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DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL

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

15 April 2004

Following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Marie Okabe, Associate Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon.

**Guest at Noon

We will be joined today by the Chair of the twelfth session of the Commission on Sustainable Development, Minister Børge Brende of Norway. He’ll be talking to you about the work before the Commission, which began its session here at Headquarters yesterday.

He’s already here and we’ll go to him right after my briefing.

**Iraq

A short while ago, we were informed that Lakhdar Brahimi, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser, and his team have left Iraq and are now in Kuwait City.

Prior to leaving, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser spent the day in Basra, where he continued his wide-ranging contacts. He had the opportunity to meet with representatives of civil society, civil servants, religious parties and clerics, as well as tribal personalities.

Brahimi also met with the Coalition Provisional Authority’s representative in southern Iraq, Pat Nixon.

**Security Council

Here at United Nations Headquarters, the role of business in armed conflict can be crucial, for good and for ill, the Secretary-General told the Security Council in an open meeting this morning.

Addressing this open debate on the role of business in conflict prevention, peacekeeping and post-conflict peace-building, the Secretary-General noted the operations of private companies in many conflict zones and conflict-prone countries. But businesses, as he said, also have an enormous stake in the search for solutions.

He said the time has come for a more systematic approach in dealing with the role of business in conflict. With that in mind, the Secretary-General has established an inter-agency group that is looking carefully at the political economy of armed conflict and will provide recommendations.

He also noted his effort to establish an independent inquiry into allegations relating to the “oil-for-food” programme, saying, “Transparency is the only way to deal with such allegations, and by far the best way to prevent corruption from happening in the first place”. We have copies of his remarks upstairs.

Among the other speakers at today’s open debate are James Wolfensohn, the President of the World Bank, and the Chief Executive Officer of the Siemen’s firm.

**Secretary-General

The Secretary-General spoke to the press after leaving this morning’s Security Council meeting, and was asked about the meeting he will have this evening with British Prime Minister Tony Blair. The Secretary-General said that Iraq would very much be on the agenda, and that he looks forward to talking with the Prime Minister on the current situation and the way forward.

He added, in response to questions, that the United Nations always believed it had a role to play in Iraq, and had always been prepared to play that role, once the circumstances were right. He said he was pleased that all governments, including the United States, are cooperating very closely with the United Nations.

Asked about the hostage situation, the Secretary-General said he was relieved that some hostages have been released in Iraq. He urged that no further hostages be taken, adding that he was surprised that things had escalated to the point that so many people have been taken hostage. We have copies of those remarks upstairs.

**Security Council -- Iraq letter

The Secretary-General yesterday conveyed to the Security Council a letter from the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Mohamed ElBaradei, reviewing the IAEA’s verification activities in Iraq.

ElBaradei said the Agency is concerned that its satellite imagery shows that there has been extensive removal of equipment in sites in Iraq, and, in some cases, the removal of entire buildings. Other information available to the Agency, confirmed through visits to other countries, indicate that large quantities of scrap, some of it contaminated, have been transferred out of Iraq.

He says that the United States Government has been informed of these observations, and clarifications are expected. That letter is out as a document on the Internet and copies are available in the Spokesman’s Office.

**Côte d’Ivoire

Turning to Africa, Jean-Marie Guéhenno, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping, will be arriving in Côte d’Ivoire later today. His mission is part of an initiative to support the peace and reconciliation process in Côte d’Ivoire.

Mr. Guéhenno will be meeting with President Laurent Gbagbo, with representatives of the Forces Nouvelles and with other political actors. He will also review the newly established peacekeeping mission in Côte d’Ivoire, which has a mandate to facilitate the implementation by the Ivorian parties of Linas-Marcoussis peace agreement.

Mr. Guéhenno is also expected to travel to Ghana to meet President John Kufuor, the current chair of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

While on the matter of Côte d’Ivoire, we should announce that the Department of Public Information has issued an updated background note on UN peacekeeping operations, which now includes the new mission there, as well as updated figures on personnel and the financing of peacekeeping. Copies are available upstairs.

**Afghanistan

The UN Mission in Afghanistan said that Maimana, the capital of the northern province of Faryab, continues to be calm, and there are no reports of incidents or unrest in the entire province. Some 600 soldiers of the Afghan National Army are currently deployed in Maimana. Also, on Tuesday, the suspension of UN road movements in the province was lifted, except in two districts.

We have more details in today’s briefing notes from Kabul, which also mentions Special Representative Jean Arnault’s three-day visit to Islamabad, Pakistan.

**Liberia

The disarmament, demobilization, rehabilitation and reintegration process has begun smoothly today in Gbarnga, BongCounty in Liberia for ex-combatants of the LURD, or the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy.

Approximately 254 LURD ex-combatants have surrendered their weapons in Gbarnga today and are now at the cantonment site for demobilization. Disarmament has been completed for today. It will resume tomorrow morning with a new intake of approximately 250. They will stay for one week in the cantonment site before they are discharged.

No security incidents have been reported so far. The exercise went very smoothly today, with the ex-combatants cooperating well with United Nations peacekeepers on the ground. We expect a press release to be issued by the UN Mission in Liberia shortly on this.

**China

Meanwhile, three fact-finding experts of the UN Commission on Human Rights yesterday expressed their deep concern about the situation of Tenzin Deleg Rinpoche, a prominent Lama who had been sentenced to death by the authorities in China. They also voiced concerns about alleged lapses during the trial proceedings against him. We have a press release upstairs with more details.

**United Nations –- Sustainable Coffee

And finally, the United Nations often talks about the need for adopting sustainable agricultural practices around the world –- well, we’re also doing something about it closer to home. From this week onwards, the United Nations is serving sustainably-grown coffee in its cafeterias here at Headquarters. The coffee has been certified by the Rainforest Alliance, which means it’s been produced in conditions which take into account the environment and workers’ needs.

We’re told it also tastes better, so enjoy your coffee!

**Guest at Noon Tomorrow

Our guest tomorrow will be Under-Secretary-General Anwarul Chowdhury, Secretary-General of the Mauritius International Meeting to Review the Implementation of the Barbados Programme of Action for the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States.

Mr. Chowdhury will update you on the preparatory negotiations on small islands that are being held this week and will answer questions about that conference.

And that’s all I have for you today. Before we turn to our guest, anybody have questions for me?

**Questions and Answers

Question: The Secretary-General was informed about the Italian hostage killed in Iraq. Is there any reaction?

Associate Spokesperson: We do have a reaction to that. The Secretary-General is deeply dismayed by the gruesome killing of one of the Italian hostages last night, as well as the murder of an Iranian diplomat in Baghdad this morning. He strongly condemns these senseless crimes, and would like to express his condolences to the bereaved families and to the Italian and Iranian Governments.

The Secretary-General stresses that the taking of hostages violates international humanitarian law and human rights norms. He wishes to use this opportunity to reiterate his call for the release of all those abducted and to end all violations of international humanitarian law.

We have copies of this available upstairs for you.

Question: I have a question concerning the Secretary-General’s reaction on the Palestinian-Israeli issue. There’s an article entitled, “Annan slams Bush for ignoring Palestinians”. It says Mr. Annan criticized Mr. Bush Wednesday for ignoring the Palestinian’s wishes and implicitly recognizing Israel’s claim to some West Bank settlements. It says the United Nations spokesman says the U.S. policy shift seems to circumvent negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. Could you clarify the Secretary-General’s position?

Associate Spokesperson: Yes, we -- in response to two questions -- did respond last evening to the journalists who were asking about the Secretary-General’s reaction to that subject. This is what we gave in response.

The Secretary-General welcomes the possibility of an Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. He continues to believe that such a withdrawal should be complete and represent the end of the Israeli occupation of Gaza. He hopes that such a step would spark the renewal of the Quartet’s Road Map to peace.

We also, in response to further questions, said the Secretary-General reiterates his position that final status issues should be determined in negotiations between the parties based on relevant Security Council resolutions. He strongly believes that they should refrain from taking any steps that would prejudice or pre-empt the outcome of such talks.

We can make that available to you as well.

Question: Do you know when Mr. Brahimi will come back and how long he will stay in Iran? And second question, do you know when the “oil-for-food” panel will be announced?

Associate Spokesperson: On your first question about Mr. Brahimi, as I just mentioned, he just left Basra. He arrived in Kuwait shortly after 11 this morning. We expect him be in New York, as I mentioned yesterday, towards the end of the month, which is the last week of April.

On the “oil-for-food” panel, as you know, the Secretary-General said that he had hoped to have this announcement before the end of the week. So we’re working on that.

If there are no more questions, I would like to turn the floor over to our guest today, Mr. Brende of Norway.

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