|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.
**Secretary-General’s Statement on Pakistan
I have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the suicide bombing in Pakistan.
The Secretary-General strongly condemns today’s suicide bombing that killed and injured numerous people at an army recruitment centre in Mardan, Pakistan. He is appalled by the reported use of a minor to commit this terrorist act. The Secretary-General extends his condolences to the families of the victims and to the Government of Pakistan.
The Secretary-General spoke today at the event in commemoration of the Holocaust, saying that we stand together to say “never again” and to speak out against those who would deny the Holocaust and its important lessons for humanity. He added that the list of survivors is shrinking, and we must ensure that the memory of their suffering and endurance never dies.
The Secretary-General said that this year’s observance of the International Holocaust Remembrance Day pays special tribute to the women who suffered in the Holocaust: mothers and daughters, grandmothers, sisters and aunts.
Everywhere in our world, he said, women and girls continue to endure violence, deprivation, abuse and discrimination. The United Nations is working for their rights and advancement throughout the world. As we honour the women of the Holocaust, he said, let us pledge to create a world where women and girls can live in peace, free of fear and with all the opportunities and freedom that are their inalienable right. And we have his remarks in my office.
The UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) is very concerned about the renewed fighting between the SPLA [Sudan People’s Liberation Army] and George Athor’s forces, and the resulting civilian casualties. The Mission leadership is seized of the matter, urging an immediate cessation of attacks and offering UN engagement, under the terms of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, to re-launch the recently agreed Ceasefire Framework Agreement.
** Côte d’Ivoire
I want to confirm that ONUCI-FM, the radio station of our mission in Côte d’Ivoire, is still on the air. That’s despite the decision read out last night by the National Council for Audiovisual Communication on its suspension. The mission said today that it had not been officially notified of this decision.
The mission adds that this is yet another unacceptable attempt by Mr. [Laurent] Gbagbo’s camp to disrupt the mandated operations of our mission. But the mission is indeed still carrying out its operations. It reports that in January, it provided free medical care to 3,099 people, it distributed 71,000 litres of water and conducted 4,822 patrols. Almost 1,000 of those patrols were in Abidjan.
And meanwhile, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, called today for an urgent end to the political stalemate in Côte d’Ivoire. He said that there was a risk of a possible massive displacement of Ivorians and that urgent international political action was necessary to resolve the stalemate and restore calm.
** Western Sahara
And the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, and the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy for Western Sahara, Christopher Ross, wrapped up a meeting in Geneva today with Morocco and the Polisario Front, and the neighbouring countries, Algeria and Mauritania.
During the two-day meeting, the parties agreed to follow up on the 2004 Plan of Action and focus on the humanitarian response of the confidence-building measures programme. That programme aims to enable over 30,000 Saharawis on both sides of the divide to reconnect. Six proposals were agreed upon, and they aim to expand the number of people who are able to visit each other and to increase the possibilities for communication. There is more information in a press release from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
At 4 p.m., Ehud Barak, the Defence Minister of Israel, will address the press at the North Lawn Building stakeout location after his meeting with the Secretary-General. And then tomorrow at 1:30 p.m., Haile Menkerios, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Sudan, will address the press at the Security Council stakeout.
That is what I have for you. Questions, please? Yes, Masood?
**Questions and Answers
Question: The latest developments in Egypt report that the Egyptian President [Hosni] Mubarak may step down. Does the Secretary-General have anything to say about that?
Spokesperson: We are aware of the reports the same as you are, and the Secretary-General is aware of the reports, and we must wait and see what unfolds. It seems to be very fast-moving.
Question: Just to follow up, has he called any experts in or any kind of meeting, or is he getting briefed or anything?
Spokesperson: Well, the same as everybody else, we are in the process of watching events unfold, as we have been for the last two weeks plus. And the Secretary-General has repeatedly said, including when he spoke to you on Tuesday, that the Egyptian people are clearly frustrated and they are calling for bold reforms.
But as the Secretary-General also emphasized, the extent and pace of any transition is really for the Egyptian people themselves to decide. Yes, Mr. Abbadi?
Question: Thank you, Martin. Because of the fast-moving events, as you said, in Egypt, some countries have begun to transport their people out of the country. When was the last time that the UN made an estimate of the presence of its staff on the ground?
Spokesperson: You mean in Egypt? Well, as I think you are aware, there were moves to relocate temporarily some of our staff, and that is something that took place already some time ago. I am sure that our colleagues on the ground and in the Department for Safety and Security have a very good fix on who is there and who is temporarily relocated. Yes, Ozlem?
Question: Do you know what was the last time the Secretary-General talked to Mubarak or the Egyptian officers? Do you have any idea?
Spokesperson: I need to check on that. I am not sure exactly when that would have been. But as I have told you and others repeatedly, he has been in constant touch with — the Secretary-General, I mean — has been in constant touch with his senior advisers, who are briefing him fully on what is happening and, again, he is aware of the latest reports, just the same as you are. And he is monitoring things extremely closely, I can assure you.
Question: Also in the backdrop of what is happening in Egypt, there is something going on in Lebanon. Is he also aware of press, what is happening in Yemen and in Jordan?
Spokesperson: Of course, of course, yes, of course. I think you can be quite certain that the Secretary-General is being briefed on events as they unfold and develop across the region, just the same as he is on the events that take place in other parts of the world. Clearly our colleagues who are, for example, in the Department of Political Affairs are looking at the broader picture, as well as what is happening in each specific country. Yes?
Question: South Africa has a warship anchored off the coast of Côte d’Ivoire, and ECOWAS [Economic Community of West African States] believe that it is an indirect effort to undermine its policy. Is the UN aware of this, and what are the Secretary-General’s thoughts on this recent development?
Spokesperson: The Secretary-General is aware of the reports. I think I would simply note two things: one is that the President of South Africa is very actively involved in the five-member AU [African Union] panel of presidents that is looking at a way to solve this. And I would see it in that context. The second point is that the Secretary-General is keeping a very close eye on this, not least because we have mandated work to carry out on the ground. And as I was mentioning to you just now, this continues to be a very complicated picture, politically and operationally. And that is why it is important to note that the mission’s radio station, which is extremely widely listened to in Côte d’Ivoire, is indeed still on the air.
Question: Sorry, a follow-up: would you also describe the unity among African leaders on Côte d’Ivoire as complicated at this moment?
Spokesperson: I think what you saw coming out of the African Union Summit was a clear expression of unity of purpose, and that was extremely important. The Secretary-General has recognized that, and he was, as you know, a part of that high-level meeting that took place in Addis Ababa on that topic. Yes, Matthew?
Question: Sure. First a follow-up on Côte d’Ivoire and then something on Sudan. But, you’d said that, as regards the radio station, that UNOCI [United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire] has not been formally notified and it remains on the air. Does this mean if they are notified they will come off the air? Are they on the air because they haven’t been notified, or are they going [to] disregard…?
Spokesperson: No, it doesn’t, Matthew, it is not cause and effect. The radio station has been on the air throughout the crisis with a couple of minor exceptions when there were technical difficulties to circumvent. But it is the mission’s strong intention to stay on the air.
Question: Okay. And I wanted to ask about Sudan. There were reports that in the IDP [internally displaced persons] camps, including Hamadiya and Zalengei, that there is no, that food is no longer being distributed by WFP [World Food Programme] and the people inside the camp say that this was an attempt by the Government to disassemble the camps in this visit of this guy, Ghazi Salaheddine, who is in charge of the Darfur file for the Khartoum Government. First off, was the UN, is it a fact that food services in this IDP camp have stopped, and what is the UN going to do about it?
Spokesperson: Well, let’s ask our colleagues from the World Food Programme to let us know what the picture is there. And obviously, it is a clear priority for the United Nations to ensure that aid can be delivered to those people who need it.
Question: Martin, first, the Personal Envoy of the Secretary-General to Western Sahara, Ambassador…
Spokesperson: Say again, I didn’t quite hear the beginning.
Question: Sorry. Does the Personal Envoy to Western Sahara — Ambassador Christopher Ross — does he believe that the six points agreed upon in the humanitarian area would impact positively on the future political negotiations scheduled next month, and have there been the dates, have they agreed on the dates for the sixth round of the negotiations?
Spokesperson: Well, on these informal talks, that, I think, will be communicated at a later point. On the broader point that you make, the whole purpose of these different projects and proposals is to help to build confidence between the sides, to enable the political process to move forward as well. That is the whole point of the exercise. And of course, crucially, it is the people who have endured for so long the difficulties of separation and, therefore, if the people can be able to reconnect, can reconnect and come together, that is part of the confidence-building measures which will help to push the political process forward. That’s what I have for you. Thank you very much.
Question: I actually had a follow-up. This guy, Ghazi Salaheddine, the Government Minister for Darfur, held a joint press conference with Ibrahim Gambari in which they announced a partnership, and Mr. Gambari said he was very positive. So what I was, I guess, trying to say is that people in Darfur say it was the visit of this minister that led to this suspension of services to IDPs. I wanted, I guess, some explanation of what it is that Mr. Gambari is finding so positive in the visit of this minister, the announced intention to “Darfurize” the peace process, which most people in the IDP camps are protesting. What… how do you explain Mr. Gambari’s positive statements in light of the reports of continued fighting, bombing and dislocation?
Spokesperson: I’d like to take a closer look at precisely what Mr. Gambari said, firstly, and secondly, as I already mentioned to you, I am sure our colleagues from the World Food Programme can give us some details on precisely what is happening on the ground. What other question did you have?
Question: Okay, yeah, I did. I have this question: you’d said regarding this $100 million, you’d said, repeatedly yesterday and the day before, to ask the State Department. So I want to say this is what the State Department has said. Patrick Kennedy, Under-Secretary-General [sic] for Management, he says, “in this case, the United Nations notified the State Department that it intended to use the TEF [Tax Equalization Fund] funds for security enhancements”. So I want to know, who he is saying the UN said that they were going to use it that way. Who in the UN made that communication? Is there any paperwork? Is there any, for the use of $100 million, is there any paperwork both requesting it, noting the approval, and has the money begun to be spent? What’s the… can we find out more about the use of $100 million, other than an oral statement to ask the State Department, how the UN is spending this money?
Spokesperson: Well, as you well know, this is something that is in the works. That project is in the works. I think you will have seen plenty of comments on this from the US Administration that make it very clear the purpose, and the reason, and the full consultation that is taking place, and the full agreement on what needs to be done and how it is to be done.
Question: But isn’t the UN, I guess, if we are talking about $100 million, isn’t there some process either through the GA [General Assembly], some budget document? Why wasn’t, for example — I guess that’s really my question — is the Secretary-General, is he aware in any way of this? Does this take place at the level of [Michael] Adlerstein? Who is… it says that the UN notified the State Department it was going to use the money this way. So my question to you is you said, ask the State Department; this is what they say. Who in the UN made that notification?
Spokesperson: Well, I can certainly find out for you. The broader point is quite straightforward: it is US money. It belongs to the US and it is for the US to decide how that money will be spent. And it is done in consultation with the United Nations. And that is very straightforward. It is…
Question: Who gets the money? Skanska? Is the UN procure… you see what I am saying? I am saying the UN is spending the money. You can say it came from the US. But if the UN spends $100 million, does it go through the Department of Procurement? Is it being paid to Skanska? Do you see what I mean? It is a UN spending question. It is not a State Department question.
Spokesperson: I think it is, again, quite straightforward that there is the Capital Master Plan, which is the refurbishment and renovation, or more importantly, of the entire Headquarters building. And that includes a security component already. But since that project and the funding for it was approved by the General Assembly in 2006, there have been obviously concerns about heightened security risks since that time; since the project, the plan, was approved. And it is in that light that there needed to be the security upgrade that costs $100 million, and as I mentioned to you yesterday and to your colleagues sitting here, this is a host country obligation and that’s why the US is funding it.
Question: My only question is, if there is a security component in the overall Capital Master Plan of which the US is paying only 22 per cent, it can’t be said that that all security of the Capital Master Plan is the US responsibility. I am just, I guess, I am noting that why some people, but the main question I have is, if there is $100 million… My main question is just this: for the spending of $100 million is there any UN paperwork? Has there been any amendment to the Capital Master Plan budget?
Spokesperson: Well, what do you think, Matthew? What do you think, Matthew?
Question: Then can we see it?
Spokesperson: Do you think it’s just done on the back of an envelope? Of course there is, Matthew.
Question: I don’t know; that’s why I have been asking for three days to say: when was it decided? It’s just that simple. Maybe you have somebody coming in this briefing; I don’t mean to keep asking, but…
Spokesperson: Matthew, let’s go back to it offline. As I say, it is an important topic and it does deserve attention. And we addressed it very clearly yesterday and answered many questions here, and stated it quite clearly and I think we’ll leave it here.
Correspondent: Just put out a single readout, it would be fine; it would be fine. Just a written piece of paper.
Question: I have a question about Mr. Barak coming here, meeting with the Secretary-General. Will he be, or will they be discussing, Gaza, West Bank and the situation over there in Gaza?
Spokesperson: Well, we’ll provide a readout very quickly after the meeting that will give you a good picture of what is going to be discussed or what will have been discussed at that point.
Correspondent: Will the… I am just saying, because basically one thinks that he is here because of the Holocaust conference or meeting and so forth, Mr. Barak.
Spokesperson: I think the reason, of course, that is a very important and poignant reason for the Minister’s visit to the United Nations, not least because his grandparents perished in the Holocaust. But I think you could find out from the Israeli Mission quite easily what other engagements he has while he is in the United States.
Correspondent: One of my points is the condition of the Palestinians in Gaza is also very poignant, what is happening over there. Strangulation of all of the crossings, I mean passages, over there and everything, towns and what have you, on the crossings. And urgency is there because there are other events overtaking; the urgency is still there.
Spokesperson: Urgency is still there and the Secretary-General has been very vocal on this subject. Not just vocal, but he has visited Gaza twice, including right after the conflict that saw many people die and many people suffer. Of course, this is an important topic for him. Let’s wait for the readout so that you can see what points have been raised. Yes, Nizar?
Question: Follow-up on that: is there any progress regarding rebuilding the schools of UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East] in Gaza? Is there any development or progress?
Spokesperson: As I think you know, there was an agreement reached between the Israeli authorities and the Quartet envoy, Tony Blair, that involves in part — one of the parts of this is to do with, indeed rebuilding schools. But it’s obvious that, while progress has been made, there is still an awful lot to do, particularly for children, because that is a fundamental part of breaking the cycle of violence — is to ensure that children can have an education and a sustained education in the right kind of surroundings. That’s important for the Secretary-General and for the people of Gaza. And as I say, there has been some movement on that. The Secretary-General will continue to push, and our colleagues in UNRWA work extremely hard on this, extremely hard every day to help the people of Gaza precisely with that kind of reconstruction.
Question: Will this be one if the subjects to be discussed today with Ehud Barak?
Spokesperson: As I said, there would be a readout after the meeting and at that point I am sure there will be some details that would help you on that particular point. Okay.
Question: Martin. One last non-political question?
Spokesperson: Is there such a thing?
Question: Yes. I have seen nothing yet about UN involvement in the World Cricket Cup, which is around the corner?
Spokesperson: The World Cricket Cup. And I mentioned to you before that there is a Special Envoy, and, indeed, Office of the United Nations, that deals with Sport for Peace and Development. And I did mention that that would be a good address to turn to for some more information on this. As you will recall, the Secretary-General, when he was in Lausanne recently, met with officials from the International Olympic Committee and other sports organizations, with the Special Representative, Mr. [Wilfried] Lemke.
Question: No, I was, I am asking about… you know in the past, the UN has put up flags, they have issued messages on climate change, anti-poverty. Is that kind of thing going to be done?
Spokesperson: Let’s find out, let’s find out. I did mention to you that there is a good address to start with — Mr. Lemke’s team in Geneva. But let’s see if we can help you out after this.
All right, thank you very much.
* *** *For information media • not an official record