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

5 November 2013

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

5 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 Farhan Haq, Acting Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon.

**Secretary-General in Mali

The Secretary-General was just in Timbuktu, in Mali.  He met there with community and religious leaders, as well as local authorities.  He also visited the Djingareyber Mosque and the Ahmed Bab Institute of Higher Learning and Islamic Research.

While in Timbuktu, he made a call for peace and reconciliation.  He said that, for centuries, the treasures of the city have symbolized the richness of Mali’s cultures and communities and that he hoped they would be an inspiration to tackle deep-rooted challenges and forge the peace that all Malians need and deserve.

Earlier this morning in Bamako, the Secretary-General addressed the Ministerial Meeting on the Sahel.  He said that his joint visit to the Sahel with the leaders of the African Union, the World Bank, the European Union and the African Development Bank was a symbol of their commitment to the region.  He added that the joint delegation was there to express its solidarity through words and to show it through action.  The Secretary-General also underlined the leadership of the Governments of the Sahel in solving the region's problems.  He said the Sahel could and would go forward, but that it can only do so united.

Later today, the Secretary-General will hold a press conference in Bamako.  We will have a transcript available as soon as possible.

**Security Council

The Security Council just held consultations on Syria this morning.  Sigrid Kaag, the Special Coordinator of the joint mission of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the United Nations, provided an update to Council members on the mission’s work.  And you will have seen that she just spoke at the Council stakeout.

** Syria

The Joint Special Representative for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, and Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman met today in Geneva with Russian Deputy Foreign Ministers Mikhail Bogdanov and Gennady Gatilov, and United States Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman.

They then held another meeting in the afternoon with the five permanent members of the Security Council.  At the initiative of the United States and the Russian Federation, a meeting was then convened of the five permanent members of the Security Council and Syria's neighbouring countries of Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, as well as the United Nations and the League of Arab States.

Lakhdar Brahimi intends to hold a press conference, which is to take place about now in Geneva. That press conference will be available live and on-demand on the UN webcast site at webtv.un.org.

**Democratic Republic of Congo

The Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region, Mary Robinson, and his Special Representative for the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Martin Kobler, together with the envoys of the African Union, the European Union and the United States welcomed the announcement of the M23 (23 March Movement) to end its rebellion and the commitment of the Government of the DRC (Democratic Republic of the Congo) to end combat and complete steps agreed to as part of the Kampala Dialogue.

In a joint statement, the envoys urged both parties to conclude the political process by signing a principled agreement that ensures the timely disarmament and demobilization of the M23 and accountability for perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The envoys added that this is only one step towards addressing the persistent conflict and instability in the DRC, and in ensuring an end to all illegitimate armed actors in the country, including the FDLR [Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda].  The statement is available online and in our office.

And in response to questions, I can confirm that the UN [Organization Stabilization] Mission [in the Democratic Republic of the Congo], MONUSCO, used artillery and attack helicopter strikes yesterday to support the Congolese Armed Forces in neutralizing M23 weapons firing on civilians in the area of Bunagana and Chengerero.

** Myanmar

The Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Myanmar, Vijay Nambiar, took part as an observer in peace talks between the Government and ethnic armed organizations yesterday and today in Kachin.

Mr. Nambiar said that this was the first meeting between the Government and these organizations in decades, and represents a significant move forward in the national reconciliation process.  Both sides agreed to pave the way for a political dialogue by undertaking a nationwide ceasefire, among other actions.

Mr. Nambiar said that he was encouraged by the constructive spirit that characterized the deliberations and by the fact that so many groups have been able to come together on a common platform for their dialogue with the Government.  He reiterated that he believes that a peaceful solution to the conflicts in Myanmar is a critical priority for the future of the country and its people.  The United Nations will continue to assist and support the people of Myanmar as the country continues on its path towards peace and democracy.  Mr. Nambiar’s full statement is available online.

** Maldives

The Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Oscar Fernandez-Taranco, will begin a two-day mission to the Maldives tomorrow, where he will meet with key political actors and Government officials prior to the presidential election scheduled for 9 November.

He will stress the importance of holding the elections as planned and ensuring a constitutional path forward, encouraging Maldivian political leaders and Government officials to fulfil their responsibilities towards the democratic process.  The visit coincides with that of the Special Envoy of the Commonwealth Secretary-General for the Maldives, Sir Don McKinnon, and reflects the very close coordination between the United Nations and the Commonwealth on the situation in the Maldives.

**United Nations Environment Programme

In the lead up to the United Nations summit on climate change in Warsaw, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) issued a new report on emissions today.  “The Emissions Gap Report 2013” finds that failure to tackle excessive greenhouse gas output will exacerbate challenges to mitigate the impact of climate change after 2020.

The UN Environment Programme Executive Director, Achim Steiner, has said that delayed actions mean more climate impacts and continued use of carbon-intensive infrastructure.  He also said that this would slow down the introduction of climate-friendly technologies and narrow the developmental choices that would place the global community on the path to a green future.  A press release with more details is available on the agency’s website.

**Senior Appointment

Today, the Secretary-General is announcing the appointment of Michael Møller of Denmark as Acting Head of the UN Office in Geneva.  Mr. Møller will replace Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.  The Secretary-General is grateful for Mr. Tokayev’s outstanding contribution and commitment in spearheading the Organization’s work.  Mr. Møller brings to the position a wealth of experience, having served for more than 30 years as an international civil servant in the United Nations.  His full biography is available in our office.

** Egypt

Finally, I was asked yesterday about our reaction to the trial of Mohamed Morsy.  I can say that the Secretary-General reiterates that all who are detained must be treated humanely and afforded all judicial guarantees under domestic and international law.  He calls upon the Interim Government to ensure fair trials based on credible investigations.

That’s it for me.  Any questions, please?  Going once…  Okay.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  I missed the very beginning of your presentation, but do you have anything on Yemen?  There was an announced ceasefire and then there were reports that it’s falling apart and I know that Mr. [Jamal] Benomar has been involved.  Do you have any…any readout on that?  What’s the UN’s involvement?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, we did…I read out a note yesterday, so I’d refer you back to yesterday’s noon briefing about Yemen.  But yes, Mr. Benomar has been participating, trying to make sure that the parties — the Houthis and the various other parties — and the Government come together, and so I’d just refer you back to what I read then.

Correspondent:  But, there seem to be reports that, that what was announced yesterday has since “unravelled”.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, we’ve seen the reports.  We’re hopeful, of course, that the parties will abide by their commitments.  Again, I’d just refer you to what Mr. Benomar and we announced yesterday on this.  Yes, Ali?

Question:  It’s obvious that Geneva II conference is not going to be held this month.  Is there a firm date for that conference?  Is there any agreement on the day?  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, as we’ve said before about the Geneva II conference, it’s the Secretary-General’s decision on when to convene this conference and he’ll announce a date when it’s appropriate.  That remains the case.  Beyond that, I believe that, within the hour, Mr. Brahimi will be talking to the press in Geneva and that will also be available on the UN webcast and you can see what he has to say about the result of today’s meetings, which, as we have said before, was in good part a stock-taking exercise to determine where we stand.

Question:  On the developments in the eastern DRC, with the M23 basically ending its insurgency, what I wanted to know, is there any… can MONUSCO say anything about its plans with regard to the FDLR (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda)?  Some people had said it was M23 first and then FDLR.  Is there some time scheduled for them to either disarm or be disarmed?  And also, there were some reports which, I don’t know if they’re true or not, of Mr. Kobler trying to arrange exile for some of the M23 leaders and I’m wondering if you can deny that or confirm that.  Is the UN playing any role in seeking some future location for the M23 leaders?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I’ll check whether MONUSCO has had any role in relocation.  Regarding your first question, one of the things we pointed out — and it’s available in the press release by the envoys, including Mary Robinson — is that the disarmament of the M23 is only one step towards addressing the persistent conflict and instability in the DRC, and ensuring an end to all illegitimate armed actors in the country, including the FDLR.  So, we will continue to pursue that.  And the full statement is available in the office.  Hold on… Oleg?

Question:  Thank you.  Farhan, can you provide an update on the [Åke] Sellström mission in Syria?  Did they finish the analysis of the last probes?  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Yeah.  Hold on; on that, what I can tell you is that Professor Sellström is currently working on the final report, in coordination with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and World Health Organization (WHO) experts that were part of the UN mission.  A number of samples are still being analysed by the designated laboratories.  The results are expected to be provided to us sometime this week.  And so, hopefully, that part will be done then.  The final report is expected to be finalized in early December, further to the evaluation of all information gathered by the UN mission.  Yes, Joe?

Question:  Yes, a follow-up.  Will the final report include all the seven sites?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, as you know, we already… Dr. Sellström’s team already, Professor Sellström’s team, rather, already provided a report on the 21 August Goutha incident.  That will be part of this report.  But, it should have all of the other sites that they were trying to analyse.  Yes, Joe?

Question:  Yes, in her remarks to the press earlier this morning, Ms. Kaag had indicated that the UN trust fund had, if I heard correctly, about $2 million and the OPCW trust fund had about $10 million.  She said that the latter was probably sufficient, at least for the rest of the year, for the OPCW.  I did not hear her say the same about the UN portion of this joint mission.  Not only for the balance of this year, but looking into next year, what is the target for the budget to get us through to the middle of next year, when this destruction of chemical weapons is supposed to be completed?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, it’s a joint mission, so the money collected by both trust funds goes towards the Joint Mission.  And so, the belief is that it’s sufficient, as Ms. Kaag said, for the work that’s going on through the end of this year.  More money will probably be needed, but we’ll make… continue to make assessments, as money goes into the various trust funds, and see what else is needed.  But, for now, the belief on our side, which is shared, I believe, by our colleagues in the OPCW, is we have enough money through the end of this year.

Question:  Is any money planned to come out of either a contingency budget or out of the regular budget, UN budget, next year?  Or is the reliance going to be entirely on this trust fund?

Deputy Spokesperson:  We’ll see what else is needed.  At this stage, we’ll also be reporting back to the various bodies — the Executive Council of the OPCW and, of course, the Member States here at the United Nations — about the funding needs of the mission and we’ll see what response they have on that.

Question:  I wanted to ask something else, just to follow-up on Oleg’s question… is there some… because it seemed like a big delay in Sellström’s second report.  It was supposed to be the end of October, and then suddenly, it was going to be early December.  What… what explains this… this more than a month turning-back-of-the-clock to have the report finished?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, they’re evaluating all relevant information.  And, like I said, a number of samples are still being analysed.  Hopefully, we’ll be getting the results sometime over the course of this week and then they can provide their analysis.  But, this is their big, final report, so they need to take a certain amount of time and we’ll give them however much time they need.

Question:  Sure, I just remember, when they left the country, it was said that this would be finished by the end of October.  So, I just wonder, is there some sort of description you could give of what changed?  Like, they knew that they had to get samples analysed.  They knew all these things.  Did the tests take longer?  Did they collect more material than they thought they would?  Just, what explains it?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I think what we’ll do is we’ll wait for the report to describe what their work was.  This is the time that the experts themselves feel they need in order to get the work done appropriately.  And so, that’s what we’ll do.

Question:  And do you have anything on Gaza?  There seems to be a lot of… there was the power plant stopped having power and now it seems like there’s a total ban on construction materials.  Is there some… what’s the UN doing to try to address what seems to be a pretty serious humanitarian situation there?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, as you know, we’ve repeatedly talked about the need to get basic materials, including construction materials, into Gaza.  Robert Serry has taken this matter up and has also briefed the Security Council on this.  And this continues to be our belief.  The Office of the UN Special Coordinator, that is to say, Mr. Serry’s office, continues to try to work to make sure that some of the needed items get into Gaza.  But of course, this is something that has been a problem for some time now.  We continue to emphasize the need for normal life, and normal commercial traffic, to be able to go into and out of Gaza.

Correspondent:  Can I ask one…just one… I just want to ask a clarification.  I don’t mean to stop anyone, I just don’t want you… before you take off, I want to be sure to ask it.  But… please.

Correspondent:  I wanted to follow up.  Are you?

Correspondent:  No, I have something totally different.  I just want to make sure I can ask it.  So, I’m yielding, happily.  I cede my time.

Question:  Okay, because I wanted to follow-up on the Gaza question.  Just factually, have all shipments into Gaza of construction materials, even to UN or other international agencies, stopped completely now?  Or are we talking only about building materials and such going through to Hamas?  And, what is the relationship of any change, in the UN’s mind, to the terror tunnels, which apparently prompted some of these closings?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, we stand against all terrorism.  And we certainly do not believe that material that has a military purpose should be going into and out of Gaza like that.

Correspondent:  Well, dual purpose…

Deputy Spokesperson:  What the United Nations has been talking about, and reporting about to the Security Council, for some time now, is simple regular, commercial traffic of things that do not have a military purpose.  And I just refer you to what Robert Serry and other officials have been saying in our regular briefings to the Security Council.  We have been doing this basically monthly for some time now.

Question:  But again, he, in his last report, it was indicated there was not any impeding of building materials for UN and other international agencies.  We’re talking about, perhaps, the movement of materials to local, for local use, and of course, building materials can have dual uses.  So, could you clarify?  I mean, have the shipments been stopped altogether, including to international agencies?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I’m not suggesting that shipments have been stopped altogether.  But, there have been problems, both problems in terms of delays and problems in terms of blockages, with a wide range of materials, including concrete and construction materials.  Again, I just refer you to the regular briefings that the Council has received on this.

Correspondent:  Yeah, I mean, just… it seems like the UN has announced that they stopped all but two projects, I just want to… maybe if you put out something later today, if we can just understand what the status is.

But this is, what I wanted to ask you, and I just… because it’s, just to get it out of the way… I really appreciated the answer you gave yesterday about this stake-out question.  I understood that you said… but I just, I wanted to make sure I totally understand it.  An answer was provided that said that when the Security Council meets, the stake-out is set up outside the Security Council and is available for participants in the Council meeting.  So, [Frente] Polisario was blocked, and I guess the idea is that they weren’t a participant, because they couldn’t go into consultations.  But, many times, there’s meetings of consultations on Sudan sanctions, for example, or today’s meeting on Syria.  My question is, in… just to understand your answer, was Syria, for example, a participant in today’s meeting, since their country was being discussed?  But, they weren’t out of… what does it mean to say participants can use it.  That’s what I want to understand.

Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything further on that, beyond what the language was that we shared with you.

Question:  Right.  And was this, is this, from the Security Council or DPI (Department of Public Information)?  Who’s this answer from, so I can pursue it?

Deputy Spokesperson:  That was language from DPI.  And for anything more, I think you really need to go to the members of the Security Council.

Correspondent:  Okay.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Have a good afternoon, everyone.

* *** *

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