22 December 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 Farhan Haq, Acting Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.


Good afternoon.


**Security Council


Staffan de Mistura, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, briefed the Security Council on developments in that country this morning.  He said that all sides, including the Taliban, realize that there is no military solution, and he described UN support for reconciliation efforts in Afghanistan.


And de Mistura congratulated the Afghan people and authorities for the holding of the September elections, and recognized the diligent, committed and intense work done by Afghanistan’s elections commissions.  He said the commissions had worked to remove the cases of fraud that they detected.


Earlier, the Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution authorizing the member States of the African Union to maintain the deployment until 30 September 2011 of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).


The Council also unanimously renewed the mandate of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) for a period of six months, until 30 June 2011.


And by a 14 to zero vote with 1 abstention, the Security Council established the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals and requested the Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda to take all possible measures to expeditiously complete all their remaining work by no later than 31 December 2014.


** C ôte d’Ivoire


The Secretary-General briefed the General Assembly on Côte d’Ivoire yesterday afternoon in an informal meeting.  He said that there was a real risk of a return to civil war and that the international community had to act and act decisively.  The Secretary-General rejected accusations attacking the UN as partial.  This is wrong, he said.


He added that the intention of Laurent Gbagbo and the security forces loyal to him is clearly to blockade the United Nations peacekeeping mission and to suffocate the Government of President-elect Alassane Ouattara.


He called on Member States to prepare to support the Mission to assist with the continued flow of supplies.  The Secretary-General said the role of the UN Mission, UNOCI, was now even more critical for the stability of Côte d’Ivoire and the subregion and that it was essential that it received the full support of all Member States in implementing its mandate effectively.


** Middle East


Robert Serry, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, today condemned the indiscriminate firing of mortars and rockets by militant groups in Gaza at Israel, which has escalated in recent days.  These attacks are in clear violation of international humanitarian law and endanger civilians in Israel.


Serry said that Israel has a right to self-defence consistent with international humanitarian law, but he urged Israel to exercise maximum restraint and take every precaution to ensure that its forces do not endanger civilians in Gaza.  He said that the maintenance of calm is essential to create an environment in which further progress can be made in the interests of the people of both Gaza and Israel.


Earlier today, Maxwell Gaylard, the United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for the Occupied Palestinian Territory, visited the site of a Palestinian home in East Jerusalem which had been demolished just 24 hours earlier, following an order by the relevant authorities of the Government of Israel.  And we have his statement on that demolition available as a press release.


**Secretary-General — Appointment


I have an appointment to announce to you today.  The Secretary-General has appointed Robert Watkins of Canada as Deputy Special Coordinator for Lebanon, where he will also serve as the United Nations Resident Coordinator and UNDP [United Nations Development Programme] Resident Representative.  Mr. Watkins succeeds Marta Ruedas of Spain, who will complete her assignment at the end of the year.  He has served most recently as the Secretary-General’s Deputy Special Representative in Afghanistan.  And we have more information on Mr. Watkins in our Office.


** Iraq


Concerning Iraq, the Secretary-General, in a statement, welcomed the announcement of a new Government in Baghdad, which has been approved by Iraq’s Council of Representatives, and congratulated Nuri al-Maliki on his confirmation as Prime Minister.  This represents a major step forward in Iraq’s democratic progress.


The Secretary-General also congratulated Iraq’s political leaders for their concerted efforts to ensure that the new Government is inclusive, broadly participatory and has the support of the people of Iraq.


And in a press statement, the members of the Security Council also welcomed the formation of a new representative national partnership Government and encouraged its leaders to continue to pursue a federal, democratic, pluralistic and unified Iraq based on the rule of law and respect for human rights.


** Darfur


The UN-African Union mission in Darfur (UNAMID) and its peacekeepers continue to provide protection, as well as water and limited medical assistance, to displaced persons who have been sheltering outside the Mission’s team sites in Khor Abeche and Shangil Tobaya, South Darfur, as a result of the recent outbreak of fighting.  There are now over 3,000 people surrounding the Shangil Tobaya team site.  And the Secretary-General issued a statement on the fighting yesterday afternoon.


** Chad


The Mission in Chad and the Central African Republic (MINURCAT) announced today the official handover of the Mission’s programmes to the Government of Chad and the UN country team.  The handover marks one of the final steps in the shutdown of the Mission, which will be completed on 31 December, in line with the Security Council resolution of May 2010 terminating the Mission’s mandate.


**Press Conference Tomorrow


And last, we will have a press conference tomorrow at 1 p.m.  Ambassador Ruhakana Rugunda, Permanent Representative of Uganda to the United Nations, will hold a press conference upon completion of Uganda’s two-year term in the Security Council.


That’s it from me.  Mr. Abbadi?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Yesterday I raised a couple of questions regarding the developing serious and tense situation in Côte d’Ivoire, and I asked about the thinking of the Secretary-General regarding preventive measures in respect of the staff of the United Nations.  Now the Secretary-General goes further.  He raised the possibility of a civil war in the country.  In that context, two countries, France and Germany, have already asked their citizens in Côte d’Ivoire to leave the country.  Is the Secretary-General thinking of withdrawing at least non-essential staff of the United Nations from the country?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Actually some non-essential staff has already been withdrawn in recent days.  So we’ve taken that measure as a precautionary measure.  However, of course, there is a tremendous need for UN peacekeepers.  So the peacekeepers of UNOCI remain there, and he believes that their continued deployment is essential.  Yes?


QuestionFarhan, after the occupation of land and the making big refugee problems for the Palestinians, the Israelis have moved on to occupy telecommunication systems in the region, first in Lebanon and now in Egypt.  What is the opinion of the Secretary-General on that?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  We have seen the media reports on this.  We have no reaction yet about any of this.  We would need further information and further studying.


Question:  But you received letters from Lebanon on that before, and now shouldn’t there be some kind of investigation, what they are doing and about the legality of such actions?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  At this stage, our Special Coordinator on the ground, Michael Williams, has been in touch with leaders of all the various political factions in Lebanon, and this has been one of the issues he has raised.  But we don’t have any comment to make on this at present.


Question:  Did you receive anything from the Egyptians on the matter?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I am not aware of anything received from the Egyptians, no.  Yes?


Question:  First a follow-up on Côte d'Ivoire.  Yesterday, both in the statement to the General Assembly, the Secretary-General and Mr. [Alain] Le Roy afterwards both referred to the use of non-Ivorian mercenaries by Gbagbo forces.  I just wanted to know, either both more detail on that, but more importantly, what is UNOCI doing about those reports in light of various prohibitions in US, UN statements on the use of mercenaries?  What is the next step?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, we raised this as a matter of concern.  As you know, the Secretary-General raised this as a matter of concern to the General Assembly just yesterday.  Mr. Le Roy has also been raising this.  It’s quite clear that some of the soldiers that we have seen on the ground in Côte d'Ivoire are not conversant in the local languages of the country.  And so we believe that it is a matter of concern that people are being brought in from outside, and we’ll continue to raise this in all our various venues.


Question:  And what is the status of the Secretary-General’s request that the Credentials Committee address these two letters that the Secretary-General received from Mr. Ouattara?  Is that being favourably acted on?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, we’re aware of this.  What I have to say on that is that the two communications from President-elect Ouattara with respect to the credentials of the Côte d’Ivoire delegation have been shared with the Credentials Committee.  The Secretary-General said yesterday that it was important that Member States proceed quickly and decisively to address the credentials issue, so that there will be no confusion as to the views of the international community on this question.  Further to that, the Credentials Committee did have an informal session at 10 a.m., and I was informed recently that the Credentials Committee will resume its session at 3 p.m. this afternoon.


Question:  I just, if you don’t mind, there are these reports of actually pretty serious fighting in South Sudan between the South Sudan Army and forces supportive of former Colonel Athor, and I am wondering what UNMIS [United Nations Mission in Sudan] has to say about this fighting that has reportedly now killed 20 soldiers and what’s UNMIS trying to do to temper down this tension?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  We haven’t received any communications from UNMIS about ColonelAthor specifically, but we’ll check with them whether there is anything to say on that.  Okay, yes?


Question:  On Côte d'Ivoire, are there any contingency plans to evacuate foreigners from Côte d'Ivoire?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  It’s up to different Governments, of course, to deal with questions involving the evacuations of their foreign nationals.  That’s not really a question specifically for the United Nations.  Yes, Masood?


Question:  Despite all that had been said about the Middle East process being dead and gone, buried, does the Secretary-General continue to believe that the Middle East peace process is salvageable and that, at any point in time, the international community can bring the two parties to talk, because it doesn’t seem that way.


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, the Secretary-General does believe that there is a way forward for the Middle East peace process and for talks between the parties.  He has long advocated that.  He believes that there is no other way to resolve this situation other than to have talks on a two-State solution that would result in the establishment of two States, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security.  And he does look forward to discussing how to move forward on this with the members of the Quartet, hopefully next month.


Question:  A follow-up on that.  How does he view the recognition of two countries recently, like Brazil and Argentina and Bolivia, I think?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  That’s not something for us to comment on.  Ultimately, it is up, it is the sovereign right of States to decide which States to recognize.  And so, we leave it to them; to their discretion.


Question:  But does he see it as a positive step or negative one?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Again, this is a matter at the discretion of the specific states; so we leave it to their discretion.  Yes?


Question:  The Secretary-General did receive or see Ambassador Joseph Reed this morning.  What is the subject under discussion?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  He sees him periodically.  As you know, Joseph Verner Reed has had a long history with the United Nations, and he does meet periodically with different Secretaries-General.  There is no specific readout of that meeting.  Yes?


Question:  Sure.  I want to ask about Abkhazia and then two in-house or maybe outhouse matters.  But there is a report that the leader of Abkhazia has duly addressed a formal request to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to facilitate some discussions between Abkhazia and Georgia.  Is that, has the Secretary-General received any such request from Abkhazia?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have any confirmation of that.


Question:  The other… it’s just on yesterday’s events that caused the moving of the youth event and of the GA [General Assembly], what’s really been found?  I guess I was sort of mulling over this idea of sewage.  It doesn’t… the city doesn’t say that there is sewage in the East River and it’s probably not the case that the UN puts its sewage into the river.  So, what, how exactly could a rising tide result in the closure of the building?  I don’t really understand?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t really have any further details on that.  The matter was resolved and over the course of the afternoon, the clean-up did take place.  So all of the activities in the General Assembly Building are going on as per normal as of today.


Question:  Okay, but there is no… we’re not gonna… it can happen again?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson: I don’t have any further details; no, I don’t have any further details on this.

Question:  Okay.  The other one is, I’m sorry, I had asked you yesterday about this, I was just following up on something Jonathan had asked about this NGO [non-governmental organization], IIMSAM [Intergovernmental Institution for the Use of Micro-Algae Spirulina Against Malnutrition], and you had said that no passes were given to the individuals associated with it.  So I became aware of that at least the best known of the IIMSAM people was this guy, Mr. Maradona, this comes off Ambassador Maradona.  So, I just want to get to the bottom of it.  Have you heard any more, because there is a picture that exists of him with a D pass and some are saying that… what is the status?  Can you find out, what type of a pass does Mr. Maradona have, because he clearly worked for an NGO and had a diplomat’s pass?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I can’t speak to Mr. Maradona, but like I said, regarding IIMSAM, we didn’t have any grounds passes issued for them specifically.  And that’s where stand on that right now.


Question:  How can an NGO be accredited to ECOSOC [Economic and Social Council] but has no people that can enter the building?  It seems kind of contradictory, that’s… what’s the point of being accredited?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  No, the explanation I gave, the explanation yesterday, is that no grounds passes have been issued to the representatives of IIMSAM, as no person has been able to confirm that they are the authorized representatives of the organization.


Question:  So, does it just remain accredited but with no representative?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Like I said, that’s the information I have on this.


Question:  On Western Sahara, the Foreign Minister of Morocco asked Ambassador Christopher Ross to go to the region and go beyond the idea of preparing next round and he asked that Ambassador Ross talk to people around the area in order to seek their contribution toward the resolution of the conflict.  Does that imply that Ambassador Ross would talk to the other regional States of the Maghreb?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything about Christopher Ross’ talks with any parties to confirm right now.  Once we have any announcements to make about what the next stage of this process will be, we’ll let you know.


Question:  There is a document, I’ll put it that way, has come out showing the current Special Adviser to the Secretary-General, [Alexander] Downer, having said… having been reported to say of North Korea that the way to solve the problem was “starve them, let it go to hell”.  And I just wonder whether this is something… Is the Secretary-General, is the Secretariat aware of this document and what do they think of it?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I think, as we made clear a few times in the past, Mr. Downer speaks for the UN system on the issue of Cyprus.  His views on other matters do not represent the views of the Organization.


Question:  And just, and also on North Korea, this is probably not Downer-related, but is it possible to find out, in his career, has the Secretary-General ever spoken with Kim Jong-il, and just another country, ever spoken with a leader of Eritrea?  Can we just get a yes or no answer to those?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  The answer to both questions is no.  He has neither spoken to Kim Jong-il nor has he spoken to Isaias Afewerki of Eritrea.  Yes, last one.  Yes?


Question:  As you know, I asked the Secretary-General as to whether he, at his last press conference, whether he would seek a second term; and his answer was that he would announce that early next year.  Do you know how he planned to do that?  Is it through a press conference, a statement or some other means?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  No, I do not.  I suspect we’ll find out early next year.  Have a good afternoon, everyone.


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For information media • not an official record