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

17 December 2009

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

17 December 2009
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.  Welcome to the briefing.

** Guinea

I have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the report of the International Commission of Inquiry on the 28 September 2009 events in Guinea.

The Secretary-General has received the report by the International Commission of Inquiry on the 28 September 2009 events in Guinea.  The report flows from the work of the Commission in Conakry, Guinea, from 25 November to 4 December 2009.

The Secretary-General is now considering the report, after which it is his intention to promptly transmit the report to the relevant parties, including the Government of Guinea, the African Union, ECOWAS and the Security Council.

**Secretary-General in Copenhagen

The Secretary-General is engaging today in intensive discussions with world leaders who have gathered in Copenhagen for climate change negotiations, and he is convinced that a deal is within reach.

His first bilateral meeting today was with Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, and he also took part in meetings with leaders from Australia, Bangladesh, Denmark, Indonesia, the Maldives, Mexico, Norway, Viet Nam and the United Kingdom.  He also had separate meetings with President Felipe Calderon of Mexico and Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

Also on his list of bilateral meetings today are the Presidents of Gabon and Israel and the Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority.

** Middle East

Robert Serry, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, spoke at the Security Council today, and he warned of a series of problems impeding that peace process as 2009 draws to a close.  He said that Israeli-Palestinian negotiations are yet to resume, confidence between the parties remains low, facts continue to be created on the ground, and tensions persist in Jerusalem.  He said the actions of both Hamas and Israel are not contributing to the stability and welfare of Gaza.

He said there was a danger of a political vacuum.  If we cannot move forward towards a final status agreement, he said, we risk sliding backwards, with both the Palestinian Authority and the two-State solution itself imperilled.  He said the Secretary-General believes a revitalized Quartet must play its full role in urgently advancing a common agenda in the crucial few months ahead. And we have his remarks in my office.

And after a formal meeting, the Security Council continued its discussions on the Middle East in consultations.  And Serry will speak to you at the Council stakeout once those consultations are over.

**Security Council

Also in the Security Council earlier this morning, the Council extended the mandate of the UN Integrated Office in Burundi (BINUB) until the end of 2010.

And the Council also adopted a resolution extending the travel ban affecting individuals in Liberia by 12 months, and the mandate of the Panel of Experts dealing with Liberia sanctions until 20 December 2010.

And it also approved a resolution revising its guidelines concerning the listing of individuals and entities linked to Al-Qaida and the Taliban.  Among other things, the Security Council authorized the creation of an Office of the Ombudsperson, for an initial period of 18 months, which would help deal with the question of removing individuals and entities from that list.

And after the Middle East consultations, the Security Council will also discuss the Development Fund for Iraq.

** Liberia

Going back to Liberia, the latest report by the Panel of Experts on Liberia is out.  Among other conclusions, the Panel recommends that the Security Council continue the travel ban and the asset freeze until after the 2011 elections and the conclusion of the trial of Charles Taylor.  The Panel also recommends that the Government of Liberia, in conjunction with other relevant actors, conduct further investigations into the regional trading network and into potential infiltration of Ivorian diamonds into Liberia and neighbouring countries.

** Afghanistan

On Afghanistan, the potential gross export value of Afghanistan’s opiates has fallen 18 per cent since last year, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).  In its latest survey on Afghanistan’s opium, the Office writes that the export value of opiates in that country declined from $3.4 billion in 2008 to $2.8 billion in 2009 -- a fall that is equivalent to around a quarter of the country’s gross domestic product.  The decline can be attributed to lower opium cultivation, lower production, lower prices and a relatively higher GDP.

Military and market forces are reducing the impact of opium on Afghanistan’s economy, according to the Executive Director of UNODC, Antonio Maria Costa.  But he warned that more also needs to be done to combat corruption in the country.  And we have more on this in a press release from the UNODC.

So, that’s where we are.  Questions?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  My question is about the New York Times report about Peter Galbraith’s role in Afghanistan.  The report quotes UN officials as saying that he tried to convince the Obama Administration into replacing President [Hamid] Karzai.  Is that correct?

Spokesperson:  I’m waiting for guidance on this.  I may have something during the course of this briefing, and that’s why I was a little late.  I’m waiting for the guidance to appear, so, if you bear with me, I hope I’ll have something shortly.

Question:  One thing that is also mentioned about Mr. [Vijay] Nambiar…

Spokesperson:  Like I said, I don’t have anything for you at the moment, I’m waiting for it.  As soon as I have, I’ll be able to answer your questions on this.  So you can ask other questions; I’m not going to be able to give you anything on that until I have the guidance I need.

Question:  And there are comments by Peter Galbraith in Foreign Policy in which he says that Mr. [Kai] Eide’s departure in March is involuntary.  And secondly that Mr. [Staffan de] Mistura is going to replace him in this position.

Spokesperson:  I think you heard what I said just now.  I’m waiting for guidance, so I can’t answer these questions at the moment.  As soon as I have the information I need, then I will be able to tell you.

Question:  You indicated that the report by the investigators on the events in Guinea will be transmitted to Guinean authorities, to ECOWAS and to the Security Council.  What will happen after that, once the Secretary-General receives the comments of these three organizations?  Would he then take some action, or what would be the sequence?

Spokesperson:  What happens, as I mentioned to you, the Secretary-General is considering the report, and that’s where we are.  He is looking at it.  He received it yesterday.  And as I said, he needs to look at it, of course, to consider the report, and then once he has done that it will be transmitted promptly to these different parties that I have mentioned.

Question:  And my question:  What then would happen after he has received the comments from the Security Council, ECOWAS and the Guinean authorities?

Spokesperson:  And my answer was that he is considering the report and I think that speaks for itself.

Question:  About this march that is going to come about, that is being planned, there is supposed to be a massive march into occupied Gaza from Egypt. Although at this point in time it is only in planning stage, millions and millions of people are supposed to join.  Does the Secretary-General intend to facilitate such a march, which is a peaceful march, in any way?  Number two, has he been with the Israeli authorities recently on the question of Gaza crossings, which still have a stranglehold on Gaza?

Spokesperson:  As I said to you earlier, he is going to be seeing today, he has a bilateral meeting today, with the Israeli President.  Let’s see what comes out of that.

Question:  Will he be talking about this march, and will he be talking about this…?

Spokesperson:  I am not privy to exactly what he’s going to be talking to the Israeli President about, but afterwards, I imagine there will be a readout. 

[The Spokesperson later confirmed that the Secretary-General met today in Copenhagen with Israeli President Shimon Peres.  They discussed the Goldstone Report, humanitarian concern over Gaza, the Middle East peace process and settlements.]

Question:  One question is about Pakistan, has to do with Pakistan Prime Minister [Yousaf Raza] Gilani.  He’s apparently met with Jean-Maurice Ripert and asked the UN to reconsider its withdrawal, its reduction in the number of international staff.  Is the UN in fact -- what’s the thinking in terms of restoring service with international staff to the various parts of Pakistan?

Spokesperson:  Well, the main priority is to continue with all the critical operations that are necessary and to make sure that the staff can operate in a safe manner.  And obviously, also, another aspect here is that we’re looking at the aftermath of the attack on WFP, the office there in Islamabad; and there are security concerns that come with that.  And so there has been a review undertaken to determine how the UN can operate more effectively and safely in responding to the critical needs of Pakistan and its people.  And one of the main objectives of that review has been to ensure that the life-saving humanitarian relief and critical development assistance will continue without interruption.  As I think you know, I can’t really give you exact figures on relocations.  What I can say is that they’re of a gradual nature and they’re only for a limited period, pending these additional security measures and a review of what’s going on.

Question:  Next door in Afghanistan, when the UN was very specific about the number of people that were taken out to Dubai, have any of those people returned, and has any progress been made on building a secure facility that was described…?

Spokesperson:  You’re taking about Afghanistan?

Correspondent:  Yes, I switched next door.

Spokesperson:  Okay, right, okay.  I don’t have up-to-date figures.  I will need to come back to you on up-to-date figures on movements of people.  I think, as we have mentioned before, this, as with Pakistan, is a temporary arrangement.  I think you could understand the reasons for that -- for the security concerns that there are.

Question:  I just want to ask one quick thing.  There is a report out that the Lord’s Resistance Army Ugandan rebels have openly threatened to repeat what they did last year in the Christmas season, which is to massacre people in northern Congo for whatever reason.  So various human rights groups have “gone and done missions”; have quoted people, and said that MONUC [UN Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo] should be preparing for this; should actually be deploying people in northern…this came out after [Alan] Doss’s stakeout yesterday.  So, I’m wondering, is DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] and MONUC, are they aware of this, and what are they going to do to ensure that these Christmas massacres, as they’re called, of last year are not repeated this year?

Spokesperson:  I will check with DPKO.  Richard, I can see you through the glare of the spotlights, but I understand that it’s probably better for you to be in the first five rows for the microphones.  But please shout, otherwise.

Question:  I didn’t know.  In class, I always hung out at the back, and my question is very weak and not substantive in nature, so I really don’t want to be seen asking it.  But there was a group of men in California who were sentenced yesterday for murder, extortion -– all kinds of things.  They call themselves –- I saw this on the wire – the “United Nations gang”, and I wondered if you had and saw that and had any reaction to the sentencing?

Spokesperson:  I haven’t seen that and I wouldn’t have a reaction to the sentencing. That’s a matter for the courts in California, but the United Nations is a brand name.

Question:  So you take pride in them taking the name of the UN?

Spokesperson:  Richard, I think you know what I’m saying.  Any other questions?

Question:  You indicated that the Special Representative to the Middle East, Mr. Serry, while briefing the Security Council, said that there is a need for reactivized (sic), quote reactivized (sic) Quartet.  What does that mean?  

Spokesperson:  I think it was “revitalized”.  What I would suggest is that you ask him that very same question when he goes to the stakeout because I don’t want to interpret what he is saying.  He can do that for himself and give you much more detail then.

Question:  Does it mean that he wants more meetings of this organization?

Spokesperson:  As I say, I think that he would be able to answer that at the stakeout.  In fact he is going to be there any minute, I’m told.  Feel free to go, I won’t be offended.

Question:  I was wondering if you got the Galbraith, Vijay Nambiar answer about the New York Times story.  Is that…?

Spokesperson:  No, that’s not what it was.  Otherwise I would have read it out, believe me.

Question:  Maybe this afternoon they’ll put out a statement, but that article says clearly, Vijay Nambiar was quoted as saying that the UN was aware of Galbraith trying to meet with [US Vice President] Joe Biden, and that’s one of the reasons he was fired.  And I just wanted, I guess, to know is it acceptable, is it the UN’s position that its employees like Peter Galbraith can unilaterally go and meet with Vice Presidents of countries?  And if they do, are they automatically fired or is it discretionary?  What are the other reasons he was fired?  It just seemed like a strange quote, so I wanted to know what UN policy on freelancing deputy SRSGs is.

Spokesperson:  Well, as I said to you, the piece of paper that was brought to me was not what I was looking for.  It’s good for you, because it’s the stakeout with Robert Serry, but it’s not what I was looking for.  I’ve read the story too, many people have, but I don’t have any comment on it just at the moment.

Question:  Earlier this week there was an issue that came up with Mr. Nambiar and his role in the deadly surrender at the end of the Sri Lankan conflict, and you were like, well, when he comes back we’ll talk to him.  Clearly he is reachable, apparently, to at least the New York Times.  Mr. Nambiar, I mean.  Is he in Copenhagen?  Is that where he gave those comments?

Spokesperson:  I will have guidance.

[The Spokesperson later announced that the reason Peter Galbraith's appointment as Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan was terminated was that the Secretary-General determined that such action would be in the interests of the Organization.  Further elaboration would not be appropriate at this time since Mr. Galbraith has chosen to challenge the termination of his appointment.]

Question:  The US State Department now has made a statement saying that the vast majority of countries around the world respect the territorial integrity of Georgia and consider these breakaway regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, as parts of Georgia, and not separate entities.  What do UN Security Council resolutions say about Georgia?

Spokesperson:  We were talking about this yesterday; when it comes to recognition of territories, that is up to Member States within the United Nations, and not the United Nations Secretary-General, as you were asking yesterday, to have a position or view.  It’s up to the Member States.

Any other questions?  No?  But Matthew and other colleagues who have asked about this, that’s the reason I held off, to try to have that information, I don’t have it yet.  Okay, thank you.

* *** *

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