The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
The Secretary-General is continuing his visit to Washington, D.C., and yesterday evening, the Secretary-General met with Sheikh Mohammad al-Abdullah al-Mubarak al-Sabah, the Kuwaiti Minister of State for Cabinet Affairs. The Secretary-General reaffirmed the United Nations’ strong support for the Kuwaiti mediation efforts, hoping that they will lead to a de-escalation of the situation in the Gulf, progressively creating the conditions for a meaningful dialogue to take place.
The Secretary-General also met with the Saudi Foreign Minister, Adel al-Jubeir, and had a discussion with United States Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, with whom he will have an official meeting later today at the State Department. We also expect the Secretary-General to meet with the Foreign Minister of Qatar either today or tomorrow in Washington.
Today, the Secretary-General is continuing his meetings with congressional leaders. He’s already had good meetings focusing on United States-United Nations relations and UN reform — today he met with Congresswoman Nita Lowey and House Speaker Paul Ryan in separate meetings. As the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Jeff Feltman, announced a short while ago in Switzerland, the Secretary-General will travel to Crans-Montana to attend the Conference on Cyprus. He will be there on Friday and we expect the Secretary-General to be back at the office on Wednesday morning, on 5 July.
Here in New York, education leaders from around the world today are discussing ways to advance action on Sustainable Development Goal 4, which aims to ensure inclusive and quality education for all. Speaking this morning at the high-level action event, Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed said there is no better investment in the future and resilience of a society than in the education of its citizens, and emphasized the need to focus on five key areas to achieve Goal 4, which are finance, innovation, girls’ education, life-long learning and education in humanitarian contexts.
And following my briefing here at 1 p.m., the President of the General Assembly, Peter Thomson, will be joined by the Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Irina Bokova, to tell you more about today’s event.
Going back to Switzerland, the Conference on Cyprus officially reconvened this morning in Crans-Montana, Switzerland. The Conference opened with the participation of the Greek Cypriot leader, Mr. Nicos Anastasiades, and the Turkish Cypriot leader, Mr. Mustafa Akıncı. The guarantor Powers were represented by the Greek Foreign Minister, the Turkish Foreign Minister and the United Kingdom’s Special Envoy on Cyprus.
Today’s deliberations were facilitated by Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman and the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser, Espen Barth Eide. The European Union is also present as an observer. Speaking to reporters a shortly while ago, Mr. Feltman said that the Secretary-General’s message to the two leaders is to seize this historic opportunity to solve a decades-long problem.
Before leaving for the Conference on Cyprus, Jeffrey Feltman yesterday co-chaired with the Foreign Minister of Guatemala, Carlos Raul Morales, a briefing on the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala. Commissioner Ivan Velasquez briefed Member States on progress made and the main achievements of the Commission. Member States expressed their full backing for the work of the Commission and appreciation for the work of Commissioner Velasquez at the helm of the Commission. 2017 marks the Commission's tenth anniversary. We look forward to continuing cooperation with the Commission and Commissioner Velasquez.
Special Envoy Michel Kafando arrived in Burundi yesterday to meet with President Pierre Nkurunziza, as well as senior Government officials. He will then travel onto Dar-es-Salaam in Tanzania to meet with the Facilitator of the inter‑Burundi dialogue, former President Benjamin Mkapa, to discuss how best the United Nations can assist the East African Community-led dialogue. The Special Envoy is also planning to meet with other African leaders, in the margins of the African Union Summit or in their respective countries. We will update you accordingly.
Back here, Izumi Nakamistu, the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, spoke at the Security Council’s meeting this morning on non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. During her briefing, she said that substantial progress has been made over the past years by Member States in their efforts to minimize proliferation risks. However, she added, we are increasingly witnessing new and even more complicated threats in this area.
She said that we need to closely examine the emerging nexus between rapidly advancing technologies and weapons of mass destruction in the globalized and connected world, and identify actions to grapple with its impact on non-proliferation. She also stressed the importance of international cooperation, and the need for continuous and enhanced dialogue with industry. Ms. Nakamitsu said that recent terrorist attacks have revealed shortcomings in interactions among security agencies, even in countries whose policies are otherwise deeply integrated. Coordination and information-sharing will be vital to overcoming these shortcomings, she said.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein, expressed grave concern today for the fate of civilians caught up in the anti-Da’esh offensive in Raqqa, in Syria, where up to 100,000 civilians are effectively trapped as the air and ground offensive intensifies. The High Commissioner called on all forces battling Da’esh in Raqqa, including international forces, to review their operations to ensure full compliance with international law, including taking all feasible precautions to avoid loss of civilian lives.
Meanwhile, our humanitarian colleagues in the country say that they are concerned by the reported attacks against civilians across Idleb Governorate, with at least eight attacks from improvised explosive devices reported in the last week. The deadliest attack took place in Dana town on 24 June, when at least three IEDs [improvised explosive devices] exploded in a public market area during Iftar, reportedly resulting in the death of 10 people, including women and children. We strongly condemn attacks on civilians, civilian infrastructure and the continued violence against vulnerable populations.
And our humanitarian colleagues are also concerned about the continuing attacks on Syria’s health-care infrastructure. As of the end of May, a total of 59 attacks have been verified, resulting in the deaths of 15 health workers. In 2016, there were 136 health facilities attacked across Syria, which resulted in the death of 31 health-care workers.
Three planes chartered by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) have now delivered 36 tons of life-saving medical and water purification supplies to Yemen to combat the outbreak of cholera which has surpassed 200,000 cases. The supplies included enough oral rehydration salts to treat 10,000 people, as well as 10.5 million water purification tablets. More on UNICEF’s website.
The tenth UN Global Forum on Migration and Development opened today in Berlin, Germany. Speaking at the opening session this morning, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for International Migration, Louise Arbour, stressed the need to highlight the fact that migration has an overwhelmingly positive economic, social and cultural impact on countries of origin and destination. This, she said, will force us to question the negative narrative around this phenomenon, and can help us reverse it, something that is essential to make progress on this issue. Outcomes of the summit will feed into the process of forging a “Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration,” which is expected to be adopted by Member States next year.
Yesterday afternoon, Farid Zarif, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Liberia, briefed the Security Council, noting that as the UN Mission in the country entered the final phase of its mandate, Liberia had remained stable. The country’s future as a stable democracy will hinge on the successful conduct of the October elections and the broad acceptance that they were free and fair, followed by a smooth transfer of power, he noted. His remarks are available publicly.
Earlier today, we issued a note to correspondents to announce that Matthew Nimetz, the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy for the talks between Greece and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, will travel to Skopje from 1 to 4 July. Mr. Nimetz aims to discuss the way forward in the UN-brokered talks aimed at finding a mutually acceptable solution to the so-called “name” issue. A visit to Athens, based on an invitation by the Government, is being scheduled as soon as possible following Mr. Nimetz’s visit to Skopje.
Yesterday, in a statement we issued, the Secretary-General congratulated the Government of Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People's Army (FARC-EP) for reaching another historic milestone in their peace process. He added that he was pleased that the UN, through the work of its Mission in Colombia, had been able to support the successful implementation of the ceasefire and the laying down of arms agreements. He also assured the Government and people of Colombia that the United Nations will continue to support implementation of the peace agreement, as required, in the next phase of the process.
I also want to flag a report by our colleagues at UNICEF called “Narrowing the Gaps: the power of investing in the poorest children”. The report finds that investing in the health and survival of the most deprived children and communities provides more value for money, saving almost twice as many lives for every $1 million spent as equivalent investments in less deprived groups. This represents new evidence that backs up an unconventional prediction UNICEF made in 2010: the higher cost of reaching the poorest children with life-saving, high-impact health interventions would be outweighed by greater results. That report is available online.
Our colleagues at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) have launched a cool competition for students to find solutions to the global problem of marine litter. The contest is open to university students worldwide, and they can submit ideas in the fields of engineering, communications, economic and data modelling. Winners will receive free mentorship to help them develop their ideas and will have the chance to attend the Sixth International Marine Debris Conference, which will take place in San Diego in March 2018. More information on UNEP’s website.
Lastly, I will be joined at this very briefing by Kevin Kennedy, the Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Syria Crisis, who will brief you on the humanitarian situation in Syria, as he retires after two and half years on that job — he will reflect on his past two and half years. And I will stop talking, at least until I get some questions. Mr. Abbadi?
**Questions and Answers
Question: A question of a different nature. During the press conference of Ban Ki‑moon or [António] Guterres, some of us sought to ask questions actively and never get the opportunity to do so. Why is that so?
Spokesman: The conduct of a press conference is my prerogative. I try to have a balance of questions on topics, regional representation, where the media comes from, what kind of media. Not everybody gets to ask a question. Some people get questions at some points. Others don't. I don't know what else to…?
Question: Is it normal that one can get a… to ask question for years?
Spokesman: I don't think that's anybody's case. Masood?
Correspondent: It is my case.
Spokesman: I don't believe so. Masood?
Question: Thank you. Thank you, Stéphane. I do… what do you call… support Mr. Abbadi's contention. However, I want to ask a question about this massive cyberattack worldwide. Has the United Nations been able to determine as to where the cyberattack is coming from? And how much is it going to cost the international community in terms of dollars…?
Spokesman: No. We do not have the mandate or investigative capabilities to… to look at these things. You may want to reach out to our colleagues at the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), but I have nothing from here, and I have no way to estimate the cost. Fathi?
Question: Thank you, Steph. With regard to the Secretary‑General visit to Washington, D.C., and his meetings on Capitol Hill, any readout with his meetings with the speaker, Paul Ryan, and the Chairmen of the committees?
Spokesman: These are part of a continuing dialogue with congressional leaders, members of the various committees, both on the House and the Senate side, focusing on US‑UN relationships, the importance of US engagement, discussions on UN reform, on issues, as we said yesterday, including the global threat to terrorism. You know, it's his first chance as Secretary‑General to meet with the congressional leaders. I think most Secretaries‑General that I know have, at some point or another, gone down to Capitol Hill and engaged in these conversations. So, it's an ongoing process.
Question: Follow‑up, please? At any point, did the Secretary‑General discuss the US fiscal budget for 2018 and the proposed reductions from the Administration towards the UN?
Spokesman: I think the Secretary‑General is very keen on seeing continued US engagement. As you know, the US is our… is the biggest donor to the United Nations, financial contributor. And I think, as we all know, in the way the US system is, it is up to the Congress to finalize the budget. So, you can draw your own conclusions. Joe?
Question: Yeah, on the… on the same subject, was any effort made at all that you can report to set up a meeting with President [Donald] Trump, a follow‑up to their brief meeting before…?
Spokesman: The discussions continue. The President was very keen on spending time and seeing the Secretary‑General. And when we have something to announce, we will announce.
Question: And secondly, did the issue of refugees come up at all in the Secretary‑General's discussions, either with members of Congress or any members of the Administration, particularly in light of the Supreme Court decision earlier this week that upheld parts of the temporary ban?
Spokesman: I'm not going to go into the details of the discussion. As I said, they were broad‑ranging discussion. Abdelhamid, then Matthew, then Nizar.
Question: Thank you. As a follow‑up to that question of my colleague, Hamid, do we see the beginning of the internationalization of the Gulf crisis since we have raised also the issue last week about the prerogative of the Secretary‑General to draw the attention of the Security Council, according to Article 99, about there is a boiling crisis that could erupt and become a threat to international peace and security?
Spokesman: I think, from the start of this crisis, the Secretary‑General has been very clear on his message for a quick reconciliation and obviously focused on a regional solution to a regional problem. His focus right now is on supporting the Kuwaiti initiative, and he will continue his discussion. As I said, he met with the Kuwaitis and the Saudi Foreign Minister. He expects to meet with the Qatari Foreign Minister before he leaves Washington. Matthew? Do you want to follow up? Sure.
Question: Yeah, I have a second question about a forum that will be held tomorrow and Friday at the UN here, and it's called United Nations Forum to Mark 50 Years of Occupation. And I was expecting you to announce this forum, and it has not been announced. Can you explain that, please?
Spokesman: If we're talking about the same thing, I think it's an event done… conducted by the Committee on the [Exercise of] Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People. It's in the Journal. I think we're… we don't announce every meeting that takes place, but it's there for the public knowledge. Matthew?
Question: Sure. Also, in… in… down in Washington this morning, there's a hearing in the committee… House Committee on Foreign Affairs, and the issue of the… the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), not only its dealings with patents for North Korea, but its retaliation against its own staff, you know, has been raised. So, I've asked you about it before. I just wanted to know, what does the Secretary‑General… given there's even some provisions of US law about failure to protect whistle-blowers, has he taken any action on the… the numerous cases within WIPO of…?
Spokesman: The Sec… WIPO is an independent agency, specialized agency. It has its own governing body, on which the United States is represented. I expect those discussions are going on between the US and WIPO… the WIPO leadership, and I really have nothing else to add than what I've previously said on the issue.
Question: Right, but given that they're a part of the Chief Executives Board (CEB) and there are certain, I guess, minimum standards in the UN system, such as not using criminal defamation against the press, I would assume…?
Spokesman: As a matter of principle, the Sec… and this goes across the board for every organization. The Secretary‑General expects all UN agencies, whether specialized or not, to… to uphold standards… minimum standards. But, I'm not going to go into the details of WIPO management, which is an issue that WIPO management will… dealing with, with its own governing body.
Question: Sure. And I wanted to ask you about… you said Mr. Nimetz, and I know he's been in the post a long time, but I've just sort of re‑reviewed it, that he's going to Skopje and then may go to Greece. You know, he's still… he's still an advisory director to General Atlantic, where he's worked in the past, so he's a… it's a financial commitment that he has. They actually have a stake in a bank that's in Greece, and I wanted to know just… sorry, from the outside, it seems like this might be problematic, I mean, or is it something that he disclosed to the Ethics Office or…?
Spokesman: I think everything has been disclosed. Ben? Then I’ll come back to you.
Question: Back on the UN Summit for Thursday… Friday, the Israelis are… made allegations that two speakers are part of a group that supports terrorist organizations. Have you got any further comment on that?
Spokesman: We're aware of the position of the Israeli Government. They have transmitted a letter to communicate… they've communicated with the Secretary‑General's Office. This is a meeting that is being organized by a committee of the membership. It is not something that is being sponsored by the Secretariat. I think any questions as to the invitees and the way the meeting is organized should be directed to the members of the committee.
Question: On Venezuela, it seems some officers or helicopters’ attack happened today against some ministries and police headquarters. How does the United Nations view this escalating situation there?
Spokesman: You know, we obviously stand firmly against any violence anywhere, and we continue to monitor the situation closely.
Question: Another question on Raqqah. There were more reports about use of white phosphorus in Raqqah. Is anybody investigating that? And who's behind the use of such a lethal weapon?
Spokesman: No, I don't have anything for you on that. Herman?
Question: Yeah, thank you. As you already know, Chad… Chadian President, Idriss Déby, threatened to withdraw Chadian troops from the peacekeeping operation. Is there any reaction from United Nations?
Spokesman: No, but let me… I will get back to you on that. Mr. Abbadi, then Masood.
Question: Thank you. Who is accompanying the Secretary‑General to his Washington meeting?
Spokesman: He just has… I think he has his special assistant and our colleagues from the Washington office, the UN Information Centre. Yep?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. On this continued Indian occupation of the occupied… the Kashmir and now the human rights group within India are now demanding that… that the Indian Government back down and stop killing these Kashmiris. Do you have any response? Has the Secretary‑General spoken to the Indian Prime Minister about these human rights abuses in occupied Kashmir?
Spokesman: No, we're aware of the situation. I have nothing more to say than what the Secretary‑General himself said during the press conference. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask you, in… in Myanmar, in a pretty high‑profile case, the Government has arrested three journalists for reporting on the conflict in Shan State and actually didn't… turned them over to the police. So, they were held by the army. A number of Governments around the world have spoken out on it. And I'm wondering, is the UN aware of it? I… has Ms. [Renata Lok] Dessallien left? Is there… whoever is in charge now of the country team…?
Spokesman: I will look. I have personally not seen these reports, but I will check with our colleagues.
Question: And I have two… two… I wanted to ask you again about this Ng Lap Seng case as it moves up. And I know… I… I… I take under advisement what you said, but I've looked more closely in the court file, and it's… this is something I'd ask you to respond to because it's not regarding guilt or innocence. They're looking at that… that… the US Government says of the UN task force report on weaknesses in funding of the PGA [President of the General Assembly] office that the report was… was prepared only by an ad hoc committee without any identifiable special skills or expertise, and it was motivated by a concern for the reputation of the entity that ordered it rather than to determine facts regardless of the… of the… of the impact on the entity's representation. Do you think this… this UN report, which will be introduced, at least in part in the trial, is it something the UN stands behind as an objective report, or was it, as the Government seems to say, an exercise in…?
Spokesman: Look, I'm not going to go… I'm not going to argue what a party to this trial has to say. The report was conduct… was ordered following the revelations regarding the former PGA. It was put… it was conducted in order to see how the operations of the Office of the President of the General Assembly could be improved. As… you know, as well as I do, the Office of the President of the General Assembly is one that is independent from the Secretary‑General and over one he has no authority.
Correspondent: Right, but… but it's not just a party. It's the prosecution that you've said that you're cooperating or have cooperated with. I mean…
Spokesman: I'm not going to comment on what… but I just stated our position regarding the report.
Question: Okay. And I wanted to ask you about a separate case, which is one of the two cases… there may be more, but at least two federal court cases about the UN having introduced cholera to Haiti. In this case that's in Brooklyn, where they're arguing that… that the UN essentially waived the… the immunities that it's claiming by having a mechanism to deal with negligence, which I think most people would say this was, as opposed to intentional, is there anything… in… in… in the new Secretary‑General's new approach to cholera that… that… that will be reflected in a response, or is the… is it the UN's continuing response that it bears no legal responsibility at all…?
Spokesman: Our legal position is unchanged. The UN's effort as outlined by the Secretary‑General is focusing on preventing the spread or resurgence of cholera in Haiti and helping communities in a first instance.
Question: And what's the status of his… his discussions with countries about the $40 million that…?
Spokesman: I've nothing more to say than what the Secretary‑General himself announced. Yes, Ben?
Question: Just a follow‑up to my earlier question. Is the Secretary‑General concerned enough that he will himself speak to the Chairman of the committee?
Spokesman: As I said, this is an organization of Member States who are… who guard their independence, their sovereignty, fiercely. It is… let me at least finish my sentence, Masood, and I will gladly give you the floor. Issues regarding the organization of meetings by Member States, the organization of exhibits by Member States, is one that needs to be addressed to Member States. Masood?
Question: Thank you. Continuing this… this… on… on the… on the Gulf crisis and which is taking ominous situation at this point in time, and the Saudis are taking a very stiff position against any talks with… with the… with the Qataris because either you… it's our way or the highway. So, is there any way they can have a discussion, or has the Secretary‑General spoken to the Saudis as to why they've taken…?
Spokesman: As I said, the Secretary‑General has had discussion with the Saudi Foreign Minister, and the Secretary‑General is supportive at this point of a regional solution. He will continue to express that support. Abdelhamid?
Question: Thank you again. Last week, I raised the issue of accessibility to DC-1, DC-2 by the resident correspondents. I was denied entry to the DC-2. I mean, going to the [United Nations Federal] Credit Union and meeting maybe a loan officer or mortgage officer; now, is not possible. I have to be escorted. I have to be signed in, which is… that's a new… and I raised it, and they gave me an answer first to go encode my… my ID, which I tried, but they refused. And then the new answer from your colleague, Eri [Kaneko], is that, no, we have no right to access these buildings. So, can you look into that?
Spokesman: Yes, I would… I would encourage you to talk to my colleagues at MALU [Media Accreditation and Liaison Unit] and see how they can help you, but I will be happy to look into that. Mr. Abbadi?
Question: Thank you. Back to the meetings of the Secretary‑General in Washington, D.C., what are his primary objectives?
Spokesman: His primary objective is to initiate a substantive dialogue with congression… US congressional leaders on the importance of the US‑UN relationship, on the importance of US engagement and continuing and sustained US engagement in the United Nations, and to also give them an opportunity to ask questions and for him to answer his questions on his objectives on UN reform. Luke?
Correspondent: I kind of want to follow up on the D.C. line of questioning. Is it unusual that neither you nor Mr. [Farhan] Haq would be with the SG for… it just seems… like, we're trying to find out information about the content of certain meetings with US officials, but if no spokesperson is there, you can't answer those questions…
Spokesman: In fact, the Secretary‑General called me this morning and briefed me on the meetings. So, the point is we're all trying to save money. We have an extremely capable team in the UN Information Centre in Washington. They are supporting him on the media front and…
Question: So we can point our specific questions about the content of the meetings to them?
Spokesman: Well, to me. As I said, the Secretary‑General briefed me on the content of the meetings, which I think to me is the source. I am sharing with you the information that he would like to share publicly. So, I don't know what… you're welcome to talk to our colleagues in Washington, but as I said, the SG, last I checked, was… headed the delegation himself. [He] called me this morning, spent some time, explained to me what he had achieved, what he hoped to achieve, and I'm not relaying that to you.
Question: So, it was a budgetary decision not to…?
Spokesman: It is, and it's something that's we've put in place, in fact, under the previous Secretary‑General where, in most cases, someone from my office no longer travels to Geneva as we also have there a very capable team that can handle SG visits. And it's the case in some other places, sometimes in Brussels and in Washington. Sometimes I will go to Washington. Sometimes I will go to Geneva, but in this case, I did not. Mr. Lee? But, thank you for your concern as to my travel… my accumulation of miles.
Question: [Washington,] D.C., DC-1 and Burundi. On D.C., I did see… I think your office tweeted these pictures of the Secretary‑General with various Congresspeople… and put his… like, who is in this photo, and it had Mark Meadows, Chris Smith, but I saw, for example, Eliot Engel. I'm just… I'm not critiquing your tweeting style except to say can we get a list of the Congresspeople with whom he met and… and…?
Spokesman: Well, he met with House Foreign Committee members, House Freedom Caucus members, State… Senate, State and Foreign ops… Appropriations Subcommittees. So… he met with Chris Smith. Some of these meetings were with specific Congresspeople, kind of more bilateral meetings or meetings with two of them. Some of them were committee meetings. So, we may not even have the full list of those members going… I mean, from what I see, there's a lot going on on the Hill these last few days, so some members come in, come out, and we may not have the exact list of all the members.
Question: But, just, like, for today, it's reported that… that at 1:10 p.m. Secretary of State Tillerson will meet with him. So, like, can you update…? I know that you said it here, but I'm saying, like, on his daily agenda…
Spokesman: No, I said… we'll try to do that.
Question: Okay. The other one is just DC… just a follow‑up, DC… DC-1, if… since you said you're happy to check into Abdelhamid's… can you… can you check whether non-… “non‑resident correspondents” have the same right to access…?
Spokesman: As I said, I'm… I don't physically open doors. I figuratively open doors. I'm happy… they're two doors… one, two… three doors down to our colleagues at MALU. They are mandated to assist the press corps, resident or not, in any way they can so…
Question: And Burundi, did you have an answer to the question yesterday?
Spokesman: No, nothing yet. Abdelhamid? What door can I open for you?
Question: Okay. You know, Stéphane, the position of the UN regarding Jerusalem. They consider all action taken by Israel vis‑à‑vis the city is null and void, according to seven Security Council resolutions, including [resolutions] 476 (1980) and 478 (1980). However, a Member State holds a celebration in the UN premises, celebrating the unification of Jerusalem, although that goes contradictory… a flagrant contra… contradiction to UN resolution. How could that be permitted?
Spokesman: As I answered to Ben, events organized by Member States, whether collectively or one by one, those questions should be addressed to the Member States. Thank you.