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

8 January 2010

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

8 January 2010
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.


The Secretary-General is now at a round-table meeting with heads of international organizations dealing with disarmament to discuss major challenges, existing gaps and ideas on how to foster greater understanding and cooperation towards the common goal of a world free of weapons of mass destruction.

The Secretary-General will highlight major events ahead, including the upcoming session of the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva this month, the Global Zero Summit in Paris, and the Munich Security Conference, as well as April’s Summit on Nuclear Security in Washington.  And that’s followed by the NPT [Non Proliferation Treaty] Review Conference in May.

The Secretary-General reiterates his commitment that disarmament and non-proliferation will continue to be a top priority, and that he will continue to build support for his Action Plan for nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, as well as the universality of the relevant treaties and conventions.

**Secretary-General at Ribbon Cutting

The Secretary-General will formally open our new Temporary North Lawn Building on Monday, when he cuts a ceremonial ribbon at an event at 9:30 a.m.  He’ll speak at the occasion, along with officials representing the General Assembly and the host country.  And media interested in covering the event will need to gather at the building at 9 o’clock on Monday morning.  So please be in touch with the Media Accreditation and Liaison Unit for the necessary arrangements.

The Secretary-General will also attend key events in the new building on Monday, including a Town Hall meeting with UN staff at 10:30 a.m., and an informal briefing to General Assembly Member States an hour later.  At that briefing, he intends to lay out his priorities for the coming year.  And following that, the Secretary-General will appear at a press stakeout, at roughly 12:30 p.m., to talk to you about his priorities for 2010 and to take a few questions.  That will happen right near the location of the morning ribbon-cutting ceremony.

**The Week Ahead at the United Nations

Just a few items from the Week Ahead list, which we will be distributing as usual.  Just a few items from that.  On Monday, as I‘ve already mentioned to you, the Secretary-General will be holding a retreat with the heads of regional and other organizations.  And that starts on Monday afternoon and runs through until the next day.

On Tuesday, the Security Council will hear a briefing and hold consultations on the United Nations Office for West Africa (UNOWA).  And on Wednesday, the Security Council will hold a debate on cooperation between the UN and regional and subregional organizations in maintaining international peace and security.

On the same day, on Wednesday, Major-General Claudio Graziano, the Force Commander of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), will be here as the guest at the noon briefing.

And then on Thursday, on 14 January, John Holmes, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, and Georg Kell, who is the Executive Director of the United Nations Global Compact Office, will be here at the briefing at noon.  And they will be briefing correspondents on the new UN Business Partnership Gateway, which is a one-stop web platform designed to match the needs of the UN with the resources and capacities of the private sector.

And then on Friday, the Security Council will hear a briefing and hold consultations on the United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN).  So that’s what I have for you.

**Questions and Answers

Question: Martin, do you have anything for me on this thing yesterday about the OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] finding that there are more IDPS [internally displaced persons] in Pakistan than ever before?

Spokesperson:  I have not managed to get anything further on that for you.

Question:  Martin, I was just going to ask who from the Secretariat is going to be attending the meeting with the regional organizations going with the Secretary-General.  And you might want to tell Angela Kane that, though she promised that things would be getting warmer, they in fact have gotten colder.

Spokesperson:  Is this in terms of regional security or…

Question:  No.  That’s in terms of temperature.

Spokesperson: Yes.  On that housekeeping, or housewarming… Yes, I had understood that measures had been taken.  Clearly, not yet enough.  So we’ll do something about that.

As for who will be attending that retreat with the Secretary-General, it’s the key Under-Secretaries-General, such as Mr. [Alain] La Roy, such as Mr. [B. Lynn] Pascoe, and other advisers who cover that kind of area.  But certainly it’s a very senior level meeting.

Question:  I haven’t been able to get my mind around this regional cooperation, because ASEAN [Association of South East Asian Nations] and NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization] don’t quite do the same thing. In fact, ASEAN doesn’t do too much of what the AU [African Union] does and so forth.  And I’m not quite sure, except to say, we have to have another little structure at the UN to communicate, where is this heading?  Probably someone has put a lot more thought into it than I have.

Spokesperson:  Well, I know you’ve put a lot of thought into many things, but certainly here for this meeting I do know that the intention is to look in a fresh way at how regional organizations can cooperate.  You’re quite right that some of them are doing rather different things in their respective areas.  But most of them do deal with topics that complement or overlap.  And so it’s really vital for them to talk together, to look at how they can work in a more effective way.  I know that is certainly the case, for example, with the OSCE [Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe] and the way it works in collaboration with the UN on topics like human trafficking, on counter-terrorism.  I mentioned that the other day.  So it’s trying to ensure that you don’t have duplication.  That you have either a multiplier effect or you have people working in concert.  So that’s one part of it.

And yes, some of the organizations have rather different roles.  But they do represent large constituencies around the world of different kinds, whether it’s the League of Arab States or the African Union.  It makes sense to bring them together in this way.

And as for finding out more about it, we would hope that, as I was suggesting yesterday, we’re trying to find a way for you to be briefed on this -- to have a read-out of what’s happened at that retreat.  And we’re working on trying to have that on Wednesday.

Question:  What do they plan or what do they want to achieve?  Do they know?

Spokesperson:  There was a detailed fact sheet that we put out yesterday, that gives quite a lot of information there.  But the key thing is to bring together the top people who are running these organizations, the leaders of these organizations, bring them together in one place, off-site, where they can speak freely, with a small number of senior advisors from the UN, and the idea is to try… it’s not about coming out with something specific, an action plan or something immediately.  But the idea is to sit together and to try to figure out how you can work in a more efficient way and how can you address some of the new challenges that have been emerging in recent years, and, indeed, in recent months.

But as I say, I think you would be able to get quite a good read-out right after, on Wednesday.  And we’re working to make that happen.

Question:  UNIFIL [United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon] peacekeepers have recently found explosive devices near the Israeli border in South Lebanon.  And the Israeli Ambassador [Gabriela] Shalev has been quoted as saying that they were planted by Hezbollah from Lebanon.  Has the Secretary-General made any remarks to the findings or to the Ambassador’s remarks?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think we already announced that, on 26 December, some time ago, that a UNIFIL patrol observed suspicious movement of about five people in an isolated area at some distance from the patrol.  As that patrol approached the location where these people were, the people scattered and fled the area.

But at that location, the UNIFIL peacekeepers found suspicious material and it was subsequently determined to be a significant quantity of explosives.  And of course, the Lebanese Armed Forces were notified immediately, and they came to the location as well.  And joint search operations were carried out.  UNIFIL, in close coordination with the Lebanese Armed Forces, launched an investigation to identify the precise nature of the explosives and the circumstances in which they were found in this location.  And that investigation is still going on. And so we need to wait for the findings of that investigation before we can make any final assessment and conclusion.  So the investigation continues.

Question:  I have a couple of questions.  One is that in South Sudan, there were these reports of up to 130, mostly Dinka people, being killed in Warab State.  UNMIS [the UN Mission in Sudan], they have peacekeepers, and one of their mandates is to protect civilians.  How can it be that for several days they didn’t know about this killing, and what are they going to do in the future to try to have a better presence in this part of South Sudan?

Spokesperson:  Well the UN is, of course, aware of these reports.  The United Nations is aware of these reports that more than 139 people were killed and 91 wounded and 30,000 head of cattle looted, taken away.  The UN Mission has dispatched a long-range patrol.  And I would emphasize the bit about long-range, which answers your question, I think.  And that would be to serve two aims:  one is to get to the affected area, which is remote, and to prepare for the arrival of humanitarian assessment teams.

And the second aspect would be to establish a presence there that would help to defuse tensions and reduce the chances of reprisal attacks.  So, also the Force Commander has authorised additional troops to conduct short-range patrols in the region as a deterrent against potential clashes.

Question:  Yesterday, you said, in the discussion of the Philip Alston report, you’d said that the Secretary-General had conveyed to the Government of Sri Lanka that he’s considering appointing a Commission of Experts.  I asked you when and you said you’d find out.  Somebody over on the third floor told me that this is actually an old request, that this not a new request.  Are they wrong? When was the request made?  When was the communication to the Government that you are referring to made?

Spokesperson:  Yes, we did follow up.  This was a letter from the Secretary-General that went to the Sri Lankan Government in September and it was given to the Government of Sri Lanka when Under-Secretary-General [B. Lynn] Pascoe visited.  So that was in September.  I also mentioned yesterday that the reason I was mentioning it at that point was that I was being asked about the Alston findings and what the Secretary-General would be doing in this area.  So that’s why I mentioned it.  Also, people asked me, “Well, where are we right now?”  I said then, and I can repeat, it’s receiving detailed consideration in the Secretariat.  But the letter was handed over in September.

Question:  I just want to be clear.  If he said in September that he’s considering doing it, and its now, whatever, three or four months later, some would say that that means that it was being considered, then it didn’t happen.  How long can consideration be considered active without actually resulting in anything?

Spokesperson: Well, part of it is that this was a letter given to the Government of Sri Lanka and the Government of Sri Lanka will have been considering the letter, and that’s a factor.

Question:  And the last thing on this; the Sri Lankans have said, since yesterday’s press conference by Philip Alston, that they totally reject his report; that he breached protocol by doing it and not speaking to them first, so they’ve certainly not indicated that they’re going to begin any investigation of it.  So I wonder whether the Secretariat has noted that and whether it makes it more likely that they will provide their own Commission of Experts or they have any reaction to Sri Lanka’s complaint against the UN breach in protocol?

Spokesperson:  Well, hang on a minute.  I think that the Sri Lankan Government did not say that the UN had breached protocol.

Question:  You’re right, they said that the Special Rapporteur…

Spokesperson:  The headline is wrong.  This was talking about Philip Alston’s inquiry.  As you know, he’s a Special Rapporteur.  He doesn’t report to the Secretary-General; he’s not appointed by the Secretary-General.  As you will have seen, the spokesperson for Navi Pillay, Rupert Colville, has said quite clearly in Geneva today that if the Sri Lankan Government has nothing to hide, and says it has nothing to hide, then it would have nothing to fear from an investigation.  That’s what has been said by the human rights folks in Geneva.  As I said yesterday, it’s imperative that there is an impartial investigation into these allegations of human rights violations if you’re going to confront impunity and bring these perpetrators to justice.  Okay, yes?

Question:  I just wanted to see if you have a read out of the meeting of the Secretary-General with the new director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)?

Spokesperson:  The short answer is no, not yet, because that meeting was going on as I came here, firstly.  Secondly, they have then gone and joined the heads of the other disarmament agencies for the meeting I referred to at the beginning of the briefing.  We are going to try to get a read out of the bilateral meeting between the Secretary-General and the new Director-General, Yukiya Amano of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Question:  Just to follow up.  Was this just an introduction meeting or did they have an agenda?  What were the expectations of this meeting?

Spokesperson:  I think that you’ve answered your own question.  It was an introductory meeting.  I think you can imagine what was on the agenda and we’ll try to get a read out for you.

Question:  Martin, can we get a copy of the Secretary-General’s remarks to the meeting that you referred to early on?  And secondly, on the meeting with the regional organizations, you said yesterday that the focus was primarily on security.  But what you were saying today seemed to me to be broader issues as well. 

Spokesperson:  Look, as I said yesterday, it’s about peace and security.  That’s the usual, general, if you like, umbrella description.  And I honed in on the idea that regional security is vital for global security, and that’s why you need to bring these players together.  The other point is that the various other aspects I mentioned, human trafficking, for example, that is part of building security as well, in a broad definition, of course.  But we’ll try to get a good read out for you.  As for the remarks on the disarmament meeting, I believe that they are going to be circulated.

Question:  On this lawn, going toward the new building, what I saw looked like a very beautiful menorah-like structure, carved out of shrubs and stuff.  Beautiful.  My question is, is this a new kind of exercise?  Will there be a cross?  Will there be a crescent?  Why is this menorah ‑‑ as soon as you walk up you see it on your left hand ‑‑ a menorah-like structure made, carved out of these shrubs and stuff?  As soon as you get out, going towards the new building, on your left hand you’ll see this menorah.

Spokesperson:  You’re more observant than I am.  I would need to take a look. 

Question:  It’s like it’s been carved out, and it has a beautifully formed structure.  I thought that the gardeners are doing some sort of exercise.

Spokesperson:  It’s news to me.  I’ll take a look.

Question:  Maybe there’ll be a cross, and there’ll be a crescent, and… [laughter and simultaneous discussion]  I mean you can see it.  Unless they’ve taken it down, it’s still there.  [He was later informed that the plant was not a menorah.]

Spokesperson:  Maybe it’s just the light, but it’s feeling warmer in here.  [laughter]  Maybe it’s just the questions. 

Question:  Change the lights also.  They haven’t done that.  [laughter]

Question:  It’s about the Quartet.  It’s really a financial… Or it’s in the United Kingdom Parliament.  It emerged recently that the United Kingdom, through its DFID [Department for International Development] Agency, says that it made a contribution of £400,000 in 2008-09 to the Office of the Quartet representative, i.e. Tony Blair.  They also contributed four staff members and they say that there are other international donors to that.  I wanted to know two things:  first, I wanted to know, is it possible, since, given the Secretary-General’s role in the Quartet and that Tony Blair is, in some sense, a UN or UN-supported official ‑‑ his office is administered by the UN, let’s put it that way ‑‑ whether there’s some way to know what other donors there were?  And how the money was used?  And I also wanted to know, given his UN connection:  it’s been reported that one of the firms that pays him ‑‑ it’s called [inaudible] -- pays him £1 million a year, and is now in line to develop oil fields in Iraq.  Some are saying that this may be a conflict between his UN/Quartet role and being paid by a company that stands to make money in Iraq.  Does the UN have any view on whether this would be a conflict of interest?  And what safeguards are in place to make sure that Mr. Blair is able to keep those two functions separate?

Spokesperson:  Well, on some of the things that are directed specifically at Mr. Blair, I think that he speaks for himself.  As to the connections that you are referring to, or drawing, I’d have to get guidance on that.  I don’t have anything for you on that.

Question:  Just to clarify then -- the office, it is a UN office?  All of his expenses are paid through the UN, so that’s why I raised the question to you.

Spokesperson:  As I say, I need to get guidance on that particular part.  As for anything that is referring to business interests, or otherwise, to do with Tony Blair, he can speak for himself on that.  [The correspondent was later informed that Tony Blair is not a UN staff member.]

Question:  Can you also… on Ms. Kane, there were a number of questions that were left, not the lights, that were left unanswered by Ms. Kane substantively.  One was, still, the [Ibrahim] Gambari question.  There were also discipline questions that she said she’d get back on.  There was one about Bob Orr’s Assistant Secretary-General (ASG) post:  whether the post exists, or, as I’ve now been pretty much told, whether the funding is put together from various vacancies and temporary contracts.  I’d just like a description of how the ASG for Policy position, whether it’s ever been approved by the General Assembly, and if not, how it’s currently funded?

Spokesperson:  Well, on the “Gambari question” -- sounds a bit like a movie from the 1960s! ‑‑ this was answered quite clearly yesterday in response to questions from James Bone; answered quite clearly, I think.  And on the other items, we’ll have to go back and get the answers, if you haven’t had them to your satisfaction.

Question:  I understand that she said it was her position that whatever the funding situation is, it didn’t play any role in his transfer to Darfur.  But I don’t think she stated clearly how much of his salary came from Iraq as opposed to Myanmar.

Spokesperson:  I think that this was quite clearly spelled out yesterday, as I recall, in some detail.  And notes were being passed backwards and forwards on the exact arrangements, as you’ll recall.

Question:  I think the notes were being passed to the UN officials and to the speaker but --

Spokesperson:  And being read out.  I was sitting here and watched them being read out.

Question:  But the Orr thing, I would really appreciate it.  If we can get the same answer on Orr ‑‑ not on Mr. Orr personally, but the ASG for Policy ‑‑ whether the position exists and how it’s funded or put together, would be helpful.

Spokesperson:  Okay, alright.

Question:  Maybe this question already came out.  But I wanted to ask you about today’s meeting with the Director-General of the IAEA. 

Spokesperson:  It did come up.

Question:  It did?  I’m sorry I was late, I was waiting for him.  So, I was just wondering if there will be a read out, and…?

Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, it’s not a problem if you’re a late comer, you can’t be expected to have heard what was going on in the meantime.  The fact of the matter is that the meeting has only just taken place.  And they’re now, the two of them, meeting together with the heads of the other disarmament agencies, as you know, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), and the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO)preparatory commission.  So, we do not yet have a read out; we’re trying to get one.

[He later issued the following read out:  The Secretary-General met this morning with the heads of the International Organizations, which include the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization and the Conference on Disarmament.

This meeting was initiated by the Secretary-General to encourage the activities and achievements of the international organizations dealing with disarmament as the global disarmament and non-proliferation regime stands at a critical juncture.  The participants appreciated the leadership of the Secretary-General for his initiative and expressed their hope for his continued strong engagement to advance this important agenda.

The participants stressed the need for renewed multilateralism in dealing with a breadth of challenges facing disarmament and non-proliferation regimes related to nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction.  In this spirit, they exchanged views on the major challenges, existing gaps and how to bridge them, ideas on how they can foster greater understanding, cooperation and joint work.  Mindful of discreet mandates of different international organizations, the participants affirmed their commitment to building partnership in the course of coping with global challenges.

The participants confirmed their strong commitment to building on the momentum which has been created in recent months.  In particular, they emphasized the importance of the upcoming NPT Review Conference in May this year.

The Secretary-General highly appreciated the valuable work of the international organizations to achieve the common objective, which is a world free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction.  In this regard, he expressed his commitment to doing his utmost in that regard.]

Question:  Will there also be representatives of the sanctions committee dealing with disarmament, the various sanctions committees that there are?

Spokesperson:  Where?

Question:  In this meeting.

Spokesperson:  With the disarmament agencies?

Question:  Yes.

Spokesperson:  Not to my knowledge.  But, I can check.  What you will have, and I mentioned it a little while ago, that the Secretary-General’s remarks will be circulated, as I understand it quite shortly.

Okay.  Any other questions?  If not, okay, so have a good weekend, and we’ll try to warm it up a bit over the weekend.  Okay, thank you.

* *** *

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