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

31 October 2013

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

31 October 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

The Joint Mission of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the United Nations confirmed today that the Syrian Government has completed the functional destruction of critical equipment for all of its declared chemical weapons production facilities and mixing and filling plants, rendering them inoperable.  It met the 1 November deadline for the destruction of that equipment.

The Joint OPCW-UN Mission has inspected 21 of the 23 sites declared by Syria.  The two remaining sites were not visited because of safety and security concerns.  But Syria declared those sites as abandoned.  The items related to chemical weapons that they contained were moved to other declared sites, which were inspected.

The Joint Mission is now satisfied that it has verified — and seen destroyed — all of Syria’s declared critical production and mixing and filling equipment.  Given the progress made in the Joint OPCW-UN Mission in meeting the requirements of the first phase of activities, no further inspection activities are planned for the time being.

** Lebanon

Derek Plumbly, the UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, visited the city of Tripoli today and met with Mufti Malek Shaar.  He relayed to the Mufti the UN’s serious concern over the recurrence of armed clashes in the city and sincere condolences for the recent loss of life.

The UN Special Coordinator welcomed the fact that calm has been restored but added that a temporary halt of the violence is not enough in Tripoli.  The people of Tripoli need long-term security and economic and social solutions.  The present situation should not be allowed to continue.

Mr. Plumbly encouraged all sides to respect and cooperate with State institutions, particularly the security authorities, who have a significant burden as they work to keep Lebanon safe from the impact of the crisis in neighbouring Syria.  We have a press release with more details on that.

** Bangladesh

This morning, we issued a statement in which the Secretary-General said that he has been following with concern the recent wave of violence in Bangladesh.  He calls on all concerned to respect the rule of law, exercise restraint and express their views peacefully.  The Secretary-General hopes that the recent steps to initiate dialogue continue and he urges all parties to ensure an environment conducive to credible and peaceful elections.

** Kenya

The World Food Programme (WFP) says that beginning from tomorrow, it will be forced to reduce food rations for more than half a million refugees in the Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps, in Kenya, because of a funding shortfall.  The 20 per cent reduction in ration sizes means that refugees will not receive the World Health Organization’s minimum recommended energy requirements.  The World Food Programme needs about $10 million every month to distribute more than 10,000 tons of food to refugees in those two camps.  WFP is urging donors to respond to its urgent appeal as quickly as possible.

** Niger

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said today that local authorities in Niger have reported that several dozen people, including women and children, died from thirst in early October as they were trying to reach Algeria through the Sahara desert.  Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident but part of a recurrent pattern that sees impoverished people leaving their country in search of work.  The UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) has allocated $7.9 million this week to help implement nine underfunded humanitarian projects in Niger, including humanitarian assistance to vulnerable migrants in the Agadez region.

That’s what I have.  Questions, please?  Iftikhar, yes?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  On Syria, the chemical weapons sites [inaudible].

Correspondent:  Microphone.

Spokesperson:  Yes, I beg your pardon, yes.  Iftikhar, please use the microphone.  On the other side, there it is.

Question:  Martin, regarding the situation of chemical weapons in Syria, the… will these inspectors visit these two sites which have not yet been inspected and which have been declared abandoned?  Will they visit it when the security situation improves?

Spokesperson:  Well, as I said, the mission is now satisfied that it has verified and seen destroyed all of Syria’s declared critical production and mixing and filling equipment.  And given that and the progress that has been made in meeting the requirements of the first phase activities, no further inspection activities are planned for the time being.  I’ll come to you, Matthew, and then Mr. Abbadi, okay.

Correspondent:  Oh, great, thanks a lot.  I just… because it’s on…

Spokesperson:  It sounded like it was a…

Question:  Yeah, yeah, it’s on the same, it’s on the same general topic, it’s on Syria and chemical weapons, but since it is now the end of October, I wanted to ask just in… sort of a status update of the second Sellström report on… on Khan al-Asal, on the other sites, where… where does this stand?

Spokesperson:  Well, you’re right it’s 31 October, trick or treat.  So Professor Sellström is working on the final report in coordination with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, and World Health Organization experts who were part of the UN mission.  A number of samples are still being analysed by the designated laboratories and the results are expected to be provided to the UN Mission early next week.  The final report is expected to be finalized in early December, after all information gathered by the UN mission has been evaluated.  Other questions, please, after Mr. Abbadi.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  Still on the same subject, chemical weapons in Syria, now that the commission has completed its work of destroying the available sites, does the Secretary-General express any satisfaction regarding their work?

Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, let us be clear that it was the Syrian Government authorities who were doing the destruction.  It was being overseen and verified by our colleagues from the joint mission.  And of course, the Secretary-General has already submitted a report that was put together by the joint mission, and he submitted that report that came from the OPCW Director General to him to be conveyed to the Security Council, and he also wrote a letter that went with that submitted report and he made clear that good progress has been made, but these are very serious and challenging deadlines that still remain ahead of us.  And obviously this is a critical part now of the endeavour to deal with the chemical weapons themselves; the chemical weapons arsenal itself.  So that is something that the Secretary-General continues to monitor extremely closely in conjunction with the Director General of the OPCW.  I would refer you to both the report and the letter that went with that report to the Council.  Yes, Bouchra?

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  On Syria, [inaudible] the conference of peace, Geneva II, there is the… these two meetings pending; one on the 4th and one on the 11th.  But do you think under… no invitation has been sent still now for the meeting?

Spokesperson:  No invitation has been sent at this point, no.

Question:  And do you think it is, the November date is doable?

Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General and the rest of the team working on this — Mr. Brahimi who is still in the region, Mr. Al-Kidwa and others — continue to work towards the holding of Geneva II.  And as I said yesterday, there will be a meeting next week in Geneva that involves the UN, Russia and the United States and that will be to see where those prospects stand and to continue preparations.  And I don’t have anything further to say on dates at this point, except that it is indeed the Secretary-General who will convene that conference and will issue the invitations.  Yes, please, Nizar?

Question:  Martin, yesterday, I asked about these attacks which happened across the Pakistani border on the 25th of this month against Iranian guards.  Do you have any statement regarding that, this terrorist attack?

Spokesperson:  Well, what I can tell you is that the Secretary-General condemns the terrorist attack which recently took place in Saravan in south-eastern Iran, killing 14 Iranian border guards.  He extends his condolences to the families of the victims, as well as to the people and the Government of Iran.  The Secretary-General also noted with serious concern the reported hanging of 16 people following the attack.  The Secretary-General reiterates his call on the Iranian Government to establish a moratorium on the use of the death penalty.  Yes, Erol?

Question:  Martin, yesterday, Secretary-General issued a statement regarding the settlements in Occupied Palestinian Territory and he deplores that very strongly, in the strongest possible terms.  However, what does the Secretary-General really expect when he says that he is deploring that in the world of real politics, if I can put it like that, knowing that there is huge opposition, domestic opposition within Israel?  So, what does he expect from Israeli authorities to do that?  And also, does he think that these settlement activities are jeopardizing the peace process pushed by Americans and welcomed by others?

Spokesperson:  Well, the statement that was issued yesterday was fairly explicit on all of those points.  And I don’t really think that I would need to elaborate beyond what the statement says.  And particularly important was that there was a reference to the Quartet statement that was issued in September.  And that is an important part of that picture.  So I would refer you to what the Secretary-General’s statement said yesterday.

Question:  What about…?

Spokesperson:  Microphone, microphone.  I have learnt my lesson, but…

Question:  All right.  It gives you also time to think, isn’t it?

Spokesperson:  No, no.

Correspondent:  No, all right.

Spokesperson:  I’m quick off the mark, I’m quick off the mark!

Question:  All, right, you have a very nice tie.  Martin, what does it really mean in terms what Secretary-General again, what does… does he think that these settlement activities are jeopardizing the peace process?

Spokesperson:  What we’ve said, and what he has said is that nothing should be done that undermines the process that is under way; and that is a very delicate process; a long-awaited process to try to bring about a two-State solution.  You have the Palestinians and the Israelis meeting, as you know.  Therefore, anything that could disrupt that process is… should be avoided.  And the statement I think made that rather clear, I think I would say.  I don’t really want to elaborate further on that.  Yes, Talah?

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  Does the Secretariat see an enlarged role for Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson in the Syrian file now or very soon, and maybe even before the Geneva conference convened?

Spokesperson:  As you heard yesterday that the Deputy Secretary-General is amongst those who is working extremely hard on this in different formats, in different ways as is the Secretary-General, Mr. [Jeffrey] Feltman, the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, and of course, Mr. [Lakhdar] Brahimi and Mr. [Nasser] Al-Kidwa who are in the region at the moment.  Mr. Brahimi is still in Damascus, has meetings with different non-governmental organizations, civil society, has met as you know, with President Assad and with the Foreign Minister, and will be going to Beirut after that to meet a number of officials.  So, he is very actively involved in this.  Of course, the Deputy Secretary-General has a broad political portfolio if you like, supporting the Secretary-General.  And in that context, of course, he remains very closely engaged and follows this and is part of the decision-making team if you like, on the top floor here.

Question:  [inaudible] the reason I ask this question because there are reports very, in the Middle East now saying or, indicating that Lakhdar Brahimi has failed so far.  He left Damascus without tangible results, and that Jan Eliasson must step in to take over…

Spokesperson:  Well, Mr. Brahimi is the Joint Special Representative of the United Nations and the League of Arab States, firstly.  Secondly, he has the full confidence of the Secretary-General and for that matter, the Deputy Secretary-General in carrying out his work.  Clearly this is a role that very few people would take on, and even try to deal with.  He has been working extremely hard, and continues to work extremely hard.  I would disagree that he is coming away from Damascus empty-handed, so to speak.  The Syrian authorities have made clear that they intend to participate in the Geneva conference.  And so, I think that is a positive outcome.  Ivan?

Question:  Thank you.  Do you have any information about what exactly Sigrid Kaag is going to discuss in Moscow?  Does her list of topics include some participation of Russia in the works of eliminating chemical weapons in Syria?

Spokesperson:  Well, her role as the Special Coordinator for the Joint Mission of the OPCW and the United Nations dealing with the elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal is precisely to coordinate.  And therefore, Russia is an important Member State and a country that has considerable experience in this area both in acquiring and then dismantling chemical weapons, this is obviously an important visit.  The Special Coordinator will also have talks with other officials from other leading countries in the days ahead.  So I don’t have any specifics on which particular officials Ms. Kaag is going to meet in Moscow.  She is in The Hague at the moment meeting the Director General and his team; and will then be going on to Moscow late tonight.  And will be spending basically the day, Friday, in Moscow.  Yes, Nizar.

Question:  Yeah, staying… staying on Syria…

Spokesperson:  And then Oleg, after that, I’m sorry, yes?

Question:  Well, the humanitarian, of course, crisis is still…

Spokesperson:  Say, again, please?

Question:  The humanitarian crisis of the Syrian refugees is still lingering on.  Do you have any updates on the response to the appeals which were, Ms. Amos has issued recently, especially before the Security Council and how this is progressing?  Who are the States who are donating yet?

Spokesperson:  I will certainly ask for an update from my colleagues from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.  A lot of this information is available online; you can find it there almost in real time.  I don’t have it right in front of me.  I think the fact remains that there is a considerable shortfall.  And the fact also remains that the humanitarian crisis as Ms. Amos made clear even since the presidential statement was issued, has in fact got worse; not better.

And so there is a huge amount that needs to be done.  The story is that we hear and see the evidence from our own colleagues on the ground that would all suggest that this is a terrible crisis that requires funding, and the funding is not there as it should be.  So, we really need to, we do really need to look at that.  The details, I would ask my colleagues in OCHA to help with.  Aliek?

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  Correct me if I am wrong; this meeting the trilateral meeting between Brahimi and the Russian and the US officials; is it going to be like a milestone?  Is the convening of the Geneva conference depends on the outcome of this meeting?

Spokesperson:  We are simply saying that this is an important moment to take stock of where things are, certainly.  But this was something that has been planned for some time; and it follows as you well know, the visits that Mr. Brahimi and Mr. Al-Kidwa have been making in the past almost two weeks now.

Question: [Inaudible]

Spokesperson:  I beg your pardon?

Question:  Can I follow up on that?

Spokesperson:  Yes, you can.

Question:  Martin, obviously there is… obviously there is a split within international community when the Geneva II conference will be held whether in November or should be delayed later.  What is the clear position of the United Nations?  Should it be held in November or later?

Spokesperson:  Look, the Secretary-General was clear when he spoke to the Security Council; we continue to work towards holding the Geneva II conference and as I have said and just reiterated, the meeting in Geneva next week on the 5th is precisely designed to see where those prospects stand and to continue the preparations.  And we don’t have anything at this point on dates.  Matthew?

Question:  Sure, thanks a lot.  I want, if I ca…, I want to ask you about Kenya and DRC.  On… on… on Kenya I just wanted, there is a meeting right now in the North Lawn of the Security Council of the African Union about the, the request for deferral of the Kenya cases.  There has been and… and I know that the Secretary-General had made some, had, various calls were made by him, [inaudible] and his team before the AU meeting on this.  Now that the [International Criminal Court] has ruled that the case wouldn’t begin until February, I wanted to just see in this, on this at, on this day and at this time if the Secretary has any comment on that as a possible solution or any comment just on the deferral itself.

Spokesperson:  Well, we have obviously seen that development out of The Hague from the International Criminal Court.  I don’t have any immediate reaction to it.  As we have said many times, the ICC is an independent international judicial body and, therefore, we do not pass judgement ourselves on the work that it does, except to say that cooperation with the Court is of course hugely important.  If I have anything further on this, I will let you know, but I do not at this point.

Question:  Okay, if I could, this, I’m just, on this DRC question I wanted to, to ask you.  The… the… there has been now reports in the Tanzanian press and some, uh, an African defence review that just, that seemed to indicate the… the… the defence spokesman of Tanzania, Erick Komba, said that the, the Tanzanian Brigade, quote, tried to intervene in the fight between the rebels and the DRC soldiers and another account says that they did engage with M23 around Kiwanja, so, it’s not… again I don’t… it may be that things changed since Friday…I just I literally… can you give now or can DPKO give kind of a clear presentation?  I heard that it was a road block they were doing civilian protection, were they actually in a fire fight with M23?  Did they participate and fire their weapons in, in furtherance of their civilian protection mandate, uh, during this fight with M23 or were they not firing their weapons?  I guess that’s the…[inaudible].

Spokesperson:  What we said was that the Tanzanian peacekeeper was killed in an ambush by the M23 while he was on a protection of civilians patrol in a zone known as the Governor Hills.  And so, that’s what I have.

What I have also said is that the Force Intervention Brigade is not undertaking offensive operations at this stage, but is working as part of the UN overall Mission force to protect civilians.  And that these Force Intervention Brigade troops have been intensely engaged in protection of civilians activities, and that is with the main aim of trying to minimize harm to civilians in those recent clashes.

Question:  But just to, I guess just to understand this going forward and maybe, maybe… is…  I just wanted to know when it is said that is not offensive and it is just protection of civilians, is there some way to know when MONUSCO was actually firing guns?  I mean, because they could be firing guns to protect civilians or not, but there is a big legal dis…, there is a both legal distinctions and just to be clear in terms of what, what to, to remove some of the, the, the fog, did, in this case, did the Force Intervention Brigade fire weapons?

Spokesperson:  As we have said, they are part of the MONUSCO Force and which has the role to protect civilians.  And so, that’s what I have at the moment.  I have heard the question, and I am sure my colleagues have, and if we have any elaboration or further details, we’ll let you know.  Okay, Iftikhar? And you’ve got the microphone in hand; well done.

Question:  Sorry [laughs].  Regarding the Secretary-General’s statement on Bangladesh, Martin, these clashes have been going on for a long time now.  Has the Secretary-General or his representative in Dacca tried to contact the rival parties, especially the two Begums?

Spokesperson:  I can assure you that the Secretary-General has not suddenly woken up to this political development and the violence that unfortunately goes with it.  We have been tracking it very closely for a long time; the Secretary-General personally, and indeed he has had a number of conversations with the leaders, both Government and opposition in Bangladesh.

Question:  [inaudible]

Spokesperson:  I beg your pardon?

Question:  On phone?

Spokesperson:  He has had a number of interactions; discussions with them.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi?  And then the last question will be Nizar.

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  Back to the statement issued yesterday by the Secretary-General on the Palestinian-Israeli issue.

Spokesperson:  Yes.

Question:  One notes that the Secretary-General used the word “deplore”, instead of condemning, and he does not say anything about illegitimacy and international law.  Is this moderate language destined to encourage the current negotiations?

Spokesperson:  I would disagree that that, eh, with your characterization of that.  The statement speaks for itself, Mr. Abbadi.  I think it is a clear statement of a position that has not changed.  And the last question is Nizar.

Question:  Yes, it is regarding Bahrain.  Yesterday I asked about the authorities storming Al-Wefaq society headquarters.  Do you have any statements regarding that?

Spokesperson:  Yes, I am aware of your interest; I don’t have anything for you at this point, Nizar.

All right, thank you very much.  Good afternoon.  Thank you.

* *** *

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