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Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

Off-the-Cuff

Secretary-General's press conference upon return from the Russian Federation

New York, 9 September 2013

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.

I returned from the St. Petersburg G20 Summit meeting on Saturday afternoon and I felt it was important for me to brief you as soon as I could.

Syria dominated the Summit meeting in a way no other political development has ever done at the G20 summit. It also dominated all the bilateral meetings I had with world leaders. The main focus was on the allegations of chemical weapons use and the forthcoming report from my investigation team.

I have not yet received the report from Dr. [Åke] Sellström, nor do I know what it will contain.

But I do know there has been significant speculation regarding a major use of chemical agents on August 21st leading to the death of hundreds of civilian people.

Should this be confirmed by the report from Dr. Sellström and his investigation team, then this would be an abominable crime, and the international community would certainly have to do something about it.

Two and half years of conflict in Syria have produced only embarrassing paralysis in the Security Council.

Should Dr. Sellström’s report confirm the use of chemical weapons, then this would surely be something around which the Security Council could unite in response -- and indeed something that should merit universal condemnation.

I am already considering certain proposals that I could make to the Security Council when presenting the investigation team’s report.

There would be a need for accountability, both to bring to justice those who used them -- should Dr. Sellström confirm their use -- and to deter anyone else from using these abhorrent methods of warfare.

There would be a need for greater security regarding any chemical weapons stocks.

And there remains an urgent need for the international conference in Geneva and a cessation of hostilities.

The Syrian people need peace.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Let me now say just a few words about the regular work of the G20 discussions, where there was progress on growth, jobs, food security, trade and investment.

I urged the G20 leaders to put inclusive and sustainable development at the core of their work.

In particular, I called for increased commitment on achieving the Millennium Development Goals, accelerating the MDGs, defining a global development agenda beyond 2015, and addressing climate change.

I was encouraged by the response from the G20 leaders, and I look forward to building on those discussions during the General Debate later this month when leaders come to the United Nations.

I plan to brief you in more detail next week about my priorities for that period.  I thank you very much for your attention and I am ready to answer your questions.

Q: My question is: there was an announcement this morning by the Russian Foreign Minister that Russia will press Syria to put the chemical weapons under UN control and the President of Syria, Bashar al-Assad, told Charlie Rose in an interview that he could not even acknowledge that there were chemical weapons in Syria. How do you think an agreement by Russia would come about? Do you know anything about it? And would it lead to Security Council action? Thank you.

SG: Thank you. I have taken note of Foreign Minister [Sergey] Lavrov of Russia’s remarks just a short while ago in Moscow. And I also took note of Secretary of State John Kerry’s remarks earlier today in London. I welcome these ideas. In fact, as I said in my introductory remarks, I have already been considering certain proposals that I could make to the Security Council when I present the investigation team’s report. For a number of days already, I have been considering our proposals in particular. I’m considering urging the Security Council to demand the immediate transfer of Syria’s chemical weapons and chemical precursor stocks to places inside Syria where they can be safely stored and destroyed. And I urge again [that] Syria should become party to the OPCW [Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons].

Q: Thank you, Mr. Secretary-General. With the situation right now, with the war drums in the region, do you know if diplomats are considering removing, evacuating the UNIFIL [United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon] staff in Lebanon? Do you consider that in case of war?

SG: We have quite a number of UN staff working in Syria, including international staff and domestic, national staff. And for UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East] staff, we have more than 3,000 there – including all of them, almost over 4,500 staff are there. We have been taking very careful, necessary preparations and consideration, how we should ensure the safety and security of UN staff there. We will continue to very carefully monitor the evolving situation. I can assure you that the security and safety of UN staff is paramount, but at the same time, there [is] a lot of humanitarian work which we have to do, delivering humanitarian assistance daily to many people who need our support. Therefore, I can make sure that we are making necessary preparations concerning the safety and security of our staff.

Q: If Syria says yes to transferring its chemical stocks to international control, how quickly can you, the UN, respond and take control of those stocks? What’s the time frame?

SG: I think that would be proper [thing] for Syria to do, to agree to these proposals. Then I am sure that the international community will [take] very swift action to make sure that these stocks, chemical weapons stocks, will be stored safely and will be destroyed. I do not have any doubt and worry about that. First and foremost, Syria must agree positively to this.

Q: Thank you, Mr. Secretary-General. The Foreign Minister of Russia has said that, if the US goes ahead with military action against Syria, that will be the end of the possibility of peace talks in Geneva. Do you believe this is the case, and what would you urge the US Congress to do?

SG: As you know, I was there in St. Petersburg with Joint Special Representative Lakhdar Brahimi. We discussed all the matters concerning the current situation and how the current situation and current debate on the possible international response could affect the Geneva II peace conference. At this time, of course, we can easily think that this may affect negatively the convening [of] the Geneva conference, but it is important that we continue to pursue, to convene a Geneva conference as soon as possible. This political resolution, political solution, is the only viable option at this time. There were a lot of discussions and debates among the world leaders on many possible issues, but at this time, I do not have any clear answer to this; but what I can assure you that I and Lakhdar Brahimi will continue to work very closely together with the United States and Russia, who were the original initiators of this.

Q: Mr. Secretary-General, should you be successful at getting the chemical weapons under control and out of the hands of people who can use them, how do you expect to be or what suggestion do you have to make sure that those who are responsible for using them are indeed punished, because your UN team is not going to place blame on any party – they’re just going to confirm whether they were used or not.

SG: I believe that [these are] separate issues. The accountability process is another one and making sure that nobody commits such horrendous use of chemical weapons and also [making] sure that the current Syrian chemical weapons stock should be safely stored and destroyed so that there will be no such possibility. So I believe that even with this, accountability should be pursued in accordance with what had happened, in accordance with the investigative team’s report.

Thank you very much. Thank you; see you again..