will brief other Council members on oil pricing.
This afternoon, following the format used for the first time last week, the Security Council will hold a private meeting with troop-contributing countries to the UN Mission in Sierra Leone. The meeting will be at 3:30 in the Economic and Social Council Chamber.
I also want to bring to your attention that Nelson Mandela, the facilitator for the Arusha peace process on Burundi, will not be able to come to New York to address the Security Council meeting on Burundi which was scheduled for next week. As a result, Burundi will not be taken up in today’s Council consultations.
The United Nations has completed the temporary relocation of 75 international staff from Afghanistan.
There are no international UN staff remaining in the country, but hundreds of national staff -- that is, Afghan nationals -- remain in the country to provide essential, life-saving assistance to the Afghan people.
Also on Afghanistan, we have a press release on a technical meeting that began in Islamabad, Pakistan, to discuss curbing drug trafficking involving six neighbouring countries, and that meeting is sponsored by the UN Drug Control Programme.
Among the many events that have been rescheduled in recent days is the ringing of the Peace Bell that always happens on the first day of the General Assembly. The ringing of the Bell will now take place tomorrow. We are expecting soaking rain -- that is the weather report for tomorrow morning. But, tomorrow morning, at 9:30, the annual ringing of the Peace Bell.
**Democratic Republic of the Congo
The Force Commander of the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Major-General Mountaga Diallo, visited Kamina in the south-eastern part of the country for a preliminary assessment of Rwandan armed elements who have been rounded up by the Government.
As you recall, during the Secretary-General’s recent visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kinshasa announced its intention to disarm some 3,000 members of a group it identified as the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Rwanda, and the Secretary-General said at the time that UN observers would have access to the group.
The visit to Kamina, which took place yesterday, is expected to be the first in a series to assess what the UN mission and agencies on the ground can do regarding the demobilization and repatriation of these combatants. A technical mission to screen the group at Kamina is expected to be the next step in the process.
Regarding the United Nations “oil-for-food” programme for Iraq, the financial and other operational aspects of the programme have not been affected by the events of the last two days.
The weekly update from the Office of the Iraq Programme, covering the period 1-7 September, indicates that Iraqi oil exports under the United Nations oil-for-food programme were up slightly from the previous week’s total of 13 million barrels. And that was to 14.2 million barrels last week.
The full text of the weekly update is available in my Office.
The DPI/NGO Conference has been moved to UNICEF House today for its final day. The programme began at 10 this morning and is due to end at 1 p.m. Nane Annan, the wife of the Secretary-General, is expected to address the closing segment which begins at 12:30 p.m.
Finally, with the General Assembly opening yesterday, I don't think any of you could have missed the large high-definition television screens on the walls, as there were a year ago for the Millennium Assembly.
The closed circuit TV system had been installed last year on a loan basis by NHK, the Japan Broadcasting Corporation. When they removed those screens, we realized how important they were and how much we appreciated them, and we asked NHK if they would consider a more permanent loan.
And we're delighted to say that they have agreed.
The Secretary-General wishes to thank NHK, and particularly its Chairman, Katsuji Ebisawa, for providing the United Nations with this state-of-the-art system which makes watching the General Assembly debates a much more vivid experience.
Any questions, before we go to Jan?
**Questions and Answers
Questions: Any reason given why Mandela is not going to attend?
Spokesman: I think you know that he has been undergoing some therapy for cancer. So, I think, it's a medical reason.
Question: Are there any other events or things that were planned -- for example, something like the unveiling or launching of the ICT Task Force on Friday -- that have been postponed or rearranged?
Spokesman: I don't have the comprehensive list. I'll have to look for you and see if we can find one.
Question: Do you know how many Member States have cancelled their trip for next week?
(GA President's Spokesman): It's still on the GA's agenda. We have to wait to see what unfolds over the next couple of days. We only had the election yesterday of the President. We still need to get the Main Committees going. But over the next couple of days, I hope to get some more definite answers for you.
Spokesman: But I don't think there have been any cancellations that we are aware of. So, the number, as far as we know, remains the same -- of heads of State.
Question: It might be a naïve question. In relation to the World Trade Center bombing, at the impromptu memorial down at Union Square there's a prominent graffiti that says "oppression breeds monsters". The response that we are hearing from the US Government and NATO and various others is that this is war, and they seem to be preparing for war and for revenge. Is this not also an appropriate time to think about making a new push to bring peace to the Middle East, which is the apparent excuse for these barbaric acts? If the US and NATO allies are committed to a path of war and revenge, shouldn't the Secretary-General be thinking about some new effort? Is he doing anything to try to bring people around the table, in the light of what has just happened?
Spokesman: I don't think any one is in a position to draw a direct link between events in the Middle East and the bombings -- the destruction of the World Trade Center, and the attack on the Pentagon.
Question: In everything but a formal statement, I think that's what the US Government is doing. The FBI and everyone else is talking about Osama bin Laden.
Spokesman: I'm just saying I don't think we can draw any direct links. I think if you look at the Secretary-General's statements of the last two days, including the one that I quoted from this morning, he had cautioned yesterday about talks of revenge, saying at these times, cool heads must prevail. And you heard what I quoted from today. I think many people, despite what I said about no definite link, do feel that progress in the Middle East peace process would, in fact, reduce tensions which may or may not have resulted in the attacks of two days ago.
The Secretary-General has been working behind the scenes, encouraging the current efforts by, primarily, the European Union to arrange for a series of meetings between Yasir Arafat, the President of the Palestinian Authority, and Shimon Peres, the Israeli Foreign Minister. We saw a press report that the first of those meetings may, in fact, be set for this weekend. We hope that's true. In the meantime, the Secretary-General is prepared to do whatever he can to encourage this process forward.
Question: How many of the heads of State who were scheduled to attend the GA were people who were also going to be in town for the Children's Summit?
(GA President's Spokesman): I don't think the idea is they were coming because the general debate is close to the GA special session as well. We can't draw that distinction. It's something you'd have to ask Member States.
Question: You have no word on the plans of Yasir Arafat coming to the GA?
(GA President's Spokesman): I haven't got anything, but its certainly something I'll check with the people who keep track of the speakers' list for the General Assembly.
Question: Can we get an update on that later? Also, are there any meetings or discussions among the General Assembly leadership about the next steps that could be taken by the Assembly that relate to the attacks?
(GA President's Spokesman): I think you saw yesterday that the spokesmen for the regional groups spoke very adamantly against the acts that have taken place. I'm certain that in a number of countries around the world people are revising the opening statements to reflect what took place. You'll hear a lot about Tuesday's events in the general debate, I'm pretty certain about that.
Question: Were there any countries that were not in their seat yesterday for the opening of the General Assembly?
(GA President's Spokesman): That I have to check.
Spokesman: We kind of segued into the GA Spokesman's briefing. So. If you have finished with me, I'll now turn over to Jan.
**Briefing by Spokesman for the President of the General Assembly
Before I take more questions, I just want to say thank you Fred for the introduction. I have, indeed, taken over from Sue Markham and will try to live up to the high standard she set over the past year. I can't promise that I will have as many answers ready at hand as she did, but I will do my best to get you answers as soon as possible.
At least for the next six to eight weeks, I will be a bit more difficult to locate than Sue was. You know, she had an office upstairs in Fred's area, but because of the reconstruction that is going on, I will have to work in my regular office area. After that I should be in the 3rd floor area. I have put my contact details on a sheet by the door (of the briefing room), so you can contact me there. I'll pick up messages, although I will be running round the house a lot,
but I'll pick up messages and voice mail, fax and whatever, and I'll get back to you.
For those of you who did not make it to the Building yesterday, I will quickly run over what happened. With one day's delay, we had the opening of the fifty-sixth session of the GA, the election of the nine members of the Credentials Committee and the election of the new President, Dr. Han Seung-soo. And, without a vote, the Assembly adopted a draft resolution condemning the terrorist attacks and a draft decision to postpone the special session on children. It was also decided to move the high-level dialogue on strengthening international economic cooperation for development to 20 and 21 September. So, there will be a two-day session on 20 and 21 September. It was originally scheduled for 17 and 18 September. There are more details in Press Release GA/9903.
At 4:30 p.m., also yesterday, the General Assembly President gave his first press briefing in which he outlined some of the priorities for the fifty-sixth session. The text of his opening remarks is available upstairs.
This afternoon, the General Assembly's Main Committees will meet to elect their chairpersons, and there will be a plenary of the General Assembly for the elections of 21 Vice-Presidents.
Some of you have asked when the allocation of agenda items will take place and when it will be decided whether to include new items. I am not quite sure about that yet, but it looks as if the General Committee will discuss it tomorrow and the Assembly will probably decide on that on Monday. I hope tomorrow during the briefing to give you more details about the schedule of the GA and whether the delayed start will somehow affect its work.
I have taken some questions already, but I think there are probably more.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Are there any items on the provisional agenda that relate to terrorism?
Spokesman: Yes, I think it's agenda item 178. I'll try to find out if there might be an intention of moving debate on that item forward perhaps. I do not have an answer for you right now.
Question: They are normally discussed in the Sixth Committee?
Spokesman: I'll have to check that for you.
Spokesman for Secretary-General: Also, we should get Sue Markman's cell phone back so we can hand it over to Jan. You'll have the same cell phone number that Sue has. Sue had taken a couple of days off. We'll get that number to you as soon as possible.
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