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

20 August 2010

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

20 August 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, Acting Deputy Spokesperson ad interim for the Secretary-General.


Good afternoon, everyone.


**Middle East Quartet


The Quartet issued a statement today at 11 a.m., and it’s on our counter and our website.


United States Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and US Presidential Envoy George Mitchell also extended an oral invitation to the parties to join in launching direct negotiations on 2 September in Washington.  We are now awaiting the reaction of the parties, which we hope will be positive.  We have no further comments at this time.


**Secretary-General Statement on Pakistan


I have for you a statement by the Secretary-General concerning support for Pakistan, which follows:


Yesterday and today, countries from around the world have come out strongly in solidarity and support for the people of Pakistan.  The Secretary-General says:  I want to thank Governments for pledging more than $200 million to boost relief efforts.  The generosity of countries and individuals will make a real difference in the daily lives of millions of people.


We must keep it up.  This is not just Pakistan’s hour of need — Pakistan is facing weeks, months and years of need.  Now is our chance to turn the tide towards hope and a better day for all of the people of Pakistan.


That’s a statement attributable to the Secretary-General and that’s available in our Office.


** Pakistan


Late yesterday, the General Assembly adopted a resolution calling for international assistance in support of the Pakistani Government’s efforts to address the crisis there.  The resolution urged the international community to extend full support and assistance to Pakistan’s Government in its efforts to cope with the impacts of the worst rains and floods to hit the country in decades and to meet medium- and long-term needs.


UN agencies have increased their operations and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has reinforced its coordination and assessment teams.  The number of people needing aid as of today includes 7 million child victims.  This morning, the United Nations Children’s Fund’s (UNICEF’s) Executive Director, Anthony Lake, issued a statement, declaring that the humanitarian tragedy in Pakistan has reached tragic proportions.


Also, the World Food Programme (WFP) says it has now reached 1.2 million people with a one-month ration of food.  WFP says it is facing a constantly shifting picture.  Roads are passable one day and impassable the next.  Helicopters could take off one day and then be grounded the next.  We have press releases with more details.


** Liberia


The Secretary-General says in his latest report on Liberia that the country continues to make significant progress in consolidating its peace and security.  There remain potentially destabilizing factors, however.  These include persistent political and social divides, limited progress on national reconciliation, and the widespread perception that impunity is prevalent.


The Secretary-General also notes that more must be done to boost the State’s ability to ensure safety and security and administer justice.  While he is encouraged by donors’ indications of financial support for the 2011 elections, the Secretary-General says that more clarity is required to ensure the legitimacy of the vote.


**Week Ahead


We won’t issue a Week Ahead at the United Nations this week.  But just to let you know, next week, the Security Council is scheduled to hold consultations on the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) and its 1718 Committee on Tuesday.  And then on Wednesday, it is scheduled to hold an open debate on piracy in Somalia.


That’s it for me.  Yes, Khaled?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  I wanted to go back to the Quartet statement that was issued.  Mr. [Oscar Fernandez-] Taranco — in his latest briefing to the Security Council, the Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs — he called upon Israel to stop the settlement activity in the West Bank and to extend the freeze which exists beyond September.  I was wondering why this language is absent from the Quartet statement.


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t really have any comment to make about the statement.  As you know, the statement was agreed to by all the four members of the Quartet.  That’s to say, the European Union, the Russian Federation, the United States and the United Nations.  And beyond the language of the statement, which speaks for itself, I wouldn’t have any further comment.  Obviously, Mr. Fernandez-Taranco’s briefing to the Council and what he said to them also still stands.


Question:  Let me just follow up, please.  I mean, is stopping settlements and extending the freeze a precondition for the talks, from the UN point of view?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Again, the language of the statement speaks for itself and mentions a number of elements, and I would just refer you back to the statement. Yes, Edie.


Question:  Farhan, you said that this was pending the acceptance by Israel and the Palestinians.  Well, they’ve accepted this meeting, so I’m wondering what the Secretary-General is going to be doing to follow up on this statement, whether he’s planning any specific activities.


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  If we receive the confirmation from the parties of their acceptance --like I said, we were hopeful of their acceptance-- if we receive the confirmation of their acceptance, we do expect to say something more and we’ll let you know when that happens.


Question:  Was the UN involved in the drafting of this statement, or is this something done by the United States and then sent to the others to get their approval?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  This is something that was worked out by all four members of the Quartet.


Question:  So you had a contribution in this, as the United Nations?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  This was worked out by all of the four members of the Quartet.


Question:  So why, if the UN has a contribution, why doesn’t it have a clear position on settlements?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Look at the language of the statement itself.  Please look at it very carefully and you can see for yourself.  Yes.


Question:  On the subject of the General Assembly meeting that’s going to be wrapping up today on Pakistan, is there going to be somebody from the UN, like John Holmes [Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator], or somebody, who’s going to come out at the end and actually give us some indication of the totals of what’s been pledged and have some official UN comment on the outcome of this meeting?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I’ll see whether we can provide any updated information on pledges by the end of the day.  I don’t know whether you heard it, but we did just now issue a statement by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in which he thanked the Governments for the pledges of more than $200 million, and so that’s the figure that he gave just now.


Question:  Could I follow up on that?  That’s $200 million more since yesterday, when there was somewhat over half of the $459 million aid appeal that had been pledged.  That since yesterday, there’s been $200 million plus more? 


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I would need to check that. I believe so, but first I would need to check that.  But beyond that, I would like to point out that the amounts we were talking about in terms of our $459 million response plan — that is our own plan.  This money that we were just talking about that was pledged by Governments would include bilateral assistance, in other words, money that would not go into our own response plan.


Question:  So what would be helpful, I think, to follow up on what Edie’s saying, is if we could know at the end of the day where we are in terms of the UN aid appeal and then if we can separate out what’s going bilaterally and how much of the aid appeal has actually been met.


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, we’ll try to get you some numbers by the end of the day on that, yes.  Yes, Matthew?


Question:  On Pakistan, maybe these are related questions, but, I mean, Jean-Maurice Ripert, the Special Envoy to Pakistan, was obviously around yesterday.  He went into the General Assembly, he came out, various reporters asked him to speak.  He said it would really be up to Ban Ki-moon to speak and not him.  I’m just wondering, is he still in town? Is there some ability, given his role, to hear from him?


And, I have just one kind of specific question that came up after the briefing yesterday, which is that, it seems like these two regions, at least the two Waziristans, North and South, are basically blockaded by the Government, i.e. UN… I’d like confirmation that the UN can’t get into the areas and that also that in the case of South Waziristan, all of the produce and stuff that they grow can’t be exported and therefore they have no income.  And what Mr. Ripert, or Mr. [Martin] Mogwanja [United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for Pakistan], what the UN’s comment is on the Government’s treatment of these two Waziristans.


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, you already heard from Mr. Mogwanja just yesterday, he was the guest at the briefing.  Above and beyond that, the main problem in accessibility has to do, as I just pointed out, with the problems that are prohibiting travel throughout the flood-affected regions — that is to say, many roads are washed out.  It’s difficult to tell from day to day where you can go by helicopter as well.  That’s our main problem there.


Question:  You seem to be referring to areas of Pakistan that the Government says because there are security operations taking place, the UN and its international staff of the UN can’t access it.  I just wanted to, having now heard from the region that this Waziristan area is basically blockaded — that people can neither enter nor exit except in military convoys, that what the UN’s been doing about it so…?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  It’s always the case, when we’re delivering humanitarian aid, that we have to do so under secure conditions, and we always have to work with whoever is on the ground to make sure that there are secure conditions that would allow us to both bring in the aid and to distribute it without any threat, upon the people who are receiving it.  That’s a standard process.  I wouldn’t have any comment about the security situation in Waziristan.  I would leave any comment on that to the Government of Pakistan itself.


Question:  But isn’t it just possible to know from the UN’s perspective, since it has a Special Envoy on humanitarian issues and has a humanitarian coordinator, whether the UN has humanitarian access, that’s the phrase that’s used in Sudan and elsewhere, to the two Waziristans.  Is that, just a yes or no answer, either now or later this afternoon, is that possible?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Like I said, for right now, I would say that it’s for the Government there to talk about what the security conditions in the country are.  From our standpoint, what we’re trying to do is get aid wherever possible, and the main constraint on that really has to do with the flooding itself and the accessibility of areas due to the floods.


Question:  I guess I just don’t understand, because I hear OCHA [the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs], you know, rightly so from my point of view, but whatever you think of it, talking about humanitarian access in many countries and saying when they can’t get into a place due to a Government restriction that this is a bad thing and they speak against it.  I’m a little mystified why in the case of Pakistan — not just you, but even Mr. Mogwanja would say — it’s entirely up to the Government, they decide.  Does the UN have access to the Waziristans?  That’s my main question.


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  At this stage, I don’t have any problems with access to report to you.  The problems with access that we’ve had are, like I said, stemming from the actual circumstances of the flooding.  Beyond that, I don’t have anything.  Yes?


Question:  Farhan, just another question as a follow-up to the Secretary-General’s speech yesterday.  In his speech, he said that the flooding was worse than the tsunami, the Haiti earthquake, I believe the Kashmir earthquake and Cyclone Nargis combined.  Do you think you could get us the statistics on what that statement was based?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, I can do that.  Obviously, we’re not saying that it’s worse in every way.  What we’re talking about is in terms of amount of area of land affected and number of people affected, that the numbers that we’re dealing with are larger in this case.  I can show you what the numbers are.  As you know, the Secretary-General just yesterday said the numbers of people affected in Pakistan are between 15 million and 20 million, and that is larger than the numbers for those other three, and I’ll show you what the numbers are.  You can come back over. I can show you what the numbers are.  Yes?


[The Acting Deputy Spokesperson later said that the floods had affected more people (15.4 million) than the Haiti earthquake (3 million), South Asia earthquake (3.5 million), tsunami (5 million) combined.  But, he added, that does not at all mean that this is more than the other three in terms of average impact and needs, total damage, total needs, funding required, etcetera.]


Question:  The Israeli Prime Minister just issued a statement saying that he accepted the invitation by the United States to attend the meeting, like Edie was saying, but he made no mention of the call by the Quartet.  Does this make any difference?  He said he was responding to the United States invitation.  He did not say the Quartet invitation.


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Like I said, once we are aware, once we have confirmation of the acceptances by the parties, we do expect to have a further statement.


Question:  Does it make a difference?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have that statement. I won’t have any comment just yet.  Like I said, once we have confirmation from both parties, then at that point we would have something further to say, yes.  Yes?


Question:  A Pakistan meeting-related question and then something about France.  Catherine Ashton of the EU has said that she did not come to the General Assembly meeting on Pakistan because it’s called a procedural glitch.  She said that because the EU is not yet allowed to speak in its own name, she didn’t come, but she said that she had a conversation with Ban Ki-moon on this very topic.  In a telephone conversation, quote:  “I told Mr. Ban that I would have represented the EU myself, but the fact that the appropriate speaking rights are not yet in place”, etcetera.  So I’m just wondering, when did this call take place, was anything else discussed between Catherine Ashton and Ban Ki-moon?  Can we get a readout of the call?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  In fact, we will provide a readout, just now.  We will put it out on our counter once this is done.


[The Acting Deputy Spokesperson later provided the readout of the meeting between the Secretary-General and Baroness Catherine Ashton, the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy of the European Union.]


Question:  Okay, very good.  And also, there’s been this pretty well-publicized and somewhat controversial expulsion of Roma people from France, in which President [Nicolas] Sarkozy has ordered the expulsion of some hundred, beginning a hundred and several rounds of people to be flown to Romania.  I’m just wondering, I understand that France is a major player here in the UN, but has there been any statement by the Secretariat, or any UN system person on this expulsion of a disfavoured group from France?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, this is something that we’re aware of.  Certainly we’ve been monitoring the situation, as have our human rights colleagues.  If we have anything to say, we’ll certainly let you know.  Yes?


Question:  Have the UNIFIL in fact concluded their investigation regarding the clash between the Lebanese army and the Israeli forces?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  No, it’s not concluded yet.  Once it’s concluded the findings will be shared with the parties.


Question:  Like a week ago, you said that it would take a few days to conclude it.


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  This is about a few days later, and at this stage, it’s still not complete.  Okay?


Question:  On this issue of Cambodia’s request, or seeming letter, to the Secretary-General, to mediate the border dispute with Thailand, a newspaper in the region has said that “UN chief offers to mediate in Thai-Cambodia dispute”…


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, that’s not accurate.  What I said is the following, and I’ll repeat it here:  “The Secretary-General hopes that Cambodia and Thailand will resolve the dispute along their border amicably through dialogue.  He stands ready to help the parties.”  And that’s the sum total of what we have to say.


Question:  Okay, that makes sense.  And then, actually on that topic, and I understand that they put in a request to you, but given it’s a sort of a — what’s the procedure for reporters here to ask to receive when media guidance or response on a topic like international peace and security is put out, to sort of be on record they’d like to receive it?  For example, the Kashmir statement, or now there’s this one, what’s the procedure to say we’re interested in threats to international peace and security….


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  If you ask us the question, we’ll try to get you an answer.


Question:  Okay, so for example, I don’t know if you’ve received any questions about Chechnya or Guantanamo Bay or Tibet — we could go down the line — but, can we be on record that if you send out answers to those topics, we’d like to get them?


Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Frankly, many days it feels like you actually do go down the line, and we try and follow up on all of them.  Thanks very much.


* *** *

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