|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
Good afternoon, everybody. As you can see, we have with us Nigel Fisher, who is the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Haiti and United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator. He is joining us by video teleconference to update you on the situation in Haiti.
I can tell you that we’ll have a few items for you after that briefing as well, and I’ll be able to take a few questions.
I can also tell you that Jean Victor Nkolo, the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly, will brief you after that; and immediately following Jean Victor’s briefing, I can tell you that there will be a press conference by Cheick Sidi Diarra, UN Special Adviser on Africa and High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States. And that press conference will be to discuss recent developments concerning these States, ahead of a week-long meeting at UN Headquarters.
[Briefing by Nigel Fisher is available as a separate document.]
Statement by Secretary-General on Israeli Settlement Activity
The Secretary-General deplores yesterday’s destruction of the Shepherd’s Hotel in occupied East Jerusalem to make way for new settlement units in the heart of a Palestinian neighbourhood, which only serves to heighten tensions. It is deeply regrettable that growing international concern at unilateral expansion of illegal Israeli settlements is not being heeded. Such actions seriously prejudice the possibility of a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Secretary-General once again calls on the Government of Israel to take whatever steps are necessary to freeze settlement activity anywhere in occupied territory.
** Sudan Referendum
Polling centres in Sudan and out-of-country voting sites opened on schedule again today. High turnouts and long queues were reported in Southern Sudan; the turnout in the north was more moderate.
The Southern Sudan Referendum Commission announced today the official number of registered voters as more than 3.9 million. That includes 3.7 million registered voters in the south; more than 100,000 in the north; and more than 60,000 outside the country.
Meanwhile, the Secretary-General’s panel on the referendum continued its monitoring of the referendum in Sudan on the second day of polling, with the members visiting three states in the South. They visited polling centres, talked to voters and held meetings with Government and referendum officials. The Chairman of the panel, Benjamin Mkapa, told journalists that “the turnout in the first day has been overwhelming but officials have coped very well with that, and we commend them for this”.
I have an update on the security situation in Darfur. A UN-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) patrol to Tabit village, 37 kilometres north-west of Shangil Tobaya, North Darfur, reported exchanges of fire occurring on 7 January between Government forces and Sudan Liberation Army-Minni Minnawi forces, in which three people are believed to have been killed. The Mission is investigating.
And meanwhile, Joint Special Representative Ibrahim Gambari visited Khor Abeche, where he met with the displaced community, who expressed their gratitude to UNAMID for assistance received in the wake of last month’s attacks on the civilian population. While the Mission has been providing security, medical attention and water, the citizens expressed concern over the lack of sufficient shelter, food, and clothing.
Professor Gambari stated that peacekeepers would do everything in their power to assist.
With five days left until the end of the mandate of the UN Mission in Nepal, the Secretary-General’s Representative, Karin Landgren, calls on parties to form consensus on the most urgent issue requiring resolution: the future monitoring of arms and armies after the Mission’s exit.
She said she remains hopeful, even at this late date, that the parties will find the flexibility to resolve this issue.
And throughout Nepal’s peace process, the parties have shown that they are capable of putting aside their differences at the most critical times to forge last-minute consensus.
The Secretary-General met with the Prime Minister of Lebanon on Sunday evening, and they had a cordial and constructive meeting.
On the Special Tribunal, the Secretary-General reiterated his support for the work of the Tribunal, and stressed that it is an independent body. He said he hoped its work would help end impunity in Lebanon. They also discussed regional and other efforts to promote stability. And the Secretary-General took note of the Lebanese concerns on maritime boundary issues. We have the full readout in my office.
The Security Council is hearing an update today on a range of political topics from the Department of Political Affairs. Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs B. Lynn Pascoe briefed Council members in closed consultations.
** United States
I can also tell you that the Secretary-General has spoken by telephone with the US Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, to convey his condolences to the American people following the shooting incident in Arizona on Saturday, in which several people were killed and Representative Gabrielle Giffords was among the wounded. He will also be sending a letter of condolence to Ambassador Rice concerning that incident.
Okay, I can take a couple of questions before handing over to Mr. Nkolo. Yes, Masood?
**Questions and Answers
Question: On the situation in East Jerusalem, and demolition of this hotel, how forcefully is the Secretary-General pursuing this with the Israeli authorities? Has he talked to anybody in Israel?
Spokesperson: I think the statement is pretty forceful. I don’t think I have anything to add to that. Yes, Mr. Abbadi?
Question: But has he talked to anybody in Israel? Has he had any feedback?
Spokesperson: I think it’s quite clear; the statement is quite clear. I don’t have anything further on that. Yes, Mr. Abbadi, then Khaled.
Question: Martin, on another subject, there have been peaceful demonstrations in Tunisia for the past few weeks, and some 25 people have already been shot dead. Does the Secretary-General have any reaction to that?
Spokesperson: He’s certainly aware of the reports, and I think we might have something a little later on that. Yes, Khaled?
Question: I just want to follow up on the statement issued by the Secretary-General on his meeting with [Saad] Hariri yesterday. And the statement says that they discussed regional and other efforts to stabilize the situation in Lebanon. Can you please provide us more details on what the Secretary-General thinks of this current regional effort? And also, the issue of the maritime borders: he said that he noted the Lebanese concerns about the maritime issue. Is there any development on this matter? Is the UN ready to interfere?
Spokesperson: I can’t add anything to what we already have in the readouts about what they discussed. I think I would leave it there. I would simply note, as I already said, that he did take note of the Lebanese concerns on the maritime boundary issues. But I don’t have anything further on that, okay?
Question: So the Secretary-General has no assessment of the current so-called Syrian-Saudi effort to stabilize…
Spokesperson: What I can say is that we’re analysing and studying the situation. But I don’t have anything further to add on that at this point. Yes, Tim?
Question: Tensions are also rising in Belarus in recent weeks. Has the Secretary-General been involved there?
Spokesperson: What I can tell you is, he’s following developments and he’s been doing so since the recent presidential election, and has noted the serious concerns voiced by observer groups regarding the electoral process and post-electoral developments. He’s concerned about the continued detention of journalists, opposition candidates and their supporters, and calls for their release and the full observance of human rights and due process. The Secretary-General recognizes the important work of the Office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Belarus. And he regrets the decision of the Government of Belarus to close the OSCE office in Minsk. That’s what I have for you. Yes?
Question: There are some new stories in the Turkish press today, saying that the UN panel of inquiry is going to delay its conclusion. Is there any update about the work of the panel of inquiry, and has the Israeli side given a date on submitting their own report to the commission?
Spokesperson: I don’t have any update on that. Let me find out. Yes, Matthew?
Question: What’s the UN done about this report of up to 60 dead in Abyei fighting, at the same time as the referendum? And I still wanted to ask, on Côte d’Ivoire, what was actually done when the — in Duekoue, in Côte d’Ivoire — now they’ve said that the casualty figures have gone up. And, just finally, has the Secretary-General received, or have any response to, a request by Thais, about the seven Thais arrested by Cambodia, including a Member of Parliament, on the border there?
Spokesperson: On the last one, I’ll check on that. On Côte d’Ivoire, as I did say, there was a joint mission, including a humanitarian staff, who went to the west of the country over the weekend. Once we have a report from them, I’m sure we’ll be able to give you an update. I don’t have anything at the moment. On Abyei, I can tell you we’re extremely concerned about the reports of clashes around Abyei and the resulting casualties. And, while there have been varying figures reported on the number of casualties, these remain unconfirmed. The UN Mission [in Sudan] is in the process of confirming these numbers, and in the meantime, the Mission is pursuing the containment of the situation, both politically and on the ground by enhancing its patrols and engaging with the top leadership of both sides. That’s what I have at the moment.
[On the question about Thailand and Cambodia, the Spokesperson later said that the Secretary-General has not received any request from the Thai authorities on this.]
Question: Have reinforcements been sent to Abyei?
Spokesperson: “Enhanced patrolling” is what I’ve been told. I would ask my colleagues in DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] to let you know precisely what that means in terms of the number of peacekeepers in that area. I really must hand over to Jean Victor, who’s been extremely patient, as has USG Cheick Diarra. So, with apologies and coming up soon. Thank you.
Briefing by the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly
Bon après midi, good afternoon, let me take this opportunity of this first noon briefing in 2011 to reiterate our best wishes to each and every one.
President Deiss Official Visit to China
Joseph Deiss, President of the General Assembly, is currently on an official visit to China, at the invitation of the Chinese Government.
President Deiss arrived in Chongqing on 8 January. On 9 January, he had talks with the Leader of the Chongqing Municipality, Municipal Party Secretary Mr. Bo Xilai. The President was briefed on the economic and sustainable development activities in this area of over 30 million inhabitants, which is one of the four municipalities directly reporting to the central Government.
On 10 January, President Deiss had meetings in Beijing with the Vice-President of China, Mr. Xi Jinping, and with Mr. Yang Jiechi, the Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs, who also hosted a luncheon. Later on the same day, President Deiss met with the United Nations Resident Coordinator and members of the United Nations Country Team.
During his visit, President Deiss discussed with the Chinese authorities wide-ranging issues on the agenda of the sixty-fifth session of the United Nations General Assembly, including the Millennium Development Goals, the Istanbul Conference on Least Developed Countries, sustainable development and green economy, global governance, United Nations reform, in particular, the reform of the Security Council, the review of the Human Rights Council and human rights in general, as well as the situation in Sudan, Côte d’Ivoire and on the Korean peninsula. The President also briefed the Chinese authorities on the upcoming thematic debates and other informal meetings of the General Assembly he will be convening.
Both sides noted that the discussions had been very substantive and constructive and concluded that there was a broad common understanding on the topics discussed. The Chinese Vice-President and Foreign Minister expressed their full support for the priorities and initiatives of President Deiss, in particular welcoming the strong focus given to the Millennium Development Goals, green economy and global governance. They would consider sending a high-level delegation to the thematic debate on green economy.
President Deiss commended China for its strong commitment to and support for the United Nations in general and the General Assembly in particular. He emphasized that many areas could benefit from Chinese leadership. Both President Deiss and his Chinese hosts underlined the need to strengthen multilateralism, with the United Nations at its core, in order to address effectively the global challenges confronting the international community.
Before leaving China at the end of his official visit on 11 January, President Deiss will hold a seminar with experts and scholars from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing.
Speeches made by the President in China will be posted online on the General Assembly President’s website in due course. Also, I would like to add that the President of the General Assembly will hold a press conference upon his return, possibly on 14 January. This will be confirmed very shortly in the next few days. That’s what I have for you today. Yes, Dr. Abadi?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you, Mr. Nkolo, and Happy New Year to you as well. I noted from what you said that the President of the General Assembly has met with Chinese authorities, but not with President Hu Jintao. Is there any reason for that?
Spokesperson: No, no. I’ve not seen any specific reason. The President spent a relatively short time in China, but that short time was put in very good use, and he had very constructive and substantive meetings at the highest possible level given the time constraints. Yes?
Question: Yes, thank you. I just had a question whether the President of the GA has a plan to raise the case of the Nobel Prize winner, the Chinese Nobel Prize winner, or call for his release in his speeches and meetings with the Chinese officials?
Spokesperson: On that subject, I would like to add that human rights was one of the topics discussed during the President’s meetings with the Chinese authorities, as the review of the Human Rights Council is a priority of President Deiss’ presidency. He underlined that China, with its strong to commitment to the United Nations, has a special responsibility, and it is important for China to show leadership in this regard.
Question: [inaudible] case, where has not raised the — I mean, as the President of the GA, wouldn’t he add his moral weight and call for the release of the Nobel Prize winner?
Spokesperson: Well, Khaled, as I indicated, the President will be giving a press conference upon his return, possibly on 14 January. So you are of course welcome to ask him any follow-up questions, if you want some specifics on that. Yes?
Question: Bonjour, Monsieur. I just wondered if the GA had made any final decisions about high-level meetings falling around the upcoming general debate of the sixty-sixth session? Whether there were any dates and subjects you could flag up for sure now?
Spokesperson: We do not have specific dates for all the meetings at this time, but I know that colleagues in the cabinet are very busy working on that. We will probably be able to provide the list and dates very shortly. But I would suggest that we be a bit patient, Thomas, and by 14 January — hopefully before that, but by that date — we will provide the dates before the President makes his press conference. Yes, Massoud?
Question: Will the Security Council expansion be part of this general debate that’s forthcoming, and did the President have any discussion on that in China, with his — I mean, over there, with his hosts, on Security Council expansion?
Spokesperson: Yes, absolutely. As you know, Massoud, the President of the General Assembly attaches a great importance on the issue of the Security Council reform. President Deiss believes that reform of the Council is crucial in order to reaffirm the central role of the UN in global governance. So this was an issue that was discussed. But I would leave the President, should you want to follow up with him on that, to provide further specifics. The President is still in China, rounding up his visit. In a few days time, he will speak to you. We may also follow this up with the Chairperson for the intergovernmental negotiations on Security Council reform, Ambassador [Zahir] Tanin, on that. Yes, Matthew?
Question: I’m sorry, this is coming a little bit late, but this is your first press conference of the year. In the voting on the UN budget at the end of December, there were more votes called — there were more actually contested votes, I was told — than has ever been the case on the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) reports, in a variety of issues around sanctions, and the funding of Durban III. I just wonder, did Mr. Deiss have any comment on the seeming failure to reach consensus on at least five, or maybe more, items? Was he involved in trying to reach consensus on those items, and why — not to, maybe — in the past, the presidents of the GA have stayed and presided over that meeting, the final meeting, despite how late it goes. And yet he did not. Was there some reason for that?
Spokesperson: Oh, I would like to respectfully disagree with you on that, Matthew. The President was not only fully committed, but he was present, and he was very much determined, with diligence, that proceedings throughout all the committees, and not only the Fifth Committee, would deliver and finalize their work in due course. The President is a facilitator, and Member States have the sovereign right to vote and to pronounce themselves in the deliberations within the committees and also in the plenary. While last year there was the whole question of the biennium — the budget — really took to some extreme, and work was proceeding very late. This year also the President was very much engaged in facilitating and pushing for a diligent processing of all these discussions. And you might want to follow this up, but in the meantime, I’ll go back to our colleagues who follow this committee work, many with regard to the UN budget and the votes that were taken within the committee, and may come back to you with that on specifics.
Question: I just want to make sure, are you taking issue with the idea that — on the final evening there — that he was present, but not presiding? Or was he just not present?
Spokesperson: First and foremost, this is one President of the General Assembly who visited every single committee over the past weeks, before the end of the year. Second, the President was present, and instigated a very positive atmosphere for the Committee’s work. And he was actually present. He may not have been present at the conclusion of the work, but what was important was that he made sure that everything would proceed according to rules and procedures, and that Member States would be able to give their own input and to proceed with the work, as those who are members of these committees – as they wish to do. We can follow that up, but the President was present, committed, and very much hands-on -
Question: This is my last one, but on that evening of the 23rd that went on – that’s sort of like the “Big Kahuna” for the General Assembly -
Spokesperson: He left late on that day, but he was very much committed. Yes. I think we’ll leave it there, because Cheick Diarra is here, and has been very gracious and patient.
[Briefing by Under-Secretary-General Diarra is available as a separate document.]
* *** *