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Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, 24 February 2012

Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York

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.

**Noon Briefing Guest

Today, I have as my guest, Vijay Nambiar, the Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Myanmar. Mr. Nambiar will be briefing you on his recent visit to Myanmar and on his views on what is happening there. After he has finished his presentation, he will take questions on Myanmar only. Thank you. Mr. Nambiar, the floor is yours, sir.

Okay, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for sticking around for round two.

**Secretary-General’s Travel

The Secretary-General arrived in Lusaka today. He headed straight from the airport to the National Assembly to deliver a speech at a special session of Zambia’s parliament that was broadcast by radio across the country.

In his address, the Secretary-General said the world had witnessed more than sporting success in Zambia’s football victory at the Africa Cup of Nations. The world had also seen Zambia’s spirit. He said democracy runs deep in Zambia and that work on a new constitution would deepen it further. He said that offered an opportunity for Zambia to lead again by enshrining the highest standards of human rights and protection for all people regardless of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation or disability.

The Secretary-General also paid tribute to the 73 Zambians who have lost their lives on UN peacekeeping duties and the more than 300 who serve in peacekeeping missions in Africa and beyond.

At a later meeting, the Secretary-General discussed a range of topics with members of parliament, including the rights of all people regardless of sexual orientation, refugees and climate change.

Tomorrow, the Secretary-General will visit a UN-supported project for children and will join the President of the International Olympic Committee, Jacques Rogge, on a visit to an Olympic Youth Development Centre. He will also meet the Zambian President and a number of Cabinet members.

On Sunday, the Secretary-General will visit a school in Livingstone and tourist infrastructure around Victoria Falls. He will then fly on to Angola. We will have more on that part of the trip on Monday.

** Syria

Yesterday, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States, Nabil Elaraby, announced the appointment of former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan as the Joint Special Envoy of the United Nations and the League of Arab States on the Syrian crisis.

The Secretaries-General are grateful to Mr. Annan for accepting this important mission at a critical time for the people of Syria. A deputy for the Joint Special Envoy will be chosen from the Arab region.

The Special Envoy will be the high-level representative of the Secretaries-General of the United Nations and the League of Arab States on the Syrian crisis. The Special Envoy will provide good offices aimed at bringing an end to all violence and human rights violations, and promoting a peaceful solution to the Syrian crisis. The Special Envoy will also consult broadly and engage with all relevant interlocutors within and outside Syria in order to end the violence and the humanitarian crisis, and facilitate a peaceful Syrian-led and inclusive political solution that meets the democratic aspirations of the Syrian people through a comprehensive political dialogue between the Syrian Government and the whole spectrum of the Syrian opposition. The full statement is available online.

This morning, the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, B. Lynn Pascoe, delivered a message from the Secretary-General to the Friends of Syria Meeting in Tunisia, in which he said the crisis in Syria did not start with calls for regime change, people wanted reform and an end to oppression, exclusion, and marginalization. They were met with implacable aggression.

Roughly one year later, the prolonged violence now poses a profound test for the international community and the United Nations in three areas: human rights; humanitarian access; and finding a political solution.

He noted that we need to ensure that such access is granted by the Syrian authorities in a way that does not exacerbate tensions. He said the Secretary-General fully supports the call of the International Committee of the Red Cross for a daily humanitarian pause or truce to enable the delivery of humanitarian assistance by the United Nations and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, and reported that Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos will travel to Syria at the earliest opportunity to negotiate access with the authorities. He concluded that, ultimately, only a political solution will resolve this crisis.

The Secretary-General encourages all to speak with one voice in their messages and actions. It is essential to avoid further militarization and descent towards sectarian strife. We must work to preserve the peaceful coexistence of Syria’s many communities. The statement is available online.

** Western Sahara

We have an announcement on the next round of informal talks on Western Sahara. As agreed during the last round of informal talks on Western Sahara, delegations of the parties to that conflict — Morocco and the Frente Polisario — and the neighbouring States — Algeria and Mauritania — will gather for another round of informal talks from 11 to 13 March in Greentree, Long Island. This meeting will take place at the invitation of the Personal Envoy of the Secretary-General for Western Sahara, Christopher Ross, within the mandate provided by the UN Security Council for UN-led negotiations.

During the upcoming talks, the parties will, as previously agreed, further deepen their discussion of their respective proposals on a settlement. They will also further discuss the new ideas put forward by the Secretary-General in paragraph 120 of his report (document S/2011/249) associated with governance, such as environment and natural resources, as well as demining, without prejudice to the final status of the Territory. They will also have the opportunity to review the status of Confidence Building Measures and discuss the outcome of the last UN High Commissioner for Refugees coordination meeting that took place on 24 and 25 January in Geneva.

**Press Conferences

On Monday, at 1 p.m., here in the auditorium, there will be a press conference on the topic of “Youth Employment, Social Cohesion and the Arab Spring”. Participants will include Jose Manuel Salazar-Xirinachs, Executive Director of the Employment Sector of the International Labour Organization (ILO).

** Sudan

And the Acting Humanitarian Coordinator in Sudan, Mark Cutts, welcomed the return today of United Nations international staff to South Kordofan State. This follows a decision made earlier by the Government of Sudan to authorize their return. The first two international staff arrived today in the state capital, Kadugli.

Mr. Cutts acknowledged efforts that are being made by the Government, together with national and international humanitarian organizations, to address humanitarian needs in the state and called for assessments to be extended to all conflict-affected areas.

He said that the United Nations and other independent and impartial humanitarian organizations had a vital role to play in helping to meet the needs of all Sudanese civilians affected by the fighting. He also stressed the need for the fighting to stop so that displaced people can return to their homes and people in the conflict-affected areas can resume normal lives.

Mr. Cutts also noted the United Nations, the African Union and the League of Arab States have tabled a joint proposal to facilitate humanitarian access to conflict-affected people throughout South Kordofan and Blue Nile.

I have time for a few questions. The lady in the back?

**Questions and Answers

Question: Yeah, I have a question about the statement of Lynn Pascoe to this Friends of Syria meeting. I wondered why, given the situation, that Syria was not invited and that the opposition within Syria wasn’t invited, but the external insurgent opposition was invited, where does his statement accord with the Charter and set a basis for Kofi Annan to be seen as a neutral party to help negotiate an ending? It seems he took a side in his statement. Was there an effort not to take a side or, you know, was there some reason that he even went to this meeting that did not invite the country, you know, the Government of Syria and the opposition internally?

Deputy Spokesperson: The Secretary-General has called consistently for dialogue, international dialogue, for the international community to speak with one voice on Syria. This is slowly beginning to happen. The General Assembly’s resolution last week was a step in the right direction, where the vast majority of countries got together. The nomination of Kofi Annan by both the League of Arab States and the United Nations is an indication that this process is moving ahead, and that the United Nations and the League of Arab States will be taking a lead in trying to find a way to defuse tensions in Syria and end the violence and the killing. That is the situation. The United Nations speaks with all interlocutors; the United Nations is willing to speak with all interlocutors. Valerie Amos is waiting to go to Damascus to be received in Damascus so she could discuss the humanitarian affairs with the Syrian Government. So we are reaching out to all parties in an attempt to get some kind of a dialogue going.

Question: Is there…?

Deputy Spokesperson: One second, one second. Sylviane?

Question: Thank you. Can you describe the relationship between Kofi Annan and Bashir Assad? Can you describe this relationship?

Deputy Spokesperson: I can’t describe the relationship. Mr. Annan was selected because of his background, the high esteem in which is held in the international community and his impeccable knowledge of the situation in the Middle East. But I can’t comment on their personal relationship, I have no information on that.

Question: Is he expected to come to New York before heading to Damascus?

Deputy Spokesperson: We will see, I don’t know what his travel plans are. He was named last night.

Correspondent: Yes.

Deputy Spokesperson: Obviously, he is going to have to meet with the General Assembly at some point, with the Secretary-General at some point, the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States, because this is a joint mission. So we would expect he would come to New York at some point, but I can’t give you any precise dates. I can’t give you any precise information yet on what his team is going to look like; what his travel plans are. As I said, he accepted the nomination yesterday, it was announced last night, let us have a little bit of time to be able to sort all of the administrative details out. And when we have something for you, with great pleasure, we will share it. Matthew?

Question: Sure, oh, I mean, lots of other questions about Syria, I wanted to ask you a question about Darfur; you mentioned Sudan. One, there is a report of renewed fighting in Darfur not far from El Fasher, the Mini Menawi faction is saying that 12 Government soldiers were killed, and I am wondering, since there is a peacekeeping mission there, is that something that you can comment on? What is UNAMID doing about that?

Deputy Spokesperson: I don’t have any information on that; we’ll try and find out for you.

[The Deputy Spokesperson later said that UNAMID has received reports of this incident and has dispatched a verification patrol to the area. The Spokesperson’s Office is awaiting updates.]

Question: Also, another UNAMID question, I had asked this actually some weeks, or more than a month ago, there are two UNAMID international staffers that were apparently PNG’d or persona non grata by the Sudanese Government, Hawa Haidal and Mustapha al-Sai Hasona, and I’d like… I mean maybe… apparently you may not have it in your binder, but is it possible to get something said by the UN on the… on whether this violates the host country agreement and the SOFA [status-of-forces agreement], what the basis on which Sudan is barring these two international staff members, and what the UN is doing about it?

Deputy Spokesperson: As you can see, Matthew, I don’t even have a binder, I’ve got a folder. But when we have something I will let you know. Last question, Masood?

Question: I just wanted to ask you about, why is Iran so low on this Secretary-General’s radar, because, as it is, the winds of war are blowing. I mean, Israel has threatened to attack, United States is trying to stop that from happening, what’s the Secretary-General doing about that?

Deputy Spokesperson: Well, Iran…

Question: [inaudible] what statement…

Deputy Spokesperson: Iran is not low on the Secretary-General’s list of priorities. The Secretary-General has unfortunately a very wide variety of priorities with which to deal. He has been dealing with the Iran situation, he has been discussing it with international players in his bilateral meetings on the edges of the African Union summit, of the meeting on Somalia, he has been dealing with this issue with other players, he has been asking the Iranian authorities to comply with international regulations, with the Security Council resolutions, with IAEA resolutions, he has been insisting that the Iranians demonstrate that their nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes only, and at some point he has to have a response from the Iranians, and so does the international community and that’s what the international community is waiting for. But he gives a tremendous amount of priority to all of the problems that are facing us, and it just so happens that this week, it is Syria, because of the fact that he named a Special Envoy along with the Secretary-General Elaraby of the League of Arab States to handle the Syrian problem, and he asked Valerie Amos on the basis of the resolution of the General Assembly last week to lead a humanitarian mission to Syria. One last question, Tim?

Question: Has Ms. Amos been given approval to go to Syria by the Government in Damascus?

Deputy Spokesperson: I’m sorry?

Question: Has Ms. Amos been given approval to go to Syria by the Government?

Deputy Spokesperson: To the best of my knowledge, we are still waiting for a response on that.

Question: Did she ask, make any special request, does she expect to go to Homs and other cities when she is there?

Deputy Spokesperson: We will have to see what her plans are, I don’t have any knowledge, detailed knowledge, of what her plans are, but she is trying to get access and she is waiting to get a response from Syria.

Question: Yeah, Eduardo, yesterday, you said that you’d get an answer on this 380 Madison question of why, at the request of one Member State, UN Security said a journalist couldn’t cover a meeting and…

Deputy Spokesperson: Matthew, that answer was put into the transcript yesterday afternoon. I put it myself.

Question: Well wasn’t it sent, oh that’s fine, I’ll read it there, I have another 380 Madison…

Deputy Spokesperson: Read it there.

Question: …question that I would like to ask you…

Deputy Spokesperson: No, no, I said…

Question: The Police [inaudible] the New York City Police were barred by the UN from arresting an OHRM manager for sexual abuse, this has been stated by the UN Poli… by the NYPD that they were not allowed into the building. So I want to know, if the UN says it has zero tolerance, how is it consistent to be a sanctuary for people subject to arrest for sexual abuse?

Deputy Spokesperson: Matthew, the information I have is that the summons server was there to serve a summons to a member of a company that leases floor space in the same building at 380 Madison. It was not aimed at a UN employee. Thank you…

Question: And why [inaudible]

Deputy Spokesperson: …very much, have a nice weekend.

Question: Why is there a letter from OHRM about it?

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