5 February 2013
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.  Welcome to the briefing.


** Mali


Jeffrey Feltman, the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, attended the meeting of the Support and Follow-up Group on Mali that took place in Brussels today.  He said that, to secure the military gains attained so far in Mali, it is important that the pledges made at the Donors’ Conference in Addis Ababa last month swiftly materialize to enable the African force, AFISMA, to become fully operational, and for the Malian defence and security forces to enhance their capabilities and capacities.


Mr. Feltman welcomed the recent adoption of the Road Map for the Transition by the National Assembly and said he looks forward to its implementation.  The Malian authorities should also continue to make visible progress in the preparations for free, fair and transparent elections as soon as possible.


He expressed concern about allegations of serious human rights violations in the recovered areas, reportedly perpetrated by Malian defence and security forces.  The United Nations calls upon all parties to respect international human rights and humanitarian norms, and do everything possible to ensure that all allegations are investigated and that the perpetrators are brought to justice.

We have his remarks in my office.


** Syria


The World Health Organization (WHO) said that the health situation in Syria has worsened over the last six months, with heavy fighting in the rural area around Damascus.  Access to areas is constantly changing from week to week.  Overall, 55 per cent of the public hospitals have been damaged and more than one third of all hospitals are out of service.


The World Health Organization’s early-warning system is functioning and it reports an increase in hepatitis A cases, a disease linked to failures in water and sanitation.  Vaccinations for hepatitis A are to take place in shelters for displaced people, where the problem has been the biggest.


The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that, almost two years since the beginning of the conflict, the catastrophic humanitarian crisis continues to deepen. If the violence continues unabated, it says that we could, in the short term, see considerably more than the current number of 4 million people in need of urgent assistance and more than 2 million internally displaced in Syria.  There are more details on all of this from today’s Geneva briefing.


**Palestinians


The Secretary-General spoke at the opening session this morning of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, and he reaffirmed the need for progress towards a two-State solution for the Israelis and Palestinians.


He said that, following Israel’s elections last month, we look forward to engaging the next Israeli Government in the common pursuit of peace.  This is no time to be idle. And he added that settlement activity is a major obstacle to the two-State solution and must cease immediately.


The Secretary-General noted the efforts being made towards Palestinian reconciliation and expressed his appreciation to the Egyptian Government for its efforts in this regard.  He added that, for real progress to be made, Hamas must make clear where it stands on the central questions at stake.  His full remarks are available in my office.


**Security Council


The Security Council has been discussing the Democratic Republic of the Congo this morning in consultations.  Hervé Ladsous, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, briefed the Council.


And this afternoon, the Security Council will discuss Guinea-Bissau.  Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Tayé-Brook Zerihoun will brief the Council.


**Noon Briefing Guest Tomorrow


And just to say that tomorrow, I will be joined by the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Hervé Ladsous.


**Concert


I was asked yesterday about a concert held at the United Nations on 5 March by an Israeli singer.  Just for the record, all costs associated with the concert are being covered by the sponsor, which in this case is the Permanent Mission of Israel.


That’s what I have.  Questions.  Yes?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Thank you, Martin.  There is quite a bit of concern, as you know, by members of the press corps about the move back to the permanent quarters, and there was a structure that is being built in what was traditionally the press access; there is also the removal of press booths in order to cover events like… can you give us some insight or get some insight, especially since many Security Council members have said they knew nothing about it, into the decision-making process that went into it and what it is? What um, you see about it?  Maybe some definition of it?


Spokesperson:  Well, I know that you are in deep conversation and in consultations with Security Council members, and also with the Department of Public Information.  So, I would defer to them.  I would simply say that it is obvious that everything that can be done to make journalists’ work as easy as possible will be done.  But that needs to be something that you take up with the Department of Public Information, and I know that you are doing that.  I also know, as I just said, that you are in conversation with the Security Council members.


Correspondent:  Martin, the only reason I follow up is that the Department of Public Information said it was a decision of the Security Council; the Security Council says it is a decision of the DPI.  So, maybe you can get some; I… I… we’d appreciate it if you could [inaudible]


Spokesperson:  Of course, I can look into that, but I think you have the right interlocutors already.  Yes, Masood?


Question:  Yes sir, on this offer of peace talks by Syrian opposition to Assad and that is now being encouraged by the United States, what is his position of Secretary-General? Is he encouraging it or following it as closely as the United States is saying that it is in fact seems to be a genuine offer?  Is there [inaudible]?


Spokesperson:  Well, as I think we mentioned already, and as I think we mentioned, I mentioned, yesterday, Mr. Brahimi was in Munich over the weekend and had a series, had a series of meetings, including with Vice-President Biden of the United States, with Minister Lavrov of the Russian Federation, with the Iranian Foreign Minister, the Iraqi Foreign Minister, Lebanese Prime Minister and the Prime Minister of Qatar.  So quite a wide range of Government figures, plus with Moaz al-Khatib, the Syrian opposition leader.  And a key part, of course, of those various discussions that were held by Mr. Brahimi with the figures I just mentioned was this suggestion, proposal, by Mr. al-Khatib — and it dominated discussions, is the way that Mr. Brahimi’s team is putting it — and it was generally welcomed as an important positive development in those discussions.  I can say that certainly, the Secretary-General considers it to be a positive and good sign.  After all, the Secretary-General and many others have been calling for many months now for political dialogue as the only way to solve this, and for the military confrontation, for the violence, to end.  So any move in this direction is obviously a positive sign.  And we would want to hear more and see how this moves forward.


Question:  Another question on Syria; I mean, just this conference that was held in Kuwait on raising money for Syrian refugees and so forth, do you have exact figure as to how much money they raised, exact figure or do you have, uh, it is still being calculated and the promises made are to be [inaudible] realized?


Spokesperson:  I think there are quite precise figures on the website of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, and I would be happy to steer you in the right direction afterwards, but it is in excess of $1.5 billion that was the figure that was looked for, and that was exceeded.  But the details I think you would find on the website.  And of course, the key point here is that if the humanitarian efforts are to be expanded, to be boosted to cover the kind of difficulties that I mentioned right at the start of the briefing, for example, on the health front, and reaching as many people as possible, whether in Government-held areas or in those held by the opposition.  For all that to happen, the pledges, very generous pledges that were made, they must be converted into committed and disbursed funds.  In other words, you actually need the money, as well as the promise of the money.  And so that’s the real focus now.


Correspondent:  In fact, the reason why I asked is because how many pledges are finally being realized in the sense that there are pledges made but some of them will never come through?


Spokesperson:  I would urge you to take a look at the website of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.  All right.  Questions, please.  Yes, Matthew?


Question:  Sure, I… I have… have a question similar to the first one that was asked, but I want to ask you first this thing on, on Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.  There is a video put out essentially by the Government and put onto State media which portrays a dreaming North Korean child and a missile, and shows New York and a burning American flag, and I am wondering if anyone in the Secretariat has seen it and if they have any response to it?


Spokesperson:  I’ll check.


Question:  Okay.  There is one — that same one — I have some other questions, but I just wanted to… this is one that… I think I had asked Eduardo in your… in your… in your… your absence, but I wanted really, it seems to be a kind of a policy question and it has to do with the limitation by the UN of accreditation to media that are registered with a Government accepted by the GA.  And I wanted to understand, it’s a simple question whether this excludes areas like Abkhazia, northern Republic of… of… of… of Tur… uh, you know, in Tur… in… in Cyprus, the northern part of it, uh, whether it, it excluded Palestine before 29 November; what’s the purpose of that limitation which seems to go to the, the heart of the right of journalists to actually enter the UN, much less the stairs by the Security Council?


Spokesperson:  I’ll check if there is anything more specific beyond what the general point that there is a long-standing position that it is Member States that recognize or do not recognize States or entities as States.  So it is not the United Nations itself that does that.


Correspondent:  But isn’t it, I mean… I… the United States… the United Nations recognized the rights of journalists wherever they come from. But in the accreditation guideline it is limited to journalists from certain territories and that’s what I am trying to explore, whether that is consistent with what UNESCO said, article 19 which sort of free press generally.


Spokesperson:  No, I understand what you’re saying…


Correspondent:  Okay.


Spokesperson:  …and that’s why I said if I have anything more…


Correspondent:  Okay, I really appreciate it.


Spokesperson:  …I will, but for now I am pointing you to the general principle…


Correspondent:  Right, I know.


Spokesperson:  …of Member States having primacy in this matter.


Correspondent:  That’s great.


Spokesperson:  Yeah.  Yes?


Correspondent:  [inaudible] a little strange, but [inaudible]?


Spokesperson:  About, sorry?


Question:  [inaudible] you can see it in the… in the… in the logo of the United Nations here… this… they try to promote it here as a, as a food of the future.  Uh, I have a question first of all was there any research made about quinoa here in the United Nations?  Is it good for [inaudible], does it have any side effects, first of all?  And, uh, if you consider it as a food for the future, uh, it should be affordable to everyone, but here at the United Nations it costs quite, quite a lot.  It’s about not… not less than uh, $10 per kilo.  So we cannot say it is affordable food for… for everyone; it is much more expensive [inaudible].  Can you… can you comment on that?


Spokesperson:  Not right now, but it is a very interesting question, and we’ll look into it.  There are two ports of call here in UN Headquarters; in New York, we can certainly try to find out some more, and then, of course, with the FAO in Rome.  So we’ll certainly try to find a little bit more for you.


Question:  For instance, it was said that it contains a lot of iron.  But if you compare with buckwheat, it is much less iron in buckwheat.  So what is the reason why it was so widely promoted by the United Nations, is what I am [inaudible]?


Spokesperson:  Okay, we’ll try to find out.  Thank you for the question.  Yes?


Question:  Sure, I wanted to find, ask, it’s… I guess two Sudan questions that are in, there, eh, well, they are about Sudan.  One is that there… there are reports that… that some of the armed rebels from Mali have been seen uh, you know, in Darfur.  This is on… on Radio Dabanga, but they cite, you know, sources in towns and I am wondering since UNAMID is there and this would be kind of a classic case of… of cross-border kind of blowback of threat, a threat to international peace and security, does UNAMID have any knowledge of or comment on… on whether any of the… the… the rebels fleeing from the towns in Mali have crossed into Darfur?


Spokesperson:  I have not seen anything on that, Matthew.  So I’d have to defer to my colleagues in Peacekeeping Operations.  I haven’t seen anything on that.


Question:  Okay, the other one is that, is, there… there… Sudan has complained that South Sudan has not pulled back from… from border regions that they claim were part of the… the agreement reached in the AU, and I am wondering, obviously there is counter-claims; South Sudan has said that Sudan has bombed us, as I asked you yesterday, but the… the… what’s the UN’s sort of sense of… of… was there a Monday deadline to pull back from the border should South Sudan have pulled back?  Have they pulled back?  What’s the status?


Spokesperson:  Well, the point here is that both the parties agreed that the situation in the border area between Sudan and South Sudan is to be monitored by a joint border monitoring mechanism.  But as I think you know, that mechanism is not yet operational.  So that means it is not possible to verify alleged incidents as reported in the press at this point.  Okay.  Yes, Pam?


Question:  Thank you, Martin.  The Kazakhstan talks with, on Iran nuclear issues, which is the P5 plus Germany, doesn’t seem to have a role for the United Nations; United Nations is in… I mean, has no… is there a role at all that the United Nations will be involved in those talks since it has been involved obviously in all the sanctions regime?


Spokesperson:  The P5+1, EU 3+3; that’s certainly something that we keep a close eye on.  And certainly, of course, there is coordination of efforts and as I say, it is monitored closely.  But it is a separate track.


Question:  So, there would be no UN Rep that…


Spokesperson:  Not to my knowledge.  But that doesn’t mean that we are not watching it.  And of course, at this point I don’t have confirmation that that meeting is taking place.  That would be for the parties concerned to announce.  I know that there was some talk in Munich about a possible date later this month, but it is particularly for the EU and for Iran to announce something.  Yes?


Question:  I, it’s just a housekeeping thing, Martin, about this cafeteria where the, updated cafeteria sort of…


Spokesperson:  We’re on food today, it seems, we are on food today.


Question:  Huh?


Spokesperson:  We are on food today, but…


Question:  …shortened the hours to 3 o’clock and then, even then they close about 5 or 10 minutes early.  And then the food there has become more expensive than even in the market.  I mean, and it is a United Nations with tax-free thing, I mean, it doesn’t reflect over there.  A bottle of water, which I can get for a dollar outside, is sold for a $1.23.  I am just saying these things, and I mean, a can of soda — same thing.  I mean, everything is higher price, and yet they do not have plates; they do not have cups for drink and what is it?  Because, they say, no, it’s we are spending, it’s greening, something to do with green that we would not be provided with cups to drink water.  We have to buy bottles.  So, that… Aramark should be… I mean, looked at as to… by the Secreta… I mean Secretariat whoever, whoever does it.  Is there somebody else who can provide better services to the United Nations?  That could be done.


Spokesperson:  Well, I have heard what you have said, and I hope others have, too.  I don’t really have anything to say, except maybe I should buy you lunch.  But yes?  Yes?  [laughter]


Question:  [inaudible]  Kenya, but believe it, I do have a follow-up very briefly on that one, which is… it is a more… it is… there was… a decision was made on Friday that closed the coffee shop underneath the General Assembly.  And so, obviously the workers were somewhat concerned that they can no longer work there.  But it would have made, it led to the question, when is in fact the GA building going to be closed for renovations?  Is it that… was this closed on Friday because of that or is it not until May, as some people say, and if so, why did the contractor Aramark stop providing this service and also employing…?  That’s more of a question, I don’t expect you, maybe you’ll have it.


Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything for you.  You would need to speak to the contractor directly yourself if you wish to.  If I hear anything further on that I will let you know.  With regard to the renovation of the General Assembly and that whole area, I’d have to check with the Capital Master Plan people because I do not have that at hand, okay?  Yes?


Question:  Martin, thank you.  Today in northern Kosovo, in northern part of city Mitrovica, Serbian radical was arrested in connection with recent bombing where two children of the Serbian nationality were hurt.  Do you have any information since you do have an office there?  Is Secretary-General been briefed on this?  What is happening?


Spokesperson:  Well, what I can tell you is that the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Kosovo has expressed his shock at the news of what he called a cowardly attack on a home in north Mitrovica in which two children where injured.


Farid Zarif — that’s the Special Representative — called on all to clearly condemn such acts.  He welcomed the investigation being carried out by Kosovo police and EULEX, which is the European Union’s Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo.


And his full statement, I can tell you, is available on the website of the Mission he heads.  Okay.  Yes?


Question:  [inaudible] about the Russian helicopter in South Sudan?  [inaudible] still, we don’t have any results, but there must been problems there?


Spokesperson:  I don’t believe that there is a problem.  I think it is simply an investigation that is under way.  But I would encourage you to ask Mr. Ladsous tomorrow.


Question:  What’s your thought, what Secretary-General’s thought, about tomorrow’s very first meeting between President of Kosovo and President of Serbia that is going to take place in Brussels?


Spokesperson:  We have consistently said that the European Union-facilitated dialogue is a good thing and to be encouraged.  And so, therefore, we look forward to that meeting as a step in the right direction, as part of that dialogue that I just mentioned.  Yes?


Question:  Sure, I want to ask about Kenya and, I… I also… I mean, maybe you expected this one.  Is, is there a readout of the meeting yesterday with President Rajoelina of Madagascar?


Spokesperson:  I think you are right, Matthew, I did expect it, but that doesn’t mean I have anything.  For the simple reason that we don’t have readouts on all meetings.  And I would encourage you not to read into the lack of a readout anything particular.  It’s just some we do, some we don’t.


Question:  Then how about… because yesterday I had asked this question of what the UN, given its role in the mediation in Madagascar, what its view of, was of the, of the barring of the wife of the former President, you’d said, let’s see what happens, and I understood at that time it may be it made no sense to say anything, Is it possible, can I just ask you that question outside of the meeting, outside of any meeting the Secretary-General had?  Is there a UN position on, on that?


Spokesperson:  Yes, yes, of course you can.  And if I have an answer, I’d be very happy to give it to you.


Question:  Thank you, Martin.  North Korea State-run media released a video on YouTube that shows a North Korean young man dreaming of what appears to be…


Spokesperson:  [laughter]  Okay.  All right, I am hearing it twice, but I have not yet seen it myself, so, I will take a look.  It is obviously a matter of serious concern that there are tensions on the Korean peninsula related to North Korea’s nuclear programme.  I don’t have anything specific related to this; I haven’t seen it.  I don’t know if my colleagues have seen it.  So I think I will leave it at that at this point.  Okay, thank you very much.  Have a good afternoon.  Thank you.


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For information media • not an official record