HIGHLIGHTS OF THE PRESS BRIEFING
BY MARTIN NESIRKY,
SPOKESPERSON FOR SECRETARY-GENERAL BAN KI-MOON
SATURDAY, 31 AUGUST 2013
SECRETARY-GENERAL BRIEFED BY DISARMAMENT CHIEF ON WORK OF SYRIA CHEMICAL WEAPONS INSPECTION TEAM
- The Secretary-General met today with the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, Angela Kane, who just returned from Damascus, Syria. She briefed the Secretary-General on her trip and on the current status of the investigation. Ms. Kane reported that the mission was able to conduct a wide range of fact-finding activities pertaining to the 21 August incident in the Ghouta area. She thanked the Syrian Government and opposition for their cooperation during this mission. The mission will be in a position to transmit its conclusions to the Secretary-General soon as it has received the results of the laboratory analysis of its samples. The Secretary-General looks forward to receiving the mission’s findings as soon as possible so he can promptly present the results to Member States and to the Security Council. The Secretary-General expressed his sincere appreciation to Dr. Ake Sellström and his team, including the security personnel and the interpreters, for their exceptional bravery and professionalism. He also praised the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the World Health Organization (WHO) for their extraordinary cooperation. He thanked Ms. Kane herself for her effective coordination between the mission and the Government of Syria, despite the extraordinary and difficult circumstances.
- The Secretary-General spoke briefly this morning with Dr. Sellström after the chemical weapons team arrived in the Netherlands, thanking the team. The Secretary-General will be briefed in more detail by Dr. Sellström tomorrow by telephone.
- The team, which is now in the Netherlands, will be spending the day collating the samples and other evidence which they have prior to the testing in the laboratories in Europe.
- Asked about the mandate of the UN chemical weapons investigate team, the Spokesperson emphasized that the UN mission is uniquely capable of establishing in an impartial and credible manner the facts of any use of chemical weapons based directly on evidence collected on the ground. Nesirky added that the Secretary-General and the team will abide by the mandate to the expectations of the international community, and that the results will be made available to the Member States as soon as the analysis is completed. The Spokesperson noted that the mandate and the Secretary-General’s mechanism derives from a General Assembly resolution which was subsequently endorsed by a Security Council resolution. He also said that the mandate is robust and underscored the bravery of the mission, which braved sniper fire in carrying out its work.
- Asked whether the report may point to which party used chemical weapons in Syria, the Spokesperson said that the mandate is very clear: to ascertain whether such weapons were used and not by whom.
- Asked about the inspection team having been shot at, the Spokesperson characterized the incident as “outrageous.”
- Asked about the team’s work in Khan Al-Asal, the Spokesperson said that the team has given a clear undertaking to the Syrian authorities that it will return to conduct the investigation into all pending allegations, including Khan Al-Asal. He said that the team left Syria this morning to take the samples they have collected safely to laboratories and to analyze the entire body of evidence, including witness statements and interviews with doctors.
- Asked whether the Secretary-General has urged restraint regarding any possible military strikes before the chemical weapons team has submitted its report, the Spokesperson said that the Secretary-General has said that the team needed time to do it work and to analyze the information and samples it has collected. The Secretary-General has said repeatedly that there is no alternative to a political solution to the overall crisis in Syria and that a military solution is not an option. Nesirky later added that the Secretary-General has underscored the importance of the UN Charter.
- Asked for a timeframe for the finalizing of the results of the team’s work, the Spokesperson said that there is no timeline. He said that the mission left Syria and arrived in The Hague. It will then begin its evaluation of the available material and information regarding the Ghouta incident, including the analysis in the two designated laboratories. Nesirky said that before the mission can draw any conclusions, the laboratory process must be completed. He reiterated that the Secretary-General has requested that the laboratory process be expedited as much as feasible.
- Asked about the presence of UN staff in Syria, the Spokesperson characterized the reports suggesting that the departure of the chemical weapons team opens the window for any possible military action as grotesque and an affront to the more than 1,000 UN staff who are on the ground in the country delivering critical humanitarian aid and who will continue to do so. He added that the humanitarian work that has been carried out in extremely difficult circumstances, including with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and others, to provide aid to millions of displaced people and to those in neighbouring countries will continue.
- Asked whether the Secretary-General has been in contact with US President Barack Obama and the presidents of the Security Council, the Spokesperson said that the Secretary-General has not spoken with Mr. Obama today. The Secretary-General has spoken with the president of the Security Council for August, the Permanent Representative of Argentina, and with the incoming Security Council president for September, the Permanent Representative of Australia.
- Asked about the duration of the Secretary-General’s meeting with Ms. Kane, the Spokesperson said it lasted for just over one hour.