26 March 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, everybody.  I would like to welcome you to the noon briefing.


**Guest


And also welcome our guest, Anthony Ohemeng-Boamah, who is the newly appointed Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Guinea.  He will be taking the floor shortly.


Before we start that part of the briefing, I just wanted to mention three points.


**Secretary-General’s Statement on START Agreement


The Secretary-General has just issued a statement on the arms deal that has been agreed between the United States of America and the Russian Federation.  I will just read it out for you:


“I welcome the conclusion of negotiations between the Russian Federation and the United States of America on a successor agreement to the Treaty on the Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (START).  It is an important milestone for the international efforts to advance nuclear disarmament and to achieve a world free of nuclear weapons.  I congratulate President Medvedev and President Obama on this accomplishment and commend their leadership.


“I believe that this achievement will add a significant impetus to the upcoming Review Conference of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.  I hope that this new treaty can be ratified without delay so as to allow its expeditious implementation.  I further hope that the Russian Federation and the United States will continue their efforts in the pursuit of additional measures to reduce and eliminate all nuclear weapons.  I encourage other nuclear-weapon States to follow suit.”


**Secretary-General in Libya


The Secretary-General has now arrived in Sirte, Libya, to participate in the summit of the League of Arab States.  And he will shortly be meeting with President Mahmoud Abbas.  As he told you earlier this week, while he is in Sirte, the Secretary-General will meet with Arab leaders to encourage and facilitate their support for proximity talks between the Israelis and Palestinians.


He is also going to meet today with the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States, Amr Moussa.  And then on Saturday, he will address the leaders gathered for the summit, and will discuss, among other things, his recent visit to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory and last week’s meeting of the Quartet in Moscow.


The Secretary-General is aware of the reports coming out of the region about clashes near the Gaza Strip.  We are trying to find out more details.  We do not have more details at the moment, but he is aware of those reports as he goes into a meeting with President Abbas of the Palestinian Authority.


** Republic of Korea


He is also aware of news reports coming out of the Republic of Korea about a South Korean navy ship that, according to those reports, is sinking.  He is aware of those reports and we are urgently trying to find out more details about exactly what is happening.


**Human Rights Council Ends


The thirteenth session of the Human Rights Council ended today in Geneva.  The Council’s President, Mr. Alex Van Meeuwen, spoke to the press afterwards and highlighted the constructive spirit which led to the adoption of 29 resolutions during the session.  Of those 29 resolutions, a majority of them ‑‑ 20 ‑‑ were adopted by consensus.  And you can find out more about those resolutions on the Council’s website.


** Haiti Update


A few updates from Haiti.  According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, some 200 families have moved into the first transitional site, Santo 17, set up for the relocation of populations in sites prioritized for decongestion.  And to date, over 74 per cent of the 1.3 million people in need of shelter have received emergency materials.


The World Food Programme (WFP) is now working with the Government and other partners to support a longer term food strategy which focuses on investing in Haiti’s human capital, boosting local agricultural production, supporting local markets and providing safety nets for the most vulnerable.  The Programme is also preparing for the hurricane season, by pre-positioning food, trucks and other supplies in various regions.


So, I am happy to take questions.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Recently, the Secretary-General declared that all Israeli settlements are illegal.  Prime Minister Netanyahu in a speech last week, or a few days ago in Washington, D.C., declared also that Jerusalem is not a settlement; it is the indivisible capital of Israel.  So, we have the UN declaring that the settlements that are being built in Jerusalem are illegal and the Prime Minister saying that is not the case.  Is the UN going to take a position to recommend to the international community that perhaps it is time to impose sanctions on Israel to get Israel to desist from its illegal activity?


Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General has been very clear in what he said about the nature of settlements and how the international community regards those.  Any further actions along the lines that you are suggesting would be a matter for the Security Council.  Any other questions?


Question:  The Secretary-General’s speech [inaudible] involved Iran and the issue of Iran in the discussion about the Middle East.  Will there be a pattern that would be repeated in the future or is it just a one-off occasion?


Spokesperson:  What do you mean ‑‑ the reference to Iran?


Question:  Yes, about the nuclear programme.


Spokesperson:  Well, what he has said ‑‑ and he has been very clear about this ‑‑ is that in the region, as you well know, there are dynamics at work.  Not simply what is happening involving Israelis and Palestinians, but there is a wider set of dynamics to the region, including serious, deep concern that the Secretary-General and many others have expressed about the nature of Iran’s nuclear programme and the desire of the international community to see Iran explain, to the satisfaction of the international community and the International Atomic Energy Agency, the peaceful nature of their nuclear programme.


Question:  Is there a particular reason he did not mention, for example, the nuclear programme of Israel and the nuclear warheads they possess?  Is this not a matter of concern to the international community?


Spokesperson:  I am telling you why he has mentioned Iran and the dynamics that go with that.  There are complicated dynamics in the region that people are perfectly well aware of.  This also falls into the kind of discussions that need to be held, that the Secretary-General has when he talks to people in the region.


Question:  I mean, why did he ignore the Israeli nuclear programme?


Spokesperson:  I did not say he ignored it.  I am answering you in the way that I did.


Question:  There is an interview that the Secretary-General gave with Al Hayat about… there are portions about President Bashir ‑‑ that he would not meet with him unless “absolutely necessary”.  But particularly it seemed to be quoting him as saying that he is not in favour of any postponement of the Sudanese election.  Something the opposition parties there requested and the Carter Center has said that ‑‑ and I believe that the UN in a background briefing has said ‑‑ that 11 April would be would very difficult to accomplish.  So, what does he mean by no postponement?  He believes it absolutely should be held on 11 April?


Spokesperson:  Read out the exact quote.


Question:  Okay:  “I understand that elections could be postponed for a short period of time, but why should be made to postpone the month of November?  I am not sure it can properly [be] arranged at that time.”  So I am asking, I guess there are some words missing there, but…


Spokesperson:  Yes, there are some words missing.  I read that, too, and there are some words missing in that transcript.  What I think is clear is, as we have said before and has been said from here, there are fairly considerable technical challenges to delivering that election for the Government that is in the driving seat on this, and for those who are providing technical assistance.  It is a considerable undertaking.  What I think he is suggesting there is that, if there is a delay, it does not mean that it will be any easier should there be a delay to deliver at a later date.  I think that is all he is saying.


Question:  You mentioned the Republic of Korea.  I understand that you do not yet have the facts on the sinking ship.  I wanted to know, even prior to the reports of the sinking ships, there were these reported threats by DPRK of the use of nuclear weapons on South Korea and the US.  I am just wondering did he note that and does he have any response?


Spokesperson:  Those kinds of comments are not new.  The DPRK, its media have made comments along those lines in the past.  I think the key point there is to look beyond rhetoric and simply to restate that increased rhetoric does not help in trying to solve the tensions that there evidently are on the Korean peninsula.


Question:  You said that the SG is trying to encourage the Arabs, Mahmoud Abbas, to go to the proximity talks.  But it is obvious that Israel is challenging those possible talks.  Would the Secretary-General recommend any further reaction from the United Nations regarding Israel’s challenging position?  This is one.  And second, I wonder whether you have any update of the SG’s Lebanese bodyguard who was denied a visa to Libya?


Spokesperson:  On the first question, the Secretary-General has repeatedly said that these proximity talks come at a crucial time and that they are not an end in themselves.  They are a route, a path to direct negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians on all the topics that those talks need to cover.  He has also said that any action in the region specifically involving Israelis and Palestinians that increases tension needs to be avoided.  And he has appealed repeatedly for calm and he does so in the present circumstances amid reports of clashes which we are still trying to clarify exactly what happened.  But, he appeals for calm and restraint at this time.  It is a critical time.


To answer your second question ‑‑ if it is true that the security guard, the close protection officer was not allowed to receive a visa from the Libyan authorities, then we would certainly raise it officially and we would put out a disagreement with that on the record.


Question:  Could you please tell us about the United Nations commission looking into the murder of Benazir Bhutto?  Is it on time?  Is it going to deliver the report?  And is it possible for Ambassador Muñoz to come and brief us after this report is released?  Because this report is expected.  In Pakistan, there is much expectation.  So, is it on time or is it going to be delayed?  Do you have any idea?


Spokesperson:  It is on time.  It is on time and we are actively seeking the participation of Ambassador Muñoz to brief you on that at the appropriate time.


Question:  The appropriate time meaning after the 31st or the 1st?


Spokesperson:  At the appropriate time.  We are working on it.  But the submission of the report is on track.


Question:  I see.  So the report will be first submitted to the Secretary-General, he will give it to the Security Council, and then we will get information?


Spokesperson:  The sequencing is something that we are looking into, but rest assured that we are perfectly well aware of the interest in Pakistan and well beyond Pakistan’s borders in the work of the commission.  And we are obviously keen that those who have been working on it can be available to speak to you and others, too.


Question:  I had a conversation yesterday with someone, a representative of the YéleFoundation Haiti.  He told me that things are pretty dire down there and I said I need to confirm that.  And what you told me just now is not too encouraging.  You were saying that, in preparation for the hurricane season, food trucks are going to be pre-positioned wherever, so that the 1.2 million people who are displaced, homeless, and living in tents could be able to access the food.  What is being done in terms of preparing and providing housing that can protect these people from the torrential rains and possibly mudslides that will ensue as a result of the hurricane?


Spokesperson:  I know that you have heard various people sitting here, or on the video screen from Port-Au-Prince, telling you that this is not going to be easy, that the United Nations is working flat out with the Haitian Government and with others to try to ensure that as much as possible is done as quickly as possible to help the people.  And this is being done in a number of ways which I will go into in a second.


But the key point is that nobody within the UN community, within the broader aid community, believes that it is possible to do absolutely everything ‑‑ to have everybody in robust shelter on time.  It is just not physically possible, however much all those people who are working on the ground and all those people that would like to receive that kind of assistance would like that to be the case.


As John Holmes has said, on a number of occasions, there is no magic wand to wave here, as much as we would like it.  What he has mentioned himself is that within camps that will be moved and within other locations, robust, timber structures will be built.  He has explained what they would be like ‑‑ they would be, if you like, an emergency shelter.  So the people who are in tents and other kinds of shelter around those sturdier structures and buildings, they would be able to seek refuge inside them.  So, in other words, there is clearly no possibility to provide everybody with secure, hurricane-proof housing or shelter by the time of the deadline that is fast approaching.  But what the UN and the broader aid community working together are trying to do is to provide secure shelters that people can seek refuge in.  No one is saying that that is ideal, but it is certainly the aim to try to do that as quickly as possible to have it in place in time for the hurricane season.


Question:  How many people will benefit from that based on the information you have, out of the 1.4 million who have been displaced?


Spokesperson:  I do not have those figures with me right now, but I know someone who will have those figures on Monday.  Edmond Mulet, and indeed Helen Clark, will be here at noon on Monday to brief you.  Edmond Mulet, obviously, will be coming right from the spot and can bring the latest information with him.  But I do not have it with me right now.


Question:  I have questions on WFP and then something in-house.  Beyond the issues in Somalia, there is a large Newsweek piece focusing on an array of issues that the World Food Programme, particularly the one that jumped out at me is Ethiopia, where it says that 12 per cent of food aid directed in the Ogaden region actually reaches the people it was intended for.  I just wonder, even though I understand WFP has its own governing board; it is part of the UN system.  And given the importance of that, as a part of the UN system’s humanitarian efforts, what does the Secretary-General think of these events at WFP?  Beyond the Somalia matter, is he thinking of trying to address this or investigate it or take any action on this?


Spokesperson:  First of all, WFP, as you have rightly said, has its own management structure and it has been clear and vocal on recent news reports on Somalia.  For example, on the monitoring group reports, there was something out there in the media quoting WFP today.  So I do not, from here, wish to prejudge what WFP may wish to say on its own behalf.  I would urge you to speak to Bettina, the Spokesperson here in New York for WFP.  She can help you on that, I am sure.


Question:  And I wanted to ask, over in the new North Lawn building there is something called the ICT Computer Technology Resource Centre, in which diplomats of Member States can use the computers or they can borrow a laptop.  It used to be in this building but now it has moved over there.  I was told yesterday that it is going to be closed on Wednesday and it is sort of a cost-cutting move.  And I spoke to some permanent representatives who thought it sort of seems like a strange cost cut, given that it actually helps the diplomats of the Member States.  Is there some way to find out what the basis of this cost-cutting move is and whether Member States were consulted before it took place?


Spokesperson:  I am not aware of that.  I will need to find out precisely whether indeed what you are saying is actually happening or not.  And if it is, then I am sure we will have something to say.


Question:  When you walk by it, it is that little booth right by Conference Room 5.


Spokesperson:  I walk by lots of things, but I am not always looking to see whether they are working or not.


Question:  There was just actually this morning, again in the North Lawn Building ‑‑ it is the hub of activity over there ‑‑ there was kind of an explosive incident, only verbal, in which the Mission of Venezuela said that it was wrong and incorrect that a UN University educational event, held in Conference Room C, in which former Peruvian President Toledo spoke on a variety of issues, but specifically criticized President Chavez and Venezuela a number of times in his speech.  They rushed into the room and said that this was wrong and they had a right to reply.  So it made me wonder, and my question is not what you think of Hugo Chavez or Toledo, but what is the relationship between UNU and the United Nations?  Is it a UN event if it held in the North Lawn Building with a UN logo? Or is it an entirely academic event in which a Mission is wrong to say that they had some right to be notified or have a right to reply?


Spokesperson:  Let me find out because I do not know the answer to that, so I would like to find out on any incident, explosive or otherwise.


[The Spokesperson later responded that the United Nations University is part of the United Nations system and enjoys academic freedom, with a goal of encouraging open conversation on issues.]


Question:  Just quickly, back to Haiti.  So you mentioned that 200 families have already been moved to the relocation camps.  Do we know who has been deciding who gets to move where and what are the criteria that are being used to make that decision?


Spokesperson:  Well, the prioritizing is being done by the relevant people who deal with the housing cluster which is, as you know, the different activities ‑‑ whether it is to do with water or food or shelter ‑‑ is divided into different groups with different aid agencies working together with the relevant UN agency.  And I would need to check exactly which one that is, but it would be done through that channel, obviously in consultation with the Haitian authorities.


Question:  The reason why I was asking that is because IOM [International Organization for Migration] and UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund] people, who are partially in charge of that cluster, were saying they were waiting for the Haitian Government decision on this.  And they were saying this just a few days ago and there are some concerns in the camps that that process is going to be politicized somehow, or that preferences will be given, not necessarily following the criteria of safety or urgency.  So I was wondering if there was any concern about that here, too.


Spokesperson:  The UN and its agencies and the different funds and programmes that work on the ground are always striving to be even-handed and to strictly adhere to the guidelines that are laid down for any particular operation.  And if prioritizing is intended to help those that are the most vulnerable, then that will certainly be the focus.


I wish you a good weekend.  Thank you.


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