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

29 January 2010

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

29 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 Farhan Haq, Associate Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon.

**Guests at Noon Briefing

I guess while we wait I’ll read a few quick notes.  But we’ll soon have Mr. Mulet, so I’ll get started right now.  We’re just going to prepare a video hook-up so that you will have Edmond Mulet, the Acting Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), joining us shortly by video conference.

And then after Mr. Mulet is done, immediately after that, we should have John Holmes, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, who will be here to brief you on Haiti -- like I said, immediately after Mr. Mulet is done with his video conference.

**Stakeout

I also want to let you know that at 3 p.m. today, Ambassador Riyad Mansour, the Permanent Observer of Palestine to the United Nations, will speak to reporters at the Security Council stakeout about the Palestinian response to General Assembly resolution A/RES/64/10, and that resolution, as you are aware, is entitled “Follow-up to the report of the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict”.

**Secretary-General at African Union Summit

And since Mr. Mulet is still not here, I’m just going to quickly go through a couple of bits of information, just for things that are happening ahead.  First of all, the Secretary-General is on his way to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to attend the Fourteenth African Union Summit this weekend.  He should be arriving fairly shortly.

On Sunday, the Secretary-General will deliver an opening address to the Heads of State and Government and their representatives at the Summit.  As he told you, he will highlight the need for African leaders to mobilize behind the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, especially with the MDGs deadline of 2015 fast approaching.  He will be urging African leaders to attend the Summit on the Millennium Development Goals that he is organizing in September, where leaders are expected to generate a concrete plan for advancing action on the Goals.

The Secretary-General will also be raising vital issues of regional cooperation, especially with important elections to be held this year in Sudan, Côte d’Ivoire and Guinea.  He will also discuss climate change and its potentially devastating impact on Africa, as well as the important role that African leaders can play in supporting the Copenhagen Accord.

The Secretary-General will also hold a press conference on Sunday at the AU Summit.

**The Week Ahead

In addition, we’ll have “The Week Ahead” upstairs and, among other things, as you know, starting on Monday, 1 February, the Secretary-General will be in Cyprus.

And also on Monday, France will assume the rotating monthly presidency of the Security Council.

And on Wednesday in The Hague, the Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Court will deliver in public session its judgement on the Prosecutor’s appeal against the decision on the Prosecutor’s application for a warrant of arrest against Omer Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir.

**Climate Change

And we still don’t have Mr. Mulet, so before that, let me just clear up a couple of questions that were asked to me yesterday.

First of all, I was asked yesterday about a letter sent by the Indian Prime Minister to the Secretary-General.  I can confirm that the Secretary-General and the Prime Minister of India, Manmohan Singh, have had an exchange of letters that crossed in the mail, with regard to concerns about the Copenhagen Accord.

The Secretary-General deeply respects the concerns of the Prime Minister and fully shares the view that the Copenhagen Accord is a political agreement reached by a large number of countries in Copenhagen, and that it in no way pre-empts the outcome of negotiations still under way under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change or the Kyoto Protocol.  He also shares the view that we must reach a speedy conclusion on the negotiations for a new commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol and for an agreement under the Bali road map.

I was also asked about the 31 January date.  This date, as we squawked on the intercom yesterday, does not relate to any deadline for parties to associate themselves with the Copenhagen Accord.  The Copenhagen Accord calls for developed countries to submit their emission targets for 2020, and developing countries to submit their mitigation actions, to the Secretariat by 31 January.

**Food Distribution

And I was also asked yesterday about food distribution in Haiti and whether food distribution in Haiti was being directed only at women, or whether men could also receive food at distribution sites.

The World Food Programme (WFP) informed us that, in the current phase of the operation, it has been giving to as many people, and as quickly as possible, using mobile food distributions.  Traditionally, WFP has always sought to deliver food into the hands of women, as they are more likely to ensure that the food is divided up among those who really need it and those who cannot fend for themselves.  In Haiti, WFP is working with local communities to ensure that all who need assistance get it.  It is working to put in place a more robust distribution system to make this happen within the next few days.

So that’s all I have.  Any quick questions before we get to Mr. Mulet?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Farhan, there was a report from Reuters yesterday about talks between Kai Eide [the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan] and a Taliban group in Dubai.  Can you tell us about that, whether they happened, whether [Staffan] de Mistura will continue those contacts, if they did in fact occur?

Associate Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, regarding the Reuters report, I think you’ve already seen that the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, UNAMA, has come out with its own denials, and so I would refer you to what they have said on that.  In terms of talks, you will have seen from the Secretary-General’s speech yesterday, that he delivered at the London Conference on Afghanistan, that he has also stressed the importance of reconciliation.  At the same time, he’s made it very clear that reconciliation needs to be a process led by the Afghan Government.  And certainly we respect that entire process.  There have been no peace talks that have begun between the United Nations and the insurgency.  Instead, it would need to be led by the Government of Afghanistan within the framework for reconciliation, as endorsed in the London Conference communiqué.  And, as you are aware, the United Nations stands ready to assist, if we’re requested to do so by the Afghan authorities.

Question:  Just to follow up, you’re saying that Eide did not meet with this group from the Taliban areas?  Are you saying that he didn’t engage in talks with them?  Was there a meeting?  Was there a discussion at some level?

Associate Spokesperson:  Certainly, he denied the particular story that was on the wires, and I would refer you to the language of that particular denial.  Beyond that, the bottom line is that no, he has not tried -- nor has the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan tried -- to conduct any sort of unilateral peace talks with the Taliban.  They are very firm on that.  We’re willing to support the Afghan Government if it chooses to do that, and we certainly uphold the cause of reconciliation, but we do not intend to do any sort of unilateral process of talks.

Correspondent:  I am not talking about unilateral talks; I’m talking whether there was a conversation.  It could have been with the understanding of the Afghan Government.  You’re not saying whether there was a meeting or not.

Associate Spokesperson:  I don’t have any further response on the particular question of talks with the Taliban beyond what UNAMA has already said about this.

Question:  Farhan, I’m just wondering in light of the announcement by the Palestinian Authority, by Hamas, by the Israelis, that they did hand the United Nations their reports or responses to the General Assembly resolution.  It’s already in the wires that Israel, the Palestinian Authority… Why isn’t the United Nations announcing that you have received them?

Associate Spokesperson:  We’re prepared to announce that we have received it once we have formally received it.  I don’t have the confirmation on that yet.  I’ve been chasing that this morning.  Whenever we get information that we have received the replies, both from Israel and from the Palestinian Observer Mission, we’ll certainly inform you of that, but I don’t have anything to say on that at present.  As you know -- as I just said a few minutes ago -- Ambassador Mansour will be speaking to reporters at the stakeout at 3 p.m.  If we get any word of any other press availabilities, we’ll certainly let you know.

Before you go on, I know you have another question, but, as you can see, the screen behind me has gone dark.  I’ve been told that the video conference cannot go on.  The only facility available is currently being used, and so there will not be a video conference with Mr. Mulet today.  And instead, we should have a video conference with our colleagues in Haiti on Monday.  We still will have, in this room fairly shortly, John Holmes, the Emergency Relief Coordinator.  So he will talk to you about Haiti.

Question:  I just want to follow up.  The Israeli Defense Minister’s office did release an official statement saying: “we did hand the report this morning to the United Nations office”.  So what does this mean when you… how more formal could they be?

Associate Spokesperson:  I’m waiting for our own Executive Office, which is the one that would be receiving it, to confirm that we’ve received it.  I don’t have that confirmation just yet.

Question:  I want to ask one question on Haiti and then something else.  I’m not sure if Mr. Holmes is the right one, so I’ll ask you.  There is a report in the Wall Street Journal of UN peacekeepers firing 50-calibre guns over a crowd in Haiti that surged on a food convoy.  I know Mr. [David] Wimhurst had said he wasn’t even aware of rubber bullets; can you state how, what type of bullets are being shot, and whether in fact 50-calibre guns were used?

Associate Spokesperson:  I don’t have any information about bullets or the calibre of ammunition used.  I think for that we’d have to refer you back to MINUSTAH, which will have on-the-ground details.

On the security side, I can say that there is a need to look at the whole picture.  MINUSTAH troops and police have to do two things with the numbers they have.  First of all, they need to do area security, which means patrolling, being present to deter threats across the country, guarding UN compounds, as they were doing before the earthquake; and a new task, which is providing point security for humanitarian operations in Port-au-Prince and other affected areas.

Point security now requires increasing amounts of troops as larger crowds are gathering for each distribution.  If more troops are needed for each operation, that means MINUSTAH can do fewer operations at a time until it gets more troops -- and that’s the simple math of that.  This is why we’ve asked the Security Council for more troops and for more police, and thankfully they should be coming.  The United States and Canadian military deployments are also here and they are helping, but MINUSTAH is facing challenges with crowd control.

The new Joint Operations and Tasking Centre, where all partners include the US Joint Task Force, Canada, MINUSTAH and humanitarian agencies coordinating their operations, is also helping to bring everyone’s assets to the table.  So that is what we’re trying to do to help make sure that we can handle the situation of crowd control at distribution points better.

Question:  Is live ammunition the way to go?  I guess that’s my question.

Associate Spokesperson:  I have no confirmation about the use of live ammunition.  If we’d had our video conference we could have had some detail on that.  Certainly, MINUSTAH should be around to follow up on that.

Question:  Thanks.  And also I had wanted to ask, I know that before he left on this trip, the Secretary-General said that he was relieved by either the outcome or the lack of violence in the Sri Lanka elections.  Since then, the main opposition candidate has had his offices raided and has been subject to the threat of arrest, and journalists have been expelled from the country for raising questions about the election.  Has Ban Ki-moon noted these things?  Is he still relieved?  Does the UN have any response to this?

Associate Spokesperson:  In terms of whether he was relieved that there was not the sort of widespread violence that had been feared in some quarters, yes, of course, he’s still relieved that election day proceeded relatively peacefully.  Beyond that, yes, we are aware of the incidents that have followed that.  On that, the Secretary-General once again appeals for parties to abide by the laws, and rules and procedures, including in addressing electoral grievances, and he truly hopes that all sides would see the wisdom of acting with restraint and responsibility in the interest of the nation.  This would bode well for future elections and national harmony.

[Associate Spokesperson is handed a piece of paper].  Oh, and I can now confirm that the Secretary-General has received communications from the Israeli Government.  I can also confirm that the Secretary-General is working on his response to the General Assembly, in accordance with the provisions of General Assembly resolution 64/10 of 4 November 2009.  And that is pretty much all the comment I have on the matter.

Question:  Only the Israeli communications, not the Palestinians?

Associate Spokesperson:  I cannot confirm that so far.  But, like I said, Ambassador Mansour will speak to you at the stakeout at 3 p.m. and it’s possible that we’ll have something further later in the day.

Question:  I know that this is what you have just received, but what does Israeli communication mean?  Is that like a report, or what?

Associate Spokesperson:  I wouldn’t have any ability to characterize it.  I basically, as you can see from the amount of blankness on this piece of paper, read to you the sum total of what I have to say on this.

Question:  Do you have a view on this, whenever you want to release it some day, or shall we try to get it from the Israelis?

Associate Spokesperson:  Well, as I just said, the Secretary-General is working on his own response, and I think we may have more to tell you once that response has been completed.

Question:  Just a factual question, there is an AP story out of Afghanistan talking about an attack on Friday in the capital of Helmand Province that was directed against the local branch of the UN Mission in Afghanistan in Helmand Province.  It resulted in a whole fire fight, but is the UN aware of it?  Can you confirm -- was the UN compound in any way affected by that attack?

Associate Spokesperson:  I can’t confirm any damage to the UN or anything like that.  Certainly, there were no UN casualties in that fire fight.

And if that is it for now, I guess we will let you know once John Holmes comes here.  But, hopefully in a fairly short amount of time, we’ll be back in this room with John Holmes to talk to you about Haiti.

Thanks, have a good weekend.

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