22 March 2013
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.  Welcome to the briefing.


**Syria


I have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the terror attack on a mosque in Syria.


The Secretary-General condemns in the strongest terms the terrorist attack in the Iman mosque in Damascus yesterday, which resulted in numerous deaths and injuries.  He expresses his deepest condolences to the families of the victims and wishes those injured a speedy recovery.  The Secretary-General believes that this latest atrocity, along with the others prior to it, should be promptly and fully investigated and perpetrators brought to justice.


The Secretary-General renews his call on all parties to abide by their obligations under international humanitarian law.  Deliberate targeting of civilians and civilian objects, including places of worship, constitutes a war crime.  These heinous acts must stop immediately.


The Secretary-General reiterates his firm conviction that resorting to violence and military means will only lead to more suffering and destruction.  A political solution is the only way out of this conflict.


The President of the Security Council also read a statement this morning, in which the members of the Council condemned the attack in the strongest terms.


In a note we issued last night, we mentioned that the Secretary-General had received a joint letter yesterday from France and the United Kingdom, in which they requested an investigation into several incidents of alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria.  The Secretary-General has provided a reply letter to both of those Missions.  Also, the Secretary-General replied to the letter he received on Wednesday from the Syrian Government to inform them he had decided to establish a United Nations investigation on the possible use of chemical weapons in Syria.  The full note is available online.


The World Food Programme (WFP) says that it reached 1.7 million people inside Syria in its most recent round of monthly distributions and is increasing its food assistance to reach 2.5 million in the country in April.  Of those reached inside Syria, about 500,000 were in opposition-controlled areas.  However, many people in acute need are beyond the Food Programme’s reach, in zones of conflict or opposition locations to which it has limited or no access.  The World Food Programme is gravely concerned about the situation of these people. 


**Water


The Secretary-General spoke this morning at a high-level meeting on water cooperation on the occasion of World Water Day, saying that we cannot prosper without clean, plentiful freshwater and calling for heightened cooperation on the matter.


In his remarks, the Secretary-General said that by the year 2030, nearly half the global population could be facing water scarcity, with demand outstripping supply by 40 per cent.  He said that one area where we need cooperation and innovation is agriculture, which is by far the largest user of freshwater.  He said that climate change also presents a growing threat to productivity and food security.


The Secretary-General said that no discussion of water is complete without mentioning sanitation and that investment in sanitation is a down payment on a sustainable future.


**Security Council


This morning, the Security Council held an open meeting on Kosovo.  The Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Farid Zarif, said that there have been some important positive developments, pointing to the high-level political dialogue facilitated by the European Union.


Mr. Zarif said that these meetings have marked an essential new chapter in the collective effort to overcome the legacy of the past conflict. He added that the leaders involved have demonstrated political courage, as well as foresight, by their participation.  We have his full remarks available in my office.


**Pakistan


The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, says it is appalled by the bomb attack that took place on Thursday in a camp for internally displaced people in northern Pakistan.  The attack was in the Jalozai camp near Peshawar.  Ten people are known to have been killed, and several dozen others were wounded.


The refugee agency and the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Pakistan both expressed deep condolences and sympathy with the families of all those who lost their lives or were injured in the attack.  The agency urges Pakistan to further improve security arrangements around the camp and to make sure that internally displaced people and humanitarian workers are safe and not targeted.  As of today, all humanitarian services at Jalozai camp have been suspended while UN agencies assess the security situation.


**Earth Hour


Tomorrow, the United Nations will participate in Earth Hour by turning off the lights at its offices around the world for one hour.  Joining the millions of people around the world who observe Earth Hour, the Secretary-General said that the United Nations will participate with a determination to take action on climate change.  He said that Governments, business and civil society all have a role to play in coming up with common sense answers for a cleaner, greener world.


**Press Conferences


This afternoon at 1:30 p.m., there will be a press conference linked to World Water Day.  The United Nations University along with UN Water will announce a new proposal to define water security — a term that has major implications in international relations.


And then on Monday at 11 a.m., there will be a press conference sponsored by the Permanent Mission of Mexico to the United Nations, entitled “The Final UN Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty”.  Both of those press conferences will be here.


**Security Council


I also see that the President of the Security Council is inviting Council members to consultations of the whole at 5 p.m. in connection with the Central African Republic.  So I think you will need to keep your eyes on that one.


Questions, please?  Yes?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Good day, Martin, thank you.  I have a question about the France-UK request to the Secretary-General and what considerations the Secretary-General goes through when he considers granting such requests, as he did the Syrian request.  First, the timing of the France-UK letter comes hours after the Syrian request.  If they had certain investigations that they wanted, perhaps they would have sent them along days, weeks, months ago, when they knew about them, instead of right when the Syrians have sent their letter, one.  And two, France and the UK continue to debate arming the Syrian opposition, in stark violation of the UN Charter and international law.  The question is:  is the Secretary-General considering granting the France-UK requests in the letter, one?  And two, does he take those political motivations into account when he debates whether or not to grant such an investigation?


Spokesperson:  Well, the first thing is you have to ask the French and the UK missions about the timing of their request.  But simply put, any Member State, as I mentioned yesterday, any Member State has the right to make a request for such an investigation, and the Secretary-General looks seriously and takes seriously all allegations about the possible use of chemical weapons in Syria.  What the Secretary-General has done is to acknowledge the request from the French and the UK authorities, as he has done to the Syrian Government.  And in both cases, with the case of the Syrian Government’s request and the French and UK requests, the Secretary-General has asked for more information about the alleged incidents.  And this is a very important part, because we need to have more information to go on.  The Secretary-General has also said that it would be really important for the mission, which he has said will be established to look into the Syrian Government’s request, it is going to be really important for there to be full cooperation from all relevant Syrian authorities on the ground, and he is counting on the Syrian Government’s full support, particularly through unfettered access.  So, and as for the other parts of your question, we have made it very clear all along, and this is not anything new to you, that any further militarization of this conflict is undesirable and unhelpful.


Question:  If… just to follow up, not to put words in your mouth, but to be clear, the Secretary-General needs more information about the incidents requested in the France-UK letter, so in a way, the ball is in their court; they need to provide more information for the investigations to go on?


Spokesperson:  Well, look, we do need more information from the Syrian Government and from the French and UK Governments about their requests.  The Secretary-General has already said that he has established a mission, that he will be sending a mission.  It’s simply that we need more information to be able to go on this, but the Secretary-General has already said that he has decided to conduct an investigation.  Yes?


Question:  Thanks, Martin.  Not to belabour the point, but just on that, the response of the Secretary-General was on the Syrian request, obviously because the UK and France letter came afterwards.  Is the focus right now of the investigation of the allegations of both sides, or is it just of the Syrian Government, number one?  And is the unfettered access a direct request basically to the Syrian Government?


Spokesperson:  Well, as I just said, the mission would require full cooperation from all Syrian authorities.  That’s self-evident.  And he is counting on the Syrian Government’s full support, and that includes for unfettered access, and unfettered access means what it says.


Correspondent:  All right.


Spokesperson:  With regard to the question of the focus, everybody understands that that is also the primary focus of your questions, no doubt about it.  Where we are is that the Syrian Government has made a request to look into a specific incident.  And the Secretary-General has responded to that specific request from the Syrian Government to look into that specific incident.  And it is on that basis, using the mechanism that he has at his disposal, to launch an investigation, to conduct an investigation mission in Syria.  The Secretary-General has also received a request from the French and United Kingdom.  And he has made it very clear that we must take seriously other allegations, such as these, that chemical weapons were used elsewhere in the country.  And he has made that clear also to the Syrian authorities.


Question:  And is there any chance that those two mandates would be combined or the second, the France-UK request, be combined with the investigation?


Spokesperson:  Where we are, as I have just said, is that the Secretary-General has decided to establish this mission based on the Syrian request.  But as I have just said, there is the subsequent French-UK request, and we very much take seriously other allegations that chemical weapons were used elsewhere in the country.  Other questions?  Yes, Nizar?


Question:  A follow-up about the same issue?  That unfettered access, will it be also to areas held by rebel groups?


Spokesperson:  Unfettered access means what it says, and I would reiterate that what the Secretary-General has also said that we would require full cooperation from all Syrian authorities.  Other questions, yes?


Question:  Will they go to the areas of more than one authority?  I mean, is all this the Government and the rebels, or which one?  Because there are… there is a big difference between areas controlled by the rebels and areas controlled by the Government.


Spokesperson:  We will require unfettered access.  And I think that that is pretty clear.  Yes, and then I am coming to you, yes?


Question:  There was news reports about the Israeli Prime Minister, Mr. [Benjamin] Netanyahu, apologized to the Turkish Republic because of the nine deaths on the Mavi Marmara ship raid.  And what is the Secretary-General’s comment on this issue?  What… does it affect the Middle East peace process?


Spokesperson:  I’ll have to check into that; I don’t have anything on that.  I am coming here, and then I’m back to you, Nizar, okay?  Yes?


Question:  Would the… is there… is the… would there be a formation of a group such as UNSCOM [United Nations Special Commission] for a moment or, how… you know, like with the weapons inspections in… in Iraq?  How would the… would there be a team, you know, people that would be…?


Spokesperson:  This is a very specifically focused mission that’s based on a mechanism that derives its authority from a General Assembly resolution that was reaffirmed by a Security Council resolution going back quite a few years.  So the Secretary-General has the authority to establish such a mission and then to compose that mission with the people you need to do that.  Of course, different kinds of experts relating to the topic at hand, which is the alleged use of chemical weapons; you need experts of various kinds who can help to ascertain whether such an allegation can be proven or not.


Question:  Would there be safeguards put in place as far as preventing the politicization of the… of the investigation?  I mean, it’s just literally 10 years to the day from the invasion of Iraq and we have it once again some of the same countries that seem to be involved in another WMD [weapons of mass destruction]…


Spokesperson:  Well, yes, I know you asked me about this the other day.  This is a very carefully defined mandate that derives from a General Assembly resolution reaffirmed by a Security Council resolution.  The Secretary-General has very clear guidelines of what is required and what is necessary for such a mission.  And also, it is going to be carried out in an impartial manner by international civil servants.  Yes?


Question:  There was some speculation about an upcoming Quartet meeting and the UK Ambassador said that it was mainly because three of the four parties were going to be at the G-8 meeting in April, but for the Secretary-General, can you find out if there is any possibility of a Quartet meeting coming up?


Spokesperson:  Sure.  Okay, other questions, please?  Yes, Nizar?


[The Spokesperson later added that there was no Quartet meeting to announce at present.]


Question:  [inaudible] terrorist attack against the Syrian Government for a long time.  I mean, Al Jazeera in Qatar has been broadcasting some kind of opinion that this… this Sheikh [Mohammed] al-Buti has lost his mind and because he is pacifist and they have been inciting against him for such a long time.  Would the Secretary-General call for such… I mean countries not inside against [inaudible] people like Sheikh al-Buti?


Spokesperson:  Look, Nizar, I am not going to get into polemics here, simply to repeat what I just said at the beginning, which is that Secretary-General condemns in the strongest terms the terrorist attack in the Iman mosque in Damascus yesterday, which resulted in numerous deaths and injuries, and of course, including the cleric you mentioned. 


Question:  I have another question.


Spokesperson:  I see one of your colleagues behind, and then I’ll come back to you, Nizar.  Yes?


Question:  Is there any comments of the Secretary-General on the election of the Prime Minister by the national… the Syrian National Coalition?


Spokesperson:  Say again?


Question:  Is there any comments of the Secretary-General on the election of the Prime Minister by the national… the Syrian National Coalition?


Spokesperson:  I think I provided something on that the other day.  I’ll check and see if we can give that to you again, okay.  Any other questions?  Yes, Nizar?


[The Spokesperson later reiterated that the United Nations has taken note of press reports on the election of an interim prime minister by the Syrian opposition Coalition.  The United Nations continues to monitor the situation in Syria very closely.  Most importantly, as the Secretary-General has stressed, it continues to call on all Syrian, regional and international actors to inject urgency towards reaching a political solution while there is still time to prevent Syria’s complete destruction and further loss of lives.  The Secretary-General also called on the international community, in particular the Security Council, to find unity and lend its full support to the efforts of Joint Special Representative Lakhdar Brahimi to help the Syrian people reach a political solution to the conflict.]


Question:  Yes, regarding… is the UNESCO [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization] monitoring the destruction for the mosques around Mecca, because most of these mosques which are destroyed by the Saudi authorities are inscribed by UNESCO and they have a history of 1,400 years?  Yet there are bulldozers systematically, it has been for few months now, there have been, around Mecca, and this is… this is a human heritage which is being destroyed [inaudible].


Spokesperson:  We’ll check with UNESCO, Nizar.  Thank you. Have a good afternoon and a good weekend.  Thank you.


* *** *


For information media • not an official record