DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICES OF THE SPOKESPERSON FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL AND THE SPOKESPERSON FOR THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY PRESIDENT
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
19 September 2007
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Michèle Montas, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, and Janos Tisovszky, Spokesperson for the General Assembly President.
Briefing by the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General
Good afternoon all. The guests at our noon briefing today are Antonio Maria Costa, Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Academy Award-winning actor Kevin Kline, who will brief you on human trafficking and the world premier of the film Trade, starring Mr. Kline, and they will be joined by Ms. Taina Bien-Aimé, Executive Director of Equality Now. What we will do, at 12:15, I will interrupt my briefing because they have very little time, and we can continue afterwards with my briefing and with, of course, the General Assembly briefing.
Later today at 3 p.m., there will be a background briefing on security and media arrangements on the upcoming high-level events, and the sixty-second session of the General Assembly.
** Gaza Statement
The Secretary-General said that he is very concerned at the decision taken today by the Israeli Government to declare the Gaza Strip an “enemy entity” and its announced intent to interrupt essential services, such as electricity and fuel, to the civilian population. Such a step would be contrary to Israel’s obligations towards the civilian population under international humanitarian and human rights law.
The United Nations has broad humanitarian responsibilities and is mandated to provide assistance to and meet the humanitarian needs of the civilian population of the Gaza Strip and West Bank. There are 1.4 million people in Gaza, including the old, the young and the sick, who are already suffering from the impact of prolonged closure. They should not be punished for the unacceptable actions of militants and extremists. The Secretary-General called for Israel to reconsider this decision.
The continued indiscriminate rocket fire from Gaza into Israel is unacceptable and the Secretary-General deplores it. He calls for it to stop immediately. He understands Israel’s security concerns over this matter. We have his statement upstairs.
The Secretary-General has been following the recent political developments in Nepal with concern, and we are of course in constant contact with our mission on the ground, UNMIN.
Today, on the Secretary-General’s behalf, Lynn Pascoe, the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, phoned both Prime Minister Koirala and Maoist Chairman Prachanda to strongly urge political compromise in the broader interest of the peace process, and to emphasize in particular the importance of pressing forward with a credible Constituent Assembly election as scheduled in November.
Both leaders reiterated their commitment to the peace process, and also noted that 8-Party discussions were continuing positively with the goal of overcoming the current difficulties in the near future.
The Security Council opened its proceedings this morning with an open briefing by Ambassador Johan Verbeke of Belgium, the chair of the Sanctions Committee set up under resolution 1737, concerning the sanctions placed on Iran.
The Council then moved into closed consultations to hear from UN Legal Counsel Nicolas Michel about the preparations for the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. Michel briefed Council members on the Secretary-General’s recent report on that topic. He will then brief you on Lebanon in this room at 1:30 this afternoon.
Ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert of France, the Council President, read out a press statement afterward, encouraging the Secretary-General to continue his efforts to establish the Special Tribunal and welcoming his intention to invite Member States to contribute to its financing.
At 3 p.m., the Council has scheduled consultations on Chad and the Central African Republic.
The Co-Investigating Judges of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia today charged Nuon Chea, a former Khmer Rouge leader, for crimes against humanity and war crimes, and have placed him in provisional detention. He was brought before the judges today following the execution of an arrest warrant. The Order of Provisional Detention will be posted on the web site of the court at a later date.
On Iraq, Ashraf Qazi, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, yesterday concluded a three-day farewell visit to the Kurdistan Region, in which he explored the possibilities for an expanded United Nations role in Iraq consistent with resolution 1770.
Qazi reiterated UN commitments to Iraq and assured them that his successor, Staffan de Mistura, will carry forward the implementation of resolution 1770 in the same spirit of cooperation and consultation. He also visited the Kalawa camp for internally displaced persons in Sulaymaniyah, and listened to the grievances of the camp residents. We have a press release on that upstairs.
On Afghanistan, on Friday, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan and the UN Development Programme will declare the Saighan district of Afghanistan’s Bamyan province a Peace District. This is will be the climax of a disarmament operation begun today, during which as many as 70 different sorts of weapons and ammunitions will be surrendered by some 13 commanders of local armed groups. The UN Mission and the UNDP are sponsoring this event under the Afghanistan New Beginnings Programme.
** Darfur Meeting
The Secretary-General told you yesterday that, in addition to the General Debate of the sixty-second session of the General Assembly, there will be a number of very important side events or international conferences in the days ahead. He cited high-level meetings on Climate Change, Darfur, Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Middle East peace process, known as the Quartet process.
The meeting on Darfur happens first, on Friday from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. The Secretary-General is going to chair that meeting with African Union Commission Chairperson Alpha Oumar Konaré. Participation is expected at the Foreign Minister level. Twenty-six countries and two organizations have been invited to attend. That list is available upstairs. Materials on the other meetings the Secretary-General flagged yesterday are also available in the Spokesperson’s Office.
**Millennium Development Goals
Starting at 9:30 a.m. tomorrow, Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro will chair a meeting of the UN Millennium Development Goals’ Africa Steering Group, in a follow-up to the Group’s inaugural meeting of last week.
Tomorrow’s gathering will launch the operational work agenda of the Steering Group and will see the active participation of senior officials from the United Nations system, the Bretton Woods institutions, African and other multilateral organizations and the 30-member Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) of industrialized, market-economy countries. We have upstairs more information, also in the press room.
And press conferences tomorrow, several press conferences scheduled:
At 10:30 a.m., Luis Moreno Ocampo, Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, will brief you on his efforts to monitor current war crimes in Darfur. At 11:00 a.m., there will be a press conference by the Women’s Environment and Development Organization on the impact of climate change on women. This press conference is sponsored by the Permanent Mission of Sweden.
Our guest at the noon briefing, led by Annebeth Rosenboom chief of the Treaty Section at the Office of Legal Affairs, will brief on the upcoming Focus 2007 treaty event, which will take place at the United Nations Headquarters later this month. Finally at 3:15 p.m., there will be a press conference by the Coalition for the International Criminal Court on the situation in Darfur. This press conference is sponsored by the Permanent Mission of Lichtenstein. As I announced earlier, because of time limitation for our guests today, we will have our guests now, and we will later have questions. We will also have the General Assembly briefing.
**Questions and Answers
Question: There is a breaking story now about an (inaudible) assassination in Lebanon. A member of the Parliament was assassinated. First, I would like to know, it says it happened a couple of hours ago, it says it was confirmed more than a couple of hours ago. Why don’t you have a statement about this yet?
Spokesperson: Well, the Secretary-General was informed about this very grave incident and was taken out of a meeting to be informed of this. He is making a number of phone calls and is trying to get more information and we should get a statement very shortly.
Question: Okay, but it is confirmed that the member of the Parliament in (inaudible) has died in this political assassination. You call it a very grave incident?
Spokesperson: What I am saying is that the Secretary-General was informed of this very grave incident, and he has to consult with the people on the ground, his Special Envoys, to find out more about it and react to it. He is very concerned about it.
Question: But also, many people, many parties in Lebanon are saying that this is also part of the consequence of Ban Ki-moon taken yesterday, dropping the ball on resolution 1559 by saying that his Envoy speaks for himself. 1559, of course, is about elections in Lebanon, free presidential elections in Lebanon, and killing members of the Parliament is about killing the majority in the Parliament for such elections.
Spokesperson: Okay, I strongly object to such links. There are no such links in the Secretary-General’s mind. The Secretary-General was responding to a specific question yesterday. His answer does not in any way mean a vote of no confidence to his Envoy, and his stand for 1559 is as strong as ever. This has not changed.
Question: He still has a vote of confidence in his Envoy, unlike what he said yesterday?
Spokesperson: No, it is not unlike what he said yesterday. He simply said he was looking for clarification on exactly what Mr. Larsen said, and he said [Mr. Larsen] might have spoken in his personal capacity. You have the transcript of what he said.
Question: Yes, you’re right. So now that you now have an idea that he simply said that there is an article 49 in the Constitution, of course Ban Ki-moon of course supports the Constitutional procedures. Now in that case, has he spoken for himself, or has he spoken as an Envoy? Have you looked into that, because the position is very simple. Is 49…Constitution, and so we are very confused about the Secretary-General’s message.
Spokesperson: There is no message here, except what I just said: that he stands behind 1559; he stands behind his Envoy. What he said yesterday simply was about some comments that were reported by the press, in particular, the Lebanese press, about what Mr. Larsen had said. The Secretary-General said that he was seeking clarification on exactly what was said, and Mr. Larsen says he had not expressed an opinion. What he had said, was simply to cite an article of the Lebanese Constitution.
Question: Let me follow up on this, because one of the things he said yesterday was that whatever Mr. Larsen said, he does not represent the UN’s line on this.
Spokesperson: He did not say that. He said ‘I have yet to meet him to know exactly what he said.’
Question: And? Where is the continuation to that?
Spokesperson: On whatever he might have said, that should not be viewed as the official position of the United Nations.
Question: Now, that is the big question that I have. Is the Secretary-General cherry picking here, you know, that some things he says should be viewed as the United Nations’ official position, some things he says may not?
Spokesperson: He says it might have been his personal views. That is what he said.
Question: So, he is not cherry picking? Terje Larsen is supposed to deliver a report to him on 1559…
Spokesperson: Which he will in the month of October…
Question: …and if there are question marks as to whether he expresses the opinion of the United Nations, it might be taken in a different way than if there are no questions.
Spokesperson: I just said, the Secretary-General at no time has expressed a no confidence vote in his Envoy, and the report, which is going to be submitted to the Security Council, is going to be the Secretary-General’s report to the Security Council about 1559. Yes?
Question: Yesterday, the security, I’m sorry, the Secretary-General said that the United Nations had not changed its position as far as Taiwan’s application, but that some of the Members were considering the application to be put forth during the General Assembly. Can you comment on that? Can you add anything?
Spokesperson: No, I cannot comment on what the Secretary-General said. I think what he said stands on its own. I think you should just revert to what he said exactly.
Question: Any information as far as, like, the Member States that are considering hearing out its application, or considering it?
Spokesperson: Well, it is the General Assembly’s task to go over such applications.
Question: So, you will be putting out a statement when it’s ready on the assassination of…?
Spokesperson: Yes, definitely. Definitely.
Question: Secondly, that the report by, the 1559 report by Terje Roed-Larsen will be delivered on time in October. I think you said October 19?
Spokesperson: Yes, it will.
Question: To follow up on Taiwan…
Spokesperson: Just a second. I have a…
Question: Michèle, the Secretary-General yesterday mentioned meeting in Italy, in Torino. Give more details, what was the reason to bring the staff to Europe? What was the course of the discussion?
Spokesperson: I spoke about it at length. It was a retreat of USGs and ASGs about the United Nations. It was the first time that many of the ASGs and USGs met, so it was an extremely fruitful meeting and we can discuss it further if you want to. Since I already spoke to this room about it, I can give you more details later. Yes, Richard?
Question: Did they use bolognese sauce while they were there, or was it marinara? No, my question is, did you talk about Cambodia earlier? If not, could you explain what happened there with the arrest of the Khmer Rouge? What’s the United Nations link here with the arrests?
Spokesperson: Well, there is a special chamber, as you know. What I read was the statement, I did read the fact that there was an arrest made, an indictment, today and the legal process is continuing on that count. Yes?
Question: To follow up on the Taiwan question, there is a report that Taiwan is considering taking the United Nations to the ICJ on this whole issue, and the question is: who will defend the United Nations in this case?
Spokesperson: We have a Legal Affairs Office…
Question: …that will defend the United Nations in this case?
Spokesperson: Well, we do not know. This is a speculation. We don’t know whether this will happen. This has not happened.
Question: Has the United Nations ever been taken to the ICJ?
Spokesperson: Not that I know of, as an institution. No.
Question: Is it subject to the ICJ?
Spokesperson: I have to check on that. We have a legal department.
Question: Before the upcoming climate conference, I’m looking at how green the (inaudible) are. I’ve already talked to Capital Master Plan and got kind of like a big picture, but on a level that everyone could relate to, I would like to know how is it with energy-saving light bulbs? How is it with the cars you are using for official purposes – is it biodiesel? Is it hybrid? Is it the regular car? That’s number one. Number two: is there any plan to offset the travels of the people attending the conference on an environmental level?
Spokesperson: You will be briefed thoroughly in the next few weeks. We have something like four or five press conferences and briefings on the climate change meeting taking place. To answer your question, yes, they are considering offsetting the footprint – not offsetting, but repairing – the footprint, the carbon footprint of this event. As I said earlier, this event includes Heads of States that will be travelling to the General Assembly anyway. In terms of what you mentioned, light bulbs and everything else, we will have a full briefing on the greening of the United Nations very soon. Yes, sir?
Question: I have a question…the Security Council talked about the Iranian issue today?
Spokesperson: Not that I know of. Yes?
Question: Michèle, Jean-Marie Guéhenno is quoted in Le Monde as saying there are problems getting the tactical transport trucks and helicopters for the force in Darfur. Is that…I guess, I had not heard before. Have things gotten worse in some way?
Spokesperson: They have not gotten worse. There are snarls in the troop -- there was a meeting of the troop-contributing countries yesterday. The process is continuing.
Question: So maybe…could that be characterised as sort of a gentle prodding of the contributors, or is there a cry for help? What is it?
Spokesperson: No, no. It was just a regular meeting trying to fulfil the mandate of having the hybrid force on the ground as soon as possible.
Question: And also, maybe you will know this or could find this out, the United Nations sent a team to Ethiopia, to check humanitarian access in the Ogaden region. Today, there’s a report that the groups there are saying that the United Nations mission was somehow manipulated, was not allowed to go to places that…critics were locked up before they showed up, and people were moved from jail to jail ahead of them. When is…was the United Nations aware of that, and when is that report coming out? Did they have problems getting access, even to study access?
Spokesperson: I am aware of the report you mentioned, but we don’t have any…we are waiting for the actual report of the group.
Question: That report says that it’s coming out tomorrow, or the eve of its release. Is that your understanding that it’s going to be soon?
Spokesperson: It should be coming out soon, yes.
Question: And we’ll get some kind of a briefing, or it’s public?
Spokesperson: Definitely, you will get some feedback on that. Yes, Pat?
Question: On a lighter note, so often we’re being told about things like tonight, the film with Kevin Kline, which is wonderful that they’re giving their time so freely, and yet…the idea being that we would write about it…but then when we try to go to cover it, it turns out we’re not invited to the event. Is there going to be a screening for United Nations correspondents?
Spokesperson: Not that I know of.
Question: Yes, I just want to know, the MDG Africa working group meeting tomorrow, is there going to be a media stakeout after the meeting?
Spokesperson: Yes, there will be…there should…I hope so. I am not sure of that. I will check for you whether there will be a media stakeout. I will inform you as soon as I find out. I will invite our Spokesperson for the President of the Assembly to join us for his first briefing. Janos, please come.
Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President
Good afternoon to all of you and welcome and thank you for sticking with this meeting marathon. Let me get my cheat sheets.
The 62nd Session of the General Assembly opened yesterday afternoon. President Srgjan Kerim, in his opening statement, outlined the major priorities for the session as: climate change; financing for development; achieving the Millennium Development Goals; countering terrorism; and progressing on the reform agenda –- to renew the management, effectiveness and coherence of the Organisation.
In the statement he underscored his view that advancing further on the revitalization of the Assembly should result in substantive progress on those priority areas.
He stressed in his speech to the Assembly that: “more than ever before, global challenges demand multilateral solutions. The United Nations is the appropriate multilateral forum to take action. This is why the revitalization of this General Assembly deserves our highest attention. To revitalize this House is also to renew our faith in each other, our common values and destiny”, adding that “true revitalization will only happen if together we address, amongst others, the five priority issues.”
The Assembly began its work today, this morning, with a meeting of the General Committee, which met on the organization of the work of the 62nd session, on the adoption of the agenda and the allocation of agenda items. The plenary is expected to take action on the General Committee’s recommendations Friday, 21 September.
A little run-down on the main Committees of the Assembly, as how they will be meeting. As you know, they will be meeting after the general debate, but they will have organizational sessions in between. So the First Committee has its first organizational meeting on 4th of October; the Second Committee on 20 September; Third Committee also on 20 September; Fourth Committee on 4 October; Fifth Committee on 5 October. But all of that is available for you in the Journal.
And a little more information now, on the priority issues I have mentioned. On climate change, as you know -- and this is what the President has mentioned in his briefing yesterday -- the general debate will take this up also when it starts on 25 September. As you know, the President did send a letter out to the participants asking them to focus attention on responding to climate change as the main theme of the general debate. Financing for Development will come up very soon, in fact, it will come up tomorrow, as the Assembly will hold an informal meeting on the status of preparations for the so-called High-level Dialogue on Financing for Development, which is set for 23-24 October.
As regards the President’s programme, he did mention yesterday that he is going to meet the Secretary-General. In fact, they will be meeting in about 20 minutes, having a working lunch. I will try to get a read-out of what they discussed for you tomorrow.
The General Assembly President will also be viewing the movie that you have been told about at this noon briefing, so this movie on trade, this evening. That will be part of his programme.
That’s all I have for you. Questions?
**Questions and Answers
GA Spokesperson: Matthew?
Question: I have one. I was going to ask this yesterday. I’d seen that he’d…in the interim between May and the start-up, that he’s been to Japan, he’s been to China. Is there some way to get a sense of…how did he devote that time? Was he going around, you know, sounding out Member States? What was the….I sort of wanted to ask him to get him to say…not how he’d spent the time, but do you have a sense of what the purpose of those trips were, and where else…what other countries he visited?
GA Spokesperson: Well, the whole purpose of his preparations for assuming the Presidency, actually, began somewhat earlier. He has mentioned in a couple of interviews before that even when the idea came up that, as a representative of the Eastern European Group, he might be nominated, he already flagged in November, the idea of climate change, for example, as being high on the agenda of the session. And than when it became more or less clear that he would be nominated, then he basically began, as I think he even told most of you, that for the past nine months that he has been basically preparing for the various issues that he thought should be the priority issues, how Member States view those, sounding them out. And that was the reason why he went on the various trips. But apart from the trips, he has basically devoted most of his time for the past nine months to meeting with various different Member States, also meeting with civil society representatives, business community leaders, also, some of you from the press, to promote those issues and his vision, as well as to get feedback on how he should tread on those issues. How he can use his power as the President of the General Assembly, his facilitating power, his good offices, to move forward on those issues. So, that’s basically what he has been doing.
I think, based on what you can read from him, he has a pretty focused idea of where he wants to go with these five priorities, and how he sees the revitalization process and the management reform issue, in the sense that he wants to make sure that those - meaning the revitalization and the management – basically transform, not just into procedural advancements, so to speak, but actually result in making concrete steps and progress on those issues. That’s the way he thinks the General Assembly can best prove that it is revitalizing.
Question: His previous media job, or media business, when did he stop doing that? What is his relation with that?
GA Spokesperson: As far as I know, from 24 May when he was President-elect, he has devoted his full time to this work. And, I think he did mention, though, in a couple of other interviews, that once his one-year service is over as the President here, he would very much like to go back to the company that he has been a part of for the past few years, which as you know, is that media conglomerate, Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung. Please?
Question: Janos, the General Committee meeting this morning was closed.
GA Spokesperson: That is correct.
Question: Unlike previous years, when we watched the debate, even televised and open. Why is there the need for secrecy, when the United Nations should be more open and not going back to secrecy? Does the President of the General Assembly, who is new, create a new policy? Or is he under pressure of Governments to have it closed door? And why does allocation of items have to be discussed behind closed door?
GA Spokesperson: Okay, first of all, the President is not creating any new precedent. He is actually following previous rules and practice in the sense that, basically following the wishes of the Member States. In this case, this is exactly what happened. Member States decided to have the General Committee meeting as a closed meeting. That is simply what happened. Future meetings may be open, may be closed, depending on the wish of the Member States. That does not, necessarily, rule out any sort of transparency because a number of other meetings of the United Nations will continue to be as transparent as possible. So, this is, I think, business as usual in the sense of Member States being the master of their own deliberations and basically deciding that it is a closed session they would like to have.
Question: Did they provide any reasons for keeping it away from the media?
GA Spokesperson: I don’t know of any reason being provided. This was just their decision. I don’t think they even have to provide a reason, to be very honest with you.
Question: When you say Member States decided, did the General Committee vote to go into secrecy? Who decided?
GA Spokesperson: They…I will double check on the details of how this decision was taken and I will get back to you on that, Matthew. I don’t want to speculate. I wasn’t part of the meeting, I wasn’t sitting in on it, but I’ll let you know and check with the members of the Committee and with General Assembly Affairs how exactly that decision was taken.
Question: Just so we’ll all understand, because I think like, things like the Fifth Committee, some of their deliberations are confidential, but whenever they vote or Member States make their statements, that’s always open. Are you…I’m just trying to understand…are you saying that’s even in their discretion, they could close even votes taken on treaties and…I mean, I don’t know, I guess, maybe as the press corps, we need to understand. We’ve always thought these things are open and I remember Dr. Kerim actually said in May, when he had his press conference he’s all for transparency, so I’m just, I guess I’m harkening back to that.
GA Spokesperson: That pledge continues to remain. Yes, he is all for transparency. I will get back to you on the exact rules and procedures as far as how meetings are open, on what basis are they closed, which parts of the meetings etc. I’ll get back to you on that. Please, yes?
Question: Do you have any updates on the meeting, or comments about the meeting that took place on Taiwan?
GA Spokesperson: The meeting was, let’s be very frank here, the meeting was not about Taiwan. The meeting was about the agenda items for the 62nd session. There was a list of about – not about – concretely 167 items grouped together under various different strategic priority areas, as has been the practice for the last couple of years. And, the 167 items were made up of the provisional agenda items and the supplementary items. 162 plus 5, that’s how you get 167. One of those items, 165 was the issue on Taiwan, actually urging the Security Council to discuss the membership of Taiwan. I can get you the correct wording for the agenda item. “Urging the Security Council to process Taiwan’s membership application, pursuant to rules 59 and 60 of the Provisional Rules of the Procedures of the Security Council and article 4 of the Charter of the United Nations.” A number of countries proposed this item. And basically what the, what the General Committee does -- not just on this item, but on all the proposed items -- is look at them and basically decide in each case whether to recommend it as part of the draft agenda for the General Assembly to discuss. This is what is going to happen on Friday. And countries, if you’re referring now to just the particular item on Taiwan, what happened was that the General Committee decided not to recommend this item as part of the agenda of the 62nd session. This is the decision that was been in the General Committee this morning.
Any questions? Well then, thank you very much.
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For information media • not an official record
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