11 February 2010
Spokesperson's Noon Briefing

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

Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

 


The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Martin Nesirky, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.


Good afternoon.


**Press Conference


Today, immediately following this briefing, UNDP [United Nations Development Programme] will hold a press conference on the International Year of Biodiversity.  So we’ll probably keep this briefing quite short.  Tomorrow at 7:30 a.m., the Secretary-General will hold a joint press conference by video conference with Prime Minister Gordon Brown of the United Kingdom and Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia.  And that press conference will take place here, in this auditorium.  And then at 11:15 a.m. tomorrow, UNESCO [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization] will hold a press conference here, to launch their report, Education under Attack.  And at 3 p.m. tomorrow, John Holmes, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, along with Rebeca Grynspan, the Assistant Administrator and Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean for UNDP, will be able to brief you on the situation in Haiti.


**Security Council


Dmitry Titov, the Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, briefed the Security Council this morning in an open meeting on the Secretary-General’s latest report on Sudan.  That reports focuses mainly on the Darfur region and the work of the UN-African Union mission there (UNAMID).


Titov told Council members that Sudan has reached a critical juncture and will face enormous challenges in the coming year.  These include the April national elections and next year’s planned referendum on the self-determination of Southern Sudan.  Titov added that in such a context, the democratic transformation of Sudan at the national level requires urgent resolution of key issues in Darfur, including real progress in the Doha peace negotiations and cessation of military activities in the region.


After the open briefing, the Council went into consultations on the same subject.  And we have the full text of Titov’s remarks in my office.


**Iraq


Ad Melkert, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, encouraged Iraq’s political leaders today to safeguard the integrity of the democratic process as campaigning for elections begins.


Melkert said that each institution involved in the process must be accorded its full authority under the constitution, without political interference.  He added that the consolidation of democracy in Iraq will depend on the willingness of Iraq's political leaders to collectively ensure a transparent, peaceful election.


And we have a press release with more details.  Melkert will be in New York next week to brief the Security Council on the Secretary-General’s latest report on Iraq, which recently went to Council members.


**Secretary-General’s Senior Manager Compact Signing


A casualty of yesterday’s snowstorm was the Secretary-General’s signing ceremony of annual performance compacts with his senior managers for the year 2010.


As part of the Secretary-General’s bid to increase the accountability of individual managers and their decisions, the Secretary-General signs compact agreements with each of his senior managers that are available for all staff to see on the UN Intranet.  They set clear objectives for each and every senior manager and department head, for which they are responsible and for which they will be held accountable.


This year’s ceremony has now been rescheduled for tomorrow morning at 8:30 a.m., in Conference Room B in the Temporary North Lawn Building.  And the press are invited to attend.


**Name Issue


I was asked a question the other day about Ambassador [Matthew] Nimetz and I can tell you the following:  that, at the invitation of the Governments of Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, the Personal Envoy of the Secretary-General relating to the name issue, Matthew Nimetz, will travel to the region later this month.  Ambassador Nimetz will meet with officials in Skopje on 23-24 February and with officials in Athens on 26 February.


So that’s what I have for you.  Questions?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  The negotiations, or informal talks, between Morocco and [Frente] Polisario started yesterday in Westchester.  I was just wondering if there is any readout of the first day of the meetings; anything coming out of the first day?


Spokesperson:  No readout at this point, but I think that my colleague Jared Kotler from the Department of Political Affairs has been in touch with those correspondents who are interested in covering this event, with a possible opportunity to have access to the site.  So I would urge you to take a look at that.  But no readout at the moment.


Question:  I was wondering, the Special Envoy on human rights for Myanmar will be going to Myanmar on 5 February, and he was supposed to go in November.  I was just wondering if the UN has any information why was that trip postponed, and exactly what you are expecting him to accomplish now?


Spokesperson:  I am not aware of why it was postponed, if indeed it was.  I’ll find out for you.


Question:  Also on Myanmar, there are these reports of the Government there making incursions into the Karen-held areas, burning villages, attacking medical services that are being offered.  So I’m wondering, I understand Mr. [Tomas Ojea] Quintana is going with whatever his programme is.  But is the UN Secretariat aware of those reports?  And there are also reports of the Government now denying again visas to workers going into the Nargis-affected areas.  Is the UN aware of either of those two things and what is it doing about them?


Spokesperson:  It’s possible that the UN is aware.  I’m personally not aware.  But, I’ll see if I can find out who else inside the Organization is following this and knows something about it.


Question:  And I also wondered, there has been a report that on Mr. [B. Lynn] Pascoe’s and Kim Won-soo’s and two others’ visit to North Korea, that a verbal message was brought as well as “a gift”.  This has been in a wire service report.  Can you confirm that?  What type of a gift was brought by Mr. Pascoe?


Spokesperson:  It’s funny, Matthew, I thought you might ask that.  So the gift, this is a standard UN, and indeed diplomatic, protocol, that gifts are given on such visits.  And this was a leather-bound copy of the United Nations Charter in all six official languages.


Question:  In the verbal message, you’re not going to characterize…?


Spokesperson:  I’m not, no.


Question:  Right, right.  Okay.  That’s fine.  But, can I ask one other thing?  You’ve provided…


Spokesperson:  Well, how about asking to see if there is anybody else, anyone else with questions and then I will come back to you, Matthew?


Correspondent:  No problem.


Spokesperson: Okay.  I think I recognize Richard at the back there.  You’re always lurking at the back, Richard.  Why is that?


Question:  I don’t know.  I was going to ask what Matthew was going to ask; I hope you aren’t going to say you figured I was going to ask that.  North Korea put up a little bit of hype and fanfare that it was a verbal message and a gift.  We understand it’s diplomatic protocol, but is there any other information you could tell as about the exchange or what was verbally said by the UN leader, by Mr. Pascoe?  Was there an offer about a visit by the Secretary-General?


Spokesperson:  Not at this point, I can’t give you a readout.  As I have mentioned a number of times, Mr. Pascoe and the other three members of the delegation will be in Pyongyang until Friday -- so until tomorrow.  They will then be leaving Pyongyang to go to Beijing, where they will be briefing the press.  They will also brief the press in Seoul and Tokyo before coming back here, and they will speak to you here as well.  And at that point, if you haven’t heard from the other three briefings what it is you wish to hear, then you will be able to ask it here too.


Question:  Thanks.  Yesterday your office provided a readout of the Secretary-General’s call with the President of Sri Lanka…


Spokesperson:  That’s right.


Question:  …Mr. [Mahinda] Rajapaksa.  I definitely appreciate that readout, but I wanted to -- the Government itself, several hours before you offered that readout, put out its own readout, and their headline on the Government website is:  “Ban Ki-moon congratulates President on victory”.  And in a six-paragraph readout they don’t mention Mr. [Sarath] Fonseka or any… It’s really like sort of cognitive dissonance, the two readouts.  Is it fair to… Does the UN have any issue with the gloss that the Government put on the call, that it was essentially a congratulatory one, and that the UN is happy with the Government’s performance, which has, since this announcement, included tear gassing of non-violent protests in the streets and a threatened five-year sentence to Mr. Fonseka?  What’s the response to that?


Spokesperson:  Well, you sort of answered your own question at the beginning:  that Governments will characterize messages, phone calls as they see fit.  We’ve characterized and explained what happened in that phone call, and not least that the Secretary-General very specifically brought up the arrest of General Fonseka, and that he urged the Government to make sure that due process of law was respected, and indeed that the personal safety of General Fonseka was guaranteed.  So that was very clearly said.  I know that the Secretary-General told me that personally in giving a readout on the telephone call.  And I don’t think that I would want to go further in characterizing what the Government of Sri Lanka says about the phone call from its perspective.  We’ve said what we believe we wanted to say about the phone call that was made on the initiative of the Secretary-General.


Question:  Just one follow-up:  If the global media coverage of the call ends up covering more -- let’s say I understand that the Government is sovereign ‑‑ but at some point, if they’re portraying it as the Secretariat is congratulating them as they do the things that have been discussed, I’ve seen situations in which the Secretariat has said Sudan’s characterization is incorrect.  They did it to Zimbabwe at one time.  So, I guess, at what point… You are satisfied with this [interrupted]?


Spokesperson:  Matthew, that is not what I said.  I didn’t say I was satisfied.  So don’t put words into my mouth.  What I said was that I am not going to characterize what the Government of Sri Lanka has said from its point of view about the phone call.  We’ve said, and made very clear, the points that we want to make.  And that’s where I think I want to leave it.  Okay.


Question:  Can I follow up?


Spokesperson:  Yes.


Question:  Thank you.  Martin, just in addition to what Matthew just said, how concerned are you actually, are you at all, taking in regard the monitoring system that you obviously have in place, that this congratulatory note -- it’s a rather philosophical answer that I’m seeking actually from you -- can be somehow used from the Government when the officials, higher officials, meet the Secretary-General and then they go back and use it for the purpose of the election year, let’s say, and anything else?


Spokesperson:  Well, I may be many things, but I am not a philosopher.  And just on this particular topic, I don’t really want to go off and generalize about these things.  On this particular topic, a readout was given, the call was made at the instigation of the Secretary-General, and I think I would leave it there.  The only thing that I would add is that the media coverage that I’ve seen so far has actually been rather balanced in taking the readout that the Secretary-General or we have provided on the call, and the readout from the Government.  That’s what good journalists do.


Question:  There was supposed to be a meeting today between the Secretary-General and the Defence Minister of Lebanon.  Is it re-scheduled or is it cancelled because of weather…?


Spokesperson:  I think, as I understand it, it’s because of the weather.  I don’t think that the Defence Minister has arrived yet in New York.  Whether it’s being re-scheduled or not, I don’t know at this stage.  [He later said the meeting was re-scheduled for Friday morning.]


Yes, other questions?  Otherwise, we’ll hand over to UNDP.  All right, thank you very much.  Thank you.


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For information media • not an official record