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

4 October 2013

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

4 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.

**Secretary-General’s Travels

The Secretary-General will depart New York on Monday, 7 October, for Hungary.  On Tuesday, the Secretary-General will participate in the Budapest Water Summit.  And while in Budapest, he will meet with the President, Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Hungary.

And he will also meet with Prince El Hassan bin Talal, who chairs the Secretary-General’s Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation.  In addition, the Secretary-General will give a lecture at Budapesti Corvinus University.

The Secretary-General will then travel to Brunei, Darussalam, where on Thursday, he will take part in the fifth summit of the Association of Southeast Nations (ASEAN) and the United Nations.  And on the margin of the summit, he will have a number of meetings with leaders from the countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

So, the following day, on Friday, 11 October, the Secretary-General will have an audience with the Sultan of Brunei and he will also meet the Foreign Minister of Brunei.  And the Secretary-General will return to New York on Saturday, 12 October.

**Security Council

The 15 members of the Security Council are expected to arrive later today in Kinshasa, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the first leg of a five-day visit to the Great Lakes region of Africa.  On its way to Africa, the delegation stopped in Brussels, where it met with the Political and Security Committee of the European Union.  And needless to say, the discussion focused there on the situation in the Great Lakes region.

**Secretary-General’s Remarks

And this morning, the Secretary-General spoke at a World Habitat Day event on the theme, “Resilient Design for Sustainable Urbanization”.  And in his remarks, the Secretary-General said that, as the effects of climate change increase, urban resilience becomes ever more necessary.

This afternoon, the Secretary-General will speak at an event of the Global Migration Group on the theme, “Work, Priorities and Future Directions”.  And he is expected to say that the Group has presented strong evidence of migration’s impact on development and highlighted the human rights challenges that are a central part of the picture.  The Deputy Secretary-General will speak later at the closing of the High-level Meeting on Migrations that started yesterday.

**Press Conference

And linked to World Habitat, today, this afternoon at 1 p.m., there will be a press conference on that theme ahead of World Habitat Day, which is on 7 October.  So that press conference this afternoon at 1 p.m. will include the following speakers:  Dr. Joan Clos, who is the Executive Director of UN-Habitat, and Professor Thomas Elmqvist of the Stockholm Resilience Centre at Stockholm University.


We have an update on yesterday’s boat tragedy off the coast of Lampedusa, Italy.  The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) says that rescue efforts on southern Italy’s Lampedusa Island are now focused on helping people who survived the sinking yesterday.

The most recent information from the agency says that there are 155 reported survivors, one Tunisian national and the rest Eritrean.  The agency’s staff members also said that the search operation had been called off because of rough seas.

The survivors are currently being sheltered in a reception centre, which was already overcrowded and holding some 1,000 people from other recent boat arrivals.  The UN refugee agency is in discussion with the Italian authorities regarding the details of moving these people who have survived this boat sinking and others to better facilities.

** Syria

The Director-General of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), Ahmet Üzümcü, spoke at a meeting of the OPCW Executive Council yesterday.  He said that the Organisation’s Technical Secretariat had received information from Syria that was additional to the disclosure on its chemical weapons programme which Syria had submitted on 21 September.  The additional submission is being reviewed by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.  And I understand that the Director-General is expected to provide an update to OPCW member States when he addresses the Executive Council again on Tuesday.

**Secretary-General’s Appointment

The Secretary-General has appointed M’Baye Babacar Cissé of the Republic of Senegal as his Deputy Special Representative for the United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI).  And he will replace Ndolamb Ngokwey of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Mr. Cissé has served with the United Nations since 1980, most recently as Deputy Assistant Administrator and Deputy Regional Director, in Regional Bureau for Africa at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

Questions, please?  Yes, sir?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Yes, sir.  Ahead of the Tuesday report of OPCW, so far…

Spokesperson:  Your microphone seems to have disconnected.

Question:  So far the UN inspection team it seems has not found anything that they have found wanting.  Is that right?  And have they made any complaints whatsoever about their inspection and cooperation of the Syrian Government so far?

Spokesperson:  Well, this is a joint undertaking. Of course the inspectors are from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, and they are supported by a UN team.  As I understand it, and as I have mentioned on previous days, they have said that the cooperation from the Syrian side has been good.  And they have had a number of meetings; they have received technical diagrams and other information which, of course, they are studying.  To my knowledge, they have not undertaken any visits to sites yet.  And as I mentioned yesterday, they intend to start doing so within the coming week.  Yes, Tim?

Question:  Sorry, just to follow up on that; is the information they have handed over the information they had to give in under the resolution within seven days?

Spokesperson:  I think you need to check with the OPCW on that.  That’s very much within their area of competence.  But if I get any further information that I can provide to you here, I’d certainly do so.  Matthew?

Question:  Sure, I wanna, I wanna ask about Mali and also the DRC [ Democratic Republic of the Congo].  About Mali, there was an announcement by the President, Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, of, of suspending or dissolving this army reform group.  Since there is the mission there and this was, it seemed to be part of the, of the, the, the, what the UN was, was looking to have accomplished, what’s… is there any response to that?

Spokesperson:  Not at the moment.  We are obviously aware of those reports, but I don’t have anything on that at the moment.  What is your question on the DRC?

Question:  Sure, it’s at, it was in, you, you, you’d mentioned that the Security Council met with the European Union Political and Security Committee, so I wanted to know, I, I, did, it was hard to kind of get it, I, maybe I am misunderstanding it, what kind of readouts we’ll be getting here, but what were the, the items discussed?  Was, was Mali one of the, was, was Mali one of them; was CAR [Central African Republic] one of them and also on the DRC, the straight-up question is whether the mission intends to meet with either Mr. [Etienne] Tshisekedi of UPDS or, or any other opposition leader while they’re there?

Spokesperson:  Well, those are certainly questions for Security Council members, and I think that what we are trying to do here is to provide a brief overview, and obviously you can follow up with the Council members on specific questions you have about specific details of, for example, what was discussed beyond the Great Lakes Region in the meeting in Brussels.

Question:  But what is, just, just, and just because I, I, I, Mr. [Jerome] Bernard of your office it’s, his, what’s his, is he, does he attend the meetings?  I am trying to understand how this works.

Spokesperson:  He is helping… well, look, I think we can deal with this outside the briefing room.  We don’t need to get into logistical details here.  So, if you have…

Question:  But it’s not the logistics.  I’m interested, I’m interested in what takes place on the trip.

Spokesperson:  I have just explained that.  That you can ask Council members for what specifically happened.  This is a Security Council trip.  The role of someone from my office on all of these trips is to be able to provide support to the journalists on the trip and, of course, to Security Council members in the form of logistics.  For example, helping if they wish to have a press conference, things like that.  But we don’t need to get into those kind of details here.

Question:  What’s MONUSCO’s [United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo] role?  I just wanna, because I don’t, I think it is entirely fair to ask the Secretariat about this trip; what’s MONUSCO’s role in the DRC, in setting up meetings either with the opposition or, I asked you a couple of days about, days ago, about M23 saying they would shoot helicopters; I am still waiting for a response to that.

Spokesperson:  Well, we don’t have specific information for these flights, but the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo conducts routine flights in the area; that’s part of its mandate.  Yes, Tim, and then I am coming to you.

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  Last week you had a statement about the Maldives, calling for the quick holding of elections.  Has the Secretary-General followed this up at all?  Has he had any contact with the President since then?

Spokesperson:  I’d need to check.  I don’t have anything specific on that right now, I’d need to check.  And then we will let you know, okay.  I think I will have something shortly on that.  Yes?  [The Spokesperson later added that we continue to follow the situation in the Maldives with concern in light of the mounting tension in the country following the postponement of the second round of its presidential election.  The Secretary-General has issued several statements recently urging all Maldivians to exercise restraint, renew their commitment to the Constitution and rule of law, and work towards creating enabling conditions for peaceful, credible run-off elections to take place as soon as possible.  Furthermore, and at the Secretariat’s initiative, the Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Oscar Fernandez-Taranco, briefed the Security Council on the situation in the Maldives on Wednesday, under other matters, during its consultations.]

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  Again, on Syria, could you specify the composition of this OPCW-UN joint team, because I heard there are 19 people from OPCW and 14 from UN staff.  So, I was just wondering what’s the mission…?

Spokesperson:  That’s correct; that’s what we have said, yes.

Question:  What’s the mission of these UN staff?

Spokesperson:  As I just mentioned, there are inspectors, technical people from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.  In addition, there are other staff from the United Nations who are helping on logistical matters:  for example, transport, security, communications and other matters — that’s translating, interpreting, and that’s why they are working very closely together to provide the support so that inspectors can do the very technical and very specific work that they have to do.  Yes, Oleg?

Question:  So, Martin, thanks.  Who is leading the mission, OPCW right now, right?

Spokesperson:  Pardon?

Question:  Who is leading the mission right now, the OPCW?

Spokesperson:  This is a joint undertaking.  At the moment, this is an advance team that has two components:  there is the obvious technical component where the OPCW — the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons — clearly has the expertise and the mandate, and the United Nations is working with them to provide what needs to go around that technical work to make it possible.  This is an advance team.  As you know, the Secretary-General will be providing, under the Security Council resolution that was passed last Friday, recommendations to the Security Council in close consultation with the Director-General of the OPCW.  And those recommendations will be looking at what a larger mission, the follow-on to this advance team, will do, how it will be put together.  And that’s something that will become clearer in the coming days, I think.  Yes, Ivan?  There must be one [microphone] there somewhere.  Why don’t we come back to you?  Oh, look, you have a friend behind you.  A friend in need, right behind!  Okay!

Question:  Thank you.  So we knew that the previous inspection was headed by Dr. [Åke] Sellström.  Who is the head of the mission now, I mean, the person?  Do they have a leader?  And the second question:  you just said that the Syrian Government have given the additional information; is it the last portion of information we are expecting from them?

Spokesperson:  As I have said, on that particular topic, you need to speak to the OPCW.  With regard to the team, as I have said, there are two components in this advance team.  There is the OPCW technical experts, specialists, and they have a team leader.  And there is the UN component that is providing the support, and they have a team leader.  As I have said, this is an advance team with a very specific role, and the recommendations that the Secretary-General will be providing to the Security Council are intended to provide an idea of what the main mission that needs to go in and complete all of this work under a very tight deadline, an idea of how that would be put together.  Yes?

Question:  I have one more follow-up on chemical weapons.  This team, I mean, these two teams or one team, whatever it is…

Spokesperson:  It is an advance team with two parts.

Question:  Two parts, okay.  Are they making the decisions on their own or are they consulting with Hague or the UNHQ?

Spokesperson:  I think that you could imagine that they would be consulting very closely with the headquarters of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in The Hague, and also with colleagues here in New York, in Disarmament Affairs, primarily.  There is a very close coordination, and there will continue to be.  That’s obviously extremely important.  The technical expertise, the mandate for verification rests with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.  And that’s where the technical expertise resides and the mandate.  They require obvious logistical support and other support too which the United Nations is already providing and will continue to provide.  And it is, of course, for the recommendations that the Secretary-General is sending to the Security Council soon to spell out how both the UN and Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons see that cooperation for the main part of the mission.  Yes?

Question:  I want to ask about Darfur and then two questions on Syria.  On, on Darfur, there, there are reports of, of Government bombing in East Jebel Marra, 22 separate incidents of an Antonov bombing and killing and, and they, at least the rebels say civilians were killed.  So I am wondering, does UNAMID [United Nations-African Union Hybrid Operation in Darfur] have any, uh, can they, have, have, they are aware of this report, have they gone to check it out, what’s their response to it?

Spokesperson:  I’ll check.  Next question?

Question:  Okay, and then, I, I am trying to think in which order to do these two, one, I’ll, Khan al-Asal, I just wanna ask you again, I did read the transcript; it’s not like I don’t read these things and it was sent to me again, I just wanna, and… forgetting the transcript and without any disrespect, I just wanted a simple answer why the UN never went to Khan al-Asal.  And I read, I read it a number of times; maybe I am being dense, but was it that it they couldn’t get there?  Was it that the, the, the, it was too deteriorated?  I am not suggesting those are the reasons, I just wanna know what the reason is.

Spokesperson:  Well, it does say, not in that particular part that you have in front of you; it does say on 30 September, that transcript from Monday, or let’s be clear about it:  I said there are a number of reasons, potential reasons.  And one of those includes that with the passage of time, it becomes… I don’t think you expect me, I know you are reading what I said, you don’t think you’d expect me to say exactly what I said on Monday?

Question:  No, no, no, I guess, I guess I really wanna, I am asking you a kind of a substantive question; what would you say to those who say it’s, it is a shame that if the request, the initial request to go to Syria was to visit this one place, it seems like, you know, the stakes were… it’s just, it seems to cry, to call out for an answer of why what was initially requested was not done.

Spokesperson:  Right, right, so, listen:  As I have said, as I have said here a number of times, there are a number of factors why it was not possible or feasible to go.  And one of those is that with the passage of time, there is a deterioration of the material that could be used for sampling, and, therefore, to help decide whether chemical weapons were used or not.  But as I also said, there is a portfolio of different ways that the team, the investigation team, can gather evidence and try to determine at a distance whether chemical weapons were used.  That’s one of the possible constraints.  Another is obviously security.  And with regard to the broader question about the passage of time, everybody knows that it was not for want of trying that the team did not get there until August.  As you well know from March, there was extremely hard work done on both sides — meaning the Syrian authorities and the United Nations in the form of the Office for Disarmament Affairs — to make this work.  It was not easy.  And that’s been plainly said by any number of people, including the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs.  But the fact of the matter is that everyone persevered because there was an interest to get in.  And eventually, they were able to get in and they were able then to determine that chemical weapons had indeed been used in that incident on 21 August; and they furthermore have continued both outside and then, on a subsequent visit to Syria that ended on Monday, to gather material so that they can present a final report at the end of this month.  Any further questions?  Yes, right at the very back; do you have a microphone there?

Question:  Thank you.  It is another matter.  Israeli media has stated that Ambassador Ron Prosor has submitted a request to the Secretary-General to make Yom Kippur one of the official holidays of the UN.  If this is so, can you confirm it?  And also, what would the steps be for any official holiday to be declared?  Thank you.

Spokesperson:  I’d need to check whether such a letter has been received.  As I often say on these occasions, just because I don’t know whether a letter has been received doesn’t mean that it hasn’t been sent.  There may be a lag between the letter being received in the Secretary-General’s Office and me hearing about it.  With regard to the general process for such things:  this is in the hands of Member States.  And I would refer you to the Office of the President of the General Assembly; they may be able to tell you more details on the mechanics of that. [He later said that the letter has not been received so far.]

Thanks very much.  Have a good afternoon.

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