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And the spokeswoman for the General Assembly president


The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Yves Sorokobi, Associate Spokesman for the Secretary-General, and Gail Bindley-Taylor Sainte, Spokeswoman for the General Assembly President.

Briefing by the Secretary-General’s Spokesman

**Guest at Noon

Joining us today at the briefing is Mr. Ross Mountain, Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Mr. Mountain will brief you on recent developments there, particularly the elections.

** Korean Peninsula

The Secretary-General welcomes the announced resumption on 18 December of the six-party talks aimed at achieving a non-nuclear Korean Peninsula.  The Secretary-General hopes that the participants in the talks will use this opportunity to make meaningful progress toward implementing their joint statement of 19 September 2005.  The United Nations Secretariat will remain steadfast in its support for this multilateral diplomatic approach.

**Aceh Statement

I have a statement for you, attributable to the Spokesman for the Secretary-General on Aceh.

“The Secretary-General is encouraged by the orderly conduct of the 11 December 2006 local elections in Indonesia’s Aceh province.  This historic balloting marks the first such electoral exercise pursuant to the peace agreement signed in Helsinki last year between the Government of Indonesia and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM).  The Secretary-General calls on all parties to respect the results of these elections in order to help consolidate the peace process, which aims to build a secure and prosperous Aceh within a united and democratic Indonesia.

That statement is available upstairs.

**Secretary-General’s Travel

Today the Secretary-General is in Independence, Missouri, where he is expected shortly to deliver his last speech as Secretary-General to an American audience.  That’s scheduled to take place at the Truman Presidential Library.  He will spell out five lessons derived from his ten-year experience at the helm of this organization, saying that five principles are essential for the future conduct of international relations.  Those principles are collective responsibility, global solidarity, the rule of law, mutual accountability and multilateralism.

The Secretary-General will also challenge American leaders of today and tomorrow to live up to President Harry Truman's example of enlightened leadership in a multilateral system. And the Secretary-General will also participate in a brief question and answer session at the Library.  The Secretary-General will be back here tomorrow.  We have copies of his statement, on an embargoed basis for the next few minutes, upstairs, as well.

**Security Council

Ashraf Qazi, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, this morning told the Security Council in an open meeting that the Secretary-General’s latest report on that country provides a sober and urgent warning that Iraq stands on the brink of civil war and chaos.  He said that given the current disunity and violence, “it is not realistic to expect the Government and parliament to bring about progress without the active cooperation of the regional and international community.”  Qazi said it was encouraging that Iraq has decided to send envoys to its neighbours to prepare the ground for a regional conference.

He noted the Secretary-General’s call for a negotiated settlement to break the cycle of violence, and the Secretary-General’s suggestion that a regional contact group, assisted by the United Nations, could serve as the catalyst to bring about a credible forum to discuss and resolve issues.  We have his statement upstairs, and Qazi also intends to speak to you after the Council meeting, here at the stakeout.

Then, starting at 3:00 p.m. this afternoon, the Security Council will hold consultations on Lebanon, to receive briefings from Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hédi Annabi and from Michael Williams, who is the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on the Situation in the Middle East, under implementation of Security Council resolution 1701.  Also, the Council intends to hold consultations on non-proliferation, with Council members expected to receive copies of a draft resolution on Iran.

** Lebanon

The Force Commander for the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), Major-General Alain Pellegrini, today met senior representatives of the Lebanese Army and the Israeli Defense Forces at the UNIFIL position at the border crossing at Ras Al Naqoura.  They discussed the issue of the withdrawal of the Israeli forces from the northern part of Ghajar village, which is located inside Lebanese territory.  Pellegrini described the meeting as constructive and productive, saying that progress has been made and adding, “I hope that this will help pave the way for the full withdrawal of the IDF from Lebanese territory.”

** Sudan

The Principal Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Sudan, Tayé-Brook Zerihoun, met over the weekend with the Envoy of the President of the United States, Andrew Natsios, who is currently on an official visit to Sudan.  Discussions focused mainly on Darfur.  The two officials exchanged views on the outcome of the Addis Ababa high level consultations and the Summit of the AU Peace and Security Council held in Abuja, and the way forward in implementing what had been agreed during these meetings.

More specifically, the two officials discussed steps and ideas to reenergize the existing security arrangements and to move ahead with the political process with the aim to widen the support base within the non-signatories of the Darfur Peace Agreement.  They also discussed UN support to AMIS, AMIS being the African Union Mission in Sudan, as well as the deployment of a hybrid African Union-United Nations force in Darfur.  Meanwhile, the situation in Darfur remains volatile. According to the UN mission in Sudan, in Al Geneina, the capital of West Darfur, the situation there was reported to be tense after an attack attributed to armed men riding on horseback over the weekend.  Details are still sketchy but the Mission says it has received reports that 31 people were killed in Sirba, in that area.

**Human Rights in the Middle East

A brief update from the Human Rights Council in Geneva.  Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the head of the Human Rights Council fact-finding mission to Beit Hanoun, today announced that his mission could not take place as scheduled because of a "very distressing" lack of cooperation from the Israeli Government.  Desmund Tutu added that, while the basic facts surrounding the shelling at Beit Hanoun are not in dispute, the broader context is complex and warrants a visit to Israel for high-level meetings with Israeli officials.  You’ll recall that the Human Rights Council decided on 15 November to send a fact-finding mission to Beit Hanoun to assess the situation of victims, address the needs of survivors, and make recommendations on ways to protect Palestinian civilians against further assaults.  We have more on that upstairs.


From Iraq and Kuwait, the Secretary-General’s latest report on missing Kuwaiti persons and property in Iraq is out as a document today.  In it, the Secretary-General notes that the remains of three more missing Kuwaiti persons have been found, which he calls “disappointingly slow progress,” given that 370 Kuwaitis remain unaccounted for.  The report will be discussed in the Security Council on Wednesday.  And that report, as I said earlier, is out on the racks today.

** Guinea-Bissau

Also out on the racks today is the Secretary-General’s latest report on Guinea-Bissau.  In it, he commends that country’s Government for recognizing the links between security, stability and development.  By holding a conference on that topic in Geneva, Guinea-Bissau took a critical step toward normalcy, the Secretary-General says in that report.  He also strongly urges the political actors in Guinea-Bissau to put national interests above other considerations and to pursue negotiated solutions to their differences, so as not to jeopardize the political stability or compromise the development of that country.

** C ôte d’Ivoire

From Côte d’Ivoire, the UN’s Acting Humanitarian Coordinator in Cote d’Ivoire, Mr. Youssouf Oomar, has vigorously condemned recent attacks against civilians in the western part of Côte d’Ivoire, and he has called upon national and local authorities to assure the protection of civilians and the security of humanitarian workers in that part of the country.  The Acting Humanitarian Coordinator will lead a joint inter-agency evaluation mission to the affected areas at the end of this week, and we have a press release from our humanitarian colleagues upstairs in the Spokesman’s Office.


We have out on the counter today, as well, a message that the Secretary-General is providing to a meeting in Amman, of donors and host authorities for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, and that agency is known under its acronym as UNRWA.  The Secretary-General says that, at a time when the Middle East is roiled by conflict and tension, UNRWA remains a force for stability, providing life-sustaining services to 4.3 million Palestinians.


From the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF):  according to a new UNICEF report launched this morning, on the agency’s 60th anniversary, eliminating gender discrimination and empowering women will have a profound and positive impact on the survival and well-being of children.  In The State of the World’s Children 2007, that’s the name of the report, UNICEF adds that gender equality produces the “double dividend” of benefiting both women and children and is pivotal to the health and development of families, communities and nations as well.  We have more on that upstairs.

**Press Conference Tomorrow

At 11:00 a.m. tomorrow, the Permanent Mission of Mexico to the United Nations is sponsoring a press briefing by indigenous leaders, who will brief on the current status of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People.  That’s tomorrow at 11:00 a.m. and that’s it for me.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  I wanted to ask you about the Reverend Desmond Tutu, how he was refused access.  What is the next step?  He said there needed to be high-level talks in Israel but what needs to happen now?  Does it go back to the Human Rights Council or does he make a report based on this?  What’s the next step?

Associate Spokesman:  I think what the Reverend said is pretty clear.  Discussions need to take place to iron out whatever the differences are and to try to obtain an Israeli commitment that the mission can proceed.  As to whether high-level discussions are taking place, I’m confident that they are taking place at various levels between the Council and the Israeli authorities.

Question:  There are already talks taking place because of this?

Associate Spokesman:  That’s what the Reverend said at his press conference.

[The Spokesman later clarified that Tutu had heard nothing from the Israelis up to the present moment.  Tutu had sent a report to the President of the Human Rights Council based on what had happened and it was up to the President and Council to decide where to go from now.]

Question:  You mentioned that the Iraqi Government is sending emissaries to neighbouring States with a view toward setting up some kind of regional conference.  Were these emissaries sent by Mr. Talabani, Mr. Al-Maliki or possibly at the request or inspiration of powers outside?

Associate Spokesman:  That is a question about the internal workings of the Iraqi Government, and I would encourage you to get that answer from the Iraqi Mission.

Question:  Jim Morris of the World Food Programme and also the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy in southern Africa, was in Zimbabwe.  Did he meet with Robert Mugabe, and if so, what did they discuss?

Associate Spokesman:  Yes, Mr. Morris is in Zimbabwe as you noted, and he did meet with President Mugabe and Zimbabwean Government ministers.  Mr. Morris is on a humanitarian mission.  The goal is to urge Governments in the region, he’s not just going to Zimbabwe but other countries in southern Africa as well, and the goal of the mission is to urge Governments in the region and the donor community, to take decisive action to tackle long-term development problems in that region.  He also raised, in his meeting with President Mugabe and Zimbabwean cabinet officials, the issue of orphans in that country, children that are otherwise vulnerable and people with HIV/AIDS.  Mr. Morris tells us that he was heartened by the close working relationship between the United Nations and the non-governmental organization (NGO) community, who are both working together to assist the people of Zimbabwe and to help avoid a serious food crisis in that country.  So his mission is essentially humanitarian, and his focus so far in all these discussions has been to stress the humanitarian concerns of both the United Nations and the international community.

Question:  Did the issue of that “operation clean up the trash” or “restore order”, the mass evictions…did he raise that issue?  And also, did the issue of this Human Rights Council that some in the UN are working with the Mugabe Government to create, were these discussed?

Associate Spokesman:  I don’t have that specific information on whether or not that particular point was raised in that meeting with Mr. Mugabe.  When Mr. Morris is back here, we’ll try to see if he has more detailed information on his conversations there.

Question:  When is he coming back?

Associate Spokesman:  I don’t have the precise date but it should be….

Question:  It’s this year? In December?

Associate Spokesman:  Hopefully.

(It was later announced that Mr. Morris would brief the press in Johannesberg on Wednesday, 13 December, and would arrive in Rome on 17 December.  He would be in New York on 12-13 February and 15 February.)

Question:  Will the United Nations be attending in any way, or assisting in any way, the six-party talks?

Associate Spokesman:  That has not yet been made clear.  We encourage the resumption of the talks.  As to whether the United Nations would be actively involved, that is a decision for the Secretary-General to make and he has not done so yet, and I will refrain from speculating.

Question:  If the United Nations were to participate in some way, what way would that be?

Associate Spokesman:  Again, I will refrain from speculating at this stage.

Question:  On Somalia, since the resolution was passed, can someone confirm the widely reported fighting between the Islamic Courts and Ethiopia?  Is Mr. Fall on top of that?  What can the United Nations say about it?

Associate Spokesman:  We don’t have in Somalia a presence that would allow us to confirm reported gun battles in that country.  Mr. Fall’s mandate is to ensure that the parties in Somalia remain committed to a dialogue which they began in Khartoum, with the aim of bringing stability to that country.  As the Secretary-General has said repeatedly over the past weeks, we deplore any forms of violence in Somalia.  The Secretary-General has insisted that the Somali situation can only be resolved through dialogue, and he has also appealed to countries in the region not to intervene militarily in Somali affairs.  As to whether or not those gun battles can be confirmed by the United Nations, we’ll have to wait and see what Mr. Fall has to say about that, but as I said, again, his mandate is primarily political and he has no means to confirm this kind of report.

Briefing by Assembly President’s Spokeswoman

Good afternoon.  I will just read you our notes for today.

The General Assembly this morning began to discuss the report of the Security Council to the General Assembly (document A/61/2), as well as the question of equitable representation on, and increase in, the membership of the Security Council and related matters.  The meeting is expected to last some two days, as there are 75 speakers inscribed to address the Assembly.

Opening the debate this morning, the President of the Assembly, Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa, recounted the origins of the issue of Security Council reform, noting, since January 1994, the Working Group dealing with this matter has tried to reach agreement on the various aspects of this issue.  She recalled that a number of draft resolutions on Security Council reform have been tabled by several groups of States during both the fifty-ninth and the sixtieth session; and that the Assembly itself has discussed the issue, both informally, and in formal meetings.  The President noted, however, that despite the fact that ongoing efforts had not led to agreement on Security Council reform, Member States should not lose hope in their ability to make progress on this important matter.

She stressed she believed the time had come to make a realistic assessment of the issue, “with a fresh and open mind, so that we can make substantial progress.”  Assuring Member States of her readiness to work with them to establish the most appropriate process to achieve the task of reforming the Council, the President said she looked forward to hearing their concrete proposals and views on the way forward on this matter.

Before debate began, the President also recommended changes to the Assembly’s Programme of Work, which was approved by Member States.  These include a change in the date for the conclusion of the Assembly’s current session.  The session will now recess on 21 December, which will allow the Assembly to take up pending reports, in particular, that of the Fifth Committee.  The Fifth Committee has also asked for an extension of the deadline for submission of its report to the Assembly.  The Fifth Committee’s work will now end on 19 December.

Changes to the schedule for this week include the issue of revitalization of the work of the General Assembly, which was to be taken up tomorrow and will now be rescheduled to Wednesday, 13 December, in the afternoon.  The morning session will be devoted to taking action on the resolution on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

On Thursday morning, 14 December, Mr. Ban Ki-moon will be sworn in as the eighth Secretary-General of the United Nations, and in the afternoon, the Assembly will take action on reports of the Fourth Committee.  On Friday, as mentioned before, we will hold the resumed session of its tenth Emergency Special Session, on the register of damages caused by Israel’s construction of the wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem.

Meanwhile, the Second Committee, on Friday of last week, completed its work for the current session, adopting 11 draft resolutions on a wide range of issues, ranging from sustainable development to biodiversity, desertification and industrial development cooperation.  The Committee, at the end of its session, had taken action on over 40 draft resolutions or decisions relating to economic and financial matters.

The Fifth Committee is continuing its work and is expected to discuss the programme implications of a number of draft resolutions, including the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the Oceans and Law of the Sea and the establishment of the United Nations Register of Damage caused by the construction of the wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  It will also hold closed consultations on the pension system and the scale of assessments this afternoon.

That’s my report for today.  If there are any questions?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  When is the swearing in ceremony of the new Secretary-General?

Spokeswoman:  Thursday morning at 10.

Question:  Tomorrow, the Mission of Mexico is holding a press conference on the rights of indigenous peoples.  Does that indicate any movement on that matter?

Spokeswoman:  I haven’t heard that anything hasmoved, but I do know the hope was to open up the discussion, so it would be interesting to hear, tomorrow, what the Mexican Ambassador has to say, in terms of what will happen next.  Okay, thank you very much.

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For information media. Not an official record.