12 April 2010
Spokesperson's Noon Briefing

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.

**Secretary-General’s Press Encounter

The Secretary-General is on his way to Washington, where he will attend the nuclear security summit chaired by President Barack Obama.  As you know, the Secretary-General told reporters at a press encounter this morning that we can see new momentum towards our ultimate ambition: a world free of nuclear weapons.

Nuclear terrorism, he said, is one of the greatest threats we face today.  That’s why he has urged the Conference on Disarmament to immediately start negotiations on a treaty banning the production of fissile material.  In Washington, he will call on all world leaders to come together, perhaps at the United Nations in September, to further advance this essential cause for humankind.  And this afternoon, we will provide journalists with embargoed copies of the Secretary-General’s remarks, which are to be delivered at the Washington summit tomorrow.

On Kyrgyzstan, the Secretary-General told reporters that his special envoy, Jan Kubis, arrived in Bishkek over the weekend and has been meeting with all parties to try to maintain and restore constitutional order while respecting the wishes of the Kyrgyz people.  Kubis will brief the Secretary-General directly upon his return to New York on Thursday.

** Haiti

Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro arrived yesterday in Port-au-Prince on a two-day visit to assess conditions in camps for Haitians displaced by the 12 January earthquake and survey the UN and Haitian Government efforts to protect camp residents from sexual violence and related problems.  Her visit follows the Secretary-General’s own recent trip to Haiti.

Today she is meeting with the UN Mission leadership and leaders of various humanitarian clusters working on delivering assistance and providing protection to displaced Haitians.  She will also visit the town of Leogane, which was the epicentre of the earthquake.

Yesterday, the Deputy Secretary-General met with President René Préval, and they discussed challenges facing the country following the earthquake, including education reform, law enforcement and social and political stability.  She then spent several hours at a camp in downtown Port-au-Prince, where she held informal talks with camp residents and formal meetings with women’s groups, who complained of sexual abuse in the camps.  She assured them of the Secretary-General’s firm resolve to work, along with the Haitian Government and its partners, towards improving their conditions.

** Western Sahara

The Secretary-General’s latest report on the situation concerning Western Sahara is out today.

In it, he says that the two informal meetings held in August 2009 and February 2010 produced no movement on the core substantive issues, and adds that more work is needed before a fifth round of formal negotiations can be held.

The Secretary-General also voices growing concern for the human dimension of the conflict, including the plight of the Western Saharan refugees.  He urges the parties to confirm their agreement to the expansion of the family visit programme and to accelerate their consultations with UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] on its implementation.  On the human rights front, he calls on each party to remain engaged in continuous and constructive dialogue with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

Given the circumstances on the ground and the continuing efforts of his Personal Envoy, Christopher Ross, the Secretary-General recommends that the Security Council extends the mandate of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) for another year, until 30 April 2011.

** Pakistan

Martin Mogwanja, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Pakistan, today gave a press conference in Islamabad, at which he warned that the current humanitarian funding crisis for the Pakistan appeal is affecting the ability to respond to humanitarian needs.

Some non-governmental organizations are laying off staff, closing projects and not implementing new ones, he noted.  The World Food Programme (WFP) says that it has enough food for April and May, but not for June.  Early recovery activities, such as school feeding, are in jeopardy.

Mogwanja said that the international community’s response is inadequate.  So far, the Pakistan Humanitarian Response Plan, which requires more than $500 million for projects in 2010, is only 20 per cent funded.

**Climate Change

Climate change negotiators have agreed to intensify their negotiating schedule in order to achieve a strong outcome in Mexico at the end of this year.  Negotiators were meeting in Bonn this weekend in the first round of UN climate change talks since the Copenhagen Conference.

Governments decided to hold two additional sessions to the ones already scheduled for 2010.  These will take place between June and the start of the Climate Change Conference in Mexico, on 29 November -- but no specific dates are set yet.

The UN’s top climate change official, Yvo de Boer, said he had seen a strong desire to make progress at this meeting in Bonn.  He added that the Cancun Conference must finalize a functioning architecture for implementation that launches global climate action, especially in developing nations.

**Security Council

The Security Council has been holding consultations this morning on peace and security in Africa.  Under-Secretary-General for Field Support Susana Malcorra briefed Council members on the UN assistance that is being provided to the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).

**Upcoming Events

And my guest at the briefing tomorrow will be Ambassador Peter Wittig, Chairman of the Peacebuilding Commission.

And at 1:15 pm, Hania Zlotnik, Director of the Population Division in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, will speak to you about the ongoing burden of non-communicable diseases on health systems and development.

So, I am happy to take a few questions.  And I also see that Jean Victor is here to brief you on the General Assembly as well.  So, some questions?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Martin, in his most recent report on Kosovo, the Secretary-General is mentioning that the new strategy of the President of Kosovo, Mr. [Fatmir] Sejdiu, to apply more presence of the Kosovo authority forces north of the Ibar river -- that is northern Kosovo, which is not highly travelled.  He says that they did not consult with UNMIK [the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo] on drafting or writing that strategy, yet the Secretary-General then is not commenting while this is sort of a [inaudible].  My question would be whether the Secretary-General thinks it is not an adequate strategy, or it is not helping.  Or probably he thinks just the opposite?

Spokesperson:  I think what you have there is the Secretary-General reporting, laying out the facts as they are.  It is not an assessment in the sense of passing judgement on what has happened.  He is spelling out, based on the reporting that comes in from UNMIK, from the Mission in Kosovo, what is happening on the ground.  I think we would have to see what Ambassador[Lamberto] Zannier has to say further about that.

Question:  Just in general, if you can comment on that, whether the Secretary-General thinks the more presence of the Kosovo authorities in the northern part of Kosovo is helpful, or probably somehow kind of still a political calculation?  How to put it, I don’t know.

Spokesperson:  As I said, I am not going to go beyond what the Secretary-General has already said in his report, which is an assessment of facts.  It is not providing a particular analysis of the kind that you are referring to.  If AmbassadorZannier has anything further to say, then I will let you know about that, okay?

Question:  Any comments by the Secretary-General on the easing of tensions between the Obama Administration and President [Hamid] Karzai, because the Secretary-General has also called for an end to this conflict issue?

Spokesperson:  Nothing further on the most recent news reports that I have seen and that I am aware of.  The Secretary-General has said on a number of occasions that the rhetoric that we were hearing from Kabul in recent days was not particularly helpful, but I do not think that he has gone beyond that.  The most important thing is to focus on what needs to be done on the ground, whether it is the work of the United Nations in supporting what is happening -- peace and reconciliation and building a stable, functioning Government in Afghanistan -- or whether it is looking at the Government’s own stated objective of seeking reconciliation.  So that is much more important than the unhelpful rhetoric that we had been seeing.

Question:  Sure, Martin.  I have a couple of questions -- Kyrgyzstan and Darfur.  On Kyrgyzstan, I have come to understand that if not the Secretary-General, [Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs] B. Lynn Pascoe, during a visit there, met with what was then described as opposition leaders, some of whom may now be the interim Government.  Is it possible to know, one, whether he met with Rosa Otunbayeva, but also to get readout on what opposition leaders did the UN delegation meet with while in Kyrgyzstan?

Spokesperson:  I think it is singular rather than plural, and it was Ms. Otunbayeva.  This was a meeting with about half a dozen representatives, mostly journalists and including Ms. Otunbayeva.  This took place during the Secretary-General’s visit.  The Secretary-General was in other meetings, and he asked Mr. Pascoe and a number of other advisers who were travelling in that delegation to Central Asia to meet with them and they were then able to report to the Secretary-General on the conversation.

Question:  Did they make any predictions?  Or is it possible to get kind of a readout of what was discussed at the meeting?

Spokesperson:  No, I do not think it is possible to have a readout of that meeting in itself, because that goes beyond normal diplomatic practice.  What I can say is what the Secretary-General has said publicly, which is that he sensed and could see, first of all, he could sense the atmosphere from meetings and the briefings he was receiving, and secondly, he could see that there were protesters.  So it was clear, as he has himself said, that there was a head of steam that had been building up over a number of weeks and months.

Question:  Who does the UN consider currently the Head of State of Kyrgyzstan?

Spokesperson:  As you well know, now, the most important thing is to ensure that there is calm and that there is dialogue.  That is way Jan Kubis has gone back to Bishkek.  He pretty much turned around when he got to Vienna to return to the region.  And his key role is to work with other players that include the Special Envoy of the OSCE [Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe] and the Special Representative of the European Union, and indeed the Special Representative of the CSTO [Collective Security Treaty Organization].  So those people on the ground, their aim is to try to talk to all the relevant players and to try to ensure that they are speaking to each other.  This is the most important point at the moment.

Question:  And does that include the ousted President on the run?  He seems to have said that he has asked for UN peacekeepers.  I do not know if the Council has been asked, but has Jan Kubis been asked?  There are various stories saying that he has strongly urged the UN to send peacekeepers, but it is not clear where -- has such a request been made to Mr. Kubis?  To you?

Spokesperson:  I am not aware of what has been said to Mr. Kubis or not at this point.  As you heard the Secretary-General say at the press encounter earlier today, he will be coming to New York to brief the Secretary-General.  And I know, because I asked him to do so, that Mr. Kubis will also brief journalists once he has spoken to the Secretary-General.  So I think you would be able to find out at that point with whom he has been speaking on the ground.

Question:  I have a Darfur question, but go ahead. 

Spokesperson:  Yeah, let’s move around and we can come back to Darfur.  I mean, you did ask about Darfur at the stakeout, so unless it is something different…

Correspondent:  There is a reason.  There is a method to my madness.

Spokesperson:  I am pleased to hear it.  I am pleased to hear it.

Question:  In a letter, apparently today, to the Secretary-General from the President of Iran, he asks the Secretary-General to appoint “an independent fact-finding team which is trusted by the countries of the region” -- meaning the region around Iran -- “to launch a comprehensive investigation into the main intentions of NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization] military presences in Afghanistan and Iraq, the methods used and the outcome of their presence and engagement, with results to be presented by the General Assembly”.  Has the Secretary-General had a chance to review this, and if so, what would his reaction be?  Would he actually go forward with appointing such a team?

Spokesperson:  I am not sure that the Secretary-General has received such a letter yet.  It could be in the post, but he has not received it yet and therefore we do not have any comment on it just yet.

[The Spokesperson later confirmed that the letter has not yet been received.]

Question:  Is the UN Commission’s report on Benazir [Bhutto] on schedule for 15 April?

Spokesperson:  Yes.  Okay.

Question:  I actually have one follow-up on Iran.  Is the UN going to be represented or has it been invited to Iran’s what is being called alternative nuclear conference to the ones being held here?

Spokesperson:  Not that I am aware of, but we can find out.  Not that I am aware of.

Question:  Okay.  And the reason… I will strike the madness part, but the reason I wanted to ask you is because I did ask the Secretary-General a question, but he did not seem to be aware of the case, so I want to just put it to you as briefly as I can and see if it is possible to get a UN answer.  And the question is as follows: very simply, it now appears clear that an individual employed by UN ECA [Economic Commission for Africa], Al-Tijani Al-Sissi Ateem, was paid by the UN until 8 March 2010.  It also appears clear that he made public statements in September 2009 saying, “I want to lead the Darfur rebellion.”  He spoke with Mr. [Djibril] Bassolé -- this is a newly emerging fact -- who, in my understanding, was aware that this individual was a UN staff member.  What is going to be done?  I mean, I was referred by Farhan [Haq] to ECA, but it seems like the UN system as a whole… If these facts are correct, the rules were openly broken in terms of political activity of a UN staff member in a high-profile political situation of Darfur.  Therefore, what is going to happen?

Spokesperson:  Well, a couple of things.  Strange as it may seem, even when I was not here, I was aware of what is going on and I know that you had extensive exchanges with Farhan and others about how to get information on this particular question and that is in the works.  You have been in touch with them and you can continue to be in touch with them at ECA, which is based Addis [Ababa], as you know.

Question:  The reason I am asking is that ECA has said, on the record, that they were unaware of this individual’s political activities, which frankly I find hard to believe because there were public statements in Addis reported in the press in Addis that he wanted to lead a Darfur rebel group.

Spokesperson:  Well Matthew, I am not going to second-guess what my colleagues on the ground have said.  I am not going to second-guess them.  The only thing I will add is what you have already heard the Secretary-General say, which is a general statement of principle about the inadmissibility of political activity as a UN official.  Now, please, I would suggest that you continue with your line of inquiry with ECA, okay?

Question:  What if they just say they are unaware of things that took place?

Spokesperson:  That presumably means that they are unaware, Matthew.

Question:  If it lines up as a straight violation of the rules -- I am sorry, I will not go on and on -- I am just wondering who enforces these staff rules to not be involved in political activity while employed by the staff?

Spokesperson:  The United Nations enforces the rules, Matthew.  The United Nations enforces them.

Question:  Which unit?

Spokesperson:  You have heard what the Secretary-General said.  The rules are there for everybody.

Question:  Right, but who is going to enforce them?  What is going to happen in this case?  If the facts are not true, fine.  If they are, what happens?

Spokesperson:  This could go on forever, and as I have said, please do go back to the ECA.  That is the correct conduit.

Question:  What is ECA?

Spokesperson:  The Economic Commission for Africa.  I beg your pardon, I should not use acronyms.  It is based in Addis Ababa, and it is the equivalent of the same type of structure that is in Bangkok and in Santiago, for example, and in Geneva, covering the different regions of the world.  Okay.

Question:  Is OIOS [Office of Internal Oversight Services] looking into this?  OLA [Office of Legal Affairs]?  I am just…

Spokesperson:  Matthew, I will try and find out.  But we can go backwards and forwards here; it is not really going to help.  But I will try and find out for you, okay?

Question:  It just seems very similar to me, like the Alan Doss [Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Liberia] situation, where nothing was ever done.  There was an investigation that is now gone on for nearly 10 months.  And so I guess I will ask that one -- how does it take OIOS 10 months to investigate a three-line email?

Spokesperson:  Well, I understand that Mr. Doss is in town.  You can ask him yourself.

Any other questions?  Right.  The floor is yours.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

Good afternoon to all.

**President Treki concludes visit to Kuwait and arrives in Bahrain

On 11 April 2010, the President of the General Assembly, His Excellency Dr. Ali Abdussalam Treki, met with His Highness the Emir of the State of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah.  The meeting addressed a number of issues, including the situation in the Middle East and the role of the United Nations in the context of the Arab-Israeli conflict, the outcome of the Arab League Summit, elections in Iraq, as well as nuclear non-proliferation.

Both sides reaffirmed the need to strengthen the United Nations and the role it plays in resolving the Palestinian question and ending the human tragedy in the Gaza Strip.  They further discussed the upcoming international meetings concerning nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament, including the thematic debate of the General Assembly on 19 April on this issue and the Review Conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty scheduled to take place in May 2010.

His Highness the Emir commended the role President Treki plays in leading the work of the General Assembly, and his initiatives to hold a number of high-level thematic debates in the General Assembly on issues such as the dialogue among civilizations, disarmament, peacekeeping and the situation in Middle East.  His Highness the Emir reaffirmed the support of Kuwait to the United Nations and its General Assembly.

President Treki also met with His Highness Sheikh Nasser Mohammed Al-Ahmed Al-Sabah, the Prime Minister of Kuwait.  They discussed the preparations for the upcoming Millennium Development Goals Summit and the participation of His Highness in the Summit.  They also exchanged views on the need to strengthen the United Nations, the efforts to reform the Security Council and revitalize the General Assembly.  Later on the same day, in honour of the President of the General Assembly, His Highness the Prime Minister hosted a state dinner which was attended by Sheikh Dr. Mohammad Al-Sabah Al-Salem Al-Sabah, the Kuwaiti Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Earlier on 11 April, President Treki visited the United Nations House in Kuwait City, and met with the directors of the country offices of the United Nations funds and programmes operating in Kuwait.

On 12 April, the President Treki visited the Majlis Al-Umma, the National Assembly of Kuwait, and met with its Speaker, Honourable Jassem Al-Kharafi.  They discussed the role of parliaments in supporting the work of the United Nations and the General Assembly, in particular in the area of achieving the MDGs.

Later on his arrival in Bahrain on 12 April, he was welcomed by Her Excellency Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa, Adviser to the Royal Court in the Kingdom of Bahrain, and you will recall that Her Excellency was President of the sixty-first session of the General Assembly.  She was accompanied by senior officials from the Foreign Ministry who welcomed President Treki at the airport.

Any questions?  Yes.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Am I right in thinking that the General Assembly President has not yet reached Yemen?

Spokesperson:  He has been in Yemen.  We put out a press release on that late last week.

Question:  Okay, I thought so.  In which case, there has just been a release from the Geneva Human Rights Council’s Envoy to Yemen about the situation there.  The fighting… There is a fear that a lack of funding is going to cause a humanitarian crisis which might reignite a seventh round of fighting between the Houthi rebels and Government forces.  From Mr. Treki’s visit to Yemen, does he have any concerns in this direction?  Did he get to visit any of the areas in northern Yemen and see with his own eyes a situation of the refugees?  And in his subsequent meetings with officials in Kuwait and Bahrain and so on, has he been asking for the oil-rich members of the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] to increase their funding to alleviate the humanitarian suffering in Yemen?

Spokesperson:  The statement that we put out last week on the President’s visit to Yemen was a readout that covered the most substantive areas of his meetings and interactions while in Yemen.  But I will go and look into detail whether we can have something specific regarding the fighting you referred to, as well as the possible request made by President Treki to these countries to further contribute.  But, as you are well aware, President Treki has been discussing major issues on the agenda of the General Assembly and some of these issues, not necessarily those specifically, but most of them are on the agenda of the General Assembly.  So I will guess that he would have discussed some of these aspects.  Whether it went into that level of detail, I will check and come back to you on that.

Thank you.  No further questions?  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Sure.  I saw a report of President Treki’s remarks after meeting with the President of Syria in which he emphasized -- not directly in quotes -- it says that the Middle East should be nuclear free and it says Israel has nuclear weapons and this should be acted on.  I wanted to know, could we get exactly what he said, and does the President believe that the issue of Israel and nuclear weapons should be addressed in this conference down in D.C. and otherwise in the UN system?

Spokesperson:  Well, I do not think the President has made a specific statement regarding the conference in Washington, D.C., but the President has obviously a very clear position on the question of non-proliferation, and the General Assembly has pronounced itself several times on this issue.  On the specific quote that you referred to, we will try to go back and find out exactly what and if the President said what you believe he said.  But we will go back and check if we can find the tape and find out exactly.

Thank you very much.  Have a good afternoon.

* *** *

For information media • not an official record