The following is a near‑verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary‑General.
The Secretary-General briefed the Security Council this morning during the high‑level debate on collective action to improve UN peacekeeping operations. He said that at its best, UN peacekeeping is a remarkable enterprise of multilateralism and international solidarity, but that it faces serious challenges. He stressed that peace operations cannot succeed if they are deployed instead of a political solution, rather than in support of one. And he added that UN peacekeeping missions now operate in far more dangerous, complex and high‑risk environments. UN peacekeepers are often underequipped, underprepared and unready for the dangerous environments in which they now operate, he said.
The Secretary‑General warned that we are damaging the instrument of peacekeeping, and multilateralism itself, in creating unrealistic expectations. He therefore stressed the need to focus our efforts in three areas: refocus peacekeeping with realistic expectations; make missions stronger and safer; and mobilize greater support for political solutions and for well‑structured, well‑equipped, well‑trained forces. While the UN has set change in motion, action by the Secretariat alone is not enough to meet the challenges we face, he added. Our chances of success increase dramatically when we work together with Member States and share burdens, risks and responsibilities. This is why he is launching a new initiative, “Action for Peacekeeping”, aimed at mobilizing all partners and stakeholders to support UN peacekeeping. His statement is online.
The Deputy Secretary‑General, Amina Mohammed, was in Nouakchott [Mauritania] today. Speaking at the Strategic Consultative Meeting on the Sahel, she said the Sahel is a litmus test of the ongoing UN reforms, which aim to better avert and address complex and multidimensional crises such as the one in the region. She said that if we are to put an end to violence, conflict and terrorism in the region, we must address their root causes, including the lack of access to basic rights, services and economic opportunities, socioeconomic exclusion, marginalization, discrimination and corruption. This requires support to the Governments of the Sahel countries to strengthen their capacities to absorb international aid, deliver basic services to all and secure their territories and borders.
Ms. Mohammed stressed that one of the main challenges in the Sahel is the multiplicity of actors and initiatives in the region, often not pulling in the same direction. This cannot continue, and the UN system has developed a UN support plan that will trigger investment in the Sahel and contribute to mobilizing the necessary resources for the 10 countries of the region. Military-and security‑focused responses have time and again proven their limits, and we all know that sustaining peace cannot be achieved without sustainable development, she said. Her remarks have been shared with you.
We put out a note to correspondents following the Secretary‑General’s meeting yesterday with Prince Mohamad bin Salman al Saud, Crown Prince, First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defence of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. In it, the Secretary‑General expressed his gratitude to the Crown Prince and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for delivering on the generous pledge it made with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in January to provide $930 million to the 2018 Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan. The Secretary‑General said he hoped other donors will follow their example to make generous contributions towards the Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan at the Yemen High‑level Pledging Event in Geneva on 3 April. The Secretary‑General and the Crown Prince discussed the need for the parties to the conflict to work towards a negotiated political settlement through inclusive intra‑Yemeni dialogue. The Secretary‑General stressed that ending the conflict is the only way to resolve the ongoing humanitarian crisis.
The Secretary‑General’s Special Representative for Iraq, Ján Kubiš, congratulated Iraqi political parties and blocs for signing the Electoral Charter of Honour on Wednesday in Baghdad. He said that an effective Charter of Honour is essential to conducting the elections in a free, fair, impartial, transparent and credible manner. Mr. Kubiš calls upon all signatories, the media and all stakeholders involved in the electoral process to abide by the provisions of the Charter. UNAMI [United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq], as an impartial partner, stands ready to support this process. The Special Representative confirmed that any political party or entity which did not sign the Charter during Wednesday’s event was most welcome to do so in the coming days.
Since 9 March, more than 80,000 people have fled eastern Ghouta in Syria, more than 52,000 of whom are sheltered in nine collective shelters in rural Damascus, where they are provided with emergency supplies and health assistance. Yesterday, 100 buses with 6,768 people, including 45 medical cases, arrived in Al‑Madiq Castle town in northern rural Hama. Another 52 buses left Arbin town in the evening with 3,241 people, including 11 medical cases, arriving in north‑western Syria today.
The United Nations emphasizes that any evacuation of civilians must be safe, voluntary, and to a place of their choosing. It is imperative that all those who are displaced through local agreements have the right of return as soon as the situation allows. We also remain deeply concerned for tens of thousands of civilians affected by fighting in north‑western Syria. Since the military offensive began in January, an estimated 183,570 men, women and children have been displaced to Tal Refaat and surrounding villages, while between 50,000 to 70,000 are estimated to remain in Afrin town.
Our friends at UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund] tell us that their Goodwill Ambassador David Beckham travelled to Indonesia this week to meet children who have experienced classroom violence and bullying. The David Beckham UNICEF Fund is newly supporting UNICEF programmes in Indonesia, El Salvador, Nepal and Uganda, tackling bullying, violence, child marriage and missed education. Since 2015, it has helped to vaccinate 400,000 children against polio in Djibouti, give 15,000 children access to clean drinking water in Burkina Faso and protect 14,500 children from violence and abuse in Cambodia. More information is available on UNICEF’s website.
Today our Honour Roll is welcoming its seventieth Member State, with Bosnia and Herzegovina having paid its regular budget dues in full.
And Brenden Varma, the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly, is next. Any questions for me beforehand? Yes, Joe?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Yeah, two questions. First of all, Ambassador [Nikki] Haley, this morning, reiterated that the US will not be paying any more than 25 per cent of the peacekeeping budget. So, I'd like to know whether there's any current planning in the Secretariat to deal with the reduction in funding that will result from that. And my second question is, the statement that you alluded to coming out of the Secretary‑General's meeting with the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. There wasn't any specific reference to Saudi Arabia's complaint, which I believe has been transmitted to the UN, about Iran's central role in fomenting the attacks and violence in Yemen and the attacks from the Houthis, the missile attacks, into Saudi Arabia. So, could you comment on that as well? Thank you.
Deputy Spokesman: Regarding your second question, you'll have seen that we did issue a statement earlier this week condemning the missile attacks against Riyadh. And as for…
Question: But the subject come up… can I just ask, did the subject specifically come up of Saudi Arabia asking for the UN's intervention or assistance in… in directly addressing and condemning Iran's role in Yemen? Because that… it's been widely reported that Saudi Arabia has made such request.
Deputy Spokesman: Well, regarding that, I will leave it to the Saudi Mission to speak for what the Saudi side said. Regarding our side, we put out a note to correspondents, and we put out the Secretary‑General's remarks. And I would just refer you to those for our response on that. Your first question I have now forgotten because you kept interrupting. [Laughter]
Correspondent: I wasn't keeping interrupting. I was just trying to sharpen the questioning. But, anyway, it… it was referencing Ambassador Haley's statement this morning about the US limiting its contributions to peacekeeping 25 per cent.
Deputy Spokesman: Right, yeah. Regarding that, as you know, both the regular and the peacekeeping budgets, the assessments for those are agreed to among Member States. And so it's up to Member States to determine what the appropriate scale assessment is, and we'll leave that matter in their hands. Of course, from our perspective, we try to make sure, in terms of the funds that we get, that we're able to have sufficient funds for all our operations. Hold on. I was… I said Mr. Sato next and so… you, you and then you.
Question: Thank you, Farhan. My question about the Kim Jong Un's… North Korea's Kim Jong Un's visit to China. What's… what's the… the Secretary‑General's response or assess to this very important visit? And, of course, at the upcoming the South and North and… North and US summit meeting will be prepared. So, what's the Secretary‑General's response in… as well as how does this meeting and the activating dialogue be influenced… implement… implementation of the Security Council resolution against North Korea?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, certainly, as we've said in the past about the most recent developments in the past weeks concerning the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), the Secretary‑General very much hopes that all of the recent positive signals will help to lead towards the peaceful denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Ultimately, we want to make sure that all of these steps can lead to sustainable peace and the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in line, as you just mentioned, with the resolutions of the Security Council. Yes?
Question: My question is also about this issue. China's President, Xi Jinping, met DPRK leader Kim Jong Un in Beijing. So, I want to know what's the comments Security Council or what's the sec… Secretary‑General's comment on this meeting, especially its role in solving Korean Peninsula issue?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, the Secretary‑General, as I just pointed out to your colleague, welcomes any steps that could lead towards the peaceful denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and he would do so in this case. We may have something more to say about this in the afternoon, but that's basically where we stand for now. Yes, Benny?
Question: Couple of questions. First, continuing that theme of Haley, 25 per cent, can the UN peacekeeping get along with a smaller US contribution?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, as I pointed out to your colleague, Joe, ultimately, it's up to the Member States themselves to determine any changes in the scale of assessment.
Correspondent: That was not my question.
Deputy Spokesman: If there… if countries… obviously, different countries pay their budgets at different times. We get money at different times. We would, obviously, need all Member States to pay their dues, whether it's regular budget dues or their peacekeeping dues. At the same time, of course, we're well aware that that happens at different times for different States. Sometimes, there are problems getting the money paid, and we do have contingencies in those cases.
Question: But the question is, can peacekeeping department get along with a smaller budget that would probably come up if the US limits its… as US law says, limit its contribution to 25 per cent?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, the question about a smaller budget is separate and apart from the question of assessments. Assessments, like I said, is a Member State issue. Whether the peacekeeping budget can be reduced is a separate thing having to do, in particular, with the cost of different missions and however many missions we run. As you know, in recent months, there have been several missions that have been closed down, including the missions in Côte d'Ivoire and, most recently, in Liberia. Those themselves reduce our budget and that can happen in a variety of different ways, but that's separate and apart from the question of assessment.
Correspondent: On another topic from…
Deputy Spokesman: Before we go to…
Correspondent: Wait, wait. That was my second question. I said two questions…
Deputy Spokesman: Hey, before we go to another topic, there's other questions. Matthew?
Question: No, it's for the same topic, just a follow‑up. Haley also said that part of what she urged was a more robust execution of its mandate for UNIFIL [United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon], that it should do more to… she didn't say that, but she… it should do more… she said in the past that it should do more to find arms that it claims doesn't exist. Do you see any change in UNIFIL's execution of the mandate?
Deputy Spokesman: UNIFIL has been executing its mandate, and it has been working assiduously to make sure that its area of operations is free of arms that are prohibited. And, to that extent, it does constant patrolling throughout the area south of the Litani River. If there's any need to change the mandate, which is a separate debate, that's really up to the members of the Security Council. Matthew and then Olga.
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask you about the… that… both meeting and ceremony yesterday with the Saudi Crown Prince. Although it's reported that he was, you know… the Secretary‑General was pushing for a, you know, political solution, I didn't really hear anything said about the civilian casualties of the bombing campaign. And I know that Saudi Arabia's listed in this kind of unique way in the children and armed conflict as a country that has… that's listed, but it's trying to do better. Who at the meeting… the closed‑door meeting, on the Secretariat's side, was… I guess… was that even discussed, steps being taken by the Coalition to not kill children? And, also, Mr. [Jeffrey] Feltman was there, and I guess he's… obviously, he's Political Affairs, but given that Thursday is his last day, has there been any progress in getting him to actually come and have a press conference here, as was referred to by Stéphane [Dujarric]?
Deputy Spokesman: Yes. I do, in fact, expect that we will have Jeffrey Feltman available to speak to you in this room tomorrow. We're working out the timing with our colleagues in the Department of Political Affairs, and we'll make an announcement when that happens. Regarding the discussions, both the Secretary‑General's remarks and the note that we issued are… serve as our readout of that meeting, and that's the basic details that we'll share. And regarding the question of the children and armed conflict report, that report is still being worked out on, and we believe that it will be completed this summer.
Question: And what… this is question… just because Brenden referred me to… to ask the Secretariat, which I guess would be you. It may be a small thing but he asked… it's true. The question actually is one that would… arose yesterday, and it may seem small to you, but the door that goes to the Security Council that the public can use to go to the public gallery remains locked. And it had been said that the PGA's [President of the General Assembly] office had wanted it closed so people didn't wander into their office. They say that's not the case and to ask the Secretariat. So, I wanted to ask you, because it seems… one, it inconvenienced journalists, but it also inconveniences overall the idea of public watching debates. The door between the Secretariat Building and the Conference Building on the third floor, which has been open in the past, remains locked. Today, I saw the Angolan ambassador refer it up… to… to take people with him to see it, and he can't get through. You're the Secretariat. You… what's the basis of now locking that door?
Deputy Spokesman: I'm not aware which door that is, but we'll check.
Question: Third floor directly… almost directly above us, between this building and the public gallery in the Security Council, ECOSOC [Economic and Social Council] and Trusteeship.
Deputy Spokesman: I'll check with my colleagues and see what can be done about that. [He later said that UN Security said that the doors are locked as a security measure to prevent any visitors wandering away from their guided tour into Secretariat Building. Once they are in this building, Security said, they have full access to most of the floors.] Yes? Oh, yes, Olga. Yes, you're next and then you after. Yes. Thank you for keeping me on track.
Question: Thanks, Farhan. Since the announcement of the meeting between the leaders of DPRK and China has been made officially, did [the Secretary‑General] contacted any of the parties of the talks for more details?
Deputy Spokesman: In terms of discussions, I don't have any phone calls or anything to share with you on that. Like I said, we may have a little bit more to say about that meeting later this afternoon. Yes?
Question: Thank you. Just a follow‑up about questions about… on Haley's remarks this morning. You pointed to… of course, to the responsibility of the Member States but, just a straightforward question, can you speak to any specific contingency plan by the Secretariat by DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations]?
Deputy Spokesman: No, I wouldn't speculate on contingency plans. We will have to see what happens. As I said, the basic point is that any changes in assessment would have to be agreed to by the Member States themselves. Yes, Ben, and then Luke.
Question: Yeah. I had asked Stéphane this last Friday, and he said he would do a follow‑up, but obviously, he's not here. Regarding the letter sent to the Israeli Mission asking for, I think, around half a million dollars for reparations from the 2014 Gaza war, what can you tell us about that?
Deputy Spokesman: This was a letter that follows up to the work of the Board of Inquiry that we had concerning that conflict. The board of inquiry wrapped up its work in 2015, and it identified seven instances where damages to UN facilities were attributed to the actions of the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF). And so, last week's letter was a submission for claims related to the 2014 conflict.
Question: And as I understand it, I don't think the Israelis… I think they sent out a statement saying they weren't going to be paying that. What's your reaction to that? And second, have… have you contacted the Government in Gaza, asking them about claims?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, like I said, this was a follow‑up to the board of inquiry's identification of seven claims involving the IDF, and so that's how… that's why it involved a letter to Israel.
Correspondent: But no claims on… other, from Hamas, for example.
Deputy Spokesman: I would refer you to the board of inquiry report, we put that out… we put the results of it out in 2015. You can see for yourself what it says. And, regarding the lack of response, we expect that… we'll continue to take this up further as needed. Yes. Oh… you, then you.
Question: Thanks. Regarding the statement put out last night in the meeting with the Crown Prince, it ends with a quote that the “efforts of reform that you are leading are very courageous and very bold and fully leading to success”, end quote. This is a very open‑ended endorsement of policy. What… to what is being referred in… specifically?
Deputy Spokesman: It's just referring to the idea of opening up the society of Saudi Arabia, the hope that that can bear fruit.
Question: To what? Opening up to… to what?
Deputy Spokesman: Allowing greater participation, including, for example, for women. Yes?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. Do we have an update for eastern Ghouta? What's going on right now over there?
Deputy Spokesman: I gave an update earlier about the situation in eastern Ghouta.
Question: The question is, the people is not [inaudible], not yet. They still have no food, hungry and all the… you know. What [is] the UN doing for that?
Deputy Spokesman: I mentioned that more than 80,000 people fled eastern Ghouta, more than 52,000 of whom are sheltered in nine collective shelters, and I mentioned the recent departures of the past day or so, where we have witnessed thousands of people going to places in Hama and north‑eastern Syria. Yes?
Question: Thank you, Farhan. Follow‑up on Yemen that yesterday we've seen the photo opportunity between the SG and the Crown Prince, and does that meeting mean that any progress in terms of the political process on Yemen? Because the SG to… made his eagerness to get involved in this process, but Saudi Arabia… the Crown Prince, also he mentioned about positive response, but at the same time, he reiterated that the… that he represents his national interest. So how do you see yesterday's meeting development?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, I would refer you to what the Secretary‑General said. His basic point is that the humanitarian crisis cannot be solved simply through humanitarian means. What we need is a political solution, and he's made that point very clear. His Special Envoy, Martin Griffiths, is in Sana'a, in fact, today. So, he's been trying to talk with the relevant officials in Sana’a, and this follows his own travel to Riyadh a few days ago. And so we're hopeful that his own discussions will help move the process along, because ultimately, what we need is a negotiated solution among the parties.
Question: The delegation will meet the officer in Yemen today?
Deputy Spokesman: I beg your pardon?
Question: The… the… the delegation… the Mr. Griffiths will meet with officer of the Yemen and some opposite party today?
Deputy Spokesman: We'll be able to provide a little bit more detail about Mr. Griffiths' meetings once his trip… once his travel has concluded. Yes?
Question: I actually just… I'd asked you yesterday about the son… the son, Ahmed Saleh, and I just want to make clear, he's in the UAE. I don't know if Mr.… if Martin Griffiths… is he going to go there as well to… to speak to relevant…?
Deputy Spokesman: No, I'm not aware of any plans for the UAE. During this particular juncture, he's visiting Riyadh and Sana'a.
Question: And I have another… it's sort of… it's a UAE question. There was… Yesterday, in the Council, Somalia made a point of saying that they… they believe that a… an agreement between the UAE and Somaliland to build a military base is illegal and… and… I guess I wanted to ask, since the UN has this Envoy, Mr. Michael Keating, it seems like it's… it's a pretty big standoff between a de facto autonomous region agreeing to a military base by another country, the UAE. Some people say this was permitted under an Ankara agreement. Some say they aren't. What's the UN's position on the UAE building a military base in Somaliland?
Deputy Spokesman: Ultimately, these are discussions that need to be resolved bilaterally between the Governments of Somalia and the United Arab Emirates. Come on up, Brenden.