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

29 August 2012

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

29 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 Farhan Haq, Associate Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon.  I, we have a treat for you.  Actually, Martin Nesirky, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, as you know, is with the Secretary-General on their trip to Tehran.  He should be at the other end of a phone line right now, so we can patch him in from Tehran.  Martin, are you available?  Do you have him? Hello, Martin, if you are, you are there, please, please give us some signs that you are, that you can hear us.  All right… hold on.  Okay.  All right.  [Speaks to audio engineer] So if you can keep trying with that, let us know when that comes in.  Until then, I will read out some of the other notes while we await an update concerning the Secretary-General’s trip to Tehran, which as you know, has begun. 

** Iraq

In terms of other news, Martin Kobler, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, welcomed the arrival in Camp Hurriya today of another group of 400 residents from Camp Ashraf.  He noted that three quarters of the residents from Camp Ashraf, 2,400 persons, have now moved to Camp Hurriya.  He thanked them for their cooperation and called on those remaining in Camp Ashraf to act in the same spirit and start preparations for additional moves without delay, in order to peacefully complete the process.

Martin Kobler repeated his request to the Government of Iraq to be generous with regard to the humanitarian needs of the residents, and also reiterated his appeal to Member States to accept the residents for resettlement in their countries.

** Democratic Republic of the Congo

The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Roger Meece, has expressed his deep concern over reports of further massacres of civilians in North Kivu, in the east of the country.

The killings, which took place in Masisi territory at the beginning of August, are the latest in a series of violent attacks by armed groups systematically targeting the civilian population.  Mr. Meece said the deterioration of the overall security situation in North Kivu is extremely alarming.

The UN Joint Human Rights Office in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has documented more than 45 attacks on some 30 villages and towns in Masisi since May.  Meanwhile, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said that the killings are still being verified, but that the preliminary findings suggest a significant number of people — most of them women and children — were slaughtered.  There is more information available online.

** Somalia

Augustine Mahiga, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia, warmly congratulated the Somali people yesterday on the election of a new Speaker of Parliament.

He said that this is a moment of progress and optimism, with legislators taking an important step on the road to restoring accountable and participatory governance.  Dr. Mahiga said that it is vital that a complete Parliament is seated as quickly as possible, in order to ensure that the election of the President can be accomplished in accordance with the agreed timetable.  We put out a press release yesterday afternoon with more details.

We expect that the President of the Security Council will read a press statement on Somalia at 12:30 p.m. today.

**Security Council

Tomorrow afternoon at 3, the Security Council will hold a ministerial meeting concerning the humanitarian situation in Syria.

The Deputy Secretary-General, Jan Eliasson, will brief Council members on the humanitarian situation.  The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, will also be on hand to provide information to the Council.

In advance of the Security Council meeting, tomorrow at noon, here in this auditorium, Laurent Fabius, the Minister for Foreign Affairs of France and the President of the Security Council, and William Hague, the Foreign Secretary of the United Kingdom, will hold a joint press conference.  Accordingly, tomorrow we’ll start the Spokesperson’s noon briefing a bit earlier, at 11:45 a.m., so that the press conference by the two Foreign Ministers can start promptly at noon.

Is Martin ready now?  Okay, now, before we turn to any questions for me, on other topics, Martin is here to talk to us about the Secretary-General’s trip to Iran.  Martin, are you there?

Spokesperson:  I am.  Just want to check you can hear me okay.

Associate Spokesperson:  Yes, we can hear you fine.

Spokesperson:  Very good.  Okay.  Well, good afternoon, everybody, from Tehran.  I just wanted to give a little update on where we stand.

**Secretary-General in Iran

The Secretary-General arrived in the Islamic Republic of Iran earlier today and he has just finished a series of meetings with Iranian officials, including Supreme Leader Imam Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. 

Soon after he arrived in Tehran, earlier today, the Secretary-General first held talks at the Parliament Building with the Speaker, Ali Larijani, and other officials.  And then later, the Secretary-General had an extensive encounter with President Ahmadinejad, and that was followed by his meeting with the Supreme Leader.  He, in just the last few minutes, finished a meeting with Saeed Jalili, the Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council. 

And in all these meetings, the Secretary-General has conveyed 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.

Let me just give you a couple of details.  I would be happy take some questions, but if you bear with me, I can give you some details now and help you with some questions and answers subsequently.  So in his meeting with the President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Secretary-General thanked him for the invitation to the Non-Aligned Movement Summit. 

On the nuclear question, the Secretary-General said he has been following closely Iran’s talks with the P5+1.  He said he regretted that little tangible progress has been achieved so far during these intensive talks and that the talks needed to be serious and substantive.  He said that Iran needed to take concrete steps to address the concern of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and prove to the world that its nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes.  He said that there is no alternative to a peaceful, diplomatic and negotiated settlement which should be reached step by step and based on reciprocity.  Let me say that the Secretary-General has made the same point on the nuclear question to the Supreme Leader.

On Syria, the Secretary-General urged the President and the Supreme Leader, in separate meetings, to use Iran’s influence to impress upon the Syrian leadership the urgent need for the violence to stop and to create the condition for a credible dialogue and a genuine political process that meets the will of the Syrian people.  And the Secretary-General reiterated his opposition to the further militarization of the conflict, and he called on all States to stop supplying arms to all sides in Syria.

On human rights, the Secretary-General, in his meeting with the President, said that the human rights situation in Iran remains a source of concern.  He said fundamental civil and political rights should be respected.  And he also mentioned in his meeting with the President, and separately with the Supreme Leader, that he strongly objected to recent remarks from Iranian officials denying the Holocaust and Israel’s right to exist.  He said that such offensive and inflammatory statements were unacceptable and should be condemned by all.

Let me say that the Secretary-General has had similar exchanges with the Speaker of Parliament and with Mr. Jalili, the Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council.  I think you can imagine that the talks with Mr. Jalili focused primarily on the nuclear file. 

So that’s what I have for you.  I’m happy to take a couple of questions before I need to go and join the Secretary-General again.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you.  Hi, Martin.  Have a safe trip.  I have a question on Iran sending troops to Syria to support [Bashar al-]Assad.  Did you discuss this matter?  And also a question on the help to… Iran’s help to Hizbullah in Lebanon. Can you please explain that?  Thank you, Martin.    

Spokesperson: It’s, I, it’s very difficult for me to hear the question, but if it’s about…

Associate Spokesperson:  It’s about troops to Syria and support for Hizbullah.

Spokesperson: Say again?

Associate Spokesperson:  It’s about Iran, allegations of Iran’s supplying troops for Syria, and its support for Hizbullah.

Spokesperson:  Let me simply reiterate what I said just now:  that the Secretary-General made clear his opposition to the further militarization of the conflict, and he called on all States to stop supplying arms to all sides in Syria.  I don’t have anything further for you on that particular question.  But let me say that the Secretary-General has spoken at length about the considerable influence that Iran has regionally, and just specifically with regard to Syria.  And he has urged the Iranian leadership to use that influence in the way that I described just now. 

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  Does the Secretary-General have the impression… he had quite a heavy shopping list and quite serious comments to make.  Does he have the impression that Iranian leaders took his comments seriously?

Spokesperson:  These have been very serious meetings, and extremely detailed meetings, and of course, they, both sides, listened to each other.  That’s what such meetings are about.  And that is precisely why the Secretary-General said that he wanted to come here, because he believes in the power of engagement and the power of dialogue.  And he has conveyed extremely clearly and in no uncertain terms what the expectations of the international community are on all of these various questions, and what his hopes and expectations are for what he would expect Iran to do, not least now that, for the next three years, it has an additional leadership role as the chair of the Non-Aligned Movement.  This brings with it great visibility but also great responsibility. 

Question:  Yeah, thank you, Martin, for doing that from Tehran.  Just, my question is whether you would characterize the meeting with the Supreme Leader as positive or constructive regarding the nuclear issue?  Thank you.

Spokesperson:  I would say that this was an important exchange, an important meeting.  I would not want to characterize the atmospherics specifically, because I think what’s most critical here is that the Secretary-General wanted to be able to underscore the concerns there are in the international community and to say again that Iran needs to be able to take concrete steps that will help to address the concerns of the international community at large and obviously, specifically on the technical matters, the International Atomic Energy Agency.  So I would characterize this as an important exchange.

Question:  Martin, yeah, thank you for this, and I hope you are finding life easy in Tehran.  I just wanted to know what the Secretary-General, in his talks on Syria with the Iranian leaders when he was talking to them… Does the Secretary-General believe that Iran will be part of the solution or part of the problem in Syria, as has been stated earlier?  And did he speak from that perspective or is there another perspective?  And the other question I wanted to ask you, about this Iran’s nuclear programme, which you said that the Secretary-General asked the Iranians to do more.  Did he also address the question of Israeli attacks into Iran to get rid of their nuclear programme? 

Spokesperson:  Just to come to the last part first, the Secretary-General made clear that the recent rhetoric that we had heard from all kinds of quarters has been unhelpful, and that he wants to see tensions lowered, not further raised.  And he said that, in his meetings, that one way to be able to do this is to address the concerns that the International Atomic Energy Agency has by taking concrete steps.  Now, on the Syrian question, the Secretary-General very strongly believes that Iran, given its regional influence and its influence in Syria, has an important role to play as part of the solution here.  And that’s precisely why he urged the leadership here, the President, the Supreme Leader, the Speaker of Parliament, to really reach out to the Syrian leadership and impress upon them the really urgent need to stop the violence and to create the conditions that are necessary for a political process.

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  Uh, it’s Edie.  I’ve got a couple of follow-up questions.  Specifically, I think what all of us would like to know is what kind of a response did you get from both President Ahmadinejad and the Supreme Leader on these issues.  Did the Secretary-General come away feeling that the Iranians might take action, for example, to try and put some pressure on the Syrian Government to be more forthcoming in the nuclear talks with specific steps; to do something on human rights and on the issue of Israel’s, threatening Israel’s existence? 

Spokesperson: I think, in keeping with the diplomatic tradition, it’s not for me to characterize what the Secretary-General’s interlocutors said in detail.  But let me say this:  that in the meetings that took place, there was a genuine exchange and, on both sides, people were listening very carefully.  And points were made on both sides about all of these topics.  I don’t want to characterize what the Iranian leadership has said in these different meetings.  Just to reiterate:  the Secretary-General came here specifically to make these points directly to the leadership and hear what they have to say. 

On Syria, he made clear that he has been engaged in very close consultations just in the last few days with Mr. [Lakhdar] Brahimi, the Joint Special Representative, and that he welcomed the evident support that there is in Iran for Mr. Brahimi’s role.  On the nuclear file, he encouraged the Iranian leadership to take those steps that we’ve talked about.  It’s clear that the Iranian leadership and the P5+1 on the political track and the International Atomic Energy Agency on the technical track do need to meet, sooner rather than later, but this is for them to decide, on both sides.  It’s not for the Secretary-General to negotiate on the nuclear file.  He was simply expressing the concerns of the international community, as he did extremely forcefully, on the recent remarks that we heard from various Iranian officials about the Holocaust and Israel’s right to exist.  And on human rights, the Secretary-General spoke in quite some detail with a number of his interlocutors.  I don’t want to go into those details, but you are aware that there are specific requests that can be made in meetings.  I cannot go into details, but the Secretary-General was quite specific.  

Question:  Thank you.  Uh, Martin, it’s Hank Flynn, Press TV.  The Secretary-General has been a big proponent of international efforts to bring a political solution to Syria — the Syrian Action Group, obviously the UN.  What does he think of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi’s Committee of Four idea to bring Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt and Iran together for a regional solution in Syria?  Does he approve of it, and has he had a chance to speak with President Morsi at the NAM (Non-Aligned Movement) Summit?  

Spokesperson:  Not yet.  But among the bilateral meetings that the Secretary-General is scheduled to have, tomorrow and on Friday, is a meeting with President Morsi.  At least, it is scheduled.  And so, doubtless Syria will be one of the topics of conversation.  He is obviously aware of the proposal that there has been.  His major point is that the ideas are welcome but they need to be coordinated very closely, very directly with the Joint Special Representative, Mr. Brahimi.

Question: Martin, with regard to the Secretary-General’s declared position early in the crisis of Syria, he mentioned that the President of Syria has lost his legitimacy to rule.  Did he convey such an idea to the leaders of Iran?  Did he discuss with them a transitional period or any kind of solution on the leadership level in Syria?  Also, on the humanitarian crisis in the region, and the flow of refugees into neighbouring countries, was this raised, and how Iran can help in this respect? 

Spokesperson: The humanitarian question was raised; meaning as a topic, they did not go into details, but it is obvious that the Secretary-General made clear in his meetings that at the centre of everything is the suffering of the Syrian people, whether they are still in their homes, displaced within the country or have fled abroad.  Their suffering has to be the focus of everything that we do and that’s why he was appealing to the Iranian leadership to use its influence in Damascus.  With, I did not quite catch your first question, Nizar.  Could you repeat that, please?  I need to make this the last question, if I may.

Question: Yeah, regarding the crisis, the Secretary-General has mentioned that President Bashar Assad has lost his legitimacy to rule.  Did he convey such an idea and discuss it with the Iranian leadership?

Spokesperson:  I think what was very clearly discussed was the need for there to be a halt to the violence and a start to political dialogue.  It’s for the Syrian people to decide how that unfolds, but you need to get to that point very quickly, to the political track.  But I don’t think I could go into much more details than that at this point.

Associate Spokesperson:  Is that it?  Can you take any more questions?

Spokesperson:  I think I ought to leave it there, folks.  I will be able to provide some updates tomorrow, not necessarily in this way, but I will be endeavouring to provide updates, whether it’s on the Summit meeting itself or on the various bilateral meetings the Secretary-General will be having tomorrow, and likewise on Friday.

Associate Spokesperson:  Do you have any details on how long these meetings were?

Spokesperson:  They varied.  I didn’t have a stopwatch out.  But they varied in length.  Certainly the meeting with the President was extensive, and the meeting with the Speaker of Parliament extended also over lunch, and so quite a lot of time was spent there to go over the various topics, as well as in a normal meeting format. 

Associate Spokesperson:  Thanks, Martin.

Spokesperson:  And I should say, I should say that the talks with Mr. Jalili are also continuing over dinner right now, which is where I need to go, so that I can catch up with what is happening.

Correspondent:  Enjoy your dinner.

Associate Spokesperson:  Thanks.  I hope you get some dinner out of it as well.

Spokesperson:  [Laughs] More important, I hope that this is of some use to you in New York.  I look forward to catching up with you all soon.  So bye for now.

Associate Spokesperson:  Bye.  Okay, are there any questions on any other topics?  Or are we about… oh, yeah?

Question:  Does Mr. Brahimi have a mandate?  Is his mandate the same as Mr. [Kofi] Annan’s, and does he have a set time, like Mr. Annan had a deal, until 31 August?  

Associate Spokesperson:  I think some of those details will need to be discussed with the General Assembly.  As you know, the mandate for the Joint Special Envoy comes from the General Assembly.  We do expect in the coming days and weeks to share some information with the General Assembly about the work of the new Joint Special Representative.  And we will see whether there is any adjustment to the mandate.  For now, the mandate that was given to the Joint Special Envoy was a General Assembly mandate, and any adjustment will have to be part of a dialogue with them.  Yes, Ali?

Question:  Okay, I have a question about today’s meeting, the informal meeting of the Security Council with Mr. Brahimi.  Is it organized by the Department of Political Affairs, or what’s the format?  I mean, how would you, what’s the format of the meeting?

Associate Spokesperson:  As you yourself said, this is an informal meeting.  This is not an official meeting of the Security Council.  There is no official scheduled meeting of the Security Council today.  But members of the Council can have some discussions at an informal level with Mr. Brahimi.  The Department for Political Affairs is involved in this, and, of course, they are coordinating some of these activities.  As you know, Mr. Brahimi’s formal start as Joint Special Representative doesn’t begin until this weekend, when you have 1 September.

Question:  So, the meeting is at 3 p.m.?

Associate Spokesperson:  Tomorrow’s meeting is at 3?

Correspondent:  No.  Today.  Today’s meeting. 

Associate Spokesperson:  I don’t really comment on the timing of informal meetings.  I think you, I think you are right, but it’s not something that’s on our official schedule.  Yes?

Question:  This week, the President of Colombia announced that his Government is engaged in peace talks with rebel groups in Columbia.  Is there any comment about that?

Associate Spokesperson:  Yes, as a matter of fact, I’m glad you asked.  The Secretary-General was very pleased to learn that the President of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos [Calderón], has confirmed exploratory talks between his Government and representatives of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).  The Secretary-General hopes that this will be the start of a productive dialogue to address and resolve a conflict which has afflicted the Colombian people for almost five decades.  As the Secretary-General has stated in the past, his good offices are available should they be deemed useful.

Thanks very much.  Good afternoon.

* *** *

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