|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.
**Press Conferences/Stakeout Today
Just very briefly on a couple of press conferences -- at 12:30 p.m. today, after this briefing, the President of the Security Council, Nawaf Salam, will be here to brief you on the Council’s programme of work for the month of May.
And then at 1 p.m., the Foreign Minister of Indonesia and the Executive Secretary of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) will speak to correspondents at the General Assembly stakeout position.
And at 5:30 p.m., Hideo Suzuki, who is the Director of Arms Control for Japan’s Disarmament Division of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will be here, in this room, to brief you on Japan’s position on the NPT. [That briefing was later cancelled.]
The Secretary-General has appointed Desmond Parker of Trinidad and Tobago as Chief of Protocol. He replaces Alice Hecht of Belgium, who retired last year. Mr. Parker has been serving as Deputy Chief of Protocol since 2007 and has served as a Protocol Officer for his own Government for over 7 years. He joined the United Nations in 1996 and served on peacekeeping missions in Haiti, Liberia and Nepal. And we have more information in Mr. Parker’s biographic details in my office.
**Secretary-General at NPT Review Conference
The Secretary-General spoke this morning to Mayors for Peace, which brings together some 4,000 mayors and city officials around the world, including the Mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Secretary-General said that the United Nations should be the new “ground zero” for nuclear disarmament, adding that he will carry that message with him when he visits Hiroshima in August. He said that he would be humbled to be the first Secretary-General in UN history to personally participate in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Ceremony. And those remarks are available in my office.
And the Secretary-General is holding a number of bilateral meetings on non-proliferation with the high-level officials who are attending the NPT [Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons] Review Conference here. And at 6:20 p.m., he will attend and make remarks at the opening of an exhibition by the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization in the Visitors’ Lobby, and that exhibition is called “Putting an End to Nuclear Explosions”.
The Security Council, in its first consultations for this month, has approved its programme of work. As I mentioned, Ambassador Nawaf Salam of Lebanon will be here to brief you at 12:30 p.m.
And then also, at 3 p.m., the Security Council will hold an open meeting to hear from Baroness Catherine Ashton, High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy of the European Union, who will brief members on matters of cooperation between the European Union and Security Council.
In a message at the opening ceremony of the Honduran Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Tegucigalpa today, the Secretary-General will tell the body’s commissioners that they have a grave responsibility before them — but theirs is only one small part of the effort needed to heal the Honduran nation. In his message, to be delivered by UN Resident Coordinator Rebeca Arias, the Secretary-General will also encourage the country’s leaders to take a sensitive, comprehensive and sustained approach to the task of national healing. That will require sustained efforts to strengthen democratic institutions, promote respect for human rights, and provide social and economic opportunity for all Hondurans. We have full copies of his message available from my office.
[The Spokesperson later clarified that the message had not been read, but was being transmitted to the Government of Honduras and the Head of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.]
**United Nations Development Programme
The head of the UN Development Programme (UNDP), Helen Clark, is wrapping up a four-day visit to Mali today. During her stay, she underscored Mali’s efforts in tackling issues like HIV/AIDS, poverty and education. She also highlighted the country’s commitment to democratic governance.
Clark also met senior Malian officials, including the President. And she visited an all-women mango cooperative — a UNDP project which gives women farmers skills to grow and prepare their produce for export.
From Mali, Miss Clark heads to Burkina Faso, Tanzania and finally South Africa. And UNDP will be happy to give you more information on that trip.
So, questions, please.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Martin, it’s the 3 p.m. press conference with [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad, is that null and void, or is that going to happen?
Spokesperson: As we have announced, that press conference has been cancelled. The Iranian Mission has advised us that that press conference here is cancelled.
Question: And it’s not going to be rescheduled for any time later today or…?
Spokesperson: I think you need to ask the Iranians that, precisely what’s happening. What I can tell you is that there will be a briefing later in the week by the Iranian Foreign Minister, we’ve been advised by the Iranian Mission.
Question: And does the Secretary-General plan on meeting with Ahmadinejad while he is in town?
Spokesperson: He met the President…
Question: Oh, you meant he met him already?
Spokesperson: He met him yesterday. And we gave a fairly extensive readout about that meeting yesterday afternoon.
Correspondent: Okay. I didn’t see that, okay. Great, thank you.
Spokesperson: Okay. Other questions?
Question: Martin, thanks. Did the Secretary-General speak with Mr. Ahmadinejad about people who are actually taken from Iran to other countries, for various reasons, and looking for refugee status in other countries, like the US, Canada, Belgium and France? Did that topic come up in their discussions?
Spokesperson: What I can tell you is, as we mentioned in the readout yesterday, that the Secretary-General raised a number, and they discussed a number, of humanitarian and human rights questions. But I wouldn’t want to elaborate further on exactly what was discussed.
Question: The Secretary-General gave very strong support to the establishment of a nuclear-[weapon]-free zone in the Middle East. Does he have any specific recommendations on how to achieve that goal?
Spokesperson: Well, the speech was quite detailed, as you will have seen. And so I really don’t want to go into all of the details of what the speech contains. But what I would say is that the Secretary-General has said before, and others have said to, that establishing nuclear-[weapon]-free zones, not just in the Middle East, but of course that’s a key concern for the this NPT Review Conference that’s going on right now, that establishing such nuclear-weapon-free zones is a way to help to build stability and to put the jigsaw pieces together around the world. We already have examples where these nuclear-weapon-free zones exist. Obviously there has already been for a number of years a proposal to put this together, and clearly it would help to build confidence in general on the NPT if that could be put in place. But also it is clear that quite a lot of work needs to be done to make it happen.
Question: Just a follow-up to this. The only country which is opposing the Middle East zone, nuclear-weapon-free zone, is Israel. Will the Secretary-General persuade Israel to join this, to support this concept?
Spokesperson: Well, as I have just said, one of the five points that he made yesterday was that he would like to see progress towards a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East, and that these zones around the world can help to further the cause of disarmament and also non-proliferation. And he has also said that he strongly supports efforts to create such a zone in the Middle East. And clearly he also said that there needs to be a robust discussion, because he is mindful, as you say, that not everybody is ready to sign up to that. So, let’s see what the discussion brings during the course of this NPT Review Conference. But he has been very clear about supporting very strongly the efforts to create such a zone.
Question: Faisal Shahzad, does the Secretary-General have a statement to make on him being detained or his…?
Spokesperson: No. No.
Question: I want to ask a couple of questions about the Congo, about MONUC [United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo], I guess. One is, can you confirm that the Senegal and Benin troops are being withdrawn from MONUC? And beyond that, what percentage of the battalions remaining are actually from Francophone countries?
Spokesperson: Let’s find out.
Question: Also, it’s a related question. The Military Adviser of DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] Mr. [Chikadibia Isaac] Obiakor, when does his mandate run out, and when does that of Mr. Babacar Gaye as MONUC Force Commander?
Spokesperson: Well, as we told you, Mr. Gaye is that Force Commander and is listed as such. But if there is about to be some movement and our colleagues in DPKO can advise us, then we’ll let you know.
Question: There were widespread reports that Andrew Leslie, a Canadian General, was offered the force-commanding position for MONUC, but now he has been given another job for Canada. So, I think the cat is kind of out of the bag that Mr. Gaye will no longer be the Force Commander of MONUC. So, I am just wondering, can you at least state when Mr. Obiakor leaves? I’ve heard that Gaye is replacing Obiakor, several delegations say that.
Spokesperson: I can’t right now. But, as I said, as we speak, Mr. Gaye is the Force Commander for MONUC.
Question: Can I ask, yesterday you announced the appointment of Mr. [Ivan] Šimonovic of Croatia as the ASG [Assistant Secretary-General] for the Human Rights High Commissioner. Can you say when he is going to begin? I’ve heard it may be as late as September, and I am wondering what sense that makes.
Spokesperson: I will find out. I would note that Mr. Šimonovic is a cabinet minister. He is a Minister of Justice, so I am sure there have been discussions between the Human Rights Commissioner and her team and the Croatian Government about the timing. Let’s find out.
Question: And does the Secretary-General, I know you’ve put his CV out, but was he aware of concerns raised by prominent human rights organizations that this is not the right choice, that the person has very little track record in human rights, and was appointed by a person alleged to be a war criminal, etcetera. Is that, I’m wondering just what the response is to criticisms voiced by prominent human rights organizations of the appointment.
Spokesperson: As I have said before with relation to other appointments, appointments of this kind, meaning senior appointments, are not undertaken lightly, and involve looking at a range of people and options. And there is a set pattern of interviews and references, as you might expect.
Question: Martin, the Secretary-General told Mr. Ahmadinejad yesterday to restore international trust in its nuclear programme, and in turn Mr. Ahmadinejad said that Iran actually was ready to exchange the uranium. And he said that, I quote him, “the ball is in the other side’s hand”. Does this satisfy the UN, the Secretary-General? Do you trust this? Is this trust? Is this enough to actually restore trust? What do you expect exactly from Iran?
Spokesperson: Well, there are a number of things. One of them is that there should be a resumption of negotiations, firstly. The second, as the Secretary-General has made very clear, there is concern in the international community and that is why there is the need to restore trust, and that’s why it is incumbent on Iran to prove that its nuclear programme is of a peaceful nature and for peaceful purposes. And on the nuclear fuel supply, there is a draft agreement that has been proposed by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and that, as the Secretary-General has said, provides a good way to help to restore confidence. And obviously, as we have said repeatedly, the Secretary-General believes, and has appealed to Iran to adhere to the resolutions of the Security Council and indeed of the International Atomic Energy Agency Board of Governors.
Question: Just a couple of things about Sudan. Since the election, the JEM [Justice and Equality Movement] rebels have said that they have suspended participation in Doha. There are reports of the SPLM [Sudan People’s Liberation Movement] in Southern Sudan splitting, and there is also been just a shoot-them-up in El-Fasher, where I know UNAMID [African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur] is, and I guess, Mr. [Ibrahim] Gambari is based. In light of these developments in both north and south, and west Sudan, what are the UN peacekeeping missions, what do they think of it, what are they doing about it? It seems like a kind of negative trend to many, but what’s the UN saying?
Spokesperson: It’s a fairly sweeping question. There are a couple of important points here. One is that our mission on the ground is working and those who are working on mediation are seeking to find out from JEM in particular, from this particular rebel movement, the Justice and Equality Movement, precisely what their position is, rather than from public statements through the media what their position is directly related to the people who are involved in the mediation efforts. Clearly, there have been disconcerting developments on the ground, that’s correct. And the primary concern as always is to ensure to the extent possible the safety of civilians on the ground.
[The Spokesperson later added that UNAMID has reported that recent fighting between the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and the Government of Sudan has been confirmed, resulting in an underdetermined number of casualties and displaced. UNAMID has called on all parties to refrain from use of force and urges resolution through political means within the peace process and the JEM-Government of Sudan Framework Agreement. We understand that the JEM spokesperson has made remarks about suspending its participation in the Doha talks. We also understand that this is temporary, pending resolution of key issues, and have confidence that the talks will continue. The mediation is continuing discussions with the Justice and Equality Movement to address their concerns, and it urges them to remain committed to the ceasefire and to conclude negotiations with the Government on the ceasefire agreement as well as the final peace agreement.]
Question: In Iraq, there is a recount going on. Does the UN have a role? What is the UN’s role in that a recount? Are they observing the recount or are they supporting the recount in some way?
Spokesperson: The UN is not involved in observing, it was not involved in observing the election itself nor the recount. The United Nations has a role to provide the technical support that we’ve talked about a number of times, and that would include advising the election commission on how you conduct a recount.
Question: And finally, you sent me an answer about this Mr. [Bruno] Bastet who was a UN employee who was accused of using French subsidy for the poor while being a UN employee. But he was, as you said, removed from DC-2 by the Department of Safety and Security of the UN, is that common? When somebody’s contract runs out, why do they have to be escorted from the premises by security? Can you explain why this took place?
Spokesperson: No, I cannot give you any more details than what I have, what we have already sent to you, which is that he was escorted, I think that is the key word, he was escorted out of one of the UN buildings — for those in the know, DC-2 — last week, and that was following the termination of his contract. But, as you also know from what I told you and as we have also told others who are aware of this case, that this was without incident. As to further details about this, I would ask you to contact the Office of Human Resources Management.
Question: On this incident, still a related one, the last time, at least I am aware of, this happening was Nicolas Baroncini, the person who was alleged to have bitten a security officer when the Alan Doss job was given. In light of the OIOS [Office for Internal Oversight Services] preliminary finding described by Farhan Haq as now been given to Mr. [Alan] Doss for him to respond to — does that have any bearing on the UN proceeding with its case, criminal case against Mr. Baroncini? But he was taken to criminal court.
Spokesperson: Does what have any bearing?
Question: Does the finding, does the preliminary OIOS finding about the propriety of Mr. Doss’s conduct have any bearing on the UN proceeding to continue the criminal prosecution of Nicolas Baroncini? Is the UN going forward, that’s to say? Is the officer going to testify against him and are you trying to, I guess, put him in jail?
Spokesperson: Well, that’s a lot of questions there. My answer will be fairly brief. And that is that we’ve said repeatedly and we’ve just told you this morning again, that this, if I am not mistaken, that it is precisely that. The findings, there is a preliminary finding that was given to Mr. Doss in that particular investigation or inquiry, and it’s not yet finalized. On the other aspects of your question, I don’t think that’s something I can comment on.
Question: Is it going to go forward?
Spokesperson: I cannot comment on that here and now. If I have anything else to add at another stage, I will.
Question: It is becoming increasingly clear that the indirect talks on the Middle East conflict will be taking place sooner or later. At this stage, what kind of encouragement is the Secretary-General prepared to give to the parties?
Spokesperson: The Secretary-General, as we have reported in the past week and indeed going back beyond that, but most recently in the past week, has been actively involved in speaking on the telephone and indeed meeting officials from the region. And that’s because, as a member of the Quartet, there is a clear desire to see progress. The proximity talks, as we’ve also said, are not an end in themselves. But any movement, should they indeed start soon, would be extremely welcome. And clearly Senator [George] Mitchell has been working extremely hard. The Secretary-General has also, as I said, been working the phones and meeting people with the aim of trying to ensure that there is the progress that we would like to see. Okay. All right, thank you very much.
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