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

22 July 2005

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

Good afternoon.


You just heard from Special Envoy Anna Tibaijuka about her report based on her recent visit to that country. And in a statement we issued earlier, the Secretary-General called the report “profoundly distressing”. He called on the Government to stop those forced evictions and demolitions immediately, and to ensure that those who orchestrated this ill-advised policy are held fully accountable for their actions. As you know, we have that text upstairs, as well as the report.

And also today, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland told reporters in Geneva that because there were no plans for those who lived in the demolished dwellings in Zimbabwe, it was a human tragedy. He noted that the desperate lack of funding for relief operations in Zimbabwe, at a time when the World Food Programme is feeding more than 1 million people in that country. And we have a summary of that press briefing upstairs.

**Sudan-Security Council

Here, at UN Headquarters, Jan Pronk, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Sudan, told the Security Council that, “all in all, there is room for optimism, but we must be realistic. The situation is fragile, utterly fragile”.

Speaking at an open meeting of the Security Council, Pronk noted such positive developments as the country’s Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which led to the formation of the Government of National Unity this month. Also, the fifth round of peace talks on Darfur, being held in Abuja, Nigeria, made progress, and proceeded without being disturbed, Pronk said. Further confidence-building is necessary, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

The open briefing on Sudan was followed by consultations on the same subject. We have copies of Mr. Pronk’s statement upstairs. And he expects to talk to you in this room at about 1:30. We will announce that closer to the time.

**Sudan Report

Jan Pronk’s briefing to the Security Council comes at the same time as the Secretary-General’s monthly report to the Council on Darfur, which says that violence there has diminished greatly, compared to the period from early 2003 until the middle of last year. “There can be little doubt that the situation in Darfur is less dangerous for civilians than it was a year ago”, the Secretary-General said in that report.

Nonetheless, he adds, these developments are only a modest step forward. The decrease in attacks on civilians may be because, after so many villages have been destroyed since the war began, there are fewer locations for militia to strike.

**Security Council

In its consultations today, the Security Council also discussed sanctions on Sudan, with a briefing by the chair of the Council Sanctions Committee. That’s Ambassador Vassilakis of Greece. In addition to discussing Sudan this morning, the Security Council will also take up the Central African Republic in closed consultations. Council members will consider a draft presidential statement on that country and intends to hold a formal meeting to adopt that, once consultations end.

**General Assembly

From the General Assembly, we have the following announcement. The revised outcome document for the September Summit by the General Assembly President will be submitted to Member States this afternoon. Copies of the document will be made available by 3 p.m.

An official familiar with the discussions in the General Assembly on the reform process will be available in room 226 at 5 p.m. to brief the press on background. So there’s a background briefing on that document here at 5 p.m. today.

**DPKO to Host Top Military and Police Chiefs

Turning to next week, just a heads-up. The Department of Peacekeeping Operations will host, from Tuesday to Friday of next week, two conferences -- one with Force Commanders and Heads of the Military Components of peacekeeping operations around the world, and the second with Police Commissioners and Senior Police Advisers. This is an annual meeting, which gives the participants a chance to share experiences from their various areas of operation.

We have more information on this, as well as the names of the participants and background notes on the current mission. And you can get that from the Spokesman’s Office.

**Dag Hammarskjöld Event

On Monday, you are invited to a discussion in the Dag Hammarskjöld Auditorium, the second in a series of “lectures and conversations” to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of the former Secretary-General.

Entitled “The tsunami disaster: Beyond relief towards development”, it will feature a conversation with Margareta Wahlström, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, and Kathleen Cravero, UNDP Assistant Administrator and Director, Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery.

Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information Shashi Tharoor will moderate this event, which will take place from 1:15 to 2:15 p.m.

**Press Conferences

And then just to remind you, this afternoon after this briefing at 12:45, the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict will discuss the role of civil society in preventing conflict. I’ve already mentioned that around 1:30 Jan Pronk will brief on Sudan in this room. And a background briefing on UN reform will be at 5 p.m. today.

And we do have the “Week Ahead” for you, for your planning purposes for next week. And that’s all I have for you today. Any questions for me?

**Questions and Answers

Deputy Spokesperson: Ari, and then Jonathan and then Massoud. Sorry, Erwin.

Question: The 5 p.m. background briefing, I’m wondering if there might be a way to schedule that a little earlier. That’s a big gap there. That’s really late.

Deputy Spokesperson: My understanding from the General Assembly Spokesman’s Office was that it was timed that way with the distribution of the report at 3, to give you time to read it. But if you don’t think that you need two hours, perhaps we can convey to the office that you wouldn’t mind having it earlier.

Question: If (inaudible) earlier (inaudible) time to read it, but on a Friday afternoon at 3 you’re really battling world deadlines. A 5 p.m. briefing is really late.

Deputy Spokesperson: I’m sure that the Spokesman, Spokeswoman for the GA is listening but I’ll convey that to her. Jonathan and then Evelyn.

[After the meeting, it was announced that the press conference would be held at 4:30 p.m.]

Question: Yesterday there was a rather lively and, I guess, constructive debate in Congress with Mr. Trump and Mr. Burnham talking about the Capital Master Plan. I’m just wondering today, is there any sort of reaction coming from the United Nations about how that session went and maybe share with us some initial thoughts on how to move things forward on that?

And also overall, will we be getting updates on the progress of the Capital Master Plan? What does the UN intend to do in terms of briefing us and keeping us up to date on how that’s going?

Deputy Spokesperson: On briefing you and updating you, yesterday I was requested by your colleague Massoud to ask Mr. Burnham, who is the number one official of management overseeing the Capital Master Plan, to come and brief. So, we’ve presented that request and hopefully he will respond to that. In terms of updates on the Capital Master Plan for us now, we are waiting -- as you know the Secretary-General had urged the General Assembly to give the green light to accept the loan arrangement, so that we can begin work on the renovation. So we hope that there’s quick decision on approving the loan in the General Assembly. As for the hearing yesterday, Mr. Burnham himself was at the hearing. He gave the initial briefing, which is made available to you. I think it paints a picture of where we are with the Capital Master Plan, with the costs, etc. So that is available for you. He gave the briefing first and I think the lively discussion followed towards the end. And I am not sure that Mr. Burnham was there throughout. But our initial reaction to Mr. Trump was that we would hope that Mr. Trump would consider bidding for the project. But that was an initial reaction yesterday. I don’t have anything more detailed today. But I’ll follow up with you after the briefing.

Question: Mr. Trump felt that Kofi Annan didn’t take his advice to heart enough and really didn’t approach him. I think they only met once and felt that that was an inappropriate thing to do, because he had so much to lend to the project in terms of pre-advice and an advisory role. Does the Secretary-General -- is he considering taking back Mr. Trump as an advisor, at least taking him on board as an advisor to move things forward to get some sound advice, or at least to bounce thoughts off of as they move forward?

Deputy Spokesperson: I have to talk to Chris Burnham first today about his assessment of the hearings yesterday. I haven’t had a chance to do so. As you know, we’ve been tied up here with the Zimbabwe report. So let me talk to him and see what his assessment was from yesterday.

Question: Just one other follow-up. Mr. Trump came in with a figure that was about a quarter, a little over a quarter of the cost of the reconstruction, of the renovations that are budgeted in the 1.2 billion. So, you mentioned that the General Assembly is reviewing the Capital Master Plan, but isn’t that moving a little too fast? Is there, you know, a sense that things should start anew, maybe a clean slate to begin the process again, that maybe this whole push to get approval of 1.2 billion is premature?

Deputy Spokesperson: I think when this loan approach offer was made, the Secretary-General took into all the advice that had been given to him up until the time that the report went to the General Assembly. So his -- and our -- position is that we hope that the General Assembly will quickly approve the loan so that the work can begin.

Yes, Massoud and then Evelyn. Evelyn, if you’re in a rush please go ahead.

Question: It’s okay. I just wanted to echo what my colleague said before. Despite your valiant effort, the press seems to be an afterthought in this Building, and not taken into the consideration of getting the UN message out. It is impossible that any organization would have the Zimbabwe report, a briefing by Mr. Gambari, another one by Mr. Pronk, and then you have a plan of things relating to the General Assembly report. As you know, stories don’t write themselves and someone here, sometimes someone has to consider how much they’re going to release on Friday. It’s all -- except for Zimbabwe -- this is going into a big black hole.

Question: I heard that Mr. Maurice Strong was given a golden handshake and let go about a week ago. Is that true that finally Mr. Strong has left the United Nations? How much was the package that he got?

Deputy Spokesperson: I have nothing further on Maurice Strong today.

Question: Can you find about Mr. Strong, about whether he did get this golden handshake? And how much was this golden handshake?

Deputy Spokesperson: I have no information to that, to what you’re saying. But sure, I’ll look into it for you. [She later reminded the reporter that Mr. Strong is no longer with the United Nations and she was not aware that he had received any package.]

Question: Going back to the Senate governmental affairs hearing yesterday, the State Senator Martin Golden, I believe his name is, made a very strong statement to the Committee that was completely unanswered by the UN, that among other things said that Kofi Annan had essentially squandered more than $60 billion on his own of the oil-for-food programme. And he said that the swing space arrangement would never be approved by the State Senate, as long as Kofi Annan remained Secretary-General. Now, Marie, has that plan ever been definitively shelved, to build a building, rather than to rent it? Or is that still among the options and what can the UN do to influence this Senator?

Deputy Spokesperson: I prefer, since I have not seen, we have not seen, that statement by the Senator, if I can get back to you after the briefing on the points made.

Question: There are confusing figures about civilian casualties in Iraq. According to a Johns Hopkins study, which was about six months ago, the number of civilians killed in Iraq is more than 100,000. But according to new figures, which appeared three days ago, it is about 25,000. Do you have any figures regarding the civilians and children?

Deputy Spokesperson: I’m afraid the United Nations does not have its own casualty tolls from any conflict. Because most of -- all of our figures, really are based on agencies trying to assist those who are still living. So official death tolls do not come from the United Nations.

Yes, Mr. Abadi.

Question: The report of the President of the Assembly, that will be made available this afternoon, is this something substantially different from what (inaudible)?

Deputy Spokesperson: You’d have to ask that to the General Assembly President’s spokespeople.

Question: Are they available?

Deputy Spokesperson: Yes, the spokeswoman’s office’s assistant, Freh, she is available. And we can put you in touch with her. She has an office in the Spokesman’s Office.

There are no other questions? Have a good weekend.

* *** *

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