19 November 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, and Eduardo del Buey, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.


Deputy Spokesperson:   Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.  Welcome to the briefing.  I believe we have Martin Nesirky, Spokesperson, who is on the line from Cairo, having just arrived there from Yemen.  Is Martin there?


Spokesperson:  I am indeed, Eduardo.


Deputy Spokesperson:   Welcome, Martin, virtually.  Maybe you want to say a few words and then we will open the floor up to questions?


Spokesperson:  Sure, by all means.  So good afternoon, everybody.


**Secretary-General’s Travel


The Secretary-General has just arrived in Cairo, just a short while ago.  And the Secretary-General flew there from Sana’a, where he just spent the day to mark the forthcoming first anniversary of the conclusion of the Yemen Peace and Transition Agreement.  And it was also, of course, to lend his personal support to that transition process.


And just as an example, in his remarks at the ceremony for this first anniversary, the Secretary-General said that only a year ago, Yemen had come perilously close to widespread conflict, but that now calm had returned to most parts of the country.  He said that Yemen still faced profound challenges and that transitions anywhere were difficult.


The Secretary-General said that Yemen was now launching a highly important national dialogue process.  The Secretary-General said this needed to be open to all and that women must exercise a prominent and meaningful role in any process of change.  He said the views and aspirations of Yemen’s young people also needed to be taken into account.  I just want to check that you can still hear me, okay?


Deputy Spokesperson:   Yes, we hear you perfectly, Martin.


Spokesperson:  Very good, okay.  During his visit, the Secretary-General also held a series of meetings with Yemeni leaders, including President Hadi and the Prime Minister, the entire cabinet, the military committee and, very importantly also, the Preparatory Committee for the National Dialogue.  This brings together a really broad cross-section of Yemeni society.  And then he spoke to reporters, and as soon as I can get to a place where I can send the transcript, I will be doing just that and also providing the audio of that.


And so now the Secretary-General, as I say, has arrived in Cairo.  He has a working dinner this evening — it is now 7 o’clock in the evening — he has a working dinner with the Foreign Minister.  He is also expected to meet, during this visit, the President and the Prime Minister, and also the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States.  That will be tomorrow.  And, he will also be meeting with the Deputy Joint Special Representative for Syria.


As the Secretary-General said in his statement over the weekend, he has travelled to the region to add his support to the Egyptian-led efforts to reach an immediate ceasefire in the Gaza/southern Israel situation that we have.  So, that’s what I have for you at the moment and I am happy to take a few questions.  Could you say who you are, because I can’t actually see you this time around?  Thank you.


Deputy Spokesperson:   Okay, Martin, we’ve got Nizar.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Yeah, Martin, hi, I wish you will come back safely from your trip.  Martin, while the Secretary-General was there, there were many attacks on journalists in Gaza.  The As-Shorouk Tower was hit at least three-four times by the Israelis; one of the journalists lost his leg in the process, and the building of the tower of the… the press centre there is being demolished almost by… by the attacks.  How does the Secretary-General view the attacks on civilians in Gaza?


Spokesperson:  Well, look, I think the violence that we have seen, the deaths of, and injuries to, civilians that we have seen, both in Gaza and in Israel, just underscores the reason why he has come here, which is to support efforts to really reach a ceasefire that will hold as soon as possible.  Obviously, what we have seen in the last 24-36 hours is further bloodshed, further rockets coming out and further airstrikes and other kind of strikes into Gaza.  There have been civilian casualties, and all of that is regrettable, and all of that is precisely why the Secretary-General wishes to push this diplomatic effort, give his… lend his support, his diplomatic weight to these efforts that involve, obviously the Egyptian President and others, and of course, Israeli interlocutors.


Deputy Spokesperson:  Tim?


Question:  Hi, Martin.  I missed part of what you were saying when I was rushing down here, but will the Secretary-General be meeting Mr. [Benjamin] Netanyahu and President [Mahmoud] Abbas?


Spokesperson:  He will.  That’s the plan; I can’t tell you exactly when, but that is certainly the plan.


Question:  Okay, does he have any particular plan to put?


Spokesperson:  As I say, the Secretary-General’s main aim is to provide his support to the Egyptian-led efforts.  He has with him Robert Serry, he has with him Terje Roed-Larsen, but he also has with him, of course, Jeffrey Feltman, the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs.  He was also with him in Sana’a, along with Jamal Benomar.  So, I think he has a strong team with him to provide advice and support in the discussions that he will be having, as I say, first of all, this evening with the Egyptian Foreign Minister and then tomorrow with the President and the Prime Minister, and the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States.


Deputy Spokesperson:   Benny?


Question:  Benny Avni for… you know me.  Martin, there are reports in Al-Arabiya and elsewhere that they are actually very close to a ceasefire agreement.  Can the Secretary-General or you or anybody there… can they… can you assess how close we are and what are the stumbling blocks, currently?


Spokesperson:  Look, there are all kinds of media reports around.  We’re literally just off the aeroplane, having been in Yemen, where I think, for probably understandable reasons, we were completely under the radar and out of contact.  So, that’s precisely whey we are now going to have a meeting with the Egyptian Foreign Minister, and of course, the Secretary-General is being briefed as we head now to that meeting by his advisers, senior advisers.  I think the key point here is that the… simply that the Secretary-General wishes to add his diplomatic weight to these efforts, of which there… which are considerable and obviously extremely important at this time.


Deputy Spokesperson:  Okay, Matthew?


Question:  Sure, Martin, this may be… on Friday, Morocco here in… in New York, circulated a draft press statement based on what was done in 2008, and I just wonder, does the Secretariat have any… have any read on that?  What does he think the Security Council should do?  And just on the other conflict taking place over the weekend, has the Secretary-General spoken with Joseph Kabila, and if not, why not?


Spokesperson:  Matthew, can you just roll back to the beginning, I didn’t quite hear, where were you talking about…?


Question:  Sure.  Okay, here at… at the Security Council on Friday, again today, but the same draft, Morocco has circulated a draft press statement which would essentially mirror something that was put out in 2008; and I wonder, I know you… you often… you’d say it is up to the Council, but I just wonder, what would the Secretary-General like to see the Council do to support his efforts?  And… and then I have the questions about Joseph Kabila, which I think you heard.


Spokesperson:  I did hear that, yes.  Well, not just often, but always, Matthew, if the Security Council is deliberating on something, then it is for them to deliberate and decide.


What I can tell you is that we have expressed our own concerns, and not just the expressed concerns, but taken action on the ground and in the air, as you well know, in the Kivus to try to ensure that we can carry out the mandate that we have, which is to protect civilians.  On the second part of your question, on the phone calls, there were quite a few phone calls over the weekend of all kinds, including to… and including once we had arrived in the region here, that included a call last night from here to the Ugandan President and earlier, as we already reported, the Secretary-General spoke to the Foreign Minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and to the President of Rwanda.  Why did he speak to the Foreign Minister?  It was simply a question of getting through to the senior leadership of the [ Democratic Republic of the Congo] as a matter of some urgency.  And this was the call that was placed.  And I am sure that you would understand that, given the circumstances and the time factor, this was an expedient thing to do.  Any other questions, please?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, Nizar, Stefano, then Benny, then Tim.


Question:  Martin, given the great loss of civilian lives in Gaza and elsewhere, do you think the… does the Secretary-General believe that there should be investigation into crimes against… war crimes and crimes against humanity, especially one family lost 12 members in one attack in a densely populated area?


Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretary-General has expressed his deep sadness about that particular incident. I think his main aim is to work with all of the relevant parties, not least the Egyptians here in Cairo, to bring about a ceasefire as soon as possible so that the civilian casualties will no longer be there.  Of course, there will have been dozens of people who lost their lives and have been injured or wounded, and that is obviously extremely troubling.  The main priority for the Secretary-General is to try to bring that to a halt.  And that is why he is in the region:  to work with those who are already working, as he has been, to try to bring about an immediate ceasefire.


Deputy Spokesperson:  Stefano?


Question:  Yes, Martin, we have reported… reporting there in this moment in Cairo, actually, is where the Hamas and the Israelis having indirect conversation for the truce.  And I am asking you, do you have any information if… if there are other parts, apart of the Hamas, in the… in this dialogue for the… for the truce, because we had also reporting there is not only Hamas shooting those missiles, but there are others components in the… in Gaza that Hamas actually doesn’t control, like, for example, Jihad, Islamic Jihad.  So, who is really in this conversation for the truce?  Is only Hamas?  There are other elements?  And I would… the last question I… is the Secretary-General also planning to involve in the co… in this… in this dialogue, Iran?


Spokesperson:  On the first part, Stefano, as I said, we’ve just arrived.  I am not privy to what may have been going on and who is talking to whom.  I am simply telling you that the Secretary-General is here to support Egyptian efforts to try to bring about a ceasefire.  And on the second part of your question, I think the Secretary-General would first need to listen to his Egyptian interlocutors to hear what the state of play is.


Deputy Spokesperson:  Okay, Masood?


Question:  Yes, sir.  Sir, there are reports yesterday, the day before, that [Israeli Defense Forces] took direct att… directly attacked the… working journalists in Gaza, particularly.  And that they were targeted, basically.  That’s what happened.  And do you… what does the Secretary-General has to say about these things, which is happening that the working journalists, the way they are being targeted, especially in Gaza and so forth?  Is that okay with the Secretary-General?  Where does he stand?


Spokesperson:  I think the Secretary-General has always made it clear that journalists need to be able to go about their work without fear of being under attack.  It is obviously an extremely dangerous place at the moment for everybody, whether journalist or a Palestinian civilian.  So, it is extremely dangerous.  Journalists should be able to carry out their work; that is obvious.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Tim?


Question:  Martin, is the Secretary-General going to raise the general peace process during these talks, because there is a vote here on 29th about the Palestinian membership and a lot of people… well, some people — the Palestinians and others — are saying there is a link between this vote and the current conflict.


Spokesperson:  The first thing here is really to work towards an immediate ceasefire, and to support Egyptian efforts towards that end.  Of course, this violence, this bloodshed, is not doing anything to bring about greater security for Palestinians or the Israelis, and it makes it even harder for there to be negotiations through the Middle East peace process that would lead to a two-State solution.  So let’s get things in the right order at the moment, and that is to stop the violence that there is right now.


Deputy Spokesperson:  Benny?  Benny, then Nizar?


Question:  Just to make sure that we know exactly what the itinerary is, can you tell us when is he planning to be in Tel Aviv or Israel or… or is he planning also to go to Ramallah, and is there any plan to show up in Gaza, as well?


Spokesperson:  Right, Benny, I am not going to give you a precise itinerary for reasons I think you can understand.  He will be in Jerusalem, excuse me, he will be in Ramallah, and he will not be in Gaza.


Deputy Spokesperson:  Nizar?


Question:  Revisiting the issue of the journalists and the press centre in Gaza; the people were not accidentally targeted since you said that they are working in a dangerous area.  They were in offices, and they were warned by the [Israel Defense Forces] that they are going to be attacked.  That means they were attacked with intent here.  And we are not talking about an accident, are we?


Spokesperson:  Well, as I say, Nizar, it simply underscores the need to bring about a ceasefire as soon as possible so that everybody, the press included, can go about their working business safely and without the fear of being hurt or killed.


Deputy Spokesperson:  One more question, last here.  Your name, please?  Miki?


Question:  Hi, Martin, it’s Miki.  Even if the [Secretary-General] is not going to Gaza, is he going to have any, like, phone talks with the leadership of Hamas?


Spokesperson:  As I said, the Secretary-General is in the region to support Egyptian-led efforts, and he will be speaking to President Abbas in Ramallah and with the Israeli leadership in Jerusalem.  That’s what I have for you.  Listen, I have, I think I have to make that the last question.  I am going to try to repeat this if I can, in the coming days, depending on the timing of where we are at any certain given time.  But I, excuse me, I will do my best to try to help.


Just to come back to Yemen, if I may, before signing off, I mean, this was a extremely important visit, simply because this is a part of the Arab Spring, the transition that is, of course, extremely fragile, but has made considerable progress in the last year.  If you look where we were this time last year, you were looking over an abyss into an all-out civil war.  They managed to pull back from that, and they are in the middle of a political transition; they have a national dialogue that is about to start, and quite soon, and that is working towards the constitutional arrangements for elections in February of 2014.  And that is having already had presidential elections, which had quite a high turnout and a high approval rating for the president.


The President and the Prime Minister and then a Government of national unity have their work cut out, but the international community is really quite remarkably united in its support.  And this was underscored in a meeting that the Secretary-General also had with the diplomatic corps in Sana’a, a really remarkable degree of unity of purpose; not only on the political front, but underscoring the need to get it right with regard to the humanitarian crisis which there is in Yemen, and which often does not get the headlines that it deserves, because people really do see there is an economic transition, as well as a political transition.  That is why it was really important that the Secretary-General went there.  That was, I can assure you, was not an easy trip, but he did it, and I think it was an important message to the people of Yemen and to the region.


Deputy Spokesperson:  Thank you so much, Martin.  We look forward to hearing from you sometime over the next few days.  We wish you guys very safe travels and hopefully a successful outcome.


Spokesperson:  Thanks very much, all the best to you there.  Bye for now.


Deputy Spokesperson:  Bye-bye, thank you.  Well, I have a few other things to read out.


** Middle East


As Martin alluded to, in a statement issued yesterday, the Secretary-General expressed his sadness at the reported deaths of more than 10 members of the Dalu family, including women and children, and additional Palestinian civilians killed as a result of the ongoing violence in the Gaza strip.


He also expressed alarm at the continuing firing of rockets against Israeli towns, which has killed several Israeli civilians, adding that this must stop.  He strongly urged the parties to cooperate with all efforts led by Egypt to reach an immediate ceasefire.  Any further escalation will inevitably increase the suffering of the affected civilian populations and must be avoided.


The Secretary-General, as Martin said, is now in the region and he is there to appeal personally for ending the violence and contribute to ongoing efforts to this end.


** Democratic Republic of the Congo


Also in a statement issued yesterday, the Secretary-General strongly condemned the resumption of hostilities by the M23 in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.  He calls on the M23 [Mouvement du 23 mars] to immediately cease its attacks and any further military advances towards the city of Goma in North Kivu.  The Secretary-General calls on all relevant States to use their influence on the M23 to bring about an immediate end to the attacks.  The Secretary-General emphasized his personal commitment to supporting efforts to resolve the crisis and encourages enhanced dialogue between the relevant parties towards this end.


He added that the UN Mission, MONUSCO, will remain present in Goma and will continue all efforts to robustly implement its mandate to the fullest of its capabilities with regard to the protection of civilians.  He emphasizes that any actions to undermine or target MONUSCO will not be tolerated.


In a statement on Saturday evening, the members of the Security Council also strongly condemned the resumption of attacks by the M23 and demanded their immediate cessation, as well as the cessation of any further advances towards the city of Goma.  They demanded that any and all outside support and supply of equipment to the M23 cease immediately.


** Syria


The Joint Special Representative for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, attended the Sir Bani Yas Forum, in the United Arab Emirates over the weekend.  On the margins of the Forum, he met on Saturday with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the [ United Arab Emirates], His Highness Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan.


Yesterday, he met in Muscat with the Minister Responsible for Foreign Affairs of Oman, His Excellency Mr. Yusuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah.  And today, he was received in audience in Doha by the Emir of Qatar, His Highness Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani.  In all his meetings, the Joint Special Representative discussed the Syrian crisis.


**Security Council


The Security Council began a meeting this morning on piracy and armed robbery at sea, and the Deputy Secretary-General briefed Council members on the Secretary-General’s annual report on piracy off the coast of Somalia.


The Deputy Secretary-General told the Council that piracy and armed robbery affects the freedom of shipping and the safety of vital shipping lanes that carry about 90 per cent of the world’s trade.  According to the latest reports from the International Maritime Organization, there were 291 attacks against ships in the first 10 months of 2012.  Pirates are still holding 293 seafarers hostage.  The latest report of the Secretary-General notes a sharp decline in pirate attacks in waters off the coast of Somalia in 2012 compared to 2011.  However, these gains can be easily reversed if we do not address the causes of piracy.


Consultations have just begun on the situation in the Middle East and the question of Palestine.  The piracy meeting will resume at 3 p.m.


**Press Conference


And tomorrow at 12:30 p.m., here in the Auditorium, there will be a press conference by the Department of Economic and Social Affairs on “Promoting Cooperatives Beyond 2012”.


That’s it from me.  I have time for a few questions.  Masood?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  This is just also a follow-up on a question which I asked Martin also.  There were reports… the reason why I ask, I emphasize, there were reports that Israel is directly targeting the journalists who are covering the conflict in Gaza in particular.  They were not… I mean, there is no doubt about it that the Israelis reporting from Israel were saying that this is the decision of the Israeli Government.  The Secretary-General has nothing to say about this?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I think Martin was very clear.  The Secretary-General has consistently and always said that journalists have to be free to pursue their profession free from violence and free from attack.  Martin said that, and that’s the Secretary-General’s position; it hasn’t changed.


Question:  But, directly targeting the journalists without…?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, journalists are targeted in many places around the world, Masood, and you know the Secretary-General has made it very clear that this has got to stop.  Journalists must be allowed to pursue their profession free of violence, free of attack and free of intimidation.  And Martin said it, the Secretary-General has said it, and I am just repeating what they have said — that is the position of the Secretary-General.  Matthew?


Question:  Sure, Eduardo, I want to ask you a couple of questions about the Congo.  One is, and I had asked this… tried to ask this to Mr. [Hervé] Ladsous on Saturday, and I want ask… and then his spokesman had said it is a distraction, but it is a factual question I want to ask you.  Who violated the ceasefire between the [ Democratic Republic of the Congo] Government and M23?  On 10 November, they announced that an attack had taken place on 9 November in… where they had been during the ceasefire time and I want to know, what’s the UN’s knowledge of the fighting that took place on 9th and did… did MONUSCO play any role in… in an attack on M23by [Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo]?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, as the Security Council and the Secretary-General have both said, we are calling on M23to stop their attacks on Goma, to stop their attacks and to engage in the ceasefire again.  That’s all.


Question:  But, I understand what they are calling for, but the thing is, I mean, since MONUSCO is on the ground there…?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Matthew, I have answered the question.


Question:  Okay, my other question is, in front of the Security Council this morning, French Ambassador Gérard Araud said that MONUSCO has moved its helicopters from Goma to Bukavu.  Can you… how many have been moved?  Have they all been moved?  What’s the plan on that if they are, in fact, the defenders of civilians?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have any information on that, I don’t.  I believe that, as the Secretary-General said, MONUSCO remains in Goma and is going to stay in Goma.  If we have anything to report, I will let you know.  Anything else?


Question:  Darfur, can I… well, it’s reported that in… in Darfur, UNAMID [African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur] on 13 November provided medevac [medical evacuation] sort of services to… to Sudanese armed forces that,

at least from the rebel point of view, are attacking them, and I wanted to know, what is the… what are the sort of rules for UNAMID?  Would they provide similar medevac to rebels?  Do they… do they have… pro… given that Sudan has been accused in the ICC [International Criminal Court] of genocide in Darfur, is there any contradiction of the UN, you know, providing such services to the Sudanese armed forces?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, one second, I think I have something here.  On medical assistance by the Mission, I have the following for you.


Following the fighting, UNAMID airlifted, upon request, injured combatants from its team site to El Fasher for further treatment.  The provision of medical assistance to wounded combatants is a core requirement of international humanitarian law, which falls under UNAMID’s mandate.  In the past, the Mission provided such medical assistance to wounded combatants from both sides with due respect to the principles of neutrality and impartiality.


Question:  And you do that anywhere in the world?   I mean that’s the… that’s the…?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, that just, that’s, what I just read is the answer.  Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen.  Have a good afternoon.


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For information media • not an official record