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

20 August 2013

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

20 August 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.

** Middle East

The Security Council was briefed this morning on the situation in the Middle East by the Assistant Secretary-General for political affairs, Oscar Fernandez-Taranco.  In his remarks, Mr. Fernandez-Taranco said that, despite an ever-challenging regional environment, there has been a small but important opening in the form of direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.

He said that the test will be for both sides to go the distance and not disappoint their people.  He said that leaders on both sides must realize that this is an opening they cannot afford to lose and that the Secretary-General and the United Nations, including with the Quartet, will continue to bring all possible support to their efforts.

Regarding the situation in Syria, the Assistant Secretary-General said that the position of the Secretary-General remains unchanged:  there is no military solution to this conflict.  He said that what is urgently needed is a political solution.  Mr. Fernandez-Taranco said that the international community is doing its best to ensure that the Geneva Conference takes place as soon as possible.  He said that the United Nations hopes that all in the international community will remain committed to this process and will contribute to its success, in word and in action.

** Syria

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said today that, since last Thursday, some 30,000 Syrians have streamed in to northern Iraq.  The agency said that this new exodus is among the largest it has seen so far during the Syrian conflict.  Some of the reasons those fleeing have given the agency are recent bombings, fighting among various factions on the ground, and the collapse of the economy and the resulting difficulties in caring for their families.  In response to the influx, the agency and its partners have erected shelters to provide shade and water and food distributions have been set up at the crossing points.

UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said that of the estimated 4,800 people who crossed into Iraq yesterday, at least 2,100 of them were children.  Many were below 12 years old, and the younger ones were particularly dehydrated and exhausted after the four- or five-hour walk across the border in the scorching heat.

** Syria — Brahimi

Also on Syria, you will have seen in a note to correspondents we issued this morning that the Joint Special Representative for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, welcomes the bilateral discussions on the Syrian crisis, which are going to be held between the Russian and the US delegations in The Hague shortly.  Mr. Brahimi will not participate in that meeting.  He is in constant contact with both the Russian and the US authorities.  Another meeting to further preparations of the so-called "Geneva II" conference might be held in the near future, but it has not been decided yet where or when that meeting will be.

** Egypt — Human Rights

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said today that it remains alarmed by the continuing violence in Egypt.  The Office echoed the Secretary-General’s strong condemnation yesterday of the ambush in the Sinai, which killed 25 police officers.

On the reported detention of hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood members, including some of its leaders, the Office said that everyone deprived of their liberty must be treated humanely and afforded all judicial guarantees under international law.  The Office also reiterated its call to the Egyptian authorities to allow it to deploy human rights officers, so that it can assess the situation on the ground.

** Egypt — World Food Programme

And also on Egypt, the World Food Programme (WFP) said today that it is concerned about the rise of poverty and food insecurity among the most vulnerable communities in the country amidst continued political uncertainties and a worsening economic situation that the country has faced over the last few months.  The Programme has continued its food distributions in Egypt throughout July and August with minor delays.

It distributed food vouchers for Syrian refugees in July and is now planning distributions for 50,000 people this month.  The Programme reached 95 per cent of the targeted beneficiaries last month, assisting 35,000 Syrian refugees with food vouchers in greater Cairo, Damietta and Alexandria despite instability and demonstrations across the country.  There is more information on this online in the notes on today’s Geneva briefing.

*South Sudan

The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) said today that its peacekeepers have stepped up their patrols in Pibor County in recent days.  The patrols are being conducted daily, both on foot and by vehicle, and they aim to help create a secure environment for the safe return of civilians and their access to locations where food is being distributed.

During the patrols, peacekeepers locate vulnerable displaced civilians affected by recent fighting, interact with them, explain the situation in Pibor and Gumuruk towns and the food distribution, and gather information on the location of other civilians and their condition.

The Mission has received the support and cooperation of the Government of the Republic of South Sudan, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), Pibor County authorities and armed groups in the area where patrols are conducted.  The intensive patrolling is part of continuing efforts by the Mission to bolster the implementation of its protection of civilians mandate and to help establish an improved security environment.

** Mali

The United Nations Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) notes that the Constitutional Court has confirmed today the results of the presidential election run-off.

As you know, in a statement issued shortly after the election, the Secretary-General congratulated the authorities and the people of Mali.  He also congratulated Ibrahim Boubacar Keїta on his election as President of the Republic while saluting the commitment shown by Soumaïla Cissé — the second-placed candidate — to democratic principles.

The Secretary-General has also reiterated the commitment of the United Nations to accompany Mali in the next phase of its stabilization and peace consolidation process, including by supporting inclusive dialogue and reconciliation and the conduct of national legislative elections.

** Philippines

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said that torrential monsoon rains continue to affect the Philippines.  In Luzon, seven people have died.  The more than 140,000 people who have been displaced are staying in 200 evacuation centres, as well as with relatives and friends.  The World Food Programme will provide 50 metric tons of high-energy biscuits.  In Mindanao, nearly 250,000 families have been affected by the monsoon, with 112,000 people having been displaced.

Questions, please.  Matthew?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  [inaudible] I, I, I guess I, I want to ask you some things about Egypt, if it’s possible.  I wanted to ask you about this, the arrest of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammad Badie.  And also there is reports of a, of a case, maybe it’s a civil case, but a case against Mr. ElBaradei to start 19 September.  So, I wanted to know what, whether, whether the Secretariat, what they think of these two cases, and also if you have anything to say on, on the treatment of journalism, jour…, journalists generally there, but also new restrictions imposed on, on foreign, non-Egyptian correspondents covering it to register and be reviewed in various ways and also some violence against journalists.

Spokesperson:  Well, this…

Correspondent:  Three issues.

Spokesperson:  Thank you for helping me to unpack it, Matthew.  Thank you.

Correspondent:  All right.

Spokesperson:  First of all, with regard to the detention of the Supreme Leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Secretary-General has consistently called for the release of Muslim Brotherhood leaders, and failing that, for there to be a transparent legal process so that people understand what is happening.  So, that’s the first thing.  The second, on Mr. ElBaradei, I don’t have anything on that.  On the third, with regard to journalists, whether domestic journalists or foreign, they should be able to conduct their work in accordance, obviously with the conditions on the ground, and they need to be able to operate freely so that people understand — the rest of the world and in the country — what is happening there.  Harassment of journalists is clearly something that we do not condone, and nor is violence against journalists in any way acceptable.  Other questions, please.  Ali?

Correspondent:  Thank you, Martin.  I have a follow up on Matthew’s question.

Spokesperson:  Yes, yes, Ali?

Question:  Contrary to what the Secretary-General said yesterday, he called to free Morsi or present him with a, provide him with a transparent legal process.  Today, eh, today’s arrest to Mr. Badie is a, is it a challenge to the Secretary-General’s goal in this regard?  So, this is the follow-up.  I have another question on Syria, please.

Spokesperson:  I think, Ali, that the developments in Egypt have their own internal dynamics at this point.  And I would simply reiterate what I said to Matthew about the need for those being held either to be released or for there to be a transparent legal process.  What’s your second question?

Question:  Thank you.  On Mr. Brahimi’s statement that he is not going to attend this meeting, was he part of organizing this meeting?  Was he invited at all to attend this meeting?  Thank you.

Spokesperson:  I think people are really over-analysing this.  There is a very simple reason for the meeting that is taking place between the US authorities and the Russian authorities, and that is that there is a large meeting on an international level related to the Peace Palace in The Hague that will be taking place around that time, and so that’s why there is a bilateral meeting taking place.  And Mr. Brahimi has made clear that he is not attending that particular meeting.  But, he, of course, remains fully engaged with the US and Russian authorities, in very close contact.  And as I just mentioned, and as he mentioned in his own statement, there is consideration being given to a further meeting, but as yet, there is no time or place that has been set for that.

Question:  Wasn’t, wasn’t he invited…?

Spokesperson:  Use the microphone, please.

Question:  Sorry.  Wasn’t he invited to that meeting?

Spokesperson:  It’s, well, there is one word that people seem to be overlooking in all of this, and that is the word “bilateral”.  Next question.  Yes, Joe?

Question:  Yes, thank you, Martin.  Yesterday, the Secretary-General said in response to a question that he didn’t believe that the United Nations discriminated against Israel.  I wanted to get a clarification on that.  Was he referring to the entire UN system, including the Human Rights Council, which has passed about 40 per cent of its resolutions condemning human rights violations have been targeted against Israel, or was he referring specifically to the Secretariat?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything to add to what the Secretary-General said yesterday, Joe.  Yes, Oleg?

Question:  On Mr. Feltman’s visit to Egypt, has he already held any meetings?

Spokesperson:  Well, Mr. Feltman’s only just arrived.  But, he will be holding meetings, and he is there until Friday.  And as the Secretary-General said yesterday, the whole intention of this visit by the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs is to hold wide-ranging discussions with a focus on how the United Nations can best support initiatives to restore peace and forge reconciliation in Egypt.  And as we said, this is a wide range of discussions with a broad cross-section of Egyptian society.  Yes, Ivan?  And then, Nizar.

Question:  Thank you.  Assistant Secretary-General Fernandez-Taranco said that, uh, uh, Quartet envoys will meet soon to discuss next steps on the Middle East.  Do you have the dates?  When can we have them?

Spokesperson:  Well, you certainly referred to Assistant Secretary-General Fernandez-Taranco, but I have also said that here — and colleagues have also said it — it was stated already clearly, publicly, that such a meeting would take place.  But, we have not said when.  And that remains still in the planning.  Yes, Nizar?

Question:  Yeah, Martin, today Mr. [Fernandez-]Taranco said, called that the exodus, oh, sorry, the influx of the foreign fighters into Syria should stop.  Was this message conveyed to the countries which are widely believed they are involved in bringing fighters into Syria and financing that, arming them?  Such countries like Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia?

Spokesperson:  Well, both the Assistant Secretary-General and the Secretary-General have consistently made clear that there is no military solution, that further militarization of the conflict is clearly unhelpful.  As it was a session which you had access to, I am sure others had access to it and could hear the message.

Correspondent:  Well, I, I, another question regarding the situation between Yemen and Saudi Arabia today.

Spokesperson:  Is the microphone on?

Correspondent:  Yes, it is.

Spokesperson:  Good.

Question:  The situation, the hot situation, between Yemen and Saudi Arabia; fighting across the border, some security people and tribesmen were killed in these fightings.  Does the United Nations, are they following these, that situation?

Spokesperson:  Well, as you know, we have a Special Adviser dealing with Yemen.  Let me check to see what we have on that.  Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  In Pakistan, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has called on 19 August on the Taliban to come to the negotiation table to reduce or eliminate violence.  Does the Secretary-General have any reaction to that appeal?

Spokesperson:  Not that, specifically.  But, you will have seen the Secretary-General’s comments while he was in Pakistan.  And also he referred to his visit to Pakistan when he spoke to you yesterday.  I don’t have anything further on that.  Did you have a question, Evelyn, I’m sorry?  Could you use the microphone, please, thank you.  Well done.

Question:  Okay, thanks, Martin.  I see that I think it’s on Friday, the General Assembly is going to hold a whole session on peace and other things, including having an Olympic, uh, that the Olympics are a big feature of it.  Is anybody going to say anything about the Olympic President trying to enforce human rights or choosing a country that may be more liberal on human rights or criticizing or anything?  Or is it just we love Olympics because sports is good for peace?

Spokesperson:  Well, those are questions that are really directed either at the International Olympic Committee, and they have a rather well-oiled press office.  And the President of the General Assembly and his team can also address the agenda for that meeting.  I am not familiar with it.

Question:  Oh, the [Secretary-General] won’t be there then?

Spokesperson:  No, as you know, the Secretary-General as he announced yesterday…

Correspondent:  Oh, that’s right, he is travelling.

Spokesperson:  …he will be travelling.

Question:  Yeah, just, just wondering, anybody, who is going to bring that up?

Spokesperson:  Well, if I hear anything further about it, including for example, what the representation would be from the Secretary-General’s team, then I will let you know.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesperson:  Yes, Matthew?  And I can see at the back, I am coming to you in just a second.  Yes?

Correspondent: Great, great.  Thanks a lot.  I have actually another kind of press freedom question.

Spokesperson:  Yes?

Question:  There is a very, very high-profile detention of a partner of journalist Glenn Greenwald of the UK for nine hours under a UK terrorism law, and there is a lot of basically electronic equipment was taken, but I am sure you have heard of the case, and I just wonder, given the, that it is seen as in a way to sort of strike back at reporting on, on surveillance, is there any comment from, from, from the UN system, or particularly from the Secretary-General on the propriety of the use of anti-terrorism legislation to detain people in that way?

Spokesperson:  No.  Next question, please?

Question:  Martin, who will Under-Secretary-General Feltman be meeting with in Egypt?  And also, what are the remaining hurdles to Geneva II?

Spokesperson:  Well, as I said, these would be wide-ranging discussions with a diversity of viewpoints.  And that will obviously include the interim Administration.  It also includes others, and that in itself also includes the Muslim Brotherhood.  So, a wide range, a cross-section, as I said, of society.  And the key point is that he is in listening mode.  He has gone there to listen to Egyptians’ views, and then he will be conveying also the UN’s concerns and our support for the notion of dialogue and a peaceful and inclusive path to resolving the crisis that meets the aspirations of the Egyptian people.  And I think there was one person I saw whose… Mr. Abbadi, did you have your hand up?

Question:  But, Martin, I had a follow up on Geneva II?

Spokesperson:  Ah, yes, Geneva II, yes, I will come to that.  But, Mr. Abbadi, did you have your hand up?  You did not.

Okay, Geneva II, we have said all along that this is not going to be an easy process.  But, Mr. Brahimi and the representatives of the US and the Russian Federation are working extremely hard on this.  As we have noted, there will be a bilateral meeting taking place in The Hague shortly.  And beyond that, Mr. Brahimi remains very closely engaged with both countries and other parties, of course, with the aim of making this happen as soon as possible.  But, nobody expects to happen in the next few days.  That’s obvious.  It’s a longer-term process, and they are working extremely hard so that it could happen sooner, rather than later.  Yes, Ali?

Question:  Again on, on Egypt.  Has Mr. Feltman requested a meeting with Mr…., with President Morsi, or had he requested a meeting with the Spiritual Leader of the Muslim Brotherhood?  Thank you.

Spokesperson:  Well, I am not going to get into specifics on that.  I think I have given you an overview of the kind of interlocutors that Mr. Feltman is seeking to meet and have discussions with.  Yes?

Question:  Thanks a lot.  I wanted to ask you about this, this, this thing I have asked about before, the Somalia and the UN Mine Action Service.  Um, you know, it was said in this room that, that an investigation was being done by UNOPS [United Nations Office for Project Services] and that nothing would be said while the investigation is ongoing.  I have now heard from Mogadishu that the investigation, at least according to staff there, is over and that something has been said about Mr. Bax being taken out of the country for, for some reasons.  I just wanted to know, can you say, has that investigation finished, what and, and, what did it find?  I would, obviously also would like, there seems to be some complaints about whether they spoke to, to all of the people mentioned in the whistleblower’s complaint.

Spokesperson:  I’d need to check on that, Matthew, I don’t have an update on that, okay.  Yes, Nizar?

Correspondent:  Yeah, Martin, if you can…

Spokesperson:  This is the, this the last question.

Question:  Okay. If you can elaborate on what Mr. [Fernandez-]Taranco said regarding that the foreign fighters in Syria are exacerbating the situation, especially the ethnic and sectarian conflict in the country.  The Kurds who are fleeing from northern Syria into Iraq are predominantly Kurdish minority.  Would, is, does the United Nations see that Al-Qaida like Al-Nusra and their subsidiaries in, in Syria have made Syria a hotbed for Al-Qaida and terrorism in the region?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think Mr. Fernandez-Taranco gave a fairly detailed overview, and I don’t really have anything further to add to that, except simply to speak about the influx or the flow of refugees across the border into northern Iraq.  I mean, regardless of their reasons for moving, and we have given some of the reasons that are being given to our colleagues on the ground there, regardless of those reasons, let’s look at the human story here.  Thousands of people in very hot conditions, many young children, you just have to think of that context, really, and put aside the points that you have been making.  The key point here is that people feel in fear of their lives or their livelihoods and to the extent that they need to flee.  And that’s the point that we need to focus on now.

Thank you very much.  Have a good afternoon, thank you.

Correspondent:  Everybody is saying that Syria has become a major base for Al-Qaida, except the United Nations.

Spokesperson:  Listen, just take a look at what was said in the Security Council today and I think that you will find that there is quite a lot that is being said.  And just focus on the human side of this.

Thanks very much, have a good afternoon.

* *** *

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