Daily Press Briefing by the Offices of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General and the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

7 January 2010

Daily Press Briefing by the Offices of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General and the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

7 January 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

I have two items that I wanted to quickly read out that may be of use and then I can take some questions.  I realize we also have Jean-Victor here who can brief on the General Assembly.  But two items I did want to tell you about.


The Secretary-General discussed the forthcoming two intensive rounds of substantive negotiations that the Cypriot leaders will have this month.  And he encouraged both leaders to remain committed and to show flexibility and leadership.  He is convinced that a win-win solution in many different areas is available, and he is confident that together both leaders have the political courage and vision required to make progress.  And the Secretary-General assured both leaders of the support of United Nations, and of his own personal support.


The Secretary-General will be hosting a two-day retreat starting next Monday, 11 January, outside New York City, which will include the heads of 14 regional and other organizations.  The Secretary-General intends to host high-level discussions on how the United Nations and these organizations can enhance their cooperation on peace and security.

The Security Council also intends to hold a thematic debate on UN cooperation with regional organizations, and that’s to take place at UN headquarters on Wednesday, 13 January.  And the Secretary-General will address the Council debate, as will some of the participants in the retreat.  We have a press release with more details on this, a kind of a fact sheet with more details on this.

So I can take questions.  Suddenly hands going up.  I’m going to start at the front and move back for technical reasons.  Please.

**Questions and Answers

Question: General [Sékouba] Konaté,the interim President of Guinea, has just announced that he has asked the opposition to present a Prime Minister to form a coalition Government for national reconciliation.  Does the Secretary-General have any reaction to that?

Spokesperson:  No reaction yet.  We’re aware of the reports.  Okay.  I think I’m going to go to Joe here.

Question:  Did Ehud Barak tell the Secretary-General that Israel would pay in the neighbourhood of $10.5 million in compensation for the damage to UN property and the life of a truck driver during the Gaza War last year?

Spokesperson:  What I can tell you is this:  in July last year, the United Nations submitted to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Israel a claim for reimbursement for the losses that the United Nations had sustained in a number of incidents that occurred during the Gaza conflict, which was as you know from 27 December 2008 to 19 January 2009.  And since that time, discussions have been taking place between the United Nations and Israel.  And those discussions have taken place in a very positive atmosphere, and they are now at a very advanced stage.  Agreement has been reached in principle on the terms of an arrangement under which Israel would make a payment to the United Nations.

The United Nations is now waiting for a green light from the Government of Israel.  And we anticipate receiving that green light imminently.  When that green light is given, an agreement will be formalized between the United Nations and Israel and a payment will be made.

Obviously, since the agreement is not yet finalized, it would not be appropriate for me to discuss the details.  These will be disclosed when the agreement has been concluded and the payment has been made.  I would, however, point out now that there are certain inaccuracies in press reports on this matter.

Question:  [inaudible]

Spokesperson:  I can’t go into the details of what those inaccuracies are, but I simply want to point out particularly two things.  One, that this is at an advanced stage, and that we’re waiting for a green light from the Government of Israel.

Question:  Did they discuss this?

Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General, as I told you before, did speak to Defense Minister Barak, and there was discussion of the arrangement I have just been talking about.  Discussion of it, but I can’t clearly go into the details of what the discussion entailed.  Okay.

Question:  Is there a conversation just for damages to UN facilities or also for loss of human life?

Spokesperson:  This is for losses that the United Nations sustained in these incidents.

Question:  Nothing to do with UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East) employees?

Spokesperson:  What I have here is “losses that the United Nations sustained”.  So, I would need to clarify precisely what that means.  If I’ve understood it correctly from what’s been said previously about seeking reimbursement and seeking a payment, this was related to the premises and to staff.  That is what I understand has been said previously, I need to check again whether this refers to where we are now with the arrangement that is being finalized.

Question:  The World Food Programme (WFP) suspended aid to Somalia on Tuesday because of escalating attacks to armed groups.  Which armed groups were they and what was the nature of the attacks?  Were they suicide bombings or…?

Spokesperson:  There’ve been quite a lot of statements from the World Food Programme and I think I would rather that they give you the details on that.  There are details available.  I don’t have all of them with me now.  But the World Food Programme has been very vocal and very eloquent on the matter and I think I would be happy for them to speak on this.

Question:  Today, in one of the news reports today, the Office of the Humanitarian Affairs of the United Nations was quoted as saying that the humanitarian tragedy in Pakistan would continue to unfold.  Already there are 2.5 million refugees or internally displaced persons.  But that number will increase because the army operation has not ended and that there is a need for more and more funding for UN operations over there.  So my question is:  now that the United Nations has also reduced its presence over there, what the coordination affairs official is saying is basically there is a need to upgrade over there.  Where do we stand on that point?  The United Nations, where does it stand?

Spokesperson:  I have seen that report and we have been seeking more information on it.  But I don’t have that at the moment.  What I do know is that Mr. [Jean-Maurice] Ripert is here and has been meeting with the Secretary-General this morning.  And we’ll see if we can find out anything from that meeting that has a bearing on what you’ve just been mentioning.

Question:  [inaudible] if at all to decide to upgrade the figures as to how much more money they require…

Spokesperson:  Sure.  Sure.

Question:  …and the funding of the $62 million or something like that they sought…

Spokesperson:  As I say, I will try to seek more on that.

Question:  Earlier this morning, sitting where you are, the Special Rapporteur on summary executions, Philip Alston, said, among other things, that he has found that this video of summary execution by the Sri Lankan Army he thinks is credible and should be subject to an independent external investigation, and when asked, he basically said that the Secretary-General, he believes, has the power and should appoint such a panel as he has done in the case of Guinea, for example.  What’s the Secretary-General’s response?  He said there should be accountability for events in the final stage of the conflict.  What is he doing on his statement that there should be?  And will he do what Mr. Alston is suggesting?

Spokesperson:  Two things.  The Technical Note that’s been presented by the Special Rapporteur highlights the need for a credible, independent and impartial investigation into allegations of violations of human rights and international law by all sides in the conflict in Sri Lanka.  And the UN, and particularly the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, stands ready to assist the Government in this respect.

The second point is that the Secretary-General would note that precisely the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has repeatedly called for a full, broad, and impartial investigation into allegations of violations of human rights and international law.  A full and impartial investigation is critical if we are to confront impunity and bring perpetrators of such violations to justice.  The UN stands ready to assist the Government in this respect.

Question:  Just one follow-up on that.  In the case of Guinea, for example, it wasn’t done through the Human Right Commission, it was done… the Secretary-General appointed three people.  What’s the distinction?  Why in this case would he be looking to Geneva where, already, the Human Rights Council, given its make-up, voted against doing any investigation of this?

Spokesperson:  The Office of the High Commissioner has already called for this.  So this call is already out there.  One doesn’t need to start a second track on that.  What I would also point out is that there was, as you know, a visit by the Secretary-General, and, in the end, there was a joint statement where he underlined the importance of accountability.  And also where the Government of Sri Lankaundertook to take measures to address the grievances of the victims of the conflict.  And the Secretary-General has informed the Government of Sri Lanka that he is considering the appointment of a Commission of Experts to advise him further and to assist the Government in taking measures to address possible violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, and indeed the establishment of such a commission is receiving detailed consideration in the Secretariat.

Question:  [inaudible] that seems kind of newsworthy.  So I’m surprised that it’s sort of buried in the announcement.  When did he make that information?

Spokesperson:  I need to find out.  Edie.

Question:  I was looking for clarification on exactly what that Commission would do.  Because, in a follow-up to Matthew’s question, obviously we know that Navi Pillay asked for this investigation months ago and nothing’s happened.  So, sort of passing the buck to the Human Rights Commission in Geneva at this point seems like passing the buck.  So, if this Commission is going to be serious and sort of a prelude to an investigation, can we get some more details?

Spokesperson:  Of course.  As when possible, we will give you more details.  I will go away and find out a little bit more about when the Secretary-General informed the Government.  Put it this way, the relevant people here in the Secretariat are considering how best to do this right now.

Question:  [inaudible]

Spokesperson:  Part of what’s being discussed.  Yes.  Okay.  I am going to take, first of all, Dr. Abbadi.  Then Fox.  Okay.  And then I’m handing over to Jean-Victor, who is extremely patient.

Question:  There are important developments in the Middle East even though they are behind the scene.  Is the Quartet planning any meeting anytime soon?  Will there be a meeting during the Summit Conference in London at the end of this month?

Spokesperson:  Dr. Abbadi, I think that you heard what the Secretary-General said yesterday and I don’t need to repeat it.  Thank you.

Question:  In what Edie’s been talking about, and Matthew, vis-à-vis Sri Lanka, can you again just reiterate what the Secretary-General’s position is on this and how much he intends to at least bring the issue to a level that, if the issue does run into a dead end with the Human Rights Council, that at least it will get some traction somewhere?

Spokesperson:  As I said, the view is, the Secretary-General’s view is, that a full and impartial investigation into allegations of human rights abuses is critical, if we are to confront impunity and bring perpetrators of such violations to justice.  And the UN stands ready to assist the Government in this respect.  What I also said was that the Secretary-General has noted that the High Commissioner for Human Rights has repeatedly called for an impartial investigation, and what I’ve also told you is that the Secretary-General has informed the Government of Sri Lanka that he is considering the appointment of a Commission of Experts to advise him further and to assist the Government in taking measures to address possible violations of international human rights and humanitarian law.  So, there are a couple of strands there.  That’s quite specific.  I hear what you’re saying about the chronology, the time scale, and I will see if I can get some more for you on that.

Question:  You mentioned there’s a retreat.

Spokesperson:  I did.

Question:  Can you give a little more detail?  Where is that?  Who’s coming? And why… you said it was about coordination.  But can you be a little bit more specific…

Spokesperson:  I know that it’s 14 regional organizations.  It includes NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization), the African Union, the OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe), other international regional organizations.  And it’s about finding ways to cooperate and coordinate activities in an even more effective way.  It’s taking place outside of New York City.

Question:  What were the dates and the location?

Spokesperson:  It starts on Monday, the 11th.  As you know, that’s a pretty packed programme already in the first half of the day, with the Secretary-General speaking to the General Assembly, speaking to you at a stakeout, and holding a town hall meeting.  I’ve told you this before.  And then in the afternoon, he will be departing to join those leaders, heads of regional organizations.  And it’s a two-day retreat, so therefore it continues until Tuesday.  And, as you also heard me say, there’ll be a separate Security Council session that looks at this on Wednesday.  And there’s a fact sheet, which I also mentioned, that has a lot more detail on this, which you can pick up from my office.

Question:  This strikes me as a fairly significant meeting.  How come it’s sort of been kept out of our view?

Spokesperson:  This has not been kept out of anything.  I’m telling about it.

Question:  Yes, but I mean look at today’s date.  It’s pretty late, you know planning, and it’s quite a curious event.  I’m just curious:  Why today?  Why not [inaudible] something that is pretty significant…

Spokesperson:  Today, because all the bits of the jigsaw puzzle need to be in place.  Those bits are now in place and I’m telling you about it.

Question:  Are we allowed to cover it?

Spokesperson:  Yes, you are allowed to cover the event, not at the venue, as I understand it.  However, what…

Question:  It’s a little hard to cover an event if you’re not at the venue.

Spokesperson:  Perhaps you could let me finish, okay?  It helps sometimes.  What I wanted to say is that we stand ready to help you, because, as you say, it’s a pretty significant event and we’ve been working behind the scenes -- those are the jigsaw puzzle pieces we’ve been waiting to get into place -- to help you to cover it the best way possible under the circumstances we have.  How we’re doing that in a concrete way:  you tell us which leaders -- and take a look at the fact sheet to see who’s coming -- which leaders you would like to try to hook up with.  We will try to help you to hook up with them. 

When those who are returning to take part in this meeting at the United Nations Headquarters on the 13th are here, we will be able to arrange something here, of course, so that you can get a read out from the retreat and from this Security Council session.  I can assure you that we have been working really hard to try to make it happen; not least because I previously worked for one of those regional organizations, I understand the significance of the event.  And we understand the significance of the event.

Question:  Did I hear well when you said this regional gathering is about coordinating security?

Spokesperson:  It’s about how regional organizations work in different areas of security.  Take counter-terrorism, for example.  There are different regional organizations working on this in different ways.  It makes sense to talk and to figure out how best to do this in an efficient way.  This is what it’s about. 

Question:  [inaudible] Security Council participating in this meeting?

Spokesperson:  As I said, it’s the head of 14 regional and other organizations.

Question:  Could you just repeat [inaudible], over here we can ask questions and cover it, but we cannot go there and cover it. 

Spokesperson:  A retreat…

Question:  Is this Long Island or is it New Jersey?

Spokesperson:  Outside New York City.  And a retreat does what it says on the tin, right?  But, as I also said to you, we’re working very hard to make people available for you.  I’m going to take Matthew and then I think we need to hand over to Jean-Victor.

Question:  Thank you, it’s something I tried to ask yesterday.  The President of Serbia, Boris Tadic, has said that he has made a request through the appropriate international institutions to visit Kosovo, and he also has said, “We cannot have a stable region if we cannot move freely, therefore I believe that the international institutions will react positively to my request.”  I wonder, factually, if the UN is one of these institutions, but whether it is or not, whether the UN, given its role in Kosovo and the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), whether they believe that the President of Serbia should be able to visit Kosovo, and are they reacting positively to this?

Also, I want to put in one request about the new building -- request or question.  Thus far, it seems like there’s no wireless there and I know there’s going to be a town hall meeting on the 11th and there’s talk of setting up a stakeout for people to visit the Secretary-General.  I know that you’re not in charge of installing wireless, but I wonder if, given the importance of that to actually providing coverage of the Secretary-General, can you find out when it will be, or that it will be before the 11th?

Spokesperson:  I always carry a dongle with me, okay, so no problem.  But listen, on that part, I think you heard Angela Kane saying that they’re working on the wireless routers this morning -- here, that’s right -- and if there were other difficulties, that they would be addressed.  So, my colleagues are listening right now and we’ll figure that out.  And you’re right that it doesn’t fall into my job description, but we’ll certainly try to find out.

On President Tadic and his travel plans, we haven’t received any notification about that and I don’t have anything to say about the other part of the question.  Thanks very much.  I think we need to hand over to Jean-Victor.  Thank you very much.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

Thank you very much.  Good Afternoon.  I have two items for you today.  The first one regards the meeting with the President of the Security Council for the month of January 2010.  This morning, President Treki met with met with his Excellency Mr. Zhang Yesui, Permanent Representative of China, who is the President of the Security Council for the current month.

The President of the General Assembly and the President of the Security Council exchanged views on a number of important issues on the agenda of the two bodies.  They discussed, in particular, the peace and security situation in Africa, the Middle East, and other regions, and the envisaged extension of several peacekeeping mandates during the current month.  The President of the Security Council also informed about the scheduled debate on cooperation between the United Nations and regional organizations on 13 January.  The two Presidents agreed on the importance of the role of regional organizations in addressing situations of peace and security.  The President of the Security Council noted the importance of transparency in the work of the Council, in which regard the Council President was also going to brief the non-Council Members on the Council’s programme of work.  The two Presidents underlined the importance of further strengthening the coordination and cooperation between the two principal organs.

The President of the General Assembly holds regular meetings with the presidents of the principal organs of the United Nations, as provided for in the relevant resolutions of the General Assembly, to ensure enhanced cooperation and coordination in their work programmes in accordance with their respective responsibilities under the Charter.

The second item is on the travel of the President of the General Assembly.  President Treki will travel outside of New York today.  He will visit Libya and subsequently the United Kingdom.  Dr. Treki will meet in London on 20 January with Foreign Secretary David Miliband; the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Baroness Kinnock, among other officials.  Questions?

Question:  The Under-Secretary-General for Management, sitting over there a few minutes ago, described the work of the last session of the General Assembly as constructive.  Could you elaborate a little bit on that?

Spokesperson:  I don’t think I can really add anything to what Under-Secretary-General Kane said.  I think it is the opinion of the President of the General Assembly that indeed the work of the various Committees and the work of the General Assembly were very constructive.  President Treki was personally very deeply involved in securing a deal, mainly on the question of the adoption of the UN budget for the next biennium.  Yes, Matthew.

Question:  It was said here yesterday… that one reason that the Secretariat has not responded positively for a request by the Government for an entity in Sri Lanka for election observers is that this would require a General Assembly vote and time would not permit it.  Could the General Assembly, even at this time in January, if a request were made by the Secretariat to put something on its agenda… could a vote be taken between now and 26 January?  Just logistically?

Spokesperson:  It is not only a logistical question.  It could also be a technical and procedural one.  I think I will check that with the relevant committee and with our office and will come back to you with some type of specific response on that.

Question:  And also, Ms. Angela Kane, she said this Office of the Special Advisor on Africa, which is something that the General Assembly… had said should be filled.  That it’s not being filled… there are funds… but it’s not being filled.  Dr. Treki… does he have a view on whether the post should be filled… given that the Assembly voted to that effect.

Spokesperson:  I really do not have anything to add, besides saying the General Assembly resolutions on that subject, and any other subject, stand on their own.  Many resolutions are adopted by the General Assembly.  The President will continue to seek consensus and to ensure that the work and the mandate of the Assembly is implemented.

Question:  Once something is passed, does he have some role in using his bully pulpit to make sure it’s actually implemented?

Spokesperson:  He has a role as the President of the General Assembly, which is first and foremost the principal policy formulation organ in the United Nations.  The Secretary-General, really, is the one who is the chief executive, if I may say.  His role is very specific and, in this regard, very, very clear and outlined in the Charter.

Question:  Whether the agenda of the Assembly is being properly reviewed, and perhaps some anachronistic discussion, debate items might be dropped… Where does that stand… a review of the agenda itself?

Spokesperson:  There are so many items on the agenda of the General Assembly.  There are so many Committees.  I would beg you to have a very specific question…

Question:  [inaudible] there’s somebody actually looking at this monster schedule and figuring out whether there might be some dead wood in there and…

Spokesperson:  Well, the President of the General Assembly constantly discusses the work of the General Assembly and the items of the agenda with the various bodies, the chairs of the Committees, and all the facilitators.  This is continuously reviewed.  Once the agenda has been set, all efforts are made so that there is a full process on all that.  I don’t know of any across-the board review right now on specific items.  I can go back and check.

Question:  But is there opportunity to change?

Spokesperson:  That happens in committees.  We really have to check from one committee to another.  The situations are different depending on items, time frame, availability of time.  But, we can check this with the Department of General Assembly Affairs.  It’s really very technical.  We can also discuss this also outside of this forum, if you so wish.  It’s a very technical issue.

Question:  Does the President have any reaction to the important developments in Guinea?

Spokesperson:  Not that I know of.  I can definitely ask.  He has made a statement before concerning what happened on 28 September.  These statements are available online.

Question:  Given that the good offices to Myanmar is both a Secretary-General measure and also under a General Assembly resolution.  So, Mr. Gambari was operating under sort of two mandates… when he would return he would brief the Assembly before his meeting with the Secretary-General.  Did the Secretary-General check with the General Assembly, i.e. Dr. Treki, before appointing Vijay Nambiar as the replacement, for now, of Mr. Gambari?  And does the General Assembly, and the General Assembly President, have some type of say in who is going to fill this… replacement?

Spokesperson:  With some very specific exceptions, staffing matters at the Secretariat are questions that have to be put to the Secretariat, even if the President of the General Assembly happens to be consulted.  He sometimes is.  He sometimes is not.  Staffing matters, appointments, replacements and so on are Secretariat matters.

Question:  In this specific case… called the Good Offices Role of the General Assembly… there’s a General Assembly resolution saying that a person should be appointed.  I’m just wondering if this is one of the few cases where the General Assembly is supposed to have some input into the selection of a person.

Spokesperson:  I don’t think it is.  I don’t think it is.  It is not.

Question:  Can we find factually if the Secretary-General checked, in this case, whether he was required to or not, with the President of the General Assembly, about the replacement for Mr. Gambari?

Question:  I’ll definitely check that.  Yes.  Thank you and have a good afternoon.

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