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

18 May 2010

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

18 May 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.

Good afternoon.  Welcome to the briefing.

** Afghanistan

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, Staffan de Mistura, has condemned in the strongest possible terms the attack in Kabul today, which killed many Afghan civilians, a number of international troops and also injured several dozen Afghan civilians.

De Mistura has offered his condolences to the families of the victims and wishes a speedy recovery to those who were injured.

We have full copies of his statement available from my office.

**Security Council

The Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Robert Serry, has been briefing the Security Council this morning.

In his remarks there, he commended the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli Government for their political courage for going ahead with the proximity talks.  He also noted the situation in Gaza, welcoming initial steps to ease the impact of its closure with the transport of certain materials — but stressed that the current increase is just the start in addressing Gaza’s needs and that much more is needed.  We have copies of his remarks available in my office and, as you know, Mr. Serry is speaking at the Council stakeout around about now.  And we are also told that consultations will resume at 4 p.m. this afternoon.

While on the topic of the Security Council, the head of the Council’s recent mission to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, French Ambassador Gérard Araud, will brief Council members tomorrow on that trip, and it’s expected that he’ll also speak to you at the stakeout area.

**Deputy Secretary-General in Cameroon

Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro is in Yaoundé, Cameroon, today for a two-day visit.  She is attending “New Challenges for Africa”, an international conference focusing on the continent’s development.  The event is being hosted by Cameroon to mark the country’s fiftieth independence anniversary.

In her keynote address today, the Deputy Secretary-General not only praised the continent’s successes but said that, without durable peace, there will be no sustained development.  And without sustained development, Africa will not attain the Millennium Development Goals, nor will it successfully implement the New Partnership for Africa’s Development.  We have copies of her remarks in my office.

**Secretary-General — UNRWA Schoolgirls

And as we speak here, the Secretary-General is meeting with three inventive and resourceful students from an UNRWA school near Nablus in the West Bank.  Aseel Abu Aleil, Aseel Alshaar and Noor Alarada were competing with 1,500 finalists from around the world at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in San Jose, California, last week.

The 14-year-olds picked up an award in applied electronics for inventing an electronic “sensor cane” for the visually impaired.  And what is different about this invention is that, for the first time, it sends an infrared signal downwards as well as forwards.

In case you’re interested, the meeting with the Secretary-General is being covered by UNTV and the UN News Centre, and if you’re interested in speaking with the girls, please get in touch with my Office.

**Secretary-General’s Stakeout Tomorrow

Tomorrow at 10:30 a.m., the Secretary-General, US Permanent Representative Susan Rice, US Secretary of Transportation Ray Lahood and Russian Federation Permanent Representative Vitaly Churkin, along with Jennifer Smith, the President of FocusDriven, will speak to correspondents at the stakeout position on the second floor of the North Lawn Building.  The event will mark the launch of a global effort to end distractions while driving.

And that is what I have for you.  I am happy to take questions.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  As you know, Iran has reached an agreement with Brazil and Turkey on its enrichment of uranium.  Does the Secretary-General have any reaction to that agreement?

Spokesperson:  Well, in addition to what I was able to mention yesterday, the Secretary-General appreciates the diplomatic initiative of President Lula of Brazil and Prime Minister Erdoğan of Turkey on the supply of nuclear fuels for the Teheran research reactor.  Clearly, enhanced transparency and openness is the key to resolving the outstanding concerns on Iran’s nuclear programmes.  And in this regard, the agreement could be a positive step, the Secretary-General says, in building confidence about Iran’s nuclear programmes, if followed by a broader engagement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the international community.

The Secretary-General understands that the International Atomic Energy Agency has received the text of the joint declaration yesterday — that is the declaration that was signed by Iran, Turkey and Brazil in Teheran on 17 May.  The Agency is now expecting a written notification from Iran that it agrees with the relevant provisions included in the declaration.

The Secretary-General is looking forward to an assessment by the International Atomic Energy Agency on the substantive elements of the declaration.  And the Secretary-General would also urge, once again, that Iran comply fully with relevant Security Council resolutions, and provide cooperation to the International Atomic Energy Agency to the fullest extent to resolve all the outstanding concerns over its nuclear programmes.

So that is what I have for you.  Yes, Matthew.

Question:  Sure.  Yesterday there was a statement put out about the UN – let me see how to put it — backing the President of Somalia’s sacking of the Prime Minister of Somalia.  It was put out in your Office that the UN supported the move by the President to fire the Prime Minister.  Now the Prime Minister is saying that that was illegal under the Somali Constitution and that the President had no right to do it.  What I am wondering is [Ahmedou] Ould-Abdallah essentially taking sides in an internal dispute of Somalia, is it something he did based on legal advice from OLA [Office of Legal Affairs]?  Was it his reading — apparently it was — that this was a legal move by the President?  And what does the UN say now that many in Somalia dispute the right of the President to make that move?

Spokesperson:  First of all, Mr. Ould-Abdallah is well briefed — it’s his area of expertise.  As you know, he was here and spoke to you last week.  He will be present at the conference in Istanbul on Somalia this coming weekend, and I am sure at the latest at that meeting there will be a chance to discuss this particular matter.  I do not have any further comments to add to what we have from yesterday.

Question:  In the briefing that he gave with Mr. Pascoe, there was this question of 300 parliamentarians saying that Ould-Abdallah should in fact — that the UN should look into his actions there and should fire him — that is what they called for.  He was the one that responded, and he said that was just a website.  I mean, it’s Associated Press which does have a website.  But I wondered, I’d wished Mr. Pascoe — and I guess I am asking you now on behalf of the Secretariat — what is the Secretariat’s response to a host country — 300 parliamentarians of a host country — saying that the SRSG should not be in the job?  What is the procedure?  I mean, I know that Mr. Pascoe said he is well seasoned or whatever he said, but what is, we often hear that the UN can only do things with the consent of a host country and a host Government, so what is the response to a complaint of the host Government in this case?

Spokesperson:  As far as I know, there is a difference between the Government and Parliament in a country.

Question:  Could it just be the President?  As long as President Sharif… I mean, I am just wondering.

Spokesperson:  I think you know how Parliaments and Governments work.  There is a distinction between the two.  But what is more important here is that Mr. Ould-Abdallah is the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and, therefore, clearly is there doing that job, not in Somalia itself as you know, posted in Somalia, but covering that topic because the Secretary-General wants him to.

Question:  In Somalia, the President yesterday said that he would appoint a new Prime Minister and that would be the leader of the Opposition in Parliament.  That is my first observation.  The second is, the President of the Ivory Coast, Gbagbo, Laurent Gbagbo, has met with opposition leaders — with Alassane Ouattara and Henri [Konan] Bedie.  These are very important announcements.  Does the Secretary-General have any reaction to either one?

Spokesperson:  First of all, on Somalia, I think I have covered most of the ground that I can cover at this point.  Clearly we are watching this very closely.  And also, what is important to note is that the Secretary-General attaches enormous importance to the face of Somalia and the development of Somalia, and that is precisely why he is co-convening this conference which takes place on Saturday in Istanbul.  I think that is what I want to say on that particular score.

On Côte d’Ivoire, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative is obviously involved in that very closely and, as I understand it, there is the possibility for him to say something about that at this point.  But he would need to brief the Secretary-General further before the Secretary-General himself would say something on that.  But it is obviously something that we watch very closely.  Any development that can lead to the holding of elections — which, as you know, have been delayed a number of times — would be an important development.  Okay, thank you.

Question:  Martin, on 2 June there is a huge meeting — some would even call it a summit — of the European Union on security and cooperation in the Western Balkans, which is going to be held in Sarajevo, in Bosnia and Herzegovina.  Now, did the Secretary-General receive an invitation for that?  If he did not, again, the same question:  as he is described as one of the frequent travellers, or the Secretary-General who travels a lot, and has been almost everywhere in the world since he took office, does he have any intention to visit the Western Balkans soon?

Spokesperson:  This particular event — to my knowledge, the Secretary-General will not be taking part in that particular event.  I can’t say at the moment what other travel plans he might have with regard to the Western Balkans.  At the moment, I am not aware of any specific travel plans to that part of the world, but that does not mean that there won’t be in the future.

Question:  If I may just quickly follow up, I would only say that, as he is described from your words, he is closely watching what is going on in the Western Balkans as we can see from his reports on Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina.  I am just saying, did he develop an idea that he should, in the near future, go really to that part of the world?

Spokesperson:  As you know, maybe it is something of a catchphrase, but the Secretary-General needs to watch closely what is happening in just about every corner of the globe, but that does not mean that he is jumping on an airplane to visit it in each case.  Clearly, the Secretary-General would intend to be able to visit many places, but this needs to be fitted into a logical sequence.  I am not aware of any plans at the moment for him to visit the Western Balkans, but that does not mean it would not happen in the future.

Question:  I have a follow-up on that particular conference, whether UNMIK [United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo] – which I understand is going – is going representing the Government of Kosovo?  There is some controversy about what UNMIK’s role is, whether it is still representing Kosovo in meetings such as this.

Question:  Yes, Kosovo will be represented there.

Question:  Do we know in what capacity UNMIK is going?

Spokesperson:  There is a very clear United Nations Security Council resolution that covers this topic, and any activity that UNMIK undertakes is in line with the Security Council resolution.

Question:  Martin, excuse me.  Can you comment on this:  there is a clear — as Matthew said — if not controversy, but clear misunderstanding on what is going to happen in Sarajevo.  Kosovo was invited.  The President of Kosovo yesterday for the Belgrade-based BEAT92 radio, said, “We can only go to Sarajevo as the Republic of Kosovo; as a State.”  However, Serbian sources are saying that Kosovo can only go as Kosovo/UNMIK.  So what is the position of the United Nations on that?

Spokesperson:  As I have said, UNMIK is operating under a Security Council resolution which is still in place, and anything that it does is within the scope of that mandate.

Correspondent:  Maybe you have already [inaudible]

Spokesperson:  Let’s see.

Question:  I want [to ask] some questions that I had asked you yesterday about the Secretary-General meeting people [inaudible] Pakistan?

Spokesperson:  I can tell you that he is again concerned about the shortfall of funding and believes that it is crucial for Pakistan that there should be funding to ensure that humanitarian work can go ahead.  He understands the constraints that many countries face, but would ask them to be as generous as they have been in the past.

Question:  Has he had any requests from the Pakistan Ambassador to that effect?

Spokesperson:  As I said yesterday, I am not aware of that.  You could, of course, ask the ambassador yourself whether he has made that request.

Correspondent:  I have asked them and they have no answer.  I am just getting the point of view of the United Nations.

Spokesperson:  Whether the Pakistani Ambassador has asked or not, this I do not know.  But what I do know is that the Secretary-General remains concerned and is appealing again for countries and donors to be generous, as they have in the past.

Question:  Just another question about this Benazir Bhutto report.  I just wanted to find out – maybe this question was asked of you earlier by somebody – how much money was given to the United Nations by the Pakistani Government?  Was it $5 million or $6 million?  Do you have that?

Spokesperson:  I do not have that figure right on me.  And let’s see.

Question:  Were you asked that question earlier?

Spokesperson:  Pass, can’t remember.  But let’s see.  It may be that we can provide that; it may be that we can’t.  Again, the Pakistani Government may be in a position to tell you as well.

Question:  Yes, two questions.  The first is, we just had a press conference with Mr. Serry and I am wondering why he only allowed three questions and then ran away, and then was in the hall talking to a few colleagues?  Can you ask the Secretary-General if there is some reason there is so little press availability of his staff?

Spokesperson:  I do not think I need to ask the Secretary-General.  I think Mr. Serry went to the stakeout while I was sitting here so I am not privy to exactly what happened there.  Thank you for telling me that he has taken three questions.  There is not much more I can say about it.

Correspondent:  And it would be appropriate and appreciated if he would take more of the questions since he is here so rarely and this is an issue that has gone on for so long.

Spokesperson:  I am guessing you did not get to put a question, is that right?

Correspondent:  No, I did not.

Spokesperson:  No, well you can put a question to me.  If you have a question about that, you can give it to me and we will see if we can get an answer.  What is the question you would have asked Mr. Serry?

Question:  I thought, I wondered what the Security Council asked of him in terms of the fact that the border crossings are not yet open and if there is some way the Security Council and he could be working together more?  We are waiting on Israel to open them.  Is there some role or recommendations that he has that will help him to get them opened in a quicker and long overdue fashion?

Spokesperson:  Two things.  One is that we have the copies of Mr. Serry’s remarks so you can refer to them.  I would highlight that he has welcomed initial steps that have been taken to ease the closure, but he has also made it very clear that the current increase in allowing materials in is just a start — just a start — and much more is needed.

So, you had another question?

Question:  The question is about Frank La Rue.  The Rapporteur for free expression was in South Korea and held a press conference on the 17th.  I would like to know if there is some material from that press conference that can be available?  His experience was there were pictures taken of him by the national security people in South Korea, and I wondered if there is some information about the UN looking into that and trying to understand why he did not get support from the Government to see many of them, or have the high-level talks he needed and wanted to have, and why it seemed at times he was even being followed or observed in a way that does not seem very appropriate?  I would like a copy of his press conference or whatever material can be available.

Spokesperson:  Alright, well, I would refer you to the Office of the [High] Commissioner for Human Rights.  They may be able to help you.  And secondly, as you know, Mr. La Rue is a Special Rapporteur, which means that he is not reporting directly to the Secretary-General.  As you know, Special Rapporteurs have an independent status, shall we say, within the overall framework of looking at a number of different topics, including freedom of expression, amongst others. Okay, I have got time for one more question.  Erol, yes.

Correspondent:  Excuse me, Martin.

Spokesperson:  I have time for one more question I said, Matthew.

Correspondent:  Well, I have something to ask about Somalia.  I have a question about censorship at the UN.

Question:  Can I refer to Matthew please?

Spokesperson:  By all means.

Question:  Can he ask the question on behalf of me?  I will give my right to Matthew.

Spokesperson:  You can do whatever you like, but I am taking one more question.

Question:  Actually, before asking, I just want to know, on what basis?  Is there some limitation?  Is there some limit of time?

Spokesperson:  Actually I can determine how long the briefing takes place.

Correspondent:  You can.  I am just wondering why there would be a limitation today when the LRA [Lord’s Resistance Army] has killed people in Sudan.  I have not heard you say anything about it.  The UN itself had a car crash in Cyprus that killed two Bulgarians.  So there are questions that exist, so if there is some reason for a time constraint…

Spokesperson:  There can be any number of reasons why there would be time constraints.  As I have said to you repeatedly — not just you individually but to any of your colleagues — you can ask questions at any time.  It’s not just restricted to this briefing.  You can ask questions at any time, whether there are cameras on me or you or not.

Question:  I have gotten numerous responses such as “do not ask many more questions”, but that is fine.  My question is as follows about the Sri Lanka report – the report by the International Crisis Group that was much discussed yesterday.  I would like you to confirm or deny that the UN-affiliated IRIN News Service refused to cover the report, which is a detailed report of the UN’s own activities in non-protection of civilians in Sri Lanka, on the grounds that the Sri Lankan Government would not comment on the report, either to ICG or to IRIN.  In some fields, this is basically a form of censorship since the report, is critical of the UN.  The UN-affiliated media will not cover it, but how appropriate will it be if the Government was given three weeks to comment on that report to use that as a basis to not circulate it among IRIN, the humanitarian news service?

Spokesperson:  I am sure that you could ask IRIN, if you have not already done so, whether that is the case.  All I would say is that it strikes me as odd that you would accuse us of censorship when I sat here yesterday during the briefing and took many questions and gave many answers on that particular report and that particular topic.  I am happy to do so at any point.

Question:  On point seven, you said that the UN had to study the report and would have some answers, including how much money was spent on the IDP camps and just a variety of things.  Are there any answers to the…?

Spokesperson:  We heard the questions.  Those that I could answer at the time, I did.  Those that I could not, my colleagues are looking into to provide answers where they can, where they have the information to provide the answers.  It does not necessarily happen in a couple of hours.  Sometimes it does, sometimes we are unable to give you an answer immediately because I simply did not have the information to hand right here.  But on other occasions, it does not work like that.  We need to dig a little bit to try to help you.

Question:  On the IRIN one, can we get a yes or no that this was their grounds for not running it?  The reason I ask here is that it is a UN-affiliated one and the report is critical of the Secretary-General’s failure to call for a ceasefire, an “ineffective call for ceasefire”.  So I think it is important to make the nexus if it is a UN entity and the perception is that the UN is not covering criticism of the SG.  I am asking you.  If it is not true, you can say it.

Spokesperson:  Ask IRIN, firstly.  Secondly, as I have already said to you, if we did not want to answer questions about that report or Sri Lanka in general, then I would have said, “Sorry, I am not answering any questions on that.”  I did not do that.  We took lots of questions yesterday.  But on the first point, ask IRIN.

Alright, thank you very much.  Thanks very much.

* *** *

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