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

25 November 2013

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

25 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 press briefing.

** Syria

As you all know, the Secretary-General announced this morning that the Geneva Conference on Syria will take place on Wednesday, 22 January, next year.  He said that all parties can and must begin now to take the steps to help the Geneva Conference succeed, including steps towards the cessation of violence, humanitarian access, the release of detainees and the return of Syrian refugees and internally displaced to their homes.

Lakhdar Brahimi, the Joint Special Representative for Syria, spoke to reporters in Geneva a short while ago.  And that was following a meeting with senior [ United States] and Russian officials.  He said that the Geneva II conference is a huge opportunity for peace that shouldn’t be wasted.  And he appealed to the Syrian parties to take measures to build confidence prior to and during the conference.

Also, Sigrid Kaag, the Special Coordinator of the Joint Mission of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the United Nations, returned to Damascus today.  She will meet with Syrian officials in the coming days on the work of the Joint Mission.

**Security Council

Nickolay Mladenov, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, briefed the Security Council this morning on the work of the UN Mission in the country.  He said that the conflict in Syria has added a regional dimension to sectarian tensions in Iraq.  Mr. Mladenov called for an environment in which Iraq’s ethnic and religious communities can find a balance without undue outside influence.  We have copies of his remarks in my office, and I understand that he will be speaking at the Security Council stakeout.

And earlier today, the Security Council extended the mandate of the UN Interim Security Force in Abyei (UNISFA) until the end of May of next year.  And in a presidential statement, the Council welcomed the recent progress made with regard to ending war crimes and crimes against humanity in Central Africa by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).  It reiterated its resolve to maintain the current momentum until a permanent end to the threat posed by the Lord’s Resistance Army has been achieved.

And this afternoon, the Deputy Secretary-General will brief the Security Council on the Central African Republic, and he is expected to say that a country in the heart of Africa is descending into complete chaos before our eyes.  And the Deputy Secretary-General intends to speak at the Security Council stakeout after that briefing to the Council.

** Great Lakes

The Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region, Mary Robinson, has begun a week-long mission to help shore up peace efforts in the region.  She started her tour in Tanzania and will then visit Rwanda, the Republic of Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Uganda.

The Special Envoy will focus on both the immediate priority of reaching an agreed outcome to the Kampala Dialogue and on encouraging progress in implementing the broader commitments of the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Region.

At the outset of her mission, Mrs. Robinson said that developments over the past month have brought renewed hope to the people in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, but that further efforts are needed to ensure that the country is rid of all negative forces and security is re-established sustainably.  And there is a press release on this in my office.

** Darfur

Yesterday, the Secretary-General condemned in the strongest terms the attack by unidentified armed assailants on a convoy of the African Union-United Nations Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) in which one Rwandan peacekeeper was killed.

The Secretary-General said he expects the Government of Sudan to take swift action to bring the perpetrators of this and previous attacks on UNAMID to justice.  You can find his statement online, as well as a statement by the African Union–United Nations Joint Special Representative.

** Philippines

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction, Margareta Wahlström, visited the Philippines last week.  While in the country, she attended a meeting bringing together senior officials from insurance, banking, airline, communication, tourism, hotel and other industries in Asia in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan to bolster resilience and to promote sustainable development.  Ms. Wahlström met with the authorities and representatives of the private sector and civil society in Bantayan Island and other parts of Cebu Province.  She highlighted the importance of building back safer and differently.

** Lebanon

The Deputy Secretary-General convened a meeting of the International Support Group for Lebanon today to review progress since the inaugural meeting of the Group under the chairmanship of the Secretary-General on 25 September in the presence of Michel Sleiman, the President of the Republic of Lebanon.  The UN Special Coordinator, Derek Plumbly, briefed those at the meeting and he provided an update on recent developments.

**Violence against Women

As you know, the United Nations is commemorating the International Day to End Violence against Women.  Hence the orange tie.  In a message for the Day, the Secretary-General says that one way to make a difference is to support the United Nations Trust Fund to End Violence against Women, which helps respond to human rights violations.  It also deals with a wide range of topics, and with needs ranging from physical safety to economic security.

While the demand for its grants has more than doubled in recent years, the amount the Fund has been able to distribute has diminished by 60 per cent.  The Secretary-General appeals to all partners to help meet this vast unmet demand for resources to further advance efforts to prevent and end violence against women and girls.  The full message is available in my office.

**United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime

The head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said today that corruption is the thief of economic and social development, stealing the opportunities of ordinary people to progress and to prosper.  Yury Fedotov was speaking at the opening of the fifth Session of the Conference of States Parties to the UN Convention against Corruption, which is under way in Panama City.  He noted the connections between corruption and sustainable development.  He said that corruption was not simply a crime, but that it instigates transnational organized crime and drug trafficking.  There is more information on the Conference on the website of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.

**Press Conferences

And finally on press conferences tomorrow:  tomorrow, at 11 a.m., there will be a press conference here by Mohammed Assaf, the Regional Youth Ambassador of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), to mark the forthcoming International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, which is marked on 29 November.  A press release with further details on this event can be found in my office.

And then, at noon tomorrow, Leila Zerrougui, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, will be my guest.  And she will brief on her recent visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

And that’s what I have, and I am happy to take questions.  Yes, Edie?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  I know Mr. Brahimi answered a few questions, but I have a few more.

Spokesperson:  I am sure you do.

Question:  First, has the Secretary-General gotten assurances from the Syrian Government and from the opposition of their commitment to the Geneva I agenda?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think that what you will note from what the Secretary-General has said in his statement is that the Security Council endorsed the full implementation of the Geneva communiqué, in other words, from 30 June last year; and that the Secretary-General expects all regional and international partners to demonstrate their support for constructive negotiations.  And with regard to the delegations, I think you also will have heard Mr. Brahimi say that discussions continue, and there will be a further trilateral meeting, possibly the last before the Geneva II conference actually takes place.  And that further trilateral meeting will be on 20 December.  So, it is obvious that there are still things to be decided, the exact composition of the opposition delegation being a part of that.  And I think also — I just do want to explain — I do understand your frustrations in this room that the Secretary-General did not take questions this morning.  The simple reason for that was that the trilateral meeting was still going on at that point and we didn’t want to get in the way of what was still unfolding in Geneva at that point.  I do understand the frustrations, and if I can help to alleviate that, I am happy to do so at this point.

Question:  That… Martin, as a follow-up to that, that’s a very good explanation, but didn’t really answer my questions of whether the Secretary-General actually got a commitment from the Syrian Government or from the opposition that the agenda was going to be implementation of Geneva I.

Spokesperson:  Well, what he said is that the goal of this conference, which after all, is a conference for the Syrians — all Syrians — the goal of this conference is the full implementation of the Geneva communiqué, and that includes establishing, based on mutual consent, a transitional governing body with full executive powers, including over military and security entities, and the Secretary-General expects that the Syrian representatives will come to Geneva with a clear understanding that this is the objective.  Okay?

Correspondent:  I’ll come back later with my second question.

Spokesperson:  Please do.  Yes, I am going to Karaman, and then to Pamela.

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  Mr. Brahimi said in Geneva today that the Secretary-General was in favour of inviting Iran and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to the talks.  You said that there were decisions to be made, especially next month.  Who makes the decision about whom to invite?  And if it’s the Secretary-General and if he is in favour of inviting them, why are you not declaring it?  Thank you.

Spokesperson:  What Mr. Brahimi said was that Iran and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia are certainly among the list of possible participants, but he said that that list of invitees was still being discussed.  And that remains the case, and that’s one of the reasons for this next trilateral meeting on 20 December, and of course, the work that will go on between now and then, and between then and the date for the talks in January.  So, the Secretary-General and in fact the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States have said they are in favour of inviting Iran.  But, of course, there are discussions that need to continue.  Pamela?

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  Just as a follow-up to that, has the Secretary-General reached out to Iran or Saudi Arabia to attend in any way in this lead-up to it?

Spokesperson:  Well, at the moment, the discussions have been taking place in that trilateral format, and then with the inclusion through various diplomatic channels of other regional players.  So, I think I would leave it there at that point.

Question:  All right, then let me just ask you, one of the P5 Ambassadors said today that they thought the Iran deal on the weekend on nuclear… their nuclear programme might… might entail a change to a Security Council resolution or require it.  I know it would be up to the Security Council, but would the Office of Legal Affairs, or would the Secretary-General have an opinion about whether or not a Security Council resolution would be required to lift some of the sanctions that are lifted in the agreement?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think you are right that it is a matter for the Council.  As you will have seen at the weekend, the Secretary-General warmly welcomed this interim agreement that was reached over the weekend in Geneva with regard to the nuclear programme of Iran, and he is urging the Governments concerned to do everything possible to build on this encouraging start.  And specifically, he calls on all members of the international community to support this process, which, if allowed to succeed, is likely to be to the long-term benefit of all parties.  But, on the details, particularly with regard to the Security Council, I think that’s very much in their hands.  Yes, Masood?  And then Timothy.  Yes, of course, yes, microphone.  Thank you for the voice in the back.

Question:  Sorry about this.  Yeah, Martin, I just wanted to ask you on Syria, that is, the selection, or the so-called… I mean, agreement to allow who is going to be attending the conference on behalf of the opposition groups and Syrian groups, who will make that decision?  Or if that decision already been made, and will Mr. Brahimi announce this… about this, would you be able to tell us?

Spokesperson:  If you are speaking about the opposition, Mr. Brahimi said that the Syrian National Coalition will play an important role in forming the delegation, but that we have said all along that — and Mr. Brahimi specifically has said all along — that a delegation representing the opposition needs to be credible and it needs to be representative.  And so, therefore, this will be in the hands of the opposition.  And furthermore, what Mr. Brahimi said — and a very important point — is that this is not an event, this is a process.  And in that process, he would certainly feel that everybody who wants to participate in that process will be able to do so.  Timothy?  And then I am coming to you, yes, and then to you.

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  Announcing the date is clearly a major step, but given… I mean, you said there are still decisions to be taken, quite important decisions, so how confident is the Secretary-General in this date of 22 January?  Is there flexibility for it to be moved back at all?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think, Tim, you are right that this is an important point that we have reached.  And after all, it has taken long enough to reach this particular point to announce a date, which is 22 January.  And that would be the first time since the beginning of the Syrian conflict that you will have the Syrian Government and the Syrian opposition sitting at a negotiating table.  And as I have just said, this is about the Syrian people and the incredible suffering they continue to endure.  So, this is what it is about.  He believes… the Secretary-General believes that this is a mission of hope and that is the message that he would carry to Geneva.  Is it going to be easy to get to 22 January without any hiccups?  Probably not.  There are still decisions to be taken, and that’s why there will be this trilateral meeting, why there will be other efforts through different channels between now and then.  But, the Secretary-General is confident in announcing the date today that this conference can take place on that date; but to stress that this is the beginning of a process and not an event in itself, important though that first day obviously will be.  Yes, please?

Question:  Thank you.  Martin, what would be the role the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) during the next six months, in terms of Iran?  We understand that they report to the United Nations and sometimes to the Security Council, if required.  Would they be involved in a process of visiting the nuclear plants in Iran?  Would they be able to give reports?  How… and if you have any information on that?  And then lastly, what is the reaction of the Secretary-General in terms of the Prime Minister of Israel calling this “a historic mistake” after it was announced there was a deal made in Geneva?

Spokesperson:  Well, with regard to the International Atomic Energy Agency, I know that my colleagues in Vienna from the Agency would be very happy to help you to the extent that they can.  I don’t have anything specific here.  Simply to note that there are some provisions within that interim agreement for some kind of inspections, and therefore you would expect a role for the International Atomic Energy Agency, but it is for them to comment on precisely what form that would take.  With regard to your second question, I don’t have anything specific on that; I would simply refer you to what the Secretary-General himself said on this over the weekend.  Yes, please?

Question:  Good afternoon.  Tomorrow is the fifth anniversary of the Mumbai terror attacks in India.  Does the Secretary-General have any comment on that, because given that India has been asking its neighbour to bring the perpetrators of the attack to book?  So it’s been five years, so any message from the Secretary-General on that front?

Spokesperson:  It was a terrible crime, an awful terrorist attack, as we all know, and certainly, it is important that those who were responsible are brought to justice.  There has already been some action in that regard, as you well know.  If I have anything further on this, maybe tomorrow, then I will let you know.  I don’t at this point.  Erol?

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  Just as a follow-up on the previous question.  You said that the Secretary-General and the Arab League are both in favour of Saudi Arabia and Iran to participate

Spokesperson:  No, that’s not what I said.  And it’s not what I said, anyway, it’s what Mr. Brahimi said, and he is simply reiterating a position, which is that the Secretary-General of the United Nations and the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States have said they are in favour of inviting Iran.  And furthermore, earlier, in his press remarks, the Joint Special Representative was asked about the participation of Iran, the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and Mr. Brahimi said that they were certainly among the possible participants, but that the list of invitees was being discussed.

Question:  Okay, my question is very simple.  Is the Secretary-General the one who has the final authority to call those participants?  And is he indeed, beside the Joint Special Representative, is he, the Secretary-General, can you tell us, as his spokesperson, is he in favour of inviting those two countries?  And also, how do you explain the discrepancies since we as of last week were hearing from that podium that it is realistic for middle of December to have that conference held on Geneva II.  And last but not least, today’s tie is absolutely going to be unforgotten and it’s absolutely nice.

Spokesperson:  And with my thanks to my colleague Jerome Bernard, who provided it for me, as I had a little bit of a wardrobe problem this morning, but… as I usually do.  But, anyway, with regards to more weighty matters, although, of course, violence against women is something that is extremely important and hence we want to remember the day; with regards to these talks and the date, as you know, there have been efforts to convene this Geneva II Conference on Syria for quite some time and the Secretary-General has been quite forward-leaning, so to speak, in seeking a date as soon as possible.  The discussions that took place in Geneva over the weekend and today, the trilateral discussions, did come to the conclusion that 22 January, a Wednesday, was the day that this conference would be convened.  So, I think this is part of a process, a difficult and challenging process, and I think that the Secretary-General is appreciative of the efforts that have made by all of those parties and others to arrive at that date.

Question:  What was the major factor that helped Secretary-General to accept this new date?

Spokesperson:  I think it’s a simple reality of having the best possible confluence of circumstances and the best possible chance of having the people you need at the table, at the table, on that date.  Karaman, and I will come to you Matthew, I haven’t forgotten you.

Question:  Thank you, Martin, again.  Now, since this event is going to be very important, can we assume that the Secretary-General will be intending to attend this meeting in Geneva?

Spokesperson:  I think you can safely assume that, yes.  Matthew?

Question:  Sure, I wanted to ask, again, the sort of thinking of who will attend in the sense of the armed groups.  Will… is it the current thinking that armed groups on the ground… there has just been something called the Islamic Front formed, pretty high profile, a number of groups, some of whom are described as extremists, some of whom are not.  Is it the idea that unarmed groups will be carrying… have communicated with the armed groups and carried their message?  Or will some of these groups themselves, the Islamic Front in particular, ISIS, al-Nusra, are these precluded from going?  And the other question I wanted to ask is about Iran’s participation.  The [ United States] has said that they’re concerned about it because they haven’t sort of signed on to the Geneva I communiqué.  And I don’t know in what… is that… can you envision some kind of a public… is there a public statement required in order to come, to say we embrace this transition, or what… what’s the… what is the thinking on that?  And what would you say to those who say, like, since the [ United States] is concerned, the UN is concerned?

Spokesperson:  Well, with regard to that last throw-away line Matthew, I don’t really have much to say.  I think that the key point here is that there is a list of invitees that remains under discussion and therefore there’s not a lot that I can add at this point, except to say that it is under discussion.  And simply to reiterate that Mr. Brahimi said in his remarks that any delegation representing the Syrian opposition, indeed, any delegation representing the Government of Syria, needs to be credible and representative.  But, it will ultimately be for the Syrian opposition to decide how their delegation is composed and it’s not for the United Nations to say how that particular delegation should be put together.  It’s going to be for the opposition to decide among themselves, but clearly, in the course of what is a process and not an event, Mr. Brahimi believes, and the Secretary-General believes, too, that this is a Syrian-led process, and therefore, it needs to be as all-encompassing as possible.

Question:  Can you just… just one follow-up.  Thanks for that.  Can you say… I mean, groups that are said to be or acknowledged to be affiliated with Al-Qaida, could they attend?  Or is that precluded from the outset?  Or is that something that’s still…

Spokesperson:  Look, again, this is a work in progress.  A date has been set, a list of invitees is being discussed, including for key regional players, and I think that you need to check in with the opposition on their own plans with regard to their delegation.  Evelyn, please, yes?

Question:  Yes, thank you, Martin.  Do we know who agreed to this date?  I mean, did any of the splinter opposition… the United States and the United Nations, anyone else?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think you can take it as read that the Russian Federation, the United States and the United Nations agreed to that date.  I think you can also take it as read, that that date would not have been announced without considerable consultations beyond that trilateral group.  Thank you.  Mr. Barada, yes?

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  Are the neighbouring countries going to attend that conference?  This is my first question.  My second question is, [Associate Press] broke the story yesterday that there were… there were some secret talks between Iran and the United States.  I wonder whether the United Nations or any of the United Nations officials have played any role in that.  Thank you.

Spokesperson:  Well, I’ve also seen those reports by the [Associated Press] and then by others, I don’t have any knowledge of any UN involvement at all in that.  Remind me of your first question, I’m sorry?  Ah yes, regional, neighbouring countries.  Well, again, you will have seen in a previous meeting regarding Syria, the previous meeting, there was a trilateral meeting and then there was a meeting that involved the permanent five members of the Council and then a meeting that involved the regional players, primarily the neighbours of Syria.  And plainly, this is something that is an important angle and is something that is under discussion; again, there is a further meeting on the 20 December and between now and then, I’m sure that a lot more detail will be added to the amount of information that is already out there.

Question:  Just a quick follow-up.  Do we know when the invitations are going to be sent?

Spokesperson:   Well, certainly it will be the Secretary-General who sends them out and when they go out, I will be sure to let you know, Ali, okay?  Alright, Edie, and then I’m coming to you.  Yes?  It looked like it might be a follow-up, which is why I came to you.

Question:  It is; it is kind of a follow-up.  The announcement of Geneva II’s dates, the day after an agreement between the six parties and Iran has sparked discussion, particularly in the Middle East, of whether there is some sort of a grand plan afoot and whether it’s all connected by more than coincidence.  And I wonder if you comment on that and then I have a follow-up.

Spokesperson:  Well, both meetings took place in Geneva, but I think you also know that both tracks, which are very separate, both tracks have been going on in different formats, in different locations for quite some time.  In the case of this conference on Syria, there have been numerous meetings and very much focused on getting to announcing a date and then getting to the date to hold those talks, to begin that process.  So, I would simply say that it was a good weekend for diplomacy.

Correspondent:  Because, of course, there was an overlapping of players, key players in both agreements.

Spokesperson:  Well, not only was it a good weekend for diplomacy, it was a good weekend for Geneva city and for the United Nations Office in Geneva that happened to host these events.  Yes?

Correspondent:  The second part of my question was following up on the private negotiations that the [Associated Press] revealed yesterday…

Spokesperson:  Good plug.

Question:  Of course.   Are there any… are there any other back-channel negotiations between the [ United States], Iran, Syria, any of these others linking the Iran deal or at least the talks about it to progress on Syria?

Spokesperson:  Well, it sounds to me as though I’m going to hear first from the [Associated Press] on that.  But… please?

Question:  Thanks, Martin.  I wanted to switch gears to the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change).  Just, I was looking over the Secretary-General’s remarks from Tuesday in Warsaw, in which he said he was deeply concerned with the scale of actions so far on the climate and that COP-19 (nineteenth Conference of Parties) needed to be a crucial building… to build a crucial step towards the 2015 new treaty.  Given the contentious nature of some of the divisions that developed between country blocs near the end of negotiations over the weekend, does the [Secretary-General] think that what was agreed to in Warsaw constitutes the construction of such a crucial step to 2015?

Spokesperson:  Well, he certainly welcomed, as you saw over the weekend, the outcome of the Warsaw Climate Change Conference.  And what he said is that those decisions that were adopted in Warsaw can serve as an important stepping stone towards a universal legal agreement in 2015.  Of course, he welcomes that outcome document, but what he also is calling for is intensified action, because between now and 2015, you have the Secretary-General’s own summit meeting, which is not going to be a negotiating meeting, but an important meeting, that will be next September here in New York; and you have two further climate change conferences, one in Lima and one in Paris.  There is a huge amount that needs to be done to be able to get to 2015 and a legally binding document, but it is absolutely imperative that we do so.  The Secretary-General remains absolutely committed to that.  He has reiterated that again.  I was speaking to him this morning that we need an ambitious agreement and it’s absolutely crucial to keep the global temperature rise below 2°C.  He is determined and committed to continue to push that process with the help of the Member States within the Climate Change Conference and his summit, which will be held next September, right before the general debate, is intended to provide an additional political push to a negotiating process that will need to take place in Lima and in Paris.  I’m going to come to the last question please, Carla?  Could you switch the microphone on, please?

Question:  Sorry about that.  I was at the Security Council Chamber this morning when the delegate of Iraq made reference to the number of terrorist actions and groups that are operating in Iraq.  And then he made reference to the financing of these groups and nothing specific was said; so I was wondering, is that left to our imagination, or there some way… is there some documentation of what… what are they saying, where the money leads or where the sources of financing for these groups are coming from?

Spokesperson:  Well, this sounds like a job for your journalistic skills and I’m sure that you could follow up with the Iraqi delegation, if that is where the comments were made from.  And I would also simply refer you to two other potential sources:  one is the Secretary-General’s own report to the Council and also the work of the Counter-Terrorism Task Force, but I’ll leave it there and see you again tomorrow.

Thanks very much indeed.

* *** *

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