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Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, 26 July 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 briefing.

**Secretary-General’s Travel

The Secretary-General wrapped up his visit to South-Eastern Europe in Bosnia and Herzegovina this morning.

He has just arrived in London, where as we previously announced, he will carry the Olympic Torch on the final leg of its journey in the United Kingdom.

Early this morning, he ran a lap around the Olympic Stadium in the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, telling reporters that he hopes to bring the "spirit of Sarajevo" to the London Games. Before departing the country, the Secretary-General visited the Memorial Centre at Srebrenica. There, he said that we must learn from the lessons of Srebrenica. The Secretary-General said that the United Nations will continue to do all that it can to ensure that what has happened in Srebrenica will not happen again anytime, anywhere, to anyone. His full remarks are available online.

**United Nations Olympics Web Page

And following on from our mention of the Secretary-General’s Olympics related activities, I want to let you know that our Department of Public Information colleagues have posted on the United Nations News Centre site a special Focus page as a handy resource on the latest news and useful links about the United Nations system’s involvement with the Olympic Games and the United Nations' work to promote the ideas of sport for peace and development. The URL is pretty long, so the best way to access it is from the News Centre's home page, under the News Focus segment.

**Security Council

This morning the Security Council met and adopted a resolution extending the mandate of the United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire until 31 July 2013, and endorsed the Secretary-General’s recommendation for a reduction of the equivalent of one battalion to be implemented as soon as possible. The Council then went into consultations to discuss the situation in Sudan and South Sudan.

The Council will discuss the situation in Guinea-Bissau this afternoon.

** Syria

Humanitarian agencies working in Syria have managed to significantly scale up assistance in the last month despite the very dangerous and complex operating environment. Food aid is now reaching 850,000 people, and more than 100,000 displaced people have received other vital supplies in the last four weeks. The United Nations humanitarian office, Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), says there are already 2 million people in need in Syria because of the conflict.

As the crisis drags on, the number of people in need of assistance is expected to increase. Up to 1 million people have had to leave their homes to escape fighting and seek help elsewhere in Syria. Humanitarian agencies are working very hard to get to all the places where people are in need, but it's not on the scale that is needed.

** Mali

John Ging, the Director of Operations at Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), has said the humanitarian situation in Mali is deteriorating rapidly because of an inadequate response. Mr. Ging has just finished a three-day mission to the country.

He said the situation, which is driven by severe food insecurity, malnutrition, large-scale population displacement and widespread insecurity, is desperate, but not hopeless. He said fundamental changes need to be made in the way the humanitarian response is funded in order to avoid a disaster. Over 4.5 million people are currently affected by the food security crisis. There are more details available online.

Questions, please? Masood?

**Questions and Answers

Question: One question about… yesterday, the Arab ambassadors made this appeal to help the Palestinian because they’re cash-strapped and everything else, and one of the reasons, of course, is that Israelis has got all these crossings blocked and there’s no trade, nothing going on. The Secretary-General, I know in the past, has been appealing to the Israelis who don’t seem to heed his call. So what is it that he can do? What mechanism can the United Nations Secretary-General do to save the Palestinian population from total annihilation? The way it is set up now…

Deputy Spokesperson: The Secretary-General, as I’ve said quite often and Martin has said quite often from this podium, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, his Special Coordinator for Peace in the Middle East, Robert Serry, is in almost daily contact with the Israeli authorities. They know what the position of the United Nations Secretary-General is, and it’s up to the Israeli authorities to live up to the Security Council… the appropriate Security Council resolutions, as it is for the Palestinians.

Question: But the thing is… we know that Israel on settlements… they have just issued… it doesn’t seem… nothing is going to work, because every time there is anything to be done by the United Nations committee, the United States comes to its support, and that is such a statement. The Secretary-General doesn’t have any ideas to move this whole process on, to save the population?

Deputy Spokesperson: Well, the international community has to bring pressure to bear on both sides to get them to the negotiating table. This is something that has been said. The Quartet has been saying this, that the negotiations have to take place, and that they have to take place keeping in mind the ultimate objective of having an independent Palestinian State living side by side in peace with a secure Israel. These are the fundamental tenets of the international community’s conditions and they are conditions that have to be met by both Israel and the Palestinians. But, the key of the matter is they have to come together and they have to have a dialogue, and right now, according to Mr. Serry’s intervention yesterday, that has not been happening. So obviously, on two of the… until both sides decide to pursue a dialogue, the international community has to try its best to motivate them to do so.

Question: Will the Secretary-General be in New York tomorrow for the conclusion of the arms trade treaty negotiations, and regardless, has he communicated his own views to the negotiators about what the treaty should look like?

Deputy Spokesperson: Well, we’ve announced that the Secretary-General returns to New York City on Saturday afternoon from London. And the Secretary-General has, as he said in his statement, he is looking for a robust treaty, but he is certainly not going to recommend to Member States, at this juncture, what they should be doing. He is going to wait and listen to what they say. Matthew?

Question: Sure. I want to ask you a question on Sudan and then Syria. In Sudan, there’s a… as you know there’s been a lot of protests, but now, a member of this group called Girifna, which is described as a non-violent youth group, has been arrested and charged with terrorism, at least his initial court appearance no press or anyone else was allowed inside, and I just… I wondered… I’ve asked you before about this, but it seems like things are getting more and more kind of stark and this is a pretty well-known group that has… that is not part of the Sudan Revolutionary Front, has not called for armed struggle in any way. Peaceful protesters now facing terrorism charges. Does the United Nations… does anyone in the United Nations system have anything to say about this?

Deputy Spokesperson: Well, the Secretary-General, as I’ve said quite often, is quite clear. A peaceful protest is a fundamental, democratic right of all peoples, and in that sense, he expects the Sudanese Governments and all Governments to respond with appropriate responses. I would suggest that you contact the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to see if they have a more precise position on this particular case.

Question: Okay. Just one… I guess, just one follow-up on that. I know that, like, Mr. Menkerios, he speaks with the Sudanese authorities, I guess on behalf of the Secretary-General, frequently. Is this something that the United Nations Secretariat itself has raised to Sudan, anything about how they’re treating non-violence protesters in Khartoum?

Deputy Spokesperson: Well, I would have to check on that. I’m not sure if Mr. Menkerios is, in fact, raising this particular case or not. I know that Mr. Menkerios raises the situation between Sudan and South Sudan, as well as the situation in both countries that lead to the current hostilities. We’ll have to find out if, in fact, he has discussed this situation at all. Masood?

Question: On this situation in Afghanistan, in which the Al-Qaida supported Taliban has suddenly stepped up the activities, attacks going on, not only inside of Afghanistan, inside of Pakistan too. The Secretary-General’s representative in Afghanistan, does he have anything to say about this new wave of violence that is now spreading all over Afghanistan?

Deputy Spokesperson: Well, we obviously follow the situation in Afghanistan with extreme concern. It is obviously a situation that we are looking to have ameliorated with the passage of time. The Secretary-General is looking forward to the Tokyo conference. He was very pleased with the Tokyo conference in July and that got a significant amount of pledges of money to help the Afghan authorities. So, in that sense, we’re hoping that the transition, although it is rocky right now, will be… will afford a greater possibility for the country to develop and to develop its institutions and strengthen its capacity to provide security for its people. Matthew?

Question: I want to ask you about Syria. First, thanks. I got from your office, finally, this Ladsous transcript of his press conference, and I wanted to ask, in it, he does… he says that half of the military observers have, for the time being, been sent back to their countries. But there was a quote given into Agence France-Presse in the same news cycle which said, “Half have left and they’re not coming back.”

Deputy Spokesperson: Well, Matthew, I invite you to read what Mr. Ladsous said. He is the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations and his word is what counts.

Question: Sure. And with… this is something new that I wanted to ask you. I learned yesterday… yesterday, I was told by Secretariat sources that, on the very time that the Council was meeting to either adopt or not adopt the resolution extending the UNSMIS Mission for 30 days, that the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) deployed three separate United Nations planes, including from the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), in Beirut to make a full pull-out if the resolution wasn’t passed. And I wanted to know, first of all, will you confirm that, and two, given that in places like Southern Kordofan, which is a war zone, the United Nations left its peacekeepers there for weeks, if not months after the mission expired. What was the thinking behind deploying, if you’ll confirm it, deploying these planes for a total pull-out if the resolution didn’t pass?

Deputy Spokesperson: No, Matthew. I’m not going to confirm. We do operations every day and we’re not going to get into the details of each and every operation. As you know, the Security Council was to take the decision. It took the decision to extend by 30 days. We’re taking a look to see how these 30 days evolve. The Secretary-General continues to call for an elimination of violence and for a political dialogue to begin, and we’ll see at the end of the 30 days what the Security Council decides.

Question: If you say it’s operations every day, but even people at UNAMA in Afghanistan are saying it’s not every day that planes are taken from one mission, where they’re needed for the possibility of a pullout, that some would say is more political than safety…

Deputy Spokesperson: I’m not going to comment on what people…

Question: …is it possible to just ask you…?

Deputy Spokesperson: Well, I’m not… we’re not going to comment every time somebody has a rumour, somebody tells you something, Matthew. This is not the way we operate, I’m sorry. Masood?

Question: You just talked about the Secretary-General carrying the Torch?

Deputy Spokesperson: Yes?

Question: In the last laps? Will he be carrying it all the way to the mount, to light… or he will… or will somebody else will take it, the Torch, and then…?

Deputy Spokesperson: No, because, apparently he is carrying the Torch this evening and the Olympic Torch is only lit at the inauguration of the Games, which is tomorrow evening, so I imagine that the Torch will sleep somewhere safely this evening until the…

Question: …will he be running last laps immediately before it goes on…?

Deputy Spokesperson: Well, again, he is carrying the Torch this evening and the Torch, the Olympic Torch, at the stadium is lit tomorrow evening, London time. So, obviously, there’s about a 24 hour difference in time…

Question: I know he…

Deputy Spokesperson: …where the Torch is going to be meandering its way through different facets of London’s life, political, social, economic and sporting life and…

Question: What parts of London will it be…?

Deputy Spokesperson: No, I really don’t know. You’ll have to watch it. I think it’s probably going to be covered on some of the TV stations. So I invite you to watch it. It should be in about 45 minutes, if I’m not mistaken.

Correspondent: I see. Okay.

Deputy Spokesperson: Yes, it’s about 5 in the evening, 5 or 6 o’clock London time, so…

Question: …almost there…

Deputy Spokesperson: So, if we finish this early, we can all rush off to watch. Matthew?

Question: I’ll try to be fast, but, first I… I just want to ask one thing. You say you won’t comment on “rumours”. I guess, I’m wondering, if, in fact, whistle-blowing staff within the United Nations say that something happened, isn’t it the function of your office to confirm it or deny it…?

Deputy Spokesperson: Matthew, we do not react to every rumour. We do not react to everything that every single individual may decide to tell you. We have operations in…

Question: …you don’t deny it…?

Deputy Spokesperson: …we have operations in place in a lot of places in the world and we don’t comment on many of them.

Question: Okay, this is what I want to ask you. The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), the United Nations, has declined yesterday to produce witnesses asked for by the House Foreign Affairs Committee and… the chairman of which has said this is a new low for the United Nations refusing to testify about the transfer of technology to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. So, I wonder, since it’s a United Nations agency, what does Ban Ki-moon think about a refusal to testify to Congress, since it will go to the relations between Congress and his Administration?

Deputy Spokesperson: To the best of my knowledge, United Nations officials do not testify before Congress here in the United States or anywhere else around the world. There are mechanisms for Member States to find out what the United Nations is doing, and as WIPO has said, none of the technology that they gave to those countries is on the sanctions list, and from now on, they said, in order to avoid precisely this kind of problem, they will pass their list of what they are doing in these countries to the appropriate sanctions committee of the United Nations.

Question: Obviously, the Committee’s not satisfied with that, and I know that, like Jane Holl Lute, United Nations officials have testified to Congress. This is just one where they’re being asked to testify about a scandal and they’ve refused…

Deputy Spokesperson: To the best of my knowledge, there won’t be any testimony.

Correspondent: Okay.

Deputy Spokesperson: Okay. Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. Have a good afternoon.

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