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

22 August 2012

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

22 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, everybody and welcome to the briefing.

As you can see, today I am joined by Valerie Amos, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, and she’s here to brief you on her recent visit to Syria. But first, before we turn to Ms. Amos — I’m very happy to have you back here again - I have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the Sixteenth Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement.

Non-Aligned Movement Summit

The Secretary-General will visit Tehran from 29 to 31 August to participate in the Sixteenth Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement.  The Secretary-General looks forward to the Summit as an opportunity to work with the participating Heads of State and Government, including the host country, towards solutions on issues that are central to the global agenda including follow-up to the Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development, disarmament, conflict prevention, and support for countries in transition. 

The Secretary-General also takes seriously his responsibility and that of the United Nations to pursue diplomatic engagement with all of its Member States in the interest of peacefully addressing vital matters of peace and security.  With respect to the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Secretary-General will use the opportunity to convey the clear concerns and expectations of the international community on the issues for which cooperation and progress are urgent for both regional stability and the welfare of the Iranian people.  These include Iran’s nuclear programme, terrorism, human rights and the crisis in Syria.

Now I’m happy to take a few questions on this topic, if there are questions, and then we’ll be able to turn to Ms. Amos.  If there are any questions on this particular topic.  Yes, Jonathan, and then Masood.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Martin, Ban was snubbed right after he…

Spokesperson:  Who, sorry?

Question:  Ban Ki-moon was snubbed right after he made the statements condemning the Iranian officials for calling for the annihilation of Israel.  Also, there have been…

Spokesperson:  Snubbed by whom, Jonathan?

Correspondent:  Snubbed by the Iranian authorities, including by Khamenei, who continued to call for the destruction of Israel, and then put diatribes on his website calling for the murder of Jews.  What is travelling to Tehran really going to accomplish if they’re not even listening to him already having made these statements?  Isn’t he playing into their hands, especially since the Iranians have touted, in their media, that if Ban goes it will show that the international community is not united against Iran, and that the sanctions and other pressures have no force?

Spokesperson:  Actually, Jonathan, I would disagree with you there.  First of all, the Secretary-General is obviously fully aware of the sensitivities of this visit, and also he’s heard the views of some of those who’ve suggested he not go.  But at the same time, the Secretary-General has responsibilities that he’s determined to carry out, both to the Non-Aligned Movement and to Iran, precisely because of the level of international concern about issues that include the country’s nuclear programme, human rights and the situation in Syria.  And his visit is timely and important because of, not despite, these major concerns, which are shared by the United Nations.

And while there, the Secretary-General can speak on behalf of the entire international community to make clear directly to the Iranian leadership what the world expects from Tehran and to encourage positive and constructive responses, and not to do so would be a missed opportunity.  So, just to be clear, the Secretary-General has an obligation to make an effort and he would be remiss not to use this opportunity to engage at the highest levels and press for steps that genuinely respond to the expectations of the international community.

And, just very specifically on what you’ve mentioned about the statements emanating in recent days and obviously earlier from Iran with regard to Israel, well, the Secretary-General has been very clear on this topic.  He issued a statement just at the end of last week, he’s repeatedly called on Iran’s officials to refrain from anti-Semitic remarks or Holocaust denial, and it’s a clear imperative for the Secretary-General to remind Iran in unambiguous terms of its undertaking as a Member State of the United Nations to refrain from the threat or use of force against any other State.  Masood?

Question:  Yeah, on the same topic, of course, is the Secretary-General…I’m sure the Secretary-General is also aware that Israel has threatened to attack Iran at any time, and it is quite possible that while the Summit is going on, Israel may attack Iran, so has he taken that into account?  Will he also ask the Israelis to tone down the rhetoric, or is he just going to risk it?

Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, I really don’t know what you base that supposition on, Masood.  But any escalation of tensions is of utmost concern to the United Nations and to the international community more broadly.  Provocative, inflammatory remarks and speculation about threats should be avoided by all means, and, under the Charter of the United Nations, all Member States have a clear obligation to refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or the political independence of any other State.  And finally on this particular topic, every country, particularly in this regional context right now, has a responsibility to exercise maximum restraint and to refrain from any hostile behaviour that could exacerbate tensions and further complicate the search for peace.  Yes, Ali?

Question:  [Inaudible] what does the Secretary-General call Israel to stop threatening Iran by attacking nuclear facilities?

Spokesperson:  I think I just answered that question.  Yes?

Question:  Will the Secretary-General be consulting with the members of the Security Council individually before this trip?

Spokesperson:  I think you can take it as right that the Secretary-General has consulted quite widely already.  Yes, you had a question?  No?  Right, I thought I saw your hand.  George?  Maybe I was expecting your hand.  Yes, George.

Question:  I was going to just follow up, if I may, on Jonathan’s question.  Does the Secretary-General specifically intend to speak with the Iranian leadership about abstention from the kind of inflammatory speech that has recently emanated from the various sources there?

Spokesperson:  I think I’ve just said so, but I’m happy to repeat what I’ve just said, which is that it’s a clear imperative for the Secretary-General to remind Iran in unambiguous terms of its undertaking as a Member State of the United Nations to refrain from the threat or use of force against any other State.  And the Secretary-General has repeatedly called on Iran’s officials to refrain from anti-Semitic remarks or Holocaust denial, and he did so as recently as last Friday, as I think you’re aware.  Yes?

Question:  Sure, just now in the Security Council, Under-Secretary-General Feltman, in speaking about Syria, said the Secretary-General is concerned about arms flows to all sides, but then he only mentioned resolution 1747 (2007), which I guess is about Iran.  Is this one of the topics that he would be raising in there?  And I wanted to ask you, relatedly, is the Secretary-General equally concerned about arms flows from, say, Qatar and Saudi Arabia to the Syrian opposition?

Spokesperson:  Certainly the Secretary-General intends, while in Tehran, to discuss frankly the potentially serious consequences of the Syrian crisis, and the need for Iran to be part of the solution.  And this is certainly a test of Iran’s capacity and willingness to play a constructive role regionally, and furthermore, the United Nations has been clear, as has the Secretary-General, on the need for all those with influence, which obviously includes Iran, to press the parties, especially the Syrian Government, to stop the escalation of hostilities and to move towards a peaceful solution that meets the democratic aspirations of the Syrian people, and also to support the work of the Joint Special Representative, Mr. [Lakhdar] Brahimi. 

Question:  Just one follow-up.  There was a report that Mr. Feltman had cautioned the Secretary-General against going to Iran.  Is that…I mean, I guess that’s  inside the house.  But is that true?  Can you say?  Is that true?  Is it not true?  What’s your response to that?

Spokesperson:  My response is that the Secretary-General is going, right?  Any other questions on this?  Yes, Jonathan, and then – yes, yes, yes.

Question:  If you could just address my question about Ban Ki-moon being used as a tool, essentially a pawn by the Iranian media and the Government, that his going is in fact a sign of agreement with Tehran’s policies and the genocidal statements that are coming from the leadership there?

Spokesperson:  Absolutely not, Jonathan.  In fact, to the contrary, by going he’s making the extent of international concern all that much clearer, and I’ve said twice already what the Secretary-General would say in unambiguous terms, and what the Secretary-General is already on the record as saying.  As I’ve also said, he’s obviously aware of the sensitivities, and yet he’s also aware of his responsibilities. And he’s determined to carry those out.

On the Non-Aligned Movement, it is obviously customary for a Secretary-General to attend the summit meeting.  After all, some two thirds of the United Nations membership is within the Non-Aligned Movement, and indeed many peacekeepers come from Non-Aligned Movement countries.  So it’s an important venue for that reason, because you have to have a valuable platform for the Secretary-General to be able to follow up on the topics that were mentioned in the statement, like the Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development, disarmament and so on.  But precisely because the meeting this year is taking place in Iran, it offers the Secretary-General the opportunity to speak to officials, including at the highest levels of Government, and to encourage positive responses across all the various topics that there are, some of which I’ve already enumerated – the nuclear programme, terrorism, human rights and Syria.  So there is obviously a wide range of topics that the Secretary-General intends to raise with the Iranian leadership, including at the highest levels. Yes?

Question:  Martin, there are reports in the Iranian press that the leader of North Korea will be there as well.  Is there any plan by the Secretary-General to meet with him while he’s there?

Spokesperson:  Well, there are also reports in the Iranian press denying that the North Korean leader was going there.  So I don’t really have any comment on that.  Right, yes?  I knew it; it was a pre-emptive strike.  Yes?

Question:  What was the position of the Secretary-General and [inaudible] the spilling over about the Syrian people in Lebanon? [inaudible] it’s a very worrying development.

Spokesperson:  You’re right, it is very worrying, and I think Mr. Feltman, in his briefing to the Security Council this morning, did address those concerns quite clearly, and needless to say, the Secretary-General shares those concerns.  OK, yes, make this the last question and then -

Question:  Will he be in Tehran for the duration of the conference, or is he only going to be there for a short period?

Spokesperson:  What I’ve said is that the Secretary-General will be there from 29 August to 31 August; that includes his attendance at the Non-Aligned Movement Summit, plus the bilateral component that I have mentioned, which includes, as I’ve said, meetings at the highest level – in other words, certainly, it is the Secretary-General’s expectation that he would have meaningful and fruitful discussions with the Supreme Leader and with the President and with other senior members of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Question:  Will that meeting with the Supreme Leader be the first one of the Secretary-General and the Supreme Leader?

Spokesperson:  I don’t know the answer to that, I’d have to find out.  Yes, this would be an important meeting.  As I say, the Secretary-General has a number of topics he wishes to raise in such a meeting.  Right, thank you very much, and I’ll pass the floor now to Ms. Amos, with thanks for your patience and indulgence.  Thank you.

[Press conference with Under-Secretary-General and Humanitarian Coordinator Valerie Amos to be issued separately.]

Security Council

As you’re already aware, the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Jeffrey Feltman, briefed the Security Council this morning on the situation in the Middle East, and he reported that despite the current stagnation in the negotiating process and the obstacles to be overcome, it is clear that the two-State solution remains the best available and most realistic option for the Israelis and Palestinians. 

And the United Nations remains committed to work for a comprehensive resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict on the basis of UN Security Council resolutions.

And with respect to the situation in Syria, he said that the Syrian people are suffering grievously from the appalling further militarization of this conflict, and the Secretary-General has repeatedly expressed his concern about the arms flows to the two parties in Syria.

And he also noted that, as the crisis in Syria continues to deteriorate, the situation in Lebanon has become more precarious, and the need for continued international support to the Government and the Lebanese Armed Forces increasingly important. 

He reminded Member States that the Secretary-General has been clear that all leaders in the region should use their voices at this time to lower, rather than escalate, tensions.

Memorial Event

And just on one question I was asked about yesterday about the memorial event held last Friday.

Several memorial events are hosted at the United Nations throughout the year, which include the World Humanitarian Day, the International Day for UN Peacekeepers and the memorial event held last week for the remembrance of those colleagues we lost in the Iraq Canal Hotel bombing.

While we make every effort to ensure that loved ones and friends of our deceased colleagues are informed of these memorials, we are also guided by official records that our fallen colleagues maintained with the Organization to disseminate formal invitations.  And I would just point out that on the annual memorial ceremony that was instituted last year by the Secretary-General, this year’s annual memorial ceremony is being planned at the moment, and is tentatively scheduled to take place in November.  OK, any other questions, please?  Yes.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Sure. I wanted to ask you about – I’m sure you’ve seen this report in the Washington Times quoting the former human rights official of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq, in Iraq.  He says, and there’s a response from Mr. Kobler on that and it’s appreciated, but he seems to be saying that he was ordered by Martin Kobler to“doctor photographs and fabricate reports”.  And I didn’t see in the response from the UN, you know, it says that Camp Liberty is not as bad as described, and that they’re doing the best they can, but I just wondered, is there a direct response to this man – and he’s described as a whistle-blower – his claim that he was ordered to only take photographs of the positive things and essentially file inaccurate reports.  Does the UN deny that?

Spokesperson:  Well, as you pointed out, Jared Kotler spoke at some length to the Washington Times, and they reported quite a lot of what he told them.  And specifically that it’s regrettable that such a distorted picture is being presented of the efforts of the United Nations in Iraq to resolve peacefully the situation of Camp Ashraf.  And in fact, the UN Mission, under the leadership of Special Representative Martin Kobler, has worked diligently and impartially to facilitate a peaceful solution that respects the rights and concerns of both residents and the Government of Iraq.  And in fact, those efforts are one of the main reasons why this very tense situation has not already spilled over into further violence.

And with regards to the conditions in Camp Houria, (Freedom), the camp meets and goes beyond, in fact, basic humanitarian standards.  I could give you some details of precisely what there is in the camp, but … the key point is they have all the basics that they need and beyond.  kitchens, a fully equipped gym, a mosque, several community centres, a medical centre staffed by two Iraqi doctors working in shifts, two ambulances on constant stand-by, and there’s bottled water brought in for residents, electricity from 19 generators, and residents have cell phone, Internet connection and satellite television.  

So the other point here, of course, is that the focus for everybody should be now on finding a way to peacefully conclude the relocation to Camp Houria.  We have noticed that at the weekend a statement was issued by Mr. Kobler and the Mission in Iraq, noting that they welcomed the announcement that the next group of 400 residents is willing to start moving to Camp Houria from Camp Ashraf right after the Eid holiday.  And certainly we would encourage them to follow through on that.

Question:  I’m even aware that one Security Council member said that people live better there than in their own country – the country of the Security Council member.  But I just wanted to know, because it’s kind of a whistleblower case, he’s claiming that he was ordered to do things that he said were inconsistent with the UN Charter and his duty.  Is there a response to sort of, that he was told to doctor these reports?  I’m not disputing – I mean, whether the satellite TV is working or not is a separate question — but, it’s strange; I’ve tried to get an answer from Mr. Kobler and others.  Do they deny that these orders were given?  That’s…I just want to know that before …

Spokesperson:  I think I would just go back to what’s already been said, and that’s that it is a distorted picture.  Yes, and then Erol.

Question:  Do you know, on the subject of Palestine – and particularly if the reported move by the Palestinians to seek observer State status in the General Assembly – is expected to come up at the Non-Aligned Movement conference in Tehran?  Is there any position that’s been formulated yet by the Secretary-General on such a proposal to go to the General Assembly for observer State status?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think you’d have to ask the organizers what is on their agenda at the Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement.  I don’t have anything further.  I think our position in general on these matters is that membership is a matter for the Member States within the General Assembly, and I don’t have anything further on that at the moment.  Yes, Erol, and then [inaudible].

Question:  [Inaudible] whether Mr. Brahimi would continue to [inaudible] of Mr. Annan’s plan, or he would start something [inaudible]?

Spokesperson:  Well, we’ve said repeatedly that the six-point plan and the Action Group communiqué from the end of June both provide a foundation, building blocks, but of course, Mr. Brahimi is coming soon to New York, as I mentioned yesterday.  He’s coming here later this week and of course the intention is to discuss with senior officials, including with the Secretary-General, how to move things forward.  So I’m not going to prejudge, it would not be proper to prejudge what that might look like, but there are certainly some strong building blocks and a foundation there.

Question:  Will he hold a press conference?

Spokesperson:  I beg your pardon?

Question:  Will he hold a press conference?

Spokesperson:  I’ll certainly relay your interest.  Yes?  This is the last question, by the way.

Question:  Yes, the Syrian Action Group — which was supposed to have met Friday and then was postponed indefinitely or cancelled, it was never quite clear – had discussed the desire to bring Iran and Saudi Arabia into the talks.  Do you know whether the Secretary-General’s presence in Iran will facilitate including Iran and Saudi Arabia in the Syria Action Group plan?

Spokesperson:  Well, I mean, I think that’s not really a matter for the Secretary-General to decide.  It would be for those in that group to decide.  But certainly the Secretary-General has said – and I mentioned it just a little while ago — that Iran is an important country in the region, and it needs to be a part of the solution.  And certainly the Secretary-General intends to bring up all of these topics related to Syria when he is in Tehran.

OK, thank you very much, have a good afternoon.

* *** *

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