DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
31 May 2002
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Fred Eckhard, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
**Statement Attributable to Spokesman
We’re going to start with a statement attributable to the Spokesman on the death of Gunnar Jarring:
“The Secretary-General was saddened to learn of the death of Gunnar Jarring, the Swedish diplomat and veteran of United Nations affairs. Mr. Jarring’s career on the international stage spanned almost half a century. He served as Sweden's ambassador to the United Nations during the 1950s, and as special envoy of the UN Secretary General on the Middle East from 1967 to 1990. Mr. Jarring was known for his unflinching honesty, integrity, and discretion, as well as his exceptional powers of analysis and persuasion. The Secretary-General expresses his condolences to Mr. Jarring’s family, as well as to the Government of Sweden, and adds that Mr. Jarring’s legacy will live on as a shining example of the best and most selfless kind of international service.”
I know you’ve all been waiting for the official announcement for the next round of talks between the Secretary-General and representatives of the Government of Iraq.
I can now tell you that the next round will take place on 4 and 5 July at the UN offices in Vienna.
The Iraqi delegation will be headed by Foreign Minister Naji Sabri.
The Secretary-General is happy to announce not one, but two senior appointments today.
Ramiro Armando de Oliveira Lopes da Silva of Portugal will become the new Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq, replacing Tun Myat who, you will recall, was recently appointed UN Security Coordinator.
And you will be pleased to hear that Shashi Tharoor of India has been confirmed as Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information. Shashi has been serving as Interim Head of the Department of Public Information since January 2001, and has worked in the UN system since May 1978.
So, congratulations to both, and you can find bio notes on each of them in my Office.
In a short while, the Secretary-General will attend a lunch at which he is expected to welcome this morning’s ratification of the Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change by the 15 members of the European Union.
The 15 member States individually, as well as the European Union as a body, handed over instruments of ratification to the United Nations Legal Counsel, Hans Corell, in a ceremony in this room, which ended with a press conference a short time ago.
We have the text of the Secretary-General’s remarks at the luncheon available upstairs.
On the last day of the Singapore presidency of the Security Council, a private meeting is being held to wrap up the month's work. Non-members of the Security Council have been encouraged to take part.
Speakers are being strictly limited to five-minute interventions. The Council is expected to have heard more than 30 speakers from the Council and non-members in the morning session.
Among the topics of the wrap-up discussion are Afghanistan, East Timor, Liberia, the Middle East, Sierra Leone, and the Council’s mission to the Great Lakes region of Africa.
Ambassador Kishore Mahbubani of Singapore will sum up the debate and make it public.
And then starting tomorrow, 1 June, Syria assumes the Council presidency.
In the midst of what the UN High Commissioner for Refugees describes as a “somewhat frenzied” political debate in a number of European countries over immigration and asylum seekers, the UNHCR today released figures showing a sharp drop in the number of people seeking asylum on the continent.
The total number of asylum-seekers arriving in the European Union last year was a little over half of what it had been in 1992, according to the UNHCR.
At the same time, in many countries the numbers were “not very high -– particularly if you compare them with developing countries that have hundreds of thousands, or even -– in the case of Iran and Pakistan -– millions of refugees, the UNHCR says.
You can read more about these statistics in today’s briefing notes from the UNHCR. The UNHCR Web site has also posted the two new charts of asylum statistics today.
The UNHCR also flags a refugee situation in Africa.
It says that 10 Somali refugees, including eight children, have died of disease and malnutrition over the past six days in Kenya’s volatile border region, as aid agencies have been prevented by the Kenyan authorities from moving the group to a safer location inside Kenya.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) announced today in Kabul that several governments and NGOs would finance the safeguarding of Afghanistan’s cultural heritage. In all, more than $7 million has been promised for the restoration work on the Museum of Kabul, and numerous archaeological sites will also receive emergency assistance.
At the International Seminar on the Rehabilitation of the Afghan Cultural Heritage organised by UNESCO, it was decided not to give priority to the reconstruction of the giant Buddhas at Bamiyan, blown up by the Taliban in March 2001. However, in some 600 caves in the cliffs of Bamiyan, mural paintings will be protected and restored.
We have UNESCO press release available upstairs.
Also on Afghanistan, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the Afghanistan Government signed an agreement for the rebuilding of Kabul airport. Under the agreement, ICAO will execute the project, including the hiring and training of personnel, as well as the purchase of airport and air traffic control equipment and facilities.
Special Representative of the Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma, that is, in East Timor, today attended a ceremony in Dili marking the handover of the East Timor Police Training College and UN Police control in several districts to the East Timor Police Service. “This is the beginning of the exciting and challenging process”, he said, “the existence of an independent, democratic police service to maintain and enforce law and order is one of the fundamental pillars of any State.”
The UN Mission of Support in East Timor, called UNMISET, today also handed over control of East Timor’s public radio and television to the newly independent nation’s Government.
About $500,000 worth of assets -– including TV and radio transmitters, TV cameras and studio equipment -– and management of broadcasting staff will officially come under East Timor government control at midnight.
**Bali Preparatory Committee
At the end of the first week of the final Preparatory Committee meeting for the World Summit on Social Development, delegates were briefed on the status of negotiations. The chairmen of the working groups dealing with the final document reported to the plenary that most of the text had been agreed upon. The Chairman of the Preparatory Committee urged delegates to focus discussion now on the areas where agreement had not been reached so that negotiations could be finished by the end of today.
The Republic of Korea today became the eightieth Member State to pay its 2002 regular budget contribution in full with a payment of more than $20 million. At this time last year 84, countries were fully paid up.
**International Labour Organization
Three quick press releases to highlight. The International Labour Organization (ILO) today said the informal economy has expanded with unexpected rapidity throughout the world, triggering structural adjustment programmes, economic reform and demographic growth in developing countries. But, it added, the lack of legal and social protection, representation and rights at work which characterize the informal economy are prevalent in many countries. The findings will be discussed during the International Labour Conference that is scheduled to open in Geneva next week.
**WHO Press Release
Then from the World Health Organization (WHO), they announce that a study conducted by a major international clinic has revealed that magnesium sulfate can reduce by half the risk of life-threatening convulsions and death in pregnant women with problems of high blood pressure. The three-year study, dubbed “Magpie”, was funded by the UK’s Medical Research Council (MRC) with support from the WHO. It was carried out in 33 countries and involved nearly 10,000 pregnant woman.
**FAO Press Release
Finally from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). They announced yesterday in Nicosia the wrap-up of the twenty-third session of the Regional Conference for Europe with a renewed commitment to achieve the 1996 World Food Summit objectives of halving the world’s undernourished people by 2015. The follow-up to the 1996 Summit, the World Food Summit: Five Years Later, is scheduled to take place in Rome on 10-13 June 2002. The Secretary-General is scheduled to attend.
We have a World Chronicle TV Programme that will be on view today. It features Julia Taft, the Assistant Administrator and Director for Crisis Prevention and Recovery at the UNDP. And you can see that at 3:30 p.m. today on in-house television channel 3 or 31.
**The Week Ahead at United Nations
We have the Week Ahead for you if you want to follow the work of the Organization next week.
And, finally, for those of you who may not know, Farhan Haq of my Office and his wife Ethel, last weekend, became parents for the first time, with the birth of Charlotte, who weighed in at over seven pounds and was over 20 inches long.
We think Charlotte may end up playing basketball.
I’m sure you join me in extending to all three of them our congratulations.
Farhan will be back in the office in another two weeks.
That’s all I have for you. Yes?
**Questions and Answers
Question: I have two brief questions. On the Iraq talks, who will be participating on the United Nations side?
Spokesman: We don’t have the final delegation list except that as at the last session, Hans Blix, the Executive Chairman of UNMOVIC (the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission) and Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei, the Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), are both expected to be there. There could be others, but we haven’t finalized the list yet.
Question: The second question concerning Colombia. The President-elect, as I understand, has requested a meeting with the Secretary-General when the President-elect is here in New York in the coming week or so. Has that meeting been requested and, if so, what is the status?
Spokesman: Yes, I believe the request for that meeting came in yesterday morning. I am not sure a final date has been set, but we’re looking at mid-June; sometime in mid-June. Yes?
Question: Regarding the summit in Johannesburg, you mentioned that some agreements have not been reached yet. Can you give us some examples of crucial agreements that are still not ...
Spokesman: I mentioned a few things yesterday that still had not been agreed. I don’t think I have an update of that today. I know there are still some brackets in the text. But if you check with Nanci in my office ...
Question: The other issue, Fred, is are there any activities, efforts that we don’t know of yet going on to ease the tensions between Pakistan and India beyond maybe personal telephone calls or so? Is there any request regarding the Security Council that you know of?
Spokesman: No, I am not aware that the matter has been brought to the Council, although I know Council members have discussed it informally at their last luncheon. As you know from reading the newspapers, a number of countries are taking bilateral initiatives, including the United States, and I think that’s all we have to report. And as I mentioned yesterday, the Secretary-General supports those bilateral initiatives. Yes?
Question: Can you say something about why the Security Council isn’t meeting on India-Pakistan?
Spokesman: I think you know from the long history of the conflict over Kashmir that India does not wish to internationalize the peace efforts. Pakistan has repeatedly invited international participation, but, without the agreement of both parties, there is nothing that the international community can do short of enforcement action, which I haven’t heard anyone mention as a realistic option at this time. Yes, Silviane?
Question: Fred, how much of the organizations of the United Nations are concerned about the FBI’s wide-ranging monitoring of political and religious activities, and what would be the impact in the United Nations?
Spokesman: I don’t think we would comment on the specific internal situation in the United States. More broadly, Mary Robinson has expressed concern that the fight against terrorism not compromise basic human rights. So, I think that is probably a fundamental principle that I could affirm without commenting specifically on what’s going on in any specific Member State.
Question: The Syrian Ambassador will be the President of the Security Council for next month. Is it possible to have a meeting with him here or come to see what will be the month ahead as usual, like the other people?
Spokesman We will ask him if he would be happy to do that or designate someone to do that. So I’ll relay the request from you. Yes, Serge?
Question: Since there’s no one from the executive committee of UNCA (United Nations Correspondents’ Association) here, I wish on their behalf to congratulate Shashi [the new Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, Shashi Tharoor] for his promotion. At the same level, I would like to know why it took the Secretary-General so long to make this appointment?
Spokesman: Well, I can’t really say that it’s taken an enormously long time. Shashi is unusually young to achieve this level. I think probably the Secretary-General wanted to give him a chance to show what he could do. So when he took over as Interim Head, the Secretary-General gave him a free hand to make any changes or improvements. Just this week, or perhaps just the end of last week, Shashi presented his draft plan for the overhaul, the restructuring of DPI, presented to the Secretary-General. So I think probably we’re at the point where the Secretary-General has confidence in him and his plans for the future, and he has made it final.
Question: Why do you say it is not too long? How long ago was the job vacant?
Spokesman: Well, I said that he has been interim head since January 2001. A bit more than a year.
Question: And how old is he?
Spokesman: Oh, I don’t think he tells his age, but we do have his bio.
Question: Because you said he is unusually young.
Spokesman: For an Under-Secretary-General. He was born in 1956. So you can do the calculation.
Spokesman: Thank you. Thanks very much.
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