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

3 March 2014

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

3 March 2014
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, to those in the room and those watching by webcast.

**Secretary-General’s Travels

The Secretary-General is in Geneva today where he met with the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.  And they discussed the crisis in Ukraine and the importance of de-escalating the situation by engaging in constructive and meaningful dialogue.

Earlier, the Secretary-General said at a press conference that he had dispatched the Deputy-Secretary-General to Ukraine.  He said he’d had phone conversations yesterday with the President of France, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security, the President of Switzerland, whose country chairs the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) this year, and the Secretary General of the OSCE.  He said he had underscored the shared responsibility to assist in finding a peaceful resolution.  And the transcript of that press conference is already online.

And this morning, the Secretary-General opened the high level segment of the Human Rights Council's twenty-fifth session.  He stressed the Council's role for accountability and to put an end to impunity.  He also called for the promotion of international human rights norms and principles into development.  His full remarks are online and we are also putting out the readouts of his various meetings throughout the day.

And the Secretary-General also opened an exhibition to mark the first World Wildlife Day, which is today.

[The Spokesperson later said the Secretary-General had spoken with British Prime Minister David Cameron earlier today to discuss developments concerning Ukraine.]

**Deputy Secretary-General’s Travels

Still on Ukraine, the Deputy Secretary-General has indeed arrived in Kyiv today.  He was briefed by the UN Country Team on the latest developments on the ground.

The Deputy Secretary-General also held talks with diplomatic representatives, including the Ambassador of Switzerland, which, as I just said, chairs the OSCE this year, and also he met Astrid Thorns, the Organization’s High Commissioner on National Minorities. 

He will hold further consultations tomorrow, including with the interim President and acting Foreign Minister.  And we will keep you fully updated on his activities.

**Security Council

And as you will already have heard, the Security Council will hold a public meeting concerning Ukraine at 3:30 this afternoon.

The Security Council also met on Ukraine on Saturday.  The Deputy Secretary-General briefed the Council and told reporters afterwards that he had underlined the importance of calm, restraint and serious dialogue, both inside and outside Ukraine.  His remarks are available online.

Luxembourg has replaced Lithuania in the rotating Presidency of the Security Council.  And Ambassador Sylvie Lucas of Luxembourg will brief you at 12:30 p.m. tomorrow on the Council’s programme of work for this month.

** Democratic Republic of the Congo

The United Nations Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) intensified its fight against the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) this weekend.  Two helicopters from the Mission carried out an attack on Saturday against an ADF base in Asha Sites in North Kivu.  And this operation was conducted in support of the Congolese Armed Forces (FARDC).

The Head of the UN Mission, Martin Kobler, said that these operations had one clear objective: to put an end to the recurring attacks by the ADF against the civilian population.  He urged all the ADF fighters to lay down arms immediately and to enter UN-run camps.  The Mission remains determined to use all means to protect the population, which continues to be threatened by armed groups.

** Darfur

The African Union-United Nations Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) is deeply concerned over the reported burning and looting of a number of villages and the displacement of a large number of civilians in the vicinity of Um Gunya, South Darfur, in recent days.  Peacekeepers have attempted to gain access to the affected areas on several occasions, but have been denied passage by the authorities.  The Mission calls upon the authorities to allow it to have unhindered and immediate access to these areas, so that it can carry out its protection of civilians mandate.

**South Sudan

The UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) reports that it has seen large clouds of smoke from across the River Nile in the direction of Lelo Payam, in Malakal, in Upper Nile State.  Large movements of opposition troops were also seen over the weekend in Malakal town, around the airport area and on the road leading to Nassir.

The Mission reports that it assisted the South Sudan National Police Service today with a clearing and search operation in front of the main gate of the UN House in the capital, Juba.  The purpose of the operation was to clear crowds involved in criminality in the area and check for weapons, other military items, and drugs that were increasing insecurity and attracting large numbers of internally displaced persons from within the UN House site.  The Mission is protecting some 16,000 civilians at the UN House base in Juba.  And meanwhile, the Mission continues to conduct patrols in various parts of the country.

**Attack in Libya

The United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) strongly condemns the attack on the General National Congress and the assault against its members, as well as the vandalizing of the premises.  The Mission stresses the importance of respecting the legitimate institutions, rejecting violence in politics and guaranteeing the right to free expression through peaceful means.  All of those principles ensure the proper continuation of a political process that can achieve a democratic transfer of power and preserve the security and stability of Libya.

** Somalia

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia, Nicholas Kay, is closely monitoring developments in Baidoa, including the outcome of today’s conference, and has taken note of the Federal Government’s response.  He urged all parties to observe maximum restraint and refrain from any action that could pose a threat to security.  Mr. Kay said that this year is critical for consolidating a united and stable federal Somalia, and he noted that the country has overcome many recent challenges through compromise and dialogue.

**Press Conferences Tomorrow

A number of press conferences: Tomorrow at 10:30 a.m., in this room, there will be a press conference by the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat).

And then at 11:00 a.m., there will be a press conference sponsored by the Department of Public Information; and that is to present the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) Annual Report for 2013.

And as I mentioned earlier, following the Noon Briefing, at 12:30 p.m., tomorrow, Ambassador Sylvie Lucas, the Permanent Representative of Luxembourg to the United Nations and President of the Security Council for the month of March, will be here to brief you on the Council’s programme of work for the month.

So, that’s it.  Questions, please?  Yes, please, Karahman?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  The Secretary-General and high UN officials have said that they find Russian’s concern about the security of Russian-speaking people in Crimea credible.  What does give Russia the excuse to intervene in other situations; like in Kazakhstan, for example, half, almost half of the population is Russian‑speaking, in fact in every other former Soviet Union there are Russian-speaking people.  So, won’t this give Moscow precedent to go and interfere in any other country?  Thank you.

Spokesperson:  I’d like you to show me where that was said.  You have quoted the Secretary-General, and I don’t think that you quoted him correctly.  Okay?  The Secretary-General has repeatedly emphasized that it is critical to ensure full respect for and the preservation of Ukraine’s independence, unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity.  And what is most important now, he has said over the weekend and he said it again today, is to restore calm and to de-escalate tensions.  And he said that he would be meeting met with Sergey Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister; he did that.  And he urged the Russian Federation to refrain from any acts and rhetoric that could further escalate the situation and instead to engage constructively and through peaceful means with Ukraine.  Yes, Ali?

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  Despite all the diplomatic efforts, it seems that Russia has issued an ultimatum for the Ukraine forces in Crimea to surrender.  I want to know whether the Secretary-General considers that what Russia is doing in the peninsula is an occupation or an aggression, or what, how do you categorize this — what is going on?

Spokesperson:  What we are saying is that not to categorize something, but simply to try to de-escalate the tensions.  And we are doing that through various means as our other international players: as you have heard, the United Nations, the European Union, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and obviously, bilaterally, there are a number of countries involved, too — all with the aim of trying to cool things down.  And that’s the most crucial point here, rather than trying to stick a label on this at this point.  It is obvious that this is a serious crisis, and it is obvious that it requires the full attention of the international community.  And I think that you have seen that that is precisely what it has at this point.  Microphone?  Thank you.

Correspondent:  Sorry.  But Russia needs to hear that if they are doing something wrong, they need to hear that.  If they are doing it right, or playing it right; they need to hear that.

Spokesperson:  Is that a question or a statement?

Correspondent:  No, no, I’m, I’m, I, I, I, I know that the Secretary-General should tell the world whether Russia is doing the right thing or the wrong thing.  Thank you.

Spokesperson:  Thank you for the advice, Ali.  Thank you.  Yes?

Question:  At this afternoon’s Security Council meeting, are we expecting to hear from many other nations, other than the 15 Council members and perhaps Ukraine?  Is this going to be one of these lengthy speakers’ list things? 

Spokesperson:  Are you worried about your dinner plans?

Correspondent:  Just doing some planning, yeah.

Spokesperson:  I think you’d have to ask the Security Council that, because it is in their hands.  But should I hear anything on that, I would let you know.  But as this is an open meeting, that does imply, as I understand it, that there could be a number of speakers.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask you about Syria, I wanted to ask first about this report of, of Mokhtar Lamani, the head of the office there, resigning.  Is that true, will he be, so will he be replaced?  And also Robert Ford, the outgoing US Ambassador to Syria, gave, gave a talk in Massachusetts and basically quoted Mr. [Lakhdar] Brahimi; what he said was a direct quote about the, the, the most recent round, saying that it is a 100 per cent [Bashar al] Ja’afari’s fault, that’s it, unquote.  So I wanted to know, is that accu… is that quote accurate and is there, does this, what’s the UN’s response to, to, to, to Mr. Brahimi being, being quoted openly and directly in this way?

Spokesperson:  Well, I am not going to comment on that particular reported quote, Matthew.  But I can confirm that Mokhtar Lamani has indicated that having served some 18 months as the Head of the Joint Special Representative for Syria’s Office in Damascus, he would wish to leave his post for personal and family reasons.  And Mr. Lamani's request is being considered.  Yes, please, Linda?  Could you use the microphone, please?

Question:  I know that the Secretary-General met with Mr. Lavrov today; do you think there is any indication that he might travel to Moscow, perhaps and meet with President [Vladimir] Putin?  And secondly, regarding the DSG [Deputy Secretary-General]; I know he is in Kyiv.  Are there, can you elaborate on any other plans?  Like, for instance, do you think he will travel to Moscow?

Spokesperson:  I think that that is still being looked at.  But the Secretary-General asked the Deputy Secretary-General to go to the region, and he is in Kyiv at the moment.  I would not rule out that he would then go on to Moscow.  But that is still something that is being looked at. 

Question:  Um, Mr. Putin and the Secretary-General?

Spokesperson:  Well, they spoke on the telephone on Saturday — I know, because I was privy to that, and so I think that is a direct contact, and as you just said yourself, the Secretary-General met Foreign Minister Lavrov and had a conversation with him already today.  That’s another direct contact with the Russian authorities.  Yes, please, Nick?

Question:  Martin, a shift in emphasis, it seems today, onto the OSCE rather than UN mediation.  Can you give us any insights into the thinking behind that?

Spokesperson:  Well, I don’t think it is a shift in emphasis; I think this is the use of a regional organization that does have a role in peace and security in the European sphere.  And that’s clear set out under Chapter 8 of the UN Charter.  There are very close links between the OSCE and the United Nations; that’s why the Secretary-General spoke both with the Chairperson-in-Office for this year, the Swiss President, and also with the Secretary General of the OSCE, Lamberto Zannier.  The United Nations clearly has a role.  That’s why the Deputy Secretary-General is in Kyiv at the moment, and that’s also why the Secretary-General of the United Nations spoke with Baroness [Catherine] Ashton.  This is all part of coordinating efforts between different international organizations with the aim of ensuring that there is a clear, coordinated approach to this.  So I don’t think this is a competition.  This is about coordinating.  Yes, please?

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  Also on Ukraine.  So, beside Crimea, do you have any information on the situation in the eastern part of the country, which is also Russian spoken area?

Spokesperson:  Not direct information at this point.  We are all seeing media reports from different angles with different takes on what is happening.  That’s one of the reasons for the Deputy Secretary-General’s presence in Kyiv: to try to ascertain precisely what is happening; and he is reaching out to a lot of different interlocutors, including amongst the diplomatic community, to try to get a good fix on this.  But at the moment, we don’t have any specific information about what is transpiring in the eastern part of Ukraine.

One, I was asked on Saturday about the movement of people across the border; even that is something that is questioned by some people and confirmed by others.  And so, we are trying to get information from the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) or from the IOM [International Organization for Migration], which of course is not a part of the UN, but does work closely with us, to see if they have any presence on the ground that would help to substantiate these reported movements of people.  Yes, please?

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  Is there any correct date, specific date for Mr. Lakhdar Brahimi’s visit to New York or any update on the Geneva II conference? For the fate of the Geneva II talks?

Spokesperson:  On the second part, the Secretary-General made it very clear today that he wants to see the third round of those talks take place as soon as possible.  And he said that Mr. Brahimi would be coming to New York.  That’s clear.  He’s supposed to be here next week.  There’s supposed to be a Security Council briefing, as I understand it, but you should ask Ambassador Lucas that tomorrow when she briefs you on the programme of work.  It’s certainly the intention that Mr. Brahimi would be here next week.  The Secretary-General said himself today that Mr. Brahimi would be here next week, and they would continue to discuss the Geneva talks and the way ahead.  But he said, just to repeat, that he wants to see those talks reconvene as soon as possible.  Yes, Karahman?  Then Ali?

Question:  Thank you again, Martin.  What does the Secretary-General tell the Russian officials when he talks to them?

Spokesperson:  We’ve said openly; you’ll have seen his remarks after he spoke to President Putin.  A set of remarks that he did on camera was the quickest way for us to get his remarks to you, because he left immediately afterwards to fly off to Geneva.  And the message is consistent: to de-escalate, to engage directly with the authorities in Kyiv, and to engage constructively and through peaceful means with Ukraine.  And this is a consistent message with his interlocutors from the Russian Federation.  Yes, Ali?

Question:  Martin, while dealing with the consideration of the resigning of Mokhtar Lamani…

Spokesperson:  It’s not resigning.  He’s asked to leave his post.

Question:  Okay, to leave his post.  Is there any thinking that the Secretary-General might appoint a replacement for Mr. Nasser al-Kidwa, while considering this regarding Lamani?  Thank you.

Spokesperson:  Well, that is also… any replacement of Mr. Al-Kidwa is also a matter for the League of Arab States.  And so this is not something that has yet been decided.  In the meantime, of course, Mr. Brahimi continues his work as the Joint Special Representative, and he has a very able team around him to continue to work to push to convene a third round of those Geneva talks.  Yes, Matthew?  Then I’ll come to you, Erol.

Question:  On Ukraine, if you could say what, going forward, what the role of Mr. Serry would be.  On Friday, Ambassador [Vitaly] Churkin made some, you know, criticism.  He said basically that, he said that Serry, on 22 February, had said that he was happy with the process and from Russia’s point of view the process of the 21 February agreement had fallen apart.  I’m paraphrasing.  I don’t want to say it wrong.  This is what he said.  So I wanted to know, one, what’s his role going forward?  I saw the statement that came outside Saturday where he said that it became very clear that from yesterday’s Council consultations that the unity, territorial integrity of Ukraine are not to be called into question.  And since at least one member, by its actions, seem to be calling it into question, I’m wondering, was this conveyed to him by Oscar [Fernández-]Taranco?  What was the basis of putting a conclusion on a Security Council meeting at which there was no agreed outcome?

Spokesperson:  Well, in fact, that was one point where there was general agreement, as I understand it.  Robert Serry flew out of Kyiv to go to Geneva to brief the Secretary-General directly, and that’s what he did, and the Secretary-General mentioned that.  Of course, Robert Serry’s main role is as the Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process.  As we’ve said repeatedly, he undertook this work as the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy to go to Ukraine because of his expertise in that area, having served there as Ambassador of the Netherlands to Ukraine.  It was as simple as that or as complicated as that, in the sense that he has the direct expertise that you would need to do this kind of role at short notice.  But he is fully cognizant that his main role is as the Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process and that is something that he will continue to do.  Yes, Erol?

Question:  Thanks, Martin.  Just to clarify a little bit more on that: is Mr. Serry’s role now compatible to Mr. Eliasson’s role, and is he still in the game, I would say so, on Ukraine?  And regarding the contact group, since the Secretary-General said today in Geneva that he read that about that in the press, in media, what he’s actually thinking on the establishment of contact group, the Secretary-General?

Spokesperson:  Well, he’s aware of it from more than simply the media.  He’s been briefed on it in conversations with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, particularly from the Chairperson-in-Office, who first mentioned this idea when speaking here last week, as I recall.  And he had simply said that these are ideas that need to be looked at, that there’s a shared responsibility to assist in finding a peaceful resolution in a collaborative effort.  And to come to the first part of your question, the whole reason that he asked the Deputy Secretary-General Mr. Eliasson to travel to Kyiv, which he did at extraordinarily short notice — it was decided around mid-day, New York time, and he was on a plane at ten past six yesterday evening.  This is a key role for the Deputy Secretary-General, who has a political mandate.  Part of his portfolio under the Secretary-General’s leadership is to deal with political matters and this is a major moment in Europe, and therefore he wanted the Deputy Secretary-General to go there.  As for Robert Serry, he will continue to be able to offer advice if required.  At the moment, the Deputy Secretary-General is there and has support from the Department of Political Affairs to deal with this while on the ground.  Okay.  Yes?

Question:  Something totally different.  I’ve asked you a couple of times about the Haiti cholera case and just the simple facts of if, if, if the legal papers have been received.  Since I last asked, I’ve seen a court filing by the plaintiffs, where they describe faxing OLA [Office of Legal Affairs], going up to, to, to the residence and being rebuffed once, twice and finally the taping the papers on the door of the Secretary-General’s residence.  I just wanted to know, this is what I was asking, asking you, is that, is that, is this the case?  And is the UN acknowledging that, at least it’s been served and will answer in some way in the case, or is this statement that they put it on… Is he aware that the papers were put on the door, as alleged in court?

Spokesperson:  I can’t speak for the Secretary-General on that, on whether he is specifically aware that something was stuck on his front door.  I simply can’t.  Furthermore, as we’ve said repeatedly, we just are not going to comment on litigation that is under way and if I have any further comments on this matter at a later stage, then of course I’ll let you know.  But I don’t have anything at the moment, Matthew.  I’m not sure that it’s even worth a follow-up question, okay?

Question:  I just want to say, because, having spoken to them, they, they, they understand that, as you said, or somebody said, that companies don’t talk about litigation.  That’s all understandable.  But it seems like with this whole rule of law concept, that just the simple fact, it shouldn’t be, it shouldn’t, they’ve used the word “scofflaw”.  I’ve spoken with them, and they say this is like serving someone that is hard to find.

Spokesperson:  So what’s your question?

Question:  My question is how does the UN, how would you respond to the idea this is inconsistent with everything that the UN says about accountability, rule of law, et cetera?

Spokesperson:  I’d say it’s simply standard practice that when there is litigation under way that we do not comment.  If we do have some comment at a certain point then, of course, we’ll let you know.  But we don’t at the moment.

Thanks very much.  Have a good afternoon.

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