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

23 March 2010

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

23 March 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.

**Financing for Development

The Secretary-General spoke this morning at the High-Level Dialogue on Financing for Development, and he said that the meeting takes place at a time when the world economy shows signs of recovery, yet growth remains fragile.

He welcomed the efforts of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to improve its lending framework and the support from Group of 20 leaders to expand the Fund’s lending capacity.  However, he said, much more needs to be done.

**Security Council

The Secretary-General intends to speak to the Security Council tomorrow morning, to brief the Council on his latest trip to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory, as well as to last week’s Quartet meeting in Moscow.  After his discussions with the Security Council members have ended, he will speak to reporters at the Council stakeout.  And we’ll obviously let you know when that is going to happen.

**Deputy Secretary-General’s Travels

The Deputy Secretary-General, Asha-Rose Migiro, will be on official travel to Copenhagen, Denmark, from 24 to 25 March to deliver remarks at the Government of Denmark’s international conference on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).  The focus of the conference is “Women’s Empowerment and Employment”.  The Conference will provide recommendations for the United Nations MDG high-level plenary meeting in New York later this year.  The Deputy Secretary-General will also hold bilateral meetings with the Government of Denmark and will pay a visit to the UNICEF Copenhagen warehouse.

The Deputy Secretary-General will then proceed to Valencia, Spain, where she will deliver an opening address on 27 March at a two-day EU Presidency event hosted by the Spanish Government.  The meeting there will focus on the four themes of empowerment, economy and development, sexual and reproductive health, and education.  And we have more information on that trip by the Deputy Secretary-General in my office.

** Afghanistan

As you will doubtless have seen today, Staffan de Mistura, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, gave his first press conference in Kabul since taking up his duties.  He outlined UN support for Afghanistan’s September elections and its reconciliation efforts.

On the elections, he said that he has received assurances by President Hamid Karzai on the important role played by two international staff on the Electoral Complaints Commission and on an expected announcement of changes in the Afghan electoral bodies.

Asked about reports that the Afghan Government was talking to the Hezb-i-Islami group, de Mistura said that reconciliation is urgently needed, and that dialogue needs to begin.  He added that the United Nations respects that this should be an Afghan-led process and that the United Nations is ready and available to facilitate it at the right time.  And we have a transcript of that press conference in my office.

** Darfur

The Joint Special Representative of the UN-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), Ibrahim Gambari, held a meeting yesterday in Cairo with Amr Moussa, the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States, and Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit.  The three men discussed recent developments in Darfur and the signing of two separate framework agreements between Sudan and the rebel Justice and Equality Movement and Liberation and Justice Movement.

Gambari and his hosts agreed on strengthening cooperation and coordination between the Arab League and the Mission to help consolidate peace and bring stability to Darfur.  Gambari also told his hosts of the Mission’s readiness to provide Arab League election monitors in Darfur with appropriate facilities to do their work during the forthcoming Sudanese elections.

**Asylum-Seekers

The overall number of asylum-seekers in industrialized nations was stable in 2009, according to a new report by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).  UNHCR adds that Afghans topped the list of asylum applicants, representing a 45 per cent increase over 2008.  Iraqis dropped to second place, while Somalis moved to third place.  Among the top countries of origin were also the Russian Federation, China, Serbia and Nigeria.  The United States, France, Canada, the United Kingdom and Germany represent the five top destination countries ‑‑ receiving 48 per cent of the total claims in 2009.  There is more in a press release in our office.

**World Meteorological Day

Today is World Meteorological Day.  And the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) is marking its sixtieth anniversary.  The organization today released its report on the status of the climate in 2009.  It finds that 2009 was the fifth warmest year on record since the beginning of instrumental climate records in 1850.  It also shows that the decade from 2000-2009 was warmer than the preceding decade, which in turn was warmer than the 1980s.  We also have more detail on that.

**Press Conference Today

Later today at 1 p.m. in fact, the Coalition for the International Criminal Court will hold a press conference about the resumed session of the Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

**Press Conference Tomorrow

And then tomorrow, a couple of press conferences:  the World Health Organization will hold a press conference at 11 a.m. for the launch of pop star Craig David as Goodwill Ambassador against Tuberculosis.

And at 3:15 p.m., the Permanent Mission of Nigeria will hold a press conference on Financing for Development in the Niger Delta.

So that’s it.  Questions, please.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thanks, Martin.  What does the Secretary-General see as a positive outcome from his recent trip to the Middle East?

Spokesperson:  A number of aspects.  First of all, that he was able to engage directly with the Palestinian authorities and with Israeli leaders to be able to brief them on the Quartet meeting, which was held in Moscow last week, as you know.  And to be able to give a very clear readout of that meeting from which there was, as you know, quite a strong statement.  So that is the first thing.  The second thing is that he was able to see for himself the effect of settlements when he visited Ramallah on the West Bank.  And thirdly, he was able to, when visiting Gaza, speak to the people of Gaza directly about their plight and to be able to tell them that the Israeli authorities have authorized a number of projects, so that materials can be brought in to help with UN work, which is aimed at helping the people on the ground there.  And this is repeating actually quite a lot of what I said yesterday.  The clear message that the Secretary-General had was that this was a welcome step by the Israeli Government, a welcome first step and that more needs to be done, clearly, to provide much greater access for materials and supplies and indeed people to be able to get into Gaza to help the folks on the ground there.

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  What is the Secretary-General’s feeling when he, on his arrival to Israel, he was not received properly, there was no official, any Israeli official at the airport?

Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General has extremely cordial relations with the Israeli Government.  He understands that when he arrived, it was Shabbat.

Question:  He arrived on that Friday.

Spokesperson:  Friday night.  Well, it was the early hours of Saturday morning.  I remember distinctly because I was with him.  Right.

Question:  Is it customary that they don’t meet anyone, any guests at this time?

Spokesperson:  You need to ask the Israeli authorities what is their custom and practice.  The arrival was dictated by plane schedules and the ending of the Quartet meeting and the need to make maximum use of time to be able to be in Israel and to be able to visit both the West Bank and Gaza during that weekend ‑‑ to fly back here overnight Sunday to be in the office on Monday, which is what happened, so that he could then brief the Security Council on Wednesday.  So it was dictated by schedule.

Question:  What was the meeting today with Tzipi Livni?  She is not a Cabinet member.  Why is the meeting happening today?

Spokesperson:  Again, you could ask Tzipi Livni why she is in New York at this point.  The Secretary-General has frequent meetings with all kinds of officials, both in Government and in opposition.  There is nothing unusual in that.

Question:  I will begin on Darfur and Central Asia.  On Darfur, President Omar Al-Bashir has been quoted regarding election observers as saying, if they interfere in our affairs, “we will cut their fingers off, put them under our shoes, and throw them out”, Bashir said.  So, I understand there was a background briefing in which senior UN officials said that they’re monitoring things and as things come up, they are raised to the Government.  I want to know what is the UN’s response, given both its role in the elections and with two major peacekeeping forces there, to a President saying he’ll cut the fingers off election observers.

Spokesperson:  The point here is that the elections are a Sudanese process and the UN is providing technical support under a Security Council mandate.  And the preparations for the election are well under way, as you know, and we do have concerns in three areas.  One is that the technical challenges of preparing for an election in a country of that size with the infrastructure that is in place there, or not in place.  We are also concerned about reports of harassment of opposition party members and intimidation, arbitrary arrest and detention.  And we are also concerned about the low registration of internally displaced people in Darfur.  So we have been encouraging the Government of Sudan to address those particular concerns so that the elections, and this is really the key point, will reflect the will of the Sudanese people.

Question:  I am just wondering:  This seems to be a particular sort of harassment of election observers, saying that you would cut their fingers off.  It is hard to imagine this not having some effect on the objectivity of the observation.  So it was these senior UN officials, unnamed, said that these are the type of things that Mr. [Haile] Menkerios raises to the Government.

Spokesperson:  Said where? Said where, Matthew?

Question:  No, no.  There was, maybe while you were travelling, but they announced here, so it was a known fact that there was a background briefing about the Sudanese elections.  But they said the type of things, seemingly lesser than this, are the type of things Mr. Menkerios ‑‑ maybe he has not raised it yet, but I am wondering if and when Mr. Menkerios actually does raise this to the Government, about the open statement of cutting off fingers of election observers; is it possible to know that the UN did react in some way?

Spokesperson:  Look, I have seen the same reports that you have about what President Bashir is supposed to have said.  I do not know at this point whether Mr. Menkerios has raised it or not and I will find out.

Question:  Can I just, I will try to be more brief on this.  There have been two-day events here on Water for Life and World Water Day and the Prime Minister of Tajikistan has been central to all of it.  There’s a conflict, a pretty serious conflict between Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, that borders have been closed.  They are building a dam that Uzbekistan says cannot be built without outside observers.  So since the UN has this regional centre in Turkmenistan, the Uzbek Ambassador said that the UN has not gotten involved in this cross-border; it is only interested in the Aral Sea.  I wanted to know if that is true, and why the UN, given this new centre, would not be involved in what is probably the starkest conflict in the area.

And just very briefly, I wanted to know, just now there was a press conference held in this room by the Prime Minister of Tajikistan at which there was only time for one question.  And an award was given to him by Intel on the stage where you are sitting.  And it seemed like it was more of a PR stunt than a press conference.  So I am wondering:  who is in charge of the room here to make that, in the same way that journalists follow rules, that the room is not filled with diplomats and that the stage is not used as with journalists as extras for corporate awards to a country at war?

Spokesperson:  Well first of all, Matthew, it is not a country at war.

Question:  It is a country in serious conflict.

Spokesperson:  That is also not true, Matthew.  You need to be very careful about how you characterize things.

Question:  The border is closed to the neighbour.

Spokesperson:  Matthew, if you want me to answer the question then let me speak, okay.  Couple of things:  first of all, this preventive diplomacy centre in Turkmenistan, in Ashgabat, is indeed an important part of the equation in dealing with regional tensions and regional security.  That is why it was established precisely there.  And its role is to look at a whole range of different topics that could give rise to increased tensions in the region.  That is the first thing.  The second thing is, on the question of the press conference here, it is not for me to decide how the Prime Minister of Tajikistan conducts his press conference.  You can take that up with the Permanent Mission of Tajikistan.

Question:  It was conducted by DPI [Department of Public Information].  DPI ran the press conference.  And I think we have all seen the rules that say no more than half an hour, time for Q&A, you see what I am saying?  So the room was not rented to Tajikistan.  DPI ran the press conference, so I am just wondering.

Spokesperson:  Look, this is done, when you have a press conference in here by a Permanent Mission, this is the Permanent Mission speaking, not the United Nations, okay.  The Permanent Mission is the body at that point that is doing the briefing.  If they are sitting here on the stage, it is their briefing; it is not the United Nations.

Question:  There was a guy standing at the, I mean there was a gentleman for DPI who actually was the one who was supposed to call questions.  And there was also a guy from MDGs, there was two others… it was not a Tajikistan press conference.  It was a DPI press conference about the MDGs.  I am just wondering who runs it.  That is just a simple [question], who is in charge of the room?

Spokesperson:  Well, okay, let’s find out about that and tell you precisely what the rules are and what the rules are not.  I would simply say that, repeating myself, I do not speak for the Government of Tajikistan, surprising as it may seem.  Right, it is up to them to speak for themselves.

Question:  I just have a quick follow-up to Matt’s question.  It is just a curious one.  I would like to know whether the UN is going to consider the language, Omar Bashir’s, as a coup.

Spokesperson:  Say again?

Question:  Yeah, I am curious to know at what point does it become unacceptable for the UN to have to deal with such language that Omar Bashir used regarding the election monitors, that they cut their hands.  Now, I am wondering, why is that not incurring wrath or some kind of outrage from the United Nations?  Coming from somebody who has been indicted by the ICC [International Criminal Court] and now he is threatening…  Why does the UN accept that kind of language without any kind of response at all?

Spokesperson:  I do not think that I’ve said that the United Nations accepted it.  What I am saying is that we are focusing on the election process and the need for the people of Sudan to have the right to freely express their preference in the electoral process.  And, crucially, for that electoral process to be held in such a way that it is both credible and fair.  That is what I am saying.

Question:  Today the British Government expelled an Israeli diplomat in connection with passport fraud, regarding the assassination in Dubai.  Has the time come for the UN to comment on this assassination or not?

Spokesperson:  Well, that is purely a matter between the British and Israeli Governments and that is not something I am going to comment on here.

Question:  Yeah, but it is not only the British Government but the international community.

Spokesperson:  I said I am not going to comment on it.  Okay, one more question.

Question:  Sure, this is one I began asking yesterday but because the PGA [President of the General Assembly] was coming, it was not possible to ask it, that Susan Manuel, the spokeswoman for UNAMA [United Nations Assistance Mission for Afghanistan], has been quoted that the UN is reducing its staff in Kandahar in anticipation of a military offensive, presumably by NATO and ISAF [International Security Assistance Force].  First, can you confirm this?  And how does it square with previous statements by the UN, that it never discusses movement of personnel due to safety concerns?  Is that no longer the case?  Does that no longer hold?

Spokesperson:  Let me find out.  First of all, you have heard me say, and many other people say, about the requirements on security.  Let me find out exactly what Susan has said and any further details that I can give you, okay.

Question:  And on the meeting of the Group of Friends of the Secretary-General on Myanmar.  What ‑‑ and this is a very softball question ‑‑ what is the Secretary-General… what are his thoughts?  Since he scheduled it and they are his friends, they are friends of his on Myanmar, what are the issues that are of concern?  What does he hope to come out of the meeting?  And can you confirm or deny that he proposed Nur Hassan Wirajuda, a former Foreign Minister of Indonesia, to replace Mr. [Ibrahim] Gambari, but had it vetoed by the Myanmar Government, as has been reported?  You can deny it if it is not the case, but I just wanted to know if that is true.

Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, on the Group of Friends meeting, as you know that is taking place on Thursday.  And as is customary, as I understand it, there will be, as people come out of that meeting, there will be people who can brief you on what is discussed at that meeting and I am not going to prejudge what is discussed in that meeting at this point.  But you will get a readout as the meeting finishes.

Question:  But did he schedule it at the request of Gordon Brown or on his own, and if so what… I was asking why he scheduled it.

Spokesperson:  Well, there has been quite a lot of movement recently, including, as you well know, the announcement on various aspects of the election law or laws.  And there have been various other developments that we have all seen that have taken place in Myanmar related, for example, to Aung San Suu Kyi.  Therefore, it is an appropriate time to be meeting in that format.  And as for the last question, I would need to find out more.  It is news to me.

All right, thank you very much.  Thank you.

* *** *

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