5 September 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 Farhan Haq, Associate Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.


Good afternoon, everyone.


**Noon Guest


Today, I am joined by Georg Kell, the Executive Director of the UN Global Compact.  He is here to brief on their 2013 Global Corporate Sustainability report and the forthcoming Global Compact Leaders Summit, which will be held in New York on 19-20 September.  Also today we are joined by a group of journalists from the World Press Institute.  Welcome.  Mr. Kell?


[Press conference by Mr. Kell is issued separately.]


Thanks.  Proceeding with the next portion of our briefing.


**Secretary-General’s Travel


The Secretary-General is attending the opening sessions of the G-20 Summit in Saint Petersburg after a day of meetings with a range of leaders and officials.  At the working dinner, right about now, the Secretary-General is expected to brief world leaders on developments in Syria.  In his remarks, the Secretary-General is expected to outline the work of the UN chemical weapons investigation team and to explain why he asked Lakhdar Brahimi, the Joint Special Representative for Syria, to join him in Saint Petersburg.  We will bring you those remarks, as soon as he has spoken.


The Secretary-General said earlier that, while the world is focused on concerns about the possible use of chemical weapons in Syria, it is crucial to push even harder for the International Conference on Syria to take place in Geneva.  He said a political solution is the only way to end the bloodshed in Syria.  Tomorrow, the Secretary-General will again be taking part in the G-20 Summit, and will meet with several world leaders.  The Secretary-General intends to speak at the G-20 about economic matters and sustainable development.


** Syria


Valerie Amos, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, is in Syria today to look at ways of strengthening the UN’s ongoing humanitarian efforts and to support its staff, who continue to work in a challenging environment.  The UN Relief and Works Agency, UNRWA, and the broader UN family together have more than 4,500 staff in Syria, who are delivering humanitarian support to those in urgent need.  Ms. Amos had a number of positive meetings today with the Syrian authorities and humanitarian partners.  We expect that Under-Secretary-General Amos will be available to answer your questions by videolink at noon tomorrow.


** Syria — Refugees


Also, the UN refugee agency and the Governments of Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey said in Geneva yesterday that they will work together to seek an urgent and major expansion of international help for the region as it struggles to cope with the Syrian refugee crisis.  The agreement came during a half-day meeting chaired by UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres with senior officials from those four countries, which are hosting most of the refugees who have fled Syria since March 2011.


**Democratic Republic of Congo


The Special Envoy of the Secretary-General to the Great Lakes Region, Mary Robinson, and the Special Representative in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Martin Kobler, are in Kampala, Uganda, today to attend an extraordinary session of the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region focused on the crisis in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.


In a press release issued yesterday, the UN envoys, along with African Union, US and European Union envoys, encouraged the parties to reinvigorate the implementation of their commitments under the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework, and in accordance with UN Security Council resolution 2098 (2013).  They also urged all parties to bring the Kampala Dialogue to a positive and swift conclusion, in order to move to a broader process addressing the deeper causes of the conflict.


** Darfur


The African Union–UN mission in Darfur reports that one of its patrols has recovered the remains of one of the four peacekeepers reported missing following floods late last month.  As you will recall, on 25 August, six peacekeepers were swept away by powerful currents while escorting World Food Programme (WFP) trucks.  The incident occurred when the peacekeepers attempted to pull out their truck, which was stuck in the mud of a river valley.  A rescue team found two of the peacekeepers alive.


**Security Council


The Security Council held consultations this morning on Sudan and South Sudan, as well as on Guinea-Bissau.  This afternoon, they will have an open meeting on non-proliferation and Iran.


**Charity


And last, recognizing the role of charity in alleviating poverty and human ‎suffering, the United Nations marks the first International Day of Charity today at UN Headquarters.  In a message to mark this occasion, the Secretary-General has said that the role of charity can and should grow as we aim to accelerate our efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals and define a bold agenda for the period beyond 2015.


Journalists are invited to a special event in Conference Room 1 at UN Headquarters from 3 to 6 p.m.  The event will be available live on webcast as well.  The press release with more details is available in our office.


That’s it from me.  Yes, Masood?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  So the Secretary-General called his Special Envoy, Mr. Brahimi, to come over there.  So does the Secretary-General still hold out… I mean, decent hope that the Geneva II could be held soon, and that Syrian peace process could be moved forward?


Associate Spokesperson:  Yes, in fact, as the Secretary-General has made clear, recent events show that the need for an international conference on Syria, to be held in Geneva, is as urgent as ever.  And it is important to hold this conference as soon as possible.  So he and Mr. Brahimi will work with the world leaders who are convened for the G-20 Summit to try to see what they can do to move forward on plans for that conference.  Yes, Marcelle?


Question:  If I can just follow up on that, can you tell us more about Mr. Brahimi’s schedule and agenda in St. Petersburg?  Who is he going to meet with in the coming days, and how does he plan to promote this idea of the Geneva II conference?


Associate Spokesperson:  He just intends to meet with as many of the leaders as he can who are there for the G-20 Summit.  We don’t have an itinerary for that, but he will be accompanying the Secretary-General for some meetings.  In fact, we do have available on the UN WebTV some clips showing both the Secretary-General and Mr. Brahimi today at St. Petersburg, and you can look at that for some of what they have been saying while they are there.  Yes, here?


Question:  Sorry, to follow up, have they already met with Russia and with the US?


Associate Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General has met with a number of leaders on the margins of the conference, including, I believe, a brief meeting with President [Barack] Obama.  Yes?


Question:  Thank you.  Farhan, speaking realistically and just to repeat the last voice of Marcelle, how Mr. Brahimi intends to promote this idea for continuing on the Geneva conference, whether the Secretary-General really believes that he can push forward with the Geneva conference before or after intervention?


Associate Spokesperson:  Well, I’ll just focus on what the Secretary-General said in the note to correspondents that we sent out to you earlier this morning:  that while the world is focused on concerns about the possible use of chemical weapons in Syria, it is crucial to push even harder for the international conference on Syria to take place in Geneva.  A political solution is the only way to end the bloodshed in Syria.  Yes?


Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  My question is, any reactions from the Secretary-General on the attack on Malula by the rebels today?  And also, there is any… why the UN is cutting the refugee aid in Lebanon?  Do you have more… can you elaborate?


Associate Spokesperson:  Well, on Lebanon, as I mentioned, the High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, did meet with a number of senior officials from Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq.  Those are the four countries that were most affected by the refugee outflows from Syria.  And they have agreed specifically on the need for… to step up the humanitarian efforts in those countries and have a major expansion of international help going to those four countries as they struggle to cope with the large number of refugees that have come across the border.  So we are working hard on that particular aspect.  On the first, there is no comment on that specific battle, no.


Question:  But I am talking about the UN cut.  It’s not about how to help; it’s the cut on refugee aid.  It’s not how to help.  Why do they cut this refugee aid?


Associate Spokesperson:  Well, the problems we have been facing are problems of funding, and that’s why we need an expansion of international aid, so that all of the neighbouring countries get the aid that they need.  As you can see, the UN refugee agency and its partners have tried to provide aid for countries who are sheltering Syrians who have fled from their country, but there is a major problem in terms of facing such a large number.  This is now the world’s largest refugee crisis, so it needs a commensurate response and it needs an equivalent amount of aid.  Yes?


Question:  Sure, thanks, Farhan.  European Council President Herman van Rompuy has been quoted saying that he thinks that somehow the UN report will come out today, and maybe he has been misquoted; it seems like a little bit fast.  I just wanted to ask you whether the… wheth… whe… if you’ve seen that and if it is at all possible and… and more, I asked to the UN itself… the… the meeting that Angela Kane held with… with some Member States in… in… in the North Lawn earlier this week, I wanted to know, it wasn’t clear to me, was… was this open to all Me… all UN Member States?  Only the letter wants… because I know Mr. [Bashar] Ja’afari attended, so… And also, who is going to get the report?  Just if you can be very… maybe you have answered this before, but some people, because of the way that meeting was done… Are all 193 going to get it at the same time or… or some other way?  Thanks.


Associate Spokesperson:  Well, we’ll clarify about the reporting; the Secretary-General made clear that he intends to report to the Member States and to the Security Council once he has the findings concerning the 21 August Ghouta incident.  Regarding Angela Kane’s briefing, that went to roughly three dozen countries who had expressed concerns about the Ghouta incident.  And… what?


Question:  Did Syria… didn’t sign onto that… that P3 letter, but they were present in the meeting.


Associate Spokesperson:  They were also one of the concerned countries about the Ghouta incident.  So those were the countries who were involved.  Like I said, it was about three dozen countries in all.  Regarding your first question, no, there is no report coming out today.  Yes?


Question:  Any other world leaders, including President [Vladimir] Putin, that the SG will be meeting with?


Associate Spokesperson:  We don’t have any further details on the meetings.  We put out readouts of his meetings with the Presidents of the Republic of Korea and of Kazakhstan, and if we have others that we can share readouts with, we’ll let you know as that progresses.


Question:  And when is the brief meeting with President Obama…?


Associate Spokesperson:  That has happened.  No, no, the Secretary-General has met with President Obama.


Question:  And was there a readout on that?


Associate Spokesperson:  No, we don’t have any details.  Yes?


Question:  Whether the meeting with President Obama of the Secretary-General made him more optimistic to push forward with this agenda of the Geneva conference?  And also, are there any comments on the elderly group talking on behalf of them, Mr. Kofi Annan, today asking also for the political solution?


Associate Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretary-General has made clear how much he favours a political solution, so that’s where he stands.  Regarding his talks, it’s not a question of optimism, it’s a question ultimately of need.  We have to come to a political solution and the events in the region have shown how urgent it is to hold this international conference on Syria.  So it is imperative that it be arranged as quickly as possible.  Yes, Jonathan?


Question:  Farhan, given the gravity of what is going on and that the focus of the G-20 is on Syria in large part, why is the UN… why is Secretary-General Ban and Lakhdar Brahimi… why aren’t they calling for a mini-summit on the ground there in Saint Petersburg?  Why even wait for a Geneva summit?  Why not get things going right away?  And then I have a follow-up, a second question.


Associate Spokesperson:  Well, they are talking to different leaders to see what is feasible.


Question:  But why not push for a mini-summit?  I mean, talking on the sidelines with this person and that person, I mean, the key players are there.  Get them in the room.


Associate Spokesperson:  They are certainly trying to talk to as many of the key players as they can.  Yes?


Question:  The other question is, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has released a document outlining some concerns that they have that all the focus is on the 21 August alleged chemical weapons attack, but that other attacks that they claim the rebels had pulled off are not properly being investigated.  Can you comment on that, please?


Associate Spokesperson:  Well, as the Secretary-General made clear to you, the team does intend to pursue the other investigations, the Khan al-Asal and two other investigations that they had initially been travelling to Syria to follow up on.  But first they had to look to this investigation, the 21 August Ghouta investigation, as a priority, considering the scale and the circumstances.  And once that work is complete, they do intend to go back and work on the other investigations that they had previously been dispatched for.  Nizar?


Question:  Yeah, Farhan, I am surprised about the… that there is no comment regarding the attack by the rebels today on Malula, such an ancient town which dates back to the time of Jesus himself.  Many churches were desecra… totally destroyed or they probably machine gunned; there are reports coming from there of huge atrocities taking place in the town.  How come the United Nations is lagging behind here in making any comment about such a grave incident?


Associate Spokesperson:  There is no specific comment, but we have been concerned about all of the violence that has been occurring in Syria, including what has happened in Malula.  Our concerns are about all of the killings, the destruction of religious sites, the displacements, the ill treatment of people across all of Syria, and that continues.  But, as you know, there [are] so many different battlefield sites that we haven’t necessarily been commenting on each and every specific one.  But yes, our normal concerns continue to apply.  Yes?


Question:  Farhan, Kenya’s Parliament has just voted to approve a motion to withdraw from the Rome Statute and by that, its implication, the International Criminal Court.  Does the Secretary-General have a view on this?


Associate Spokesperson:  No, the Secretary-General has no comment for now.  I’d suggest you ask the International Criminal Court about that.


Question:  But given the fact that various senior officials at the United Nations — on Syria, for example the High Commissioner for Human Rights, has called for Syria to be referred to the ICC — why, then, does the Secretariat not have a view on this if it is a reference point for a number of your officials?


Associate Spokesperson:  Well, we will first need to study what this decision entails, and if we have any further reaction, we will let you know.  We don’t have any immediate reaction, it’s something that simply happened in the past couple of hours.  Yes, Tim?


Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  About how much is the aid being cut in Lebanon and what impact will it be on the ground, and has it been cut in other countries around Syria?


Associate Spokesperson:  I think we’d need to check with UNHCR.  I’ll try and see what they are saying about that, but I believe the figures are on their website about how much they are providing.  But yes, they made an appeal, like I said, a joint appeal, with those four Governments just yesterday.  Yes?


Question:  Farhan, just a follow-up on Jonathan’s question.  When the UN inspectors are going to go back to investigate other reported incidents on using chemical weapons, are they still going to have the same mandate, only to confirm that if chemical weapons are used or being used, or something more than that, including who did it?


Associate Spokesperson:  Well, the mandate so far remains unchanged, and any other details about their further work, we try to provide once they have completed this current phase, which is the phase looking into the 21 August attack.


Question:  Are inspectors capable of inspecting and confirming who did that?


Associate Spokesperson:  I have already said basically what we have been saying about this.  The mandate, as you know, concerns whether or not chemical weapons have been used.  Yes?


Question:  When is the Secretary coming back to New York, and will Mr. Brahimi come back to New York or he will go back to Geneva?  In that case, would they give us a little briefing maybe on how the meetings went?


Associate Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretary-General will be back in New York this weekend.  We will see whether we can bring him to the press again.  As you know, he saw you minutes before he left for the airport, so we will see when we can bring him out again next.  Mr. Brahimi is expected to go back to Geneva, but if his itinerary changes we will let you know.  Yes?


Question:  Sure, thanks.  I want to ask about the Golan Heights and then Abyei, but on… on the Golan Heights, I… yeah, it’s… Iri… There was this Irish contingent that it has been widely… you know, widely reported that it has been delayed, but I… I just want to understand, I guess, how… why… a little bit more why.  It seemed like it was a huge… it was a big important and pressing issue to get them there, what… what exactly is the… is the paperwork… is one side or another vetting the paperwork?  What… what can you say about, not, if this was such an emergency, why is paperwork getting in the way?


Associate Spokesperson:  Well, normal procedures are being followed and we expect them to be deployed as soon as possible.


Question:  But you say… if it’s normal, then why were they told to actually not leave their… not leave Ireland and stay home?  I… I… I… in… in a change of plans that they would have already been deployed, that’s what most of the article says.


Associate Spokesperson:  As far as I am aware, the process to get them deployed on the ground continues, and the hope is that they will be deployed as soon as possible.


Question:  Does the Se… does the Secretariat call for whatever blockage, because… I mean, in other instances where things are blocked, you… you… you say, you know, we want this to get through.  I just… if… if… maybe it’s… maybe you can get it from DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations], is there… if there is some… what’s the actual reason that they weren’t able to leave?


Associate Spokesperson:  Well, our hope, of course, always is that peacekeeping contingents can be deployed as soon as possible.  Normally there are certain things to be worked out in terms of things like logistics, transport, proper equipping and hopefully if that is resolved, then they can be deployed as soon as possible.


Question:  Okay, and then… then… if, you know, on Abyei, I wanted to… I tried to ask Mr. [Hervé] Ladsous this, but without success.  I wanted to know what the status of the UN’s investigation of the killing of the paramount chief while ostensibly protected by peacekeepers in Abyei, what… where… where does that probe stand?  At the time it was announced that it would be… it doesn’t seem like it’s that complicated an incident, what… what’s… what have been the findings or is there some deadline to reach findings?


Associate Spokesperson:  We will try to get an update on how that investigation is going.  There is nothing to report there yet on that.  Yes, Masood?


Question:  Yes, sir.  On this the new military regime in… in… Egypt is shutting down all the tunnels going into Gaza and so forth, which is causing them hardship.  Does the Secretary-General… has anything to say about that?


Associate Spokesperson:  At this point, we don’t.  The UN Special Coordinator’s office has been studying all the developments relevant to the occupied Palestinian territories, and I believe later this month they will be reporting to the Security Council on that, and we will see what they have to say about the latest developments in the region and how they affect the Palestinians.


Thanks very much.  Have a good afternoon.


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