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

1 November 2013

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

1 November 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.

** Syria

Lakhdar Brahimi, the Joint Special Representative for Syria, spoke to the press in Damascus before leaving Syria this morning, and he talked about the visits that he had made to countries in the region as part of the preparations for the Geneva II conference.  He said that everyone he has spoken to wants to contribute, one way or the other, to prepare for Geneva II and put an end to the crisis in Syria.

He said that he had met in Damascus with President Bashar al-Assad and other Syrian officials, as well as with a large number of representatives of political parties and civil society organizations, and intellectuals concerned about events in their country.  Mr. Brahimi has since travelled to Beirut, where he met with Lebanon’s President, acting Prime Minister and Speaker of Parliament.

Meanwhile, Sigrid Kaag, the Special Coordinator of the Joint Mission of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the United Nations, has travelled to Moscow.  She is expected to come to New York next week for talks here at United Nations Headquarters, and to brief the Security Council.

** Myanmar

The UN refugee agency said today that the Bay of Bengal’s annual sailing season — when thousands of desperate people flee Myanmar’s Rakhine State on rickety boats — may have begun.  The agency said that it has received reports that more than 1,500 people boarded boats in northern Rakhine State last week, as well as reports that people have drowned off the coast of Rakhine.  The number of boat departures from the Bay of Bengal has risen dramatically since June last year, when violence erupted in Rakhine.

The refugee agency said it is afraid that, as the rainy season comes to an end and the sailing season starts in earnest, more people could feel compelled to leave by boat, subjecting themselves to exploitation by smugglers.  And to stem this outflow, the agency believes the Myanmar Government and international community need to step up efforts to promote reconciliation and economic development in Rakhine State, and also pursue practical measures to ensure basic human rights so that the Rohingya can lead normal lives wherever they are.

It also continues to call for States in the region to step up actions to prevent such tragedies, in particular by strengthening regional cooperation and ensuring that the humanitarian and protection needs of all people moving irregularly are properly met.

**Security Council

China has taken up the presidency of the Security Council for the month of November, replacing Azerbaijan.  Ambassador Liu Jieyi of China, the new Council President, will brief the press in this room on the Council’s programme of work for this month, and that will take place on Monday at 12:30 p.m.

So questions, please?  Oleg and then Matthew?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thanks, Martin.  Can you please give us details, when will this upcoming visit of the Secretary-General and the General [sic] of the World Bank to Sahel will take place?  When will they leave New York?

Spokesperson:  They will be there next week, and they will be arriving in Mali.  It’s starting in Mali on Monday, and then moving on, after spending time in Mali on Tuesday, moving on to the other three countries.  We will be providing a few more details as we go along on that.  Basically, it is that coming week and the first port of call is Mali.  And as the Secretary-General mentioned, there will be this regional ministerial meeting that takes place in Bamako.  That will be on the Tuesday, on the 5th.  And as he mentioned, there will be a large number — 30-plus — ministerial-level representatives at that meeting.  Matthew?

Question:  Sure, also on the trip, I wanted to know, first, whether they will be going to northern Mali and what steps will be taken, since it seems like a lot of the problems there had to do with a lack of development in the north and a lack of equity, whether these projects will by… in some… in some rigorous or… or required way, will serve the whole country.  And also, if there is any update on the rape allegations concerning MINUSMA (United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali), since the topic came up, what’s… where does that stand now?

Spokesperson:  I’ll get an update on that.  Obviously, as we have said before, this is a matter for the relevant troop-contributing country.  The United Nations [Department of] Peacekeeping Operations certainly has a keen interest to ensure that this is looked into properly.  And indeed, when the allegations first surfaced, a lot of work was done to look into that.  So, I’ll see if there is an update on that particular topic.  More broadly, the first part of your question, this is part of a regional tour.  Mali is the first stop, and there is a keen interest in looking at the Sahel region as a whole.  You are absolutely right that security is a key aspect of this, along with development and humanitarian work, particularly on resilience.  So, that is what I would have for you at this point.  Yes, George?

Question:  In relation to the trip, can you just tell me where else they are going, and may I assume we will get some kind of daily updates thereon?  And may I assume, also, we will get a transcript of the press conference that was held here an hour ago with Dr. [Jim Yong] Kim and the [Secretary-General]?  And, on a totally separate matter, if I may:  on the Syria situation, I recall reading two reports that seemed to contradict each other.  The second one was that they had completed their destruction of the various chemical weapon stockpiles, but previously, I read that there were two stockpile sites that were in contested areas.  Does that mean those two sites have not been disposed of, or what can you tell me about it?

Spokesperson:  Right.  Well, on the first question, George, the countries being visited are Mali, as I mentioned, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad.  Those are the countries being visited.  The transcript of the remarks by the Secretary-General and the question-and-answer part will be available, and I know it may seem like a long time ago, but it finished, I think, only about 20 minutes ago.  So, my colleagues are working hard on that and as soon as it is ready, we will obviously provide that.

What we have said — the OPCW and the United Nations in the form of the joint mission in Syria — is that the sites where chemical weapons production facilities were located have been verified and the equipment — for example, mixing and filling equipment that was located at those sites — has been rendered inoperable by the Syrian authorities, observed, monitored, verified by the inspectors from this joint team.  There are, as you pointed out, 23 sites; 21 were visited, two were not.  It remains the intention of the mission to visit those two sites when conditions allow.  But, as I said yesterday already, and was said clearly by the OPCW and the UN joint mission, the team is satisfied that the material, the production equipment that was located at those sites, was moved to other sites by the Syrian authorities where it could be looked at.  So, that equipment was moved and rendered inoperable.  That doesn’t mean that they do not wish to visit those sites.  As I said yesterday, there are no further inspection plans at this time.  But, when conditions allow, they would certainly want to visit those two remaining locations.  Yes, Edie?  Could you use the microphone, please?  Sorry.  Yeah?

Question:  Yes, sorry.  Mr. Brahimi said today in Damascus that he wasn’t sure that the Geneva II conference would take place in November, and that the main stumbling block appears to be getting the opposition to come and to be together.  The Secretary-General just said he was hopeful.  What is being done to try and get the opposition into a unified delegation?  Is Nasser al-Kidwa somewhere in the region at the moment?

Spokesperson:  A great deal is being done, and not just by Mr. Brahimi and Mr. al-Kidwa, but others, too, with influence on the various parties involved.  Mr. Brahimi did, indeed, say that it was desirable for there to be a single opposition delegation.  That’s something that we have said consistently.  And the Secretary-General, indeed, just a short while ago, did say that the aim was for this conference to take place within the month of November.  So, that’s where we are at the moment.  Everybody knows that this is difficult.  Everybody knows that there are differences and strong voices in different directions.  But, the aim here is to try to corral those different parties and to try to bring them to the table as soon as possible.  And when we get to 5 November in Geneva, there will be a meeting between Mr. Brahimi and [ United States] and Russian officials to take stock of his visit to the region and the work that is also being done by his Russian and American counterparts.  So, obviously, that meeting on Tuesday is where they will be able to take stock.  Yes, Somini, please?

Question:  Hi, can you hear me?

Spokesperson:  Now I can.

Question:  Okay.  Mr. Brahimi also said that the meeting on 5 November would be the permanent five and other States.  Do you have any more information about who else might be participating in that meeting?  And secondly, is there anything to report on Saudi Arabia’s Security Council seat?

Spokesperson:  On the last question, no.  On the first one, I would need to check with Mr. Brahimi, who, after all, is the person who will be at that meeting.  And certainly the intention was to have a trilateral meeting with, as I just mentioned, the Russian and American authorities, and then for there to be a meeting that brought in the other permanent members of the Security Council.  I will need to check with Mr. Brahimi and his team whether other countries are also involved at this point.  Yes, George, and then I will come to you again, Matthew.  Yes?

Question:  Since Mr. Brahimi is an important UN official, I assume we’d get some summary, if not a transcript, of his press conference?

Spokesperson:  We did already; we did already, George.

Question:  It’s already on its way to us, then?

Spokesperson:  It’s out there, George.  The one from Damascus is out there, and there will be one, George, also from Beirut.

Correspondent:  Okay, thank you.

Correspondent:  It’s out.

Spokesperson:  It’s out, as well, there you are.  So, you are ahead of me, see?  We may need to check that we have your e-mail address correctly, if you are not seeing it, okay?  Please, yes?  I’ll come back to you, Matthew.

Question:  Gabrielle Falcon, Talk Radio News Service.  In relation to the epidemic of cholera in Haiti, can you give me a bit of an update on whether UN efforts to clean up the mess that was created when raw sewage was dumped into the major tributary have… has managed to stem the tide, so to speak, of cholera?

Spokesperson:  As you know, a lot of work is being done by the United Nations and the Haitian authorities with regard to the cholera epidemic.  And I think we have provided quite a lot of detail, and I’d be happy to provide that to you afterwards, as well.  So… yes, Matthew?

Question:  Sure, I wanted to ask you about… about one of the questions that… that Mr. Brahimi was asked in… in… in his press conference in Damascus was about Saudi Arabia refusing… refusing his request to visit.  And he said it was a speech and not a question, but I didn’t… as read… as I read it, I didn’t see him say yes or no.  Can you say whether he asked to visit Saudi Arabia and whether this request was denied, as the question has it?

Spokesperson:  Well, with the greatest respect, Matthew, if Mr. Brahimi didn’t answer the question, I don’t think you’d expect that I would.

Correspondent:  It seems important…

Spokesperson:  So what’s… what’s…

Question:  Okay, I wanted to ask you also, Uganda has complained that [the Democratic Republic of the Congo] has bombed across its border.  Since the UN… the UN is… has been in support in a civi… protection of civilians capacity of the FARDC (Congolese Armed Forces) action, one, can they… can they confirm that a bomb crossed the border into Uganda, and, two, what… what does it say about this?

Spokesperson:  Well, there is a Joint Verification Mechanism, and I will check whether, through that conduit, anything has been established by the peacekeeping mission, but I don’t have anything at this point, Matthew.

Question:  Uganda has also called for a ceasefire.  I just wondered, relatedly… related to that, Uganda has called for… for… for a ceasefire and a resumption of the Kampala talks, is that something that the UN supports?

Spokesperson:  Well, actually the Kampala talks never stopped, Matthew.  They’ve…

Question:  Okay.  Ceasefire?

Spokesperson:  The Kampala talks never stopped, Matthew.  They continued at a working technical level and that is still the case, as I understand it.

Question:  What about the ceasefire?  What about the idea of a ceasefire?  Sorry.

Spokesperson:  We have seen various reports.  Ultimately, of course, the whole intention is to stop the fighting, but this is something that is being dealt with by the Kampala talks, and I will check to see if we have anything further from Mary Robinson on this.  I think I saw your hand, Masood?

Question:  Yes, sir.  I want to ask you, Martin, about whether the Secretary-General has already, over the day, just issued any statement on Israeli attack inside Syria yesterday and its attack today, killing four Palestinians?

Spokesperson:  Well, we have obviously seen the media reports, but we don’t have any direct information on this topic ourselves regarding bombing reports that you mentioned.  But, the Secretary-General urges all parties to avoid any actions that could increase tensions, and to respect the sovereignty of all countries in the region.

Question:  What about this, the attack in Gaza, where four people were killed?

Spokesperson:  I beg your pardon, yes, say it again with the microphone please, Masood.

Correspondent:  Oh, I’m sorry.  I’m sorry.  Sorry about this.  The thing is that thi… this one is stuck in there so hard, you can’t pull it out.  The…

Spokesperson:  Just like me here.

Question:  [Laughter] I wanted to ask just about these four Palestinians killed by the Israeli strikes today?  That is the second question.

Spokesperson:  Right.  Thank you, Masood.  Well, we are obviously very concerned about the recent escalation of hostilities between Israel and Hamas.  The Secretary-General calls on all to refrain from violence and exercise restraint.  And all should abide by the understanding on a ceasefire that was established in November of last year.  And, I would also add that we are concerned here at the United Nations about the humanitarian consequences of a deterioration of the situation there.

Question:  Another follow-up on the thing that… I know that Secretary-General yesterday issued a statement, or day before, on the settlements issue that it is wrong and so forth, but the thing is, has Secretary-General had any substantive talks with the Israeli authorities?  It’s like a ritual; every month they do it and Secretary-General says this and they go ahead.

Spokesperson:  I think the statement speaks for itself, Masood.

Thanks very much, have a good afternoon.  Thank you.

* *** *

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