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

9 May 2005

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

Good afternoon.

I am sorry; we’re beginning this a little late today.

**SG in Moscow

The Secretary-General is in Moscow today, where he attended the sixtieth observance of the “Victory in the Great Patriotic War”, and also attended a luncheon with other world leaders hosted by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

He then took part in a meeting, at the principals’ level, of the Quartet dealing with the Middle East, which brings together the United Nations, the United States, the Russian Federation and the European Union.

In a statement issued after that meeting, the Quartet emphasized that this is a hopeful and promising moment for both Palestinians and Israelis, and that they deserve the full support of the international community in helping them with the hard work and difficult decisions required, in order to make positive use of this opportunity.

The Quartet expressed its full support for its Special Envoy for Gaza Disengagement, James Wolfensohn, and stressed the urgent need for Israelis and Palestinians to coordinate directly and fully on withdrawal preparations. We have copies of the full statement upstairs.

The Secretary-General also spoke to the press afterwards and said that the ultimate objective is to see a settlement in the region, based on UN resolutions 242 and 338. And we hope to have the official transcript of that encounter later today.

**Middle East

And just to recap, on Friday, the Secretary-General informed the Security Council of his intention to appoint Alvaro de Soto, of Peru, as UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process and as his Personal Representative to the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinian Authority. De Soto, most recently the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Western Sahara, replaced Terje Roed-Larsen.

De Soto assumed his functions immediately and accompanied the Secretary-General to today’s Quartet meeting in Moscow. We put out a statement late Friday with more details on the appointment.


And also on Friday, the Secretary-General appointed Michael von der Schulenberg of Germany as his Deputy Special Representative for Political Affairs in Iraq. He will be based in Baghdad.

**Statement Attributable to Spokesman for Secretary-General (issued Sunday)

And last night, we issued a statement on Afghanistan in which the Secretary-General condemns the suicide bombing which was carried out at an internet cafe in Kabul in the early evening of 7 May, killing three people, including an international contractor working for the United Nations Office for Project Services. At least six Afghan nationals were injured in the incident. And we have the full text of that statement upstairs.


And also to recap, on Friday the Secretary-General met with the Prime Minister of Lebanon. And in that meeting, the Secretary-General reiterated his call for the full implementation of resolution 1559. And we do have a readout of that meeting upstairs.

**Lebanon - Elections

And meanwhile, the United Nations electoral team led by Carina Perelli officially began its mission in Lebanon today, meeting with the acting Foreign Minister and the Interior Minister. Perelli stated that the expertise of the United Nations, which has assisted over 200 electoral processes throughout the world, was at the disposition of the Lebanese authorities.

Perelli and her team will continue their consultations in Lebanon until 18 May, meeting with political leaders, civil society and the international community.

**Sudan - Report

And the report of the Secretary-General -- this is turning to Sudan -- on the UN assistance to the African Union mission in Sudan is out as a document today. In it, the Secretary-General notes that the African Union mission in Darfur is effective in the areas it is deployed, and therefore needs strengthening, in order to expand its presence to cover more the vast and difficult terrain.

The AU mission, he says, has been a groundbreaking initiative for the African Union and its supporters within the international community. And the Mission has accomplished a remarkable amount in a very short time and despite significant constraints. The Secretary-General says it is now critical for all concerned to do their part.

States members of the African Union must now identify personnel to join the mission; the AU Commission must strengthen planning and management capacity in order to support an expanded mission; and partners must provide the African Union with the means required to carry out a costly and challenging task.

The report also outlines the concept of a complex, multinational 12,000-strong operation to contribute to a secure environment in Darfur in time of the 2006 planting season. And we have a couple of other items which are available upstairs.

**Sudan - WFP

And on the humanitarian front, the World Food Programme announced that it began airlifting food today from a Libyan airport directly into western Sudan's Darfur region, pioneering a new route to move as much food aid as possible to nearly 2 million people during the rainy season.

And as you know, after this briefing, we will have a background briefing on UN efforts in Darfur, Sudan. And that will be a background briefing immediately after this.

**Security Council

Just a couple more on the Security Council. There are no meetings or consultations scheduled for today.

The consultations on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which had been previously scheduled for this afternoon, have been rescheduled for Thursday.

**UN Reform

And on UN reform, Chef de Cabinet Mark Malloch Brown, sent out a note to all staff last Friday, informing them of the Secretary-General’s decision to form two small committees to improve strategic direction and build a stronger culture of performance and accountability.

The first is the Policy Committee, which will meet weekly and focus on issues requiring strategic guidance and decisions, as well as identifying emerging issues. The second is the Management Committee, which will meet monthly and deal with internal reform and management issues. Both will be chaired by the Secretary-General.

**General Assembly

And as you know, the General Assembly is holding this morning a session marking the sixtieth anniversary of the end of the Second World War, and to commemorate all victims of the War. We have statements by the General Assembly President and by Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette. And the list of speakers at the meeting is also available in the Spokesman’s office.


And finally, Olara Otunnu, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, has been awarded the 2005 Sydney Peace Prize for his lifetime commitment to human rights and efforts to protect children in time of war.


And UN TV programme, World Chronicle, will be shown today. And the guest, Arjun Sengupta, the UN’s Independent Expert on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, will speak about whether or not poverty constitutes a human rights violation. You can watch the show at 3:30 this afternoon on in-house TV channels 3 or 31.

**Press Conferences Today and Tomorrow

And as I mentioned, immediately after this briefing, we have senior officials from the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, the Department of Political Affairs and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs on Darfur, and what the UN is doing to address the complexities and challenges facing us there.

And at 5 o’clock, there fill be a press conference by the Global Security Institute on the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. The speakers will include Hans Blix, Chairman of the Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission, and US Congressmen Curt Weldon and Ed Markey.

And tomorrow at 1 p.m., there will be a press conference on the financial risks and opportunities in connection with global climate change.

And that’s all I have for you today. Yes, Laura?

**Questions and Answers

Question: Marie, I have two questions. The first one is, it says that the UN will not observe the Lebanese elections, but it will field a UN team that will remain in Lebanon. Does that mean more than the two people who are already there? Or is it just going to be them? That’s the first question. And the second question is, on the statement that Annan read out today in Moscow on the Quartet saying that they support easing the system of restrictions on the movement of Palestinian people and goods. It was reported today in the New York Times that the US House of Representatives gave $50 million to Israel to build terminals for people at checkpoints surrounding Palestinian areas.

The US is part of the Quartet. So, can I have some sort of comment on that from the Secretary-General?

Associate Spokesperson: Okay. On the latter, I don’t have any guidance on that. So, I’ll have to look into that and get back to you.

As you know, Ms. Perelli is there on a quick mission for consultations until 18 May for preparations for the elections. But, while the United Nations will not itself observe the elections, it will field a team that will remain in Lebanon during the holding of parliamentary elections to coordinate and support international observers sent by other countries and organizations. And they will liaise with Lebanese electoral authorities, observation groups and national monitoring groups. As for the size of that, I’ll have to find out more about that and get back to you. Yes, Mark?

Question: I just wondered if you could give a rundown of what Mark Malloch Brown told staff today about reforms and staff.

Associate Spokesperson: I think he just finished that meeting. As you know, it is a general staff meeting. He was asked to brief on the current state of UN reform. It’s a closed meeting, so, I am not sure that his comments will be made available. But, I can try to find out, to get a readout for you. Yes?

Question: On the verification team that’s looking into the ...(Inaudible) in Lebanon, do you happen to know when they’re due back and when they are due to report to the SG?

Associate Spokesperson: I asked that question today, but I still don’t have the exact time frame. I know that they’re supposed to report back this month and that’s all I have right now.

Question: And on the verification team into the killing of Hariri, are we any closer to having a team completed and...(Inaudible)?

Associate Spokesperson: I have nothing further on that either. Yes?

Question: On Friday, Volcker said that his team has immunity, UN immunity. I wonder if -- this is just (Inaudible) -- I wonder if the UN itself is considering maybe lifting the immunity of the Volcker committee, you know, in order to cooperate better between the UN and Congress.

Associate Spokesperson: Sorry, can you repeat that question again?

Question: There is a fight between Congress and the Volcker committee in which the Volcker committee contends that some of its investigators who have left the committee have immunity. I wonder if the UN will lift that immunity in order to cooperate better with Congress.

Associate Spokesperson: As you know, right now this matter really is between Mr. Volcker and the US Congress and we’re following their lead on this and we’re supporting whatever his committee does, every step of the way. Yes?

Question: So, the decision is his, not yours?

Associate Spokesperson: Excuse me?

Question: The decision whether to lift or not to lift the immunity is his, not yours?

Associate Spokesperson: Well, we’re following his lead on this matter. Yes?

Question: Picking up on Benny’s point. Susan Ringler, Counsel to the Volcker committee, wrote to the lawyer for one of the resigning investigators on Friday evening saying that she is recommending, on behalf of the Volcker committee, to the UN that they do not waive the privileges or immunities of Robert Parton. So, this clearly is not a matter, much as you might try to spin it like that, it’s not a matter between Volcker and Congress. You are the Organization that imposes that immunity. So, what are you going to do? The Volcker committee has written to you asking you for guidance, asking you not to lift the immunity. What are you going to do?

Associate Spokesperson: We’re familiar with the letter from the committee that you refer to. And I just mentioned to Benny, we support whatever decisions Mr. Volcker is making on this. And I will repeat that they are in the lead on this and we will support them...(Interrupted).

Question: With all due respect, Mr. Volcker is not making the decision. He is asking you to make a decision. What is your decision? Are you insisting on the immunity for Robert Parton or not? It’s a simple “yes” or “no” question.

Associate Spokesperson: We’re not aware of his asking us to do so.

Question: You’ve just told me you’re aware of the letter...(Interrupted)?

Associate Spokesperson: I am aware of the letter, and the guidance that I have is that we support the contents of the letter and that we’re following Mr. Volcker on this. And I have nothing further to comment on this.

Question: So, lawyers for the UN are now going to insist on immunity to prevent evidence that may be damaging to the Secretary-General of the UN from becoming public? Is that not a clear conflict of interest?

Associate Spokesperson: I don’t think I said anything that would lead to that conclusion.

Question: Well, you said you’re going to follow the Volcker recommendations. If they’re recommending that immunity not be lifted, the UN is going to insist that immunity is not lifted.

Associate Spokesperson: I am not commenting on the specifics of the letter. All I said was that I was familiar with the letter to which you referred. My overall comment is that at this moment, the United Nations is following the decisions of the Volcker panel, the Volcker committee, and we support every move that the panel is making. And that’s really all I have to say on the matter today.

Any other questions?

If not, we’re going to have to do a brief break because the next briefing is going to be a background briefing and it will not be televised on UN television.

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