Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

4 January 2010

Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

4 January 2010
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 and welcome to the noon briefing.  And happy New Year to everybody.

**HIV/AIDS

The Secretary-General and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) have welcomed the removal of travel restrictions based on HIV status by the Republic of Korea and by the United States.  The lifting of the restrictions took effect on 1 January in the Republic of Korea, and the United States change took effect today.

The Secretary-General has repeated his call to all other countries with discriminatory restrictions to take steps to remove them as soon as possible.  The head of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, Michel Sidibé, added that such discrimination had no place in today's highly mobile world.  According to UNAIDS, some 57 countries, territories and areas have some form of HIV-specific travel ban.

**Secretary-General, United Kingdom Prime Minister

In a phone call this morning, the Secretary-General and Prime Minister Gordon Brown of the United Kingdom exchanged best wishes for the New Year and they shared concerns about the situation in Somalia.

The Secretary-General indicated his support for the conference on Yemen that is being organized by Prime Minister Brown in London at the end of the month.  The Secretary-General was appreciative of the initiative of Prime Minister Brown and welcomed the focus of the conference on counter-terrorism.  He expressed concerns about the violence in part of Yemen and the presence of Al-Qaeda in the country.  He was also concerned about the humanitarian situation. 

They also discussed follow-up steps on climate change.

** Afghanistan Report

The Secretary-General’s latest report to the General Assembly and the Security Council on Afghanistan is out as a document today.  The Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Kai Eide, will brief Member States on that report here this week, and we are trying to arrange a press briefing by him while he is here.

In the report, the Secretary-General says that the controversial 2009 elections undermined confidence in Afghanistan’s leadership and affected international support for engagement in Afghanistan.  However, it ultimately yielded a result that was acceptable to the Afghan people and respected the country’s laws and institutions.

He says that the electoral process revealed serious flaws and weaknesses that need to be corrected before the United Nations can engage in a similar supporting role for future elections.  The Secretary-General says that we are now at a critical juncture, and he adds that there is a need for a reinforced international coordination structure in Afghanistan, under a United Nations umbrella.

Also on Afghanistan, the UN Assistance Mission for Afghanistan (UNAMA), in remarks at a press briefing today, declared that it was encouraged that many of the reform-oriented ministers in the Afghan Cabinet -- for agriculture, finance, defence and the interior -- were approved.  But the Mission noted that many others were rejected, and this will delay the formation of a functioning Cabinet.

The UN Mission respects the Afghan Parliament’s constitutional role in approving the Cabinet choices and hopes that President [Hamid] Karzai will work closely with Parliament to approve his choice for the remaining Cabinet positions swiftly.  We have more details in today’s briefing notes from Kabul.

**Security Council

With the start of a new month, China has assumed the rotating presidency of the Security Council, taking over from Burkina Faso.  Also, five new countries joined the Security Council as of 1 January:  Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Gabon, Lebanon and Nigeria.

The Council expects to hold its first consultations for this year tomorrow morning.  After that, Ambassador Zhang Yesui, the Council President for January, expects to brief reporters on its programme of work for the coming month.  That press conference will be at 12:30, here in this auditorium.

**Capital Master Plan

The Office of the Secretary-General has relocated from the 38th floor of the Secretariat Building to the 3rd floor of the Temporary North Lawn Building.  Altogether, 272 occupants from the Secretariat Building and the Conference Building have their swing space offices in the Temporary North Lawn Building.  Most of them have moved since 25 December.  They are scheduled to return to the renovated Secretariat and Conference Buildings in 2012.

Also, a number of conference rooms have already been relocated, and by 25 January this year, the move of the conference spaces from the Conference Building to the Temporary North Lawn Building will be complete.  Detailed information on the venue of the meetings will be available in the daily Journal.

The Secretary-General looks forward to welcoming staff to the North Lawn Building at a ceremony on 11 January, and he is expected to be talking about the UN’s agenda for 2010 at a town hall meeting and also at a General Assembly meeting on the same day.  We are expecting him to have a press stakeout in the new building on the same day.

We will give you details when we have them.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Is that the day when the Secretary-General is going to give his first press conference of the year?

Spokesperson:  As I was saying, we expect to have a press stakeout, rather than a press conference, in the new building.  It will be the first occasion to ask a range of questions to the Secretary-General -- and not here. 

Question:  On the Yemen conference, on the twenty-eighth, will the Secretary-General be going?  If not, who will the United Nations be sending?  In the statement that you made, you said that he thought it was a good idea.  But does the United Nations or the Secretary-General have any input into what the conference should be addressing?

Spokesperson:  Well, as I mentioned, they did talk about this.  He’s clearly supportive of the initiative that Gordon Brown has taken.  As you know, there is the Afghanistan Conference that will be running in parallel to that, at which the Secretary-General will be present.  Clearly there will be some kind of United Nations presence, and I think we’ll need to wait to see precisely who it is.  Let me find out precisely and get back to you.

Question:  Just a follow-up on that.  If there’s somebody from the Department of Political Affairs -- I don’t know, whoever’s going to be leading on that -- maybe we can get a briefing on Yemen, because it seems to be becoming quite a big issue. 

Spokesperson:  That’s a good idea.  Let’s see what we can find out.  I suspect that it will be senior-level representation at this Yemen meeting in London.  But I need to find out for sure exactly who it will be.  As for the idea of a briefing, that’s a good idea and we’ll see what we can do.

Question:  Happy New Year.  A few things:  could you also find out what the United Nations is actually doing in Yemen?  I assume that there’s a country office.  I assume they’re doing some humanitarian stuff and the World Food Programme, but it would be nice to know exactly what the United Nations is doing there. 

Secondly, on an important housekeeping note, there are signs up on all the elevators that asbestos abatement is starting in the building on 8 January.  Could you please check and make sure that the asbestos abatement is not going to be taking place on the third and fourth floors until after those of us who are still there leave?

Spokesperson:  Sure, I’ll find out.  On the second part, on the asbestos, of course I’ll find out.  On the first point you made about Yemen and what the United Nations does there, we certainly do have a presence there and in a number of buildings in the capital.  Precisely which agencies are located where, and what they do, I will need to find out.  But we certainly do have a presence in the country.  [He later added that the United Nations has 127 international staff and 450 national staff in Yemen. The UN operates out of 12 offices in the Capital and three sub-offices in the provinces.  In addition, UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) operates from several refugee camps in the south and now in the north.]

Question:  A question about the coordination structure in Afghanistan under the United Nations umbrella.  Can you say a little more on what you mean by that?  And I wondered, are there efforts towards some kind of political solution in Afghanistan? 

And I have a different question about a different United Nations role.  It’s going to be the sixtieth anniversary of the start of the Korean War, and the United Nations is still somehow involved with regard to the United Nations Command.  I wondered if you could let me know, or let us know, what is the role of the United Nations with regard to the UN Command?  There is some effort towards a peace treaty.  What would be the role of the United Nations with regard to a peace treaty?  How can we understand that?

Spokesperson:  Alright.  Well, let’s start at the top with the coordinated structure.  Listen, I haven’t read the entire report in detail yet, but the relevant section is on page 13 that talks about the need for a reinforced international coordination structure in Afghanistan under a United Nations umbrella.  What it says is that, if such an umbrella was put in place ‑‑ with the United Nations as the umbrella, and underneath that, a coordination structure ‑‑ if that was put in place, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General would maintain overall responsibility for coordinating international civilian efforts.  But what you would have, in addition, would be a strengthening of the staff of the Mission, the United Nations Assistance Mission, with the right kind of expertise and experience.  

The Special Representative also believes that appointing a senior civilian official within the International Security Assistance Force would help to improve coordination.  This is something that’s been out there and talked about before.  This is what I’m drawing your attention to in this report. 

I’m sure that you’ll be able to hear more when there is the Security Council session.  And after that, people coming out will be able to speak to you at the stakeout.  As I mentioned, we’re trying to arrange for Kai Eide to brief you.  In doing so, I’m sure he could explain what he has in mind here.

As for a political solution to what’s happening in Afghanistan, there is a political solution in place, if you like -- there is a Government, a Cabinet, that is being put in place.  If you’re talking in more general terms, that’s a very big question that I’m not really in a position to answer, sitting here.

On the sixtieth anniversary of the Korean War, the United Nations Military Armistice Commission is an entity that has been in place for an extremely long time.  The specific, detailed role of the United Nations is, in historical terms, important.  Where we are now, it’s really a matter for the key combatant countries at that time to sit down and talk.  And that is something that has been advocated by some of the parties.  Whether it comes to that, we shall have to wait and see.  I think that’s what I have on that.  If I have anything further, specific, about the historical role, I can give it to you, but I think that you can easily find that out yourself.

Question:  I’d like to go back to Yemen.  I’m sure you know that the United States and Britain closed down their embassies there over the weekend.  And I was wondering, you mentioned that the United Nations has some offices there.  I was wondering whether, also, the United Nations was taking some extra security measures considering the situation there right now?  That’s my first question.

Spokesperson:  I wouldn’t want to get into detail about security measures, but I can tell you that the United Nations takes this extremely seriously and has been reviewing security on the ground there.

Question:  Okay.  And then I have another question going back to Afghanistan.  Perhaps you’ve seen the editorial in the New York Times, again over the weekend, about the nominee for a replacement for Mr. Kai Eide.  They suggested Mr. [Jean-Marie] Guéhenno [former Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations], Mr. Ian Martin [former Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Nepal] and Mr. [Staffan] de Mistura [former Special Representative for Iraq].  So I was wondering if we can confirm that these are the three candidates for the job?  And when can we expect some announcement on that?

Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, the New York Times is entitled to its opinion ‑‑ that’s clear.  But, there is a recruitment process that is still going on, and it is not completed.  And because of that, it would not be appropriate to talk about names.

Question:  What about Mr. Guéhenno being on top of the list?

Spokesperson:  It would not be appropriate to talk about names.  The New York Times is entitled to its opinion.  It was an editorial.  It’s quite unusual to see an editorial by the New York Times with an endorsement of that kind.  That’s for them to talk about.  What I can tell you is that the recruitment process, the selection process, is still underway.  It is not completed.  When it is, and when I am in a position to tell you who is selected, I will of course do so.

Question:  It’s reported that the Congolese Army has started a new offensive, replacing Kimia II with something called Amani Leo, which seems to have the same goal of attacking FDLR (Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda) positions.  So I wondered, since Alan Doss [Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the Democratic Republic of the Congo] had announced that there was somehow a new…  Did he know of this?  What’s the role of the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) in supporting this new military offensive?  What safeguards will be in place to make sure that the harm that took place last time [does not] continue?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think you can take it for granted that the Department of Peacekeeping Operations and the United Nations is aware when a new military operation is launched and another is phased out or stopped.  My understanding is that this new operation is of a more focused nature.  But the precise details I’d have to come back to you on.

Question:  I asked last week but I want to know.  Alan Doss wrote an op-ed in the Washington Times in which he called Human Rights Watch “unjust”, “counter-productive” and “short-sighted”.  So what I was wondering is whether he checked…  Was that a DPKO position, or a UN position?  Or was it a straight Alan Doss position?

Spokesperson:  I think we gave you an answer on that last week.

Question:  Well, since I didn’t get it, tell me -- is it a UN position?

Spokesperson:  If we already gave you an answer, I think we can leave it at that.

Correspondent:  Well I didn’t get the e-mail.  I guess I’d like to know...

Spokesperson:  Let me check afterwards.  [He later added that the op-ed was written by Doss in his capacity as the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for the Democratic Republic of the Congo.]

Question:  Also, it’s reported that the Number Two of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has been killed by the Ugandan army.  Meanwhile, the LRA says it’s going to re-open negotiations through [former Mozambican President Joachim] Chissano under UN auspices.  Can you confirm this death, and is Mr. Chissano considering getting re-engaged?

Spokesperson:  We’ve seen those reports too, but I’m not in a position to confirm that from here.  We’ll need to check further.  But we’ve seen those reports on the Ugandan Army saying that it killed this commander.

Question:  And what about Mr. Chissano?  It was on UN Radio that the LRA spokesman said that they would like to re-open negotiations.  Does the United Nations listen to that or not?

Spokesperson:  I’m sure the United Nations does listen to UN Radio [laughter], but let me find out what the response is.

Question:  Following up on Afghanistan, at a time when the United States is expanding its military operations, Mr. Eide is calling for a demilitarized solution for Afghanistan.  What exactly is meant by that?

Spokesperson:  I should be extremely honest with you.  As I said earlier on, I have not read the entire report from cover to cover, so it’s not right for me to sit here and interpret what is in the report.

Correspondent:  But this was not in the report, this was said to the press, you see.  It’s on the United Nations website.

Spokesperson:  Well, even more so, as I mentioned, Mr. Kai Eide is coming here.  He’s going to be briefing the Security Council and he will also be able to speak to you.  It is his intention to come and speak to you, and you’ll be able to ask him precisely what he means instead of me trying to interpret what he means.

Question:  A second question.  Did I understand correctly when you said that Mr. Eide is working with the Afghan Parliament for the approval of Cabinet ministers?

Spokesperson:  Let me read out what I said before.  This is actually what I was telling you, was what had been put out by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan.  It says the UN Mission respects the Afghan Parliament’s constitutional role in approving the Cabinet choices and hopes that President Karzai will work closely with Parliament to approve his choice.  So [the Parliament will approve the Cabinet], not the Mission.

Question:  I had two questions.  Quickly, one is:  I have tried to look [at] and understand the role of the United Nations with regard to the fact that there is a UN Command and it is involved somehow.  I found it very difficult.  I guess I’d like to know where I go in the United Nations to get some help understanding what its role is, and what would have to be the role if there is a treaty?  So I would appreciate if you could give me some direction on that.

Spokesperson:  Well, I can tell you, I was posted in Seoul for four and a half years and it was still difficult to understand precisely how it works.  I think that you understand, and I think that’s why you’re asking the question.  I think you understand that there is a reality on the ground and there is historical fact.  I think you have to work with both of them.  I think that’s part of the story.

Correspondent:  But it should be clear here, or transparent. 

Spokesperson:  It should, and I said I’m sure you could find it out.

Correspondent:  Well I would appreciate your help on that.

Spokesperson:  With our assistance, of course.

Correspondent:  I appreciate that.  Secondly, with the confusion of moving, to discontinue the bulletin seems very, very short-sighted.  To make it available to us --

Spokesperson:  To discontinue the daily Journal?

Question:  The daily Journal.  That we have to look at it online -- some of us don’t necessarily have easy access to printing in this situation.  So is there some way we can get copies of it?

Spokesperson:  I think that we have been through this several times.  It is available in hard copy for people who still require it in hard copy.  The intention is to reduce the amount that’s being published within the Secretariat.  We’ve already said that Member States will continue to receive hard copies.  Maybe at some stage they will change their minds and they will want it electronically, but it’s available in hard copy.  If you require it in hard copy because you cannot read it online, or you do not wish to read it online, or you don’t wish to print it out, I’m sure that can be arranged.  There’s no intention to shut off an avenue of information to you.  It’s simply to try to reduce the amount of material that’s being printed when most people are quite happy to read it online.

Correspondent:  Another housekeeping issue.

Spokesperson:  I should have brought my vacuum cleaner with me [laughter].

Question:  It’s in the 20s outside, and I’m wondering why it’s necessary to have the air conditioning on in this theatre, because I’m sure I’m not the only person sitting here who’s cold?

Spokesperson:  Where I come from, the 20s is quite warm, but I do understand Fahrenheit.  But--

Question:  For the powers-that-be in UN housekeeping?

Spokesperson:  I’m sure that they’re listening, and I don’t think I even need to respond to that.

Question:  Do you have an update at all about the situation in Gaza?

Spokesperson:  In Gaza?

Question:  In Gaza, after this demonstration that took place?  And also, any --

Spokesperson:  I didn’t hear what you said.  After what?

Question:  The demonstration that took place from Egypt into Gaza in support of the Palestinians?  And also, the negotiations between the Israelis and the Hamas group, which are going on in the background -- on the release of the Israeli soldier in exchange for Palestinian prisoners -- do you have any update on that at all?

Spokesperson:  On the first, on the demonstrations, no, not really.  I don’t have anything to add on that.  We have seen that crossing points, some of the crossing points, are not available.  There’s a reduced number of crossing points.  I think you know, and you’ve heard it from here a number of times ‑‑ not just from me, but before my time ‑‑ the Secretary-General is quite insistent and clear in calling for there to be unimpeded access.  So I think that that’s an important point.  On any negotiations between Israel, the Israeli authorities, and Hamas, you read the same reports that I do.  The Secretary-General has also consistently called for the release of the Israeli solider, [Gilad] Shalit, and has called for negotiations to continue to that end.  But it’s not for us to talk about what may be going on, precisely, at this time.

Question:  Can I follow up on that?  I heard on the news that the Arab League was calling for a stronger role for the United Nations instead of the United States, or in addition to, or whatever.  Has there been any official request about that?

Spokesperson:  I’m not aware that there’s been an official request, but the United Nations is involved through the Quartet in any case.  I think that we need to hear precisely what is being requested.

Question:  I want to ask you about the arrest of people just for their writings alone.  In Saudi Arabia, there’s something called the Civil and Political Rights Association.  It’s written an open letter to King Abdullah about the arrest, and now they say torture, of Sulaiman al-Rashoudi, whose only crime apparently was writing and saying that there should be reform of the monarchy.  And also in China, Liu Xiaobo -- I know I’d asked you about that.  But a lot of writers protested on New Year’s Eve, saying that he’s in jail for 11 years now in China only for calling for political reform.  Does the Secretary-General have comments on either case?  What does he think of this imprisonment of people only for their political views?

Spokesperson:  On the first one that you mentioned, in Saudi Arabia, I’d need to find out about that.  On the second, I think you will have seen that there was a fairly robust statement from the High Commissioner for Human Rights saying that it was disproportionate, or words to that effect.  I think that you’d be aware that the Human Rights Commissioner is appointed by the Secretary-General.

Question:  Maybe you can answer this -- sometimes it’s not clear, I think, to some people -- when the Secretary-General himself chooses to speak out and when it’s either delegated or outsourced to the Human Rights Commission.

Spokesperson:  I think it’s very clear; when the Secretary-General speaks out, he speaks out and you hear.  On other occasions, there’s a clear division of labour.  For example, the [High] Commissioner for Refugees, [António] Guterres, you will often see that he speaks out.  You will see that Human Rights Commissioner [Navi] Pillay speaks out very clearly.  That’s the division of labour, and that seems like a pretty good idea to me.  If you have people whose mandate it is to monitor and to speak out, to assess and to declare, that’s the right division of labour.  When the Secretary-General feels that there is an overriding, additional reason to speak out, then he will do so.

Question:  On Pakistan, and the international United Nations staff that are going to be leaving:  do you have an update on how many have left, how many are going to leave, and where they are going to, and when it’s all going to happen?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have the figures, unfortunately.  I think that the real exact figures we’re not giving out.  But I know that there have been some details that have been given out between the two holidays that we’ve just had.  Let me see how far that’s progressed in the meantime.

Question:  I asked you last year, before the holidays, about the wall the Egyptians are building on the border in Gaza.  I was wondering, it caused a lot of controversy and since the United Nations is involved in humanitarian work, do you have any reaction to that?

Spokesperson:  I think that we gave guidance on that.  Let me check.  I’m pretty sure that we gave some guidance on that.  We can circulate it again if you haven’t received it.

Question:  As a matter of principle, do you see this as an internal Egyptian domestic issue or something related to the situation [in Gaza]?

Spokesperson:  Let me circulate the guidance so that you can see.  I’m pretty sure that we did put something out already.  [He later added that, regarding the reports about Egypt's construction activity, the UN would reiterate that it is our understanding that Egyptian efforts to counter illicit trafficking of arms and ammunition into the Gaza Strip, as all States are called upon to do by UN Security Council Resolution 1860 (2009), are ongoing.  As for any potential humanitarian consequences, we continue to be gravely concerned about socio-economic conditions in Gaza.  The key to a sustainable solution to the crisis in Gaza is for resolution 1860 (2009) to be implemented in full, including an end to the Israeli blockade and the reopening of all legitimate crossings between Gaza and Israel and Gaza and Egypt, as prescribed in the 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access.]

Okay, I think we’re done.  Thank you very--

Question:  When will we hear from the General Assembly Spokesperson?

Spokesperson:  Jean Victor [Nkolo] will be briefing, I’m sure, in the next couple of days, but I don’t know exactly when.  Let me find out.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.