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

20 May 2011

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

20 May 2011
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, and welcome to the briefing.

** Middle East Quartet Statement

I have a statement of the Middle East Quartet.  The following statement was issued by the Middle East Quartet — the United Nations, the Russian Federation, the United States, and the European Union:

The Members of the Quartet are in full agreement about the urgent need to resolve the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.  To that effect, the Quartet expressed its strong support for the vision of Israeli-Palestinian peace outlined by United States President Barack Obama on 19 May 2011.  The Quartet agrees that moving forward on the basis of territory and security provides a foundation for Israelis and Palestinians to reach a final resolution of the conflict through serious and substantive negotiations and mutual agreement on all core issues.

The Quartet reiterates its strong appeal to the parties to overcome the current obstacles and resume direct bilateral negotiations without delay or preconditions.  The Quartet further recommits itself to its previous statements and principles.

**Secretary-General on Middle East

Last night, we also put out a statement, in which the Secretary-General welcomed President Obama's important speech on the historic developments taking place in the Middle East and North Africa.

The Secretary-General has consistently expressed his support for the legitimate aspirations of the people in the region for greater freedom, dignity and a better life.  The Secretary-General continues to call on the leaders throughout the region to reject the use of force, violence and repression, and to choose the path of comprehensive reform and inclusive dialogue.  He believes it is the people of the region who will lead the way, and he pledges the full assistance of the United Nations.

** Fukushima

This morning, the Secretary-General convened a videoconference to formally launch a UN system-wide study on the implications of the Fukushima accident.  The report will be prepared for the high-level meeting on nuclear safety and security, to be held on 22 September during the sixty-sixth session of the UN General Assembly.  In producing this study, it is the Secretary-General’s intention to highlight the need to strengthen the capacity of the relevant international organizations, particularly the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), recognizing its central role.

The Secretary-General has made clear that the time has come for a global rethink on nuclear energy and safety issues.  While acknowledging that each State has the right to define its national energy policy, our common objective is to deepen our understanding of the entire range of issues relating to development of nuclear energy and its safety transcending national borders.  We have the full statement by the Secretary-General available in the office.

** Sudan

The UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) has strongly condemned an attack which took place against a UN convoy yesterday evening in Abyei.  The incident took place in Dokura, an area controlled by the Southern Sudan police services, approximately 10 kilometres north of the town of Abyei.

At the time of the attack, the convoy was transporting 200 troops of the Joint Integrated Units of the Sudan Armed Forces to their designated post, as part of the deployment plan of the Kadugli Agreements, which had been agreed to by all parties.

This act constitutes a serious breach of previous agreements made between the two parties.  It is also a criminal attack against the United Nations.  The UN Mission in Sudan calls on the parties to immediately investigate the incident and take appropriate action against the perpetrators of this deliberate attack.  It also reminds the parties of their responsibility to protect civilians in the area.

** Syria

The UN refugee agency is taking part in efforts to help thousands of Syrians who have fled violence in their country, and escaped to the border areas of Wadi Khaled and Tall Bire in northern Lebanon.

Local leaders say some 1,400 people have crossed into these two regions over the past week from Tall Kalakh in Syria, in addition to those that have crossed since late April.  Local authorities estimate that around 4,000 Syrians have crossed into Lebanon recently.  The exact numbers are difficult to confirm.

**The Week Ahead at the United Nations

And we have “The Week Ahead” available in my office.  Just two points to mention from there:  Next week on Tuesday, at midday, at the Noon Briefing, Valerie Amos, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian and Emergency Relief Coordinator, will be here to brief you on her latest travels and activities.

And on Friday, 27 May, it is International Day of UN Peacekeepers, and there will be a variety of events linked to that.

Questions, please?  Yes, Masood?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Has the Secretary-General made any statement on these attacks on the construction workers on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, which killed about 13 people or so?

Spokesperson:  Not at the moment.  If we have something, I will let you know.

Question:  Also, I just want to clarify that, I know the Quartet gave a statement and so did the Secretary-General, that one of the principal points is that they are contending is that the Israelis are particularly unhappy with, that return to 1967 borders. Specifically, when you reiterate the Quartet’s commitment to UN principles, that means that the Quartet also abides by the principle that the borders should be recognized by 1967, according to 1967?

Spokesperson:  Well, this is what it says:  The Quartet expressed its strong support for the vision of Israeli-Palestinian peace outlined by President Barack Obama; and it further recommits itself to previous statements and principles.  Right.  Erol?

Question:  Martin, as you know, there is a second round of the talk, dialogue, between Kosovo and the authorities in Belgrade in Brussels.  I know that the Secretary-General in previous occasions has something, has said something on that.  Does he have to say anything on that second round?  And what is the reading of his meeting, what was the importance of his meeting with the Foreign Minister of Kosovo, Mr. Enver Hoxhaj, last week?

Spokesperson:  Well, on the latter point, we provided a readout on that meeting, already last week. And on the first point, we have obviously said that dialogue is crucial and most welcome between the Kosovo authorities and Belgrade.

Question:  Okay.  Does the Secretary-General feel that the negotiations, the dialogue, is going in the right direction, since there are some reports that from the high officials from Belgrade that they are looking publicly, said that they are looking for division as a solution, division of Kosovo as a solution of the problem?

Spokesperson:  Well, dialogue by its very nature is a process and this is something the Secretary-General encourages:  dialogue between the people who are concerned.  And obviously he is watching it closely as are people most directly working on this.  In the UN context, that is the UN Mission in Kosovo, UNMIK.  Yes, Matthew?  Erol?

Question:  A follow-up, actually.  I really didn’t get quite I asked:  what is the position of the Secretary-General of the public calls from Belgrade for Kosovo to be divided, or get part of Kosovo for Serbia and the rest for Kosovo, and so what is the position?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think you know what the UN position is on this topic, and there is no change in that.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Just, last one, small one, excuse me.  Just finish this topic, if you, if I may?  If I don’t do it, that’s fine.  Thank you.  Since he talked to Mr. Hoxhaj of Kosovo, whether Mr. Hoxhaj invited the Secretary-General to Kosovo, and whether the Secretary-General thinks that he has to visit Kosovo as a part of Balkans, since UNMIK is there and there is a lot of activities regarding UNMIK, etcetera, beside all other things?

Spokesperson:  Well, we did provide a readout on the meeting that you’ve mentioned and I don’t have anything to add to that.  And I certainly don’t have anything on travel plans in that part of the world at this point.  Matthew?

Question:  Sure, yeah, I have a couple questions.  I wanted to, first I wanted to ask you about, in Sudan, this incident, this shooting incident in Dokura, yesterday.  The SPLM [Sudan People’s Liberation Movement] have denied reports that they were the ones that fired; in fact, they are saying that the North, that Northern soldiers who were retreating fired first.  So I just wonder, since the UN was there, and was… you are calling for an investigation by the parties, but the parties have already said, each has a totally different story.  So what can the UN do to find… if they were there, who fired first and what are they taking to…?

Spokesperson:  Well, isn’t that the point?  If we are asking for an investigation by the parties, that’s what needs to happen, that there should be an immediate investigation into the incident and then appropriate action taken against the perpetrators.  We’ve strongly condemned, and the Mission has strongly condemned, this attack.  We’ve said this is a serious breach of previous agreements and also it was an attack, a criminal attack, against the United Nations.

Question:  But I guess… My question is, if they were present, maybe there is a mechanism that needs to investigate it, but what was the UN’s own observation, being there present at the time of the shooting, of who started it?

Spokesperson:  Well, isn’t that what an investigation is supposed to ascertain?  And that’s why there should be an immediate investigation into the incident.  Yeah?

Question:  I wanted to ask about Myanmar as well.  Yesterday, Mr. [Vijay] Nambiar didn’t end up taking any questions, but a member of the Council of the United Kingdom, on the record, said that he recorded that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi told him that she would like to see a full-time envoy, and the United Kingdom, as some other countries have in the past, said they too would like to see a full-time envoy, i.e., not Mr. Nambiar, who would be a part-time envoy.  So I wonder, one, can you confirm that that’s what Mr. Nambiar said in the Council, given that a Council member said it?  And two, what’s the Secretariat’s response to the request by the main democracy leader in Myanmar, that a full-time envoy be chosen, selected and sent?

Spokesperson:  Well, Mr. Vijay Nambiar conveyed to the Security Council the gist of his conversations with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD [National League for Democracy], and also conversations he had with Myanmar's other political opposition groups, ethnic nationality groups and representatives of civil society in Myanmar.

And he has also said — because I know that you’ve asked a number of questions related to this, including the prisoner release — he also said that, while the initial sentence reductions and resulting release of some political prisoners is a small step in the right direction, it has been short of expectations and is insufficient.  And, again, just to reiterate, during the visit, the United Nations reiterated its call for the urgent release of all political prisoners.

And also, I think it is important to note that the real test would be whether — or how quickly — the new climate can translate into a change in content in Myanmar.  And it would also be important to see how the authorities concretely hold up to their own commitments and respond to the United Nations’ various suggestions over the next coming months.

Question:  Just one more thing on Myanmar; there was a press conference here yesterday afternoon, where an official of UNHCR was talking about stateless people and the Convention on Refugees.  And she spoke about the Rohingya being repatriated to Myanmar, not being given citizenship papers.  So, I wanted to, it wasn’t clear to me, maybe you’re always… you said that if something wasn’t in the statement, it doesn’t mean he didn’t work on it or didn’t discuss it, but is… does he view this problem of the… she says there is a million of them, stateless Rohingya people in Myanmar; is part of this in any way related to his mandate of good offices and if so, what does he think of the Government’s treatment of them?

Spokesperson:  Well, obviously we would have concern for the treatment and position of any ethnic group.  And as I mentioned, Mr. Nambiar did convey to the Security Council and outlined the conversations that he had with the various groups and individuals, including ethnic nationality groups, and of course with the authorities themselves.

Question:  On this idea that both Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the United Kingdom and others have said that a full-time, without… that a full-time envoy would be better suited for the job…

Spokesperson:  Well, we’ve said before, because the last time there was a Group of Friends meeting, a similar suggestion was made, and we’ve said before that the Secretary-General takes note of these ideas, proposals, suggestions, and we’ll look at them in due course.  As I say, Mr. Nambiar did outline the gist of his conversations with the various people, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.  Yes, Erol, and then Masood?

Question:  Regarding former director of IMF [International Monetary Fund] [Dominique] Strauss-Kahn, whether the Secretary-General thinks that the head of IMF should stay in the European, if I can put it even… It is a UN agency, so, that’s why I am asking it.

Spokesperson:  It’s a UN specialized agency, and, as you well know, the way that the head of the IMF is chosen is within the hands of the countries within the IMF.  And it’s really not for us to comment on.  Yes, Masood?

Question:  On this proposal by the Russian Federation that there should be a peacekeeping force sent to Libya, does the Secretary-General have any thoughts on that?

Spokesperson:  As you know, we have a focus at the moment that’s in three parts — a ceasefire which needs to take hold immediately, and it needs to be verifiable.  We need swift and much broader humanitarian access, given the deteriorating situation on the ground in Libya.  And thirdly, and not necessarily in this order, there needs to be a political track that looks at how you can bring the sides together to look at the future in Libya.  Any thoughts on other presences in Libya, that’s really something for the Security Council, of which the Russian Federation is a permanent member, as you know.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Yeah, I want to, I have some other ones, but I want to ask about the Dominique Strauss-Kahn; I understand that there are things you won’t comment on, but at the bail hearing that was held yesterday here in New York, there was a lot of discussion of his laissez-passer passport.  And it’s my, there was, that it was in Washington.  It was my… the best I can make out, it’s actually, that is a UN document, it is something… what happens when somebody in a specialized agency resigns?  Do they return the Laissez-Passer to the UN or… The court is somehow asking for it, but it is not clear to me if it is still, if his UN powers are, remain in effect.

Spokesperson:  What UN powers are you referring to, Matthew?

Question:  The ability to go through airports with a Laissez-Passer, to use it as a travel document.  Is this now cancelled, and is the UN going to retrieve the document?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think you’d have to ask the IMF what will happen to the document, which is, as I understand it, at the IMF.  I think you know what the score is with a laissez-passer.  It is a travel document that’s issued, indeed, by the United Nations.  The UN also issues laissez-passer to officials of the specialized agencies, including the IMF, and also to some other agencies under agreements concluded with those organizations.  And these laissez-passer are modified to refer to the appropriate agreements relating to the status of the relevant organization and its officials.  I am talking in general about the nature of laissez-passer.  Anything to do with the case you have mentioned, you need to speak to the IMF.

Question:  Just… again, just to… and thanks for that, I just wonder, is there generally, not with regard to Mr. Strauss-Kahn, but if somebody ends their tenure before, because I am assuming these documents have a date on it, so they would just expire and couldn’t use them any more, but this one would still, it would appear to be active, not…

Spokesperson:  Well, as I said, I think I answered that already, Matthew.  As I said, Matthew, ask the IMF.

Question:  Okay, I will.  And also, can I ask…?

Spokesperson:  After Masood you can ask.

Question:  This, the issue about Yemen and the agreement between the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] and the Yemeni President which is now being renegotiated; do you have any details on that agreement?

Spokesperson:  No.  As we’ve mentioned, we have seen this agreement close to signature on at least two occasions, and obviously we would like to see movement on that for the people of Yemen.  If and when a deal is signed, I would expect we’ll have something to say.

Question:  So basically you will get the details, or you don’t have the details at this point in time?

Spokesperson:  As I say, we’re keeping an eye on it. If and when a deal is signed, we’ll probably have something to say.  Yes, Matthew, last question.

Question:  Well, I don’t know, I have a couple.

Spokesperson:  Well, a last question; you can choose.

Question:  I don’t… okay, I am going to do, well… There is an article in the Sri Lankan press that reports, and maybe you will just deny this one, in which case, I hope to have, to ask you about a protest that was held outside yesterday.  But there is an article in the Sri Lankan press saying that the Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, and Permanent Representative Palitha Kohona, have substantively discussed the Panel of Experts report and the forthcoming, now delayed, LLRC [Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission], and have come to an agreement; that there is some agreement reached, which recommendations would be implemented by Sri Lanka, which ones would not be, and that essentially the matter is finished.  I can, I mean, the article, it is in [inaudible]; and I wonder whether the UN, given that it’s apparently, its’ summarizing a meeting between the two, is this accurate or not accurate?

Spokesperson:  Well, as you know, we’ve been very clear; the report has been published in its entirety.  You can see the recommendations that there are there, and the Secretary-General stands by the report that’s been prepared for him by the Panel of Experts.  That’s the first point.  The second is that we have repeatedly said in the run-up to the report being published, and after the report was published, that the Government of Sri Lanka is welcome to provide its response, its official response, to the report.  And we would welcome that.  We haven't seen it yet.

Question:  Sure.  This is related to that.  Yesterday, in connection with this Human Rights Council vote today, it was said that the Secretary-General does have the power to begin his own investigative mechanism of a sort, and that this was the UN system’s — the report they did on Rwanda, the mapping report — that this was a report that was done by the UN system without authorization by any intergovernmental body.  Is that accurate?

Spokesperson:  Well, as you know, we’ve been quite clear on that.  Firstly, accountability is for the national authority in any given case.  And in this case, it is no different:  accountability is for the Sri Lankan authorities.  We’ve also said that, in this report on accountability that was given to the Secretary-General, it sets out that the Sri Lankan authorities should indeed be doing this.  It also says that — and the Secretary-General said this in his statement with the report — that there needs to be, to take it forward, there needs to be either consent from the national Government, the national authorities — in other words the Sri Lankan authorities — or there needs to be a mandate from an intergovernmental body; and you know what they might be.  And that’s the position. 

Question:  So the mapping report, which intergovernmental body authorized it?

Spokesperson:  I can give you the details on that later.  I don’t have it at hand.  The point really is that for this report, it’s clear the Secretary-General received the report on accountability matters, and it set out recommendations, a key one of which was that it’s for the Sri Lankan authorities to look at accountability in a credible way, and that the Secretary-General believes that the case is — and he has stated it as fact, and he has repeated that elsewhere — any subsequent further inquiry within the UN context requires national consent, meaning Sri Lankan consent, or it needs a mandate from an intergovernmental body.  So that was several questions for the price of one.  I think they’re quite well there.  So okay, so have a very good weekend.  Bye for now.

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