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Source: United Nations News Service (See also > DPI)
11 April 2006

Spokesman's Noon Briefing

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York


The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.



From the Occupied Palestinian Territory, from Gaza, John Ging, the Director of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, known as UNRWA, its Director of Operations, rather, in Gaza, warned today about the continuing closure of the Karni crossing from Israel into Gaza.  The continuing closure of the crossing could lead to a food crisis in Gaza where some 765,000 people depend on UNRWA’s food distribution of flour, oil, sugar and other basic items.

Ging stated that “the clock is now ticking and distribution will have to be shut down entirely for the second time in less than a month if the crossing does not open immediately”.

And we have more information from UNRWA available upstairs.


**Questions and Answers


Spokesman:  When I was asked about the level of contacts between the UN, UN officials working in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and the new Palestinian Government, what I said is that working contacts with the new Palestinian Government will continue to ensure the continuation of the UN programme of assistance, and that is both the humanitarian aid that is given out, and the services that are provided by a number of UN agencies working in that area.

Question:  But the other part was on the issue of political contacts.

Spokesman:  The issue of political contacts will be dealt with as it arises.

Question:  [Inaudible].

Spokesman:  Well, political contacts being above and beyond the working contacts that are needed to deliver the services, the aid and the services, the UN provides.

Question:  To follow-up on that, the Permanent Observer Mission of Palestine, is that an organ as far as its credentials are concerned, credentials as they were presented to the Secretary-General, is that an organ of the Palestinian Authority, which is controlled by Hamas, or the PLO, which is not controlled by Hamas presumably?

Spokesman:  I think I’d have to take a look at the exact wording of the credentials before answering that.

Question:  And another question on that, as far as the Secretary-General [inaudible], is the Observer of Palestine [inaudible] of Hamas, which gets you into trouble when you say that -- not into trouble -- but gets into the sensitivities of the political contacts that you said [inaudible].  You are [inaudible].

Spokesman:  I’d have to ask.  He’d follow whatever is on the credential letter and I’ll look at the credential letter for you.

Question:  Just to clarify, are UN senior officials having any contact at all with the Permanent Observer of Palestine?

Spokesman:  We have contacts.  We’ve received letters from them, as we have contacts with every Permanent Mission or Permanent Observer Mission.

Question:   Are they political contacts or are they not characterized as political contacts, those contacts?

Spokesman:  They’re diplomatic contacts in New York.

Question:  There are diplomatic contacts, working contacts --

Spokesman:  Well, I think there’s a difference.  We work with the Permanent Observer Mission here, as they are accredited and recognized by the General Assembly.  And what I was referring to earlier was the contacts on the ground between UN officials on the ground and members of the new Palestinian Government.

Question:  Also apropos this, does this mean that the UN is not having contacts with Hamas leaders or senior officials over there and just working sort of --

Spokesman:  It means that working contacts are --

Question:  You mean like officials who are implementing programmes?

Spokesman:  Exactly.  Whether it means World Health Organization officials meeting with senior Palestinian health officials to deal with the outbreak of the Avian Flu, the bird flu that we’ve seen.  Those contacts, working contacts, which we need to implement the humanitarian programme, whether it’s delivery of humanitarian goods or services, is continuing.

The issue of political contacts, above and beyond the humanitarian assistance, will be dealt with as they arise.

Question:  The Reuters story that we’re referring to here has two key words in it that I guess you’re sort of contradicting.  It says the United Nations has advised, meaning instructions apparently have gone out, its aid agencies to avoid meeting, not just deal with them but avoid meeting them.  So have some sort of set of instructions gone out and is “avoid” thus incorrect?

Spokesman:  You’re quoting, I think, an unnamed official.  I’m trying to bring clarity.  So, as far as you’ve asked me for the Secretary-General’s position, I think I’ve given that to you.

Question:  The way the Palestinian Observer presents it is basically you’re punishing the Palestinian people for voting in a democratic process.  How is it not punishing the Palestinian people?

Spokesman:  What I’ve, I think, the message that I’ve tried to explain through what I’ve said in the last couple of minutes is that the working contacts to ensure that the aid we deliver, the services that we provide –- humanitarian services –- will continue, so we can make sure that aid gets to the Palestinian people.

Question:  Since diplomatic contacts are not yet to be considered, how’s just considering rather than conducting them, how’s that not punishing the Palestinian people for voting...?

Spokesman:  Well, I think, what we’re trying to ensure is that the aid, the humanitarian aid and the humanitarian services to the Palestinian people, gets delivered.  And that’s the focus of our work.

Question:  So you’re saying political contacts might continue under the circumstances?

Spokesman:  Political contacts will be dealt with as they arise.

Question:  So if they’re related to humanitarian --

Spokesman:  The first part, what I said, is that working contacts on humanitarian issues will continue to make sure that we can deliver our services, and we can deliver the aid.

On the political issue, above and beyond the humanitarian, those will be dealt with as they arise.

Question:  Can you give us a circumstance under which political contacts --

Spokesman:  Not until they arise.  I mean these are contacts that would have to not -- would not be related -– they would be political contacts not related to the humanitarian issues.

Question:  The Reuters story, which says there’s an advisory sent out to aid agencies to avoid meeting Hamas officials.  Presumably those aid agencies don’t have political contacts because they’re aid agencies.  Therefore, are you denying the Reuters story that there’s been an advisory by the UN?

Spokesman:  I’m not aware of the advisory.  What I’m telling you is that working contacts for all UN officials with the new Palestinian Government will continue to ensure the continuation of delivery of aid and assistance.

Hold on, let --

Question:  In the Secretary-General’s view, aid agencies should not avoid working with Hamas officials.

Spokesman:  What I’m saying is that they should not -– they should continue to work with whatever Palestinian officials they need to work with to make sure that the programme of assistance and humanitarian [aid] goes through.

Question:  Can I then ask.  Are you reducing the relationship to a working relationship now?  Because you’re making a clear distinction between working contacts and the issue of political contacts.

Spokesman:  Yes.

Question:  What is the meaning of that?

Spokesman:  The meaning is that the contacts, the working contacts with the Palestinian Government will continue.

Question:  But that’s not my question.  I asked you about political contacts.

Spokesman:  The issue of political contacts will be dealt with as they arise.

Question:  What does that mean?

Spokesman:  That means it will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis as they arise.

Question:  Which was not the case before Hamas was elected?

Spokesman:  That is correct.

Question:  So, that means you have a new position towards your political contacts with the Palestinian people.

Spokesman:  You have to also look at the political picture and that the Secretary-General, along with the Quartet, have not backed down or he’s not changed his position on the call to the Palestinian Government on the political issues of recognizing Israel, adopting a policy of non-violence, and accepting the previous agreements, including the Road Map.

Question:  But then the Secretary-General also had said that he wants the Palestinian democratic choice to be respected.  There’s a clear contradiction between that position and what you just stated.

Spokesman:  That is your interpretation of the contradiction.  I do not believe there’s a contradiction.  And furthermore, the Secretary-General, as I’ve said before, he has been working the phones with his Quartet partners to try to set up a Quartet meeting so that the political decisions can also be taken with the other Quartet partners.

Question:  One last point for me, please.  When was this new position taken by the United Nations?

Spokesman:  This is a position that has been evolving since the election of the Hamas Government.

Yes, Bill?  You’ve had your hand up for a while.

Question:  It’s been evolving, but it’s been expressed internally from the Secretary-General downward to the relevant players, when?

Spokesman:  As I said, I’m not aware –- I can check –- of any circular or specific order.  I think there’s been a lot of confusion among UN officials on the ground as to what sort of contacts, at which level they could have with the new ... with the Hamas Government.  We’re trying to bring some clarity to it, which is saying that, as far as we’re concerned, the working contacts on the programme of assistance should continue.

Question:  So, basically what it amounts to is that your statement today concerning the political contacts amounts to the announcement of a new policy, unless there’s been some internal memo to that effect.

Spokesman:  It’s a policy that has been evolving since the election of the new --

Question:  When has that policy been crystallized and communicated to the relevant parties?

Spokesman:  I don’t have an exact date of when -- I can see if I can get you more details.

Question:  Just to try and understand again what this formulation means.  In the previous case, what in practice would have been a political contact between the UN and the Palestinians, that now is no longer allowed?

Spokesman:  I’m not saying it is no longer allowed, I’m saying it would… the issue --

Question:  But now it’s no longer automatically allowed.

Spokesman:  The issue would be dealt with as it arises.  It would be, obviously, senior level meetings not having to do with the programme of assistance, but I can’t speculate until that they arise.

Question:  For example, if aid agency workers or officials were invited to a reception given by Hamas there, would UN officials or staff members be allowed to attend something like that?  Is that political?

Spokesman:  I have no guidance on social contacts.  Hold on.  We’re trying to go around here.

Question:  Let me try to maybe step one step backwards, and that is, clearly this policy that you’re articulating is designed to pressure Hamas to agree to those preconditions that were laid out by the Quartet.  But, its seems that, instead of putting pressure on Hamas, the pressure is on those who designed the policy, because the policy is not all that clear.  It has dualities in it that, at least we in this room, find difficult to understand.  So, in order to pressure Hamas to accept those preconditions, wouldn’t it be better to articulate a clear policy -- we’re -- A, B, C or continue with this --

Spokesman:  What is clear, is that, while the Secretary-General is clear on his call on the Government to recognize Israel, these three conditions I had said before, which the Quartet has laid out -- recognition of Israel, adopting a policy of non-violence and accepting previous agreements, including the Road Map, one would not want to be in a situation where Palestinian people, who need the humanitarian assistance, be punished.

Question:  I don’t see how they can help but be punished.  UNRWA doesn’t function without the Palestinian health ministry.

Spokesman:  That’s exactly what I’m saying, is that the working contacts with Palestinian Government officials, with people in the ministries, will continue to ensure that aid keeps flowing.

Question:  But if money doesn’t go to these ministries through the US or the EU, then it doesn’t keep flowing.  It seems to be a big mess and the UN will get the blame.

Spokesman:  As I had said earlier, for example, WHO had high-level contacts with the Palestinian health ministry, recently, on the issue of the avian flu, because it was needed for our delivery of services.

Question:  A couple of questions here.  Alvaro de Soto.  What are his instructions now?  You have a new policy, you have a representative there.

Spokesman:  The instructions are working contacts with the Palestinian Government on humanitarian issues, to make sure the programme of assistance continues, will go on, and that the issue of political contacts will be dealt with, as they arise.

Question:  So, Alvaro de Soto would have to ask the Secretary-General if he can speak to any minister?

Spokesman:  I think it’s not a matter, an issue, of getting a permission chit.  It is an issue of these things being discussed.  Mr. de Soto represents the Secretary-General.  Obviously he would not… one would hope that he and any of the senior officials that represent the Secretary-General would not do anything that the Secretary-General would not want them to do.  But, he is free to meet with whomever he chooses.  As a United Nations official, he is free to meet with whomever the Secretary-General either asks him to meet or gives him permission to meet.  If Mr. de Soto has questions, no doubt he will talk to officials there.

But there are two sets of contacts here.  There are working contacts to make sure that humanitarian aid --

Question:  But that’s not his job [inaudible].

Spokesman:  It is partly his job.  Raghida, it is partly --

Question:  I’m sorry --

Spokesman:  No, I’m sorry.  It is partly his job.  He is the UN coordinator in the Middle East, which means he coordinates all the agencies that work in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  And, he is also the Secretary-General’s personal representative on the ground.  The working contacts for humanitarian issues will continue.  Political contacts will be dealt with, as they arise, and I will not speculate as to when and how they may arise.

Question:  But de Soto is no longer… he no longer has the title of the Secretary-General’s representative to the peace process anymore.  You just described him as the coordinator.

Spokesman:  His mandate has not changed.  OK?  You, as well as I, can look and get the exact wording of his mandate.  His mandate has not changed.

Question:  Does UNRWA report to de Soto, because that’s the main coordinator of the aid?

Spokesman:  Well, they do work with Mr. de Soto.

Question:  It’s the first time I’ve heard he coordinates any aid.  [Inaudible].

Spokesman:  He’s the UN coordinator on the ground.

Question:  [Inaudible] what Roed-Larsen used to do.  Is that what de Soto is now doing?

Spokesman:  He has the same mandate.  Obviously, the situation on the ground is not exactly the same as when Mr. Larsen had the job.  But, you know, I don’t know how many ways I can explain this.  There are two types of contacts.  The working contacts on humanitarian issues will continue, to make sure that the aid and the assistance will go through.  And, the issue of political contacts will be dealt with, as they arise.

Question:  Is it the case that, previously, at some point prior to the elections, political contacts could be made by an official, such as de Soto, without seeking permission of the Secretary-General, but now, before initiating a political contact, he would call the Secretary-General and say, “I’m going to do this.  What do you think”?

Spokesman:  The Secretary-General talks to all his representatives on the ground, as needed and, if they feel they need guidance from the Secretary-General, they will, I’m sure they will –-

Question:  You didn’t answer the question.  Was it the policy previously that officials, such as de Soto, would have to seek permission?  You just used the word “permission”.

Spokesman:  Obviously, as I said before, the situation before and after the election is not the same.

Question:  OK.  The change is, now, an official, such as de Soto, would seek permission of the Secretary-General.  Before he didn’t have to, correct?

Spokesman:  Of course.  Because you had a different Government that had a different policy.  Yes, Mark?

Question:  I just want to get this straight.  Is this a downgrading of the UN’s political relationship with the Palestinians?

Spokesman:  As I said, the issue of political contacts will be dealt with, as they arise.  It’s a different --

Question:  Is this the same or is it a downgrade?

Spokesman:  There’s a different situation on the ground, and the way we interact with the actors on the ground is obviously different.  Yes, Raghida?

Question:  What does it… can you say this in a way that I can understand it, in order to be able to translate it and write it?  When you say the issue of political contacts will be dealt with, as it arises, what does that mean?

Spokesman:  That means, if there is a need for a political contact at a high level, the decision whether or not to have that contact will be dealt with as that request comes in.

Question:  [Inaudible] the other end of this.  One side of the equation is you don’t want to deal with the Palestinians because they have not adhered to the three conditions.  The other is, you don’t want to hurt them by stopping the aid from flowing.  My question is, why not?

Spokesman:  Why not what?

Question:  Why not hurting them on that side?  They have voted for people who don’t want to agree to those pre-conditions.  Fine.  Not on my dime.

Spokesman:  We’re not in the business of hurting people.

Question:  Right.  So, what are you going to do if there’s a need for contacts?  Let’s just suppose that some ministers who are a result of the elections need to make contacts with you.  You would just say, “Hold on, we’ll check with Kofi Annan if he says “permission granted”?  How do you do that?

Spokesman:  Well, that situation will be dealt with as it arises.  People are on the phone between Headquarters and the field all the time.

Question:  [inaudible].  There’s an absolute inherent contradiction between Kofi Annan saying -- we respect the election result, we respect the Palestinian’s democratic choice, and on the other hand saying, no we don’t, because the situation on the ground has changed due to this election.  Can you square the circle here for me?  I don’t understand this.

Spokesman:  What I’m saying is that, on the political contacts with a Government that, as far as the Secretary-General is concerned, still needs to adopt the three points that I’ve elaborated a number of times here.  Those contacts will be dealt with as they arise, as the requests arise.

Question:  [Inaudible] -- the points now are preconditioned.

Spokesman:  No, it’s not a condition.  It is not a condition.  It is not a condition.  It’s a fluid situation, it is not a condition.  What I’m saying is that the issue of political contacts will be dealt with as they arise.

Question:  And as far as the United Nations is concerned right now, the political contacts for the moment are absolutely, focused solely on the President of the Palestinian Authority.  Right?

Spokesman:  No.  The issue of political contacts with whatever actor in the Palestinian Government we’re talking about.

Question:  Including Hamas?

Spokesman:  Including the ministers, exactly.

Question:  So, there is now, how is that not -- how does that really fit in with the change of policy?  You have just told us that there was a change of policy, earlier, for the last half an hour --

Spokesman:  What I’m saying is that if there is a need for political contact between a UN official and a member of the new Palestinian Government, that will be dealt with as it arises.  That’s all I’m saying.

Question:  Was this different attitude toward the Palestinian Government done in consultation with other Member States?

Spokesman:  This is the UN’s position.

Question:  It’s about a different resident coordinator.  The representative to Uzbekistan, Fikret Akcura, he just released a report lauding the country for its progress on the Millennium Development Goals.  At the same time, the UNHCR is getting thrown out of the country.  What is the relation between the two, or to tie into this, does someone like Mr. Akcura check -– what’s the relationship between the Development Goals and throwing UNHCR out of the country?

Spokesman:  I haven’t seen the statement.  We can go upstairs, we can look at it.

Correspondent:  What are the types of contacts by someone like him in Uzbekistan to Headquarters, before he speaks or meets people?

Spokesman:  As I said, I have not seen the statement.

Question:  Mr. Ashraf Qazi.  First of all, do you know where he is at the moment?  And secondly, I heard that he refused to be questioned by investigators during this current investigation that is going on of the UNAMI mission.

Spokesman:  No.  That is false.

Question:  Do you know where he is?

Spokesman:  I do not know where he is.

[The Spokesman’s Office later announced that Mr. Qazi was in the UNAMI mission area, which includes Iraq, Amman and Kuwait.]

Question:  [Inaudible] investigation?

Spokesman:  My understanding is that it’s being done by OIOS.

Question:  Which part of the OIOS?

Spokesman:  That I don’t know.  You’d have to ask them.

Question:  Is anybody being investigated in that investigation so far in terms of suspensions?

Spokesman:  It’s, as I said, these are allegations that are being looked into by OIOS.

Question:  [Inaudible].

Spokesman:  That is, I don’t know.  I don’t know.

Question:  Is the UN concerned about the Iranian President’s [inaudible] remarks about achievements in uranium enrichment?

Spokesman:  No, I have not seen those remarks.  I mean, the Secretary-General has said repeatedly -- calls on the need for Iran to respect its obligations under the IAEA and the safeguards agreement.  I think our focus now is on the actions of Mr. ElBaradei, who is on his way to Iran to make sure Iran understands what is required for compliance.

Question:  Was the IAEA present in uranium work done as part of [inaudible] observation?

Spokesman:  I think you’d have to check with them.

Question:  Where is Serge Brammertz at the moment?  Is he in Damascus?

Spokesman:  Serge Brammertz.  I do not have an exact location.  He is continuing his work.

Question:  Has there been a meeting [inaudible].

Spokesman:  As I said, we basically, they inform us of what, if anything, we need to announce.  But I know he’s kept a low media profile, but he’s going on in his work.

Thank you very much.
* *** *

For information media • not an official record



Tuesday, April 11, 2006  




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