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

11 August 2010

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

11 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.

** Pakistan

As you know, the United Nations and Pakistan just launched an emergency response plan for $459.7 million over the coming weeks, to meet the urgent humanitarian needs of millions of people affected by the floods in Pakistan.

John Holmes, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, said that the death toll has so far been relatively low compared to other major natural disasters, but the numbers affected are extraordinarily high.  He warned: “If we don’t act fast enough, many more people could die of diseases and food shortages.”

The Government of Pakistan estimates that more than 14 million people have now been affected — to different degrees of severity — by the floods, which have devastated large parts of the country from north to south.  The emergency is still evolving, with continued rainfall, more areas at high risk of flooding and hundreds of thousands of people on the move.  Urgent needs include shelter, food and medicine.  We have a press release with more details.

** Darfur

The situation in Kalma in Darfur remains tense and insecure, according to the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO).  There were reports of gunfire overnight.  The Department of Peacekeeping Operations says that the Joint AU-UN Special Representative, Ibrahim Gambari, and the UN Humanitarian and Resident Coordinator, George Charpentier, travelled with Government interlocutors to the Kalma camp today for meetings with senior authorities in Nyala.  They discussed the need to find amicable and practical solutions to resolve the situation and ensure protection for all displaced people and civilians.

**Security Council

The Security Council held consultations on Central Africa this morning.  Council members heard a briefing from Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Tayé-Brook Zerihoun on the situation in that region.

Questions, please?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  The situation, as you indicated, in Pakistan is alarming.  Among other things, some 6 million children are involved now, whose life is threatened.  Information is crucial, in this respect, to rally public opinion and support from around the world.  Is it possible to arrange for some kind of video reporting from the scene, as we have had in the case of the Haiti earthquake?

Spokesperson:  Well, we did have one audio briefing, because it was not possible at the time to make a video link, and we can certainly look at doing that.  I think there has been very detailed and good coverage in the media and provided by the agencies on the ground.  And I would note that John Holmes’ appeal to the Member States was being broadcast live on BBC and CNN, so I think that there is a very high awareness at the moment.  But to help update people like yourself here in New York and, by extension, through a webcast to many other people, we should take a look and see if we can do something.

Question:  Is there any update on the Panel meetings, and is there any liaison between them and the Secretary-General regarding the flotilla?

Spokesperson:  Well, what I told you yesterday was that the Panel met with the Secretary-General and then they subsequently met amongst themselves.  And I can tell you that those discussions have continued this morning.  That’s not a meeting with the Secretary-General.  They’re now meeting amongst themselves.

Question:  Yes, they’re meeting amongst themselves, but is there any liaison between them and the Secretary-General?

Spokesperson:  As I say, they met yesterday.  They met yesterday with the Secretary-General.  They now are getting on with their work.  And, of course, at various points, they will be liaising with other officials and, doubtless, with the Secretary-General.  But the key point here is that they met yesterday, the four of them, with the Secretary-General.  And they then met in the afternoon, the four of them, and they continue those discussions today, the four of them.

Question:  Do you expect any statements from them after their meetings are finished?

Spokesperson:  I think the answer is no.  But we will keep you updated as we can.  But we will be depending on the Panel to keep us informed as they go along.

Question:  Martin, are there going to be available some kind of physical contact address, et cetera, so that we can call somebody, ask questions or so?  Not going through you, because obviously, they are pretty much independent, as far as I understood from your statements.

Spokesperson:  Anything they wish to say will be through my Office.

Question:  Yes, Martin, I have a couple of questions.  First of all, do you expect any statements by the Quartet?  There have been some statements at the State Department saying that they expect something from the Quartet, calling for direct negotiations.

Spokesperson:  If and when there is something we will let you know.

Question:  Okay.  There are no plans for any meeting among the principals over the phone soon?

Spokesperson:  Well, as I say, if and when we have something, I will let you know.  What I’ve said before, as you know, the Secretary-General spoke with [United States Secretary of State] Hillary Clinton last week by telephone and they obviously talked about the efforts of Senator [George] Mitchell and the progress that was being made and the efforts being made to move to direct negotiations.  And, obviously, they also talked about the Quartet’s role in that process of trying to move to direct negotiations.  If and when we have something, we’ll let you know.

Question:  Okay, I just have a different question on a different topic.  There have been reports in the press about a deal reached between Libya and Israel over the release of an alleged spy who was kept by the Libyans.  And they said that, in return, the Libyans will build houses in Gaza through the United Nations, through the UN mechanism.  I wonder if you have any information on that and more details on this.

Spokesperson:  No, no, I don’t.  But I’ve heard the question.  I think my colleagues will have heard, and we’ll see what we can find out.

Question:  I don’t know, it’s a hypothetical, but if the Libyans seek the UN’s assistance to build houses in Gaza, would…?

Spokesperson:  As I say, I’ve seen the media reports, the same as you have, but I don’t have anything here and now.  Yes, please?  Yes?

Question:  The UN Secretary-General issued a statement on the out-of-control fires in Russia and reaffirmed the UN’s commitment to assist in any way possible.  Now, as reported in the New York Times today, there are piles of radioactive residue still coating large areas of the Ukraine, Belarus and Russia, years after the Chernobyl explosion.  How do you think the UN can be of assistance in this serious matter?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think I would refer you to my colleagues at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).  They would, I’m sure, be keeping a close eye on that.

Question:  Yes, just a follow-up to Khaled’s question.  Later that day, when you sent us the readout with the Secretary-General’s talk with Secretary of State Clinton, Mrs. Clinton did indeed have dinner with President [Barack] Obama.  Now, they obviously probably discussed the issues in regard to the talk of the Secretary-General.  Is the Secretary-General, or anybody else, suggesting that he should have a greater role in the Middle East peace process than he is having now?

Spokesperson:  I don’t quite follow the question.

Question:  Did anybody suggest that, after this talk, after this exchange of views with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, that the Secretary-General would or should have a greater role in the Middle East peace process?

Spokesperson:  I heard the question, but I don’t quite understand it, in the sense that the Secretary-General already plays an important role, through the Quartet, in the Middle East peace process.  He, as you know, has visited Gaza.  He has visited Israel.  He has taken part in Quartet meetings.  He has been on the telephone many times with leaders in the region, including quite recently, as I have told you.  He is actively engaged in playing his part, along with others in the Quartet, to help foster the right atmosphere so that Israel and the Palestinians can move to direct and constructive talks as soon as possible.

Question:  Martin, Geoffrey Palmer is a former Prime Minister and [Alvaro] Uribe is also a former, since 7 August, President.  They are accustomed to have their aides and their secretaries when they are at a meeting, and talking and discussing certain issues.  Do they have, or these two people, or the others, will have the secretaries, aides with them at panel meetings?  Or they just take notes themselves?

Spokesperson:  The four of them are meeting together, as I’ve said.  They will be assisted.  I do not know what the format of their meetings will be.  I think they’re all capable individuals, including the Panel members from Israel and Turkey, with much experience.  And I’m sure they will do what’s necessary so that they can do the job they need to do.

Question:  The readout yesterday by the Secretary-General — it said something like that he hopes the Panel will help in the peace process in general, and more specifically, “to improve relations between Turkey and Israel”.  I’m just wondering, what has the Panel of Inquiry to do with improving relations between Turkey and Israel?  And this is very similar to what Susan Rice said, it’s almost the same sentence exactly, that the Panel should help in improving relations between Turkey and Israel.

Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General said that right at the outset, not just here.  He reiterated it here.  That’s not new.  He’d said it before.  I don’t remember getting questions about that before.  It’s fairly straightforward.  It’s fairly straightforward that Turkey and Israel have good relations.  They are both important countries in that part of the world.  I think that’s fairly self-evident.

Question:  A Panel of Inquiry into an incident in which people died — this is their mandate.  What does improving relations have to do with that?

Spokesperson:  Well, you know very well what the different steps are, including avoiding incidents of the same kind in the future.  One way to help avoid incidents of that kind in the future would be improved relations between Turkey and Israel.

Question:  Did the Panel yesterday, or will contemplate that today, has adopted an agenda?

Spokesperson:  They’re meeting.  I don’t have any further details on how their meeting is taking shape and how they plan to structure it.  But, as I just said, all four Panel members are extremely distinguished and experienced individuals.  And I’m sure they know how to run meetings.

Question:  This is on the flotilla incident.  The very day of the flotilla incident, there has been marked increase in the number of terrorist attacks in Turkey, the last of which was yesterday, blowing up a pipeline carrying oil to Ceyhan sea port.  Is the Panel trying to also work out about this increase?  Is there any linkage between the incident and the increase in the number of attacks on Turkey?

Spokesperson:  The Panel of Inquiry is looking into the incident of 31 May 2010.

Question:  Sure, thanks, Martin.  I have several questions, but I wanted to start with South Sudan and something about the Secretary-General, which is separate.  In South Sudan, just factually, there are these reports of 23 people killed in an ambush in Unity State, which they blame on a renegade colonel, Galuak Gai, and also of a helicopter being intercepted by South Sudan on the way to Khartoum with supporters of General Athor, another rebel.  Both of these individuals are thought to be Khartoum-supported, spoilers of the referendum process.  What is UNMIS’ [United Nations Mission in Sudan] response or role to 23 people dead in one case, and reports of spoiling in another?  What is UNMIS doing about this?

Spokesperson:  Let me find out.  What was your other question?

Question:  I wanted you to confirm that the Secretary-General has consented and is going forward as the subject of the third in a series called Giants of Asia, by author Tom Plate.  He said that he is writing a series of great leaders of Asia.  He began with Singapore’s leader, Malaysia’s, and that the third will be the Secretary-General, and I wanted to know… to confirm that is the case and how much time it will take, when it will take place and what factors he thought going into it.  It seems pretty extensive; from having heard Mr. Plate speak last night it seems like it’s a very one-on-one, extremely… what’s the benefit to the UN system of such a profile?

Spokesperson:  Let me find out.

Question:  Can I say rightfully that the meeting is being held by four people, no representative from the SG’s Office, no UN people, no secretary, no aides?

Spokesperson:  Dogan, what I said is that I don’t know the details.  All I know is that the Panel members, the Panel members are meeting.  I do not know who else is present.  If I can find out, I’ll let you know.  But the four Panel members are meeting and they will be supported, I’m not saying inside the room necessarily, but they will, of course, be supported so they can do the job they need to do.

Question:  Any idea how many times they are going to meet until the end of this week or whether they are going to stay another week or five weeks?

Spokesperson:  What we have said, if I remember correctly, is that they will be meeting a number of times through the rest of this week.  And beyond that, I don’t have any details.  If I do, then I’ll let you know.

Question:  Okay, at the end of this week, will anyone give some kind of brief information about what they had done and is there some kind of progress report?

Spokesperson:  Probably not.  Probably not.  There will be, as you know, there is an interim report to the Secretary-General in the middle of September.  And at that point, we will see whether the Panel members wish to say something.  I don’t think that we will hear a lot in the meantime.

Question:  The Security Council President’s statement indicated that it will be absolutely clear-cut investigation, inquiry, transparent.  This transparency doesn’t reflect to the meeting…?

Spokesperson:  Transparent, Dogan, transparent doesn’t mean that they can’t meet and get on with the job they need to do.  They are meeting now for the first time this week.  And they’re trying to establish how they are going to work, what the key areas are that they need to address in what order and so on, a normal way that a group of people coming together for a panel would operate.  That’s not the same thing as talking about transparency.  It’s just efficiency, trying to get the show on the road.

Question:  You’re the Spokesman and even you cannot say whether there are four people or 14 people in the meeting…?

Spokesperson:  Well, there are four…

Question:  Format information and you don’t have it.

Spokesperson:  As I’ve said to you, the most important thing is that the Panel members are meeting.  That’s the most important thing and that’s what I can tell you. 

Question:  As a part of the transparency, which I assume my colleague means, can we follow it as media?  Someone to ask questions, I mean, or is it all closed between here and February, not just this week

Spokesperson:  No, I just said, there’s September coming up too, Khaled.  But there’s a difference, and it’s not as if this is unique.  There have been many other panels in the past, including recent ones, where the panel members do their job.  They don’t speak to the media in the meantime.  They do their job and they focus on the job they have to do and then they report to you.  And you have the report that they have to work on and you also get the chance to ask them questions.  And that has been a pattern in the past and I think that’s how it will be this time.

Question:  Sure, I wanted to ask a question about Kashmir, but it’s a factual, current one.  There are quotes both by the Indian military and then by an unnamed UN military observer group about the use, by Indian troops, of UN blue helmets and shields while they’re essentially performing Indian military functions and quelling protesters, leading some to ask whether the UN is, in fact, firing into, doing charges against crowds.  So I wanted to know, the person who is quoted from the UN said he wasn’t authorized to speak to the media, so I’m asking you, can the UN confirm that there’s a concern by that mission of the use of UN equipment, visible equipment, by the Indian troops?

Spokesperson:  I am authorized to speak.  Following the use of UN-marked blue helmets by Indian Rapid Action Force personnel in Srinagar, the UN Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) immediately brought the issue to the attention of the Indian Army authorities.  We understand that directions have since been issued by the Indian authorities to prevent its recurrence.  UN-marked items can only be used by personnel serving in United Nations operations during their service under the blue flag and can not be used for other purposes, including by national armies in the conduct of their operations.

Question:  So that’s… because there’s also, I’m sure you’ve seen the quote by the Spokesman for the paramilitary force, Mr. Tripathi, saying these are used elsewhere in India, by Indian troops.  Is this a comprehensive…?

Spokesperson:  UN-marked items can only be used by personnel serving in United Nations operations; that’s what I just said, Matthew, during their service under the blue flag and cannot be used for other purposes, including by national armies in the conduct of their operations.

Question:  Do they now return them to the UN?

Spokesperson:  We understand that directions have since been issued by the Indian authorities to prevent its recurrence.  Okay?

Question:  And this is what I was going to ask you yesterday… On global sustainability, the thing on Monday, which is that Kevin Rudd, now that it’s been confirmed that he’s one of the members of the high-level group, he said in Australia that all this… because there’s some controversy about how it may conflict with his existing, or future, duties in Australia.  He said the entirety of the work of that panel will be a single meeting to attend in 2010 and two meetings in 2011; therefore, no conflict with his work.  So, I just wanted to confirm that this high-level panel in this next year and nearly a half, that it is essentially asking of the members three meetings and no more.

Spokesperson:  That’s correct.  That doesn’t mean that other things are not going on through the Secretariat, which will be coordinating the work of that panel in between those meetings.  But bringing them together, and as you saw, it’s a list of august and distinguished individuals, serving and former ministers and policymakers and other people — bringing them all together at one point is obviously going to be a challenge.  And therefore, that’s why you would have the meetings spaced in that way.  That doesn’t mean that, in the meantime, other people are not working on pulling together the different strands that will end up helping those panel members when they meet, and then moving towards the final outcome to present to the Secretary-General at the other end of 2011.

Question:  Okay, but the meeting that was characterized as a courtesy call by Mr. Rudd, and I think Janos Pasztor has now said it was discussed, this position was discussed at that meeting.  Is that consistent with it being just a courtesy call?  Or it just was part of… did it have to remain confidential until his name was on it?

Spokesperson:  When you’re putting together a panel, you take into account many factors and individuals, and the panel was ready when it was ready.  And it was announced when it was announced.

Alright?  Thank you very much.  Have a good afternoon.

* *** *

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