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

31 August 2012

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

31 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.

All right.  Good afternoon.

**Secretary-General’s Travel

The Secretary-General has left Iran and is on his way back to New York, with a stopover in Dubai.

Before leaving Tehran, the Secretary-General spoke to reporters about his visit and participation in the Non-Aligned Movement Summit.  He said he was concluding his visit strengthened in his conviction in dialogue and diplomacy.  The Secretary-General said he was leaving mindful of the challenges, but also satisfied that he had conveyed the messages that must be aired at this crucial time.  He said he had spoken out about human rights and protecting basic freedoms and about the international concerns about Iran's nuclear programme.

The Secretary-General also had a number of bilateral meetings in Tehran today, including with the Syrian Prime Minister and Foreign Minister.  He reiterated that violence must stop on all sides and that the flow of weapons to both sides should also be halted.  He also urged Syria to allow a greater number of humanitarian partners to operate in the country so that aid can reach those who desperately need it.

Earlier, the Secretary-General met with Nabil ElAraby, the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States, and they discussed developments in Syria at some length.  The readouts of all his meetings are available in our office.

The Secretary-General is expected to arrive in New York tomorrow morning.

**Secretary-General’s Statement

Also concerning Iran, I have the following statement attributable to the Spokesperson on the latest report of the International Atomic Energy Agency on the nuclear programme of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

The Secretary-General has taken note of the latest report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on the nuclear programme of the Islamic Republic of Iran.  It is regrettable that Iran has yet to reach agreement with the IAEA on a plan to resolve all outstanding issues.

The Secretary-General emphasizes that there can only be a diplomatic and negotiated solution to the Iranian nuclear issue which should be pursued through a reciprocal, step-by-step process.  This must include measures by Iran aimed at building international confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of its nuclear programme.

The Secretary-General used the opportunity of his participation in the Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement to convey the clear concerns and expectations of the international community on this matter.

** Syria

The UN refugee agency said today that the number of registered Syrian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey has reached nearly 230,000.

In Turkey, the Agency said that two more refugee camps — which together can host 23,000 refugees — have been opened in the last week to accommodate new arrivals.  Another three sites, which can host 10,000 refugees each, are set to open next month.

Some 1,400 Syrians have been arriving every day at the Za’atri camp in Jordan in the past week, bringing the camp’s population to more than 23,000.  The agency and its partners are working to expand the site to receive more arrivals and improve conditions.

The agency said that the number of Syrians fleeing to Kurdistan in Iraq has risen in the last two weeks.  Agency staff visited eight shelters in Damascus yesterday and confirmed that sanitation, bedding, water and food are urgently needed.  There is more information available on the agency’s website

**Security Council

The Security Council discussed the humanitarian crisis in Syria more widely in its ministerial meeting yesterday afternoon, and the Deputy Secretary-General, Jan Eliasson, said that more than 2.5 million people — including refugees from Palestine and Iraq — are now in grave need of assistance and protection inside the country.

He said that the most pressing needs include water and sanitation, food and shelter, blankets and health care.  Less than half of primary health care facilities and hospitals are now fully functional in Syria.

The Deputy Secretary-General added that more than 1.2 million people have sought refuge in public buildings, such as schools and mosques, which lack adequate water and sanitation.

The Deputy Secretary-General and High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres also spoke to reporters following the Council meeting, and the transcript is available on our website.

Today is the last day of France’s presidency of the Security Council.  Germany will preside over the Council in September.

** Mali

The UN humanitarian chief, Valerie Amos, concluded her first mission to Mali yesterday, warning that it is ordinary people who are feeling the brunt of the humanitarian crisis and instability in the country.

Yesterday, she visited families in Mopti who have been displaced by the conflict in the north of Mali.  Some 440,000 people have been forced from their homes due to the conflict and over half of them have fled across the border into neighbouring countries, such as Niger, Mauritania and Burkina Faso.

Ms. Amos expressed her hope for a return to peace and stability so that displaced people can return home.  She said that a significant number of people are not receiving help and that many places are too dangerous for humanitarian organizations to work.

**Human Rights

The UN human rights office says it is concerned about what it calls a sudden spate of executions in a number of countries, including the Gambia, Iraq, and South Sudan.

On Tuesday, two men were hanged in South Sudan, in the central prison in the capital, Juba.  It is thought that they did not have proper legal assistance.

A week ago, nine prisoners were executed in the Gambia soon after a public announcement by President Yahya Jammeh that all people on death row will be put to death by mid-September.

And in Iraq, during the month of August, 26 people have reportedly been executed, including 21 in a single day, bringing the number of people executed there since the beginning of the year to around 100.

The UN human rights office has reiterated its call for all States who have not yet done so to introduce or reintroduce an official moratorium on the use of the death penalty.  The global trend has been away from the use of the death penalty, a move that has been endorsed by the General Assembly.

**Habitat III

Dr. Joan Clos, Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of the UN Human Settlements Programme, or UN-Habitat for short, has been appointed as the Secretary-General of the Third UN Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urbanization, known as Habitat III.  In the appointment made by the Secretary-General, Dr. Clos will also act as the focal point for the Conference on behalf of the UN system.

The Habitat III Conference will take place in 2016 and will focus on reinvigorating the global commitment to sustainable urbanization that should focus on the implementation of a "New Urban Agenda".  And there is more information available on the website of UN-Habitat.

**Press Conference

Today at 4 p.m., here in this auditorium, there will be a press conference by Ambassador Raymond Tshibanda N'tungamulongo, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, International Cooperation and Francophonie Affairs of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

And we will have available in our office “The Week Ahead”.  As you may know, on Monday, there will be a national holiday and the UN Headquarters will be closed.  We’ll be back here at work on Tuesday.  Yes, please, Iftikhar?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Concerning the Secretary-General’s meetings with Iranian, I’m sorry, Syrian leaders, what was the Secretary-General’s reaction?  Does he see any hope or light towards the solution?

Associate Spokesperson:  Well, as Martin [Nesirky] may have told you just a couple of days ago in this room, these were very serious discussions and the Secretary-General conveyed the messages that he believed needed to be heard.  At this point, as we just said a second ago, as the Secretary-General left, he was mindful of challenges, but he was satisfied that he conveyed the messages that must be aired at this critical time.  And let’s see how all of the various parties can follow up on this.

Question:  What I meant to ask was, does he see any opening following these latest negotiations with the Syrians?

Associate Spokesperson:  I think we will have to evaluate this, and evaluate this in light of what actions are taken in days and weeks ahead.  Clearly, the Secretary-General has made known, for example, his desire that there is progress in the P5+1 talks with Iran; he has made known his desire for, and the desire of the international community as a whole, for cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).   He has pushed for progress on the human rights front and he has also worked with the Iranian leaders to try to see what support we can have for our efforts in Syria.  And let’s see how we advance on all those fronts as time goes on.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask you, the Sudanese Foreign Minister, Ali Karti, has said that the Secretary-General met with President [Omer al-]Bashir in Tehran, and the topics included violations by South Sudan.  Can you say anything about this meeting?

Associate Spokesperson:  There was no meeting, per se, no.  The Secretary-General, as you know, when he is at these summits, sometimes sees or passes by a number of leaders.  In this case, there was a very brief greeting and handshake between the Secretary-General and President Bashir.  There was no substantive meeting.  No. 

Question:  Just to understand their summary, they list three separate issues:  they list resolution 2046 (2012), the mediator, the maps, so it seems… are you saying, how long, if you can give some idea?  I mean, is this just wrong?  Would you characterize this handshake as a meeting?

Associate Spokesperson:  I would not; I would not characterize it as a meeting.  Like I said, when he is in a large meeting room with a number of leaders, he may see a number of them and meet them, greet them and talk very briefly with them, but that didn’t constitute a meeting.  We provided the readouts of today’s meetings and yesterday’s meetings, and as you can see, those are the long, detailed exchanges, which we considered to be meetings.  Yes? 

Question:  Sure.  I also wanted to ask you about the Za’atri camp you mentioned, the one in Jordan.  I just… I know Mr. [Antonio] Guterres had said yesterday that he… that it’s tough conditions that he said are going to improve, but the Government seems to say — I can’t tell from the verb tense — have they already returned 200 of the protestors to Syria, or are they going to, sort of… what is the UN position on the return of the people that fled the country to that country and the danger they may be put in by such return?

Associate Spokesperson:  Well, as Mr. Guterres also said to you, there is, of course, a right of all people to seek their rights to asylum.  So if they believe that their safety is at stake, they certainly need to have their rights to asylum respected.  At the same time, regarding this particular camp, as he pointed out, the Jordanian Government has decided that the camp should be opened.  He pointed out that the camp is in a difficult situation from the point of view of the environmental conditions there, but the agencies are doing their best to provide assistance and making efforts to try to improve the situation in the camp.  So he is hoping that the problems there will be resolved.

Question:  I guess I just, thanks, I’m wondering because it’s very speci… they… Jordanians say that some of the people, in the course of protesting these difficult conditions, threw rocks at police officers, injuring 26 police officers.  As a result of that, or in… that they are going to be returned.  And I just wondered, either the legality, or is it true that they are being returned?  Is the UN, like, checking those people out or I understand the conditions… what about these people?  

Associate Spokesperson:  Well, I wouldn’t comment on the situation of law and order, which is of course their prerogative as a sovereign country, but certainly we, UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] is there on the ground and would want to make sure that all of the people who have sought refuge in Jordan will have their basic rights respected and will not be put into any sort of dangerous situation.  Yes?

Question:  Yeah, Farhan.  As you know, yesterday Turkey put forward this safe zone haven within Syria for the fleeing Syrians.  This proposal, I think, received a lukewarm, what do you call, welcome from most of the international community.  But the UN officials in this case, the Deputy Secretary-General and then Guterres, is also not very clear about it, whether he welcomed it or not.  What is the position?  Why are they so varied about this particular proposal within, I mean, it is within Syria and not outside Syria?

Associate Spokesperson:  There are a number of factors involved in dealing with the concept of buffer zones.  And I think they have been very clear that any such intervention implies serious consequences and needs a careful and critical consideration, which would both take into account the consequences and implications of introducing such zones in a period of such great insecurity and conflict.  And both Mr. Eliasson and Mr. Guterres spoke at length about those consequences.  Mr. Guterres also spoke about some of the bitter lessons from past experiences with this.  And so this is what countries will need to consider very, very carefully before they seek to adopt these sorts of measures.

Question:  Yeah, the Secretary-General is very forthcoming and very direct with the Iranians and lecturing them not to threaten Israel’s existence and so forth.  Has he been as forthright with the Israelis not to threaten Iran with an attack on its nuclear facilities?  

Associate Spokesperson:  I think the Secretary-General has been very forthright on the need for all sides to avoid rhetoric that would intensify the situation and to allow for the situation regarding Iran’s nuclear programme to be dealt with through dialogue and through negotiations.  He has said this repeatedly to all of the people with whom he has met.

Question:  So he still believes that there is still a window of opportunity for negotiations on this particular issue?

Associate Spokesperson:  Well, the statement that I read at the very top of this meeting, in that one, again, he once more emphasized that there can only be a diplomatic and negotiated solution to the Iranian issue, which should be pursued through a reciprocal, step-by-step process.  So he continues to believe in that.  Yes? 

Question:  In South Africa, the protest by the miners resulted in 34 of them being shot and killed by the authorities.  Now other miners have been charged with their murder, and it’s given rise to a lot of questions about the justice of charging these miners with… I think the UN has said something about the working conditions in mines, but does the UN have any comment on this decision to actually prosecute fellow miners for the shooting by the authorities of other miners?

Associate Spokesperson:  No, there is no comment from us about this thus far.  Of course, if that changes, we’ll let you know, but we have been evaluating the situation from the perspective of labour issues as well as rights issues.

Thanks very much.  Have a good weekend.

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