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

17 February 2011

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

17 February 2011
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, everyone, and welcome to the briefing.


**Noon Guest


I am very pleased to welcome back again Valerie Amos, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, and she is here as the guest today at the briefing.  I think Ms. Amos has some introductory remarks and we will then take questions.  And then, after that, I will have a few additional points; and I am also happy to take questions.


So please, Ms. Amos, the floor is yours.


[Briefing by Ms. Amos is issued separately.]


**Secretary-General’s Statement on Côte d’Ivoire


So I have a few other items and I am happy to take a couple of questions at the end, as well.


I have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the situation in Côte d’Ivoire.


The Secretary-General attaches great importance to the forthcoming mission to Côte d’Ivoire by the five-member high-level panel established by the African Union’s Peace and Security Council to facilitate a peaceful solution to the post-election crisis in Côte d’Ivoire.  The Secretary-General urges all Ivorian parties to extend their full cooperation to the high-level panel and to create a political and security environment conducive to the success of the panel’s efforts.


The Secretary-General is concerned about the continuing violence and the planned demonstrations, which could increase tensions and undermine the prospects for an early and peaceful end to the crisis.  He calls for an immediate end to the acts of violence against the civilian population and for restraint in the planned demonstrations.  He also calls for an end to the obstruction of the operations of the United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI) and the removal of the siege on the Golf Hotel.


He urges all Ivorians to exercise patience and restraint and to give the ongoing efforts a chance to find a solution that is peaceful and respects their will, as expressed through the run-off presidential election of 28 November last year.


**Secretary-General on Middle East


As you saw, the Secretary-General spoke this morning about the latest developments in North Africa and the Middle East, in which, he said, people are standing up to voice their legitimate aspirations.


He said that the reports from Bahrain overnight are deeply troubling.  Here as elsewhere, violence should not be used against peaceful demonstrators and against journalists.  And that must stop.  Those responsible must be brought to justice. He added that there should be no violence from any quarter and urged all parties to exercise restraint.


Speaking about Egypt, the Secretary-General welcomed the public commitments that have been made to the holding of free and transparent elections and the enactment of measures to enable them — all as part of a transition to democratic, civilian rule.  Those commitments must be fulfilled, with no turning back, he said.


The United Nations not only stands ready to help, but we are actively preparing to provide any assistance that may be requested.


** Côte d’Ivoire


Turning again to the UN mission in Côte d’Ivoire, the mission says that three countries, two of which are in West Africa, have offered to send troops to reinforce the mission.  The mission says that negotiations with the concerned countries are well advanced.  And there are also discussions with other countries.


Regarding the three helicopters which are currently in Liberia, they should be deployed once a logistics package has been put in place to sustain them.  And concerning the human rights situation in Côte d’Ivoire, the mission says that it has recorded four new cases of summary killings.  To date, the mission confirms at least 300 deaths in connection with the violence since mid-December of last year.


** Cyprus


The Cypriot leaders met in the UN Protected Area in Nicosia for about two hours today.  And speaking to reporters afterwards, Lisa Buttenheim, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Cyprus, said that the progress achieved in the last two meetings of the representatives, on economy and European Union matters, has been confirmed by the leaders.


She added that the next meeting between the leaders will take place on Friday, 25 February.  Before that, the representatives will meet tomorrow, and then on 21 and 23 February.  The representatives will continue discussions on the economy, EU matters and governance and power-sharing.


**Kosovo


I was asked yesterday about a France 24 story on Kosovo.  The Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) has made cleared that, as previously stated, when the Mission first heard about these allegations, the Mission referred the matter to the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.  In late 2008 and early 2009, UNMIK transferred all pertinent files to the incoming EULEX.


The United Nations Mission in Kosovo remains ready to provide its full support to any further eventual investigations into the allegations that may be conducted in the future.


**Security Council


The Security Council this morning heard briefings from Alain Le Roy and Susana Malcorra, the Under-Secretaries-General for Peacekeeping Operations and for Field Support, in closed consultations.  They are focusing on the issue of national consent in host countries that have peacekeeping missions.


**Press Conferences


At 3 p.m., here in this auditorium, the Minister for Agriculture of France, Mr. Bruno Le Maire, will give a press briefing on the “Priorities of the French Presidency of the G-20 on agriculture”.


And then tomorrow, David Nabarro, who is the Coordinator of the Secretary-General’s High-level Task Force on the Global Food Security Crisis, will be the guest at the noon briefing.  He will brief by video link from Geneva, on the recent rise in food prices and the Task Force’s response.  And right before that, he will be making a presentation to ECOSOC [Economic and Social Council] on the same subject.


At 12:30 p.m. tomorrow, the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Greece, Dimitris Droutsas, will address the press at the North Lawn Building stakeout after his meeting with the Secretary-General.


Questions?  Yes, Evelyn?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Right.  On Côte d’Ivoire, my first question on the African Union, when is that panel due, the AU panel, and what planned demonstrations, I missed that one?


Spokesperson:  On the timing of the visit of the five-member high-level panel, I have to check exactly when it is.  As you know, their experts have visited, and the five presidents in that high-level panel are expected there quite soon.  Let me find out and we will be able to let everybody know what the date is, if we have got that confirmed.  On the question of demonstrations, I will ask the mission to provide a little bit more detail on that.  This is a statement that was handed to me shortly before I came in.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi?


Question:  I have got another question, please.  We get press releases and announcements on the food crisis every two minutes.  Can the UN coordinate them somehow?  Maybe Mr. Nabarro is going to do it, but every single agency seems to be spewing out things and not always the same figures.  And this is just a plea to somehow get one’s act together.


Spokesperson:  Well, with respect, Evelyn, that’s precisely what the High-level Task Force is about.  It met last week, chaired by the Secretary-General; he’s chaired that High-level Task Force more than 15 times, if I understand it correctly.  That’s the coordinating mechanism.  Of course, different parts of the UN system have their own part of the story to tell.  You are absolutely right the coordination is crucial.  Mr. Nabarro will be able to tell you a little bit more about that, and that is precisely why he is doing the briefing tomorrow.


Question:  Can I just ask you one more thing?  I will be brief.


Spokesperson:  Well, maybe we’ll go round the house and come back to you, okay?  Mr. Abbadi.  I’ll come to you again.


Question:  Martin, there are some reports indicating that Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian removed leader, is seriously, very seriously ill in Sharm el-Sheikh, and is dying.  And that [Zine El-Abidine] Ben Ali, the ousted Tunisian leader, is in a coma in the hospital in Jeddah.  Have you received any information to that effect?


Spokesperson:  I have seen reports on the second part of your question, not on the first.  But I don’t have any other details on that.  Yes?


Question:  Just a couple of questions about what the Secretary-General said today on Egypt.  He said that “to some countries like Egypt and elsewhere, we have offered our assistance and we are now looking at opportune timing”.  I was wondering if “elsewhere” included Tunisia, and then, if you could elaborate on any other country the UN has offered its assistance?  And then, I was wondering, he said, “the UN has offered electoral or technical assistance”.  I was wondering if that extends to any observation, or monitoring, verification and supervision of the elections, and if you would be ready to do that if asked?


Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, the Secretary-General said that the UN is prepared to offer assistance; and it’s not just prepared to do so, it is actively preparing to do so.  And obviously, Egypt and some other countries may wish to ask for assistance.  And when they do, the United Nations will be ready to do so.  And as we have said before, and as the Secretary-General has said this morning, electoral technical assistance is one particular area of expertise.  Does it include Tunisia?  UN officials have, of course, been in touch with the authorities in Tunisia.  As you know, there was already, quite early on, a mission from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.  This is one part of the jigsaw puzzle and I am sure in the days to come there will be more details on how that shapes up.  Yes, Evelyn?


Question:  The UN Secretary-General seems to save the day again, having the UN speak on North Africa.  Have you heard about anything that the Security Council might do about a briefing from UN officials on this whole situation in the Arab world, or is nonsense about interference in internal affairs holding sway?


Spokesperson:  As you know, the Security Council decides what it will discuss and what topics it will take up.  Even when it takes up that topic, I am sure that my colleagues, particularly from the Department of Political Affairs, will be ready to brief.  The Secretary-General, as you know, on his return from his trip that included London and Berlin and Addis [Ababa] and Davos, did brief the Council in some detail on his trip.  And that included elements of his assessment of what was happening in Egypt at that point and elsewhere in the region.  So I think that’s what I can tell you at the moment.  Yes, and then I am coming to you again, and Masood?


Question:  Quick question; the World Bank, as well as IMF [International Monetary Fund] has released their assessment or observation that, in Tunisia, given the situation that has happened, it is still likely that the economy will recover with a big likelihood, whereas there is a much more complicated situation with the economy in Egypt.  Do you think that economic work forums of the UN will be reaching a judgement, conclusion, like that in the near future or is the Secretary-General himself — is he going to form an opinion or comment on that?  Thank you.


Spokesperson:  There is a huge amount of expertise residing at the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund on these topics.  And they are both closely affiliated with the work of the United Nations, and I am sure that the relevant parts of the United Nations, for example UNDP [United Nations Development Programme], would be closely liaising with our colleagues from the Bretton Woods institutions on the economic consequences of what is unfolding across the region.  And I would simply point out what the Secretary-General has said repeatedly, that it is precisely socio-economic development, or the lack thereof, that is one of the underpinning factors in what is happening in the region there.  I am going to go to James, and then I am going to come to you, okay?


Question:  Thank you, Martin.  It is updates on two issues that I wanted.  We are anticipating over the next couple of weeks the return of the document from the flotilla panel.  Can you just give us an idea of what to expect?  Will there be a document release, a report?  Will it be public?  When are we likely to get it?  And will there be a press briefing on the same day?


Spokesperson:  It will be for the panel to decide, in consultation with the Secretary-General, what comes out at the end of this process.  Of course, the report is being prepared, will be presented to the Secretary-General.  It is something that, as you know, is of interest to the Security Council, as well as to the parties concerned and others in the region.  It will be for the panel, in consultation with the Secretary-General, to decide what then happens.  And so, at this point, I can’t give you details on that.  But let me assure you that everybody involved is keenly aware of the public interest in this.  Matthew?


Question:  Sorry, there was a second question — it was a request from Lebanon for assistance from the Secretary-General on the issue of the off-shore hydrocarbon deposits in this Mediterranean, on the border between Lebanon and Israel.  Has there been a response from the SG on this yet?


Spokesperson:  I think we have mentioned this before; it’s something that is being looked at, as any request would be.  As you know, this is quite a complex matter.  I think I would be able to provide you a little bit more detail, but not right here.  I would need to get that for you.  Yes, Matthew?


Question:  Sure, I have two questions, as well.  One is on Madagascar.  There is the former President, Marc Ravalomanana, saying that he is going back to the country on Saturday.  And some say this is going to either spark some kind of civil war or that he will be arrested.  Is that something, given the UN’s role during the troubles of Madagascar, have they — does he have any view on this, and do you have any guidance?  What’s the UN’s statement in advance of this taking place?


Spokesperson:  Well, we’ve seen the reports on this, and that the first point.  The second is that this is something that is looked at very closely by a regional organization.  And I know that the United Nations would liaise closely to understand precisely what ramifications there might be.  But I think it is important not to gaze too deeply into the crystal ball at this point on this.  What is your second question?


Question:  Yeah, it’s on a contractor, this Suntech Power, a Chinese-based photovoltaic company, announced that it has won a $180 million contract from the UN to provide panels, solar panels, I guess, to peacekeeping missions.  I wanted to, one, if you could confirm it; it is a pretty big contract.  Two, it doesn’t seem, this company doesn’t seem to be listed anywhere in the UN, in the vendor, approved vendor lists.  And the CEO is apparently on the Secretary-General’s Advisory Group on Energy and Climate Change.  So I am just wondering, were there any — if that’s the case, the final one — were there any precautions taken in the procurement?  Were there other bidders?  Can we have some presentation of how the contract was given and whether it’s appropriate, the way they announced it, and that they are not a listed vendor?


Spokesperson:  I saw the same press release as you did on my Google News Alert, and I have already asked my colleagues in DPKO/DFS for some background on that.


Question:  Do we have a list of all the members of that Advisory Group on Energy and Climate Change?  Maybe it is completely, some people seem to feel that the list is not out and whether there are any safeguards in UN contracting for those individuals.


Spokesperson:  I think you will find that list is available, Matthew.


Question:  I do want to thank you.  The Secretary-General has been very clear about his position regarding the Israeli settlement-building.  There is a statement, rather a resolution, up for vote, more than likely to be voted on tomorrow in the Security Council.  If I could ask you:  would you re-state the Secretary-General’s position on the legality of those settlements?


Spokesperson:  Well, there are two points:  one is that what happens in the Security Council is clearly a matter for the Security Council and for the members of the Security Council.  Secondly, the Secretary-General and others within the Quartet have repeatedly stated what the position is on the legality or the illegality of settlements.  And I think that that’s clearly in the public record.  Yes, Masood?


Question:  Besides these demonstrations which are erupting in places like Bahrain and Libya and what have you, all over the place, but what is the reason?  Have the United Nations officials in Iraq been able to establish what are the reasons for demonstration now ongoing or they are just breaking out in Iraq, in certain cities?  Are they sympathetic demonstration or are they just demonstrations of…?


Spokesperson:  I am not quite sure I follow your question, Masood.


Question:  These demonstrations — there are demonstrations now reported, going on in Baghdad and other cities in Iraq — has the United Nations representatives said anything about them?


Spokesperson:  Well, I am sure that our colleagues in our Mission there would be watching this.  And if I have anything further, I will let you know on that.  Yeah?


Question:  Just a follow-up and a clarification on my first question.  When the Secretary-General says, “we are actively preparing to provide any assistance that may be requested”, does that extend to election monitoring and verification if asked, or is it just technical assistance?


Spokesperson:  Well, I think the first thing is we would need to see the request.  And then our colleagues who deal with these matters, particularly on election support, they would assess that.  But it is important to see what is requested by Egypt, or any country.


Question:  May I ask one follow-up, just one follow-up on that?


Spokesperson:  On what?


Question:  About the stakeout that the Secretary-General did today, about saying the UN’s offer to these countries, in which democracy has been asked for.  Is there any thought of using the existing UN programmes on the ground, whether it is UNDP or otherwise?  There was some criticism of this training of police in Egypt prior to the — there was criticism by NGOs that it didn’t bring in human rights activists but rather Government people.  Is there some thinking of how — the UNDP website about Libya hasn’t been updated now in several months, I guess — it seems to some, due to the turmoil.  What about these UN…?


Spokesperson:  Who might that be?  Who is it, these people who think it might be?


Question:  People that look at it and have seen that it was updated all the way, until suddenly there was turmoil in the country and then it is not updated any more.  What’s the role, according to the Secretary-General, of the existing UN programmes in countries like Libya and Yemen, where Helen Clark visited and didn’t say anything about democracy?


Spokesperson:  Well, there are lots of, as you know, across the region, there is a UN presence in different constellations; country teams with different components, whether it is UNDP or other UN agencies, funds and programmes.  Of course, given that they are already on the ground, given that they have been working there in different capacities on different projects, they are well placed to be further involved.  But this is part of a bigger picture, and it is being very carefully coordinated.


Question:  Is there any change of policy?  I guess I am saying, given that the announcement today that the UN is sort of taking cognizance of all this, is there, is that…?


Spokesperson:  Well, Matthew, it’s hardly an announcement today.  This is something that has been said consistently for a number of weeks now.  And indeed, further back, as you know, the Human Development Reports on the Arab world have been saying this for the best part of a decade.  So, okay, thank you very much.  Good afternoon to everybody.  Thank you.


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