DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
5 August 2002
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Fred Eckhard, Spokesman for the Secretary-General, and Jan Fischer, Spokesman for the President of the General Assembly.
On entering the building this morning, the Secretary-General, responding to a journalist's question on Iraq, said he would be discussing with Security Council members in a working luncheon this afternoon Iraq's letter of last week inviting UN chief weapons inspector Hans Blix to Baghdad for technical discussions.
He reminded the journalists present that the Iraqi letter was at variance with what Security Council resolutions require. "We have very clear requirements," he said, "and if Iraq were to honour them, I think the invitation could be considered."
He laid out the Security Council requirements, saying, "I think the way Mr. Blix sees it, he and his team would go to Iraq, once Iraq agrees, spend about 60 days to determine what has to be done, and report back to the Security Council. This is what the Iraqis will have to look at," he added.
He observed that it was interesting that Iraq wrote to invite the inspectors at this stage, adding, "if they were to agree to the position that Mr. Blix has laid out for them, in accordance with UN resolutions, we may be closer."
In this exchange, the Secretary-General also clarified that Mr. Blix's interview with Al-Hayat newspaper published on Sunday, in which he said he did not want to go to Baghdad until Iraq had agreed to readmit the inspectors, actually predated receipt of the Iraqi letter.
He said that he hopes to formulate a response to the Iraqi letter this afternoon. "I don't think we should drag it out," he remarked.
Yesterday, following the latest terror attacks in the Middle East, the Secretary-General issued a statement on the violence in Safad, in the north of Israel, in which at least 10 people were killed and 50 injured, and the killings that took place when a gunman opened fire in Jerusalem.
He says, “Does it need saying, yet again, that these attacks on civilians are immoral and illegal, as well as politically counter-productive?”
He goes on to say that one side resorts to indiscriminate terror, and the other responds with retaliation that is equally devastating in its effects on ordinary people. “Each feeds the anger and hatred of the other,” he says, “and then yet more innocent lives are swept away in the backlash.”
The Secretary-General says we must escape from this endless downward spiral, and, in the statement, he appealed to both sides to refrain from further retaliation and to apply themselves, without further delay, to working out the details of the solution which, he said, we all know must come sooner or later: “the solution called for by the Security Council, of two States, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in secure and recognized borders.”
He concludes, “For humanity’s sake, let it come sooner rather than later.”
Speaking to reporters this morning, the Secretary-General said that the international community should re-energize its efforts in the region, and should be seen as taking concrete steps towards a Palestinian State and towards ending terrorism and ensuring security for Israel. “Both communities,” he said, “must be convinced that we are tackling their core issues.”
In addition to the Secretary-General’s statement, which we put out yesterday, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Terje Roed-Larsen, also issued a statement strongly condemning the Palestinian violence yesterday. He said these despicable acts of murder against civilians are both morally repugnant and a direct violation of international law and said that this alarming escalation of violence must be met with intensified international efforts to end the bloodshed. We have copies of his statement upstairs, as well.
Apart from the working lunch that I have just mentioned, there are no consultations or meetings of the Security Council scheduled for today.
Tomorrow, starting at 10:30 a.m., the Council will discuss its programme of work for the month of August. It is also expected to have consultations on recent developments in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
**Special Envoy to Gambia and Guinea-Bissau
Following their meeting at United Nations Headquarters on 30 July, the Secretary-General has asked his Special Envoy for Gambia and Guinea-Bissau, Ambassador James Victor Gbeho, to return to the region to help consolidate the recent resumption of peaceful cooperation between those two countries following a period of mounting tensions in their relations.
The Special Envoy will explore with Presidents Jammeh and Koumba Yala ways in which their two governments could implement speedily and fully the commitments they agreed to at Kanilai, Gambia on 4 July of this year following a bilateral ministerial meeting facilitated by the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy. Mr. Gbeho will seek to build on the momentum also created by the reconciliation meeting held by the two heads of State, under the auspices of the Secretary-General, in the margins of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) Summit in Durban.
The Secretary-General has further directed his Special Envoy to travel to Addis Ababa and Abuja, Nigeria to brief the Interim Chairperson of the Commission of the African Union, Mr. Amara Essy, and Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Executive Secretary, Dr. Mohamed Ibn Chambas, on the United Nations efforts to promote the consolidation of peaceful relations between Gambia and Guinea-Bissau. The Special Envoy will then travel to Dakar to brief the ECOWAS Chairman, President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) today expressed shock at the rebel attack on Acholi Pii refugee camp in northern Uganda housing tens of thousands of Sudanese refugees.
An estimated 24,000 refugees have fled into the bush following a pre-dawn attack by insurgents from the Lord's Resistance Army in which eight refugees were reported killed and four national aid workers were kidnapped.
Witnesses said that rebels set shelters in Acholi Pii on fire, and that the Lord's Resistance Army troops were in the process of stealing the refugees' belongings as the camp's residents fled into the bush.
UNHCR staff held urgent meetings in Kampala this morning with Uganda's Second Deputy Prime Minister and other government officials to discuss refugee camp security.
Acholi Pii was previously attacked last Wednesday, 31 July. The region has experienced insecurity since the mid-1980s. There are an estimated
500,000 displaced Ugandans living in the region.
The Afghan local authorities have decided to post armed guards around the clock outside all United Nations premises in Kandahar, after the compound of the Food and Agriculture Organization was attacked by a grenade last Thursday.
The explosion caused light damage to the building façade and broke some windowpanes. No one was killed or injured. An investigation is underway, but so far no one has been apprehended. This was the first such incident since the Bonn Agreement.
The day after the attack, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, and some officials from the UN agencies and the Afghan authorities visited Kandahar to assess the incident. Local Government officials in Kandahar assured Mr. Brahimi that similar attacks would not take place again.
Over the weekend, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Kosovo, Michael Steiner, met with several senior international officials dealing with the Balkans, who discussed their efforts to facilitate regional cooperation.
Steiner and the other officials –- Paddy Ashdown, the High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina; Alain Le Roy, the European Union representative in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia; and Erhard Busek, the Special Coordinator for the Stability Pact -– stressed the need for free and fair elections this autumn throughout south-eastern Europe. They called upon the region’s governments and political parties to respect the democratic rules of conduct in these elections.
We have a press release upstairs with more details.
**Oshima in Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
Kenzo Oshima, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, at the conclusion of a four-day visit, said the environment for aid agencies operating in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea must improve markedly for the international community to continue to provide assistance.
He said there had been some progress but donors are frustrated and want to see “tangible confidence-building measures”. “A key humanitarian principle,” he said, “is access to assess needs and provide assistance where it is needed.” He added that the United Nations does not have access to 43 out of 206 counties and aid agencies that want to monitor the effectiveness of their programmes are facing obstacles.
Oshima is currently in Beijing and goes on to the Republic of Korea and Japan before returning to New York on 11 August.
We have a press release with more details.
**Least Developed Countries
Anwarul Karim Chowdhury, the Secretary-General’s High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States, is today delivering a message on the Secretary-General’s behalf to a ministerial meeting of the Least Developed Countries taking place in Cotonou, Benin.
The Secretary-General says in that message that the UN family remains strongly committed to helping the Least Developed Countries to overcome the formidable obstacles to their development, and he says the challenges they face are “immense but not insurmountable.”
He notes recent promising developments, including the New Partnership for Africa’s Development and moves by several countries, including those of the European Union, to improve market access for exports from the Least Developed Countries.
We have the text of that message upstairs.
Two press releases to highlight: The World Health Organization (WHO) said today that the provision of basic health services must accompany food aid in southern Africa to avert a tremendous loss of life. The severe conditions are putting up to 14 million people at risk and WHO fears that up to 300,000 extra deaths could occur in the next six months as people weakened by hunger are more susceptible to diseases. Data coming from the region show that maternal mortality, tuberculosis and malaria are on the rise. We have a press release on that.
The second is from the United Nations Environment Programme which says the upcoming edition of their magazine “Our Planet” features an article by the United States Secretary of State, Colin Powell. Powell is among writers contributing to a special edition of the magazine which will be distributed at the World Summit for Sustainable Development in Johannesburg later this month.
Signings: Colombia will become the 77th country to ratify the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.
And also this afternoon, Andorra will sign the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and its two Optional Protocols.
**Guest at Noon Briefing Tomorrow
Our guest at tomorrow’s noon briefing will be Olara Otunnu, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, who will talk to you about his recent visit to Afghanistan.
That’s all I have for you. Richard.
Questions and Answers
Question: I may have misread this. But if you look at the text of the Secretary-General’s last comment on Iraq, he kind of almost says, “Well, we will tell Iraq what we’re going to do; then we’re going tell them this, and we’ll tell them this. And it looked like; maybe I misread the question, although I wasn’t there. It looks like he was saying what United Nations inspectors don’t want to have happen. Which is tell Iraq instead of Iraq telling the United Nations. Am I misunderstanding to look at the text, you’re saying we will do this, we will do that, we will have to tell them this, we will tell them this is the way we are going to go. So is there any negotiations still on the terms?
Spokesman: No. I think he was re-affirming the primacy of Security Council resolutions, and saying that consistent with those resolutions, here is what Hans Blix would like to do. Namely, to go to Iraq with the inspectors, assess where things stand after almost four years without inspections and then report back to the Security Council with a proposed plan of action or programme of work for the Council to approve. That’s what the Council resolution calls for. He said there is some variance between what Iraq is asking; namely, for Blix to go there to have technical discussions and what the Council resolution requires. But all this is going to be discussed over lunch today between the Secretary-General and members of the Security Council. And then the Secretary-General will be formulating a response to the Iraqi letter of last week. And I don’t yet know whether the text of that letter will be released to you. We’ll have to see how things go this afternoon.
Question: Could that response come today?
Spokesman: He said, I don’t think we should drag it out. I don’t know that we can say it definitely will go out today, it certainly will be drafted this afternoon. Serge?
Question: There’s some fire-fighter activities in the building today. Any damage or anything? Can you tell us anything about that?
Spokesman: No. They had, in fire-fighter-speak, a “smoke condition”. I am not sure what a smoke condition is, but I am assuming something was burning that generated smoke. They got the matter under control in less than an hour. I understand some of you who might have been on the fourth floor might have been asked to evacuate your offices. But I am not aware that there was any damage done. And we’re sorry for the inconvenience. Richard.
Question: Following up on that. I was sort of curious. The fire department had been on the fourth floor then left the building. And then the smoke again was present and they came back. Do you have any explanation?
Spokesman: I don’t know what happened. If you’re really interested, we’ll try to reconstruct what happened this morning.
Question: Fred, on the Middle East, the Secretary-General called on the Quartet and the international community to re-energize its efforts. Does he feel that those efforts are too slow and has made any concrete suggestions?
Spokesman: No. He was referring to the efforts of the Quartet to get progress on the political track, moving sufficiently quickly that it could have an impact on the chaotic situation on the ground, that it could have a calming impact -- that both sides would see their bottom line objectives being addressed through serious political negotiations. I don’t think he intended to criticize the slowness of the process, but to merely to kind of say “we have to work harder”.
Okay. So, you asked about the fire. [Reading an internal report.] Smoke condition fourth floor. The investigation revealed that there was no smoke, but masonry dust caused by masonry grinding on the roof of the Secretariat building which was drawn into the fire tower and subsequently onto the floors where the fire tower doors were left open.
New York City Fire Department was notified as a precaution and they responded. Please ensure that all fire tower doors and stairwell doors are kept closed at all times. So, it was masonry dust. They’re trying to fix the roof.
Question: Has your office complained to “Al Hayat” about publishing a quote like that concerning the delicate nature of the dialogue between Iraq and the United Nations or was it an editing mistake or is it just interpretation of the article?
Spokesman: Honestly, we don’t know. The interview was conducted by their United Nations correspondent here on Thursday. And of course, we didn’t get the letter until Thursday night. And the interview was published on Sunday. I think it probably would have been better for everyone had “Al Hayat” specified that the interview had been conducted on Thursday. I haven’t however, reviewed the Arabic text. So, I cannot honestly say that they did not say this. But the clear impression we had from reading the wire service reports of the article was that they had not specified that the interview pre-dated the receipt of the letter.
Question: Will the Secretary-General travel this week? Is he departing or is it next week?
Spokesman: No. This is his last week before he goes on vacation. He will be here through the end of the week. And then he’s off for three weeks. And then he begins his southern Africa tour. We haven’t announced the details of that yet. But that will take him through a number of countries in southern Africa before he attends the Johannesburg Summit on Sustainable Development.
Question: Excuse me. When is going to travel to Addis Ababa?
Spokesman: When will the Secretary-General go? I am not aware he has any plans to go to Addis.
Spokesman: Okay. Jan.
Spokesman for the President of the General Assembly
Thank you Fred.
The tenth emergency special session of the General Assembly reconvened at 10 this morning. The Acting President, who is the Permanent Representative of Cambodia, opened the meeting and drew the attention of the members to the letters requesting the resumption of the session, to a note from the Secretary-General saying that 18 Member States are in arrears and to draft resolution A/ES-10/L.10, which we expect will be adopted at the end of the meeting. By the time I went down to the briefing we had heard Palestine, China, the United States, Israel, Libya, Kuwait, Pakistan and Qatar. At that time, there were 37 in total on the speakers’ list, so we will go into the afternoon, possibly even late into the afternoon.
That’s what I have for you at the moment. If you have not seen the draft resolution, I’d be happy to make copies after this meeting. I just noticed on my way here that it wasn’t on the racks. But I have it. Thank you.
Question: Are they planning on a vote today?
Spokesman: There’s usually always a vote. You may remember last time on 7 May, we had expected a vote after the last speaker around, I think, 6 p.m. But instead they recessed to discuss the draft resolution and we actually had a recess of about two hours. They then came back and it was decided to vote on every single paragraph of the resolution. We hope that will not happen today. But be prepared for anything.
Question: Any reason they’re meeting downstairs? Is it the reconstruction of the General Assembly, and what’s being worked on there? Is it overall, the whole place?
Spokesman: I’m not sure what the work in the General Assembly Hall consists of.
Spokesman Eckhard: We’ll find out for you. Yes.
Question: Will there be a press briefing after the discussions about the weapons inspectors?
Spokesman Eckhard: I don’t expect there would be. I’ll try to get something for you in the way of an official reaction by the end of the afternoon. But this is a private meeting, this luncheon meeting. Normally we don’t even say what is being discussed at these monthly luncheons. In this case, the Secretary-General went public on Friday with the fact that he would raise this with them. And then today, he said he’d make a decision in the course of the afternoon. Whether I’d be able to share any details, I honestly don’t know. But we will try.
Question: So, how should I interpret this, that Hans Blix went on vacation?
Spokesman: Yes, he left Friday evening for 10 days. He returned to Sweden.
Question: So, he is not planning for any direct…
Spokesman: He can be called back any time. But he asked the Secretary-General if there would be any objection to his going on vacation as planned and the Secretary-General said “no”. Thank you.
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