|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Daily Press Briefing by the Offices of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General
and the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Martin Nesirky, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, and Jean Victor Nkolo, Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.
Briefing by the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General
So, good afternoon, everybody.
I have a few items, and then I can take a few questions.
Robert Watkins, the Secretary-General’s Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan, said in a statement that he was deeply saddened by the report of the terrible loss of civilian life on Sunday in southern Afghanistan. Watkins has reiterated the request by the UN Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) for all parties to the conflict to do their utmost to avoid civilian casualties. He said he appreciated the apology from the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) regarding the loss of life in Uruzgan, but he stressed that the measures that the Force has in place on the use of lethal force must be fully implemented at all times and under all circumstances. And his full statement is in the Spokesperson’s office.
** Middle East
Robert Serry, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, said he is concerned about the announcement of the Israeli Government regarding holy sites in Hebron and Bethlehem, and the heightened tensions that have resulted. Serry said that the sites are in occupied Palestinian territory and are of historical and religious significance not only to Judaism, but also to Islam and Christianity.
He urges Israel not to take any steps on the ground which undermine trust or could prejudice negotiations, the resumption of which should be the highest shared priority of all who seek peace. Serry is also calling for restraint and calm. And we have his full statement available in my office.
Ad Melkert, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, has welcomed the signature of an electoral code of conduct by representatives of the country’s main political blocs. He encourages all parties and candidates who have not done so to join the initiative.
Melkert said that it is essential that all candidates and communities be given equal opportunities and be treated with respect and dignity at every stage of the electoral process. He stressed the importance of allowing people to vote free from pressure, intimidation, violence or libel. And we also have a press release with more details in my office.
On 21 February, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for West Africa, Said Djinnit, participated in a joint ECOWAS [Economic Community of West African States]-African Union-United Nations mission to Niamey to assess the situation on the ground. The mission met with the junta leaders, who reaffirmed their commitment to organize elections and return the country to constitutional order. The United Nations is working closely with its partners, including ECOWAS and the African Union, as part of our joint efforts to help resolve the crisis in that country.
** C ôte d’Ivoire
And in Côte d’Ivoire, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Choi Young-Jin, will be meeting with the Facilitator of the Ivorian peace process, President Blaise Compaoré of Burkina Faso, later today. And we will keep you updated on the details of that meeting as soon as they are available.
The Facilitator travelled today to Abidjan, where he will chair a meeting of the Permanent Consultative Framework -- comprising President Laurent Gbagbo, Prime Minister Guillaume Soro and the leaders of the Ivorian opposition. This meeting is a follow-up to the talks held in Ouagadougou on Sunday between the Facilitator and the leaders of the Ivorian opposition.
Later today, the Secretary-General will be addressing a special event where he’ll call on the philanthropic community to do more to target women with its aid programmes. In his speech to the event –- which is entitled “Engaging Philanthropy to Promote Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment” -- he’s expected to tell the audience that its engagement is already helping to transform the lives of women and societies. But full empowerment requires more progress in two key areas: expanding economic opportunity and ending violence against women. We have copies of his embargoed remarks available from my office.
**Press Conference Today
And at 2 p.m. today, there will be a press conference by the United Nations Economic and Social Council about that event. And participating in the event, amongst others, is Inés Alberdi, the Executive Director, United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM); Geena Davis, as you know, an Academy Award-winning actor; and Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York.
**Press Conference Tomorrow
Tomorrow there will hold a press conference here at 2 p.m., by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) about their new report, Measuring the Information Society 2010.
So, that’s what I have for you. I’ll be happy to take some questions.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Regarding the presentation done by Mr. Serry, is he going to make any further contacts, Robert Serry, on Hebron and the recent attachments? Is he going to do any further contacts with the Israeli Government to rescind these decisions?
Spokesperson: Well, as I said, I’ve read out the statement, which you also have available, and he is obviously speaking to the authorities, the Palestinian Authority, and speaking to the Israeli Government the whole time. So, I would not rule that out. But, for the moment what we have is what is in the statement, which is that he is very concerned about it and he is urging Israel not to take any steps on the ground that could undermine trust or prejudice the negotiations.
Question: Besides such statements, is the Secretary-General going to do something about it, through the Quartet or through making any special contacts with the Israeli authorities…?
Spokesperson: Well, at the moment, the most import thing is we have the Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Robert Serry. He is on the ground. That’s his job; to engage with the Israeli authorities and with the Palestinian Authority and with other in the region. And I think that that’s the right chain of command, if you like, for the moment.
Question: The Hamas movement in Gaza issued a statement criticizing Mr. Lynn Pascoe, because in his last report to the Security Council on the Middle East, he made no reference at all to the assassination of the Hamas leader Mahmoud Mabhouh in Dubai. So, I’m just wondering why Mr. Pascoe actually dropped this major development in the region, while actually he mentions every single small detail that has happened.
Spokesperson: We’ll find out. I can’t speak for him. We’ll find out. Yes, please.
Question: Yes. Is the Secretary-General also going to issue a statement about deaths, civilian deaths in Afghanistan?
Spokesperson: I’ve just read out, or paraphrased a statement which has been put out by the Deputy Special Representative, and as you know, the title is very clear, he is Deputy Special Representative for the Secretary-General. Therefore, I think you can take it that the Secretary-General is aware, extremely aware of what is going on on the ground, and also concerned in the same way that Mr. Watkins is. And I think that is where can leave it for now.
Question: Will he enforce this statement by issuing one of his own?
Spokesperson: Look, I think let’s put it this way, I am the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, and I’ve just read out a statement on behalf of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General. I think that gives a fairly good indication of the way that the Secretary-General feels about this.
Question: Argentina and Afghanistan. It’s reported that the Foreign Minister of Argentina is coming to meet with the Secretary-General on Wednesday. The Argentine Government says [this is] about the Falkland Islands and the UK’s drilling for oil off it. Is that a meeting that you can confirm? And what does the Secretary-General think of this, what Argentina says is a destabilizing move to drill for oil off a disputed terrain?
Spokesperson: Let me find out about whether that meeting is taking place, firstly, then we’ll let you know. Secondly, on the question, the deeper question, if you like, I think that the Secretary-General and the United Nations… let’s put it this way, there are a number of UN resolutions that are out there, and they’ve been passed. And the Secretary-General would be adhering to those resolutions that have been passed by the General Assembly, or by the Security Council. And I don’t think at this stage I want to prejudge any other discussions that may be going on.
[The Spokesperson later added that the meeting was scheduled for Wednesday.]
Question: I wanted to ask, on Afghanistan, a memo has emerged from the Chief of Staff of UNAMA, Mr. [Peter] Schmitz, saying among other things, that virtually no new staff have joined the mission in the second half of 2009, and that new units are being, that the relocation from Dubai will take place by 8 March. Can you, one, can you confirm that the move to Dubai will be finished by 8 March? And two, how can it be, what does it mean if the budget is doubled that no new staff have been hired? Galaxy is closed, which used to be the way that they recruited staff. If Galaxy is closed, what’s it been replaced by and what are the plans to actually spend the money that’s been allocated to UNAMA?
Spokesperson: Okay. A lot of questions there, and I can’t really go into detail on each of them. What I can say is the Secretary-General has said very clearly that he is concerned about the slow pace of recruitment for positions in UNAMA. There were some fairly stark reasons why that was the case, and he is certainly keen that people should be able to take up posts as soon as possible and should be able to apply for position as soon as possible. On the details, the various technical parts -- I’ll have to come back to you on that.
Question: Martin, the United Nations is yet to make any kind of formal statement on the dramatic transition going on in Nigeria. The EU has spoken, the AU has spoken, the United States has spoken, Britain has spoken, France has spoken. Why is the UN so silent about these changes? Is it that Nigeria doesn’t really matter so much to the Secretary-General?
Spokesperson: Well, first of all, the premise of your question is wrong. The Secretary-General clearly is very much aware of what’s going on in Nigeria, and is following it very closely, and is being advised by the Department of Political Affairs in some detail, and that included this morning. And I know that he is keeping a very close eye on this. He is fully aware of two things. One, that there is now an acting President. This gives an opportunity for greater clarity and stability. And the second thing is that he is also aware that the acting President is going to be the President of ECOWAS, the regional grouping, and clearly the United Nations works very closely with that grouping. And, therefore, there is an interaction that will be going on.
Question: Thank you, Martin. First of all, if possible, a small objection, because it seems to me that we don’t hear the questions of colleagues here when they’re asking, probably they are not hearing us also.
Spokesperson: Well, as you can probably tell, sometimes I am cupping my ear. The acoustics here for me, too, is sometimes not so good. So, yes, please -- sorry, your question?
Question: All right, that’s fine. I would like to follow up on Cyprus. You were in Cyprus with the Secretary-General, and it seems to me that he is following up this issue, but is it fair to say that the leaders of the country, that is of Cyprus, although the Secretary-General puts big hope in these negotiation process to solve this, one would argue, frozen conflict, are not meeting with the same level of enthusiasm the issue of renewing the process of negotiation like the Secretary-General? So, is there any discrepancy there that the Secretary-General is hoping for more than actually the leaders are able to deliver?
Spokesperson: Well, the Secretary-General has, as you know, first of all, clearly he visited. And secondly, he followed up with phone calls very recently to speak to both the Turkish Cypriot leader and the Greek Cypriot leader. They have reiterated quite clearly their commitment to finding a solution to the Cyprus problem. And they have also underscored their commitment to continue with the negotiations which have been fairly intensive in the last 18 months. And they do not intend to take their foot off the accelerator there.
Question: Just a small follow-up. What is the basis of the Secretary-General’s enthusiasm, that he is showing when he is calling, again and again, the leaders?
Spokesperson: This is based quite clearly on the strong commitment that he heard on the grounds and subsequently from the leaders, both Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot, and also on the guidance that he receives from his Special Adviser. Is this a follow-up on Cyprus?
Question: Yes, it is. There is an article today in the Sydney Morning Herald quoting about just exactly this, the UN and Cyprus. And it quotes the representative of the European party saying, quote: “We have a problem and it’s called [Alexander] Downer. It is our belief that he should step down.” The reference being to the visit by the Secretary-General to the presidential office of Mr. Talat. There is another party there, and said: “This is…”
Spokesperson: I’ve read it as well, Matthew.
Correspondent: No, no, I know…
Spokesperson: I read it as well. Yes.
Question: So, I just wondered, I know that you said that you didn’t see a red carpet. And that’s all fine and good. But is there, if after all, after the visit you still have parties that really kind of saying that that was a misstep. Has there been any thinking, rethinking within the Secretariat about whether the… they… what they are claiming is that the visit there was meant to boost Mr. Talat in advance of the elections in April. Was that… do you reject that? What do you say to that article, since you read it?
Spokesperson: Well, I’m not going to comment on every single article that appears in any newspaper around the world. I can Google it just as well as you can, Matthew. And…
Question: This was about the UN’s performance.
Spokesperson: Yes, yes. But absolutely, it’s talking about Mr. Downer’s role. But it also has some fairly robust comments from Mr. Downer himself, which you didn’t read out, where he defends himself quite stoutly. And I would defend him also, as the Secretary-General would. He is doing an extremely tough job, and he does it extremely well. He has, in fact, the confidence of both the Turkish Cypriot leader and the Greek Cypriot leadership. And you’re going to find in any set of negotiations people who are prepared to say publicly that they don’t like the person who is mediating, or the facilitator or whatever the other expressions might be. You’re never going to satisfy everybody. So, I think that he quite clearly has the full and strong support of the Secretary-General, and that’s all I need to say.
Question: Let me just ask this one last thing, because one of his defences in the interview, of his robust quotes, is that of course he is not there full time, because, he is, quote: “not paid full time”. So, since one of the critiques of him is what they, what some other opposition parties say is a failure to engage, is there any thinking, should it be a full time post or it… what was the thinking that a part time Downer is better than a full time Mr. X? Is there… What is the reply…?
Spokesperson: I was not privy to the recruitment process, so I’m not going to comment on that.
Correspondent: Okay. Thanks, I appreciate it.
Question: Thanks. I just want to follow up actually on my earlier question. The EU, the European Union, just actually today issued a statement criticizing the assassination of this Hamas leader in Dubai. And I was wondering if the United Nations has issued any position, or if the SG has a position on this, what many people would see as an extrajudicial killing of this person in Dubai?
Spokesperson: I think you are as aware as I am, even though I wasn’t here last week, that there hasn’t been a statement on that. Let me find out.
Question: Will there be one?
Spokesperson: I said let me find out.
Spokesperson: Okay, any other questions, because then I will otherwise hand over to Jean Victor, who is going to brief on behalf of the President of the General Assembly.
Question: Is there any final conclusion on the powder, just what it was? Now that the cafeteria has been opened?
Spokesperson: Well, funny you should ask about that, because as I said, I wasn’t here. But, I was aware of what was going on, and as you well know, because you were here, the cafeteria was closed on Thursday afternoon, and on Friday after a suspicious substance was found there. And since then, an onsite test has found out that the substance was harmless. And following New York City Department of Health regulations, the area has been cleaned to their specifications and the cafeteria has, I think you’re aware, reopened this morning. And if you’re going to ask me what was the substance, I do not yet know. And we have asked the same question.
Question: Were there any arrests? Like, surveillance? Whoever put this thing caused some panic.
Spokesperson: Listen, the most important thing is that it’s harmless. What other steps are being taken, I’d have to find out. But the most important thing here was to do with the health of staff and other people in the building, yourselves included. That was the first priority and it was established very quickly. It would seem that the substance was harmless. Quite what it was, I do not yet know. But, once I do, I will share that with you. Okay. Thank you very much.
Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President
Thanks, Martin. Good afternoon.
I will start with the item on the meeting between President Treki and President Hosni Mubarak.
Earlier today in Cairo, the President of the General Assembly H.E. Dr. Ali Abdussalam Treki met with H.E. Hosni Mubarak, President of Egypt. They discussed the situation in the Middle East, Africa and the priorities on the agenda of the General Assembly. President Treki informed President Mubarak of the intention to convene a plenary meeting of the General Assembly at the earliest possible date following the submission of the United Nations Secretary-General’s report A/64/651, in order to take action on the draft resolution to follow up on resolution 64/10 pertaining to the Goldstone Report. Both parties discussed the situation in Sudan in light of the recent agreement reached by the Sudanese government and one of the armed groups in Darfur. In addition, they exchanged views on the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in southern Sudan. Furthermore, Dr. Treki and President Mubarak discussed important upcoming meetings on disarmament and non-proliferation. The President of the General Assembly briefed the Egyptian Head of State on his intention to hold a thematic debate on disarmament and nuclear non-proliferation on 25 March. Dr. Treki extended an invitation to President Mubarak to attend the high-level meeting of the General Assembly on the follow-up on the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals, which is scheduled to take place from 20-22 September.
Finally, Dr. Treki commended President Mubarak on the role played by Egypt in its capacity as Chair of the Non-Aligned Movement. President Treki also met separately with the Egyptian Minister for Foreign Affairs, and the Minister for International Cooperation. I would like to recall that yesterday the President of the General Assembly addressed the Council of the League of Arab States in Cairo at the invitation of the League’s Secretary-General, H.E. Amr Moussa. Dr. Treki highlighted the main priorities on the agenda of the sixty-fourth session of the General-Assembly, including the thematic debate he intends to hold on issues such as disarmament and non-nuclear proliferation, dialogue among civilizations and the situation in the Middle East. The Council of the League of Arab States welcomed these initiatives by President Treki, underlining the need to revitalize the work of the General Assembly in tackling important issues on the international agenda. The Council commended the work undertaken by the General Assembly on important issues of the sixty-fourth session.
That’s what I have for you today. Yes.
**Questions and Answers
Question: [inaudible] signing in Gaza come through the discussions between Mr. Mubarak and Mr. Treki?
Spokesperson: No, that is not part of my readout. It may have, it may not have. But that’s not part of it. Yes.
Question: I just want to follow up about what you said about the meeting will be held as soon or earliest possible date. We’ve heard the date of 26 February. Is this basically what you’re aiming at to vote on the new Goldstone resolution?
Spokesperson: I would like to say that the meeting will take place within days, rather than weeks. But Member States will have to be informed before.
Question: I mean, within days that story is 26… that’s within days.
Spokesperson: I cannot put a specific date on that. Member States will first and foremost have to be informed. But it is going to happen very shortly, within days.
Question: When can we expect an announcement from [inaudible]?
Spokesperson: Within a day or two. We’ll let you know. Yes.
Question: What is the [inaudible] on the intergovernmental negotiations over the expansion of the Security Council?
Spokesperson: We have asked Ambassador Tanin to come and brief you on this. There has been a recent exchange of letters and correspondence with regional groups, Member States and Ambassador Tanin. And I think that he is just trying to put everything together, and will soon decide when he should be briefing you. As you know, this is a very important and very sensitive process. Matthew.
Question: Libya has announced that citizens of up to 25 countries in Europe can’t travel to Libya. I know usually you say that’s matter of Libya, not Dr. Treki. But I wanted to know, there are various reports saying that Ali Treki is on a list produced by Switzerland of 180 Libyan officials that cannot travel not only to Switzerland, but to all signatories of the Schengen Agreement… to, that’s 25 countries. Someone has said that there is an exception for him travelling to Geneva, since there is a UN office there. Can you confirm or deny if Dr. Treki is on this Swiss list? And…
Spokesperson: Either way, I cannot. I cannot comment simply because I haven’t seen that list, if there is a list. I just haven’t seen it.
Question: [inaudible] and made inquiries, and so, that’s why I’m asking you just to find out. I mean, I think an inquiry has been made by your office to the Swiss about travelling to Geneva. And so, it seems to me like, maybe he can say something about whether… do you believe he shouldn’t be on the list, and if so, why not?
Spokesperson: I think that we can comment when it is about the President of the General Assembly. It happens to be that President Treki, for this year, for the sixty-fourth session, is the President of the General Assembly. But, when it is a matter between a Member State, in this case, Switzerland, and another Member State, in this case, Libya, I think it should be safer to check, to have an authoritative response from either or both Permanent Missions of both these countries.
Question: I’m only asking because it’s about him personally, and it’s hard to distinguish if it’s about Ali Treki the person, it’s hard to distinguish whether it is in his capacity as a former Libyan diplomat or as President of the GA. So, I’m assuming, do you only speak for him in one… I mean, I’m not asking you to opine about Libya. It’s more, is he on the Swiss list and is there a way to find that out?
Spokesperson: Since I haven’t seen the list, it is very difficult to make that assessment and to know the basis upon which I may be commenting. I haven’t seen the list. I don’t know where this list is, if there is a list. So, if we see a list, and if we have that confirmation either way, then we’ll be able to comment.
Question: In fact that’s why I [inaudible]. Do you believe that…? I mean this will be… Can he travel to France of Germany today? Is that your understanding?
Spokesperson: I do not want to answer hypothetical questions.
Question: I’d like… Just to follow up.
Question: Did you, obviously, like Matthew said, send an inquiry to the Swiss Mission asking them whether Mr. Treki can travel? Is this true? Did you send an inquiry?
Spokesperson: I cannot confirm any official démarche from our Office to make that kind of inquiry.
Question: So, [inaudible]
Spokesperson: I do not have any official démarche that is on the record from our Office making such an inquiry.
Question: Since you also that you haven’t seen the list and you’re saying you would not like to comment and you are also saying that you would not like to answer on the question whether this requirement means that he is on the list or not. So, I am asking you now, do you know whether Mr. Treki, the President of the General Assembly, is on the list or can or not travel to those countries?
Spokesperson: First, I do not like you to say what I have said. What I am saying…
Correspondent: That’s what I understood.
Spokesperson: Very good. So, I am going to make myself clearer, if I may. What I am saying is that I haven’t seen the list. I don’t think we have that list in the Office, because I see everything that we have in the Office. I haven’t seen the list. I can, therefore, not make a speculative comment on a list that I haven’t seen, because the list, if it is out there, will enlighten us on the basis of which a name is on the list or not. So, not having seen the list, it will be for me very speculative to comment on a list I haven’t seen and that I cannot confirm one way or another.
Question: But you do not have knowledge of whether or not he is with such a ban, or without a ban?
Spokesperson: I absolutely don’t have that knowledge, whether he is on the list or not. I have been trying to find out myself, but it is not my own authority to find out. And I think we haven’t seen the list, I haven’t seen it. That’s why we cannot comment further. And I do not think that this question, for the time being, somehow infringes the travel of President Treki as the President of the General Assembly.
Question: And just for the purpose of planning, before, when you said that for the Goldstone Report and for the Ambassador Tanin briefing us. This second, Ambassador Tanin, would we expect him to brief us this week?
Spokesperson: I have to admit that we have been kind of telling you that we’re asking Ambassador Tanin. We have done so several times. And I will do it in a stronger way, if I may, through our Office to make sure that he comes and briefs you as soon as possible. But, as you are well aware, this is a very sensitive process. But, he is aware that he should be briefing you soon.
Question: Just like, one last question, please.
Question: Have you officially, as the Office of the President of the GA, received the Palestinian draft resolution on Goldstone? I mean, has it been officially handed to your office?
Spokesperson: I will double check that. I haven’t seen any draft resolution, as such, from a specific entity.
Spokesperson: Yes, I will double check that. There is some correspondence floating around, but we should be able to announce the holding of a plenary of the General Assembly very, very soon, as I have said in our statement.
Thank you, and have a good afternoon.
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