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

18 May 2012

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

18 May 2012
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, and welcome to the briefing.

**General Assembly on World Economy

The Secretary-General is addressing the closing session of the General Assembly’s high-level thematic debate on the world economy right now.  He is telling the Member States his concern about the slow recovery of the global economy and the possibility of another worldwide recession.  He’s saying that if this happens, it may be even more devastating since we have less resources and fiscal capacity to respond.

At the same time, the Secretary-General says that these difficulties are a reason to recommit to sustainable development, not to shrink from it.  The Secretary-General believes that next month’s Rio + 20 Conference is not an end but a beginning.  It is our chance, he says, to set in motion a revolution in how we think about creating balanced, dynamic growth for future generations.  And we’ll have his remarks shortly.

** Syria

Major General Robert Mood, the Head of the UN Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS), said at a press conference today that the Mission is on its way to achieving full deployment.  He said that he expects it can reach the final phase of full operational capacity soon.

He noted that the Mission now comprises nearly 260 military observers on the ground, from approximately 60 Member States.  General Mood said that no amount of observers can achieve a permanent end to the violence if the commitment by all sides to give dialogue a chance is not genuine.  We have his remarks available in my office.

** Guinea-Bissau and Mali

Said Djinnit, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for West Africa, will participate in the Mediation and Security Council meeting of the Economic Community of West African States, which will take place tomorrow in Abidjan.

We issued a statement last night expressing the Secretary-General’s belief that it is critical to ensure that the decisions emanating from the mediation processes in Mali and Guinea-Bissau ensure a full and speedy return to constitutional order and send a clear and principled message against unconstitutional seizures of power.

The United Nations calls again for strict adherence to democratic principles and for the military in both countries to return to their barracks, refrain from any political involvement and to respect civilian authority and the rule of law.

The Security Council is scheduled to have a formal meeting on Guinea-Bissau, starting around now.


The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) said today that a record number of African refugees and migrants are arriving in Yemen this year.  More than 43,000 people reached Yemen’s shores in the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea in the first four months of this year alone.  Should the current trend continue, 2012 would sadly become another record year.

The refugee agency noted that the striking increase in the overall number of the new arrivals in Yemen reflects the growing Ethiopian population on the move.  Three out of four people making the crossing to Yemen are Ethiopian nationals.  This year, UNHCR is seeking $60 million to address the protection and humanitarian needs of some 220,000 refugees and almost half a million internally displaced people in Yemen.  But so far, only a third of the funds have been received.  UNHCR is calling on both government and private donors to respond adequately and in a timely manner.

** Pakistan

According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), some 3,000 displaced people from Khyber Agency in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas are continuing to arrive at Jalozai camp every day, due to the ongoing security operations.  More than 90 per cent of the new arrivals are opting to stay outside the camp, which currently houses more than 50,000 people.

As of 15 May, the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) had registered over 230,000 people displaced since January, when the security operations began.  Again, shelter and food are the top needs for the displaced families living outside the camp.  And funding, of course, is critical.  Without greater support, key organizations are in fact due to run out of funds at the end of May, putting critical humanitarian assistance seriously at risk.

**Food and Agriculture Organization

The Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) thirty-first Regional Conference for the Near East today called for a 50 per cent reduction of food losses and food waste in the region in order to improve regional food security.  Concluding a week-long session in Rome, the Conference called on FAO to assist its member countries in drawing up a plan to halve the amount food they lose or waste in the next 10 years.  Annual losses in grains are estimated at more than 16 million tons across the region.

**Legal Affairs

Patricia O’Brien, the UN Legal Counsel, is giving the convocation address at the New York University School of Law today, and we have copies of that address available in my Office.

**Security Council

I understand that the Security Council meeting on Guinea-Bissau that was scheduled to start around now has been postponed until 3:30 this afternoon.

I am happy to take questions.  I was going to say a sea of hands, but that’s overstating it.  But, yes, start with Tim, then Ali?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Last night at the youth event, the Secretary-General said he saw the hand of Al-Qaida behind the recent attack in Damascus; questions were asked about this to General Mood and Mr. [Ahmad] Fawzi today, and they both referred this to you, to say on what basis he said this.

Spokesperson:  Look, the Damascus attacks were clearly carried out by a group with the organization and intent; some of the attacks we have seen clearly bear some terrorist hallmarks, with which we are familiar from elsewhere.  I think there is a genuine concern shared by the Secretary-General that terrorist groups are already taking advantage of the continued violence and insecurity in Syria.  And this means there is all the more reason for the violence to stop, so the political process has a chance to begin.  Yes, Ali?

Question:  Yeah, thank you.  The Syrian Ambassador to the UN last night sent a letter to the Secretary-General, saying that Lebanon has become a safe haven for terrorists and for arms smuggling from Lebanon to Syria.  And he mentioned a list of names from different nationals, including Saudis, Egyptians, Lebanese, Syrian — they are all terrorists, as he said.  My question is whether you received this information from Lebanon, whether you should receive this kind of dangerous information about dangerous people there in Lebanon, and whether you have any means to verify the truth regarding those allegations.

Spokesperson:  Well, with regard to whether a letter has been received, I will need to check on that.  It is entirely possible, if the Syrian Permanent Representative says a letter has been sent, then it must be in the works, if not yet formally received.  As to the allegations made and whether they can be substantiated or not, that’s very difficult to say.  If I have anything further, particularly on the part of the question relating to Lebanon, I will let you know, but I don’t have anything at the moment.  Yes, Nizar, then I am coming to you Talal, yes?

Question:  On the same… in the same letter, Mr. [Bashar] Ja’afari says that a ship off-loaded — full of weapons — off-loaded those weapons through small boats, which went in to Juniyeh harbour.  And now, isn’t suppo… isn’t the UNIFIL [United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon] supposed to intercept such ships and inspect, especially that in the past, we have seen another ship that went to Tripoli and off-loaded 150 tons of weapons which the Lebanese Army has seized?

Spokesperson:  No, Nizar, I have to correct you there.  UNIFIL does not have the mandate to intercept.  It has the mandate to monitor and to hail vessels and then to report its concerns to the Lebanese Navy.  And it is for the Lebanese Navy then to act on that information if it wishes.  But UNIFIL itself does not have the mandate to intercept in the way that you are suggesting.

Question:  Did they inform you that they pursued that procedure in the past?

Spokesperson:  Yes, and I have mentioned it here with some details in previous instances; two specific instances that I recall.  So I think we’d be able to provide the details of those after this if you would like.  Yes, Talal, and then Masood?

Question:  With regard to the Secretary-General’s statements yesterday, last night, Mood said he has no evidence of Al-Qaida involved, and Fawzi said there are a third element, but he doesn’t know the identity of this element.  The Secretary-General statement has pinpointed Al-Qaida; I mean there is no doubt the attacks are terrorist attacks, but to say they are Al-Qaida — is this statement based on… on facts, on evidence or is it a conclusion, a personal conclusion by the Secretary-General?

Spokesperson:  You will notice that he used the words “I believe”.  Do we have hard, conclusive evidence at this point?  No, we don’t.  But as I said earlier, the Damascus attacks were clearly carried out by a group with organization and intent, and there is indeed a genuine concern shared by the Secretary-General, General Mood and the Joint Special Envoy that terrorist groups are already taking advantage of the continued violence and insecurity in Syria — a third element, a third force.

Question:  But not necessarily.  It could be another force besides Al-Qaida organization.  I mean, we are not here, not here saying it’s definitely Al-Qaida.  It is believed it’s… they are… they could be Al-Qaida, is that correct?

Spokesperson:  You’ve heard what the Secretary-General said and you have heard what I’ve said.  Yes, Masood?

Question:  Two questions.  One is about these Pakistan IDPs [internally displaced persons] now going to Jalozai and so forth, and you said that it is quite likely that there will be a shortage of funds to feed them.  Will there be an appeal by the Secretary-General or OCHA for emergency funding of this?

Spokesperson:  Well, there already is a requirement, a request out there that OCHA — the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs — says that the humanitarian agencies need $169 million.

Question:  That’s not fully funded?

Spokesperson:  That would be to meet the needs of the displaced people up to the end of this year.  And obviously, as I said, unless there is greater support, the funds are likely to run out at the end of this month.  So it’s obvious that, yes, we do appeal for the funding that is required to help these people.

Question:  On this new economic order that the Secretary-General is calling for because the old one is broken, the Secretary-General every year wrote a letter to the G-8 or G-20 summit telling them that they should make some… I mean, keep some announcement or a new economic order for the developing countries and so forth.  This year he has not written to them at all, to the G-8 summit.  Why is that?

Spokesperson:  Well, the… to the G-8 summit; no, he has not, but the G-20 summit is still ahead of us, so let’s wait and see.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  I want to ask you about… again this is the same topic of this press conference held by Mr. Fawzi, the… one of the… one of the statements that he made, there is two things I want to ask you about in it.  He said that… that… he was asked if… if… if Kofi Annan is going to Damascus; he said, we don’t disclose that.  He said, but his deputy plans to visit Syria, and I just wanted to make sure, he has more than one deputy.  Is this a reference to Mr. [Jean-Marie] Guéhenno, and not to Mr. [ Nasser al-] Kidwa?

Spokesperson:  I think you will find that Mr. Fawzi chose his words rather carefully.

Question:  Meaning?

Spokesperson:  There are two…

Question:  …two deputies?

Spokesperson:  Exactly.

Question:  Okay.  So, you are saying it’s possible that Mr. Kidwa will go?

Spokesperson:  No, that’s not what I am saying; I am saying Mr. Fawzi chose his words carefully.

Question:  Okay.  They’d also… they inserted in the transcript in italics… he had said that… that… that the Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, will be both attending NATO and the G-8, and then they inserted in, “It has later transpired that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will participate in NATO, but will not attend the G-8 meeting”.  Does that mean he was going to attend the G-8 meeting and then it later transpired that he wouldn’t, or was he never going to attend the G-8 meeting?  I just want to understand that.  Unless this is carefully worded, as well.

Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General, as I announced yesterday, is going to the NATO summit, and that’s where we are.  And at that summit meeting, as you know, there will be quite a few of the people who have attended the G-8 summit that precedes it.

Question:  On this, on the G-8, it seems like a major focus is food security in Africa and I am wondering what’s… what is the UN’s participation in this… this event on a topic, you know, directly in the UN’s competence?

Spokesperson:  Well, as I have said before, there are a number of important meetings that are coming up.  The NATO meeting is one of them, in the sense that it brings together important players.  The Secretary-General will, of course, have the opportunity to talk about the matters that specifically relate to NATO and that gathering; for example, the transition in Afghanistan.  But also, because those key world leaders will be there, it’s going to be an important opportunity for him to speak to them about the forthcoming Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development and the importance of there being leadership at the highest level to ensure that the outcomes that we need to see are reached in good time.  And, of course, then you get to the G-20, you get to Rio+20 in all of those contexts; yes, of course, food security in Africa and other parts of the world are important elements and the Secretary-General and the relevant people within his team, of course, do feed into that conversation.  Okay, yes, Talal?

Question:  Two questions again on last night’s briefing.  From your answer you just said that you don’t have concrete evidence, if I may quote you, on… on the fact that Al-Qaida is responsible, so do I understand from that that you don’t exclude the possibility that there is another group of terrorists, other terrorists responsible for this attack… for these attacks?

Spokesperson:  I am not going to be drawn beyond what I have already said, Talal.

Question:  No, I just want to understand actually the… I mean, I am not asking you to, you know, to reinvent the wheel, I am just ask… trying to understand that you don’t have concrete evidence, so that even you can say that you don’t exclude the possibility of other people or terrorist groups being responsible.

Spokesperson:  Well, what I would do, Talal, is simply repeat what I have already said.  So I don’t think that’s going to help you or me.  So that’s what I have to say.

Question:  Okay.  This other question I have is, until today, until last night, the United Nations position was we don’t know if these attacks were targeting the observers, we don’t know who is behind them and we don’t know if the observers were the targets.  Last night, the Secretary-General stated that they were the targets.  Is that now the official position of the United Nations…?

Spokesperson:  I think you need to keep those two parts of what the Secretary-General said separate.  He referred to the Damascus attacks, and he referred to the incidents involving the military observers.  Two separate things.

Question:  Not observers, I am talking about the observers.

Spokesperson:  Military observers.  Yeah.

Question:  Is it the position of the United Nations…?

Spokesperson:  Look, what was said was, on the military observers…

Question:  Yeah, in the second or first sentence…

Spokesperson:  …there are attacks against monitors twice.

Correspondent:  Yes.

Spokesperson:  So they… do we… do we know they were targeted?  We have said before, it was a narrow escape, but we don’t know precisely if they were targeted with what the Secretary-General was talking about is…

Question:  That’s what I want to understand.

Spokesperson:  …is… is, in the first part of this what he was saying, he was talking about the Damascus attacks in which 55 something civilians were killed.

Question:  When he speaks about the observers — I don’t have the notes, I should have brought them with me — when he speaks about the attacks on the observers, two attacks, and I think he… he is referring to the Dara’a attack and to Khan Cheikhoun, the attacks on the observers, he does mention the observers.

Spokesperson:  He said there were attacks against monitors twice.

Question:  Monitors, yes, twice, Cheikh… Dara’a and Cheikhoun… Khan Cheikhoun.

Spokesperson:  The two incidents that we know about, narrow escapes with improvised explosive devices.

Question:  But he said on the… on the monitors, so is that the position now, that the attacks were targeting the monitors?  That is my question, really.

Spokesperson:  I have said to you we do not have evidence at this point that there was direct targeting.  There were attacks and narrow escapes in both cases.  Yes, Masood?  And then I am coming to you, Nizar.

Question:  On this… on the NATO meeting, when the Secretary-General is going to attend, do you have… are you privy to any information that the Secretary-General will be discussing this in the context of NATO, these contentious drone attacks which have affected the relationship between Pakistan and the United States and Afghanistan?

Spokesperson:  No, I don’t, Masood.  He has a range of meetings on the margins of the NATO summit itself, and will be attending the summit, as well.  Yes?

Question:  A few months ago, when Ayman Zawahiri, the head of Al-Qaida organization, called on his fighters to go and fight in Syria, this call was ignored widely.  Not even… there was no statement by the United Nations or anybody else.  Does the Secretary-General believe that that call was genuine and now things are materializing… his call is now materializing in Syria?

Spokesperson:  Again, I don’t really have anything beyond what I have already said; that generally speaking, there is a genuine concern shared by the Secretary-General that terrorist groups are already taking advantage of the continued violence and insecurity in Syria.  That’s what I have for you.

Question: I have another question on Bahrain.

Spokesperson:  Well, I’d like you to wait so that I can move around the room, and I will come back to you, Nizar.  And I can also see that there are other hands.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Sure, I want to ask you, the… this afternoon, the Secretary-General is going to meet with Mr. [Andry] Rajoelina of Madagascar and because… I under… I mean, hopefully you will put out a readout, but I wanted to ask a more… a more fundamental question in advance.  There is a road map that… I mean, there have been a lot of, obviously, issues with the transition and democracy there.  There is a road map set out and it’s… there have been recent reports that the road map has not been followed, including an article 16 that’s about stop… and prosec… politically motivated prosecutions, and this is, according even to SADC [Southern African Development Community], not been implemented.  So I wanted to know, what is the UN’s position on… on the outstanding questions in Madagascar?  Should they go to election without these, quote, “confidence measures” in place, or should the road map be implemented before elections?  And I think I can… I am trying to ask this before the meeting just to know what the UN’s position is.

Spokesperson:  Well, I hear what you are saying Matthew.  There will be a readout, I hope; we have certainly requested one.  And I would refrain from further comment until that point, okay.  Yes, Nizar just wanted something on Bahrain and then I am coming down the line.

Question:  A question on the intended annexation of Bahrain with Saudi Arabia, or into Saudi Arabia.  Do you have any statement regarding that?  I mean, should the rulers of Bahrain listen more to their people with regard to their future and choosing their future?

Spokesperson:  Well, Nizar, I think we had this conversation the other day.  Briefly…

Question:  There is… there are a lot of protests today in the streets of Bahrain, especially after Friday prayers, they went out, chanting against such a move.

Spokesperson:  Well, Nizar, I think what the Secretary-General has consistently said is that all leaders in the region, and indeed beyond, need to listen to the voices of the people.  And I think that that is where I will leave it.  Yes, Ali? Ali, and then Tim.

Question:  On the same subject, on the same subject.

Spokesperson:  Nizar, with respect, I just do want to move around, okay?

Question:  So what are the best means to better control the border between Lebanon and Syria, in the view of the Secretary-General?  What should be done in order to better control this border?

Spokesperson:  Well, they are two sovereign States with their own security forces, and it is incumbent on them to ensure border security.  Yes, Tim?

Question:  Mr. Christopher Ross was scheduled to leave on a visit to Western Sahara and the rest of the region in mid-May.  Has he left yet and, or is he still intending to go?

Spokesperson:  I’ll have to check with you on the travel plans of Mr. Ross; don’t have them to hand.  Yes, Nizar?

[The Spokesperson later said that no travel to the region was scheduled at present.]

Question:  Yes, on the hunger strikers in Bahrain, especially, I mean, Abdul-Hadi al-Khawaja, do you have any update, because yesterday I heard in the news that his lawyer managed for the first time in almost 45 days to see his… Mr. Khawaja?  And he said he is being forcibly made to eat artificially through… by… by force.  And so is there any update on the latest contacts with the Bahraini authorities for the release of these people or for the arrangement to extradite them to…?

Spokesperson:  Nizar, no, I don’t have anything specific, new or new to say.  What I would simply reiterate is what we have said before, that it is incumbent on the Bahraini authorities to deal with this in the framework of international humanitarian law.  And in all such cases involving hunger strikers, their medical welfare is the prime concern.  And as you know, there have been efforts to solve this, and we would hope that those efforts would be successful, in line with the wishes of the person concerned.  Masood?  And then I am coming to Matthew for the final question.

Question:  Yes, sir.  I just want to know, so you are… are you… I am going to belabour the point, you’re definitively ruling out any involvement, direct involvement of Al-Qaida in this thing which the Secretary-General had somehow indicated that…?

Spokesperson:  That’s not what I said.  That’s not what I said, Masood.  That’s not what I said.  Yes?

Question:  Yeah, sure, I just want to ask about the… the… the… the GA [General Assembly] Hall.  One is, the… the… Sacha Baron Cohen, the comedian, has said on… on British BBC 4 Radio that he asked to shoot inside the UN and was refused.  And he said it is because, according to him, the quote is… is… is… he… we said this is a pro-democracy movie, they said that’s the problem, we represent a lot of dictators and they are going to be very angry by this portrayal of them, so you can’t shoot in there.  I am pretty sure in assuming that that’s a paraphrase, but did he ask in fact and was he denied, and if so, why?

Spokesperson:  Sacha Baron Cohen has a wonderful sense of humour.  Thanks very much have a good afternoon.

[The Spokesperson later added that the United Nations reviews every request on its merits and determines case by case whether access to the complex can be granted.  With respect to The Dictator, the Organization did collaborate with Paramount Pictures and facilitated the filming of exterior scenes at United Nations Headquarters last summer.]

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