14 March 2011
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.


** Japan


The Secretary-General spoke by phone this morning with the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Yukiya Amano, who informed him that there was no danger at the nuclear reactors in Japan.  The Director General said that the release of radioactivity from the reactors had been minimal and there should be minimal health consequences as a result.  The Secretary-General and the Director General agreed on the importance of a summit on nuclear safety that will take place next month in Kiev, Ukraine.


Also, a United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) team has arrived in Japan to support the Government in its major emergency response operations.  The team will travel to the affected areas in the coming days to get a better understanding of the humanitarian needs.  It has been requested to disseminate accurate and timely information on the emergency and the ongoing response by the Government of Japan.


** Libya


The Security Council received an update this morning on the latest developments in Libya from the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, B. Lynn Pascoe, in its closed consultations.


The Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Libya, Abdul Ilah Khatib, is on his way to the country now.  He and the Secretary-General met over the weekend to discuss the situation in Libya, and Mr. Khatib has since departed from New York.


Meanwhile, the United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for Libya, Rashid Khalikov, arrived in Tripoli, Libya, over the weekend.  He has met with authorities to discuss access for humanitarian aid workers throughout the country.  The Government has informed Mr. Khalikov that his mission would be granted access to locations outside Tripoli during his visit, including to areas of recent fighting.


The Humanitarian Coordinator’s team has observed that Tripoli appears calm, with shops being open and people moving freely in the city.  But it has also observed a large number of migrant workers forming long lines outside airport terminals and in makeshift camps outside the airport.


And that’s it from me.  Any questions?  If not… oh, okay.  Sure.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Yes, you mentioned the Disaster Assessment and Coordination team that was going to Japan.  Are you aware of the UN operating in any other capacity in the relief efforts in the coming days?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, the Disaster Assessment and Coordination [UNDAC] Team is there to work at the request of the Government of [Japan], and it did arrive, I believe, on Saturday.  So, it is there primarily, as we had indicated, to disseminate accurate and timely information and also to provide advice on the sort of humanitarian aid that will be provided.  Beyond that, the International Atomic Energy Agency is working with the [Japanese] authorities trying to see what sort of help it can provide in terms of the expertise needed to deal with the situation of the nuclear reactors.


Question:  And is the United Nations playing a smaller role in disaster relief efforts because Japan has a very large mechanism to deal with such efforts?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, the Government of Japan is doing a considerable amount on its own to deal with the question of how to deal with the consequences of the earthquake and of the tsunami.  And it has also been organizing, in its own capacity, bilateral efforts from other countries who are trying to contribute assistance.  So we have a press release, in fact, from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs about this; but basically it mentions that the Japanese Government is doing a considerable amount of the work, but they have also asked us to do a certain amount in terms of the things that we can specifically help out with.  Yes?


Question:  Are other UN agencies like World Food Programme doing anything?  I know there is water shortage right now; is there any distribution of food and water?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, first the Disaster Assessment and Coordination Team is finding out what the actual precise needs on the ground are, and we’ll see what the support from the agencies can be.  Of course, all the agencies stand ready to help as needed.  But first, we’ll need to see what the needs on the ground are.  Yes?


Question:  The OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] statement is a little vague; it basically indicates that the UNDAC is just there to coordinate the relief efforts.  Does it have a budget of its own?  Does it have a specific mandate there?  I mean…


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Traditionally, whenever there is a crisis, a humanitarian crisis on the ground, the purpose of the Disaster Assessment and Coordination Team is to deploy there very quickly and find out as urgently as they can what the basic needs are of the people and the sort of needs that the Government of that area wants from us.  And so, this is what the team is there to do.  And like I said, they were specifically requested to disseminate accurate, timely information to the international community about the emergency and about the Government of Japan’s ongoing response.  Yes?


Question:  Sure, I wanted to ask, there was an announcement on Sunday that the Southern Sudanese Government would stop negotiating with the North, including on Abyei, because of, they are alleging that the North has funded the Misseriya tribes.  I wanted to know what UNMIS [United Nations Mission in Sudan] plans to do about that and what, how this relates to the flying of Ahmed Haroun, the indicted war criminal, to Abyei, which the UN said was, had resulted in an end to these type of problems with the Misseriya.


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Yeah, about the role that the UN Mission in Sudan is playing:  the Secretary-General’s Special Representative [for Sudan], Haile Menkerios, participated in two meetings of the Standing Committee on 9 and 10 March in Khartoum.  At both meetings, the parties were unable to move beyond the issue of the deployment of Joint Integrated Units troops to Diffra, which the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) linked with the complete withdrawal of the so-called “oil police” out of the Abyei area.  Mr. Menkerios continues to talk to both parties to find a suitable solution to the problem.


The UN Mission in Sudan has verified that both sides have reinforced their positions within the Abyei area, including the confirmed presence of Sudanese Armed Forces and Sudanese People’s Liberation Army troops not affiliated with the Abyei Joint Integrated Units.  The exact size and type of reinforcements is difficult to determine due to the continuing denial of freedom of movement for the UNMIS force.


Mr. Menkerios has urged both sides to restrain their respective elements on the ground, to minimize violence while the political leadership discusses a final solution to the status of Abyei.  But our diplomatic efforts are, in fact, ongoing.


Question:  Was there any, I’d asked, I guess, Mr. [Martin] Nesirky, to confirm that 40 Dinka youth had stoned the helicopter on which Ahmed Haroun was flown in on, despite the very glowing description given here.  Is there?  He said that he was going to search with UNMIS, I think, that’s how I understood it…


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  No, no, I believe Mr. Nesirky did inform you at one of the briefings last week that there had been a demonstration on the ground but that the situation was restored and calm was restored very quickly.


Question:  Can I ask you, I wanted to have, this has been… I wanted to ask you a question about the son-in-law of the Secretary-General.  It’s been, he is no longer, currently he is on special leave from UNOPS [United Nations Office for Project Services] and people there say that he has been, they say that it is unprecedented; that he’s been sent to the United States and having introductory level classes paid for by UNOPS.  Is that, is that the case?  Can you confirm that and what, why would that be?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I actually think you’d have to ask UNOPS whether there is any such thing.  What I am aware of is that Mr. [Siddarth] Chatterjee has indeed ended his employment, his involvement with UNOPS, and I believe he did that several months ago.  Beyond that, you’d have to check with the UN Office for Project Services.


Question:  Can I just ask one follow-up?  Because his reply e-mails, because I was seeking comment on this, says that he is on special leave until 31 May 2011.  Could you just confirm, yes or no, that he is still being paid until that time?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  It’s not for me to confirm what UNOPS does.  You need to ask them.


Question:  Given questions that have arisen about, I mean, questions have arise through his first term concerning this.  I think it is a fair question.


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  No, no, Matthew; that’s not the case.  The case is that with every agency, questions about their employees would have to go to that agency.  So, please, deal with UNOPS on that.  Yes?


Question:  Thanks, Farhan.  The Secretary-General has made a couple of statements about the situation in Bahrain.  There is news today coming out of the Gulf that other GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] members have sent troops to the island emirate.  Is the Secretary-General following this?  Is he having negotiations or talks to any of the capitals in the region?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  As far as that goes, we have right now just seen the media reports of this.  We would need to get further information on the ground.  Certainly, what I would like to point out is that the Secretary-General had called — as recently as Friday — on all the parties in Bahrain to seize the moment and engage in a broad-based, peaceful and meaningful dialogue involving the political opposition and civil society in the interest of all Bahraini people.


And he had also called on all of Bahrain's regional neighbours and the wider international community to support a dialogue process and an environment conducive for credible reforms in Bahrain.  So that holds true.  Beyond that, in terms of the latest developments, we would need more solid information on the ground about what is happening.  Yes?


Question:  I have a question on food security.  The FAO [Food and Agriculture Organization] has said that food pricing is going to reach an all-time high with no signs of it slowing down.  And direct links to the recent demonstrations in Cairo and Tunisia, etcetera, were really more to do with food and not having enough food and not having enough money for this price hike and through what was supposed to… most people thinking it being about more democratic reasons, but the direct link is more just poverty levels there.  Any updates on that, on that connection?  Any statistics from the FAO, from the UN?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, we have been providing regular statistics about the food situation, and I believe you had seen a briefing by our senior expert dealing with the food security issue, David Nabarro, just a few weeks back.  We’ll see whether Mr. Nabarro intends to do anything further down the line about this, but he has been meeting with experts on the food security issue and he does believe that, in terms of what he said to the press, that this is not at a crisis level; it is something that can be dealt with, although there are certainly concerns about high food costs in different countries.  And we’ll see whether Mr. Nabarro has anything further to say as the situation progresses.  Yes?


Question:  Hi.  On Friday when you announced the three USGs and the two ASGs, you were asked whether Lakshmi Puri is the spouse of the Indian Perm[anent] Rep[resentative], and you said, “I am not aware of the family relationship of the people I have just named”.  It’s been confirmed since that she is the wife of Hardeep Singh Puri, and I just wonder, what can you, what would you, do you think that, does the Secretariat think that any rule should apply to the awarding of jobs to family members of people on the Security Council, who will vote on the Secretary-General’s second term?  Is that, do you see any need for rules in this circumstance?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  First of all, I believe when we read out the announcement, we pointed out the qualifications of each of the individuals, including of Lakshmi Puri, who has been an expert at the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), and it is in the context of that expertise that she was hired.  The language is there in the announcement on Friday itself.  I wouldn’t infer any sort of linkage…


Question:  They were not aware that she was the wife of the Indian Perm[anent] Rep[resentative] when they made the job announcement?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t believe that that is regarded as a relevant criterion in terms of the employment process.  Yes?  Are we done?  Thanks.


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