DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
12 March 2002
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's noon briefing by Fred Eckhard, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
**Press Conference of Secretary-General
Good afternoon. The Secretary-General will give one of his regular press conferences tomorrow at noon in this room. He will have an opening statement touching on a number of issues, and then will take your questions.
The Secretary-General today addressed the Security Council on the situation in the Middle East, in a brief public meeting in which he said, “The situation is the worst in 10 years. Escalation has been met with escalation with little –- in some cases, no –- regard for innocent civilian lives.”
Since the violence began in September 2000, he said, there have been some 1,200 Palestinian fatalities and some 350 Israeli fatalities. He voiced his sorrow for all those who lost their loved ones, and said, “I grieve for Israel and Palestine.”
He welcomed several positive developments, including the United States decision to send an envoy, General Anthony Zinni, back to the region; the arrests by Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat of all those suspected of involvement in last year’s killing of Israeli Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi; and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s dropping of his demand for seven days of calm before beginning negotiations.
The Secretary-General then addressed both the Israelis and Palestinians. He told the Palestinians that they have the right to a viable State within secure, internationally recognized borders. “But you must stop all acts of terror and all suicide bombings”, he asserted. “It is doing immense harm to your cause, by weakening international support, and making Israelis believe that it is their existence as a State, and not the occupation, that is being opposed.”
He told the Israelis they have the right to live in peace and security within secure, internationally recognized borders, adding, “But you must end the illegal occupation. More urgently, you must stop the bombing of civilian areas, the assassinations, the unnecessary use of lethal force, the demolitions, and the daily humiliation of ordinary Palestinians.”
He called on Prime Minister Sharon and Chairman Arafat to lead their peoples away from disaster, telling them, “Today, more than ever, you must recognize that security and a political settlement are indivisible.”
We have the full text upstairs.
After the public meeting ended, the Council went into consultations to discuss the Middle East further, with Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Kieran Prendergast participating.
**Secretary-General to Go to Central America
The Secretary-General will leave Thursday morning on a visit to Central America, culminating in his attendance at the Financing for Development Conference in Monterrey, Mexico.
He will begin with a visit to Nicaragua on Thursday, where he will meet with the President, receive an award and attend a dinner hosted by the President. On Friday, still in Managua, he will visit a United Nations water project, before going to the National Assembly. He will then meet with the Foreign Minister, who will also host a luncheon in his honour.
On Friday afternoon, he will fly to Costa Rica, where on Saturday he will visit the University of Peace. On Sunday, he will dine with the President and then meet with him formally on Monday morning.
Monday midday, he will fly to Honduras, where he will have lunch with the President and then meet with him later in the afternoon. On Tuesday, he will launch a National Forum on HIV/AIDS before flying to Mexico City.
In Mexico, he will meet with the President Tuesday afternoon and then with members of Congress, before attending a dinner hosted by the President.
On Wednesday, he will travel to Monterey for the Financing for Development Conference, which he will open on Thursday morning and will attend through the end of Friday. Over 50 heads of State and government will attend the Conference, and he is expected to have a number of bilateral meetings in its margins.
He will return to New York on Saturday, 23 March.
**International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda
The Secretary-General, in a letter to the Security Council and the General Assembly that is on the racks today, notes that the prosecution for the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda has provided revised information regarding its programme of investigations. According to that information, Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte has significantly reduced the number of new accused that may come before the Tribunal.
Judge Navanethem Pillay, the President of the Rwanda Tribunal, says that Del Ponte has reduced the number of suspects and accused who are under investigation from 136 to 111, and has indicated that no new investigations will be undertaken by her office after 2003. Also, all investigations are to be terminated by 2004. Consequently, Pillay estimates that the revisions by the Prosecutor can assist the Tribunal in completing its mandate around 2007 or 2008.
The Rwanda Tribunal has also issued a press release today on the transfer yesterday of two genocide suspects -– one who had been arrested in Senegal, and the other who had been arrested in Mali –- to the Tribunal’s detention centre in Arusha, United Republic of Tanzania.
**Iraq ‘Oil-for-Food’ Programme
According to the weekly update from the Office of the Iraq Programme, more contracts were released from hold by the Security Council’s 661 Sanctions Committee compared to new contracts placed on hold during the past week. As a result, the value of “holds” dropped slightly from the previous week’s total of $5.32 billion to $5.27 billion. The contracts released from hold included those involving a large number of vehicles, including buses and mini-buses.
In terms of Iraq’s oil exports under the United Nations “oil-for-food” programme, the week’s volume reached 14.2 million barrels, generating an estimated revenue of $285 million at current prices and rate of exchange. So far, out of the 324 million barrels of oil approved for export in the current Phase XI of the oil-for-food programme, 156 million barrels have been lifted, netting an estimated revenue of $2.7 billion. Phase XI ends on 29 May.
The World Food Programme (WFP) says that it looks like southern Afghanistan is going to face another year of drought. The important rivers remain dry and the rains were below average in four provinces, according to the WFP.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says that more and more Afghans were returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan; thousands were trying to register every day to return. Yesterday, 5,300 persons returned. Since this assisted-return programme started, 18,500 persons had returned.
The United Nations Mine Action for Afghanistan began defusing four 2,000-pound bombs outside Kabul. Dropped by coalition aircraft in October 2001, the bombs are buried up to eight metres deep in hard ground. The site, a former Russian petrol depot, was hit by a total of 10 bombs, four of which failed to explode. Yesterday, the second bomb was removed and destroyed.
We also have a press release from the World Health Organization (WHO), saying that it has undertaken an emergency mission to investigate a disease that has killed some 40 people in western Afghanistan.
**Other Humanitarian Issues
More than 16,000 refugees from Burundi living in camps in western Tanzania have signed up for voluntary repatriation, part of the continuing interest in returning home since the installation last November of the Transitional Government in Bujumbura.
The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says there is a cholera epidemic in theRepublic of the Congo. Cholera is endemic in that area, but since February there had been rising figures of infection. Since the start of the year, 3,882 cases had been registered. Awareness-raising campaigns are also being carried out.
Sergio Vieira de Mello, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for East Timor, today welcomed the end to the deadlock in the presidential race. Presidential candidate Francisco Xavier do Amaral announced that he and his supporters would ask the Independent Electoral Commission to remove all party symbols from the ballot in the upcoming elections. The Commission could only change established procedure with the agreement of all parties, a condition fulfilled with the announcement of Mr. do Amaral and his supporters.
Mr. Vieira de Mello said that Mr. do Amaral showed “a genuine regard for the welfare of the country” and that he had set a high standard for political maturity. We have more details of this and other news from Dili in the briefing notes.
Yesterday, the World Bank issued a new study, titled “The Role and Effectiveness of Development Assistance”, which finds that, despite significant setbacks, overall progress in using development assistance has been remarkable, with aid often helping to underpin success.
The study was released a week before the United Nations International Conference on Financing for Development, which is to be held in Monterrey, Mexico. The World Bank is urging donor countries to demonstrate their commitment to the Millennium Development Goals by providing greater access to their markets and by increasing development assistance. The Bank, in recent studies, suggests that an additional $40 billion to $60 billion in aid will be needed each year to reach the Millennium Goals -- which would be a doubling of current aid flows. We have a press release from the World Bank and more details on the report.
**Signings and Ratifications
We were notified by the Legal Department late yesterday, that Antigua and Barbuda became the twenty-second country to ratify the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism. The Convention will enter into force on 10 April now that it has received the required number of ratifications.
Also, New Zealand today became the 118th signatory to the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants.
Among the press releases out today is one from the WHO and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), who today began a two-day Global Consultation on Child and Adolescent Health and Development in Stockholm, Sweden. The two agencies called on the international community for a commitment to save the lives of the almost 11 million children who die every year from preventable and treatable causes.
**United Nations Guided Tours
The United Nations Guided Tours is marking its fiftieth anniversary this year, and it currently offers tours in over 20 languages. The tours operate from Mondays through Fridays in January and February, and includes weekends from March to December.
A new class of United Nations tour guides has just completed the two-and-a-half-week training and will start giving tours as of today. The 22 new recruits, who come from 15 countries, will supplement the existing team, and increase the total number of guides to 60, representing 36 nationalities. We have a note to correspondents coming out later today.
That is all I have.
**Questions and Answers
Questions: Could you please explain the procedures for the Secretary-General's press conference? In the past, I have not been able to ask questions.
Spokesman: No, that is not true. I have called on you several times. The first question, by tradition, goes to a representative of the Correspondent's Association. After that, I usually follow through according to whose hand I see first, and I make a list. When several people raise their hands at once, I may not get through in exactly the sequence in which you raised your hands. I may also overlook you. I may not get down the names of everyone who raised their hands. I ask you to repeat your hand raising. If I nod to you, it means, yes I have your name down. If you see me writing, it means, no I didn't have your name down and I just put it down.
Questions: How many questions can be asked approximately?
Spokesman: The Secretary-General spends about half an hour, sometimes longer, in these press conferences. You can usually get 15 questions. We are not always able to call on everyone who wants to ask a question, but we do the best we can.
Question: Do I have a chance tomorrow to ask my question?
Spokesman: You always have a chance, but you have a better chance if you put your finger up early, in the beginning. I will be looking for you.
Question: Are the figures of the Iraq oil-for-food programme available in some document?
Spokesman: Yes, the weekly report is out upstairs, outside my Office, on the counter where we put all the handouts. Ask Farhan Haq if it is not there.
Question: As you have heard, Iraqi officials have ruled out a return of UN experts to Baghdad. On the other hand, we had the visit of the Foreign Minister of Iraq with the Secretary-General. When will another visit take place, and what will be the subject?
Spokesman: Our understanding is the Foreign Minister came here to speak to the Secretary-General on the instructions of his Government. You would have to ask the Iraqis to explain why other members of the Government seem to give counter ideas to the ones presented by the Foreign Minister. The next meeting is still not set, but the Secretary-General suggested dates in mid-April. We are waiting for the Iraqi Foreign Minister to confirm. They will continue building on the discussions most recently, where the Secretary-General tried to focus the discussions primarily on the conditions for the return of the inspectors.
Question: Colombia is the trouble spot in Latin America. Why is, do you think, the Secretary-General going to Costa Rica, Honduras, and not Colombia?
Spokesman: This is a Central American tour, so, geographically, Colombia does not fit in. I can't say that Colombia won't be on the agenda for his talks with the heads of State and foreign ministers. I am sure it is a matter of concern to the Central American States, as well.
Question: Has Israel indicated the how, when and who of the investigation into the killing of the United Nations worker?
Spokesman: Not that I am aware. I would have to double-check for you, but not that I am aware.
Question: Is there any news from Alvaro de Soto, the Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Cyprus?
Spokesman: Nothing on Cyprus today. If you think there might be something to report, I'll make a phone call for you after the briefing.
Question: Is it possible to have new correspondents ask questions, rather than make time-consuming statements during the Secretary-General's press conference?
Spokesman: I don't think it is just the new correspondents who indulge in that. Of course, we do expect you all to behave as professionally as possible. We are supposed to try to get information, not express views. We just hope that everyone does that tomorrow; ask questions, that is.
Question: The Ambassador of Haiti is presenting his credentials as we speak. Can we have a read-out if the Secretary-General speaks on the situation in Haiti?
Spokesman: Normally, those are just ceremonies that are recorded by United Nations Television. I don't think there are any discussions that take place. I think it is just a handshake. I'll double-check to make sure that the Secretary-General did not have a conversation with the Haitian Ambassador. [The Spokesman later indicated that he did not.]
Question: Can anything be inferred from the Secretary-General's choice of words in his statement to the Security Council this morning, specifically his use of "illegal occupation" and "indiscriminate targeting of civilians"?
Spokesman: I leave the analysis up to you. I do not believe he ever before used the words "illegal occupation" in addressing the Council.
Question: What are the Secretary-General's expectations regarding the Conference on Financing for Development in light of the experience with the AIDS Fund?
Spokesman: I don't know that there is a comparison to be made. The AIDS Fund is doing reasonably well. I know it is not always perceived that way, but remember that the extra spending that he called for on AIDS was never expected all to pass through the Fund. The contributions to the Fund have been substantial, about $2 billion now.
On financing for development, clearly he thinks that an increase in official development assistance would be in everyone's interest. He also hopes that, following the World Trade Organization (WTO) meeting in Doha, Qatar, developing country concerns about getting the markets of rich countries open to their exports will eventually be followed up in a trade-round that would negotiate new access for them. The combination of increased access to markets and increased development assistance is what he is hoping is going to come out of the total process, which would take you from Doha to Monterrey and eventually to Johannesburg, where the sustainable development conference will be held. He sees that as a continuum.
Question: Is the Secretary-General considering a trip to the Middle East?
Spokesman: We have not yet decided to announce his intentions concerning his participation in the Arab summit in Beirut, Lebanon, at the end of the month, but we probably will make an announcement on that some time next week.
Question: Does the Secretary-General say at the moment that he is considering going?
Spokesman: No, I am not saying what he is considering. I just said we haven't decided to make an announcement yet. We may make it next week.
Question: As Guatemala and El Salvador are not on the Secretary-General's itinerary, what should we infer from the choice of countries?
Spokesman: He can't go to every country in the region, and these are the ones he has decided to visit. I don't think you want to draw any conclusions as to which countries were selected and which ones left out.
Question: As this was the first time you heard the Secretary-General use the phrase "illegal occupation" in his six years here, why now?
Spokesman: I think the rationale is in the statement. He talks about this situation now being the worst in 10 years. The stakes have never been so high, yet, I think, everyone agrees on what the elements of a political settlement are. You have to move these parties from escalating violence, which is senseless and going nowhere, to negotiating the issues that they understand very well, and reaching an agreement, the broad outlines of which had been identified by both sides some time ago.
Question: Can you say something about the process by which such a choice of words was made. Who was in on it?
Spokesman: No, I don't think I need to comment on that. We don't discuss those kinds of things. You can assume it would be the senior political advisers of the Secretary-General.
Question: In the very carefully drafted statement, there was no mention of a United Nations role. Was that deliberate, and does he think it is too early at this stage to mention such a role?
Spokesman: He mentions Security Council resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973) as a basis for an agreement. I have already explained to you in previous briefings his role as far as trying to coordinate with the United States, the Russian Federation and the European Union to bring pressure on Israel and the Palestinians to come to an agreement.
Thank you very much.
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