29 September 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 Martin Nesirky, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.


Good afternoon, and welcome to the briefing.


**Security Council


Staffan de Mistura, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, briefed the Security Council this morning about the latest developments there.  He said that today’s Council meeting comes at a sad moment, following the killing of former President Berhanuddin Rabbani.  But, he said he believed that the resolve of the Afghan people for peace will not be deterred.


He said that the overall level of civilian casualties remains too high and called for more efforts to protect civilians.  Mr. De Mistura also presented the Secretary-General’s recent report on Afghanistan, where he expressed his concern about the increasing number of civilian casualties and the effect the armed conflict is having on civilians who are caught in the middle.


The Secretary-General also remains cautiously optimistic about signals of an emerging dialogue as a prerequisite for the development of a broad-based peace and reconciliation process.  The momentum for dialogue and reconciliation may be increasing, he says.  And that report is out as a document.  Mr. De Mistura says that he and the Afghan Foreign Minister will speak at the stakeout following this morning’s Council meeting.


**Press Conference Tomorrow


Tomorrow at 11 a.m., there will be a joint press conference hosted by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the Permanent Mission of Jamaica to the United Nations, and that’s to launch an international design competition for the Permanent Memorial to Honour the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade.


That’s what I have for you.  Questions, please?  Matthew?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Yeah, sure.  I guess I wanted to… to, and I have a number of questions, but I wanted to ask first about the… the note to correspondents that was sent out conveying the… the thanks of the Secretary-General to both Security and Protocol.  Is it… is it… you know, is it fair, as many have done, to read it as… as something of a reaction, as in anyway linked to the apology apparently that Ban Ki-moon gave to… to the Turkish delegation for the incident of 23 September?  Is this… how does it relate, I guess would be my first question.  And two, this outstanding question, how many IDs were given to the Turkish delegation, it seems like it’s a simple question, if Protocol… maybe Desmond Parker of Protocol should come up… I’ve been told by Security that there were security guards of the Turkish side given, you know, diplomat’s passes, D passes, there is some distinction that, there again, from their point of view, this led to the incident.  So I wanted to… what can you say to those two items?


Spokesperson:  Well, on the first, the message to staff is to all officials and staff of the UN Secretariat for their hard work and dedication.  And as it says, in particular he wishes to thank the Protocol and Security officers of the United Nations.  But just to stress that it is a message to all staff.  But he has particularly thanked Protocol and Security officers because of the pressures they faced in performing their duties, and that those pressures were especially difficult.  And he said that those particular staff met these pressures with dignity, restraint and high professionalism.


To answer your second question, well, actually many, if not most delegations ask for extra passes for the general debate period, and not just this year.  I believe there is likely to be a review of that procedure for providing extra passes.


Question:  There is no way to know how many were given in this incident?


Spokesperson:  That’s… that I don’t think we will be able to say.  But, as I say, many, if not most delegations ask for extra passes of differing quantities for obvious reasons — different-sized countries and requirements — for the general debate period, and this is not something that was peculiar for this year.  It has happened in other years, too.  And, as I say, I believe there is likely to be a review of the procedure for providing extra passes.


Question:  And just one more… thanks a lot, because I… I just wanted to know, one, can you confirm, I have now heard that there were three… three UN security guards injured, one to the ribs, one to the face and then another one to the leg.  And also, there is some interest in knowing how long this administrative leave or… or… or… or… redu… modified duty would last for the… for the at least six officers involved?


Spokesperson:  Well, I wouldn’t want to comment on personnel, individual members of staff.  I don’t think that’s appropriate.  What I can say is that I think it’s understandable and logical that after a misunderstanding of this kind, there would be an attempt to find out the facts, to establish what happened.  And that continues at this point, okay?


Correspondent:  Okay.


Spokesperson:  Right.  Yes, Erol?


Question:  [inaudible]


Spokesperson:  Sorry, just one second, Erol.


Correspondent:  Okay.


Spokesperson:  But just to reiterate, and to underscore what the Secretary-General has said in his message, namely that Protocol and Security officers met the pressures that they faced with dignity, restraint and high professionalism.  Okay.  Yes?


Question:  As a matter of fact it is only a continuation of the saga, and I don’t… I… I know that you don’t particularly like it, but since it is going on and on, I would ask if there are any lessons to be learned from this particular incident with the security guards and with the Turkish Prime Minister’s entourage.  What would be that, and also I would not like to really sound cynical or ironical or anything of that, but…


Spokesperson:  Surely, not Erol.  [laughter]


Question:  But, are you going next year, for example, to show to the security guards the picture of… pictures of 20 most important, not most important, high-profile leaders from high-profile countries or so, so in order to more common sense to be developed on the side of the security guards to be more sensitive, let’s put it that way?


Spokesperson:  I don’t think — just to answer that first part — that we would talk about operational arrangements related to security.  I know that, and it’s self-evident, that our UN Security officers are highly trained and they are professional.  And I think that it would not be appropriate to go into the details of how they are briefed leading up to the general debate period.  What I have already said is that action is being taken to prevent such misunderstandings in the future.  Precisely what action would be involved is something that still needs to be looked at and would not be done in isolation.  It’s something that would need to be looked at by the relevant departments and then communicated.  Right, other questions, please.


Question:  Well, what about the particular lesson, any lesson to be drawn from this?


Spokesperson:  As I say, this is about, in general, any misunderstandings that there were during a period of heightened security in the past 10 days or so.  You need to look at that and find ways to prevent such misunderstandings in the future.  And that’s what’s being done.


Question:  And just to finish, what the security guards were protecting at the premises of the UN from the Prime Minister of Turkey, Mr. Erdoğan, what they were protecting?  You have a Prime Minister, he is coming down there, they are protecting something, what were they protecting, to react that way?


Spokesperson:  As I have said previously, we believe this has been satisfactorily resolved.  I don’t have anything further on this particular topic.  Yes, other questions?  You have a question, Nizar?


Correspondent:  No.


Spokesperson:  If not, welcome back.


Correspondent:  Thank you.


Spokesperson:  Yeah?  Yes?


Question:  While we are on housekeeping, the stakeouts at the Security Council are getting worse and worse, because one, it… it… you know, for the President to come to the mike is not that frequent and is often not where you get the news.  There are informal briefings by different delegations in the back of that dreadful white wall.  And you know, because there is no microphone there, or anything else and it’s a ridiculous small space; people move, reporters move on the other side of the barrier, Security doesn’t want ambassadors to complain.  And so, it’s, you know, tug and push and pull.  You can’t really do your job.  You know, you have to ask the reporters in the front what was said if you know… in the, you know [inaudible].


Spokesperson:  So, what’s the question?


Question:  The question is, what can you do about it?


Spokesperson:  [laughter] I thought it might be.


Question:  The whole setup is not very good for the press, and never has been since the renovation began.


Spokesperson:  Well…


Question:  And everybody blames it on everyone else, and you know…


Spokesperson:  Well, look, yes, it is very easy to blame, but that is easily done, and not necessarily constructive or helpful.


Correspondent:  Exactly.


Spokesperson:  I think everybody appreciates that it is a time of flux, a time of transition, because of the building work that is going on.  And everybody has been extremely patient during that period, including journalists working in an area where they had not worked before, and also obviously at the Security Council stakeout area, which is a temporary arrangement.  I know that that doesn’t satisfy you or your colleagues.  I will see whether there is anything that can be done about it.


Question:  But temporary means a year.


Spokesperson:  I beg your pardon?


Question:  Temporary means a year, doesn’t it?


Spokesperson:  Well, probably longer, if you look at when it started.  But that… it is temporary, and it won’t last forever any more than anything in this life does.  But, obviously, if we can find a way to make it more effective for you, then we should try to do that.  One thing I would note is that it’s for individual Council members — meaning the delegations, the Member States — to determine how they speak to the media.  We do not dictate to Member States how they brief the media.  So that is for them to decide.  If we can provide the right setting, and that is what the stakeout is supposed to be, then that’s obviously the best way to do it.  Let me check to see if there is anything that we can do.  But let me also emphasize that it’s for Member States to determine how they brief you and in what way.


Question:  Talking about Member States briefing us, and if that white wall weren’t there, we would have more space to stand.  And it’s not in front of the white wall that we are worried about, but the briefings at the back of the white wall.


Spokesperson:  Let’s take a look at that, yes?  I’ll ask my colleagues to see if there is anything that we can do about that.  Nizar?


Question:  Yeah, I have a question regarding the security of ESCWA [Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia] in Beirut.  I understand there have been some fortifications going on around the building, including blocking of whole streets.  Was this done in Beirut in coordination with the Lebanese Government or a decision by the United Nations alone?


Spokesperson:  Nizar, we don’t comment on security measures.  That’s just not something that we do.


Question:  Yeah, but here in this case, I mean, I heard something…


Spokesperson:  But Nizar, we do not comment on security matters, okay?  We do not.


Question:  So do you expect something in Beirut to happen?


Spokesperson:  Nizar, we don’t comment on security matters.  Yes, please?


Question:  Thank you.  Some African… East African foreign ministers early this week announced that they plan to seek Observer status for the East African bloc IGAD [Intergovernmental Authority for Development].  I was wondering if the request was submitted to the Secretary-General.


Spokesperson:  I’d have to check on that, I am not aware of that.  Erol, and then I am going to Matthew again.  Yeah?


Question:  Martin, it seems to me that a few countries, at least, are not satisfied with the sort of soft statements of the Security… Secretary-General on Kosovo, and it was shown yesterday again when Russia requested an urgent meeting that end up with consultation at the Security Council.  The Russian Ambassador mentioned, a few weeks ago if I am not wrong, that he was not satisfied with the replacement, with the slow replacement of the… Lamberto Zannier, of UNMIK; that it shows somehow that UNMIK is put aside in comparison with EULEX.  So, have you any comment on that one?  How do you respond?


Spokesperson:  Well, I think you are mixing up a number of things there.  The Secretary-General has been perfectly clear on his views on the need for a de‑escalation of the tensions there, and for the need to make good use of the EU, the European Union-facilitated dialogue that had been taking place in Brussels, and it would be good if that were to continue.  And he has also made it clear that it’s through dialogue and restraint that we are going to make headway here.  I think that’s really where we are.  The Secretary-General has been quite clear on this, and it’s for member States of the Security Council to decide whether they take up the matter or not.  Yes, Matthew?


Question:  Sure, actually one follow-up on Kosovo and then a couple of other things.  But, yesterday, in that, in the stakeout area that Evelyn was describing, Ambassador Churkin came out of the consultations and said that he expected UNMIK to conduct an investigation of the… the incident that took place on the border, including collecting bullet cartridges.  He mentioned that in particular, and the use of live ammunition.  He said that NATO had violated its mandate, and I just wonder, when I asked Mr. Mulet, he was in a hurry, but he seemed to… he didn’t seem to indicate that that request had been either, you know, accepted or even heard.  So, I wanted to know, what is… what’s UNMIK’s understanding coming out of those consultations of what it does?… is it going to investigate those incidents or not?


Spokesperson:  Let me check.


Question:  Okay.  And I wanted to, this is a kind of a… there is… in Western Sahara, an issue has arisen… a number of… of Council members have said that… that the Secretariat expressed the position that Christopher Ross on Western Sahara shouldn’t brief in the month of October, because Morocco was running for the Security Council and there might be some overlap or it might undermine the independence of Mr. Ross and his mandate.  This was seen as… you know, sort of problematic, and I wanted to really get from you, either here or maybe later today, what was the position of the Secretariat about… there was a commitment in April that there would be a briefing in October on Western Sahara, can you confirm that, that the Secretariat tried to delay it and if so… I mean, how was that appropriate?


Spokesperson:  Yeah, sure.  I’ll try to find out.  Okay, thanks very much.  Have a good afternoon.  Thanks very much.


[The Spokesperson later said that the Security Council will adopt its programme of work for October next week.  Christopher Ross, the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy, is ready to brief in October if requested to do so.]


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