DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE 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
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Marie Okabe, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General, and Pragati Pascale, Spokesperson for the General Assembly President.
**Secretary-General in Geneva
The Secretary-General met today in Geneva with the Presidents of Gabon and Equatorial Guinea, for a summit in which the three took stock of the mediation aimed at arriving at a negotiated solution to the two countries’ territorial dispute. The Secretary-General thanked the two Presidents for their support for his mediation efforts, facilitated by his Special Adviser, Yves Fortier, and he emphasized that the accomplishments to date demonstrated that the two states can work together to settle their dispute in a peaceful manner.
The parties decided to embark immediately on negotiating the final delimitation of their maritime and land borders. They agreed that a meeting of experts would be held in Geneva on 15 March.
And we have copies of a communiqué issued at the end of the Summit in English, French and Spanish. The Secretary-General then spoke to the press in Geneva a short while ago. We hope to have a transcript of that encounter shortly.
**Secretary-General in Qatar
On Saturday in Qatar, the Secretary-General met with the Secretaries-General of the Organization of the Islamic Conference and of the Arab League, as well as the Foreign Ministers of Turkey, Spain and Qatar, and they issued a joint statement on the issue of the cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.
The members of the group called for restraint and for an immediate end to the present atmosphere, which “threatens to sow deep discord between communities, societies and countries.” While reaffirming the universal right to freedom of expression, they appealed to everyone to exercise that right responsibly, and not to use it as a pretext for incitement to hatred or to insult the deeply held belief of any community. Later the Secretary-General told reporters he would bring the text to the attention of the General Assembly and the Security Council, and it would be up to Member States to decide what to do next with it.
On Sunday morning, prior to leaving Qatar for Geneva, the Secretary-General delivered opening remarks at the second meeting of the High-Level Panel of the Alliance of Civilizations. He told the members of the High-Level Panel, and other invited guests that the passions aroused by the recent publication of the cartoons, and the reactions to it, illustrate only too clearly the need to address the widening gap of understanding between Islamic and Western societies. He underscored the need for moderate voices to be heard, as “those who shout the loudest” are not necessarily representative of the community they claim to speak for.
We have copies of that speech upstairs.
Turning to Iraq, Ashraf Qazi, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, said over the weekend that the United Nations is prepared to support measures to calm the situation following the destruction of the Shrine of the Two Imams in Samarra. In particular, he said, the United Nations would be prepared, with the support of UNESCO, to urgently establish a special reconstruction fund, supported by the international community, to restore to their original dignity the damaged Shrine and other mosques that were subsequently damaged. The United Nations would also encourage and assist projects, including a national compact for the protection of human rights, that are designed to strengthen the bonds of mutual respect, understanding and harmony among all the communities of Iraq, he said. There is a press release on this with more details upstairs.
And then turning to Sudan, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for that country, Jan Pronk, over the weekend travelled to South Darfur. In response to a very tense security situation there, Pronk urged the parties to exercise restraint and put into place joint mechanisms at the local level to ensure civilian protection.
Meanwhile, clashes between the Sudan Armed Forces and rebel SLA group continued in North Darfur, according to the UN Mission in Sudan. Reports indicate that since fighting erupted a week ago, a large number of villages have been attacked and burned and markets looted and people displaced. And there are unconfirmed reports of casualties, as well.
Jan Pronk has arrived in UN Headquarters and will speak to you here, in room 226, around 1 p.m. tomorrow. And I’ll let you know tomorrow at precisely what time that will be.
And also on the Sudan, this morning, the Security Council did hold consultations on Sudan sanctions and heard a briefing by the Chair of the Council’s Sanctions Committee, Greek Ambassador Vassilakis.
Turning to Somalia, yesterday, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for that country, François Lonseny Fall, attended the first session of the Somali Parliament in Baidoa, calling the meeting “a turning point in the history of Somalia.” For the first time, he said, Somalia’s parliament was meeting inside the country, giving hope to the Somali people that “this is the day when they can start to rebuild their nation.” He reassured them of the UN’s support. That statement is upstairs.
**Commission on Status of Women
And the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) starts its 50th Session today, and its focus will be on equal participation of women and men in decision-making processes. Over 50 high-level government officials and more than 3,000 representatives from non-governmental organizations are expected to attend the session, which ends on 10 March.
And speaking at the opening today, the Deputy Secretary-General, Louise Fréchette, said she thought the world is starting to grasp that there is no tool for development more effective than the empowerment of women and children… and girls specifically.
We have copies of her speech upstairs. And there are also more details on this session available on the UN Website.
Meanwhile, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Marie Guehenno, is addressing today the Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations, also known as the C34. In his speech, he intends to highlight the need to acknowledge UN peacekeeping as a permanent rather than transitory feature of the UN system. He’ll also be spelling out the case for building an institutionalized, professional and responsive UN peacekeeping capacity as a core and integrated function of the Organization.
To implement this central reform, Guéhenno is stressing five priorities: finding and retaining well-trained, effective and responsible people, working with sufficient guidance and resources, in a responsive, transparent organization that cooperates efficiently with a whole range of peacekeeping partners to successfully provide security and support to post-conflict countries. And I’m sure we will have that speech upstairs.
And a couple more items.
Following the recent floods in Bolivia, the UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination Team has decided to focus on several pressing areas of concern, such as improving water quality and sanitation and extending care to camp dwellers.
** Great Lakes
And the heads of the three of the UN’s largest humanitarian agencies continued their visit to the Great Lakes Region of Central Africa today as part of their joint effort to focus world attention on the plight of the millions of refugees and displaced persons in that area.
And Deputy Special Envoy for Tsunami Recovery, Eric Schwartz, ended his 10-day assessment mission to Indonesia and India today. He met with the government and UN officials, as well as representatives of civil society, the affected communities and private sector, to discuss both progress achieved and ongoing challenges in that effort. He said he was “genuinely impressed” with progress since he visited last December. His next order of business is a trip to Geneva, to meet with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour. And they will discuss human rights aspects of the recovery effort.
And on the bird flu, regarding the reports that you might have seen about the bird flu spreading to Niger, our colleagues at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) have told us that their regional coordinator for bird flu emergency projects in West Africa will be arriving in that country today. And the coordinator will review the preparedness plans and advise the Government on how best to control the spread of the virus there.
And today in The Hague, a public hearing is opening at the International Court of Justice, in which Bosnia and Herzegovina have accused Serbia and Montenegro of violations of the 1948 Genocide Convention. Today’s hearings, which are to last until May 9, are the result of an application that Bosnia filed in 1993 against what was then the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
We have a press release from the court, which includes the history of those proceedings, upstairs in the Spokesman’s Office.
And just to flag to you a press conference tomorrow, in fact, two of them: at 11.15, Ambassador Levitsky, a member of the International Narcotics Control Board, will brief you on the Board’s annual report. And as I mentioned to you earlier, around 1 p.m., we expect Jan Pronk, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Sudan, to be here to brief you, as well.
And that’s what I have for you today. Pragati Pascale, the GA Spokeswoman is here. Before I turn to her, let’s start with Nathan.
**Questions and Answers
Question: On the Human rights Council, we heard from Ambassador Bolton today saying that the US will vote no if a vote is brought to the General Assembly. Does that change the Secretary-General’s position of last week, when I think he said that he hoped for a vote in the coming days, given that an American “no” would divide the institution?
Deputy Spokesman: No, the Secretary-General’s position has not changed. In fact, I have just flagged to you that the Secretary-General did speak to reporters in Geneva. That transcript should be available shortly, but the gist of what he said there is that what he says -- if we get into line-by-line negotiations, it would lead to major delays and cause serious problems. He appeals to Member States to understand this -- that this is not a perfect world. And he said that since he was the one who put forward those proposals, he would have liked to have gotten, obviously, everything he did put forward, but the world does not work like that and again, he accentuated that there are enough positive elements to move forward. And he said that his hope was that it can be done this week. Again, I will urge you to look at the entirety of his transcript, once it arrives.
Question: The text that the Secretary-General wants to bring to the UNGA – is it available upstairs?
Deputy Spokesman: Yes, the joint statement is available.
Question: On Saturday, the Ambassador of the United States, Mr. Bolton, made a very scathing assessment of the United Nations and the atmosphere of corruption and mismanagement there. He has been absolutely indignant. Does the Secretary-General have any response to that?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, I think I have seen the press reports of the remarks that you are referring to on Saturday – I have not seen the remarks themselves and I don’t know if we had anybody from the UN present while those remarks were being made. But as for the issues that your referred to, as you know, last week, the Security Council took up both peacekeeping procurement and sexual abuse cases, as well. And both times, he had his top people in both of those fields explaining what the UN has been doing and acknowledging that there is a lot of work ahead. And I would like to refer you to Mark Malloch Brown and Mr. Guéhenno, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping’s comments from last week.
Question: Back to the Human Rights Council, has the SG spoken to Secretary Rice in past days?
Deputy Spokesman: Yes, he has.
Question: Can you tell us when and how?
Deputy Spokesman: I believe it was within the last 24 hours, but let me double-check that, and I don’t have – these were tête-à-tête talks, so I don’t know, I don’t have a readout of the phone conversation.
Question: Who called who?
Deputy Spokesman: If you need that kind of detail, I will have to…
Question: Was it just the Human Rights Council, or what was it?
Deputy Spokesman: I just mentioned that I don’t have a readout. Generally, we can confirm to you conversations that took place. We don’t generally give readouts on phone conversations.
[She later announced that the Secretary-General spoke with Secretary Rice yesterday, that she initiated the call and they had discussed the Human Rights Council.]
Question: Can you also ask whether the potential “no” vote came up and what the SG said to Dr. Rice about that?
Deputy Spokesman: Yeah, but again on that, I will refer you to the statement that the Secretary-General just made at the stakeout in Geneva, in which he says that there are enough positive elements to move forward and that he hopes that the Americans will look at it in this spirit and join the vast majority of governments, who seem ready to accept the Chairman’s proposal.
Question: Should we understand that that statement was made after his conversation with Rice?
Deputy Spokesman: Yes.
Question: And so – one of the issues here is that Ambassador Bolton of the United States has just told us that his instructions -- I assume from Rice –- is to, in case it gets to that, vote no, since America pays a large chunk of the Human Rights Commission’s [inaudible] budget.
Deputy Spokesman: I think I’ve already answered that question by the remarks that the Secretary-General made earlier, just a few minutes ago, in Geneva.
Question: Regarding the international prize for the environment, unlike many other awards that the Secretary-General has received from more independent organizations, this one has essentially been handed out by a sitting head of State. Does he acknowledge at all in this year of reform that this is going to raise particular concerns of conflict of interest?
Deputy Spokesman: On that, I just want to repeat what we had said on this prize – that, as you know, the Secretary-General has said that he would be contributing the prize money to a foundation that he will set up to work on agriculture and girls’ education in Africa and that the foundation will have a transparent board that will account for how this money is spent. And as the Volcker report has also mentioned in its thorough investigation of the Secretary-General’s financial records, it says that he has donated all his prize money to charities.
Question: But in this case, he is setting up a charity - with a transparent board - but one that he will run. Essentially, a pet project after he…
Deputy Spokesman: I did not say that. All we know at this point is what he proposed when he accepted the award, which is that he will be contributing that money to a foundation. I don’t have any further details on that foundation as of now. As soon as I get some more, I will let you know, because I know there is interest in this subject.
Question: There is an assumption that this foundation will be founded after he leaves office – is that true? Or is that during his time in office?
Deputy Spokesman: I just said I have no further information on this proposed foundation.
Question: Since there will be some time before the foundation is established, what happens to the interest?
Deputy Spokesman: If you want to get those kind of details, I will look into that for you, but as I said, we will let you know as soon as more details of this proposed foundation have become known to me.
Question: About the rebuilding of the Mosque in Iraq – has a study begun by UNESCO as to how much money it will cost to replace the dome?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, it’s a recent incident – I am not sure how quickly they can do an assessment, but I think it was just an announcement that the UN is there to try to assist in the recovery of an important shrine.
Question: Is the UN involved in the recovery in Iraq?
Deputy Spokesman: Reconstruction in post-war conflicts is what the UN does.
Question: Just back to Sudan –- I just wondered if during his visit to Qatar, the Secretary-General discussed with the Foreign Minister his position in the Security Council on Sudan and Darfur?
Deputy Spokesman: I don’t have a readout on the specific bilateral meetings that he had held over the weekend, but I can assure you that the planning on the UN side is one of the Secretary-General’s priorities. He has been bringing interested parties up to date on this planning for a possible transition, as you know.
Question: Did the Secretary-General say anything about the leaking of the names in Sudan [inaudible]?
Deputy Spokesman: This is – I mean, as an observer of these reports, this is a recurring pattern here, where I think the Security Council Sanctions Committees get draft reports, and they leak, and they get reported on, and…
Question: In this case, it was his panel of experts – Kofi Annan’s experts – and he is the one who made a point of making those names…
Deputy Spokesman: That is not quite correct. These are an independent panel of experts, they report directly to the Security Council Sanctions Committee, so you would need to take up with them when and how they release the reports.
Question: Didn’t he name those experts?
Deputy Spokesman: He always names the experts when he is asked by the Security Council to do so.
Any other questions? If not, have a good afternoon, and we’ll see you tomorrow. And Pragati Pascale is here to bring you up to date.
Briefing by Spokesperson for General Assembly President
On the Human Rights Council, a number of Member States have indicated to General Assembly President Jan Eliasson that they are still awaiting responses from their capitals to the proposed text he presented last Thursday. He is encouraged by the initial positive responses in support that he has received from many quarters: from Member States, from the Secretary-General, from the High Commissioner for Human Rights, from a number of Nobel Laureates who have issued a statement, including Desmond Tutu and President Jimmy Carter. He has also received strong support for quick action from the major human rights NGOs. The President continues to feel that it is important to move to closure on this issue as soon as possible, to enable a smooth transition when the Commission on Human Rights meets in March, that reopening negotiations is not likely to produce a better outcome, and that there is nothing to be gained by waiting.
On other matters, the Ad Hoc Committee on measures to eliminate international terrorism is meeting this week, under the Chairmanship of Ambassador Perrera of Sri Lanka. The Committee is expected to continue consultations on a comprehensive convention on international terrorism and discuss the proposal for a conference on terrorism.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Could you clarify where is the sticking point in these negotiations? Is it a two thirds majority to elect members that the United States [inaudible], or is it other issues?
Spokesperson: The negotiations are not going on. On the Human Rights Council?
Spokesperson: The negotiations have concluded and the President has presented his best attempt at resolving the issues.
Question: [inaudible] although he has said that it is not likely that the negotiations will be reopened, but if it does go, where is the United States [inaudible] to be with this proposed draft?
Spokesperson: I can’t comment on their position, but we know that the issue of membership is one of the issues, yes.
Question: Some Member States have suggested to reopen this. Has President Eliasson received any new ideas from Member States on how to amend or fix the problems that Americans are obviously [inaudible]?
Spokesperson: He said he wouldn’t comment for now on the statement made by Ambassador Bolton this morning. Some press asked him outside his office this morning – he said he has not received any official communication from the US
Question: Not official, but non-official. Perhaps from other Member States who might be willing to facilitate the dialogue between America and ... on the proposed resolution at stake.
Spokesperson: I don’t think there are alternate proposals circulating. The President, based on months of consultations and negotiations, has put the best attempt forward and I haven’t heard that people are suggesting changes to that specifically.
Question: So not to open the negotiations is final?
Spokesperson: Well, he is in the hands of the Member States. He is awaiting responses from capitals that will be transmitted to him officially and he has proposed that action be taken quickly, but he is awaiting the response from Member States.
Question: We’ve heard that he would like to call for General Assembly action on Wedenesday. Is this true?
Spokesperson: There is no date set. If Member States do decide that they are ready to go to action on this, it could happen some time this week. They are awaiting – they are going through certain procedures on the processing of the text officially, the translation, and also the financial procedures – the ACABQ and the Fifth Committee need to take action on it. So we can’t be very specific about when that would happen. First we need to get the responses from Member States.
Question: When are the Fifth Committee and the ACABQ scheduled to meet on this issue?
Spokesperson: I don’t think it’s been scheduled yet.
Question: Also, has any delegation directly asked the President of the General Assembly to reopen the negotiations?
Spokesperson: No, he has not received any official communication to that intent.
Question: Cuba [inaudible]
Spokesperson: He has not received any official communication.
Question: You said at the beginning of your statement that a number of countries are still awaiting responses from their capitals. Can you give us a ballpark figure as to how many have already responded either way?
Spokesperson: I don’t believe he has received official communication from … It’s still in the …
Question: So when you say “a number of countries”, you are talking about 191 countries?
Spokesperson: Well, the countries tend to work in regional groups, so…
Question: So, no regional groups [inaudible]?
Spokesperson: They are still considering, yes. It is still under consideration.
Question: So, as I said, no regional groups have…?
Spokesperson: I believe that’s true. No regional groups have made an official response to him yet, but he has received many informal statements of support from a number of countries.
Question: Have you received any formal statements of lack of support? Of rejection?
Spokesperson: I can’t really be specific about that.
Question: You’ve been very specific about the pros [inaudible]
Spokesperson: Well, some countries are speaking publicly, so…
Question: There is no proposal from the Islamic Conference group?
Spokesperson: He has not received a response from them officially, no. So it is still quite up in the air. I mean, he is awaiting responses. We expect those responses to come in today and tomorrow. So action could happen quite quickly. It’s just that everything is still in process.
Question: Will he be available after he gets the American position that was just announced publicly – after he receives it officially, will he be available for us?
Spokesperson: I can’t speculate on that.
Question: If the Ambassador of the United States comes to the stakeout and states the US position, it is kind of official to us. And it is kind of official in the building. It just seems bizarre that is has to be written down on a piece of paper for it to actually become official.
Question: Is he willing to actually get a letter or a phone call from Bolton? Or if he receives a transcript of that stakeout when it is circulated – as it will be soon – will that be enough for him to consider it the US position and to respond?
Spokesperson: I think the General Assembly President would expect to receive an official communication from the Ambassador or from Washington. So, he is not going to respond to a comment made to the media.
Spokesperson: He is awaiting a response. That’s all I can say.
Question: Has he spoken to Ambassador Bolton since the draft resolution was circulated?
Spokesperson: I’m not aware of that.
Question: Is he holding any meetings with heads of regional groups or any meetings related to this to discuss it with the head of the EU, or the OIC, or whatever?
Spokesperson: He is certainly talking to many Member States, some of the regional groups, I understand, are meeting today.
Question: I’ll try this another way. Let’s pretend that the United States is going to turn this down. It wants to reject it. It wants to open up negotiations -– let’s just pretend that they are going to say that to President Eliasson. What is the impact of that? If you want a consensus vote, it probably matters whether a major country like the United States agrees. And if you want a one-by-one vote, then it doesn’t matter, because it’s just one vote. What is the impact?
Spokesperson: President Eliasson is still hoping for action by consensus. He has not received any communication, and I can’t speculate. I’m sure we do not want to speculate on the impact.
Question: What happens should the United States not be part of that consensus? What is the impact? Just pretend the United States is not going to be part of that consensus.
Spokesperson: We are not going to enter into the realm of the hypothetical.
Question: But the US has said it is going to vote no in front of the Security Council…
Question: Well, there may not be a vote. There can be a consensus, you know, a resolution without asking for a vote. But what’s the process? What do you need for a consensus?
Spokesperson: Any country, as I understand it, is free to call for a vote. That’s a normal General Assembly procedure. The President is still hoping that it will be adopted by consensus. He stands by his text. He thinks it is a strong text, and there are many elements in it that he feels are new, strong… Strong language on expectations of membership, the possibility to suspend members who have committed gross violations, direct individual vote on candidates for membership by secret ballot and absolute majority of 96 countries, a mechanism to review human rights records of all Member States and of Council members during their term of office, a more year-round meeting schedule, and a possibility to convene special sessions in the event of an emergency situation. He feels it’s a strong text and he is standing by it.
Spokesperson: He feels it’s the best possible outcome. He said at his press conference that no Member State got everything they wanted. It’s not perhaps an ideal document in the eyes of many, but he feels it’s the best possible outcome, and he feels we should move to action as soon as possible. So he is waiting for responses from Member States. That’s all we can say for now.
Thanks very much.
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For information media • not an official record
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