DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICES OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL AND THE SPOKESPERSON FOR THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY PRESIDENT
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
30 November 2005
Following is a near verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General, and Pragati Pascale, Spokesperson for the General Assembly President.
Briefing by Spokesman for Secretary-General
**Secretary-General in Asia
The Secretary-General will be travelling to Asia starting this weekend. His 14-day trip includes official visits to China, the Republic of Korea, Japan and Viet Nam.
While in Beijing, which is his first stop, the Secretary-General is expected to meet with the President and other senior officials, including the Deputy Prime Minister for Foreign Affairs, as well as the Vice Prime Minister in charge of Avian Influenza. He plans to have a question and answer session with students at Beijing University.
From Beijing, he travels to Seoul, where he has meetings planned with the President, as well as the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade.
The next stop is Tokyo where, in addition to meetings with the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, he will meet with a parliamentary group to discuss United Nations reform. He also has an audience scheduled with the Emperor.
The Secretary-General then goes to Hong Kong, where he will address the opening of the World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference.
His last stop is Viet Nam, which will be his first visit to that country as Secretary-General. Among his meetings with Vietnamese leaders is one with the Chair of the National Steering Committee on Avian Influenza.
**Statement Attributable to the Spokesman on Ecuador
The Secretary-General welcomes the appointment of the new Court of Justice in Ecuador. He has sent Ms. Angela Kane, Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, as his representative to today’s swearing in ceremony in Quito.
The Secretary-General notes that the selection of the judges to the Court of Justice was monitored by a group of international witnesses from the Organization of American States, the Andean Community, and the United Nations, working in close consultation with the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Mr. Leandro Despouy.
The Secretary-General hopes that the appointment of the new Court will contribute to the strengthening of the rule of law and the protection of human rights in Ecuador.
**Humanitarian Appeal 2006
Earlier today, the Secretary-General called for $4.7 billion to provide urgent support to 31 million people in humanitarian emergencies in 26 countries worldwide.
Launching the Humanitarian Appeal 2006, which Mr. [Jan] Egeland, the head of the humanitarian affairs department, briefed you extensively about in this room just a short while ago, the Secretary-General said that the past year, although terrible in terms of natural disasters, demonstrated the world’s tremendous capacity for giving. In that regard, the Appeal was an opportunity, which must not be missed, to extend that generosity to people whose plight may not capture the world’s attention, but whose suffering was no less tragic.
We have the full text of his remarks upstairs.
**Security Council – Middle East
Our guest today at the briefing will be Ibrahim Gambari, the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, who will talk to you about his recent visit to the Middle East and Iraq. We understand he is still in the Security Council, so if he is not able to join us at 12:20 or so, we will let you know when he does come to 226, but we will have him brief here in this room.
Mr. Gambari talked to the Security Council about that visit in an open meeting on the Middle East this morning, in which he said he had seen many things that made him optimistic. Among them, he said, were the Rafah crossing, where the Palestinians had assumed control of part of their border; the settlements in Gaza that Israel had evacuated; and the determination of Lebanon’s Government to assert its control over the entire country.
Mr. Gambari added that he had also seen or discussed a number of very real challenges to the process, including the extent to which the barrier, checkpoints and Israeli settlements dominated the landscape in the West Bank, and the genuine insecurity and fear faced by Israelis. We have copies of his statement upstairs.
The Security Council is also expected shortly to adopt a Presidential Statement concerning the opening of the Rafah crossing.
**Security Council – Other Meetings
In addition to briefings on the Middle East, the Council is wrapping up its work for the month. It started earlier this morning by voting to approve a resolution extending by two months the mandate of the United Nations Operation in Burundi.
After its consideration of the Middle East, the Security Council is also to hold a formal meeting to adopt a Presidential Statement on Cote d’Ivoire, expressing its deep concern at the persistent disagreement on the parties there on the appointment of the Prime Minister.
Today is the last day of the Russian Presidency of the Security Council. Tomorrow, Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry of the United Kingdom takes over for the month of December.
We have a note on the recent chemical spill in north-eastern China.
According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), because of interest from the Chinese Government, representatives from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the UNDP and the World Health Organization are discussing, with the Chinese authorities, a suitable date for sending a United Nations disaster management team to the affected area.
The first order of business for such a mission would be to assess damages and needs. The mission would also consider visiting areas of the Russian Federation that had also been adversely affected by this spill.
Former United States President Bill Clinton, the United Nations Special Envoy for Tsunami Recovery, was in Aceh today, to discuss progress and challenges in the recovery effort with a wide range of actors in Indonesia. Regarding the political situation there, Mr. Clinton said the long-term vision for Aceh's development depended on the peaceful resolution of the region’s three-decade long conflict. We have a press release available upstairs on that.
From Montreal, we have word that the UN Climate Change Conference has just voted to finalize the ‘rule book’ of the Kyoto Protocol on greenhouse gas emissions. The vote today at the meeting of 157 parties to the Kyoto Protocol puts into concrete form the agreements made in Japan.
The President of the Conference, Stéphane Dion, said: “The Kyoto Protocol is now fully operational.” We have a press release available upstairs.
Lastly, just as a note, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Haiti, Juan Valdes, will meet with any interested correspondents at 4:30 this afternoon. If any of you want to join that briefing, which will not be in this room, please talk to Bob Sullivan in the office upstairs.
That is it for me.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Is there still no decision on what happens to the documents from the Independent Inquiry into the oil-for-food programme? What’s happening, I mean, what’s taking so long, what’s the debate, what are the issues?
Spokesman: The discussions between the Office of Legal Affairs and the representatives of the Volcker Committee are going on. Obviously, the documentation amassed by Mr. Volcker during his investigation is not only documents owned by the United Nations, which he got from the United Nations, but documents that were given to him by Governments.
It is also testimony that was taken by Mr. Volcker, sometimes under the understanding that that testimony would remain confidential. So we have to work out a mechanism to handle all these papers in a way that is as open as possible, and helpful as possible, to any national authorities that wish to pursue any action as a follow-up to the Volcker Committee.
Question: How does this work? Does the United Nations have to come to an agreement with each individual who gives testimony, or is it the Commission, or is it … ?
Spokesman: Right now, discussions are going on between Volcker … excuse me?
Question: Sorry, so you were just talking to Volcker? There’s no discussions with … ?
Spokesman: I am sure that Mr. Volcker is also talking to the Governments that have given him documents. As soon as an agreement is reached on how to handle these papers, we will let you know.
Question: So what’s the United Nations decision-making role in this? What does the United Nations get to decide?
Spokesman: The United Nations has to come to some understanding with Volcker that everyone is comfortable with, that enables these documents to be as accessible as possible for any ongoing investigations.
Question: Is it true that some of the documents obtained by Mr. Volcker, or the Commission, are now being sought by the United States Government?
Spokesman: As you know, the mandate, the life of the Commission has been extended at least until the end of December, so any questions as to what requests have come in to them at this point should go to them.
Question: Is it your understanding that, now that they will be passing some of these documents to you … ?
Spokesman: First of all, the Commission is still in existence and an agreement has not yet been reached. My understanding is that they are cooperating as much as possible with any national authorities following up. But you should address that question to them.
Question: What about this one month that you’re extending [the Commission]? How much will it cost?
Spokesman: I will get you a figure for that.
Question: One of the concerns raised regarding this by some is that the United Nations in the past, some United Nations officials in the past, have taken it upon themselves to destroy documents. Is that one of the concerns –- avoiding any destruction of documentation?
Spokesman: There’s no question of any of these documents being destroyed. I’m talking to you about the documents Mr. Volcker has amassed. We’re trying to find a way to make sure that these archives remain available and as open as possible to any Governments that wish to follow up.
Question: But there’s a question of custody …
Spokesman: All of these questions are being discussed right now between the Office of Legal …
Question: If the United Nations gains custody, is there a concern about maintaining the integrity of the documentation, that no one (inaudible) … ?
Spokesman: No one wants to destroy any piece of paper that Mr. Volcker has amassed. The aim is to have these documents exist in a way that they remain available to Governments and judicial authorities who wish to pursue any investigation.
Question: Would this include all files?
Spokesman: Every piece of paper that was amassed by Mr. Volcker.
Question: You indicated that, because of interest from China, a delegation of OCHA and other departments would be travelling there for the chemical problem. What does “because of interest” mean? Has China requested, formally or informally, for United Nations assistance?
Spokesman: I’ll have to check, but obviously, we would do it only following their request.
[He later told the correspondent that China had not formally requested UN assistance. He also reiterated that discussions were ongoing and that, as of now, there were no definite plans for a UN team to go to China.]
Question: Since the United Nations wouldn’t really be in a position to cover up an apparent tax fraud, can it release the letter that Mr. [Abdoulie] Janneh wrote to the Ghanaian authorities seeking a tax exemption for the Mercedes?
Spokesman: I have nothing further to add on the Mercedes matter, except that we had said a few weeks ago Mr. Kojo Annan’s lawyers were discussing the issue with the relevant Ghanaian authorities.
Question: Could I put on the record that I would like to make a request for the United Nations to release this document, because it seems to be relevant to an apparent tax fraud? And there’s no reason I see that we should wait for Mr. Volcker’s papers to become available. You must have a copy of this document, and we’d like to see it.
Spokesman: (no response)
Question: The United States Ambassador yesterday wrote [Secretary-General Kofi] Annan about requests to brief the Council in Burma. How is … ?
Spokesman: As far as I know, there has been no official request coming from the Security Council as a whole to brief on Myanmar. The Secretary-General is open to briefing on whatever issue the Council wants him to brief on. It takes some time for the Secretariat to put together the necessary information and papers to do these briefings, so when the official request comes, and the Secretary-General is ready to brief on Myanmar, he will.
Question: Does he have someone who can do that briefing for him?
Spokesman: We have a Department of Political Affairs that puts together these kinds of briefings, and when the Secretary-General is ready to brief, he will.
Question: When Mr. Annan is in Asia, does he plan to raise the topic more forcefully than he has in the past regarding Myanmar? If we don’t know the answer, can we check on that and see if there’s some there?
Spokesman: We will check.
Question: Has the Secretary-General had any conversation with the United States Ambassador of the G77 in view of the budget crisis that is looming? Has he had any meetings? Does he intend to hold any meetings with them now before he leaves for China?
Spokesman: I know of no formal meetings, but contacts are obviously being made at various levels.
Question: On Myanmar, Joseph Verner Reed apparently goes often to Myanmar. It’s not clear to me whether he uses his United Nations passport to go there or not. Can you clarify whether he is actually going there on behalf of the United Nations.
Spokesman: I was not aware that he was going, but I’ll be happy to check.
Question: Can we get a briefing from someone just to see where the United Nations is on reform, someone to come in here and talk to us about it? Also, what implications would the United Nations face if the United States should decide to hold funds back? Would that affect your salary, for instance?
Spokesman: We had an extensive briefing by the Controller yesterday, which you can get the notes for. He answered better than I can.
On reform, as part of the Outcome Document, the deadline for submissions on Secretariat management reform was set by Member States themselves unanimously for the first quarter of next year. That being said, I expect to have someone come down, probably at some point next week, to give you a bit of an early harvest of some of the management reforms we are ready to put to the General Assembly. Those include the operational details of the ethics office, whistleblower policy, financial disclosure, audit advisory committee, just to name a few.
Question: Who would be that person?
Spokesman: I don’t know yet, but we’ll have someone who can brief you extensively on that.
Question: Is there anything further on the Secretary-General’s end-of-year news conference?
Spokesman: We’re trying to finalize the date. He comes back to Headquarters, I think, on 19 December, so it would have to be in those couple of days after that, if we can squeeze it in.
Question: Has there been any advance on the proposal by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights about an international role regarding the detention centres in Iraq?
Spokesman: No, but Ms. [Louise] Arbour [High Commissioner for Human Rights] is here in New York, and I believe she’ll be briefing you next week, so you can ask her the question directly.
Question: Has the Secretary-General received a note from the Prime Minister of Israel about United Nations officials not talking to Hizbollah? What’s the latest? What’s the Secretary-General’s reaction?
Spokesman: I will have to check on that letter.
[He later added that the Secretary-General had not received a letter from the Prime Minister of Israel.]
Question: On Myanmar, the United States Ambassador said this morning that he actually had spoken to the Secretary-General about briefing on Myanmar, if it goes…
Spokesman: They had an informal conversation. I think what I said stands. Obviously, it takes some time to put these briefings together. When he’s ready to brief, he will brief the Council.
Question: Is Razali Ismail still the United Nations Representative for Myanmar?
Spokesman: Yes, he is.
Question: Has he yet filled in one of those financial disclosures forms at the USG [Under-Secretary-General] level?
Spokesman: I believe most of these special envoys will be filling them in by the end of the year.
Thank you very much. Pragati.
Briefing by Spokesperson for General Assembly President
The Assembly today resumed plenary discussions on several items that were left unfinished yesterday, including the situation in Afghanistan, as well as on the question of Palestine and the situation in the Middle East. We have the list of speakers and the draft resolutions upstairs.
This morning intensive negotiations began on the Human Rights Council, based on a new compilation paper that was circulated.
Tomorrow afternoon, the informal consultations on development and Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) reform will meet for the second time, chaired by the Ambassadors of Belgium and Mali. Member States will be briefed by senior officials from a number of development agencies, including the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Development Assistance Committee, on current arrangements for monitoring progress on international development goals. That is important for discussions on reform of the Economic and Social Council, one of whose new roles, according to the Summit Outcome Document, would be to assess progress and ensure follow-up on the international development goals.
The Assembly President circulated yesterday a letter to Member States announcing two co-chairs for the ad hoc working group on revitalization of the General Assembly -- the Permanent Representative of Latvia, Mrs. Solveiga Silkalna; and the Permanent Representative of Yemen, Mr. Abdullah M. Alsaidi. The Co-chairs will hold consultations to prepare for the first meeting of the ad hoc working group early next year.
Thank you very much.
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For information media • not an official record
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