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

21 August 2013

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

21 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 Eduardo del Buey, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the briefing.

** Syria

I have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

The Secretary-General is shocked to hear the reports of the alleged use today of chemical weapons in the suburbs of Damascus.

Professor Åke Sellström and his team are currently in the Syrian Arab Republic to investigate the alleged use of chemical weapons reported by the Government of Syria at Khan al-Assal, as well as two other allegations of the use of chemical weapons reported by Member States.  According to the agreement reached in Damascus in July, the two parties are discussing, in parallel, other allegations and their related sites.

The United Nations mission to investigate allegations of chemical weapons use in Syria is following the current situation in Syria carefully, and remains fully engaged in the investigation process that is mandated by the Secretary-General.  Professor Sellström is in discussions with the Syrian Government on all issues pertaining to the alleged use of chemical weapons, including this most recent reported incident.

The Secretary-General is aware that a number of Member States, the Arab League and the European Union have expressed grave concern about the most recent reports of the possible use of chemical weapons in Syria.  The Secretary-General reaffirms his determination to ensure a thorough investigation of the reported alleged incidents that are brought to his attention by Member States.

The Secretary-General reiterates that any use of chemical weapons by any side under any circumstances would violate international law.

And the President of the Security Council has invited Council members to informal consultations of the whole at 3 p.m. this afternoon, in connection with the Middle East ( Syria).

**Secretary-General’s Travel

The Secretary-General will be leaving New York shortly to fly to the Republic of Korea.  He is set to arrive in Seoul on Thursday evening.

On Friday, he will meet with the President, Park Geun-hye, as well as the Prime Minister, the Speaker of the National Assembly and the Minister for Foreign Affairs.  The same day, the Secretary-General will also engage with the diplomatic corps based in Seoul on the Millennium Development Goals, and attend an event hosted by the UN Academic Impact.  We'll update you further on the Secretary-General's activities in the Republic of Korea.

As the Secretary-General mentioned when he spoke to you on Monday, he will be visiting the Netherlands and Austria after his trip to the Republic of Korea.  We'll provide more details on those visits nearer the time.

** Egypt

Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman, who arrived in Egypt yesterday, met with Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy and Arab League Secretary-General Nabil ElAraby.

In remarks to the press in Cairo today, Mr. Feltman said that his discussions with Mr. ElAraby were focused on areas of collaboration between the United Nations and the League of Arab States.  They also discussed efforts towards a political solution to the conflict in Syria, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, as well as the political process in Yemen and the role of the United Nations therein.

Asked about his meeting with Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy, Mr. Feltman stressed that he was in Cairo to listen.  The Secretary-General had asked Mr. Feltman to listen to Egyptians to better understand the situation and how the United Nations can best assist.

** Democratic Republic of the Congo

The UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) reports that clashes between armed groups continue to be a source of insecurity in the eastern part of the country.  The Mission says that combatants from four armed groups exchanged fire near its base in Pinga, North Kivu Province, on Monday.  Three mortar bombs landed near the base.

The Mission has activated its contingency plan in the area and its peacekeepers are providing security to 1,000 civilians in and around its base.  The Mission has also stepped up its patrols and sent its helicopters to deter armed groups from fighting and to protect civilians.

**South Sudan

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said today that UN agencies and humanitarian partners will receive a new allocation of $33 million to provide assistance to communities affected by crisis in South Sudan.

The funding, allocated from the South Sudan Common Humanitarian Fund, will help aid organizations reach people with critical assistance, including water and sanitation, education, health care, nutrition, livelihood support and mine clearance.

More than 4 million people are affected by food insecurity in South Sudan, and more than 70,000 people have been internally displaced since the beginning of the year.  South Sudan currently hosts 220,000 refugees, mostly from Sudan.

That’s it.  Questions, please?  Mr. Abbadi?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  [inaudible]

Deputy Spokesperson:  Microphone, please.  Could you repeat that in the microphone, please?

Question:  Sorry.  Regarding this latest chemical attack in Syria, it has been reported that Professor Sellström has said that he would need a second mandate, an enlarged mandate, in order to investigate the case.  Is this the case?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, what I read was, according to the agreement reached in Damascus in July, the two parties are discussing in parallel other allegations and their related sites.  I imagine that this would probably fall into that category.  Masood?

Question:  My question is about this:  has it been determined that this attack was carried out by the Government forces?  It is quite possible it could have been done by the opposition forces.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, you have to listen carefully to what I said:  “The Secretary-General was shocked to hear the reports of the alleged use today…”

Correspondent:  Yes.

Deputy Spokesperson:  “…of chemical weapons in the suburbs of Damascus.”

Question:  I… yes.  So these…?

Deputy Spokesperson:  We do not say by whom, we don’t have any confirmation they have taken place, they are alleged.

Question:  So, the question is then, in that context, that if, in fact… when will the mandate be given, extended, to the mission that is already there to go and investigate it [inaudible]?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, again, as I said, according to the agreement reached in Damascus in July…

Correspondent:  Yeah.

Deputy Spokesperson:  …the two parties are discussing in parallel other allegations and their related sites.  Matthew?

Question:  Sure, thanks a lot.  On the same subject, I mean, it was, it was said that… that the Sellström team was simply going to verify that, that chemical weapons were used and not give any opinion on who used them.  Would the, would the Secretary-General think that that should change in this case?  And also, I went, I went back and looked at this note to correspondents your office sent out on, I guess, 18 August; it said please note the team will not be speaking to the media.  Has that been waived in some way?  I have seen Mr. Sellström quoted on Swedish news agency TT, has he now… can we send him questions or… or what’s the deal?

Deputy Spokesperson:  No, that has not been waived.  Questions should be addressed to the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Question:  But, what… what does it mean to say… to say that he wouldn’t… I mean what… he spoke to a Swedish news agency; can you explain that and also what do you say to those who would say that the mandate is simply to say if it is used, should there be a change in the mandate to say who used them?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Matthew, should there be a change in the mandate, we will let you know.  In the back?

Question:  Yes, Eduardo, can you please give us the same in Spanish about Syria, por favor?

Deputy Spokesperson:  You are giving me a break.

Correspondent:  I just need a little Spanish.

Deputy Spokesperson:  [Reads statement on Syria in Spanish]


Deputy Spokesperson:  Masood?

Question:  My question is, how many times has the Secretary-General visited South Korea since he became the Secretary-General, and why has he not visited North Korea after assumption [inaudible]?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I think Martin has addressed North Korea and the Secretary-General has talked about North Korea.  If you want, you can look at the website under “Secretary-General’s travels” and you will have all the information of his travels.

Question:  Sir, sir, but do you have any answer?  How many times did he visit South Korea?  Do you have any…?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have the answer with me, no.  Like I am telling you, we have a website that has the Secretary-General’s travels.  I suggest you look at it and count.  Matthew?

Question:  [inaudible] another something on… on… on Syria.  It was reported yesterday that the ISIS group, the opposition Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, warned humanitarian aid agencies to leave north, the parts of Syria that they control because they view them as spies, and I am wondering, this was said at… at… to a number of the aid agencies; does [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] have any comment on that?  Is there any response by the UN to… to… just to…?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, we’ll have to find out, Matthew.  I don’t have that.  We’ll have to find out for you.

Question:  And could I ask an Egypt question?  I wanted to ask you, the spokesman for the Egyptian Foreign Ministry has said that, you know, has given their readout on the meeting with Mr. Feltman.  They have said that, you know, they told them to co… it shouldn’t be internationalized, it has no international implications, but they also said, this is a quote, that the trip by Mr. Feltman was arranged “a few weeks ago”.  So, I wanted to know, either he, now or when you can check in your office, when was this trip arranged, because it is presented as sort of the Secretariat’s response to the killings of 14 August, but they are saying it was weeks ago.  I… do… when was the trip arranged?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Matthew, when we have an answer to that we will let you know.  Masood?

Question:  Just wan… because it seems that Egypt doesn’t have too many members in the Security Council who are willing to hold a meeting on Security Council as quickly as possible on Egypt, is the Secretary-General… can, in fact, do… can make that assessment and ask the Security Council to meet because the situation is dire over there?  People are being killed right, left and centre, and nobody seems to be bothering about that, it’s just as… as a…

Deputy Spokesperson:  Masood, the Secretary-General sent Mr. Feltman to speak with both sides to hear and to come back and report.

Correspondent:  Yes, sir.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Once he has reported to the Secretary-General, the Secretary-General will decide on future steps.  Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you, Eduardo.  Two questions.  One, you indicated that Mr. Feltman went there to Cairo to listen to the parties.  Why can’t he do that by telephone if that’s only the objective of his mission?  And…

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, obviously, he is listening and speaking with them, giving them the Secretary-General’s concerns and points of view.  But, obviously, what he is doing there is also getting information for the Secretary-General first hand from the people who are involved.  This young lady here?

Question:  Hi, I am with the Jerusalem Post.  Another question on Egypt.  Did the Secretary-General have any statement to make on the news that former President Mubarak may be released soon?

Deputy Spokesperson:  No, that’s an internal legal matter.

Question:  [in Spanish]

Deputy Spokesperson:  [answer in Spanish]  The question was, do we have a time frame within which… that we are going to have a report from Dr. Sellström, and the answer to that is we don’t have a time frame.  Once the mission is completed, they will do their evaluation and they will then report to the Secretary-General.  Matthew?

Question:  Sure, in Myanmar, the Special Rapporteur has complained that his vehicle was attacked by “Buddhist mobs in Meiktila” when he went to investigate, and he said that the Government has a duty to, you know, protect special rapporteurs, so I am wondering… I mean, he said publicly, it’s been reported all over the world, does the Secretariat or… or Mr. Nambiar have any comment on the Government’s failure to protect or… or protection of this Special Rapporteur of the UN system?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I don’t have anything with me, but we can check with Mr. Nambiar’s office for you.

Correspondent:  Okay.

Deputy Spokesperson: Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you.  You indicated earlier, Eduardo, that the Security Council is meeting, or will meet, and at whose request?  Was the… the…?

Deputy Spokesperson:  You’d have to ask the Security Council President that.  We don’t know at whose request.

Question:  Was it the European [inaudible]?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have any answer to that, Mr. Abbadi, that’s a Security Council question.  You’d have to speak with the Argentine Mission.  Masood?

Question:  Yes, sir, a follow-up on Myanmar question.  The thing… the… the… the… there is a report actually coming out from Thailand about this… these people reporting… the physicians… association of physicians, reporting that there is a mass-scale massacre of Rohingya Muslims going on over there.  Have you read that?  Does Secretary-General or United Nations read that report or respond to that?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, we’ve seen a lot of reports coming out of Myanmar, but we haven’t got any information on that particular case.  We’ll have to find out for you.  Last question, Matthew?

Question:  Sure.  Can I… okay, can I ask one [ Democratic Republic of the Congo] question then one Security Council logistical question?  Is that possible?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, we’ll push it.

Question:  Okay, I really appreciate it.  On the [Democratic Republic of the Congo] I wanted to ask you, there… there has been a… two Norwegians — one is a… is a Norwegian and… and UK citizen — that were jailed, have… have been in jail, asked for pardons, one of them has died and it’s… it’s here to… given rise to… Mr. Moland has died and Norway is… is protesting, and they are trying to get the other guy out, and what I wanted to know is, is the UN aware of this case at all?  These were two… they were put in and was su… on a kind of a controversial circumstances and there is now quite a bit of controversy about the way that they died in jail, has there any… UN… whether it is Mr. Kobler, is the UN aware of this case in any way [inaudible]?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, we are aware of the case, Matthew, but I don’t have anything to comment on that right now.  But, we are aware of the case.

Question:  Sure, one is, I just… now… now that there is going be this emergency Security Council meeting, I wanted to ask you, and maybe we can figure this out before 3 p.m.  Until quite recently, in fact, until this week, the press has been able… the media has been able to use both sides of the stairs, just not in the Turkish lounge, and then we can stand there and ask people coming up and down the stairs from both sides, you know, questions about Syria or whatever it is.  Suddenly, yesterday, it was said that the area to the… between the stairs and the Turkish lounge can no longer be used by the media and it doesn’t… I don’t know if that was just a sort of an ad hoc decision, I’m… I’d asked as med… as a question of media access, I have tried to ask [the Department of Public Information], I have yet to get an answer, can we find out before 3 p.m. why there would have been a change to reduce press access to the stakeout as we have had it?

Deputy Spokesperson:  We’ll try.  Thank you, ladies and gentlemen.  Have a good afternoon.

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