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

21 August 2012

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

21 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 Martin Nesirky, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon and welcome to the briefing.


I have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the appointment of the Deputy Joint Special Representative for Syria.

The Secretary-General of the United Nations is pleased, along with the Secretary General of the League of Arab States, Nabil ElAraby, to announce the appointment today of Mr. Nasser Al-Kidwa, as their Deputy Joint Special Representative for Syria. 

Mr. Al-Kidwa brings to the position his extensive diplomatic experience and deep knowledge of the region, in addition to his recent involvement in UN peacemaking efforts on Syria as Deputy to the Joint Special Envoy Kofi Annan.  In his prior career, Mr. Al-Kidwa served in various functions with the Palestinian National Authority, including as Minister for Foreign Affairs from 2005 to 2006, and Permanent Observer of Palestine to the United Nations from 1991 to 2005.


This morning the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Kosovo, Farid Zarif, told the Security Council that a clear demonstration of good faith is now needed from both sides.  Mr. Zarif reported that the Secretary-General’s recent visit to the region had contributed to discussions on a number of essential issues, and that, on the ground, considerable progress has been made towards increasing cohesion and efficiency among internationally-mandated bodies.  He appealed to members of the Council to positively apply their influence to encourage the parties toward a more creative and bold approach to negotiations.

This afternoon, the Council will meet in closed session to discuss the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, and discuss the work of the committee on sanctions on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Sierra Leone

The World Health Organization (WHO) says that there have been more than 11,000 cases of cholera – resulting in some 200 deaths – in Sierra Leone since January of this year.

The Organization reports that 10 of the country’s 13 districts have been affected by the cholera outbreak.

The President has declared the escalating situation a humanitarian crisis, and the Organization is supporting the Government, deploying experts to support case management and infection control.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

The World Health Organization said today that a total of 15 suspected cases of Ebola with nine deaths had been reported in the northeast of the Democratic Republic of Congo, up to 19 August.

Thirteen of these cases are probable and two are confirmed.  The reported cases and deaths occurred in three zones in Haut-Uele district of Orientale Province. 

The Organization said that the Congolese Ministry of Health has convened a national task force and was working with several partners including the World Health Organization, Médecins sans Frontières Switzerland and Belgium, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

World Humanitarian Day

The World Humanitarian Day 2012 campaign made social media history by sharing more than 1 billion messages on 19 August, encouraging people to do something good for someone else.

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said that the campaign numbers soared following the release of the “I Was Here” music video by Beyoncé on 18 August.

Her support and that of other celebrities and major brands put this campaign on the global stage.

Noon Briefing Guest Tomorrow

Tomorrow, I will be joined by Valerie Amos, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator.  She will be here to brief you on her recent visit to Syria.

Questions, please. Mr. Abbadi, and then Masood. Yes?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Martin. The – Mr. Brahimi, the Joint Special Envoy, has not resumed, as you know, his official mission, and yet the opposition, the National Council in Syria, has begun to criticize him for not taking position on the eventual departure of President Assad, and for declaring that the state of war already exists in Syria. Should the Secretary-General contact those who provide direct assistance to the opposition, namely Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey, and have them contact the opposition so that they refrain from criticizing the Special Envoy at this delicate stage of his mission?

Spokesperson:  Well, thanks for the advice, Mr. Abbadi.  I think that what I can tell you here is that Mr. Brahimi obviously, in the role which he will formally assume on 1 September, has the full support and backing of the Secretary-General, and the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States, as you know, also of the Security Council.  These are early days and Mr. Brahimi will obviously be discussing as the Joint Special Representative, the way ahead in the coming days, including with the Secretary-General.  Yes?

Question:  Do you have any statement or announcement on the Secretary-General’s announce – I mean, is he going to visit Iran on the occasion of the Non-Aligned Summit?

Spokesperson:  You know very well that there was a lot of discussion last week with Eduardo, and I’m presenting the same “bowl of Jello” that he presented last week.  Yes?

Question:  That was my question.

Spokesperson:  About the Jello?

Question:  Yes, whether or not – why might the Secretary-General, since I was out last week you can enlighten me, why might the Secretary-General want to go to Iran?

Spokesperson:  There have been various media reports; we’re not commenting on them.  Okay, yes?

Question:  Meles Zenawi, the Prime Minister of Ethiopia has passed, he had a very close relationship, seemingly, with the Secretary-General.  Do you have anything on his passing?

Spokesperson:  Well, I know that certainly the Secretary-General was personally deeply saddened to hear of the death of the Ethiopian Prime Minister, and I know that, already at this stage, he’s sending his condolences to the family, the Government and of course to the people of Ethiopia, and I would anticipate that we’ll have something a little more formal quite shortly.  Yes?

Question:  Martin, we’ve heard that Brahimi would – is coming to New York this week.  Do you have any idea when he’s coming, what his schedule will be like, and whether or not he will be based in New York?

Spokesperson:  Last bit first, he will be based in New York.  He’s expected to come to New York towards the end of this week — I don’t have an exact schedule at this point.  As I mentioned just a little while ago, that’s with the aim of speaking personally, face-to-face, with the Secretary-General and other senior advisors about the way ahead.  Yes?

Question:  Sure.  I wanted – I guess, two Brahimi questions.  One is, does this announcement of Mr. Al Kidwa going from Deputy Joint Special Envoy to Deputy Joint Special Representative – can it be read into it that Mr. Guehenno is not going to be replaced, that there’s going to be a single deputy rather than a two-deputy structure that took place under Mr. Annan?

Spokesperson:  I’ve announced what I have to announce, and that’s it.  Yes – I’ll come back to you.  Yes?

Question:  Good morning, Martin.  I think it was Friday, out of your Office, I believe the Secretary — a statement of the Secretary-General was dismayed by the remarks made threatening Israel’s existence attributed over the last few days to the Supreme Leader and the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran.  A lot of Iranians would like to know where, or if, there would ever be a sort of counteractive statement on behalf of the Secretary-General condemning Israel’s constant threat of an airstrike on Iran.  I think there are many people that believe this airstrike would have happened already if they could have talked the U.S. into it, and yet, to my recollection, the Secretary-General has never scolded or condemned any encouragement of an airstrike. And it’s all over the news.

Spokesperson:  Well, thank you, I read the news too.  And it’s – it is the afternoon rather than the morning.  Just on this – your recollection is not correct.  The Secretary-General on numerous occasions, either through me, through Eduardo or through others or in his own voice, said that the only way to handle the question of whether Iran’s nuclear programme is for exclusively peaceful purposes is peacefully, through dialogue, through negotiations.  And he’s said that repeatedly. Yes?

Question:  Sure, I just wanted to ask another Brahimi question.  Mr. Brahimi has been reported in some of the coverage over the weekend as being a Nobel Peace Laureate.  And I wanted to know – I know the UN itself got an award at some point.  Are you aware of what the basis of that claim is?  Is it based on his service when the UN was named, or is he a laureate?  What’s his status?

Spokesperson:  Well, Matthew, with the greatest of respect, I’m not responsible for the content of media reports on the Joint Special Representative.  Yes, Nizar?

Question:  Martin, just to follow up on my colleague’s question – I mean, asking to refrain or recommending things regarding the attack by Israel on Iran is different from showing disdain or resentment to the threats.  Israel is the only State that annihilated or really negated a whole country, whereas Iran has never taken any action regarding Israel.  So shouldn’t the Secretary-General be more forthcoming in his statements regarding the threats by Israel to attack Iran?

Spokesperson:  I think we’ve been perfectly clear on that – I don’t have anything to add.  Yes, Ali?

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  Last week, Lebanon witnessed a series of kidnappings, and there is this infamous incident by a foreign minister that was trying to smuggle explosives from Syria into Lebanon, who was arrested.  Is the Secretary-General worried about these incidents?  Is there any comment on that?  Thank you.

Spokesperson:  On the last point, I think this was raised last week, I don’t have anything to add on that.  On the first part of your question, the Secretary-General has said and I have said that any kidnappings are not appropriate and that people who are being held against their will should be released.  Yes, Errol?

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  The Secretary-General was in Srebrenica and he met with [inaudible] of the genocide, and he talked to them.  A few days ago those victims’ organizations of the Mothers of Srebrenica decided to pursue another lawsuit against the United Nations.  I wonder, does the Secretary-General have any comment on that?

Spokesperson:  No, we don’t have any comment on that, Errol.  You’re quite right that the Secretary-General did meet with a number of representatives – a number of people who lost loved ones, whether sons or husbands or brothers during that massacre, genocide.  And he spent a lot of time with them.  It was a very harrowing experience for all concerned, a deeply emotional experience, and the Secretary-General has nothing but deep sympathy for their plight and everything that they have been through.  But I don’t have any further comment.  Yes?

Question:  Martin, the Libyan authorities have announced that Saif Al-Qadhafi will be tried in Libya going against ICC demands that he be tried at The Hague.  Does the Secretary-General have any comment on whether the Libyan authorities are ready to try him at home?

Spokesperson:  No, not at this point.  The ICC is an independent body.  It’s not part of the United Nations.  If I have anything further, I’ll let you know.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Yes, on this statement on Mr. Brahimi, the Joint Special Envoy had met with the President of France, Francois Hollande, who expressed strong support for him and for his Mission.  There are apparently preparations towards having a meeting of the Security Council soon, at the end of this month at the Foreign Ministers’ level.  Do you know how many Ministers have already declared that they would participate at the meeting?

Spokesperson:  I don’t, Mr. Abbadi. I think the best person to ask is the Permanent Representative of France, the President of the Council.  Yes?

Question:  One of the topics that also came up apparently in that meeting was…

Spokesperson:  Which meeting?

Question:  The Hollande and Brahimi meeting.

Spokesperson:  Yes.

Question:  Was the possibility of some sort of – I’m sorry, I was thinking of another meeting. But regardless, the possibility of the safe zone and safe passage [inaudible] Turkey concern that it can’t take many more refugees over the border now.  Is that something that the Secretary-General would support?  Is it something that is being looked at again, with fresh eyes, do you know?

Spokesperson:  Well, I don’t really have any comment on that.  What I can tell you is that more than 170,000 people have at this point fled the violence in Syria and that the World Food Programme has been distributing food rightly across Syria.  Last month, it provided food to more than 820,000 people and it expects to deliver food to about 850,000 people.  A really crucial part of this is that, according to the World Health Organization, $20 million is urgently needed to provide essential drugs.  You will have heard that drug supplies are essentially drying up, running low.  So that $20 million would be for essential drugs from August, from now, until March of next year.  And then overall, the humanitarian response plan calls for $180 million to provide assistance to a million people inside Syria. And that’s only 45 per cent funded.  The regional refugee plan needs another $193 million, and that’s only 33 per cent funded. 

This is all to say that there clearly is a huge amount to do, the humanitarian crisis is certainly there, and – but the funding is not.  So there needs to be a concerted effort by the international community to come up with funds to help to plug those gaps, and I’m pretty sure that Ms. Amos will be addressing that in more detail tomorrow.  Yes, Mr. Abaddi, and then Masood, and then I’m coming around this way again.  Yeah?

Question:  In response to my question, you said that I should contact the French Mission to find out how many foreign ministers are coming.  Tradition is that the Foreign Ministers of the Ministries of Foreign Affairs usually inform the Secretary-General’s Office about their participation, not the Mission.

Spokesperson:  Well, Mr. Abbadi, it may be the tradition in your experience.  What I’m telling you is that we don’t have a list, and it may well be that the French Permanent Mission does.  Yes, Masood?

Question:  On this killing and persecution Muslims in Myanmar, which the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has called for, coordinated – even sending in a mission to look into it – has the Secretary-General said to send anybody there to ascertain for himself as to what scale this massacre has taken place?

Spokesperson:  Well, you know well that Mr. Nambiar has been very vocal on this, including just last week, providing some comment on the setting up of the Commission of Inquiry in the country itself.  So – and he’s certainly aware of the visit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation recently – so I don’t really have anything further to add to the statement that we issued last week, really, Masood.  Yes, and then Hank, and then Nizar.

Question:  A question on Kosovo, Iran and Sudan, so however you want to do it.  On Kosovo, just now in the Council, the representative, the new Prime Minister of Serbia, said that funding that goes to Northern Mitrovica that currently goes through the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) is now being switched to be gone through the Kosovo authorities, and they protest that and say that it should go through the Fifth Committee, and I just – I don’t know if Mr. Zarif is going to do a stakeout, but is it possible to know if there is a change, and is it consistent with UNMIK’s mandate under 1244?

Spokesperson:  I can certainly check.

Question:  On Friday, there was obviously a remembrance in the GA lobby of the World Humanitarian Day and of the Canal Hotel bombing.  There was also a ceremony across the street in Church Centre in which several of the loved ones of those who died in the bombing – there was some criticism of sort of the openness of the UN system to them.  Some have said that because they weren’t legally married to those who perished they were never invited to ceremonies.  They said that Ban Ki-Moon, when he first came in, promised to turn this around, but they said that it hadn’t turned around.  They did praise [inaudible].  But they seemed to feel that it was never sufficiently investigated, and that many of the loved ones of those killed hadn’t been treated correctly by the UN.  And I wanted to know, is there a UN response to this annual complaint made by these survivors?

Spokesperson:  Well, certainly any complaints, should they be

received, would be received through official channels, not through you, Matthew, so if we have anything to say I will let you know. Yes, Hank?

Question:  [Inaudible]

Spokesperson:  As I say, Matthew, if there’s – if there have been any communications on this matter, which is of course something that needs to be taken extremely seriously, it will be done through official channels.  And if I have something to say I will let you know.

Question:  Is your Office aware of the criticism?  That’s what I’m asking.

Spokesperson:  No, that’s not what you said, Matthew.  Yes, Hank?

Question:  Yes, Martin, thank you.  I heard and understand your answer to my prior question.  But I feel as though we’ve got into an apples and oranges situation.  You spoke of the Secretary-General’s statements concerning a peaceful dealing with Iran’s nuclear programme, but what I was really asking about was, has the Secretary-General condemned the Israeli threats of attacking Iran?

Spokesperson:  You’ve heard my answer, that’s what I have to say.  I think you had one other question?

Question:  Yes, I did.  On Sudan, I wanted to ask, you know, reports that two African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) peacekeepers have gone missing or been taken — and I know it’s always delicate, but is there anything that can be said about what’s been thought and what’s been done?  And I wanted to ask again about this repatriated Nigerian battalion that Mr. Gambari in his final interview said, a Nigerian battalion was repatriated.  I just wanted to know what the basis of that was.

Spokesperson:  I know that you mentioned that last week.  If I have anything further on that I will let you know - on the reference to the Nigerian contingent. On the mission, the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur says that two of its peacekeepers went missing yesterday — so Monday — in the town of Kabkabiya in north Darfur, and the incident is being investigated by the mission and the Government of the Sudan.  I don’t have anything further at this point.  Last question, Nizar?

Question:  There are reports coming from Syria talking about a siege by the Syrian Free Army to a Christian town in the vicinity of Homs for the last 10 days. And people have been denied any access to food or anything for ten days now, and they are starving.  Is there anything the Red Cross or Red Crescent or any humanitarian organization tried to alleviate the suffering of these people?

Spokesperson:  It may be that Ms. Amos has some more details tomorrow on this, I don’t have anything specific on that.  Obviously, various parts of the UN family dealing with humanitarian matters have been working very closely with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent. T hey have been the people who have been working very courageously and impartially across the country throughout these months.  So if I have anything further I will let you know, and I’m sure that Ms. Amos will do the same.  I see a lot of – I’m sorry, it’s really difficult to see you sitting right at the back there.  So this is the last question.

Question:  Thank you. Regarding Tehran’s affirmation that Israel should not exist, is there any statement from the Secretary-General, please?

Spokesperson:  Yes, that’s what we’ve been referring to. T here was a statement that was issued on Friday in which the Secretary-General said he was dismayed by the remarks threatening Israel’s existence attributed over the last two days to the Supreme Leader and the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and the Secretary-General condemns these offensive and inflammatory statements.  And the statement that was issued on Friday went on to say that the Secretary-General believes that all leaders in the region should use their voices at this time to lower, rather than to escalate, tensions.  In accordance with the UN Charter, all Members must refrain from threats or use of force against the territorial integrity and independence of any State.

Okay, thank you very much. Have a good afternoon.

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