The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
All right, good afternoon.
The Secretary-General continued his programme of bilateral meetings today. He also delivered remarks at a number of events, including: a ministerial meeting on the implementation of the Mali peace and reconciliation agreement; an event on the 2030 Agenda; he also met with the leaders from the Pacific Island Forum; he attended a UN Development Group event on the SDGs [Sustainable Development Goals]; and finally a meeting with the Foreign Affairs Ministers of the Group of 77. Those remarks have been distributed and are online.
As you know, as the Secretary-General told you earlier, he will be travelling to Colombia and will be there on Monday in Cartagena, to attend the signing of the Peace Agreement, and he will be joined by many other leaders there. I also want to flag that the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein, will also begin a six-day official visit to Colombia tomorrow, at the invitation of the Government, and will also be attending the signing.
Representatives of the Quartet — the United Nations, the Russian Federation, the United States and the European Union — met just over the past hour. The Quartet Principals were also joined by the Foreign Ministers of France and Egypt during the second part of the meeting to brief on their work to support the Middle East peace plan. All agreed on the importance of close and continued coordination of all efforts to achieve the common goal of a two-state solution.
In a statement we are issuing now, the Quartet reiterated its call on the parties to implement the recommendations of the Quartet Report of 1 July, and create the conditions for the resumption of meaningful negotiations that will end the occupation that began in 1967 and resolve all final-status issues. The Quartet recalled its findings of the Quartet Report and expressed concern about recent actions on the ground that run counter to its recommendations.
On Mali, as I mentioned, the Secretary-General spoke at a ministerial meeting. He called on armed groups to cease confrontations and all parties to set aside short-term interests and carry out the peace agreement. He also stressed the need for all sides to fully comply with their human rights obligations, including during counter-terrorism operations. He called for inclusiveness of the dialogue, noting that any feeling of marginalization with the peace process could breed resentment and create fertile ground for spoilers. In this dangerous environment, he said the UN [Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization] Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) still suffers from capability gaps and called for Member States to urgently strengthen it.
And speaking at the meeting of the Partnership Group on Myanmar, the Secretary-General this morning stressed that while the project of nation-building in the country is far from over, there are already concrete and promising results. He added that the overwhelming popular mandate that the people of Myanmar have given to the new Government is a sign of trust and confidence they have placed in the National League for Democracy. He added that is also recognition of their immense struggle and sacrifice over the years. The Secretary-General said when he was appointed to his position 10 years ago, the holding of peaceful, democratic elections in Myanmar was a distant dream. But, last year, he said, the people of Myanmar made it a reality. His statement is online.
And just to give you an update on Syrian humanitarian work: last night, an inter-agency convoy of 23 trucks completed delivery of urgently needed humanitarian assistance to some 35,000 people in the besieged town of Moadamiyeh in Rural Damascus. Assistance included food, medical supplies, nutrition, education, water and sanitation and non-food supplies. Trucks and drivers returned safely to Damascus after offloading. The town was last reached with an inter-agency convoy on 24 July of this year. That was the eighth convoy there this year. With yesterday’s delivery, the UN and its partners have been able to reach nearly 1.3 million people in hard-to-reach and besieged and priority cross-line areas this year, many more than once, through 115 convoys, 85 airlifts and 122 air drops.
And in a statement we issued yesterday evening, the Secretary-General condemned the multiple airstrikes by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition on 21 September in the Red [Sea] port city of Hudaydah in Yemen, which killed and injured dozens of people, including children and women. The Secretary-General once again reminds all parties to the conflict that they must fully respect their obligations under international humanitarian law, in particular the fundamental rules of distinction, proportionality and precaution.
He reiterates his call for urgent measures to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure. The Secretary-General also urged all parties to recommit to the terms and conditions of the 10 April cessation of hostilities. Meanwhile, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) today notes with deep concern the sharp increase in civilian casualties since the suspension of the peace talks, with 180 people killed and 268 injured in August. This represents a 40 per cent increase compared to civilian casualties in the previous month.
And yesterday evening, you will have seen, we issued a statement on Gabon in which the Secretary-General urged all parties in Gabon, in particular the political leaders and their followers, to exercise maximum restraint, refrain from any form of violence and remain calm ahead of and after the ruling of the Constitutional Court, which is expected today. Any additional loss of life in Gabon is unacceptable, he said, underlining that those who instigate or commit violence must be held accountable, and that disagreements between the parties need to be expressed peacefully. The Secretary-General encourages the victorious candidate to engage in a genuine national dialogue towards inclusive democratic governance and the rule of law, including reforms in the management of future elections.
**Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
And just to flag that our colleagues at UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] today expressed their deep sadness at the loss of life after another boat capsized in the Mediterranean recently. The incident happened on Wednesday, off the coast of Rosetta in Egypt. The boat was reportedly carrying around 450 people. At least 42 bodies have been recovered; another 150 people have been rescued.
And just to flag that immediately after this briefing, as you know there will be a press briefing by Sergey Lavrov, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation. At 2:20 p.m., at the press stakeout on the 3rd Floor of the GA [General Assembly], Mr. [Hervé] Ladsous, the Head of the Peacekeeping Department, and Charles Armel Doubane, the Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Central African Republic, will be speaking to you. And at 4:30 p.m., also in the GA stakeout, Mr. Ladsous will be briefing on South Sudan
And lastly, we want to say thank you to our friends in Lusaka, Zambia, who have paid their budget dues in full to the regular budget. Which brings us to 123. Sir?
**Questions and Answers
Question: I saw the statement by the Secretary‑General on Yemen, and I just wondered, now… obv… given that the Secretary‑General himself decided to remove the Saudi‑led Coalition from the Children and Armed Conflict annex on… regarding Yemen, given that this airstrike has killed children and women, what… what's the status of… of putting them back on or…?
Spokesman: Well, they were… as I said, they were not removed. It was a temporary suspension, as you can look on the document. I think we are constantly looking at and reviewing the situation in Yemen, and when we have something to share with you, we will.
Question: And I wanted to ask, just because you announced these two future Mr. Ladsous stakeouts, I went to the one on Mali, and I tried to ask a question, and he said: "Sir, I do not answer your questions." So, I'm going to ask you the question. The question involves this problem of peacekeepers from Africa, particularly Chad, but other countries, as well, not having had access to equipment that other peacekeepers in the mission from the… the Netherlands in… for example, have that would protect them. There have been many Chadian peacekeepers killed by IEDs [improvised explosive devices] and otherwise. And I wanted to know… there… something was said by Farhan [Haq] in your absence that moves were afoot so solve this problem. Can you describe what the problem was and whether, in fact, now…?
Spokesman: Obviously, there's a challenge in any peacekeeping mission when some contingents arrive with their own equipment; others have to rely on contingent [equipment] that we provide from other sources. We, obviously… I think the Chadian peacekeepers, especially in Mali, have shown extreme bravery and have paid the price… the ultimate price for their work as peacekeepers. And I know the mission is working with the Chadians to ensure that they have the best equipment possible.
Question: But, isn't it a legal pro… last… what I heard was that NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization]… NATO members like the Netherlands aren't allowed to share some of their…?
Spokesman: I don't know… I can check. I don't know the intricacies of that. Oleg?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Yesterday, while the ISSG [International Syria Support Group] was meeting, there were some troubling reports coming from Syria from the ground in Aleppo that the Syrian Government actually started an offensive over there. Can you confirm any of the reports coming from over there? And what is your reaction to what's happening? Not only in Syria, but on the Syrian track over here. Thank you.
Spokesman: I think Mr. [Staffan] de Mistura expressed his sadness and his disappointment at the outcome of the ISSG meeting yesterday, and I'd refer back to what he said. We're, obviously, very much aware of the reports of heavy airstrikes we've seen in Aleppo, including the allegations of the use of incendiary munitions in populated areas. There seems to be a pattern, a very troubling pattern that we're seeing in Aleppo. There have been repeated and seemingly calculated military escalations in Aleppo around the time of serious efforts to put forward a Cessation of Hostilities plan. The reported airstrikes following the calls by the Security Council earlier this week for the reintroduction of a cessation of hostilities. And as you know, they also came on the day of an ISSG meeting, so I think there are legitimate questions to be asked as to whether those airstrikes are linked to the renewed diplomatic efforts. Luke?
Question: A few hundred miles east of that question, the US military is reporting that an Islamic State rocket potentially containing mustard gas landed near a base south of Mosul. This is an area I know UN agencies have a presence and where civilians are going to be passing through. Two questions: Are UN personnel in that area in northern Iraq equipped with any sort of gear to protect against chemical agents? And, from a humanitarian planning standpoint, does planning change when you have refugees flowing through…?
Spokesman: I'm not going to go into the precautions taken for UN staff, but, obviously, when we work in very dangerous, delicate environments, whether it be in Iraq, Syria and other places, the violence on the ground has a clear impact on our ability to deliver humanitarian aid. We've seen in Syria, where increased airstrikes, increased military activity blocks us from delivering humanitarian aid. So, obviously, it has an impact. The planning continues. Obviously, when the full‑blown military operations take place against extremist groups controlling these towns, we expect a huge, huge humanitarian need, and we're continuing to plan and project for that.
Question: I guess I'm just curious if there's a difference in planning when you're just dealing with, I suppose, conventional artillery…?
Spokesman: The situation is difficult enough, but we're obviously keeping whatever reports concerning possible use of mustard gas well in mind. Sir?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. The United Nations announced that they're looking into options on how to deliver humanitarian assistance to Aleppo. Can you please elaborate on those options? Are there going to be new airdrops? Also, would the Secretary‑General support the grounding of the Syrian air power? And one last thing, if you don't mind. In the backdrop of this new major offensive by the Syrian army, is… does the Secretary‑General see since his… his term is ending now that Syria is a strain on his legacy? Thank you.
Spokesman: I think the situation in Syria is a strain on the people of Syria. That's where his concern is. That's where the focus is, is on how to put an end to the fighting, how to deliver the humanitarian aid, and how… ultimately, how to rebuild the country. That's where the focus is. On trying to find alternate routes, we are trying to see how we can reach Aleppo in other ways, not only via cross‑border but also from in‑country operations. As you know, we don't… currently don't have access to eastern Aleppo. We know food stocks are running low. I think we're constantly looking at other ways to get in. There is no… there's no magic wand here, but we keep looking at other options. You know, the convoys remain stuck at the border. The trucks are idling. The… it's now been days and days which these truck drivers have been sleeping in their trucks. We're all waiting for the green light to be able to go in.
Question: Is the airdrop an option?
Spokesman: I think we've done… the airdrops have been used when there are no other options. But, as we said, they're costly. They're efficient in the sense that they deliver some aid, but one plane… you know, one plane is basically the equivalent of one truck in a 50‑ and 100‑truck convoy. So, they're really a last resort. Obviously, we would need the assurances from all those countries that have air assets in the area that the planes could fly. Carla?
Correspondent: There's a certain amount of cynicism about the Non‑Proliferation Treaty that the countries which are urging the ratification of it… in fact, I think…
Spokesman: That has what? You need… your microphone needs to go on, because I can't… I'm a little deaf.
Question: The countries that are urging the… the adoption of the Non‑Proliferation Treaty themselves have not divested themselves of nuclear weapons, and one of the reasons why… and this was said to me a long time ago, maybe 20 years ago. One of the reasons why it's considered unfair is there's a monopoly of nuclear weapons, which almost forces other countries to need nuclear weapons. So isn't there some kind of disconnect here?
Spokesman: Well, I think… I'm not going to start analysing the cynicism of Member States in this organization. I think what is clear is that the Non‑Proliferation Treaty would be good news for the world. Anything that can help stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons is to be seen in a positive light. Member States always have acted with their own policies in mind, and I… I mean, I appreciate your commentary, but I'm not sure how I can answer the question.
Question: Well, what about nuclear disarmament? I thought this Security Council…
Spokesman: Well, I think that… you know, I… disarmament… obviously, the Secretary‑General would like to see a world free of nuclear weapons. He'd said so repeatedly, and I think his High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, Mr. Kim [Wonsoo], just spoke extensively at the stakeout on this issue. Evelyn?
Question: Yes. I noticed that the… oh. Sorry there, Steph. I noticed that at the… that the Secretary‑General has condemned the Saudi Coalition for airstrikes, and then he had harsh words about Syria's President in his big speech at the GA. Is this a change in that he's actually zeroing in on… on who he thinks are culprits?
Spokesman: I don't know if it's a change. Maybe it's a slightly clearer expression of what he feels deep inside his heart and the frustrations that have been building up over the years in dealing with various conflicts and particularly the conflict in Syria. Mr. Lee?
Question: Yeah, I wanted… since we're still in the… the… this period of bilateral meetings, I wanted to ask you, the ambassador… the Permanent Representative of Pakistan was quoted on a private TV station in Pakistan as saying that Nawaz Sharif showed Ban Ki‑moon in the meeting photographs of children in Kashmir that he said had been shot, and she said… she described the Secretary‑General as visibly shocked and shaken. Is that… do you have any… is that accurate? Is that…?
Spokesman: I'm not aware… I'll refer you to the readout. I was not in that… I was not in that particular bilateral.
Question: And in terms of those bilaterals, I not… and I really appreciate the written answer about the book, but I did want to just… I'd asked you how much it cost, and I don't know if there's an estimate of the cost of the book and what budget… at a minimum what budget… was it authorized by the GA? Which department paid for it?
Spokesman: The Department of Public Information publishes… regularly publishes books on all sorts of issues. It's part of the regular publishing budget.
Question: Right, because you'd said… you made it appear that initially it was going to be just an internal document… maybe I misread your answer…?
Spokesman: No, I didn't think… no, it will have a… it will be a book, like… I think you and I may disagree on what a definition of a book is, and it will meet that definition.
Question: Right, but it's already that. Does it have an ISB number…?
Spokesman: I haven't looked on the back. I have no doubt that it will have an ISB number.
Question: Do you have a copy?Spokesman: I do not have a copy. You… you know, wait… wait to read the book before you review it. And as soon as it's available in the bookstore, I'm sure you can expense it.
Question: Can it be changed? What I'm saying, is it a final version? The printed copies that are being given…?
Spokesman: It's not going… no, it's final.
Question: And final thing, just on substance… I saw it. It's called Highlights of the Tenure. So, how is this consistent with the idea… the subtitle of the book is Highlights of the Tenure of Ban Ki‑moon. How is that consistent with an objective self‑critical view that will help the next Secretary‑General?
Spokesman: You know, you could write 10,000 volumes of just every day exactly what happened.
Correspondent: Oh, okay. Highlights doesn't mean positive.
Spokesman: If you're going to publish… highlights is the important things. I mean, we can disagree on the definition of what "highlights" means. Carla?
Question: Just a follow‑up, since people have been asking questions, you have been saying what the Secretary‑General…?
Spokesman: This is what the briefing is for, questions. I’m open to you asking questions.
Question: Yeah, I mean about what the Secretary‑General feels in his heart of hearts. Since he is for nuclear disarmament, how does he feel in his heart of hearts about the fact that the US, the UK and Germany are spending trillions of dollars to upgrade nuclear weapons?
Spokesman: I don't think the Germans… I don't… we don't have particular insight on the budgets… on those budgets. I think is… again, the Secretary‑General would like to see a world free of nuclear weapons. All right.
Question: Western Sahara, did you get a readout?
Spokesman: I have not… I do not have an update for you on Western Sahara. Nothing to add on that particular issue. And I will ask you to be patient as the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation will be here very soon.