|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Press Conference by Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs
Lynn B. Pascoe, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, outlined, at a Headquarters press conference this afternoon, a wide range of political issues confronting his Department on the eve of the opening of the sixty-fourth session of the General Assembly tomorrow.
“The broad front” of issues that would be at the centre of attention during the next few weeks in New York included the situation in Sri Lanka, Nepal, Pakistan, Myanmar, the Middle East, Lebanon, Cyprus, Somalia and Madagascar. In particular, he announced his forthcoming visit to Sri Lanka this week, where concerns remained about the pace of progress since the Secretary-General’s recent visit to the country, including on the issues of internally displaced persons, the political process and a possible accountability mechanism.
This morning, the Secretary-General had had a conversation with President Mahinda Rajapaksa on those issues, as well as the questions of two abducted United Nations staff members and the expulsion of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) spokesman. The Under-Secretary-General, during his visit, intended to follow up on those items, “keeping a high level of engagement”.
Regarding the efforts to strengthen the Department of Political Affairs, he said that recruitment was under way for the 49 positions that had been added last year, with the goal of increasing the action-oriented Department’s expertise, professionalism and flexibility. “We have been trying to get a team together to go out to a hotspot within hours of an event,” he said. The Department was also trying to work closely with regional organizations “anyplace where there is a problem”. The Department’s Mediation Support Unit’s standby team was working very effectively.
However, he was not going to make any pretence that the Department had all the answers, he continued. “Being there fast, being there smarter and having the right people in place” did not necessarily mean that it would be possible to solve every complex problem. By definition, “going about our business on the political side” was fairly sensitive and, therefore, lower profile than such issues as humanitarian assistance. In many cases, the issues only came to the United Nations when other people had not been able to solve them. However, the Department was trying to identify the main actors and “move things forward” in the right direction.
One of the processes that did not grab many headlines, but which the United Nations continued to be involved in, was the situation in Nepal, he said. The Security Council had recently extended the Mission there for an additional six months. “Clearly, we would like to work ourselves out of a job there,” but more remained to be done before the Organization could move on to the next stage.
He also announced a meeting of the Friends of Democratic Pakistan, which was expected to be held on the margins of the Assembly’s general debate. Responding to several questions in that regard, he noted the efforts to not only show strong support for the South Asian nation’s moves to consolidate its democracy, but also to give coherence and direction to international assistance. The Pakistanis had been working hard on plans for the region, with the help of the United Nations country team, and it was important to make sure that all the efforts were carried out in sync.
He added that, during a recent pledging conference in Tokyo, sizeable funds had been promised for Pakistan. Now, it was important to focus on how those funds would be disbursed. It was also important to get the donors to carry through on their commitments.
Turning to the Middle East peace process, Mr. Pascoe mentioned the possibility of a Quartet meeting next week, adding that Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Robert H. Serry, was working with all the parties concerned on a broad range of issues, with particular emphasis on access to Gaza.
“We all understand the huge number of problems and difficulties, and we are all trying to do something,” he said in response to a question on that issue, adding that the key element was how to make life better for the people of Gaza.
Asked about Israel’s attempts to link the release of Gilad Shalit to the granting of access, he said that he was not prepared to say anything on what was happening or not happening with regard to the release. The United Nations had certainly tried to do everything it could, and the Secretary-General had repeatedly made it clear that the Israeli soldier should be released.
The situation in Lebanon remained complex, he continued. There had been a general stabilization, and there were days when one could feel optimistic. However, the difficulties in forming a government remained. That was a matter for the Lebanese parties to resolve, but the United Nations was encouraging them to conclude the political process as soon as possible.
Regarding Cyprus, he said he was optimistic that Greek Cypriot leader Demetris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmed Ali Talat could achieve progress during the second phase of negotiations to resolve the differences between the two sides. It was really critical to help the parties arrive at an agreement, and the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Cyprus, Alexander Downer, had been working as hard as he could towards that end. Mr. Pascoe was looking forward to the Secretary-General’s meeting with both leaders in the next couple of weeks, as well.
Turning to Africa, Mr. Pascoe noted increased attention to the question of Somalia, where a serious peace process had been under way, under the leadership of the Secretary-General and his Special Representative, Ahmed Ould Abdallah. A comparative lack of international interest in the country ‑‑ except on the humanitarian side ‑‑ had been replaced with active assistance and efforts to rebuild the infrastructure. As for piracy, it was only a symptom of the problem. The core issue was the need for the Somalis to come together under their Government to rebuild their own society.
Continuing, he also emphasized the importance of dealing with the issues of narcotics and lawlessness in West Africa and highlighted the Organization’s deep involvement in Madagascar, where, “from the very first”, the United Nations had been trying to make sure that the political leaders came to a consensus. It was “a classic case where things don’t always happen in a textbook way”, and the Organization intended to keep working on all the difficult issues.
One of the things that the Secretary-General deserved much credit for was the issue of integration ‑‑ making the United Nations system work together, he added. When different parts of the Organization pulled together, as they were in Sierra Leone, for example, not only could the United Nations bring about real change on the ground, it could also have others follow its example.
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