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

13 August 2012

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

13 August 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 Eduardo del Buey, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.  Welcome to the noon briefing.

**Secretary-General’s Travel

The Secretary-General arrived in the Republic of Korea over the weekend. Today, he spoke at two universities in Seoul.  He spoke at Duksung Women's University on women's empowerment, and he addressed the launch of a Global Health Centre at Seoul National University, saying it would contribute to helping to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.  He also spoke at the launch of the Development Alliance Korea, which aims to coordinate development cooperation among Government agencies, the private sector and civil society.

Earlier in the day, the Secretary-General held separate talks with the Republic of Korea’s Foreign Minister and the Unification Minister.  They covered a wide range of topics, including Syria and the Korean peninsula.

And yesterday, the Secretary-General met with the Prime Minister during a visit to the southern city of Yeosu for the closing of the 2012 Expo. While in Yeosu, the Secretary-General spoke at a conference on the Convention on the Law of the Sea and launched the Oceans Compact, which is designed to strengthen UN system-wide cooperation on ocean matters.

Tomorrow, the Secretary-General will meet the Speaker of the Korean Parliament as well as members of the Global Compact and UNICEF goodwill ambassadors in Seoul.

** Iran

I have a statement attributable to the Secretary-General on the earthquakes in Iran.

The Secretary-General is deeply saddened by the loss of hundreds of lives, the many injuries and the destruction in the Islamic Republic of Iran as a result of the earthquakes that struck areas near the city of Tabriz on 11 August.  He extends his sincere condolences to the Iranian Government and people, particularly the families of those who have been killed or otherwise affected in this disaster.

The United Nations stands ready to lend its assistance to efforts to respond to humanitarian needs created by the disaster and to mobilize international support for the response.

** Syria

The Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos, will visit Syria and Lebanon.

Her three-day visit, from tomorrow to Thursday, aims to underscore the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Syria and the conflict’s impact on the people of Syria and those who have fled to Lebanon and to neighbouring countries.

In Syria, Ms. Amos will discuss with Syrian authorities, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and others how to urgently scale up relief efforts and reduce the suffering of civilians caught up in the fighting.

In Lebanon, she is scheduled to meet families who have fled from Syria and to hold talks with the Government and humanitarian agencies on how to best support the refugees.

** Darfur

A peacekeeper with the UN-African Union Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) was killed and another injured while on duty in Nyala, South Darfur, yesterday.  The peacekeeper, from Bangladesh's Formed Police Unit, was killed when a gang surrounded and fired at the staff in the mission's community policing centre inside the Otash camp for internally displaced people.  The armed men fled after the police unit returned fire.

The Acting Joint Special Representative strongly condemned the attack which, she stressed, constitutes a war crime under international law.  She called on the Government of Sudan to work to apprehend the culprits and bring them to justice.

Also yesterday, the UNAMID Force Commander, Lt. Gen. Patrick Nyamvumba, met with leaders from the Kassab camp for internally displaced people in Kutum, North Darfur.  They discussed security concerns, among other issues, and we have a press release in our office with more details.

** Somalia

Augustine Mahiga, who is the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia, strongly condemned the killings of a Somali Government official, Yusuf Ali Osman, and of a journalist, Mohamed Ali, yesterday in Mogadishu.  The United Nations has called repeatedly for full and independent investigations into such acts, which have made Somalia one of the most dangerous places on earth for media professionals.

Dr. Mahiga said that the culture of impunity in Somalia must end, adding that this is a decisive time in the political process and the work of media needs to be protected so that the Somali people are fully informed.  We have a press release with more details.

Questions, please?  Masood?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Yes, sir. In view of what has happened in Iran, is the Secretary-General going to ask his Humanitarian Affairs Coordinator, Valerie Amos, to go there?  Or is that a decision that she makes independently, on her own?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, we have had no requests for the Iranian authorities yet for any humanitarian assistance on the part of the United Nations, so we’re waiting to see what they decide to do.

Question:  You won’t go until she’s asked?

Deputy Spokesperson:  We have to be invited by the Government; we can’t just show up at the door.  Ali?

Question:  In Lebanon two days ago, the Government, the authorities, arrested a former minister accused of moving explosives from Syria to Lebanon, and the charges are that two main military aides for President Bashar al-Assad handed over those explosives.  Do you have any comment on that, and whether the Lebanese Government has sent anything to the UN in this regard?

Deputy Spokesperson:  To the best of my knowledge, they have not sent anything to the UN in this regard.  We continue to view the movement of arms and explosives and other military equipment across the border to or from Syria as being highly disruptive.  As you know, the Secretary-General continues to call out for a peaceful resolution, and says that the militarization of the conflict is not helping anybody in Syria and that this has to stop and that violence must end.

Question:  And you don’t have any comment on this specific case?

Deputy Spokesperson:  No, no comment on this specific case.

Question:  Has the Secretary-General confirmed that he is going to go to Tehran for any conference?

Deputy Spokesperson:  We have no comment on that question.

Question:  If I may ask another question in regard of Iran:  last week, a group of Syrian activists sent a letter to Secretary-General in regard of human rights and activists who had been present in Iran.  Any comment on that?  Has he received it?  Has he commented on it?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I’ll have to check on it.  I have no information on that right now.  Masood?

Question:  May I ask this question about the crossings problem, Egypt into Gaza and so forth?  The Egyptian Government has asked the Palestinians to close the tunnels.  They are not closing it because they won’t get any humanitarian help.  They want Egypt to burst open the Rafah crossing before they allow the tunnels to be shut down.  Does the Secretary-General have any comment on this situation?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, we’ve commented on the situation in Gaza to a large degree in the past, and the situation remains the same.  We view the land crossings should be open, and people should be able to flow, and that is a position that we’ve taken in the past, and it’s the position we continue to take.  Matthew?

Question:  Sure, I wanted to ask about Darfur, but one follow-up on this reported trip to Iran.  There’s an article in Haaretz, saying, as you probably know, that Benjamin Netanyahu quoted from his conversation with Ban Ki-moon, and he quotes Martin [Nesirky] saying, “Ban is not in the habit of referring to private phone conversations with foreign leaders”.  So just – can you explain a bit?  Because we do get these readouts of calls — you know, they’ll put a readout saying that Ban Ki-moon spoke to X and Y — so what’s different about what happened with Netanyahu?

Deputy Spokesperson:  You have the explanation right there, Matthew.  Next question?

Question:  Oh, because he said it was private in advance?  That’s what I’m wondering.

Deputy Spokesperson:  You have your answer.  We’re not going to comment on it.

Question:  OK.  What I wanted to ask you about Darfur was, I’ve seen an email sent to UNAMID staff that Mr. [Ibrahim] Gambari — or let’s say, the person that you referred to as the Acting Head — is now, as the officer in charge, the Head of UNAMID, and that Mr. Gambari has effectively left the mission.  Can you confirm that that’s taken place?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I’ve heard absolutely nothing to that effect, Matthew.

Question:  So he’s still in charge?

Deputy Spokesperson:  To the best of my knowledge, yes. OK?

Question:  Yes. This rising tension in the Eastern province of Saudi Arabia, particularly in Qatif, has been going on for many weeks now, and many people have been killed.  Today there’s also a policeman reported to have been shot.  Do you have any statement on that, or why is this area left without any attention from the United Nations?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Nizar, we have nothing to comment on that.  As Martin has stated on a number of occasions, when we have something to comment, we will let you know.

Question:  Is anybody attending the Jeddah conference today from the United Nations?  Any representative – the Islamic conference?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I believe Mr. — no, one second.  Yes, believe the Deputy Joint Special Envoy is attending on behalf of the United Nations JSE Office, yes.

Question:  No update on Mr. [Lakhdar] Brahimi’s appointment to replace Mr. [Kofi] Annan as yet?

Deputy Spokesperson:  When we have something to announce we’ll announce it.  We have nothing to announce.  Yes?

Question:  Does the Secretary-General feel that time for diplomacy to resolve Iran’s nuclear issue has come to an end, as claimed by Israel?

Deputy Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General continues to posit that the solution must be peaceful and non-military.  He continues to say and to maintain the position that Iran has to satisfy the international community that its nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes.  That is the position that the Secretary-General has taken, and it’s one he maintains.

Question:  My question was, does the Secretary-General feel that the time for diplomacy has come to an end?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have answered your question.  Matthew?

Question:  Sure, I wanted to ask about the Koreas and also Yemen again.  I saw that there were these comments by the Secretary-General, after he met with the Foreign Minister of the Republic of Korea, about how the two sides should work together.  And I just wondered, during this trip, did he make any – did he ask to meet with anyone from the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] side? And, maybe – I don’t know if you’ll know this offhand – but when was the last time he met with a DPRK official? If he’s calling on both sides, is he attempting to speak to both sides?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I’ll have to find out when the last time he spoke to a DPRK official was. I don’t have that information with me right now, no.

Question:  OK, on the Yemen thing – I’m sorry to re-ask this again, but I had asked Martin and he said he’d look into it, and then I asked you on Friday – what’s the status of Yemen’s ability to vote in the General Assembly, and can you explain this issue of the non-sufficient funds cheque being returned?

Deputy Spokesperson:  No, we cannot explain the issue of the non-sufficient funds; that’s between the Yemeni Government and its bank.  And as to the ability to vote or not vote, that’s a question for the General Assembly.  You’ll have to speak with Nihal Saad about that.

Correspondent:  But I have a copy of the cheque they paid to the Secretariat. They don’t pay the GA, they pay 380  Madison, and it was returned for non-sufficient funds.

Deputy Spokesperson:  The questions on the voting have to be taken up with the Office of the PGA [President of the General Assembly].

OK? Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen. Have a good afternoon.

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