9 February 2012
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.


So good afternoon, welcome to the briefing.  Welcome to our guests, as well.


**Security Council


This morning the Security Council met with troop- and police-contributing States to the United Nations Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste.  They also discussed the United Nations Interim Security Force in Abyei, in closed consultations.  This afternoon, the Council will be briefed by the Chairperson-in-Office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the Irish Foreign Minister, Eamon Gilmore.


**South Sudan


And just to add that Valerie Amos, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, will brief the Security Council on South Sudan tomorrow afternoon.  I understand that Ms. Amos will speak briefly at the Council stakeout after she has briefed the Council tomorrow.


**Secretary-General’s Travel


The Secretary-General will visit Vienna next week, arriving there on Wednesday.  He will address the opening session of the Third Ministerial Conference of the Paris Pact Partners on Combating the Afghan Illicit Opiate Trade, and will hold bilateral meetings on the sidelines of that event.


The Secretary-General will attend a ceremony to commemorate the fifteenth anniversary of the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty.  He will also give an address at Hofburg Palace on the theme “Empowering People in a Changing World”.  While in the Austrian capital, the Secretary-General will meet with President Heinz Fischer and Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger to discuss a wide range of issues of common concern.  The Secretary-General will return to New York on Friday, 17 February.


** Syria


The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, has reiterated her call to the Syria authorities to stop the killing and maiming of children.  She noted that over the past months, the number of child victims in Syria has climbed into the hundreds and the rate is increasing.


Ms. Coomaraswamy said that the killing and maiming of children, in contravention of international law, as well as attacks on schools and hospitals, count among the six grave violations against children defined by the Security Council in 2005.  She said her Office and partners will continue to report on the violations committed against children by all parties in Syria.


** Libya


The Special Representative of the Secretary General for Libya, Ian Martin, visited Sirte yesterday, where he met with the local council, the military council and members of civil society.


Local council members listed their concerns and needs, in particular in the areas of education, health, reconstruction, mine action, internally displaced persons, post-conflict trauma and the clarification of the fate of those missing.  Mr. Martin recalled the work of UN humanitarian agencies and pledged the UN's continuing support to Sirte's recovery, as well as assuring them that he would reflect their needs in his discussions with the Interim Government.


**Press Conferences


Today at 1 p.m., there will be a press conference on the 2011 Forest Heroes Awards.  Speakers will include Jan McAlpine, Director of the UN Forum on Forests Secretariat, along with the regional winners of the Forest Heroes Awards.


And then at 3 p.m. — I know it is hard to believe it against this backdrop — but there will be a bit of the New York Fashion Week here with fashion designer agnès b.  She will be here to talk about the work of the TARA scientific research vessel which is currently docked in New York as part of a world expedition to look at the impact of climate change and biodiversity in the oceans.  The Secretary-General will meet with her and members of the TARA expedition in a few minutes.


Questions, please?  Yes, Nizar?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Martin, does the Secretary-General view the situation in Homs as a conflict zone, or is it just the security forces are attacking the city?


Spokesperson:  Well, what he said yesterday was that he feared that the appalling brutality that we are witnessing in Homs, with heavy weapons firing into civilian neighbourhoods, is a grim harbinger of worse to come.  So heavy weapons firing into civilians neighbourhoods.


Question:  But heavy weapons, is it from both sides or from one side?


Spokesperson:  Well, we have repeatedly said, and what the Secretary-General has repeatedly said, is that the violence from all sides has to stop.  You and I know what is happening in Homs and where the preponderance of the firing is coming from, and I think it is clear that as this crisis has escalated, the violence has escalated, so has the suffering of all of the Syrian people.  Yes, Masood?


Question:  Sorry, just to follow up on that.  Does he believe that the civilians should be allowed to leave the conflict area?


Spokesperson:  It is important that this should be looked at and dealt with urgently.  And this is what the Secretary-General said yesterday.  He said that what is happening, the violence that we are seeing — and this is not saying by whom, but the violence we are seeing, Nizar — is unacceptable for humanity.  And this is a moment of grave consequence, and that’s why it is extremely urgent that we need to find common ground.


Question:  Yeah, shouldn’t the combatants allow the civilians to flee the conflict area?


Spokesperson:  There needs to be, of course, first of all, an end to the violence, to the firing.  And we have heard repeated promises that that will happen, and we have seen repeated broken promises.  Yes?


Question:  [inaudible] about the subject?


Spokesperson:  Nizar, Nizar, stop, Nizar.  Nizar, listen, this is not an interview, this is a press conference.  I can come back to you a little later.  There are other people with questions too.  Yes, Masood?


Question:  Yes, Martin, I wanted to ask you about this latest report in American television and Israeli media that Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency was involved with some terror groups within Iran to kill the Iran scientist.  Does the Secretary-General have any response to the killing of the Iran scientist by the [inaudible]?


Spokesperson:  We have commented on previous instances not so long ago, and I don’t have anything to add to that.  Yes?


Question:  So what kind of assistance the United Nations can provide to redeploy the Arab League monitors in Syria?  I mean, what did the Secretary-General understand from the Arab League Secretary General, Nabil el-Araby, in this regard?  Did he mean that he wants the UN to deploy observers in Syria, or just to provide technical assistance, or what did he understand from this phone call exactly?


Spokesperson:  I think we need to divide this into three parts, and preface it with the following, and that is that this was a proposal that was made in a telephone call between the SecretaryGeneral of the League of Arab States and the United Nations Secretary-General the day before yesterday.  And in that telephone conversation, it was the Secretary General of the League of Arab States who put forward a number of thoughts.  And let’s divide these into three parts.  First of all, there is an existing, if suspended, observer mission from the League of Arab States.  Already, the United Nations had offers, and you have heard that not just from me, technical assistance in the form of training for observers before deployment.  So, that’s the first thing.  The second is that the Secretary General of the League of Arab States proposed a joint observer mission.  And the third point is that there was also a proposal for a joint envoy.  On the latter two points, a joint mission and a joint envoy, we need to hear more details from the League of Arab States and we will obviously be seeking those details.  And then it needs to be discussed further, as it was yesterday in the broadest of outlines in the Security Council.  At this point, this is a proposal that was made in the course of a telephone conversation.  We need to follow up and hear more details.  And it is only at that point that we will be able to flesh out what may or may not happen.


Question:  But in order to deploy observers in Syria, does it need a resolution from the Security Council?  Or can the Secretary-General himself decide about deploying, this deployment?


Spokesperson:  Look, this is, at the moment we need to get more information about what the idea is, what are the details that the League of Arab States have in mind.  And at that point, we will then be able to move forward to see what, if anything, needs to happen.  In any event, as of yesterday, the Secretary-General and others would be in close touch with the members of the Security Council.  I am coming to Matthew, then I am coming back to you, Nizar, okay?  Yes, Matthew?


Question:  Sure, I want to ask you about, there is… again… and I… the Maldives, it is becoming more and more clear that it is… it seems to be either a coup… the former President, there has now been… an arrest warrant has been issued for him and some are saying that the UN statement sort of seemed to give tacit approval to the transfer of power, or to… I’m just wondering if you have any new statement now that the person who was forced to resign at gunpoint has been threatened with arrest.


Spokesperson:  Well, the first thing is the Secretary-General continues to call on everyone there to refrain from violence and engage constructively in addressing the challenges the country is facing.  And that was in the statement that was issued.  The Assistant Secretary-General, as I have also mentioned already, for Political Affairs, Oscar Fernández-Taranco, should be arriving shortly in the Maldives.  And we obviously continue to follow the situation closely.  And we are awaiting Mr. Fernández-Taranco’s arrival and his initial assessments before we say anything further.  And as soon as I have something further, I’ll let you know.


Question:  What about the idea of arresting the person who was President two days ago?  I mean, [inaudible]…


Spokesperson:  Just listen to what I…


Correspondent:  [inaudible] …even while he is flying, it seems like is that…


Spokesperson:  Just listen to what I said just seconds before you retorted.


Correspondent:  Sure.


Spokesperson:  As soon as I have more, I’ll let you know.  Okay, other questions?  Yes, Nizar?


Question:  Reports published by Turkish media speak about 45 military experts arrested in Syria.  Also, the commander of the insurgents, the Syrian insurgents, is stationed in Turkey and there are, of course, reports — probably you have heard them — that Turkey is training insurgents in Syria and providing them with logistics there.  How does the Secretary-General view such interference by a neighbouring country to some kind of internal conflict?


Spokesperson:  This is something that I think you should address to others, Turkey, and not to us.  We have seen all kinds of reports, but I’m certainly not in a position to comment on that particular one.


Question:  How about the release of 11 Iranian hostages in Homs?  I mean, which were paraded on television and they were shown and the commander of the group which took them as hostages, he said I am releasing them as a gesture, a goodwill gesture, to the Turkish mediators.  Did you see this or…?


Spokesperson:  No, Nizar.  Well, we are not going to comment on every in and out of this in the way that you would like.  Simply to say that it is extremely important for the violence, from every quarter, to stop.  The Secretary-General has spoken again about that quite clearly yesterday evening.  And I don’t have anything beyond that at this point.  Yes, Matthew?


Question:  Yeah, sure.  I want to ask about a staff strike at UNMISS [United Nations Mission in South Sudan] in South Sudan, but just one follow-up on this issue of an envoy.  The name of Al-Khatib has resurfaced, who was obviously the Envoy to Libya, and so I just wondered when, if you can say — I know that the Secretary-General visited Jordan recently — have there been any contacts with Mr. Al-Khatib, or some people saw it as that, sort of a something of a failed endeavour.  Have they… are they still in contact?  Does Mr. Al-Khatib have any advisory or other role with the UN, or did that end abruptly and not… did they speak when he was in Jordan, just as one example?


Spokesperson:  I’m not sure which part of the question to answer at this point.


Question:  How does it stand between Ban Ki-moon and his previous Envoy to a crisis in Libya?  Are they… have… when is the last time they spoke?


Spokesperson:  I’d have to check on that particular point.  As for the League of Arab States proposal, as you will have heard me say, this was a proposal from them, and we are waiting to hear more details.  Therefore, it doesn’t seem appropriate to put the cart before the horse.  But on your particular question about the last interaction, let me find out.


Question:  Okay.  And on this… there is… there has been a pretty circular put out by the national staff of UNMISS in South Sudan alleging in some detail what they call discrimination against national staff, favouritism for particular individuals brought in from Khartoum and really naming individuals.  So I am wondering, I mean, it is a very detailed account, I am sure that Hilde Johnson and UNMISS is aware of it, and DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations].  What is the response to it in terms of just hearing what the UN’s response to a strike in a Mission that is in an important part and having other issues as well, what’s the response?


Spokesperson:  We’re aware of it and I’ll let you know when there is a response.  I don’t have it right now.  Other questions?  Yes, Ali?


Question:  Is the United Nations prepared for a possible humanitarian crisis in Syria?


Spokesperson:  Well, you will have heard the Secretary-General say that what is unfolding and has been unfolding is appalling, and the suffering has gone on for too long.  And so the United Nations is ready to assist in any way that will contribute towards an improvement on the ground and to the overall situation.  And that goes across the range of the possibilities that the UN has, including in the humanitarian sphere.  But the most important thing, first of all, is for the violence to stop.  Yes, other questions?  Yes, Anne, yes?


Question:  Concerning the presidency of the sixty-seventh session of the General Assembly, which will come from the Eastern European Group, Lithuania informed the Member States of the Eastern European Group back in 2004 about the candidate Lithuanian Ambassador Dalius Čekuolis, a former President of [the Economic and Social Council], as President of this year’s General Assembly, which was confirmed to all Member States in 2012.  Can you tell us how this General Assembly election works?


Spokesperson:  Well, I would defer to my colleague Nihal Saad, who will be able to tell you, I am sure in great detail, how that works, as she is the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.  I am sure she would help you on that.  But it is clear that there is an established mechanism for that, the bottom line being that it is for Member States to decide.  Yes, Matthew, last question?


Question:  Sure, and then it’s… I know this is one of the many that you say that if you had something you would get back to it on it, but I want to ask you very directly about a report in this…


Spokesperson:  You always ask me directly, it’s not a problem.


Question:  Yeah… no, no, I mean, I want to… I’d like to get something directly on this.  In the Sierra Leonean press, they say that President [Ernest Bai] Koroma informed the… was no longer willing to talk to Mr. Schulenburg and that’s why he was removed.  And I think since some, even in the Executive Office, seem to have a concern that this involves sort of… sort of not supporting an SRSG who was trying to speak both with the Government, but also to the opposition and in the face of Government threats to no longer deal with him, to just remove him, this is why I am asking again, what was the reason that he was removed?  Is this a mischaracterization of the Secretary-General’s support, or in this case non-support, of an SRSG on the ground facing threats from the Government?


Spokesperson:  We don’t have anything beyond the statement that we have already issued on this, in which it is very clear that the Secretary-General supported and was supportive of the efforts of Mr. von der Schulenburg on the ground in Sierra Leone.


Question:  Then why did he remove him so abruptly, and what do you say to this?  Is it true that President Koroma said, “I won’t deal with Schulenburg any more”?


Spokesperson:  As I say, we issued a statement and I don’t have anything beyond that, Matthew.  Okay, thanks.  Have a good afternoon.  Thank you.


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For information media • not an official record