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

6 January 2010

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

6 January 2010
Spokesperson's Noon Briefing
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Daily Press Briefing by the Offices 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.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General


The Secretary-General, as you know, is at the Security Council, where he has been delivering some remarks.  He said that UN efforts in Afghanistan this year will focus in particular on strengthening the role of the Afghan Government and coordinating international civilian efforts under the UN umbrella.

He expressed the hope that the tremendous political energy released during last year’s elections will now be directed towards forging a meaningful, realistic and renewed compact between the Afghan Government and its people.  He added that much better international coordination is needed, and that his Special Representative, Kai Eide, has suggested exploring the viability of a dedicated civilian coordination structure.

Eide also briefed the Council, saying that there needs to be a transition strategy that can allow Afghans to be in charge of their own future.  That strategy would include a systematic build-up of civilian institutions to enable the Government to deliver services and the development of the Afghan economy.  The Secretary-General will speak to you at the stakeout shortly.  So, we’ll probably keep this quite brief.  And Eide will brief you in this room tomorrow at 10:00 a.m.


The Secretary-General’s latest report on the United Nations Office for West Africa (UNOWA) is out.

In it, the Secretary-General says that the Office, in coordination with ECOWAS and the African Union, intends to undertake a broad analysis of unconstitutional changes of government in the subregion and of the tools needed to prevent them.

The report highlights the role of the Office and of the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Said Djinnit, in the mediation process in Guinea.  It also says that, in the coming months, the United Nations Office in West Africa will focus its efforts on improving electoral processes and security sector reform in the subregion.  And it will continue to work to prevent drug trafficking and cross-border organized crime in West Africa.

**Sri Lanka Election

I was asked yesterday about whether the United Nations would conduct electoral activities in Sri Lanka.  The Commissioner of Elections and the Government of Sri Lanka inquired whether the United Nations could consider observing the forthcoming presidential election, on the 26th of January.  However, in light of the limited lead time available, and since, as is the arrangement, the United Nations election observation requires a mandate from the General Assembly or the Security Council, the UN informed the Commissioner and the Government of Sri Lanka that it could not provide observers.

**Press Conferences for Tomorrow

As I just mentioned, Kai Eide, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan, will be here to brief reporters at 10 o’clock tomorrow morning.  And following that briefing, at 11, Philip Alston, who is the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, will be here to present the findings of an analysis of the authenticity of the "Channel 4 videotape" containing footage from Sri Lanka.

And then at 12:00 p.m., Angela Kane, the Under-Secretary-General for Management, will be here to brief you on the budget.  And I will be able to take some non-budget questions at the end of that briefing if time allows.

So that’s what I have for you.  Any questions?  And I have been asked to move from the front to the back for technical reasons so I’m looking at the front for any questions and moving back.  Yes.  Dr. Abbadi.

Questions and Answers

Question:  [inaudible] the U.S. administration is ready for [inaudible] which will include resuming negotiations within the next month then [inaudible] borders and fixing the limits for the conclusion of a peace accord within two years, etc. etc.  Was the Secretary-General yesterday briefed by [United States] Senator [George] Mitchell on this plan specifically?

Spokesperson:  I think we circulated yesterday what I’m able to tell you about the conversation that the Secretary-General had with Senator Mitchell yesterday.  And this was to take stock of the Middle East peace process, and they discussed the importance of overcoming obstacles to resuming those negotiations and the role of the Quartet.  And the Secretary-General expressed his appreciation and support for United States efforts.  But, in response to your very specific question, I don’t have any more than that at the moment.  Okay.  It seems to be going back in the room.  Matthew.

Question:  Okay.  The representative of the Sudanese Government has said that the UN can have no role in the Sudanese elections.  And an opposition candidate has called for the UN to have the same role that it had in Afghanistan or the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  And that the NEC cannot have a role.  I wanted to ask you what is going to be the UN’s role the upcoming elections in the Sudan.

Spokesperson:  Well, as I mentioned in a different context, Governments make a request or ask the United Nations to assist or to provide some form of assistance for elections.  And they make that request and then the United Nations, based on its assessment, will undertake assistance, if that is appropriate.  As I mentioned to you, election observation itself -– observation -- requires either a General Assembly or a Security Council mandate.  And as I also mentioned to you yesterday, we’re not, certainly not for the last decade at least, in the observation business.  It’s more providing technical assistance, if you like.  But, it’s based on a request from the authorities in the given country.

Question:  Then I guess… relatedly… you said that SaidDjinnit, the UN representative for West Africa, is currently in Togo with some role to their 8 February election.  I’ve been trying to look at where the UN gets involved and doesn’t get involved… it’s… did Togo make a request?  And the Secretary-General said yes, “we’ll send you Mr. Djinnit”. And what’s the role gong to be?

Spokesperson:  Suddenly we’ve crossed the continent.  There’s no one size that fits all, Matthew.  The Government of any given country seeking assistance makes the request and then the United Nations looks at how it can best accommodate that request, if it can.  And, as you’ve seen in the case of Sri Lanka, we were not in a position, because of the time and because of the need for a mandate, to provide the observers that Sri Lanka was looking for.  Okay.

Question:  Hi, Martin.  In regard to an answer that you gave yesterday about the Quartet, sometimes the answers a spokesman gives actually produce the news, even if the question is not based on a news issue.  And it just seems that… I wanted to say that we’re paid to decide what is news or not.  I think it’s dangerous if the Spokesman’s Office sets a precedent.

Spokesperson:  I’m not setting a precedent.  I’m not setting a precedent.  And I made clear that this was a reference to the questions about the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.  Not about the Quartet -- which I answered.  It was questions about the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Question:  The question was the Secretary-General’s role in the Quartet, which I would like to follow up on.

Spokesperson:  I answered that question.  I answered that question.  Take a look at the transcript.

Question:  I did.  Okay I will.  I have a different aspect of it.  Several ambassadors have told me over the years:  who does the Secretary-General report to?  Who does he represent?  The General Assembly?  The Security Council?  The staff?  [inaudible] he doesn’t seem to report to anyone.  So who is he representing when he’s on the Quartet?  Who at the UN is he representing?

Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General has a number of roles, as you rightly point out, that are set out in different documents, including in the Charter.  He has the right and responsibility to be involved in the Middle East peace process and that’s what he does.

Question:  [inaudible]

Spokesperson:  I beg your pardon.

Question:  He’s representing only his own offices?

Spokesperson:  Yes.  He represents his own offices.  That’s right.  Yes James.

Question: Regarding Myanmar, now that Mr. [Ibrahim]Gambari has been named the envoy for Darfur, and I gather on the point of moving to Darfur, who… is he still in charge of Myanmar/Burma or is there somebody else in charge of that?

Spokesperson:  Ibrahim Gambari, you’re quite right, is due to take up his new position.  As I understand, that’s from 15 January.  And, in the meantime, the Chef de Cabinet, Vijay Nambiar, is overseeing the Secretary-General’s good offices and the engagement with the Government of Myanmar.

Question:  You mean in the meantime after 15 January?

Spokesperson:  He is already overseeing.  Because, obviously, as I’ve mentioned before, we’re in a kind of transition phase between Ibrahim Gambari and whoever is then subsequently appointed.

Question:  When is the new person going to be appointed, because obviously this is a very important year in Burmese politics?  There’s going to be an election.  So, what is the time frame for appointing somebody to replace Mr. Gambari as a full-time special envoy?

Spokesperson:  What I can tell you is that the Secretary-General is looking forward to appointing a successor to Ibrahim Gambari in due course.  Okay.

Question:  Isn’t it a bit lax by the Secretary-General to leave a hiatus in this important year?  He doesn’t seem to have even started looking for somebody, according to some diplomats.  Why is he naming Mr. Gambari to another job, if he hasn’t found a successor for Mr. Gambari?  Does he not think that Burma is important?

Spokesperson:  Well, that’s several questions in one there.  The point is that the Secretary-General remains engaged with the Government of Myanmar and he follows developments closely there and continues to follow developments closely there, including what’s coming up, not just an election, the date for which has not yet been announced, but also the appeal, which will be heard on 18 January -- the appeal by Aung San Suu Kyi.  So, he is closely monitoring developments.  And also, as I mentioned to you, the Chef de Cabinet, Vijay Nambiar, is overseeing this engagement and the good offices of the Secretary–General.  Which means that there is no hiatus.  There is no hiatus.  The work of engagement that was being done by Mr. Gambari, who is as you point out about to embark on a new assignment, that work is being overseen by the Chef de Cabinet.

Question:  When you say overseen, is it being done by him or is somebody else doing it and he’s overseeing it?  Is it a dedicated person [inaudible]… dedicated to Burma… Mr. Gambari.  Now there isn’t a dedicated person, so clearly the post…

Spokesperson:  I beg to differ.  I beg to differ.

Question:  Who is the dedicated person?

Spokesperson:  Well, put it this way:  the Chef de Cabinet is overseeing that work of engagement and neither Vijay Nambiar nor Ibrahim Gambari has been working in isolation on this topic.  Ibrahim Gambari has people who support him, who work full-time to support him.  Those people remain in place to continue to support the effort which is now being overseen by Vijay Nambiar.

Question:  Why is it not right to describe this as a downgrading of the UN representation and energy on Burma?

Spokesperson:  Simply because this is a question of having a job or work to do, having engagement with Myanmar and monitoring things closely.  And that can still be done, as I’ve said, by the support staff, who were already in place and supporting Ibrahim Gambari.  They continue to do so.  And now it’s being overseen by Mr. Nambiar.

Question:  If that’s possible, why is the Secretary-General thinking of appointing another expensive Special Representative, if it can be done just as adequately by Mr. Nambiar and the existing support staff?

Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General is looking forward to appointing someone in due course.  And I…

Question:  Isn’t that a waste of money, if it can be done… If it’s perfectly adequate, the current set-up, why would the Secretary-General want to appoint somebody new?  It suggests to me that there is a stop-gap solution going on here.

Spokesperson:  Well, you can’t have it both ways.  You can’t have a stop-gap solution and have a waste of money.

Question:  I’m asking you:  is this a stop-gap solution or is it a waste of money to appoint somebody else?

Spokesperson:  What I’ve told you James is:  first of all, the work is still being done.  The work is still being done.  And it’s being overseen.  This happens in other cases when you’re in between appointments.  It happens frequently, and not just in the United Nations, and it is not a waste of money to look for the right successor and to have that person in place as soon as possible.  If you can’t have that person in place for a seamless hand-over, then you have someone oversee it.  That’s not wasting money, that’s good management practice, James.

Question:  Now you’re talking about good management practice.  Is it good management practice to appointment somebody to another position when you haven’t got a successor lined up, or even a bunch of candidates lined up, to take over an important post?

Spokesperson:  It’s quite common in many organizations, and not just in the Untied Nations, that you don’t necessarily have the person you need at the time you need them.  We could go round for a long time, and I’m enjoying this as much as you are, James, but I think we’ve got to the point where what I can tell you is that a successor will be appointed in due course.  The Secretary-General is looking forward to appointing someone in due course.  And in the meantime, it’s in good hands.  It’s being overseen by the Chief de Cabinet.

Question:  …in due course means days, or weeks or months?

Spokesperson:  It means in due course, James.

Question:  Tensions seem to be lessening in Yemen and, reportedly, the western embassies have again reopened and there is a connection, as you know, between Yemen and Somalia, as far as security is concerned.  But the situation in Somalia is very, very bad.  Some 1 million people are being threatened with famine now, as a result of the withdrawal of the UN and other agencies.  Is the Secretary-General reconsidering the UN presence in Somalia?

Spokesperson:  You heard what the WFP (World Food Programme) had to say yesterday on this --the WFP are the ones who have, for very good reasons, suspended their operations in the part of the country, with the result, as you rightly said, of not being able to deliver aid to a large number of people.  A very large number of people.  And as we said yesterday, the UN is extremely concerned about that.  It’s the WFP and other agencies on the ground, through OCHA (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs), who would decide on whether to pull staff out, or not.  It’s not for the Secretary-General to say “top down”, but to receive an assessment.  And I don’t have any information on an assessment of that kind.  But, I think that you can rest assured that the Department of Safety and Security and the relevant agencies like WFP have looked into this very closely and continue to do so.  It’s based on that kind of assessment that WFP took the action that it did and announced yesterday.

Question:  I had asked you yesterday about the Benazir Bhutto Commission [inaudible].

Spokesperson:  You didn’t miss anything.  The answer is that no meeting has been scheduled so far, but it is not the case that the Commissioners or the Commission has been rebuffed.

Question:  The other thing that I wanted to ask you was, this unfolding tragedy in Gaza with the crossings in Egypt.  Has the Secretary-General taken note of this, and what does he say about this [inaudible]?

Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General is aware of this and we’re troubled by the violence along the Egypt-Gaza border, including the killing of an Egyptian security officer today.  And the United Nations is calling for calm and respect for Egyptian sovereignty, and we remain deeply concerned about the unsustainable conditions in Gaza and reiterate the need for the re-opening of all the crossings, as envisaged in the 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access.

Question:  [inaudible] I just wanted to follow-up on that.  Is the Commission there or is it still here, or has it gone to interview people?

Spokesperson:  I don’t know exactly where they are at the moment, but we can find out and tell you.  Okay.  I’m coming back to James and then…

[The Spokesperson later said that the Bhutto Commission was not currently in Pakistan.]

Question:  My question is on Yemen.  There seems to be multiple civil conflicts going on in Yemen, including [inaudible] terrorism emanating from Yemen.  Has the Secretary-General offered his good offices to Yemen to help resolve any of these conflicts?  In particular, has he given any thought to appointing a Special Representative for Yemen?

Spokesperson:  On both of those questions, I will seek guidance and come back to you.  But, what I can tell you is that the focus at the moment has been very much on the humanitarian effort, as you’ve heard me say from here already, based in the south and now in the north.  That humanitarian effort is very important, because of people who have been displaced by the fighting.

Question:  [inaudible] planes bombing northern Yemen.  It may not be an inter-state conflict, but it seems to be across international borders.  Just wondering if there is any political role [inaudible] to play?

Spokesman:  I’ll see if I can find out anything specific on that.  At the moment, the focus, and the Secretary-General is very well aware of this, is on the humanitarian need to help the people on the ground.  I’m just trying to see if there’s anybody else asking questions.  I’ll come to Matthew and then to you.

Question:  On Mr. Gambari, I was told that he’s an Under-Secretary-General, his actual salary was cobbled together between the Iraq post and the Myanmar post and, following losing the Iraq post, this played some role in assigning him to Darfur.  One, I would like you to confirm that his post was not paid out of the general kitty, but was, in fact, put together by the two jobs.  And also whether his replacement will be an Under-Secretary General, or at some lower level.  This was described to me by somebody that understands the budget.  The question is whether his post was funded as a regular Under-Secretary General post, or whether it was put together out of two income streams and that’s part of the reason for the change.

Spokesperson:  Well, you’ll probably have a golden opportunity tomorrow to ask Angela Kane precisely that question on the budget.

Question:  Since I asked it here, I have other questions for Angela Kane.  So if there’s some way on the Gambari front for you to look into this…

Spokesperson:  I don’t think it’s such a good idea for me to answer questions related to Angela Kane, when she’s going to be here tomorrow to answer them herself.

Question:  Do you ensure that she’ll take this question?

Spokesperson:  I’m going to be sitting next to her.  But, that’s not the same as saying that I ensure that you get precisely the question you want.  I’ll do my very best.  If there’s a room full with people asking questions, it’s good to be able to spread it around a bit.

Question:  If she doesn’t answer it, then consider yourself asked.

Spokesperson:  I consider myself asked all the time, Matthew.

Question:  But I also wanted to ask…

Spokesperson:  No, no you don’t.  Not just yet.  I want to ask someone else to put a question.

Question:  A follow-up on Myanmar.  Given that the Secretary-General’s trip there last year seemed to be less than a success.  [inaudible] he was promised privately a large number of political prisoners would be released… that didn’t seem to happen.  But, does he feel in some way misused by the authorities there?  And will he consider going again before the elections?  He may have better luck a second time.

Spokesperson:  I’m not aware of any impending visit by the Secretary-General to Myanmar.  I’m not aware of that.  As I said, he continues to be very closely engaged and to monitor and follow what’s going on there very closely.  And another aspect of this, of course, is that the Secretary-General went there in July and did not see the people he wished to see.  And he said that he was deeply disappointed by that.  He said so at the time.  Since then, engagement is not something that has been undertaken simply by the Secretary-General of the United Nations.  You’ve seen engagement by the United States and by the European Union.  What form further engagement takes from the United Nations is something that the Secretary-General is clearly involved in looking at.

Question:  Senator Richard Webb was able to see her when he went there.  The Secretary-General didn’t.  What does that say about the current authority of the UN and the Secretary-General?

Spokesperson:  I think that says something that is best asked of the Myanmar authorities, why they decided to allow one person to have access and not another.

Question:  Is Nambiar planning to go there any time soon?

Spokesperson:  Not that I’m aware of.

Question:  You answered a colleague’s question earlier by indicating that the Secretary-General has different roles, as you mentioned, including in the Charter.  Do you mean that the Secretary-General has other roles beyond the mandate given in the Charter?

Spokesperson:  Okay, this sounds like a game of semantics here.  I’m simply trying to give an overview of what the role is, and I can find out precisely what the references are and I’ll let you know.  But, I think with your more than 40 years experience at the United Nations you know it far better than me and can probably tell me afterward exactly what the details are.

Okay.  So, I’ll take one more question.  Because then probably some of you will need to be at the stakeout, and I think that I probably do.

Question:  I’ll ask you this one, because hopefully you can get an answer to it.  It’s reported with regard to Myanmar that that the price of the foreign exchange certificates which the Government requires the UN to convert its money into have now become higher than the United States dollar.  After Cyclone Nargis, the UN, through John Holmes, confirmed that it had actually lost money into government coffers of aid funds, because of this exchange rate.  I’d like to know whether the UN, with this new report of the exchange rate going above that of the dollar, what percentage of the UN funding and spending in Myanmar is lost to the Government through this foreign exchange conversion?

Spokesperson:  Okay.  I don’t know the answer to that.  I will ask my financial advisers.

Question:  And I would also like to know if the UN in Kosovo has received a request by Serbian President [Boris] Tadic…

Spokesperson:  This is a second question.  I said one question.

Question:  [inaudible] is there some limited number of questions?

Spokesperson:  The limit is that the Secretary-General is probably going to come to the stakeout and I have to stand next to him.  That’s the limit.

* *** *

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