|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 Eduardo del Buey, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to the noon briefing.
The Secretary-General has been in Baghdad today for the League of Arab States Summit.
In his remarks to the meeting, he said the Summit in Baghdad clearly shows Iraq is regaining its place in the Arab world and the wider international community. The Secretary-General noted this is the Arab League’s first Summit since the remarkable series of events that have transformed the Arab region. He said the lessons were eloquent and clear. The winds of change will not cease to blow. He said that, for decades, the people in the Arab world have seen tyrannies topple and democracies emerge in Europe, Asia and Africa. Now they see it as their time.
On the sidelines of the Summit, the Secretary-General has had meetings with Iraqi leaders. We have readouts of those meetings. He also met the Presidents of Tunisia and the Palestinian Authority, and the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States. The Secretary-General is due back in New York tomorrow.
In his remarks to the summit in Baghdad, the Secretary-General said the conflict in Syria was on a dangerous trajectory with potential ramifications for the entire region. He said he knew Arab League leaders had been working hard over the past few days to forge a united front on this worsening crisis. The Secretary-General said Syria had been at the top of his discussions with numerous world leaders over the past few days. It is essential that President Assad put his commitments into immediate effect. The world is waiting for commitments to be translated into action. The key here is implementation. At the same time, the Secretary-General called on the opposition to fully cooperate with Joint Special Envoy Kofi Annan's proposal.
This morning, the Security Council issued a presidential statement on Yemen, welcoming the Yemeni-led peaceful transition process to a democratic political system. The Security Council expressed its concern at the recent deterioration in the cooperation among political actors, and its strong concern with respect to terrorist attacks by Al-Qaida and others in the country. The Council noted the formidable economic and social challenges facing Yemen, and urged all parties to facilitate humanitarian access to reach people in need of assistance. The Council reiterated its call for all those responsible for human rights violations to be held responsible.
Afterwards, Alexander Downer, Special Adviser for Cyprus, briefed the Council in closed consultations.
The Government-led humanitarian assessment in Syria was concluded on 26 March. Technical staff from eight United Nations agencies participated, as well as three staff from the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). While some areas could not be accessed due to ongoing insecurity or time constraints, UN and OIC staff were able to visit opposition-held neighbourhoods.
The joint analysis of the United Nations and OIC indicates that at least 1 million Syrians are in need of humanitarian assistance, across the governorates visited by the mission. These include people directly affected by the violence, those who were injured or displaced and have lost access to essential services, as well the families hosting them. This number also includes people whose vulnerability has increased considerably during the past year due to the impact of violence. It may be months, perhaps years, before the situation returns to normal, regardless of any political or security developments. This analysis has already been shared with the Syrian Government.
Priority needs identified during the assessment include protection, food, medical assistance, non-food items, such as bedding and other household items, and education. An initial convoy carrying food, blankets and hygiene kits for 2,000 displaced families left Damascus for Tartous Governorate on 28 March. Distributions are expected to begin on 30 March and further distributions are planned in other locations.
The leaders of the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities met in Nicosia today. The Secretary-General’s Special Adviser, Alexander Downer, told reporters afterwards that the discussion focused on property. As I mentioned earlier, Mr. Downer briefed the Security Council today via videolink in closed consultations. By tomorrow evening, he will also wrap up a report to the Secretary-General on the state of negotiations. The Special Adviser plans to meet the Secretary-General in mid-April on the way ahead.
Yesterday, I was asked about the situation in Sabha, Libya. The United Nation Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) welcomes the securing of the ceasefire brokered locally last night in Sabha. Reports from the Sabha Medical Centre indicate that the fighting over the past four days has resulted in approximately 50 killed and 167 wounded.
In coordination with the Sabha Local Council, the Libyan Red Crescent, security forces and tribal leaders, International Organization for Migration (IOM) and UN staff in Sabha are responding with prepositioned non-food items to help address the urgent humanitarian needs, and additional medical kits have already been deployed to assist with the wounded. Additional supplies will be dispatched over the coming days.
The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Libya, Ian Martin, appeals to all sides to resolve the situation through dialogue and peaceful means. He said it is critical that the Government and all sides take steps to further de-escalate the situation and address the underlying causes of this recent fighting. UNSMIL also calls on all parties to facilitate the treatment and evacuation of all wounded and to ensure the protection of civilians.
Today, at 1 p.m., there will be a press conference by the Human Rights Committee on the conclusions of its 104th session, which opened on 12 March.
And tomorrow, at 10 a.m., there will be a press conference to launch the United Nations 2012 Autism Awareness Postage Stamps. Speakers will be David Failor, Chief of the United Nations Postal Administration, and Rorie Katz, Head of Graphic Design for the United Nations Postal Administration.
That’s all from me. Questions?
**Questions and Answers
Question: With regard to the Secretary-General’s meeting in Iraq regarding Syria, since Bashar al-Assad has informed Mr. Annan that he accepts the six-point plan, yet we have not seen any developments in the area of establishing a safe passage to deliver the humanitarian aid and there is no discussion about any peace observers to monitor ceasefire, which is not implemented as the shelling is still continuing for civilians inside Syria. What’s the Secretary-General’s comment on that and do you have any information when these discussions should start, especially for opening access for delivering humanitarian aid and the peace observers?
Deputy Spokesperson: Well, as the Secretary-General says in the piece I just read out — he said it is essential that President Assad put his commitments into immediate effect. The world is waiting for commitments to be translated into action. The key here is implementation. That is the key — the implementation of the plan that Mr. Annan proposed and that the Syrian Government accepted. Now, Mr. Annan will be briefing the Security Council on Monday; we will see if he has anything additional to say after that. But, he is in receipt of the Syrian Government’s response, and we will see what the response says in due course. Masood?
Question: Can you tell me… on this implementation process which has been emphasized — but has anything been agreed with the Syrian Government as yet by anybody in the United Nations on how to proceed forward, and what will be the implementation process and how it will be monitored?
Deputy Spokesperson: Well, as I said, Mr. Annan is the Secretary-General’s and the League of Arab States’ Special Envoy for Syria. He has been in direct consultations; he met President Assad two weeks ago. He and his team are in direct consultations with the Syrian authorities. The Syrian authorities have responded to his proposed plan and they were now evaluating… Mr. Annan and his team are evaluating how this is going to take place. We are encouraged by the fact that some humanitarian assistance has proceeded to certain parts of Syria, we hope that continues as an essential element of Mr. Annan’s plan, which is that humanitarian assistance reach all people in Syria. And we are going to have to see how the Syrian Government has responded and what they do.
Question: On this situation in Libya, which is deteriorating as days go by, I mean, Mr. Ian Martin… you have just referred to his statement and so forth, Mr. Ian Martin has not reflected as to what the situation is like because, like many people, including as I said yesterday, former Secretary of State of the United States, said that there is a civil war going on in Libya. Now, after all that has happened, civil war? Can Mr. Martin come here and tell us as to what really is the situation in Libya?
Deputy Spokesperson: Well, the former Secretary of State said what he said. Ian Martin and his team are there living the reality of Libya on a daily basis, and they are working very hard to assist the Libyan Government in implementing the reforms and the institutional building process necessary. We have never said that building a democracy is easy, nor that it is quick. It is a very time-consuming process; it is a process where you don’t eliminate violence from one day to the next. People have to get used to coming to consensus rather than force, and these are all elements of a process that takes time and takes energy and takes a lot of negotiation. So, I would not subscribe to what the former Secretary of State for the United States has said. He is entitled to his opinion, and we respect it, but our people are working in the field, they are working very hard, and they do see some progress in what is happening in Libya.
Deputy Spokesperson: One second. Matthew?
Question: Okay, sure, I mean, in whatever… I want to ask you about Sudan, DPRK and Syria. On Sudan, there are these quotes by Mr. [Hervé] Ladsous of DPKO about reducing the size of UNAMID reported in the Voice of America. I am not sure where he made the comments, but I guess I wanted to know, is that the case? Does DPKO propose to reduce the force size of UNAMID? And also, I have seen that Mr. [Ibrahim] Gambari is giving a speech in Nigeria about ecology and good governance, and I am just wondering, is he on leave? Is this another… is this a reflection that UNAMID is no longer…? Did he speak in his UN capacity? What’s going on with UNAMID?
Deputy Spokesperson: Well, UNAMID continues to operate. Mr. Ladsous said what he said yesterday, I believe it was in Addis Ababa. We are constantly looking at the composition of our peacekeeping forces around the world in order to make sure that they are appropriate for the mission involved. As Mr. Ladsous has said, the nature of violence in Darfur has changed, and the nature of the peacekeeping force must change. But, of course, all final decisions will be taken by the Security Council. So, until the Security Council decides, all we can say is that Mr. Ladsous did say that this is a proposal that is on the table, and it will be raised with the Security Council.
Question: And I wanted to… meant to thank you for… for answering my question about the drones, but I wanted to know a little bit… with a little bit more detail, what type, because I have heard that the drones… that the initial idea was to use them in the DRC and that the trees don’t permit it, that it is… you can’t see through the trees. So can we know a little bit more? What stage is this… it has… has Mr. Ladsous…?
Deputy Spokesperson: It is at a preliminary stage, Matthew, that’s all I can tell you.
Question: Sure, should the C-34 members read him raising it as… is this the kind of thing that the DPKO would go to the General Assembly to get approval for, or by mentioning it, does he feel that he can… drones away… when the time…?
Deputy Spokesperson: We’ll have to see what happens, I am not going to speculate on what may or may not happen in the future. When the DPKO comes to a conclusion as to the use and the desirability of using any mechanism, it then decides how it proceeds to implement it.
Question: Right, but is the same question I asked you yesterday about kind of separation of powers. Does the Secretariat feel that it could take the step to use this sometimes controversial piece of equipment without GA or Security Council approval, or would they seek it? See what I mean? I am not speculating whether they will or not, but do they acknowledge…
Deputy Spokesperson: Well, I can’t speculate on whether they will seek it or not because no decision has been taken to use drones. Masood?
Question: You just said that the Secretary-General will be returning here tomorrow, right?
Deputy Spokesperson: Yes.
Question: There is a meeting on Syria going on… going to happen on Sunday in Istanbul, Turkey. Does he intend to attend that meeting also?
Deputy Spokesperson: No, the Secretary-General will not be attending that meeting. He returns tomorrow, and as far as I know, he is staying in New York.
Question: On DPRK and then on Syria. On DPRK, there is this announcement, I know that when he… when the Secretary-General met with the South Korean President he had an extensive discussion of DPRK. Now there is an announcement by the US Government that they will suspend food aid because of the prospective missile launch. And I wanted to know, I guess, as the top of the UN system, as a person concerned with humanitarian issues, does he have any view on the… whether these two should be linked, humanitarian aid and non-proliferation or violations of Security Council resolutions?
Deputy Spokesperson: Well, the decision taken by the United States is a decision taken by a sovereign country. The Secretary-General is not going to comment on that. What he has said is that the DPRK has to abide by all Security Council resolutions, and he has counselled the DPRK not to launch the satellite.
Question: But, he often does urge countries to respond to humanitarian needs, and does he think that there is a problem of hunger in DPRK?
Deputy Spokesperson: I don’t have anything on that for you.
Question: And this Syria one, I hope these are two connected questions, one is… one is small and one is big, so I will start with small, maybe. The smaller one is, I have heard that Kofi Annan has hired… is basically in charge of the hiring of the team, he has hired a man named Martin Griffiths who… about whom there is some controversy of his past job that… I have been told that he couldn’t be hired by the UN given how he left his past job, but he has been hired, he is on a UN contract, I am told, for six months regardless of what happens with Mr. Annan’s work. So, I wanted to know, what is the UN’s role in vetting and screening before people are given UN contracts to work with the Joint Special Envoy’s team?
Deputy Spokesperson: I’ll have to check on that for you, I don’t have the details with me.
Question: Okay. And the other one is kind of bigger, maybe you’ll be willing to address this. Some are saying that the Kofi Annan’s six-point plan has noticeably dropped this idea of political transition, which was in the Arab League plan, and that there is… so basically the question is: does the Secretary-General… is he looking for political transition in Syria, or is the Kofi Annan six-point plan, which doesn’t include political transition and could conceivably result very much in Mr. Assad remaining in power with a ceasefire and the other things in the plan, which side is he on? Does he, does he think there should be a transition or not?
Deputy Spokesperson: Well, the Secretary-General agrees with the six-point plan. Any process that takes place in Syria must be a Syrian-led process. He has always called on the Government of Syria to listen to its people; and the hope is that they will be able to negotiate a way forward towards a democratic future where human rights of all are respected and where different communities can cohabitate in peace.
Question: I mean, I… just to put a point on it, this means… the way you are… that Assad… in his view, Mr. Assad could remain in power despite the previous statement that he lost his humanity and various statements that Ban Ki-moon has made?
Deputy Spokesperson: Well, that’s not a decision for the Secretary-General to make. That is a decision for the Syrian people to make, and he hopes that a negotiating process will take place and that the Syrian people will be able to make their views known, and elect a Government of their choice.
Okay, thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen. Have a good afternoon.
* *** *For information media • not an official record