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

14 April 2010

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

14 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

Hi.  Good afternoon, everybody.

**Maternal Health

The Secretary-General is announcing today the development of a Joint Action Plan for accelerating progress on maternal and newborn health. The Joint Action Plan will bring together Governments, foundations, the corporate sector, civil society and UN agencies in a targeted effort to improve the health of women and children. Tomorrow, the Secretary-General will convene a meeting of key partners to develop a series of concrete actions to advance that Plan.

At 3:00 this afternoon, there will be a press conference in this room by the Secretary-General to kick off this global initiative on reproductive, maternal and newborn health. Participants include President Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete of Tanzania; Vice President Boediono of Indonesia; Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg of Norway; Beverly J. Oda, Canada’s Minister for International Cooperation; and Margaret Chan, the Director General of the World Health Organization. We also have a press release in my office with more details on this.

**Security Council

As you will have seen, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs B. Lynn Pascoe briefed the Security Council this morning on the situation on the ground in the Middle East, which he says remains fragile. He says that a crisis of confidence between the parties has so far prevented the resumption of talks. 

Pascoe said that the Israeli Government’s partial restraint on settlement construction in the West Bank remains in effect and, as previously noted, has led to a reduction in construction activity despite some violations.  At the same time, he said that an Israeli military order that gives the military commander the power to evict a broad category of individuals that the Israeli authorities deem are not residents of the West Bank, which went into effect yesterday, was a worrisome development.  Special Coordinator Robert Serry raised the issue with the Israeli authorities and his office will continue to monitor this development closely.

Pascoe also noted the progress that is now being made on the entry of materials for a number of approved United Nations projects since the Secretary-General’s visit to Gaza on 21 March.  We have his remarks, and the open debate on the Middle East is continuing.

**Commission of Inquiry

The Commission of Inquiry that was formed to determine the facts in the 2007 assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto will formally present the report on its work to the Secretary-General tomorrow afternoon, at 4:30 p.m.

The Secretary-General, as you are aware, then intends to transmit it to the Government of Pakistan, and he will also share it, for information purposes, with the members of the Security Council.

Then, at 5:30 p.m. tomorrow, in this room, Ambassador Heraldo Muñoz of Chile, the Chair of the Commission, and one of the other Commission members, Marzuki Darusman of Indonesia, will give a press conference to provide details of the report.  We expect that the Commission will make copies of the report available at that time.

** India

An interesting press release from the United Nations University. Far more people in India have access to a cell phone than to a toilet and improved sanitation. That is according to UN experts, who today have published a nine-point prescription for achieving the world’s Millennium Development Goal for sanitation by 2015.

Recent UN research in India shows that roughly 366 million people, or 31 percent of the population, had access to improved sanitation in 2008. But India also boasted 545 million cell phones that are connected to service.  And there are more details in this press release from the United Nations University.

**Press Conferences Tomorrow

Tomorrow at 11 a.m., the Permanent Representative of Barbados, Ambassador Christopher Hackett, will hold a press conference here.

At 1 p.m., the Deputy Secretary-General will hold a press conference to brief journalists on her recent trip to Haiti.

At 5:30 p.m., as I mentioned, there will be a press conference by the Bhutto Commission of Inquiry.

After this briefing with me, Jean Victor Nkolo will be here to brief you on matters relating to the General Assembly.  So, questions please.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Is there a chance of getting an embargoed copy of the report in advance of the press conference?

Spokesperson:  I would say the chances are almost zero. Even the Secretary-General is not getting an embargoed copy.  He will get it at 4:30, and you will get it during that press conference.

Question:  That is fine.  That is fine.

Spokesperson:  Nice try.

Question:  Martin, do we have any response on the President of Iran’s letter to the Secretary-General?

Spokesperson:  You have asked me that.  This is the third day running that I have been asked the same question, and you can keep on asking.  The Secretary-General has received a letter and he is considering it.

Question:  Does that mean we will not get any answer on that?

Spokesperson:  No, it means what it says -- he is considering it.

Question:  As a follow up, has he received this other letter that was sent from the Mission last night?

Spokesperson:  What other letter?

Question:  Calling the NPR [nuclear posture review] nuclear blackmail.  I believe it was sent to the GA President and the Security Council President as well.

Spokesperson:  To my knowledge, there is one letter that has been received.  Maybe another letter is in transit, but to my knowledge we have the one letter which we have been discussing for the last three days.

Question:  This one is from the UN Mission; from the Iranian Mission.

Spokesperson:  Let me find out.  But, as I say, we have so far one letter that I am aware of.  Yes, other questions?

Question:  Two questions -- Afghanistan and then Sudan.  In Afghanistan, there are these reports that Chris Alexander, when he was the Deputy SRSG [Special Representative of the Secretary-General] in Afghanistan, raised to Canadian authorities that he thought that the Governor of Kandahar, Mr. Asadullah Khalid, was involved not only in human rights violations but was actually responsible for a bombing that killed five UN personnel.  I am wondering if you can…this has now been reported, based on Canadian documents.  Can you say whether, within the UN system, particularly Mr. Alexander when he was a UN official, believed that a sitting Governor of Kandahar was responsible for the death of UN staff?

Spokesperson:  Not here and now.  I would need to find out, but thank you for bringing it to my attention.

Question:  And there is actually, for whatever reason, a separate situation in Afghanistan.  The attack on the guest house has raised -- and I believe this video is on Der Spiegel in Germany -- that a UN security officer, Louis Maxwell, was in fact killed by Afghan authorities, not by Taliban and not by the attackers.  And, in fact, three other UN staff were killed by gunfire from Afghan security officials.  It said that this has been raised within the UN as a serious problem and that the allegation among UN staff is that the Secretary-General has refused to raise it to Afghan authorities and is hoping somehow that it either will go away or that the United States, whose citizen Mr. Maxwell is, will somehow handle it.  One, are you aware of these concerns that have come about the guest house attack?   And what is the Secretary-General going to do in light of these concerns that have been raised?

Spokesperson:  Well, a couple of things.  First of all, the video that you mentioned is with the FBI.  And the second point is that the Afghan authorities took some steps in the wake of the incident, but we are not privy to the outcome of their inquiry. The United Nations, contrary to what you are saying, has been in contact with the responsible Afghan authorities in the course of its inquiries.

Question:  At what point did the UN become aware that the characterisation of the events that were made here in front of the Security Council and elsewhere were in fact probably not the case in terms of the death of the UN staff?

Spokesperson:  I do not know the exact chronology of this, Matthew.  All that I can tell you is that there are two elements.  One is that the video that you are referring to that was publicly available -- I do not know if it still is on a German magazine’s website -- that video is with the FBI.  And, as I say, the UN has been in touch with the Afghan authorities on the investigation that they have been carrying out.  As for the chronology, I do not have any information on that.

Question:  The reason I ask about the chronology is, I am just wondering if you think it is appropriate, once the UN became aware that four of the five may have actually been caused by Afghan authorities and not by Taliban, was there some duty to somehow say this?  Or should it rely on a leaked video by German diplomats?

Spokesperson:  If there is an investigation going on, then we need to hear what the result of the Afghan authorities’ investigation is.  So far, we are not yet privy to the outcome of that inquiry.  So I think we would need to wait for that.  And as I say, we have been in touch with them about it.  Okay. Yes.

[The Spokesperson later added:  The United Nations has followed due process in investigating the death of staff in Afghanistan last October by instituting a Board of Inquiry after an initial fact-finding by staff in Kabul and New York. The United Nations has been in contact with the responsible Afghan authorities in the course of its inquiries. The Board will submit its report in due course. Further actions by the United Nations will depend on its findings. The specific circumstances in which Louis Maxwell died are currently being investigated and it would be premature to comment further at this stage. The United Nations is also cooperating with the Federal Bureau of Investigation in its inquiries into the incident. The United Nations has briefed the Maxwell family on the progress of its initial inquiries and is determined to support the family.]

Question:  When is the Secretary-General going to Myanmar, and who is he going to meet and what is he going to discuss?

Spokesperson:  We have said repeatedly that, if there is to be a visit, it would need to be well organized and it would need to be carried out in such a way that we ensure that it is a worthwhile undertaking.  I do not have any details yet on precisely when or if the Chef de Cabinet will go to Myanmar.  If and when we can announce it, we will do that.  The priority is to ensure that any visit that does take place is something that is going to be a worthwhile undertaking.

Question:  I have a question about a meeting of donors held to raise funds for Pakistan IDPs [internally displaced persons] by the UN Envoy for Pakistan, [Jean-Maurice] Ripert.  We had no hint of it at the briefing yesterday.  Was it an unscheduled meeting?

Spokesperson:  I seem to recall, the day before that, mentioning that the Resident Coordinator had said that there was a dire need to raise more funds and that some programmes, because of the lack of funding, were having to be closed down.

Question:  That was in Islamabad.  This briefing took place at UN Headquarters yesterday.  This meeting of donors was held in New York yesterday, and I was saying we had no hint of this meeting.

Spokesperson:  Well, if you did not have a hint, it is because I was not given a hint because I would have no interest in not telling you about it if something was going on.  If we did not know about it, clearly we could not tell you.  Let me find out if there is anything more we can say about that, and we can tell you afterwards or here at a later stage.

Question:  According to media reports, the Secretary-General told Hillary Clinton at the D.C. [Nuclear Security] Summit: “I particularly appreciate your leadership in helping Asian people.”

Spokesperson:  No, he did not.  That is a transcript mistake.  The State Department corrected that. It’s “Haitian” people.

Question:  Oh! Interesting. [laughter] That makes sense.

Spokesperson:  Although, I am sure he is grateful for support for Asian people, too.  But this is about Haitians.  And I think that that was self-evident, because he then talked about the Donors’ Conference.  This was a transcript error and the State Department did change it.

Question:  Sure, Sudan and then a couple of really fast ones, I am sure.  But on Sudan, the Justice and Equality Movement [JEM] has raised concerns about the way in which UNAMID [African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur] and the Joint Mediator [for Darfur], Mr. [Djibril] Bassolé, are selecting IDP representatives for the Doha process.  They are saying, I guess according to them, that the selection is untransparent and is being done in a way that is pro-Government and slated to make things look better than they are in Darfur.  I wanted to know… and you can read it; it is by Ahmed Hussein, the spokesman of JEM.  What I am wondering is what is the UN, UNAMID, and Mr. Bassolé’s criteria for selecting IDP representatives?  And I also wanted to just follow up of yesterday’s -- how do we get questions answered by Mr. Bassolé, including his recruitment of a seeming UN staff member to be a representative in the Doha process?

Spokesperson:  Well, Mr. Bassolé’s office has informed us of the following: Dr. Al-Tijani Al-Sissi [Ateem] is a former employee of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA). He has never been employed by any UN entity headed by the Joint Chief Mediator. He is taking part in the negotiations now in his personal capacity and no longer has any institutional links to the United Nations. The Mediator is aware that Dr. Tijani was a UN staff member and that he has resigned.  That is what I have for you from Mr. Bassolé’s office.

[The Spokesperson later added that UNAMID has taken note of the criticism from JEM and believes that its approach to civil society selection is methodical and well thought out.]

Question:  The reason it would be good to be in touch with that office is that ECA has said that in February of this year, that when he travelled to Doha, he was still an ECA staff member.  He was invited by the Joint Mediator.  So the question really is, in what capacity was he invited?  Was he already invited as a participant in the talks reportedly representing the Fur people, or was he invited as a UN staff member?  And if he was invited as a participant, how does it square with the UN staff rules, because he did not stop getting paid until March?  Who paid for his travel?

Spokesperson:  Matthew, you asked me that question after the briefing yesterday, and you also asked Nick Birnback the same question, and both of us have said we will find out and give you the information.  If I had had it to give to you now, I would have given it to you.  What I have given is what I have.

Question:  Okay, that makes sense.  I really appreciate that.

Spokesperson:  Alright. Okay.  Anything else?

Question:  The CEB [Chief Executive Board] meeting, were you there?

Spokesperson:  For part of it.

Question:  The second day, I wanted to know, I have heard that Mark Malloch Brown, former Deputy Secretary-General, was present.  If it is the case, in what capacity and what is his affiliation with the UN system at present?

Spokesperson:  My understanding is that the CEB, which as you know brings together the heads of the agencies, funds and programmes and key individuals from the Secretariat Headquarters, on that second day there was a decision -- not taken on that day but in advance -- that it would be useful to have an outside view of the way that the UN works.  I am not privy to what exactly was said, but there was a conscious decision to have an outside speaker to brief the CEB members.   I do not have any further details and I was not in the room.  We can find out more.

Question:  Including who invited him and on what topic.

Spokesperson:  As I say, it was a conscious decision not for this to be simply inward looking, but to have some outside input into it.  The details of who made the invitation and so on we can find out very easily. 

Alright.  Okay, Jean Victor.  Thank you.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

Good afternoon.

**Earthquake in China

On the earthquake in China, the President of the General Assembly is deeply saddened by the news of the earthquake that has caused heavy loss of life and damages in China. 

On behalf of Member States and on his own behalf, the President of the General Assembly expresses solidarity with and sends his condolences and prayers to the people and Government of China on this tragedy.

**President’s Travel to the Middle East

On the President’s Travel to the Middle East, today, 14 April 2010, the President of the General Assembly, His Excellency Dr. Ali Abdussalam Treki, met with His Majesty Hamad ibn Isa Al Khalifa, King of Bahrain. The President has concluded his official visits to the region that included the Arab Summit in Sirte, Libya, followed by visits to Syria, Yemen, Kuwait, and Bahrain.

President Treki and the King of Bahrain discussed important issues on the agenda of the General Assembly, including the Middle East. They called for Palestinian reconciliation, underlining its impact on the Palestinian question. They also discussed the follow up to the outcome of the Arab Summit with regard to the Palestinian question.

Dr. Treki invited His Majesty to the upcoming High Level Meeting of the General Assembly on the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals.

President Treki briefed His Majesty on his initiatives at the sixty-fourth session of the General Assembly and the thematic debates scheduled to take place in coming weeks on disarmament, peacekeeping, dialogue among civilizations and the Middle East.

That is what I have for you today.  Questions?  Yes, Matthew.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Sure.  This reported letter by Iran’s says that it was directed to Ali Treki as President of the General Assembly and takes issue with comments by Robert Gates of the U.S. saying that all options are on the table and says that this is inflammatory, nuclear blackmail.  First, I wanted to know whether the Office of the President of the General Assembly has received the letter and also whether Dr. Treki personally is aware of the letter and what he thinks of it?

Spokesperson:  Dr. Treki is concluding his visit to the Middle East.  And if such a letter was received -- which is quite possible; I did check as I was coming to this podium -- the letter will then be made available to Dr. Treki, so that we may have a reaction.  He might also not have a reaction; I am not saying that he is going to react to the letter.  So, let’s give it a bit of time and I promise to come back to you on that tomorrow.  Yes.

Question:  Do you know if the President of the General Assembly has received a request from [the] Arab League to have a plenary meeting regarding the situation in Palestine and the Israeli/Palestinian conflicts?

Spokesperson:  I think, to be pretty accurate, I will advise that you check with the Arab League on any decision that they might have taken on that subject.  As you know, a meeting of the General Assembly is held following a specific request by Member States or regional groups.  So, you may want to check with the Arab League to find out if such a decision has been formalized.  I will also check from our own end to see if such a request has been received.

Question:  According to some reports, [the] Arab League has requested this meeting.

Spokesperson:  We have still to receive in the office such a formal request.  It has to be formalized and sent to us.  We will check and we will come back to you on that, as we are also checking statements that are said to have been made by President Treki after his meeting with President [Bashar al-]Assad in Syria. We are also checking on that.

No further questions? I wish you a good afternoon.  Thank you very much.

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