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

20 March 2014

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

20 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 Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General. 

Good afternoon, everyone. 

** Ukraine

At about 12:15, we hope to have the Spokesman for the Secretary-General, Stéphane Dujarric, call into this briefing from Moscow — as you can see his photo right there — where the Secretary-General arrived in the early hours of this morning.  Stéphane will provide some details of the trip so far.

Already, we have shared the press remarks made by the Secretary-General, following what he said was a very productive and constructive meeting with President Vladimir Putin.  Earlier, the Secretary-General met as well with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.  He said that he will do whatever he can to help restore good relations between the Russian Federation and Ukraine — two brotherly countries and two founding members of the United Nations.  And we’ll have further details from Stéphane in a few minutes.

**Trip Announcement

Also I have the following trip to announce:

The Secretary-General will travel over the weekend to The Hague to attend the 2014 Nuclear Security Summit.  This will be the third such Summit and is being hosted this year by the Netherlands.  The Secretary-General will speak at the opening session of the two-day event on Monday, 24 March.  He will also hold bilateral meetings with leaders attending the Summit.

On the afternoon of Tuesday, 25 March, the Secretary-General will travel to Greenland, where the melting of ice sheets is accelerating, to witness first-hand the impacts of climate change there.

On Wednesday, 26 March, together with the Prime Minister of Denmark and the Prime Minister of Greenland, the Secretary-General will meet with the indigenous people in the town of Uummannaq.  He will also view the Ilulissat Icefjord by boat.  This fjord, a UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) World Heritage site, is the mouth of a glacier which has been studied for more than 250 years and has contributed to our understanding of climate change.  The Secretary-General will also be briefed on solutions that are available and innovations that are under way to address climate change.

This portion of his trip aims to build momentum ahead of the Climate Summit which he is convening in September and will be attended by world leaders.  The Secretary-General will return to New York on Thursday, 27 March.

** Syria

A convoy carrying vital aid supplies for hundreds of thousands of people desperately in need in the north of Syria is leaving the Turkish border crossing at Nusaybin today, bound for the city of Qamishli.

The convoy contains food supplies, blankets and mattresses, family kits, hygiene kits, medicines and medical supplies from the World Food Programme (WFP), the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), UNICEF, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM).  It is the first time in three years of this brutal conflict that the UN has been able to carry aid across into Syria from Turkey.

Meanwhile, the Special Coordinator of the OPCW (Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons)-UN Joint Mission, Sigrid Kaag, said that as of today, 53.6 per cent of Syria’s chemical weapons material has been removed from or destroyed in Syria.  This represents important progress.  The Joint Mission welcomes the momentum attained and encourages the Syrian Arab Republic to sustain the current pace.

** Central African Republic

The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said today that intercommunal hatred remains at a terrifying level in the Central Africa Republic. 

She said at a press conference in Bangui that although large-scale killings of the type that took place in December and January appear to have halted for the time being, people continue to be killed on a daily basis.  She also said that two districts of the capital — PK 5 and PK 12 — remained no-go zones, with trapped Muslim populations.

Ms. Pillay stressed the need to restore law and order.  She also said that there should be more visible efforts by national and local politicians and officials to ram home the message that human rights violations and rampant crime will no longer be tolerated, and that reconciliation is vital for everyone if the country is to recover.

The High Commissioner added that she was deeply concerned by the slow response of the international community — including the underfunded aid effort.  Her full statement is available online.

**Security Council

Karin Landgren, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Liberia, told the Security Council today that the political and security environment in the country remains relatively stable.  She added that progress continues in a number of areas, but as Liberia enters its second post-conflict decade, it faces great challenges to institutionalizing reforms in critical sectors and building capacity for effective governance.  She noted recent protests and demonstrations, saying that voices across a wide spectrum continued to express dissatisfaction with national authorities and policies.

Ms. Landgren said that in June, the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) will complete the second phase of its three-phase military drawdown endorsed by this Council.  She said that UN troops are withdrawing from counties along the Sierra Leone border to cover other areas, and another battalion is being repatriated.  She added that the coming phases will need careful management.  We have her remarks in our office.

This afternoon, the Council will hear a briefing by the Chairman of the Sanctions Committee dealing with Resolution 1737, concerning Iran.

**South Sudan

The UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) has received reports that the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, the SPLA, has established a strong presence north of Malakal, in Upper Nile State, after its troops launched an attack on opposition forces yesterday.  A large number of SPLA troops were seen heading towards Malakal town.  The Mission received no reports of fighting in Malakal town today, where it continues to protect some 21,500 displaced civilians at its site there.  The Mission, however, has received reports of fighting between SPLA and opposition forces yesterday, in areas between Adar and Guel Guk, in Upper Nile State.

**Greece/Former Yugoslav Republic Of Macedonia

And last, Ambassador Matthew Nimetz, the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy for the talks between Greece and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, will meet with the representatives of the two countries next Wednesday, 26 March, here at UN Headquarters in New York.

Mr. Nimetz will meet the two representatives separately and then jointly, with the purpose of continuing the UN-brokered talks aimed at finding a mutually acceptable solution to the "name" issue.

That’s it for me.  Anything before Stéphane?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Just to clarify, the aid convoy that is going through Turkey into Syria — can you tell us why the other border crossings are not available for such transfer of aid?  You know, some background information maybe that you want to provide?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, if I say it to you, it’s not actually background information, it’s on-the-record information.  But, I do have some.  This cross, the Nusaybin-Qamishli crossing, is just one of a number of crossings that we are negotiating with the Syrian Government to open, to allow the regular, fast and efficient flow of aid to people who cannot be reached via other routes.

We have a regular presence in Qamishli with international and national humanitarian workers, who would be able to receive these supplies and move them onto the communities in Hassakeh, which is a place where there are about half a million people who have been urgently needing aid.

Question:  Just to follow up, just to confirm that the UN is negotiating with the Syrian Government for other border crossings to be opened?  Is that correct?

Deputy Spokesman:  We have been discussing a number of crossings, like I said, that we’re negotiating with the Syrian Government to open, yes.  Yes, a follow-up from you first.

Question:  Thank you.  And is the UN going to distribute this aid to the people in Hassakeh, or is it the Syrian Government or Syrian Red Crescent? 

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, at this stage, I don’t have a lot of details about how the distribution will occur.  I believe that what we’re hoping to do is to start to bring supplies of food, shelter, materials, winter and household items across from Turkey, which would be able to be swiftly to delivered to help the 500,000 people who need aid in the Hassakeh area, both local families and those displaced from other parts of Syria.  And, of course, under normal circumstances, we depend also on work with local partners for our humanitarian activities.

Question:  Yes, my question is on Crimea, so will Stéphane answer questions, as well, or should I put the question to you?

Deputy Spokesman:  You can put something to me right now, but I might leave it for him — where’s the photo gone?  Hopefully it will come back when he comes back.  But, yes, if I can’t handle it, I’m sure he will.

Question:  So basically, the Secretary-General still hasn’t answered the very simple question whether the annexation of Crimea is legal or not, according to the UN Charter.  And it seems that every UN official is distancing themselves from this very simple question.  Russia says that it’s legal.  Washington, Paris, London say it’s illegal, according to the UN Charter.  So, I would really like to know and have an answer to this question:  does the Secretary-General think that it’s legal or not, according to the UN Charter?  Do you have legal advisers working on that to see whether, under international law, it is legal or not?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, regarding that, the Secretary-General has made clear that he’s expressed his deep disappointment and concern over the referendum, and he will continue to urge all parties in Ukraine, and those with influence, to avoid any steps that could further increase tensions.

Correspondent:  But Farhan, this isn’t my question.

Deputy Spokesman:  But, alas, that is my answer.

Question:  You put a lot of statements you’re calling for restraint, but my question is: is it legal or not under the UN Charter?  You at the UN and the Secretary-General are the provider of the UN Charter.

Deputy Spokesman:  We are indeed.  And, as you know, under the Charter there are many things, including recognition of States and entities as States that are left to Member States.  This, as you know, as you have seen from those who were here this weekend, this past weekend for the Security Council, it’s a matter up for discussion by Member States and by groups of Member States.  And right now we’ll leave that discussion in their hands. Yes, Masood.

Question:  [inaudible]

Deputy Spokesman:  You have to speak into the microphone.

Correspondent:  Basically, the question about the legality — as a follow-up to my friend — it remains up for grabs, because at this point in time, I mean, there is no legal opinion as to that when they exercise their right for free determination, whether they want to join Russia or stay with Ukraine.  I mean, and that was their right under the international law.  So, how do you… I mean, legally, you’re still in a limbo.  You can’t say that was illegal or legal.

Deputy Spokesman:  The Secretary-General, as you are seeing right now, and as Stéphane will be able to add to in just a few minutes, is himself having discussion with the leadership in Russia and with the leadership tomorrow, in Ukraine.  And so he can bring up a number of these sorts of issues, and as he said to the press just now, he believes that he had productive and constructive discussions in Russia today.  Some of the questions that you’re asking are questions that are to be addressed also by Member States, and we’ll leave that matter in their hands.

Question:  So the message that the Secretary-General gave… talks that he had between Russian officials where he expressed his disappointment, was that also to be conveyed to the Ukrainian Government.  What is it that he will tell the Ukrainians?  That everything is wrong and he will set it right?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, I believe he will pass on the messages he received in Russia, as well when he talks to the Ukrainian leaders.  But I believe Stéphane will have some more details on that in just a couple minutes.

Question:  Are you going to take non-Ukraine questions after he speaks?

Deputy Spokesman:  I imagine I will take as many questions as I can before he speaks and then…

Question:  Let me ask then on South Sudan and also on mobility; on South Sudan there was supposed to be the resumption of the talks today in Addis between the Government and the South Sudan opposition or rebels, and it didn’t take place, despite threats of sanctions on both sides if it doesn’t.  What is the UN’s role in these talks, and do you have any comment on them not beginning as scheduled?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, these are not talks mediated by the UN, but, as you know, by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD).  We have been supportive of their efforts, and we hope that these talks will begin as soon as possible.  But again, these are talks mediated by IGAD.

Question:  And there was a protest, this morning, in front of the Fifth Committee in the North Lawn Building by the Staff Union — or at least they say they’re the Staff Union, I’m not sure if you recognize any leadership, maybe you can answer that.  But the main thing is that they were protesting the mobility proposal, and they said that it may be retroactive; they say it’s being considered without any staff or Staff Union alternative to it, and it threatens to harm staff based on their family size and other things.  What’s your response to this?  And also, do you recognize any leadership of the Staff Union, or is it essentially a leaderless entity?  Are you meeting with anyone from the Staff Union?  What’s the status of relations with the union that represents staff?

Deputy Spokesman:  That’s an awful lot of questions.  The basic point regarding staff, it’s up to the staff representatives to sort out their affairs.  It’s nothing I can comment on.  And Stéphane is just joining, so I will quickly say, “Hi Stéphane; hi, welcome”.  I’m just completing a question and they’ll just talk to you in just one second, regarding mobility.  This is something that the Secretary-General has been discussing, and management has been discussing with staff, including through town halls, and we’ll continue with that discussion. 

And with that, Stéphane, welcome.  You’re on the line.  Is there anything you want to say about the Secretary-General’s travels in Moscow?

Spokesman:  Sure, great, thank you.  I’m going to be a little brief.  We literally just got back to the hotel.  So just to recap, the Secretary-General this morning, well arrived this morning in Moscow.  We had a meeting with the country team.  He then had a working lunch with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and then went on this afternoon, late this afternoon, to a meeting at the Kremlin with President Putin. 

As the Secretary-General said, this visit is really part of what he sees as his responsibility and duty to do as much as he can to promote international peace and security.  In his discussions with President Putin, he underscored the critical role that Russia can play in the maintenance of international peace and security, especially in this very region.  The Secretary-General underscored President Putin’s importance as a partner, one of the most important partners of the UN, and the fact that he has so often been an international leader who has repeatedly called for international disputes to be solved within the framework of the Charter. 

The Secretary-General told President Putin that he understood his legitimate concerns relating to the situation of Russian minorities in Ukraine and reiterated what he has been saying from the start that the situation of human rights of all people in Ukraine, especially of the many minority groups, that those human rights must be respected and protected. 

And the Secretary-General’s main message to the Russian President, to the Russian authorities, was the need for a real and open dialogue between Kyiv and Moscow, and that really is an essential [inaudible]; critical and constructive dialogue is really an essential part of solving this conflict.  I think that’s really the main points from the SG’s introductory remarks, which you saw.  I think the best way to handle this now is really for me to answer some of your questions as much as I can.  Farhan?

Deputy Spokesman:  Ok, we’ll try to call on as many people as possible.  Please, everyone, when you’re asking Stéphane, speak clearly into the microphone and identify yourself, since he cannot see you.  Sangwon.

Question:  Hi Stéphane, Sangwon from Bloomberg.  What has the Secretary-General told President Putin in regards to how he will be administering the UN Charter in the region of Crimea?  It’s in follow-up to the legality of the referendum.  What was discussed?

Spokesman:  Well, I think, the main thrust of the discussion was to see how one could de-escalate the tensions.  The Secretary-General is very concerned that the current situation could be made worse by provocative actions, by counter-reactions, and that we really need to ensure that those things don’t happen.  I think one of the best ways for that to happen is really for a dialogue, a direct dialogue between Kyiv and Moscow.  We do know that there have been talks at the working level, Defence Ministry and defence issues.  We’re very pleased by that.  And, the other part of the message from the Secretary-General is really his great concern that the spillover effects from this crisis on to discussions that are going on throughout the world on different issues — like Syria, like Iran, like development and climate change.  So that was really the thrust of the discussions and of course, a lot of talk on human rights and the need for human rights monitors to be deployed throughout the country.

Question:  But that wasn’t my — one follow-up though — that wasn’t my question.  Has the Secretary-General told President Putin that either the referendum and the annexation of Crimea is illegal by the UN Charter or not?

Spokesman:  The Secretary-General’s position on the referendum — he has stated before and after — is disappointment at the referendum.  And I will leave that at that.

Question:  Jessica from France24.  Stéphane, can we deduce something from the map that your photo is next to on the Secretary-General’s position regarding Ukraine — that Crimea still seems to be part of it?

Spokesman:  I don’t understand the question.

Deputy Spokesman:  There’s a map — the backdrop is your photo and a map… which shows a map of Ukraine and Russia and so forth.  It’s just for illustrative purposes only.

Spokesman:  I’m always very happy to have my photo blown up as big as possible, but I think, Jessica — as you may or may not know — there’s always fine print on all UN maps that says that the maps are not, cannot be used as references for political discussions.  The issue of borders and recognition of borders is really mostly dealt with as a bilateral issue.  So, I think whatever backdrop there is of me — and I don’t see it — is purely decorative and not political.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane, this is Kahraman with TRT.  Just before you started in your new job, I asked Martin why the UN thought the Russian minorities’ issues in Ukraine were of concern to Russia because there are Russian minorities in every former Soviet republic.  And actually he said that I kind of invented this, but you just said that the Secretary-General told the Russian officials that he understood the legitimate concerns about the Russian minorities in Crimea.  Now, is this something new?  Why… what if Russia comes next week and says, “well, we’re concerned about the Russians in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan and Lithuania, Latvia.”  You know, any of these republics.  What did Secretary-General talk about…?

Spokesman:  I think that what the Secretary-General is saying by this is that what we’ve seen on the ground in the eastern part of Ukraine, the south-eastern part of Ukraine, where Russian minorities have sometimes felt at threat, and that is why we want to encourage the deployment of human rights monitors, and we want to encourage the authorities in Kyiv to ensure that the human rights of all minorities are respected.  And I think I even said that myself a couple days ago, that it’s not just in Ukraine, but it’s really an issue of worldwide concern in countries, so we always want to see minorities’ rights being protected and then have full access to human rights.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  During the meeting of the Secretary-General with President Putin, did President Putin ask… to the Secretary-General about the legality of the change of Government in Kyiv.  The Secretary-General is going tomorrow, he’s going to be in Kyiv.  Did President Putin ask if the Secretary-General thinks that under the Charter, the UN Charter, everything that went on in Kyiv in the last month was legal?

Spokesman:  I think that’s really not something the Secretary-General has expressed himself on.  I think that throughout the world, in different places, we’re dealing with the authorities in power.  But I think, as we’ve mentioned before, the Permanent Mission of Ukraine has — they are recognized by the rest of the Member States.  We’ve been informed officially by them who their authorities are, and it’s the Secretary-General’s duty to meet with those in power when they can have a positive impact on the situation.

Question:  I…

Spokesman:  I also cannot speak for President Putin.  I have enough trouble speaking for the Secretary-General.

Question:  Yes, Masood from Dawn.  Stéphane, since you will not weigh in on the legality of the thing that everybody is asking you about, can you tell us what kind of assurances did he receive from Russia as to how to bring the situation, calm down the situation?  And will he be conveying similar messages to the Ukrainian leadership?  Those tough messages that he was bringing in that he wants peace and calm and that he’s disappointed with this and that?  So, how are you going to balance that?

Spokesman:  Again not wanting to speak for the other parties, but the Secretary-General’s message of the need for de-escalation of rhetoric and provocative action, I think, was received positively and was clearly understood for what it was.  And the same messages will be given when the Secretary-General meets with the authorities in Kyiv — Government authorities as well as civil society. 

Farhan, I’m going to take two more.

Question:  Stéphane, Nabil [inaudible], the Russian Ambassador in the Security Council meeting yesterday, there was an argument with the American Ambassador, and he said that Russia might review or reconsider its cooperation with permanent members in the Council on different issues, not only on Ukraine.  So did the Secretary-General, did he discuss this with President Putin?  Did he hear the same position or reaction from President Putin?

Spokesman:  I think, you know, far be it from us to get in between an argument between the Permanent Representatives of the US and Russia.  But what I will say, and what the Secretary-General said not too long ago in a press briefing, is that — and this was raised at the meeting — is that he is concerned that a lack of political and diplomatic solutions in this crisis will have, may have, or could have a negative impact on the other big issues of the day, which obviously include Syria, which include the Central African Republic, which include climate change, the post-2015 discussions.  A good relation between the major Powers is critical for the well-functioning of the UN for all the issues it deals with, so this is really one of the big, one of the many reasons the Secretary-General is here trying to move this forward.

Question:  Hi, Stéphane.  This is Mirgam [inaudible].  Does the Secretary-General have a sense, or got a sense, that Putin might, revealing to further invade the mainland of Ukraine?

Spokesman:  Sorry, say that again?

Question:  Does the Secretary-General have any sense, got a sense from President Putin, that they might further invade the mainland of Ukraine?

Spokesman:  I’m not going to speak for the Russian side, but as I said before, I think that the message that the Secretary-General delivered of the need to find a diplomatic solution, the need to de-escalate the tensions and avoid any provocative actions from any side, I think, was very well received by the people he met with today.

Deputy Spokesman:  Any chance for any more questions?

Spokesman:  I will take one more and then I really have to go.

Question:  Stéphane, Alexandra Wilson from the Associated Press.  I just wanted to know, you said the main message was that a direct dialogue is needed between Moscow and the Government in Kyiv.  Was there any progress on that front?  Do you expect…?

Spokesman:  You know, I think it was, again, a message well-received and clearly understood by all.  And I think we’re encouraged, the Secretary-General is encouraged, that we see, like we saw today, working-level, if I can call it that, between senior defence officials to de-escalate some of the flashpoints that we saw in Crimea.  Alright, thank you very much.  And Farhan next time, just put my picture.

Deputy Spokesman:  Just the photo, no map.

Spokesman:  Or two of them.

Deputy Spokesman:  Ok, bye.  Thanks.

Correspondent:  I have one more question.

Deputy Spokesman:  Alright.  One more.

Question:  On the map, actually.  What’s the procedure here in the UN to recognize any new map for any country?  I mean, what are the usual procedures?

Deputy Spokesman:  We have a cartographic section that provides us with maps.  In this case, we actually only requested a photo.  Don’t know what that’s doing there.  But, it’s there for illustrative purposes only. 

Have a good afternoon, everyone.

* *** *

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