DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESPERSON FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL
15 September 2006
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Marie Okabe, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General, and by Gail Bindley-Taylor Sainte, Spokeswoman for the General Assembly President.
Briefing by the Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General
Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland is our guest today. He just briefed the Security Council on the humanitarian situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Uganda, both of which he visited last week.
Speaking on the DRC, he said we have not been able to make enough of an impact on impunity. Sexual abuse has become a cancer in Congolese society that seems to be out of control, and military and civilian authorities are still virtually unaccountable for crimes against civilians. On northern Uganda, Egeland said the picture is more promising than it has been in years.
The Security Council is now holding consultations on Sudan and other matters. And, as I said, I expect to have Jan here in a few minutes.
**Secretary-General in Cuba
The Secretary-General has arrived in Havana, Cuba, where, last night, he had a tête-à-tête meeting in the Palacio Nacional with President Fidel Castro.
He is about to address the Conference of the Non-Aligned Movement, and is to tell them that the Movement’s larger voice “brings with it greater responsibility, both internationally and at home”. That includes a responsibility to work decisively and constructively to build a multilateral system and a United Nations capable of responding to today’s challenges, he is expected to say. He will also note the challenge of transforming global governance and the empowerment of women. We have embargoed copies of his speech upstairs.
Later today, the Secretary-General will be meeting bilaterally with many of the leaders attending the summit and we’ll provide more details of those meetings once he holds them.
The UN Interim Force in Lebanon reported further withdrawals yesterday by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) from parts of southern Lebanon, in the western sector of the UN Mission’s operations. By this morning, the UN Mission’s Ghanaian battalion confirmed that there were no Israeli forces present in those areas, and the Lebanese Armed Forces are planning to deploy there tomorrow.
Also yesterday, an additional 200 French troops joined UNIFIL. Today, the first group of some 500 Spanish troops arrived in Southern Lebanon, bringing the total number of UNIFIL troops up to around 4,600.
Lebanon will soon be food secure again and its commercial sector is bouncing back quicker than expected, paving the way for the withdrawal of the World Food Programme (WFP) from the country by the end of October, according to a WFP food assessment and nutrition report issued today, and there’s a press release on that.
**Democratic Republic of Congo
The UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) says that two days after the meeting between President Joseph Kabila and Vice-President Jean-Pierre Bemba –- the first time they met since the clashes in Kinshasa last month -– the situation in the capital remains calm.
The Secretary-General’s Special Representative, William Swing, says both sides are moving in the right direction, and called for the electoral process to be kept on track.
The Mission says that the Supreme Court of Justice today upheld the “force majeure” appeal from the Independent Electoral Commission on the timing of the second round of the presidential elections, which means that the second round should be set to go ahead as planned on the 29th of October.
Concerning preparations for the elections, 60 per cent of the electoral materials are already in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and, from tomorrow, the ballot papers for the provincial elections will start arriving.
The UN Refugee Agency says it urgently needs more donor support if it’s going to avoid drastically curtailing operations in southern Sudan. Of nearly $66 million sought for the operation, UNHCR has received only half -- nearly $30 -- million and had spent some $20 million of that by the end of July. It says the funding shortfall could mean suspending, postponing, reducing or cancelling some of the south Sudan programmes by as soon as the end of this month.
Turning to the humanitarian situation in Gaza, the food security there remains an issue of serious concern, according to WFP. Naval restrictions continue to block all boats from fishing off shore, crippling the fishing industry. Furthermore, Gaza’s agricultural markets continue to suffer from access restrictions.
WFP is distributing food to 220,000 of the most vulnerable people among Gaza’s non-refugee population. Meanwhile, UNICEF delivered five water tankers to municipalities in Gaza with damaged water networks and stepped up support for vaccination services in the northern West Bank.
Nearly 30 years after phasing out the widespread use of indoor spraying with DDT and other insecticides to control malaria, the World Health Organization (WHO) today announced that DDT will once again play a major role in its efforts to fight that disease. WHO is now recommending the use of indoor residual spraying not only in epidemic areas but also in areas with constant and high malaria transmission, including throughout Africa.
WHO actively promoted indoor residual spraying for malaria control until the early 1980s when increased health and environmental concerns surrounding DDT caused the organization to stop promoting its use and to focus instead on other means of prevention.
But, extensive research and testing has since demonstrated that well-managed indoor residual spraying programmes using DDT pose no harm to wildlife or to humans, and there’s a press release on that upstairs.
Greek Olive Exhibit
And, we also have a press release regarding an exhibit entitled “In Praise of the Olive” is now on display in the North East Gallery of the General Assembly Visitors’ Lobby.
It officially opens next Tuesday with Greece’s Foreign Minister, and we have a press release available on that upstairs.
We also have a list of press conferences for next week. Please note that the schedule is subject to change and we advise that you check the website or the third floor Spokesman’s Office bulletin board for any revisions, but because it’s a busy week, we’re giving you that list in advance.
And the same goes for the Week Ahead. We have a preliminary look at the events next week at the United Nations. Just to flag some of the events next week, the Secretary-General will be holding a high-level meeting on Iraq as we mentioned to you at the press conference on Monday at 3 p.m.
The Security Council on Monday also has a busy day in the morning. We have consultations on the Middle East involving the 1701 report. The Secretary-General is expected to brief in that session and, in the afternoon, the Security Council has consultations on Sudan, and the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Jan Pronk, is expected to brief Council members on the Sudan on Monday afternoon, and he will brief you following those consultations at the stakeout.
Tuesday, as you all know, the General Assembly’s general debate begins. We have the General Assembly [President’s] Spokeswoman here to brief you on that.
And there are a number of other meetings coming up, a Quartet meeting scheduled and we have details of that upstairs in our office as well, so I urge you to take a look at that for your assigning purposes.
And just to flag, we do have a guest on Monday. Antonio María Acosta, director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, will be here at 11 a.m. to brief you on opium cultivation in Afghanistan. It’s going to be a busy week, and all the best on that coverage.
And we have Jan Egeland here who is going to brief you on the Council and we have Gail to brief you first on the General Assembly.
Before that, do you have anything else for me?
Questions and Answers
Question: Yesterday the issue was raised that the Interior Minister of Iran was unable to secure a visa to participate in the General Assembly’s discussion on migration. He then sent a letter to Kofi Annan protesting that. The ambassador also sent a letter of protest asking there to be some kind of contact between the Secretariat and the US Mission. Has there been any action taken by the United Nations or the Secretary-General on that? Also, what is the general protocol for dealing with issues that arise when delegates from countries are unable to participate in UN meetings?
Deputy Spokesman: On the specific question about the context, let me look into that for you after the briefing because I don’t have anything on that.
[The Spokesman’s Office later announced that the letter had been received and would be issued as a document.]
Question: I wanted to ask about something that arose yesterday about whether the Secretary-General has filed his financial disclosure. It came up at his press conference, it came up again yesterday. Stéphane Dujarric from that podium said he will file as an example to staff. Has he filed? Have you asked? Can you update us on this?
Deputy Spokesman: No, I cannot. The Secretary-General as you said, was here, during his press conference, answered that question, and I have nothing beyond that.
Question: His answer…
Deputy Spokesman: I have nothing beyond that.
Question: Yesterday, I asked specifically, could the Secretary-General’s Office be asked for an explanation on why he would not fill out such a document, when that document, filling it out, is part of the accountability and transparency programme that Christopher Burnham told us about yesterday, and that the Secretary-General himself has said was essential. Is there no explanation, that was 24 hours ago, I presume the Office was asked for information.
Deputy Spokesman: As of now, the only line that I can give you on this is the Secretary-General’s line, which is his response to you to that question on Wednesday, and I really have nothing more on that, so I think we can move on.
Question: There are wire service stories saying that two UN sources have confirmed that he has not filed. What can you say on that?
Deputy Spokesman: They are wire service reports quoting unnamed sources. They are press reports. I cannot comment on that.
Question: Marie, you indicated that the Secretary-General had a tête-à-tête meeting with Castro. Apart from protocol issues, what substantive issues were discussed?
Deputy Spokesman: They had a 45-minute meeting at the Palacio National and the Secretary-General and Fidel Castro discussed the issues in front of them at the Summit, and the Secretary-General briefed him on his interventions in the Middle East. So they had a long meeting. Gail will brief you first on the General Assembly and then we’ll turn to…
Question: There’s actually another question. It’s a Zimbabwe question. I wanted to ask you, it’s come up in this room before, when the Secretary-General went to Banjul, there was an expectation that he would somehow mediate between the Mugabe Government and the opposition in Zimbabwe, and he said, I quote, he’d defer to Ben Mkapa, an ex-President of Tanzania as a mediator, and said there couldn’t be two mediators. Since then, Ben Mkapa is not mediating, and at least four Security Council members today asked about Zimbabwe. The Secretary-General, is he aware that Benjamin Mkapa is not the mediator, and what is his plan of action on Zimbabwe?
Deputy Spokesman: I think what you’re referring to again are press reports on Mr. Mkapa’s efforts. I have nothing official on the status of Mr. Mkapa’s efforts as a mediator. On that, the Secretary-General has repeatedly said he wants to help the people of Zimbabwe and that he wants to work with them to improve their situation with the rest of the world. And as far as the humanitarian situation, I think Jan [Egeland] may have more to say on this, but I think it’s safe to say the United Nations remains dissatisfied at the lack of progress in providing shelter and aid to the displaced from last year’s Operation Restore Order and we continue to engage the Government of Zimbabwe to do more for the tens of thousands who remain displaced.
Question: A question on Darfur. There seems to be a new wave of tension, now Tony Blair is announcing some kind of initiative, how are you going to keep up the pressure during the General Assembly? Are there any initiatives? Where do we go from here on Darfur? What’s the strategy? And is the UN working in any way on a Plan B? It seems like everything rests on Sudanese consent which is not forthcoming, and people are dying, and is there a Plan B?
Deputy Spokesman: I have nothing on your Plan B, but what I can tell you is the Secretary-General did raise the issue with the Council. Since then, we hope the momentum is increasing for greater pressure that will come to bear so that plans can be realized. The Secretary-General is in Cuba, he will be meeting with the Sudanese President there this afternoon, and, of course, his efforts to try to persuade him will continue there as well. Even George Clooney has quoted him yesterday, saying that he has made a call for the pressure to be maintained.
Question: Just to follow up on that, the Middle East crisis, which was extraordinarily important though far fewer people were dying, he was on the phone 24 hours a day calling every leader on planet earth. Is Mr. Annan doing the same thing with Darfur? Is he calling up the Kremlin? Is he calling up Beijing and saying enough is enough? Is he calling all the new friends he’s made in the Arab world and saying now’s the time for you guys to make a stand? I mean, are we seeing anything like the level of diplomatic activity from his phone that we saw on the Middle East issue?
Deputy Spokesman: I think the Secretary-General does what he can when he knows he can make a difference. In this case, of course, he has been talking about this issue, travelling around the world. He’s always on the phone and he doesn’t just talk about one subject. And also, in terms of what he can do, I again urge you to look at the Security Council statement in which he said his voice alone is not going to make a difference.
Question: But what I want to know is, when was the last time he raised this issue on the phone with Khartoum or with Beijing? Can we have a sense, because we were getting daily briefings, he called Prodi, he called King Hussein, and so forth on the Middle East…
Deputy Spokesman: Well, first of all, he was the one who asked to speak to the Security Council on this issue, immediately on the heels of his Middle East trip. Yesterday, he asked Mark Malloch Brown, the Deputy Secretary-General, to meet with members of the Council, I believe the permanent members of the Council. So, his efforts continue at whatever level he can, whether it’s through his deputies, through the Council members, or his own efforts today at the NAM summit.
Question: But has there been a phone call to Beijing?
Deputy Spokesman: I will look specifically into phone calls, but in terms of his conversations, his efforts, he continues to do what he can, when he can do it.
Question: Another question on Darfur. Just recently the President of the United States, addressing reporters about his upcoming visit to the UN, said that the problem is that the United Nations hasn’t acted, and he urged the UN to pass a resolution saying essentially, saying we’re coming. What is the Secretary’s response to that?
Deputy Spokesman: I have not seen that report, I have no comment on that.
Question: Does the Secretary-General believe that it’s time to impose sanctions on Khartoum?
Deputy Spokesman: I think the issue of sanctions is something that would be up to the Security Council. I think the Secretary-General’s position on where we’re going with Sudan for the time being has been spelled out.
Question: A follow-up to my earlier question concerning the Secretary-General’s tête-à-tête with Fidel Castro, is he expected to have any kind of offer to mediate and improve the relations between the US and Cuba?
Deputy Spokesman: The only subjects I was told they discussed are what I already briefed you on.
Question: President Gbagbo said he would not attend the meeting planned by the Secretary-General, because he did not want to be part of “that farce”. That’s his words. Do you know if Kofi Annan has spoken with him since that statement?
Deputy Spokesman: I think we’ve seen the statement in the press, and we may have a statement on that later in the day.
[A statement was issued following the noon briefing. The text is as follows:
“The Secretary-General is deeply concerned about the increase in inflammatory rhetoric in Côte d’Ivoire, which is fuelling serious tension as the country approaches the end of the transition period in the end of October. Already, the tragic consequences of the recent dumping of toxic waste in Abidjan, a few weeks ago, has created serious problems and resulted in a number of violent incidents.
“In this context, the Secretary-General regrets the reported statement made by President Laurent Gbagbo yesterday, rejecting the peace process, which was developed by the Ivorian leaders themselves, together with their international partners, over the past three years. The Secretary-General is concerned that these and other similar statements could further aggravate the situation in the country, with unpredictable consequences. The Ivorian leaders should be aware of their responsibilities towards their people and the international community for maintaining peace in the country.
“The Secretary-General strongly urges all the Ivorians to exercise restraint at this critical stage, and hopes that President Laurent Gbagbo will respond positively to his invitation to join the regional leaders, including the chairmen of the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States, as well as Prime Minister Charles Konan Banny and other Ivorian political leaders, at the high-level meeting that will take place in New York on 20 September to discuss the way forward in Côte d’Ivoire.”]
Question: I’m just wondering, not to be single-minded, but there are some press accounts that you will respond to, I mean obviously that’s an important one, but I just don’t understand the distinction between the two. You were saying those are press reports, we don’t have to, I’m just wondering…
Deputy Spokesman: Matthew, I have nothing beyond what the Secretary-General said, okay?
Question: And have you spoken to the Secretary-General or Stéphane since it arose yesterday? Has there been a request made to clarify the statement?
Deputy Spokesman: Matthew, I have nothing beyond what I said.
Briefing by the Spokeswoman for the General Assembly President
The General Assembly’s High-Level Dialogue on Migration Development continues today. Yesterday, the Assembly heard some 59 speakers. Today, we expect to hear from the final 84.
Parallel discussions will also continue in closed, informal round tables today. The Chairs of the round tables will present to the Assembly summaries of their discussions at the wrap-up of the High-Level Dialogue at the end of the day.
One of the highlights of yesterday’s meeting was the offer by Belgium to host what would be the first meeting next year of the Global Forum on Migration and Development proposed by the UN Secretary–General. Mr. Annan said yesterday, “It would be informal, voluntary, consultative. Above all, it would not make binding decisions.” The Forum would be a standing body in which countries would be able to discuss and exchange the best ideas and practices on this issue. The Secretary-General has welcomed the Belgium offer.
Next Monday, 18 September, and for one hour on Tuesday morning, 19 September, the General Assembly will review the 10-year action plan for the least developed countries (LDCs) adopted in Brussels in 2001. The plan of action consists of an agreement for donor countries to boost support to LDCs via aid, trade and debt relief and for LDCs to implement better governance and economic reforms.
The good news is that there has been some progress. For example, the overall the percentage of LDC exports has indeed increased from 70 per cent in 2001 to nearly 80 per cent in 2004; development assistance has increased marginally, debt relief has reduced debt burdens; although there still remain at a level considered difficult; and there has been overall improvement in health and education indicators.
However, even though the LDCs as a group are growing at better than 6 per cent a year since 2001, the Secretary-General’s report prepared for Monday’s meeting notes that poverty rates in these countries have not improved substantially. In particular, the Secretary-General suggests in his report that improved results will depend on the availability of additional resources, and the sustained provision of education and health services.
There are also concerns that, because of the slow progress on poverty, these countries are among the least likely to achieve the Millennium Development Goal of halving poverty by 2015. The meeting on Monday will review progress made and the difficulties being experienced by these nations. The draft declaration is expected to be adopted at the meeting. On Monday at 11, the office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States, Anwarul Chowdhury, will hold a press conference. I heard Marie say there was another press conference, and I don’t know if perhaps there may be a problem with these press conferences, but I will check and get back to you. There will also be a press kit which will include the Secretary-General’s report and the draft declaration.
The general debate will start on Tuesday and run for nine days from the 19th through the 29th. The theme of the debate will be global partnership for development. We do not have the latest list of speakers. The latest one we have is number three. Number four we expect will be released sometime this afternoon.
Question: Do you know if President Ahmadinejad is confirmed to come Tuesday or not, and just a couple of others: Chávez was complaining that his delegation, his security detail did not get visas. Did the General Assembly receive specific complaints from Venezuela or any other country with regard to visas being denied to delegations of various members?
Spokeswoman: I haven’t heard of the complaint from President Chávez, but I can check.
Question: Any other complaints from anybody about visas?
Spokeswoman: I think you heard the complaints that Marie…
Question: So you received those complaints?
Spokeswoman: I don’t know if we have received those. I know about the reports of the complaints, and Marie did promise to check on that. I can check and see if we received anything official on that. On the question of Iran, the President is down as a speaker, and that hasn’t changed.
Question: On the migration conference, we had a briefing yesterday by Peter Sutherland, and he’s very candidly said he thinks the United States was against this meeting as being either too pro-migration or not … and he encouraged the press to ask delegations, Australia and others, what their position is. I don’t know whether you can give us some sense of how the discussions are going, whether there are more opponents, or what the issues are, or a venue in which we can ask the delegations for…
Spokeswoman: Actually, in talking to him yesterday, he said that he felt there was a lot more support. In general, he felt there was a change of heart. What I think will be clear is when you have the summaries from various round tables, because I suspect that in the round tables you’ll get a much better sense of what people think. You also had NGO input. That hasn’t been played up a lot, but there has been NGO input. But I definitely feel that, at the end of the meeting, when the summaries are published, you’ll get a much better sense of how people feel. But, in listening, I think there is interest.
Question: I don’t know if this is entirely within your sphere of responsibility, but do you know if Mr. Ahmadinejad has asked to hold a press conference, either here or anywhere after his speech. I know it’s kind of an inconvenient hour, I don’t even know if you allow press conferences at 7:45 or 8. I believe you have him down for 7:15.
Spokeswoman: Remember, that’s a provisional list.
Question: I understand that, but assuming it holds, do you allow press conferences that late and is there any talk of him holding one? I believe he did last year?
Deputy Spokesman: Let me answer that. He can look at the schedule we have upstairs, he is scheduled to have one on Thursday, I don’t have the time.
Question: In terms of high-level debate, are there any other decisions or things to be taken next week we should be aware of?
Spokeswoman: There is a possibility, but I don’t want to give you a “heads up” on it yet until Monday.
Question: Can you tell us…
Spokeswoman: That’s a follow-up to the adoption of the counter-terrorism strategy. There may be some follow-up on that. I will be better able to tell you on Monday.
Question: Nothing adopted…
Spokeswoman: Not at this point in time. Usually, with the general debate, you want to hear what they say first. That’s what we’ll be doing next week.
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