1 October 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.


Good afternoon, everybody.  Welcome to the briefing.


** Syria


You will have seen that we just issued a readout of the Secretary-General’s meeting with Walid Al-Moualem, the Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Syrian Arab Republic.


The Secretary-General raised in the strongest terms the continued killings, massive destruction, human rights abuses, and aerial and artillery attacks committed by the Government.  He stressed that it was the Syrian people who were being killed every day, and appealed to the Government of Syria to show compassion to its own people.


The Secretary-General noted that a reduction of violence could prepare the Government for a political process. He expressed deep frustration that, after 19 months of repression and fighting, the situation was still getting worse.  The Secretary-General and Foreign Minister discussed the growing humanitarian crisis inside Syria, which was spilling over into neighbouring countries to an alarming degree.


**Forum on Small States


The Secretary-General spoke this morning at the opening session of the conference of the Forum on Small States, which is marking its twentieth anniversary.


He noted that the premise for the Forum stems from the understanding that there are experiences and perspectives shared by the world’s smaller nations, which make up more than half of the United Nations membership, and that there are benefits in working collectively at the United Nations.


The Secretary-General said that despite their size, small States can meaningfully contribute to global peace and development.


And the full remarks are available online.


**Chemical Weapons


At 3 this afternoon, the Secretary-General will address a high-level meeting of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), on the fifteenth anniversary of the Convention that the Organisation was set up to implement.


The Chemical Weapons Convention now has 188 States parties, and three quarters of the world’s declared chemical weapons stockpiles have been eliminated. The Secretary-General will say that this is a remarkable achievement, and he will urge the eight States that are not yet party to the Convention to join without delay.


Just prior to speaking at the high-level meeting, the Secretary-General and the Director-General of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons will speak to reporters at the press stakeout position on the first floor of the North Lawn Building, here at United Nations headquarters.


**Refugees


The head of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), Antonio Guterres, said today that the Agency was facing a level of refugee crises unmatched in its recent history, with simultaneous new emergencies in Syria, Mali, Sudan and South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.


In a speech to the opening of the annual meeting of the Refugee Agency's Executive Committee, Mr. Guterres said that in 2011 more than 800,000 people crossed borders in search of refuge and that this was higher than at any time in the last decade.  He added that so far this year, more than 700,000 people have fled from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mali, Sudan and Syria.  Mr. Guterres said that the capacity of the Refugee Agency to help the world's forcibly displaced was being "radically tested" by this acceleration in new crises.


**Press Conferences


A couple of press conferences:  tomorrow, at 11:15 a.m., here in this Auditorium, there will be a press conference by the Deputy Secretary-General, Jan Eliasson.  This will be to review the past week’s developments during the general debate.


And at 12:40 p.m., there will be a press conference by the Secretary-General, President Jakaya Kikwete of the United Republic of Tanzania and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York.  And this will be to discuss the results of an Innovative Maternal Health Programme in Tanzania supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies.


And then at 1:30 p.m., there will be a press conference by Mr. Gert Rosenthal, the President of the Security Council for the month of October and Permanent Representative of Guatemala.  And he will be here to brief you on the Council’s programme of work for the month.


 That’s what I have.  Questions, please.  Yes, Masood?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Thanks. I just wanted to ask, is the Secretary-General, I know the Secretary-General has been saying that situation, of course, has been voicing concern about the situation in Syria, which is going [from] bad to worse.  But I am asking you:  the last week, the President of Egypt and President of Iran offered some suggestions and some way forward.  Has the Secretary-General looked at those?  Has he weighed in as to which of those plans, if at all, could be a way forward and what is he waiting for? Could he again weigh in as to what does he think, I mean, in view of this stalemate that exists?


Spokesperson:  Well, during the course of the past week, the Secretary-General spoke with many world leaders, including the President of Egypt.  And obviously, in quite a few of those conversations with world leaders at different levels, the focus was very much on Syria.  And this is also reflected in the meeting held this morning with the Foreign Minister of Syria.  Plainly the situation is not getting better; it is getting worse.  And yes, there have been suggestions from a number of different countries, including Egypt, as you mentioned.  The key point here for us is that all efforts need to be coordinated through the Joint Special Representative, Mr. [Lakhdar] Brahimi, who himself had dozens of meetings during the course of the past week with visiting dignitaries.  And this is part of his efforts to listen and to help to pull together the different strands and thoughts that there are as he moves forward in his work.  I don’t want to prejudge what he may or may not wish to come out of those deliberations, but the most important point is that these efforts need to be coordinated and they need to be coordinated very clearly with and through the Joint Special Representative.


Question:  Could Mr. Brahimi come and brief us on his thoughts on these issues with the, after his talks with, on the Heads of States, at some point?


Spokesperson:  Well, I defer to Ahmad Fawzi, the spokesperson of Mr. Brahimi.  I do not know what his movements will now be precisely, and when he might next be available.  But I think both Ahmad and Mr. Brahimi are well aware of the interest that there is in this topic.  Yes?


Question:  Hi, I’m from CNN. When was the last time the Secretary-General spoke by phone with President [Bashar al-]Assad?


Spokesperson:  A long time ago.  So, but as you will have seen, the Secretary-General has had meetings, most recently this morning with the Foreign Minister, and as I think you will recall, when the Secretary-General visited Tehran, he also spoke, not just with the Foreign Minister, but with the Prime Minister of Syria on the margins of the Non-Aligned Movement summit that was taking place there.  I can’t remember the exact date of the last phone call.  We can certainly check for you because I do believe we provided a readout of that phone conversation and there have not been subsequent telephone conversations since then.  [He later added that the last phone call with the President was on 17 August 2011.]  Okay.  Yes?


Question:  I have a question about South Sudan and then a couple of things about, I guess, the general debate here.  But in South Sudan, it’s… Médecins Sans Frontières is saying that it is a…it’s already stopped serving some towns in Jonglei, due to the violence and that it may leave Pibor, which is where that…that big clash at the beginning of the year took place, which they say would leave 160,000 people without any health care.  So since there is a big UN peacekeeping mission there, I am wondering, what’s their, you know, what do they make of it; what steps are they taking to make sure that aid can continue to arrive there and do they think that the disarmament programme carried out by the South Sudanese Government was too harsh and, and, and, and may have in fact stocked this up?


Spokesperson:  The Mission is certainly aware of recent developments, and I think that we will be able to provide some details shortly.  But I don’t have them right now. [He later added that the UN Mission in South Sudan, UNMISS, remains concerned by the recent violence in Jonglei state.  UNMISS is monitoring the situation closely in Jonglei state and has contingency plans to increase the UN military presence if necessary.  UNMISS calls on the armed groups to hand over their weapons and join the peace process.]


Question:  Okay.  And just, about this, in, I guess I am asking you this as, as, I’m not sure who made the decision to, to not have Guinea-Bissau speak, but they were listed as speaking on Friday, the former, the pre-coup leader, Mr. [Raimundo] Pereira was slated to speak and then didn’t speak.  Um, and some people are saying that decision is, I guess made by DGACM [Department for General Assembly and Conference Management] who, upon others lobbying… but how was the decision made and why is Guinea-Bissau in fact going to speak in this general debate?


Spokesperson:  Well, I think you have the speakers’ list.  And that speakers’ list finishes this afternoon, if I am not mistaken.  So…, and I don’t recall seeing a representative of Guinea-Bissau on that list.  So, therefore, we have to assume that a representative of Guinea-Bissau is not going to speak here in the General Assembly general debate.


Question:  But they were listed Friday; that’s what, I guess what I am just asking is maybe you, maybe you don’t have, maybe you don’t have it, but is there some way to get a statement from DGACM why this one speaker, of all the speakers listed, was skipped over and not rescheduled?  I mean, was there, what was, was there any Secretariat role, I guess I am saying, in, in the decision to not have him speak?


Spokesperson:  Well, I think you are aware of the Security Council resolution, I think it’s 2048 (2012), that deals with this topic.  And that’s what we are guided by.  And it is in the context of that Council resolution — which demands that immediate steps be taken to restore constitutional order — that the UN is working with the national stakeholders and key organizations, including the African Union, ECOWAS [Economic Community of West African States] and others.  So the question of recognition or non-recognition of authorities is a matter for Member States.  So that’s not down to DGACM or anyone else in the Secretariat; that would be a matter for Member States.  If I have anything further on this, I will let you know, but I don’t have anything else right now.


Question:  And I also had want…, I saw the readout on Saturday of the meeting of the Secretary-General with the leader of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus [sic], Mr. [Dervis] Eroğlu.  He then did a press conference and he handed out a, a page and half proposal on hydrocarbon, saying that he’d proposed to the Secretary-General, facilitator, to basically have a single stream of hydrocarbons that would be shared between the two, but would go through Turkey.  And I just wondered, I saw the readout saying that it had arisen, and the Secretary-General said hydrocarbons could provide a benefit to solving it, but does he have any, either any reaction to this proposal by Mr. Eroğlu or, or is there any next step?  He sort of, he presented it to the press that he’d said it to the Secretary-General who is now going to take some step with it, but what, what is that step?


Spokesperson:  I think we all know that the two communities, the two parties need to be able to reach an overall settlement of what is an extremely long-running dispute.  And, as I think I mentioned last week, Alexander Downer has also addressed this topic.  It is beyond question that hydrocarbon reserves and other natural resources could help all those on the island of Cyprus in the future.  But obviously, there needs to be also movement on the political track.  And so it is really important that that does happen.  And that’s what I think everybody wishes to see; and Alexander Downer is helping, facilitating when the parties request it, as they have done over the many years that we have seen this going on; not just Mr. Downer, but others, of course.  I think just to conclude on this:  what we had in the readout is where we are with this.  Alexander Downer has spoken publicly and that gives you a little bit of the flavour of where that might go.  But I don’t think that you would expect anything else just at the moment, Matthew.  Any other questions?


Question:  Just one more on this.  I don’t know if you will have any answer, but the…just now the Foreign Minister of Canada spoke, and you know, he said that the UN should be less focused on its own internal things and more focused on solutions.  What I wanted to ask you is, I guess, is:  he also said that it is the seventh largest contributor, but it doesn’t seem that he has met, that anyone from Canada has met with the Secretary-General during this week.  So, I mean, I know that he has had many meetings, so it’s not, it’s no, I just, I guess I just wanted to be able to confirm, was there no request by Canada and is it, it, any Member State that at the level of the Foreign Minister asked to get a meeting, can, could they have gotten a meeting; can we infer from the lack of a meeting that they made no request?


Spokesperson:  Well, I think you have to ask them if they made a request. I think you will have seen how many meetings the Secretary-General has had, and I think any country that would request a meeting, that would be looked upon extremely favourably, because that’s by definition what the Secretary-General does during this period, as he does at other times of the year, but in a very concentrated dose in the past week or so.


Question:  And just, the last one, because I understand that he has prepared his meeting with Mr. Terje Roed-Larsen, and I just didn’t know if that’s being done as a, as a UN official or as an IPI [International Peace Institute] official or in some other way.  Do you view that as a UN meeting?


Spokesperson:  Matthew, I just don’t know the answer to that, and I think you could probably ask Mr. Roed-Larsen that, too.


Question:  Okay.


Spokesperson:  Okay.  Alright, have a good afternoon. Thank you very much.


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For information media • not an official record