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

6 August 2010

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

6 August 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, everybody.

**Guest at the Noon Briefing

I’m pleased to welcome back Margot Wallström, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict.  And I’ll hand over to you, and afterwards I’ll be happy to take questions on other matters, after Ms. Wallström has briefed you.  So, please, the floor is yours.

[The press conference by Ms. Wallström issued separately.]

So, I have just a couple of other items for you.

**Secretary-General in Japan

The Secretary-General took part today in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Ceremony, becoming the first UN Secretary-General to do so.  He said: “Together, we are on a journey from ground zero to global zero — a world free of weapons of mass destruction.”  That is the only sane path, he said, to a safer world.  For as long as nuclear weapons exist, we will live under a nuclear shadow.

The Secretary-General noted encouraging new commitments by the world’s nuclear Powers and said that he will build political momentum by convening a high-level meeting in New York next month in support of the Conference on Disarmament.

The Secretary-General and Mrs. Ban then visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and listened to the experiences of atomic bomb survivors.  Later, he was given an honorary citizenship to Hiroshima and in turn, he presented 1,000 paper cranes, folded by UN staff, to the mayor of Hiroshima.

He also paid tribute at the memorial for Korean atomic bomb victims.  He had a lively exchange with students at a local high school and then he gave a press conference before flying back to Tokyo.

His last scheduled appointment on Friday was a reception and dinner with the Global Compact Japan Network.  And we have available in my Office all of his remarks throughout the course of the day.  The Secretary-General will be back in New York over the weekend.

**Security Council

The Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Alain Le Roy, and many of the Force Commanders of the UN’s 15 peacekeeping missions, attended today’s Security Council meeting on peacekeeping.

Le Roy told the Council that the United Nations has almost 120,000 peacekeepers currently deployed around the world.  He added that the United Nations remains committed to its reform agenda.

The Security Council then heard from five of the Force Commanders of the UN’s peacekeeping missions as part of its effort to learn about the diverse experiences and challenges faced in UN peacekeeping operations.

**Climate Change

The Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Christiana Figueres, said today that the Governments meeting at the UN Climate Change Conference in Bonn have made progress towards deciding the shape of a successful outcome at the UN Climate Change Conference, which is to take place later this year in Cancún, Mexico.  She added that Governments now need to narrow down the many options for action on climate change that are under negotiation.

In Bonn, many Governments said they believed a set of decisions by the Conference of Parties, which would make key elements of the Bali Action Plan quickly operational, would be an achievable outcome of Cancún.

Figueres said that this means that countries could agree to take accountable action to manage and deploy climate finance, boost technology transfer, build skills and capacity and deal with adaptation, especially in the poorest and most vulnerable countries.

**Secretary-General’s Press Conference

As I mentioned yesterday, the Secretary-General, upon his return, will meet with you, with the press, in this room at 11 on Monday, 9 August.  And, because of that, I don’t plan to have a noon briefing on Monday.

But here I am, and I can take questions now.  Yes?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  It’s a question about UNAMID [African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur].  Apparently, Mr. [Ibrahim] Gambari has told the Sudanese Government in Khartoum that they should drop their demand to hand over six individuals who are living in Kalma camp.  And, then, I wanted to follow up on a question that Matthew had asked yesterday.  Two days ago, Mr. Le Roy told us that, for five days, humanitarian workers have not been allowed into the camp.  So I’m wondering, have they been allowed in?  What’s the situation, and how has Khartoum responded to what Mr. Gambari told them?

Spokesperson:  First of all, on the story in the Sudan Tribune, which is, I assume, where your question on Mr. Gambari comes from, the UN is continuing to follow up with the Government of Sudan on its commitment to negotiate a comprehensive agreement towards a peaceful outcome of the situation in Darfur.  And, for obvious reasons, the United Nations doesn’t comment on interactions with our missions — in other words, on the content of that story that you’ve seen.

Specifically, on the Kalma camp and access, that, too, is something our colleagues on the ground are talking to authorities about.  To my knowledge, there is still no access.  And, I will again check with my colleagues in the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).  To my knowledge, that access is not yet given.  Clearly, we would wish that to change.

Question:  Just a follow-up on both of those.  Without getting into whether the talking points that the Sudan Tribune has of what UNAMID was going to say to Khartoum are accurate, I wanted to know, has the Sudanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs actually made a request to the Secretary-General for these six individuals to be turned over?

Spokesperson:  I’m not aware of that.  But, as you know, there have been Government demands.  I’m not saying specifically to whom, but there have been Government demands, and we’re obviously engaging very closely with the Government in discussions on this topic.  The objective is to ensure the rights and the protection of the people in question.

Question:  Yesterday, you said to check with OCHA, and I actually wrote to OCHA and tried to ask them just to confirm this basic fact of whether humanitarian groups are in.  They still were unable, or unwilling or whatever, to confirm that.  So my question is, number one, not to personalize things too much, but why hasn’t OCHA spoken out about a situation where 80,000 people are denied aid for six days — I don’t know where John Holmes, and I don’t want to say he’s the only one who could do it — but what’s the role of OCHA, are these things happening all over the world and we just don’t hear about them, or have they chosen not to discuss this one because of this sensitive situation with the Government, and is that appropriate?

Spokesperson:  That’s a pretty free-wheeling question, Matthew.

Correspondent:  I don’t think so; that’s a factual question.

Spokesperson:  The point here is that I’ve already said that access is not yet given.  We would wish that to change.  OCHA is amongst those involved in trying to change that.  If I have anything further from OCHA, from that office, then obviously we’ll provide it.

Question:  Are there other camps, I’m just trying to understand, because this came out because Alain Le Roy said it as an aside and in response to a question.  So, it leads one to ask, is OCHA aware of other situations where tens of thousands of people are being denied humanitarian aid and is only trying to work it out behind the scenes, or is this one of the most extreme current cases of denial of humanitarian access?

Spokesperson:  As I said, if I have anything further from my colleagues, then I’d be happy to share that with you.  I don’t have anything extra on that at the moment.  As I said, with regard to the camp — this particular camp in question — it’s still tense in and around Kalma, and UNAMID is still trying to resolve this and ensure the security of the civilians and internally displaced people.

[The Spokesperson later reported that the Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that we have not had access to Kalma camp since 2 August.  No humanitarian access has been granted so far in eastern Jebel Marra since February 2010.  OCHA is advocating for access at the local level and coordinating assessment and response missions.]

Question:  Just one more — this one may be as free-wheeling.  The Security Council on Friday, in a press statement, called on DPKO [Department for Peacekeeping Operations]…

Spokesperson:  Friday?  You mean, today?

Question:  No, I mean last week, a week ago, a week ago, last Friday, in a 4:00 meeting about Darfur, this particular camp — said that DPKO or UNAMID should reach a full understanding of the facts of what led to the violence.  Since a week has gone by, has, obviously it’s a very tense situation, but has any understanding of the origins of that violence been reached, and what are the findings?

Spokesperson:  It’s intriguing that you didn’t ask Mr. Le Roy that when he was here on Wednesday.  Let’s see if I can find out anything from DPKO.  Other questions?  Yes?

Question:  Can you just provide more details on the phone call between Ban Ki-moon and Hillary Clinton?  It says they discussed the peace process in Lebanon, but any particular issues that they are working on?

Spokesperson:  It didn’t mention Lebanon, it said the Middle East peace process.

Question:  Well, maybe something else, besides…

Spokesperson:  It did not mention that.  The readout says what it says, which is that they talked about the Middle East peace process and efforts to move to direct talks.  As you know, Senator [George] Mitchell is very much involved in that.  The conversation was in the context of the role of the Quartet.

Question:  Any expected announcements, like a Quartet meeting?

Spokesperson:  I think they talked about what the role of the Quartet might be, and let’s see how things develop.

Question:  Did they discuss the flotilla, the Panel; did she repeat what Susan Rice asked for, that the Panel will only look to the future?

Spokesperson:  I think I’ll leave it with what I’ve said and what the readout said.  Yes?

Question:  On Tuesday, the Security Council issued a press statement welcoming the formation of the Panel of Inquiry, or as commonly called by Israelis and Americans, the Panel.  You promised me that day, in particular, that you’ll come back to me with an answer concerning the statements by Israeli officials that the Panel will not be allowed to question any Israeli military or soldiers.  Now, this goes into the heart of the credibility of such a panel and whether it’s conforming to international standards.  Did you get me and my colleagues such an answer — whether there was a previous agreement that the mandate of the Panel would not be allowed to…?

Spokesperson:  What I told you and what I can tell you is that the Panel, it would be for the Panel to decide.  Well, you can roll your eyes if you’d like; it’s what I can tell you.

Question:  No, what I’m saying is — this goes to the credibility, and the transparency, which was requested by the presidential statement of 1 June.  What I’m trying to say is, if the Israelis are right — and you said you couldn’t say they’re right or wrong until you check — well, now you’ve had…

Spokesperson:  It’s not my job to speak for the Israeli Government.  You can try the Israeli Mission, you can try the Israeli Government and ask them — did they say it or did they not.  And, the point here is that this Panel, the four people, will meet the first time on 10 August, and they will at that point be able to talk amongst themselves about how they will operate.  I can’t prejudge how they’re going to do it, whom they’re going to ask to speak to, and then, what the Israelis will answer.  That’s looking into the future.

Question:  With all due respect, Martin, you told me that you will check if there was an agreement between the United Nations, the Secretary-General himself — that’s what’s been said on the record by Saudi officials, on Al-Arabiya television and in other outlets — there was an agreement between the highest level of the Israeli Government and the United Nations Secretary-General that this Panel will not be allowed to question any Israeli military, whether they want to do it or not, whether they want to do it on 10 August when they meet.  If there was such an agreement, that goes to the heart of transparency, credibility, conformity with international standards of this Panel, which the Security Council has asked for.  I think it’s a fair question to tell me whether there was such an agreement between the United Nations and Israel.  You can answer this question.

Spokesperson:  I’ve told you what I can tell you, and that is the four elements of this Panel and the way that it will operate.  Beyond that, it’s for the Panel to decide.  That’s as far as I can go.

Question:  Are you denying that there’s an agreement?  Are you saying there’s no agreement between the UN and Israel at all?

Spokesperson:  I’ve said what I’m saying on this, that…

Question:  …to come back to me whether there is or there isn’t.

Spokesperson:  No, I said I would look into it.  And, if I don’t have an answer, I don’t have an answer.  It’s as simple as that.

Question:  There is a requirement of transparency in the work of this; this is not called transparency, to be honest — whether they have a mandate to do what they want to do, or there are preconditions to the formation of this Panel — this is a fair question.

Spokesperson:  No one is saying whether the question is fair or not.  No one is saying whether the question is fair or not.  I am giving you the answer to the best of my ability, okay?

Question:  Well, that’s not a transparent answer.  That’s what I’m saying.  It does not live up to the requirements of the Security Council presidential statement — the transparent work of this committee.

Spokesperson:  As I’ve said, there are a number of points within the statement that was made by the Secretary-General…

Question:  Transparency is one of them, credibility is another…

Spokesperson:  Impartial is another, in conformity with international standards — you’re absolutely right.  All of those are there.  The question that you’ve asked, and what it says in the statement by the President of the Security Council, calls for a prompt, impartial, credible and transparent investigation conforming to international standards.  I think the best thing is to wait and see what happens.  Then, if you don’t believe that it’s been transparent, and you don’t believe that it’s credible, then you can write and report about it in that way.  But, let’s not prejudge how it’s going to work.  Yes?

Question:  In the several meetings that Mr. Ban Ki-moon had with [Israeli Defense Minister Ehud] Barak, had there been an understanding that’s not been announced to the press about the mechanism of the work of this committee, including, for example, what Talal is mentioning on not being able to interview Israeli soldiers and commanders; or what the agreement is, is what we have in the statement?

Spokesperson:  What the statement says is quite clear, and he’s announced the Panel as a result of speaking, not just with Ehud Barak and not just meeting with him, but speaking on the telephone with any number of people of Turkish, Israeli and others, to help make this happen.  And, that’s as far as I want to go.

Question:  No behind-the-door agreement?

Spokesperson:  That’s not what I said.  Don’t parse my words and interpret them in the way that you wish to interpret them, okay?

Question:  But there is the possibility of an agreement?

Spokesperson:  What I said is what I’ve said.

Question:  There’s either no agreement or there is a possibility of agreement?

Spokesperson:  We can go round and round in circles on this, but…

Question:  You’re the one who’s going around, Martin.  I want to see the transparency that this Panel of Inquiry is supposed to have.  And a very transparent thing is the way it works.  Now, I was asking if there was some limitation to this work, or there isn’t.  And, you don’t want to go either way.

Spokesperson:  It could be that there are, in the course of any agreement, any agreement in international diplomacy, you have to talk and negotiate to get to the point where you have an agreement on whatever it happens to be.  But the mechanics of that… You know, you’ve been doing this far longer than I have, you know very well that not all the ins and outs of every international negotiation is put out in the public, that’s not how it works.  And, the most important thing is to see how this will turn out.  This is a serious undertaking.  As the Secretary-General said, it’s an unprecedented development, and let’s see how it turns out.  And then you’d be able to say, “It’s not been transparent, it hasn’t been credible, it’s not been impartial.”  But, beforehand, to prejudge it seems a little…

Correspondent:  Not impartial, not credible, not conforming — I’m just saying it’s not transparent if you’re not willing to tell me how it’s going to work.

Spokesperson:  I’ve told you how it going to work.  Maybe the easiest thing is you just roll back and listen to what I’ve said before, the four different parts — that’s how it will work.  And, the Panel will be meeting on 10 August and they will be able to talk about more details on the mechanics of how it will work.

Question:  The head of the Panel; will we have access to them after they meet?

Spokesperson:  That will be up to them to decide. 

Question:  After that, can we maybe get one of them?

Spokesperson:  I’ve heard the request, and we’ll see what they have to say.

Question:  Martin, the head of the political parties in Indian Kashmir — it’s called APHC [All Parties Hurriyet Conference] and the leader’s name is Mohammad Farooq — this is a body which is even recognized by the Government of India — he has written a letter to the Secretary-General asking for intervention to save the people from the Indian Army’s onslaught, current onslaught.  Has that letter been received and, if so, is the Secretary-General going to do anything?

Spokesperson:  Let me find out.  I’m not aware at the moment of the letter having been received, but let me find out.  Yes, Masood?

Question:  Martin, do you have any update on the situation in Pakistan, the latest update being 4.5 million [people affected], that OCHA has given you?

Spokesperson:  I very deliberately did not touch that subject today simply because at 11 you had a briefing by the humanitarian coordinator on the phone from Islamabad and he clearly has up-to-date information from the spot, and so that’s why I very deliberately left that to one side today.

Question:  Just a follow-up on this situation in Kashmir, I just want to know one thing, that the Secretary-General had in fact issued a very benign statement, which he withdrew, or was somehow constrained to withdraw, or to say that he did not mean to say what he said in that statement.  What I’m saying is that, since then, the matter is closed — nothing on Kashmir, no matters what happens over there, will be discussed?

Spokesperson:  You know what I’ve said, I’ve said it a number of times in the course of the week, and I don’t have anything to add to that.

Question:  Is there a gag order on saying anything about Kashmir?

Spokesperson:  No.  I can tell you what I can say.  That’s what I can tell you.  Maybe you’re asking the wrong questions.

Question:  There is a difference here.  Kashmir is a UN issue, it is on the agenda of the Security Council.  There are a series of resolutions on Kashmir, there are UN observers in Kashmir, so why can’t we discuss this issue?

Spokesperson:  No one said you can’t discuss it.

Question:  Why can’t we have a response to…?

Spokesperson:  I’ve told you what I can say at the moment.

Question:  On this, because you were saying maybe we haven’t asked the right questions, I just wanted to, forgetting whether there’s a gag order or not, can you describe the involvement of Chef de Cabinet Vijay Nambiar in the preparation and subsequent alteration of the statement on Kashmir?

Spokesperson:  No, I can’t.  I can tell you what I can tell you about, which is that this, it was prepared by UN Secretariat in the normal way, and it was then distributed by my Office.  Yes?

Question:  On the same issue, Martin.  You’ve been saying that you have nothing further to add since you initially made that point.  One of the things that I am sure you’ve noticed on the Internet is that a very capable member of your staff has been subjected to what seemed to be sort of unfair personal attacks; some people suggested that he fabricated this guidance.  Are you concerned about the way…?

Spokesperson:  Yes, I am.  Actually, I’m prepared to put up with quite a lot in this job; it goes with the turf, including the questions that I’ve received today.  That goes with the turf; it’s give and take.  But I can tell you I won’t tolerate insults being directed against my colleagues.  A lively and free press is one thing, but I can tell you that I really take exception to the insinuations based on ethnicity that I’ve seen and you’ve seen in [some] Indian publications, and I take great exception to it and I firmly reject them.  Not only are they offensive, they are wrong.  That’s what I can tell you.

Question:  Because the perception, and I’m glad that you said that, but the perceptions may be — if we’re talking about Farhan Haq — that somebody relatively lower down is somehow taking one for the team, for people higher up that either issued a statement that the Secretary-General wouldn’t stand behind or…

Spokesperson:  No, absolutely not.  We talk about my Office, my colleagues.  It’s my team, and I reject absolutely any insinuation in this direction.  Not coming from you, but elsewhere.  This is wrong and it’s offensive.  Not least because the person we’re talking about was born in Washington, D.C.  And it is just plain wrong and it’s offensive.  As I say, the guidance was prepared and it was approved in the UN Secretariat in the normal way and it was distributed by my Office.  And to come back to one specific instance, and I’ve written directly to the editor of that particular publication which said that this guidance had been concocted in my Office — guidance is not prepared, and still less is it concocted, in my Office.  There is a regular procedure for doing this and that’s how it was done.

Question:  It may help you to make this point.  What is the regular procedure?  You keep saying it was done by the Secretariat?

Spokesperson:  Look, within the Secretariat, there are normal procedures — you’ve written about it, you know how it works, and I don’t need to elaborate on that here.  It’s a normal procedure, the kind of procedure you would find in Foreign Ministries and Governments around the world, as well as in international organizations.  The most important thing here is that I will not tolerate having my colleagues insulted in the way that they’ve been insulted in certain parts of the Indian press.

Question:  I just want to ask one more about, so this doesn’t come up again.  Does DPA [Department of Political Affairs] give it to your Office, or does it always go through the Chef de Cabinet or Communications Director Mike Myers?

Spokesperson:  Matthew, there’s a regular procedure for how it works, and that’s all that I want to say on that.  This should be the last one you ask, we’ve been here a long time.

Question:  Then I’ll forego the one on climate change, I just want to ask you about this, yesterday, the Staff Union or Staff Council passed a resolution citing the latest memo, citing the death of Mr. [Louis] Maxwell and calling on the Secretary-General either to take immediate steps for reform or to face a vote of no confidence in the fall.  They’ve also written to Vijay Nambiar, asking that he justify his 23 July statement about the Secretary-General’s role in internal justice and building a stronger, flexible and more accountable Organization.  They say he hasn’t even responded to their letter, but I just wonder, what is the response to both the resolution and to this?  Why hasn’t Mr. Nambiar answered the UN Staff Union on his own iSeek and elsewhere, in response to the Union’s memo?

Spokesperson:  Thanks for bringing it to my attention.  I’ll find out.

Thank you.

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