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
31 March 2008
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 President of the General Assembly.
Briefing by the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General
Good afternoon, all.
The first major UN-sponsored meeting on climate change since last December’s Bali Conference got under way in Bangkok today. More than 1,000 participants from more than 160 countries are taking part. The main aim of the Bangkok meeting is to map out a work programme leading to a long-term international climate change agreement in Copenhagen by the end of 2009. Another objective is to advance work on the rules through which developed countries can meet emission reduction commitments.
Opening the five-day meeting with a video message, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged countries to work together to find a solution to climate change that is economically viable and “based on the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities”. He added that any solution must strike a delicate balance between globally inclusive action and the need to eradicate poverty, as well as advance green economic growth and large-scale adaptation measures. We have copies of his remarks upstairs.
The Security Council this morning wrapped up its work for March by unanimously adopting a resolution that extends the mandate of the Group of Experts dealing with sanctions on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, until the end of this year. The resolution also extends sanctions measures in that country until the end of 2008, but adds that arms sanctions shall no longer apply to providing arms to the Congolese Government’s military activities. Today is the last day of the Russian Presidency of the Security Council. Starting tomorrow, South Africa will hold the Council’s rotating presidency for the month of April.
On Cyprus, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs B. Lynn Pascoe arrived in Cyprus last night on a visit aimed at helping to determine how the UN can assist efforts to reach a settlement on the island. Pascoe held separate meetings today with the leaders of the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities, Demetris Christofias and Mehmet Ali Talat, and held talks with civil society representatives and leaders of Greek Cypriot political parties. Later today he is scheduled to meet the advisers of the two leaders, who are preparing the ground for full-fledged negotiations later this year. Tomorrow, Pascoe will meet with leaders of Turkish Cypriot political parties and representatives of the international community in Nicosia. He will address the media on Wednesday morning before returning to New York.
Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs B. Lynn Pascoe represented the Secretary-General at the Summit this past weekend of the League of Arab States in Damascus, Syria, and he delivered a message on the Secretary-General’s behalf, which asserted that lasting peace and progress in the Middle East hinges on a just and lasting solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. He said that the Arab Peace Initiative remains a key element in our efforts to achieve peace. In his message, the Secretary-General called for a more positive strategy for Gaza and encouraged all Arab countries to act responsibly and exercise whatever influence they have to support a cessation of violence in and around Gaza. Regarding the stalled process of finding a President in Lebanon, the Secretary-General said that this situation is no longer sustainable. It is paramount that Lebanon’s sovereignty, independence and unity be preserved, he said, adding that everyone should rally behind and work for the implementation of the Arab League initiative.
On Somalia, a high-level meeting on “Financial and Economic Issues in Somalia”, organized by the UN and the World Bank, wrapped up on Saturday with a call for greater national and international efforts to strengthen Somalia’s economy and bring about peace. Participants agreed that there should be another meeting on Somalia’s economy, as well as a reconstruction and development conference. Meanwhile, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports growing insecurity in many parts of south-central Somalia. This comes in the wake of escalating clashes over the past week between Ethiopian/Transitional Federal Government forces and anti-Government elements.
OCHA is also expressing concern about the looting of World Food Programme (WFP) trucks in Mogadishu on Friday, apparently at the prompting of a District Commissioner who urged people to take food by force from passing UN trucks. A small amount of sorghum and vegetable oil was taken, but almost all of it was later recovered. And the UN High Commissioner for Refugees says at least 4,000 people were displaced from Mogadishu during the past 10 days, bringing the total to nearly 70,000 since the beginning of this year.
On Afghanistan, the UN Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said today that the new Special Representative, Kai Eide, has met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and key Government ministers since arriving last Friday. Eide and the Secretary-General will attend the NATO summit later this week in Bucharest, Romania, where Afghanistan will be discussed in a special meeting this Thursday. Also in today’s Kabul briefing notes, the UN Refugee Agency says that a new repatriation season has begun, with some 10,000 Afghans returning home from Pakistan over the past month, with the majority of them coming back to the eastern part of the country.
The Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Nepal, Ian Martin, visited today the eastern Terai districts of Saptari and Morang, as part of a five-day regional tour in the run-up to the 10 April election. There, Martin held discussions with local administrative and security authorities, district electoral authorities, as well as UN colleagues, about preparations and conditions for the poll. In a press conference in the afternoon, Martin reiterated his strong condemnation of the bomb attack at the Sarauchiya Mosque in Biratnagar two days ago, and his condolences to the families of those killed and the injured. He will travel to the mid-western region on 1 April, and then continue on to the far-western region.
Also over the weekend, UNMIN, in conjunction with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, issued the second report of a series being published on the conditions for the Constituent Assembly election. The report shows that election process continues in relative calm across much of the country, but a significant number of districts have experienced a surge in clashes between different political party supporters.
**Human Rights Council
On Friday, we told you that the seventh regular session of the Human Rights Council was scheduled to end that day in Geneva. But it did not conclude as planned. Some delegations felt they did not have enough time to make general end-of-session comments, so the Human Rights Council will meet again tomorrow morning. The session is now expected to wrap up by tomorrow afternoon.
Over the weekend in Timor-Leste, the United Nations and non-governmental organizations launched an appeal to the donor community for ongoing relief and recovery programmes in the country. The total appeal for some $33.5 million will be spent in three strategic areas: continued emergency assistance in internally displaced persons camps, supporting the Government’s National Recovery Strategy and strengthening Timor-Leste’s ability to manage risk and impact from natural disasters.
**United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)
Just to flag for you, UNICEF will hold a telephone media briefing on Thursday morning at 10 a.m. on the launch of Children and AIDS: Second Stocktaking Report. The new study examines the global response to the impact of HIV and AIDS on children. We have more information upstairs about the briefing, including how to dial in.
This is all I have for you. Thank you.
**Questions and Answers
Question: With regard to the Secretary-General’s remarks to the Arab League Summit in Damascus, is that available to us?
Spokesperson: Yes, it is.
Question: Israeli Ambassador Dan Gillerman wrote in the New York Daily News this morning stating that Iran is a potential threat to the Security Council if it becomes a member for the 2010-2011 term and said that Libya does not deserve a seat on the 15-member Council, referencing Article 23 of the UN Charter, stating that Libya undermines the Council’s ability to maintain peace and security. Is this something that the Secretary-General supports?
Spokesperson: This is a personal opinion from one representative of a Member State. That’s all I can say.
Question: He wouldn’t support the UN reform?
Spokesperson: I’m not going to comment on this.
Question: We just had a briefing in the UNCA Club from Ambassador Churkin of Russia. Two things I wanted to ask you. One, he said it was his understanding that the Secretariat is now conducting an investigation of the events of 17 March, the retaking of the Courthouse in Mitrovica. Is such an investigation under way?
Spokesperson: I can check for you. As far as I know, they were already conducting a [criminal] investigation [into murder and attempted murder by the rioters in Mitrovica]. I told you that before, so it’s nothing new. Where they are with it, that I can let you know.
Question: He also said it’s not Russia’s business whether Serbia has made a proposal, including to UNMIK, to partition Kosovo or to de facto create zones or enclaves of Serbs. Is it UNMIK’s understanding that Serbia has proposed that? Has Serbia proposed that?
Spokesperson: We already mentioned that it was the case. We’ve said over and over again, in at least three briefings, that that proposal was made at a meeting between the Deputy Special Representative and a minister of the Serbian Government.
Question: What does the UN think of that proposal?
Spokesperson: The UN stays within the context of 1244. The 1244 resolution does not talk of a partition of Kosovo.
Question: Did the Secretary-General meet with American Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad on Saturday?
Spokesperson: I don’t know. I can check. But, you know, they meet often. He meets with a lot of permanent representatives on a regular basis.
Question: I saw the schedule. He was here and he did say he met with Mr. Ban. But it wasn’t on the schedule, so I was just wondering why some meetings are listed and others are not.
Spokesperson: Any meeting which is a tête-à-tête, for instance, is not listed in the public appointments, no they are not.
[The Spokesperson later confirmed that the Secretary-General and Ambassador Khalilzad had a tête-à-tête meeting on Saturday.]
Question: Michèle, Secretary Rice has said that there would be a settlement of the Middle East by the end of this year. As a member of the Quartet, does the Secretary-General share this hope?
Spokesperson: The Secretary-General has always expressed that hope. He hasn’t set a date, but he’s always expressed the hope that there could be a peaceful solution, yes.
Question: By the end of this year?
Spokesperson: I don’t think he has expressed a set date, nor has the Quartet as a whole expressed any set date.
Question: Also, on Iraq, there has been so much escalation in the fighting and in terms of violence. Any comments from the Secretary-General and any report from the UN Mission in Iraq?
Spokesperson: They are still continuing to monitor the situation very closely. There is really nothing new in terms of the report we got from them today.
Correspondent: You have seen the reports. There has been a lot of violence.
Spokesperson: Yes, and there is a lot of concern on our side.
Question: Michèle, the Secretary-General has said that the UN’s involvement in Iraq was dependent on the security situation there and the UN has increased its participation compared to 2003-2004. The current situation, how much does it encourage you to go into Iraq and increase the presence of the United Nations?
Spokesperson: Right now, as you know, the situation is being evaluated on a regular basis. But our ceiling is still the same in terms of our own participation there and that’s all I really can say at this point.
Question: On Zimbabwe, how is the Secretary-General viewing the current electoral situation there and is there anything he can do to help? Is he going to send monitors or anything?
Spokesperson: No, as I said earlier last week, we were not invited to be part of any monitoring team. We have not worked on the elections themselves in any capacity, so we don’t have first-hand information. However, I understand there should be some results announced later today but the UN is not part of the process.
Question: Is the Secretary-General in favour of peace talks with the Taliban in Pakistan or Afghanistan?
Spokesperson: Right now, as you know, he’s going to be discussing Afghanistan the day after tomorrow when he goes to Bucharest. So I’ll tell you a lot more about it when he comes back.
[The Spokesperson later added that the United Nations had no direct negotiations with the Taliban.]
Question: What is his agenda when he goes there?
Spokesperson: It is going to be a summit meeting on Afghanistan that he’s going to co-chair with President Karzai and with the Secretary-General of NATO, and they will do what they did in Italy last year, which is to discuss the issues in Afghanistan and what can be done to solve them.
Question: What are the issues that are his priorities when he goes to the meeting?
Spokesperson: I think he has already expressed extensively what he hopes will happen in Afghanistan. He has said it over and over again, he said it when President Karzai was here in New York and when they met on different trips, and I think we have tried to convey to you what that position was. If you wanted more systematic notes on what the Secretary-General has been saying on Afghanistan, we have them upstairs.
Question: How close is the Secretary-General to making a decision on a date for the opening of the Hariri Tribunal?
Spokesperson: He’s right now waiting for the last few elements and we should be announcing it shortly, when the Tribunal will be effective. The other day, Mr. Michel told you what were the positive things and what were [the elements] still hampering the process. Of course, the Secretary-General wants to do it as soon as it is feasible, but that evaluation has to be done by the legal people and the people in charge of the Tribunal.
Question: I know this is part of the programme of work that comes out tomorrow, but when is it that Mr. Bellamare is expected to be briefing the Council on his latest report, and will he be coming to brief us, either here preferably or at the stakeout as well?
Spokesperson: I’ll ask him if it’s possible to brief and I’ll find out the date from the Security Council. You can find out the date from the Security Council.
Question: Michèle, in the context of Afghanistan, is the Secretary-General in touch with the new Government of Pakistan?
Spokesperson: I said the other day that he had spoken on the phone with the new Prime Minister. I don’t know whether they discussed Afghanistan.
Question: Has he touched base with the new Foreign Minister?
Spokesperson: Not recently, no, not since he spoke to the Prime Minister.
Question: As a follow-up, is there still no possibility that we can receive a readout from the phone conversation of what they actually said?
Spokesperson: No, what I told you is what was said.
Question: It’s been reported that the President of Chad has pardoned the Arche de Zoé workers that “kidnapped” children in Chad. Since the UN spoke and made its views known that this was a kidnapping or abduction or incorrect treatment of children, does it have any comment now, when it appears they’ll be released from jail in France? Is that impunity? What’s the UN’s view of it?
Spokesperson: I don’t have any specific details on that at this point. We followed through for you on the situation of the kids, which is what UNICEF had taken charge of, and that’s really all I can say about what has been decided. I have not been informed of exactly what the Chadian President has said concerning those children.
Question: I’m actually asking about those in France, the perpetrators. The other thing is that Prime Minister Rudd, on Saturday, said after meeting with the Secretary-General, that the Secretary-General was considering appointing two climate change negotiators. I could not find out if that meant to replace Mr. Han Seung-soo or is it two new? Was that discussed?
Spokesperson: I’ll give you a readout of the meeting. As far as I know, the question of climate change has always been in the conversation that the Secretary-General has had in the past with the Prime Minister. The question of climate change was on top of the agenda. It was so in Bali, it was so also when they met after that.
Question: Has he appointed new envoys or has he replaced Han Seung-soo?
Spokesperson: I’m saying that they haven’t decided yet on new envoys and this is being discussed right now.
Thank you very much. Janos.
Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President
Good afternoon, good to see you. Let me just follow up on a couple of things that I already flagged on Friday. Let me start with the General Assembly plenary session.
**General Assembly Plenary on Road Safety
The Assembly is meeting in plenary this morning, and the topic is improving global road safety. The Assembly has a draft resolution that it is expected to take action on. It also has before it a report from the Secretary-General also on the same issue, meaning improving global road safety. I think the Assembly is just wrapping up with the last of the speakers and then, as I said, it will take action on this draft resolution (the Assembly adopted the draft resolution without a vote).
From this resolution, let me just cherry-pick a couple of things. According to the draft resolution, the General Assembly is supposed to express its concern at the continued increase in road traffic fatalities and injuries worldwide, in particular in developing countries. It would reaffirm the need for the further strengthening of international cooperation and knowledge-sharing in road safety, taking into account the needs of developing countries. It would encourage Member States to continue to strengthen their commitment to road safety, including by observing the World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims on the third Sunday in November every year. Also, the resolution would welcome the offer by the Russian Federation to host and provide the necessary financial support for the first global high-level conference on road safety, which is to be held in 2009. And the resolution would ultimately decide to include in the provisional agenda of the sixty-fourth session of the General Assembly the item entitled “Global road safety crisis”.
I gave you a little bit of background on this already on Friday. Let me repeat that this item was put on the General Assembly agenda at the fifty-seventh session. It was originally allocated to the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) to be discussed every other year, but, during the sixtieth session, it was decided to be considered in a plenary meeting. So that’s how we got here.
That’s on global road safety.
**Millennium Development Goals Event
Let me flag once again what’s going to happen tomorrow, the MDG event. I’ve said this many times, you have some backgrounders, but I think it’s also important to once again highlight it. Tomorrow, the United Nations General Assembly will hold a special two-day debate on “Recognizing the achievements, addressing the challenges and getting back on track to achieve the MDGs by 2015”. The debate will concentrate on the poverty, education and health Goals. These are the areas where progress is most urgently required and where experience suggests that positive results have a catalytic effect on the other Goals. The debate is an occasion for recommitment and rededication to the MDGs. It is expected that during the meeting participants will also be able to identify the obstacles, the bottlenecks preventing or slowing downs efforts to achieve the MDGs, as well as exchange views on how to overcome these difficulties and come up with contributions that would help in accelerating the process of reaching the MDGs by 2015. The debate will bring together representatives from academia, business, Government, non-governmental organizations and of course the UN system.
The meeting kicks off tomorrow at 9 a.m. in the Trusteeship Council Chamber, with an opening statement from General Assembly President Srgjan Kerim, followed by the Secretary-General, then the Prime Minister of Finland and then the Foreign Minister of Mali. And following these opening statements, there will be three panel discussions held with a variety of different participants, on the three Goals that I have highlighted. The details of that are available for you. We’ve given it out in hard copies. They’re available for you also in a press release format and also on the website of the President.
Also note that Ted Turner, the Chairman of Turner Enterprises and of the UN Foundation, will be the keynote speaker at a luncheon that is hosted by the General Assembly President and that’ll be tomorrow at lunch time, it’s at 1:15, and before that, at 12:30, as I mentioned before, the noon guest tomorrow will be the President with Ted Turner, giving you the details on what the MDG meeting is all about. And then, as I said, on 3 April, which is Thursday, we’ll try to have a wrap-up conference for you, also at lunch time, as to what might have been achieved by this meeting.
Let me go back to something that concluded on Friday. That’s the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) and that’s something I’m sure a number of you have been eying. There’s a very good press release that actually summarizes what has happened. It’s of course available for you and the symbol number for that is GA/AB/3844, but I’ll give you the quick and dirty of it.
Basically, what happened was that the Committee concluded its work for what is called the first part of its resumed session on Friday. It took action on six draft texts. It took decisions in the form of recommendations to the General Assembly on the following issues: financing for special political missions and missions of the Peacebuilding Commission, financial implications of the decisions of the Human Rights Council, strengthening investigations within the United Nations, on work of the Joint Inspection Unit (JIU) and conditions of service of international courts’ judges.
It deferred action on the following: first, it deferred action to the second part of the resumed session on questions relating to UN procurement activities. It deferred action to the sixty-third session of the Assembly on the following: strengthening of the Department of Political Affairs, some aspects of human resources management reform and the proposals on incentives to retain staff of the International Tribunals. What you don’t find here and I know some of you have been following it, are things related to accountability and to the development-related activities. Nothing has been done on those simply because those items were not introduced at the first part of the resumed session, so don’t look for decisions on them.
When is the second part of the resumed session? That’s going to be, and a decision has been taken on that, from 5 to 30 May. And as I have mentioned so many times, the second resumed sessions of the Committee are usually focusing primarily on peacekeeping missions. But that doesn’t mean that other issues may not come up. Let’s see what Member States decide what to take up.
Okay, that’s what I have for the Fifth Committee. And on two things that were asked on Friday, one was something Rima asked me and I did get back to her. This was a draft resolution that she flagged, coming from Cuba and Egypt on xenophobia and racism. The question was posed as if it was something for the General Assembly. It was actually a draft resolution within the Human Rights Council seventh session that Michèle mentioned was still continuing.
And there was another question about the idea of setting up a new agency within the UN for women, whether that is on the agenda of the General Assembly. It is on the agenda of the General Assembly in the context of what is called system-wide coherence. And the discussions within system-wide coherence will also touch upon this issue.
And that’s all I have. Any questions?
**Questions and Answers
Question: On an unrelated matter that has not yet come up,but obviously is very important, do you know any details yet of the Pope’s visit on Friday, 18 April, and his address to the General Assembly? And I suspect the answer is no, but will there be any opportunity to meet with the media or any part of it all, anything like that?
Spokesperson: George, I don’t know the details as to the exact things that the Pope is going to do and whether there is any time set aside for the media or not. What is sure is that he is going to address the General Assembly in a plenary formal session.
Question: Do you know what time of the day?
Spokesperson: Sometime in the morning.
Question: I wonder if you can give us some information on the meeting of President Kerim with the Prime Minister of Italy. You said they were speaking about Security Council reform as part of their discussion?
Spokesperson: I think I briefed on the details on Wednesday and I think whatever I had I gave you in detail so if you’d look at the transcript, because I don’t have my notes here and I don’t want to misquote things. But, yes indeed, there was a meeting with Prime Minister Prodi and one of the issues was Security Council reform and reform of the UN. Also, the priorities of the sixty-second session, climate change, Millennium Development Goals, financing for development. But no details.
Question: I know the topics but I was wondering if there were details on Security Council reform.
Spokesperson: No, I don’t have any details on that.
Question: On MDGs, do you have a list of speakers yet and what order they’re going to be in?
Spokesperson: I’ll try to get that for you. I’ve been asking General Assembly Affairs to let me have it. I did mention to you on Friday that, at that time, the preliminary list that I had included close to 100 speakers, and we have, I think, 11 ministers and 9 vice-ministers. That will be, not tomorrow actually, but on 2 April. Tomorrow, panel discussions, and 2 April the format will be, as I mentioned, classic General Assembly type intergovernmental meeting of Member State representatives giving statements. And because of the number of speakers, there’s a good chance that this will probably spill over into the next day as well. So the moment I have that list for you I’ll make sure that we can put it out in the Spokesperson’s Office.
Question: Okay, on the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary), the summary press release that you referred us to says several speakers addressed regret that the Committee had been unable to reach agreement on some items, including procurement. I wonder if you could find out. At the beginning of the session, an open session, a lot of questions were asked of the Procurement Division and Mr. Paul Vladitz about no-bid contracts and about procedures. Were the questions answered during the session, but no vote taken, or were the questions not answered during the session. I don’t expect you to know now, but actually, I’d like to know what the answers were, but if you could find out whether they were provided or not.
Spokesperson: I think that what the decision here is that the issue has been deferred, so obviously whenever it’s taken up, new questions can arise.
Question: I’m just wondering if the questions were answered. Is there some way to find out?
Spokesperson: I’ll try to look and find out whether all the questions have been answered.
Question: Also in this press release 3844, it says some $48 million for special political missions like Somalia and Nepal meant that $3 million would have to be cut from somewhere else. How does that work?
Spokesperson: I’m not sure what you mean.
Question: The Committee voted for like $48 some million on Friday for these political missions?
Spokesperson: Don’t forget that only $31 million of that is new appropriations. I know you’re asking what this all means in dollars and cents. It’s only $31 million extra.
Question: Okay. Now, a number of people on the Committee said there was some kind of side deal, whereby Japan, in particular, voted for it but got a commitment that money would be cut somewhere. It’s not in the press release and I’m wondering if that’s something that took place or not.
Spokesperson: You would have to ask Japan on this, whether they were able.
Question: It seems like it’s a Fifth Committee thing.
Spokesperson: What emanates from the Fifth Committee as far as what we can see is a decision on how much money is going to be spent on certain activities. How that decision is reached, what are the give and takes, that’s all the negotiating process. Some of that, yes, may be reflected in open sessions. Others in informal consultations. But the end result is whatever amount is there.
Question: So would it be fair to say that if it’s not in the end result, like a commitment to cut $3 million does not exist if it’s not somewhere in the document?
Spokesperson: Matthew, I cannot comment on that, because you said it was what? Some kind of gentlemen’s agreement or something like that was reached? I don’t know. This is really something for the Member States among themselves, you know, what kinds of deals they come up with, what kind of negotiations-outcome they have.
And sorry, by the way, let me stress that this is a Fifth Committee decision. This will all go to the General Assembly, most likely sometime in the next couple of weeks. I don’t have a date yet. Obviously the Committee will have to prepare a report, submit it to the GA secretariat and then a General Assembly plenary will be held, where all of this is going to be taken up.
Okay? Thank you very much. So see you all tomorrow at 12:30 with the President and Mr. Ted Turner.
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For information media • not an official record
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