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

20 June 2012

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

20 June 2012
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.

**Guests at Noon

I will be having as my guests a little bit later the force commanders of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), the United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS) and the UN Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO).

They are briefing the Security Council on the work of their respective missions, and as soon as they finish, they will be here to brief you.

** Lebanon

In the meantime, I have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on National Dialogue in Lebanon.

The Secretary-General welcomes the resumption of the National Dialogue between political leaders in Lebanon, and the Declaration issued following the Dialogue meeting on 11 June.  

The Secretary-General commends President [Michel] Sleiman’s initiative in re-launching the National Dialogue.  He encourages political leaders in Lebanon to continue their work in this important process and looks forward to the next meeting planned for the 25th of June.

The United Nations continues to believe that the National Dialogue can play a crucial part in promoting stability and the authority of the state in Lebanon. The commitment of political leaders in Lebanon to safeguarding the country from the impact of regional tensions at this difficult time is particularly important.

**Secretary-General in Rio

The Secretary-General opened the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro this morning.  He said that Rio+20 represents not an end but a beginning.

He added that progress on sustainable development since the Earth Summit 20 years ago, also held in Rio, has been too slow and that bold words and good intentions have not been enough.

He said that we are on a dangerous road and that we cannot continue to burn and consume our way to prosperity at the expense of the world’s poor and the global environment.

World leaders, he added, must send a signal that they are committed to a sustainable future.  The challenge, he said, is to bring that vision to life.

At a press conference, he told reporters that he welcomed the fact that negotiators have achieved consensus on a document that will be submitted to leaders for their consideration and approval.

The Secretary-General is due to address the ceremonial opening of the Sustainable Development Conference at around 3:00 New York time.

**Sudan/South Sudan

The influx of Sudanese refugees into South Sudan continues, with more than 202,000 refugees from Blue Nile and South Kordofan now in camps in South Sudan and Ethiopia, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

In South Kordofan, the World Food Programme continues to distribute food in Government-held areas, including Talodi, Gadir and El Leri. A recent joint assessment by the World Food Programme and the Humanitarian Aid Commission identified some 110,000 people in need of assistance.

In Abyei, nearly 9,000 people have returned to areas north of the Bahr el‑Arab/Kiir River—up from 7,000 people reported last week.  And that’s according to the United Nations Interim Security Force in Abyei (UNISFA).

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that more than 400,000 people of South Sudanese origin have returned from Sudan to South Sudan since October of 2010.

**World Refugee Day

Millions of people around the world are marking World Refugee Day today.  As in past years, landmarks around the world are being illuminated in United Nations blue, including the Colosseum in Rome, the Empire State Building here in New York, and the CN Tower in Toronto.

In a special message, the Secretary-General noted that more than a million people fled their homes in the last 18 months alone because of a wave of conflicts in Côte d’Ivoire, Libya, Mali, Somalia, Sudan and Syria.  He added that, despite budget constraints everywhere, we must not turn away from those in need.

** Sri Lanka

I’ve been asked about the UN review of its own actions in Sri Lanka.  The review started in April of this year and will be completed by July of this year or thereabouts.

**Questions and Answers

Questions, please, and then, of course, when the force commanders arrive, I will ask them to join me.  Yes?

Question:  Good morning, Martin.  Thank you.  On the cholera outbreak in Haiti, there was a National Public Radio report that came out yesterday that seems to give justification to the UN for not rushing to judgement on that epidemic.  It says that one in two of the Haitians tested carried a strain similar to the strain in Nepalese soldiers, but that one in five had a strain wasn’t known to cause an epidemic and did not come from them at all.  They are saying that the introduction can’t be ruled out from Nepal, can’t be ruled out, but that it can’t be proven either, and she thinks the evidence is, at best, circumstantial and not sufficient enough to account for the entire epidemic.  What is the status of the United Nations’ investigation into where this cholera epidemic came from and will there be any announcement of any kind made soon?

Spokesperson:  Well, there was an independent Panel of Experts, we’ve talked about this many times, that did deliver a report, so that’s the first point.  We don’t really have anything further to add to that.  As you know, also, there are claims from a number of people in Haiti or representatives of people in Haiti.  Those claims are being studied, as we’ve said a number of times.  I don’t have anything further to add on that, but should that change, then, of course, I would let you know, but I don’t have anything further at this point.  Yes?

Question:  Martin, I wanted to ask a series of questions.  On Monday, I think it was Farhan [Haq] was asked what preceded the notification of the Security Council last Friday that the UNSMIS [the United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria] would limit its mobile activities and General [Robert] Mood’s subsequent Saturday announcement in Damascus to that effect.  Farhan said, “I think you can take it for granted that General Mood’s decision was preceded by widespread consultations among the various interested parties, including the Secretary-General and members of the Security Council.”  I am told pretty reliably that yesterday in the consultations, General Mood said that the decision, at least to him, he didn’t consult with the Security Council members at all.  There seems to be a contradiction.  I want to know, we’ve revived this question, particularly as regards Mr. [Hervé] Ladsous.  Were some Security Council members, but not others, consulted prior to the Friday notification of the Council, i.e., did Mr. Ladsous consult France and perhaps others?  Or is the statement said here Monday not true, and false, and no one was consulted because Mood said he did not consult any Security Council member.  I can say that is what a Council member said.  So what is the answer, I mean, if you can?

Spokesperson:  Thank you, Matthew.  Our understanding is that Council members were informed, at the point when we’ve already said that the Council was informed about the decision to suspend the activities of the Mission; but I don’t have anything further for you on that.

Question:  Just so I can understand how to write it:  So, you mean that the notification, the sending of that document saying “attached is a notification from DPKO” [Department of Peacekeeping Operations], that is the consultations to which Farhan was referring on Friday?  I just want to make sure I am not misunderstanding.

Spokesperson:  I think what I have just said is sufficient.  What happened was that Council members were informed, okay?  Any other questions?  Yes, Stefan?

Question:  Yesterday, General Mood said that the first condition for the suspension to be lifted would be significant reduction in the violence.  In addition, that there needs to be a commitment by both the Government and the opposition to the observers’ safety and security, as well as their freedom of movement.  And then he had, outside with us, with the journalists, said that the Government of Syria has expressed that commitment very clearly in the last couple of days but he had not seen the same clear statement from the opposition yet.  Is he saying that the observers are not doing the job now, today and maybe tomorrow, because there is a problem with the opposition in Syria?  Is he waiting for them not to shoot, not to use violence or something?  What does that statement mean?

Spokesperson:  I think it speaks for itself.  I don’t need to add to that, Stefan.  It speaks for itself.  It is very clear what needs to be done.  Yes, Erol?

Question:  A follow-up on Syria.  Thank you, Martin.  When the Syrian Ambassador was addressing the press yesterday, he said that the Secretary-General recognized that there is a third element and then he moved forward and said that that third element would include some elements of Al-Qaeda and that the Secretary-General, somehow, was aware of those elements, et cetera.  He did not elaborate more.  He mentioned also that the Secretary-General had a right to define them as he wished.  But what did the Secretary-General really mean when he was talking about a third element involved in the Syrian conflict as elements of the Al-Qaeda terrorists, et cetera?

Spokesperson:  I am not sure that I completely follow your question, Erol, but let me take a stab at understanding what you’ve asked.  The key point here is that many people have recognised the possibility or likelihood of a third force, a third element, whichever way you wish to describe it, being a player in Syria.  It’s very difficult to say precisely, it’s very difficult to put labels on whoever may be conducting activities there, beyond the Syrian opposition and the Syrian Armed Forces of the Government, but I think many people recognize that there is the possibility that some other force is at play and that that force, those people, certainly are not well disposed towards the efforts of the international community to bring peace to the situation in Syria and to start a political process.

Question:  Just a short follow-up: Is, among those many people, the Secretary-General, and, number two, is the third element indeed Al-Qaeda that the Syrian Ambassador mentioned?

Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General has said on a number of occasions publicly that there is the possibility and the fear that there is a third force at play; and we’ve also said that it is difficult to say with certainty who that might be.  Yes, Miki, then I am coming to George and then to you at the back.  Yes?

Question:  When Kofi Annan was here briefing the Security Council on Syria, the Secretary-General said that he proposed some sets of options as to how to proceed in the Security Council.  What is the progress?

Spokesperson:  It’s correct that a number of options are being prepared by colleagues in the Secretariat here at the Headquarters of the United Nations.  When we get to that point, I am sure that you will be informed.  We are not there yet.  Yes, George?

Question:  Your response to Harold’s question kind of begs or invites the following question, which is:  Does General Mood’s force, UNSMIS I think it is, have an intelligence component, or do DPKO forces in general have intel, or most of them have intelligence components?  Or if not, failing that, do they have some regular way of availing themselves of the intelligence capabilities of some contributing Member States?

Spokesperson:  It might invite that question, but you don’t expect me to answer it, I think.  Yes?

Question:  On Iran, what’s the UN’s position on the talks?

Spokesperson:  The Moscow talks?  I am awaiting some help on that particular question.  I am aware of the interest and as soon as I have something on that for you, I would let you know.  But certainly, I would intend to have something as soon as possible on that.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Sure.  On Rio+ 20 and talking about UN security.  I heard what you said.  I think I want to look at the word that you said, that we welcome that there is a text, and I think you have probably seen that, I guess there are NGOs [non-governmental organizations], I just want to get your response to them.  The Rights for Sustainability has said that this text goes back to 1992 and a group called CIDSE has this quote, particularly on public private partnership, it says, “The text gives priority to markets and growth and presents the inclusion of private sector in governance as a panacea.  Countries like France are insisting on public-private partnerships even by those who have already experienced their limitations.”  And I wanted to know:  Is there something beyond welcoming the text?  Does he think it should go further?  Does he feel that corporations have gotten too large a role, is he going to try to have the text modified or done in some way while he is there or is he just welcoming just as it is?

Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, as I said at the very end of what I read out here, the Secretary-General will be speaking later at 3:00 p.m. New York time. That would be webcast and I would encourage you to follow that and, beyond that, and obviously, that is going to be important what he has to say there, beyond that, it is simply to reiterate that, as I read out and as we said repeatedly, the conference itself is not an end in itself.  It is the beginning of a process.  He’s also said very clearly that this being the start of a process, rather than the end, it’s on a dangerous road and we cannot continue to burn and consume our way to prosperity at the expense of those who are less fortunate than others and at the expense of the environment.  So I think he’s spoken very clearly.  He’s also said that the world leaders do need to send a signal that they are committed to a sustainable future.  I think everybody recognizes that these have been hard negotiations by their very nature and by definition, they will result in a compromise and in consensus language.  What then must follow is the commitment to push that forward and to take it forward, and that’s what the Secretary-General is looking for from world leaders.  But I would encourage you to listen to what he has to say this afternoon.  Yes, Nizar?

Question:  Martin, regarding the situation in Syria and terrorism, I think Mr. Ban Ki-moon has confirmed there are terrorist elements in Syria, in his letter sent to Mr. Bashar al-Assad recently.  Do you consider those who kidnapped the 11 Lebanese and who gave interviews to some TV stations as terrorists?

Spokesperson:  What we’ve said is that those people being held should be released as soon as possible and that remains our view.

Question:  But this does not answer:  are they terrorists or not?

Spokesperson:  It might not answer the question to your satisfaction but it’s the answer I am giving, Nizar.  Next question, please?

Question:  Speaking of the third element in Syria, does the Secretary-General consider the Shabiha a third element, or does he consider them tied directly to the Assad regime?

Spokesperson:  That is a question that I cannot answer categorically.  I think everyone has heard that the Shabiha militia is—tends to be—oriented toward the Government, but I do not have anything further for you on that.

Question:  Do you know who is shooting or putting in danger the UN observers in Syria at the moment?

Spokesperson:  We do not have clear indications in each case.  I think the most important point here is that our colleagues’ lives have been put at risk on a number of occasions from different directions.  It is obvious that in that kind of situation, you cannot say with certainty, but whoever is doing it is endangering the lives of those who have been deployed with a very specific mission, which is to help to monitor the implementation on the ground of the six-point plan, but also to underscore that they are there and have been there and themselves witnesses to the atrocities in some cases and the danger and bloodshed that the Syrian people themselves have faced for many months now.  Yes, Nizar?

Question:  So you don’t know who is shooting at them?

Spokesperson:  I think it’s enough to say that whoever is shooting or carrying out other kinds of actions that have endangered the lives of our UN colleagues on the ground, that that is precisely what they are doing:  they are endangering the lives of people sent there with a Security Council mandate.  They are unarmed observers.  Yes, Nizar?

Question:  My question is about the political crisis in Kuwait, the democratic crisis, the dissolving of the Parliament there and now the resignation of the old MPs.  Do you have any statement on that?

Spokesperson:  We are certainly aware of it, Nizar, but I don’t have anything for you at the moment.  And then this would be the last question from Matthew and then we will probably return when the force commanders arrive.  Yes?

Question:  Just on the tail of an earlier question about the Secretary-General’s plans, suggestions or options to be given to the Security Council.  With 30 days left in the mandate, is there a date set for him to do that?  I know that you don’t know exactly what they would be and when they’ll be worked out, but do you know when he would be presenting them?

Spokesperson:  I think that the details are being worked out.  When I can give you a precise date, then I would do so.  Okay.  Yes?

Question:  I am pretty sure you will be aware of it.  There is, within the Department of [Safety and] Security, a widely circulated open letter talking about the management of security.  It is a pretty comprehensive view and is addressed to the Secretary-General, delegates, I mean, I have spoken to literally dozens of people that have received it.  And I wanted to ask you about a particular part of it that goes back to the incident in September where there was a conflict or a misunderstanding between Turkish security and UN security.  It talks about Chief David Bongi, saying that he was present, but then criticizing him for doing nothing.  It was implicit in that incident that the Secretary-General went ahead and apologized.  I wanted to know, what is the response?  The letter goes ahead with a lot of other stuff which I won’t go into.  Is the Secretary-General aware of this critique from within Security and what is his response to it, particularly on this incident, still, of live controversy within Security about the incident of September?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything for you on that, Matthew.  Okay?  All right, thanks very much.  Have a good afternoon.  Thank you.

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