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

22 October 2013

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

22 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.

**Security Council

Jeffrey Feltman, the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, briefed the Security Council this morning on the situation in the Middle East and talked about the discussions taking place in the region, from the Syria catastrophe to the Middle East peace process to questions regarding nuclear proliferation. 

He welcomed the intensification of negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians but added that there have been worrisome developments on the ground that cannot be ignored.  He reiterated the United Nations unequivocal call on all to refrain from violence and incitement, reinforce calm and reverse negative trends in order to preserve the tentative opening in the political process.

On Syria, Mr. Feltman said that the Secretary-General continues to insist that the only way to bring peace to Syria is an inclusive and Syrian-led political process.  He added that the UN is working hard to convene the Geneva conference in mid-November.  With a political process, however difficult it may be, there is hope that a new Syria will emerge.  Without it, there is little on the horizon but the further destruction of Syria and the further destabilization of the region as a result of this conflict.

**Syria ‑ Chemical Weapons

Sigrid Kaag, the Special Coordinator for the Joint Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons-United Nations Mission in Syria, spoke today in Damascus, a day after arriving in the country.  She said that the timeframes for the Mission’s work are challenging, given the goal of the elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons programme in the first half of next year.  She said that to date, the Government of Syria has fully cooperated in supporting the work of the advance team and the OPCW-UN Joint Mission.

**Syria ‑ Humanitarian

The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) says it is delivering more aid across Syria to prepare for winter.  Among other locations, last week, the agency’s local partners brought aid to more than 10,000 people in the city of Raqqa.  So far this year, about a third of the UNHCR’s core relief supplies have gone to people in hard-to-reach areas of Syria.  Every week, up to 250 aid trucks are on the move inside the country, bringing supplies to nearly 100,000 people. 

And meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) is saying that a possible polio outbreak is likely in Syria.  The World Health Organization is waiting for final laboratory confirmation.  A plan is under way for an emergency response, which would start in the immediately affected area of the Deir es Zour Province.

**Secretary-General in Copenhagen

The Secretary-General arrived in Copenhagen this morning.  He delivered a speech at the Global Green Growth Forum, where he urged participants to increase investments for a low-carbon economy.  He said that the world is fast approaching a triple deadline:  the target date for the Millennium Development Goals, the need to establish a new sustainable development framework and the date for reaching a legally-binding agreement on climate change.  He added that we must increase action and ambition on climate change.

He later met with the Prime Minister of Denmark and the Speaker of the Danish Parliament.  Following his meeting with the Prime Minister, the Secretary-General spoke to the media.  He said that he and the Prime Minister had discussed various topics, including the urgent need for a political solution to the conflict in Syria, international support to Afghanistan beyond 2014, and sustainable development.  He also participated in a meeting with the International Pension Funds hosted by the Finance Minister of Denmark.  The details of these meetings and the Secretary-General’s remarks are available online and in my office.

**Press Conferences

This afternoon at 1:15 p.m., there will be a press conference here by Juan E. Mendez, the Special Rapporteur on torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

And then tomorrow at 11:30 a.m., there will be a press conference here organized by the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs, the World Future Council and the Inter-Parliamentary Union.  They will announce the Future Policy Award for this year for the world’s best disarmament policies.

And also tomorrow after the noon briefing, there will be a press conference that will be organized by the African Union’s New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), the African Peer Review Mechanism, the Office for the UN Special Adviser on Africa, the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) and the UN Department of Public Information (DPI).

So, they are co-organizing this press conference that will take place after the noon briefing tomorrow.

**Peacekeeping Salaries

And I was asked yesterday about the payment of peacekeepers and here is what I can tell you, which is pretty much what I said yesterday:  And that is that the United Nations does not pay troop salaries.  The United Nations reimburses a standard rate to the Governments and it is their responsibility to pay their personnel.  The United Nations reimburses the troop-contributing countries and it is then their responsibility to pay their troops.  And I have also been asked about this:  troop-contributing countries have been paid up to date in line with the normal schedule for payments.

Matthew, do you want to go low-tech or high-tech?

**Questions and Answers

Correspondent:  Let me go high-tech.

Spokesperson:  You’re going to go high-tech?

Correspondent:  Yeah.

Spokesperson:  Right.  That’s the QR code for the human rights due diligence policy [holding up sheet of paper with QR code on it].

Correspondent:  Oh, great.  Okay, hang on let me get my phone then.

Spokesperson:  And low-tech [holding up another sheet of paper] ‑ I’ll give you a copy afterwards, all right?

Correspondent:  Okay, excellent.

Spokesperson:  It is online.

Correspondent:  Okay.

Spokesperson:  Right, it is available.  Right, okay.  Questions, please?  Please?

Question:  Oh, great, thanks a lot.  I… I… I… I thought… I thought actually that was what you were calling on me, I was fumbling with my microphone, but I want to actually ask about Syria.  I wanted to… I am sure you have seen these comments by Ahmad Al-Jarba of the Syrian National Coalition saying basically that he… that no… no participation in Geneva II unless the objective is the… is the… you know, is Assad leaving, and also it seems to be saying that if… if Iran goes, no participation.  And I am wondering, since the Secretary-General met with him in September, was that an indication he gave then?  Is there any response by the UN to this, the… the head of… of the Syrian National Coalition making these comments about Geneva II?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think we need to be a little bit cautious.  There are reports about his comments.  I understand that Mr. Jarba was also going to be giving a press conference, and so, first of all, there were reports on written comments, I think we ought to wait and hear what Mr. Al-Jarba has to say for himself when there is a press conference.  As we said at the time when the Secretary-General met with the President of the Syrian National Coalition, there are no preconditions for this meeting.  It should take place without any preconditions.  And certainly the indication that was given to the Secretary-General at the time was that the Syrian National Coalition intended to attend that conference when it takes place.

Question:  Can I just ask one… this may be… it’s… it’s a follow-up, possibly related, it’s this question of when the Secretary-General last spoke to… to Saudi leadership.  Remember, regarding the… the… the withdrawal, were you able to find out when… when the last contacts at a… at a… at a high level took place?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have that information to hand, Matthew.  When I do… [as he is handed a piece of paper] I don’t think this is it…

Correspondent:  Okay.

Spokesperson:  …but when I do, I will come back to you.  But, as we have said before, there are frequent regular contacts with many Member States, including Saudi Arabia.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesperson:  Yes, Ivan?

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  Can you confirm that on November 5 and 6 there will be a meeting of high-ranking diplomats of Russia, US and UN in Geneva to discuss the preparation for Geneva II with the participation of Brahimi, who will inform them on his trip to the region?  Thank you.

Spokesperson:  Well, I do know that the Joint Special Representative for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, does indeed intend to convene another preparatory meeting with Russia and the United States in Geneva, and that would be a follow-up to the meeting here last month.  I can’t give you the dates at the moment, but I am sure that Mr. Brahimi will be able to provide those details in due course.  And I have been in touch with Mr. Brahimi’s team in the region, and so that’s why I can say that certainly there is an intention to convene another preparatory meeting.  But for the actual dates, I would defer to Mr. Brahimi to announce that in due course.

[The Spokesperson later added that he has been informed that the Joint Special Representative for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, will convene a trilateral meeting with United States and Russian officials in Geneva on 5 November. That meeting will be followed the same day by a meeting that includes the other three permanent members of the Security Council.]

We have a line going along here, so I am going to… I am going to mix it up and start at the back.  Yes, please?

Correspondent:  Martin, thanks.

Spokesperson:  Just to confuse you!

Question:  On Mozambique, given the very positive remarks that the Secretary-General made when he visited Mozambique in May this year, I wonder what his thoughts are on what seems to be a fundamental breakdown in the peace, that over 20 year peace deal, the opposition moving back to the bush, claiming that their leader is being targeted by the FRELIMO Government.  I wonder what the Secretary-General’s thoughts are.

Spokesperson:  We’re certainly aware of these reports and we are following with concern the recent developments in Mozambique.  We would call on all parties to refrain from any act that can threaten the peace and stability that has prevailed during the past 21 years.  We urge them to fully engage in an inclusive dialogue to resolve differences and to ensure that the country can continue on the path of development, democracy and growth for all.  And you are absolutely right, the Secretary-General was in Mozambique, and obviously he is paying close attention to these developments.  Ali?  Coming down the line.

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  I have a follow-up on Matthew’s question.  There were statements yesterday by President Assad that Geneva II… convening Geneva II at this time is not going to be productive, that’s what he said.  So I wonder whether there is any comment from the Secretary-General on that.  And my question is about the Saudi dropping up their seat on the Security Council.  Since there is no formal request from the Saudi that they are drop… leaving their seat, what, by proce… by the procedure, what will happen?

Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, I think questions on the intentions of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia with regard to the non-permanent Security Council seat they secured in the vote last week should be addressed to them.  It is for them to explain what they mean by the announcement that was made last week.  To reiterate ‑ and I did check again with all the relevant offices today ‑ and there has been no formal written or indeed other notification to the UN, meaning to the Security Council Affairs Division, to the Office of the President of the General Assembly, and to the Executive Office of the Secretary-General.  We have not received anything, so, in writing or in any other form, so it is difficult for me and for others, therefore, to analyse the reasoning and also what the future steps would be needed.  We’d need to hear a little bit more first.

And with regard to your first question about statements being made by various people in the run-up to a possible Geneva conference, it is not unusual for such a conference, which is obviously of huge importance to the country and the region and something that is very difficult to organize, to hear differing voices out there.  And I would simply say that the Secretary-General, as he has said in Copenhagen today, remains committed to convene this conference in Geneva on Syria in mid-November.  And work is really going on at quite a pace.  Mr. Brahimi is in the region, as you know, and Mr. Al-Kidwa as well.  Joseph?

Question:  Yes, you mentioned that Ms. Kaag had indicated that the Syrian Government was cooperating in connection with the programme to identify and destroy chemical weapons.  Does she have any comment or observations on cooperation by the rebel forces since there is some dependency on their cooperation, given the fact that some of the sites may be in their territory or at least roads leading to these sites may be in their territory and that resolution 2118 (2013) calls upon all parties to the conflict to abide by its terms?  Thank you.

Spokesperson:  Well, it’s certainly the case that there does need to be cooperation from all parties.  I think Ms. Kaag, in her statement, which is available to you in full online, was simply outlining that it is with the Government of Syria that the lion’s share of the work needs to be done.  After all, it is for the Government of Syria itself to render their different production plants inoperable by 1 November, and then the next timeline, which is extremely hard and tight, is to eliminate the chemical weapons programme in its entirety.  And that’s got to take place in the first half of next year.  So it is with the Syrian Government that there needs to be that close cooperation.  Of course, on security, to get to locations, yes, of course there needs to be cooperation from other parties, too, but I don’t think that we would be speaking publicly about how that comes about.

Question:  But does she see this as part of her mandate to personally get involved in helping to facilitate communications with rebel forces to enable such access…?

Spokesperson:  One of the very reasons, one of the very reasons for this being a joint mission is precisely because the UN is able to help on that side of things.  The OPCW, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, is providing the technical expertise, the inspectors.  The UN is providing logistical, security and other kinds of support.  And part of that is, if you like, political support to be able to liaise with all parties in Syria to try to ensure that access is available where it is needed.  Pamela, and then Edie.

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  The Under-Secretary-General today, Jeffrey Feltman… he’s Under-Secretary-General?

Spokesperson:  He is.

Question:  …said… he went though quite a bit that the calm is eroding in the Gaza Strip, and yet the budget is in deficit.  Do you have any sense of any other way that the budget will be filled?  If it is not, will they look at… for UNRWA, will it be filled with other budgets or new fundraising drive since… and… and do you think there is any relationship with the underfunding with the increase in violence?

Spokesperson:  Well, on the last, I don’t really have any specific comment.  On the first part, UNRWA has suffered for a long time for lack of funds, and it continues to require funding.  And I know that Filippo Grandi, the Commissioner-General for UNRWA, and other officials work extremely hard in the region and elsewhere to try to drum up support for what is an extremely important operation.  And just think of the number of people they support inside Syria, and of course, in neighbouring countries.  It is extremely important work, sometimes rather precarious work, and they deserve support.  And everybody knows that this is a tight financial climate, but it is crucially important that they do receive funding for sure.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  I was going to ask also about Saudi Arabia, but you answered that.  Do you have any details on who Mr. Al-Kidwa is actually seeing in the opposition and any update on how successful his efforts have been to try and put together a single opposition delegation?

Spokesperson:  Well, I’ll check, I don’t have any update today on Mr. Al-Kidwa’s movements and meetings.  I did say that he would be going to Turkey to meet with members of the opposition.  I don’t have a list of who has been involved in those meetings.  Indeed, if those meetings are taking place, I need to check.  Mr. Brahimi has been in Oman today, and goes to Jordan tomorrow.  And he also of course is continuing his discussions with different parties in the region as part of our concerted efforts to bring about the Geneva II conference in mid-November. Yes?

Question:  [inaudible]?

Spokesperson:  No, don’t do that, please.  [laughter]

Question:  [inaudible]

Spokesperson:  I can come back to you.

Correspondent:  It’s the other side.

Spokesperson:  There you go.

Question:  You said yesterday that the Secretary-General will convene the special meeting in Syria at his convenience, for lack of a better word.  However, has there been any contact or dialogue with any of the delegation or representatives of the Syrian rebels, and if so, is there sort of a lack of a formal delegation; what has been postponing this meeting?

Spokesperson:  Well, I mean, I think that follows on from the question that Edie just asked about the work that is being done by the Joint Special Representative, Mr. Brahimi, and the Deputy Joint Special Representative, Mr. Al-Kidwa.  They are both in the region precisely with the aim of reaching out to countries and parties who may or should be involved in any Geneva II meeting that takes place next month.  So that’s precisely ‑ at least one of the reasons amongst others ‑ why they are in the region.  And just to come back to what you said at the very beginning, I mean, it is the Secretary-General who convenes this conference, not for his own convenience, but for the sake of the Syrian people who have been enduring terrible suffering for the last two and a half years and more.  And so it is for that reason that he is pushing extremely hard, and that’s why others, including the Russian Federation, United States and others ‑ UK, France ‑ have been working extremely hard to help to influence those they can influence to bring people to the table.

Question:  [inaudible] when specifically met with any of their delegation or spoken to any of their delegation?

Spokesperson:  I don’t know what you mean by delegation?

Question:  Like do the rebels have like their delegation together to come to the table to meet with everyone else?

Spokesperson:  But this is precisely what I have just said, that Mr. Al-Kidwa is in the region to meet…

Correspondent:  Yes, that’s it.

Spokesperson:  …opposition figures, and Mr. Brahimi is in the region meeting different countries’ authorities as he moves around there, as I say, he was in Muscat in Oman today, and goes to Jordan tomorrow.  Matthew?

Question:  Great, thanks a lot.  I have one Syria question I want to ask… ask also about Abyei, if I can, and even Trinidad and Tobago if there are… if time remains.  On Syria, the U… the State Department yesterday put out a press release saying that they are donating these, or… they’re providing 10 armoured… armoured vehicles, Chevrolet Suburbans to the… the UN’s work in Syria on chemical weapons, and I just… I mean, it might seem a strange question, but are these now going to become… are these full… you know, fully given to… to the… to the UN or are they just for use in the mission and would be returned… are they part… I wanted to… and relatedly, like this trust fund, how is it going, and is there going to be kind of a… a… a… an ongoing update on… on who is giving what? 

Spokesperson:  On the first part, I think you’d need to ask the US Mission what… on what basis they have provided those vehicles.  Obviously, it is extremely welcome, given the precarious security in Damascus and across the country, it is imperative that the joint team members have the safest possible means of transport and to do the work that they need to do in a very tight time frame.  And as for the trust fund, I can only speak for the UN trust fund.  You’d need to speak to OPCW about their trust fund.  We would be intending to provide some details.  It has been in the process of being set up, so I don’t have any at the moment.  Okay, I am looking to see if there are other questions, otherwise you can ask what it was, Abyei and Trinidad and Tobago, so?

Question:  Abyei, Trinidad and Tobago, yes, yeah.  Thanks a lot, I really… the Abyei, I am… I am figuring you may have something on it.  There has been a lot of talk of the… of a… of a… of a sort of a…

Spokesperson:  Yes.

Question:  …unilateral referendum or self-held referendum by the Ngok Dinka and the Misseriya have said that it shouldn’t take place.  There were discussions in Juba, but it’s… I don’t know what… it seemed the reports are that… that nothing was agreed to between Sudan and South Sudan, what’s the UN’s position, given that it has the peacekeeping force there on this… this sort of self-done referendum that’s being discussed?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything, Matthew…

Correspondent:  Okay.

Spokesperson:  …but I will certainly check with my colleagues in Peacekeeping Operations.

[A statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General was later issued:

“The Secretary-General welcomes the holding of a Summit between the Presidents of Sudan and South Sudan in Juba today and takes note of the two Presidents’ intent to expedite the establishment of the Abyei Administration, Abyei Council and Abyei Police Service.  He also welcomes their decision to accelerate the full establishment of the Safe Demilitarized Border Zone (SDBZ) by mid-November.

“The Secretary-General calls on both countries to urgently resume their consultations on the implementation of the 2012 African Union High-Level Implementation Panel proposal to determine the final status of Abyei, and calls on Abyei community leaders to refrain from any unilateral initiatives which could increase tensions in the Abyei area.”]

Question:  Okay, thanks.  And… and there is… the one on Trinidad and Tobago is that there is U… it seems like UNAIDS is launching a… a… a… a book about HIV in the Caribbean, in Trinidad and Tobago, and the… the controversy is that they say that you can’t enter the country if you are homosexual, that there is some kind of a blockage on… so it seems some people are wondering why the UN is holding it there or is the UN holding it there in order to highlight this… this… this… this restriction on movement.  Do you… are you aware of it or is there some to…?

Spokesperson:  Have you tried speaking to UNAIDS?

Correspondent:  I have not yet.

Spokesperson:  Okay, you should give them a try and I will do likewise.

Question:  Okay, and the last… there… this is a totally related question, as you will see, it has to do with Kuwait.  There is a report from a few weeks ago of a Kuwait health minister saying that there is discussion in the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) of adopting an immigration policy or visa policy that would bar homosexuals from entering the GCC countries.  And I know I had asked them, but I just wanted to… Kuwait is obviously in the news as a potential successor to Saudi Arabia or… or… or not, but is there any reaction from the UN system to the idea of freedom of movement and visas being restricted based on sexual orientation?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything on that right now.  If that changes, I will let you know. 

Correspondent:  Okay.

Spokesperson:  All right.  Yes, Pamela?

Question:  All right, just one quick follow-up.  Has the Secretary-General made any comments about the Ben Emmerson drones report, any comment on his report on the drones illegality, all of it… and the reactions that Pakistan, Afghanistan and Yemen have made?

Spokesperson:  No, no, he hasn’t; not at the moment, he hasn’t made any specific comment on these reports that have been issued.  I think his…

Question:  Right, all the human rights report?

Spokesperson:  …his views on the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) are well known, and he has spoken about them in a number of settings.  I don’t think I need to repeat that, except for two points.  One is that as with any weapon of war, they should be used within the confines and under the standards of international humanitarian, international human rights law.  And secondly, of all possible measures when using such armed unmanned aerial vehicles should be taken to avoid civilian casualties.  That’s what I have.

Question:  But like… just a follow-up on that, the Emmerson report has a pretty big increase in the numbers that have been documented on civilian deaths and it also calls for international law standards on investigation into these and there have not been any.  Is there anything that the UN would do or any statement that anyone would make on some kind of investigation?  These are obviously not ICC (International Criminal Court) issues.

Spokesperson:  No, is the short answer.  Not at the moment.  I would simply reiterate what I just said about the need to take all possible measures to avoid civilian casualties.

All right, thanks very much.  Have a good afternoon.  Thank you.

* *** *

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