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

27 April 2018

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 Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

**Korean Peninsula

The Secretary‑General applauds today’s truly historic summit between the leaders of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and the Republic of Korea.  Many around the world were moved by the powerful imagery of the two leaders coming together to advance harmony and peace on the Korean Peninsula.  The Secretary‑General salutes the courage and leadership that resulted in the important commitments and agreed actions outlined in the Panmunjom Declaration for Peace, Prosperity and Unification of the Korean Peninsula.  He counts on the parties to build on their first meeting and swiftly implement all agreed actions to further inter‑Korean trust‑building and reconciliation, sincere dialogue and progress towards sustainable peace and verifiable denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula.  He looks forward to these gains being consolidated and advanced at the summit between the leaders of the United States and the DPRK expected to take place in the near future.  The Secretary‑General pledges his commitment and readiness to further assist in these important processes.

**Armenia

And I have a couple of phone readouts to share with you:  the Secretary‑General this morning spoke with President Armen Sarkissian, President of the Republic of Armenia.  The Secretary‑General congratulated the President on his election and highlighted the need for peaceful solutions to the recent developments in the country through dialogue and within the Constitutional framework.  The President expressed appreciation for the support of the United Nations and agreed with the Secretary‑General on the importance of dialogue and consensus.

**Madagascar

The Secretary‑General also spoke by phone this morning with the President of Madagascar, Hery Rajaonarimampianina [Rakotoarimanana].  The Secretary‑General reiterated his call for political dialogue, offered his good offices and agreed with the President to dispatch his Special Adviser, Abdoulaye Bathily, to Madagascar immediately.  Mr. Bathily will work closely with the African Union and the Southern African Development Community.  The Secretary‑General calls on all stakeholders to extend their support and cooperate with his Special Adviser in the discharge of his duties.

**Multilateralism

This morning, the Deputy Secretary‑General spoke at the high‑level symposium on “Strengthening multilateralism and multilateral trading system in the age of globalization”.  She said that trade is the fundamental building block of the modern economy, but warned that “we cannot take the multilateral trading system for granted.  We need to nurture and strengthen it”.  She added that at a time when the world economy has been showing broad‑based momentum, the introduction of restrictive trade policies is cause for concern, as they could undermine confidence, derail global growth and hurt businesses and consumers.  She called on countries to support a universal, rules‑based, open, non‑discriminatory and equitable multilateral trading system under the World Trade Organization.  Her remarks are available to you.

**South Sudan

The UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) is warning today that a surge in violent clashes in Unity, Jonglei and Central Equatoria States is having a devastating impact on thousands of civilians and on humanitarian agencies.  The head of the Mission and Special Representative of the Secretary‑General in South Sudan, David Shearer, said that civilians are being caught in the crossfire, including many women, children and elderly people.  He cited incidents of killing, sexual violence, homes being burnt to the ground, cattle raiding and looting of hospitals and schools.  There has been gunfire overnight near UNMISS’ temporary operating base at Leer and peacekeepers are on high alert to protect an influx of 600 internally displaced people who have sought sanctuary from the violence in recent days.  This brings the total number of displaced people at the Leer base to around 1,100.  A small number of displaced people have also arrived at the UN protection site in Bentiu and more are expected, while thousands have fled into swamp and bush areas.

**Syria

Our humanitarian colleagues tell us they are deeply concerned for the safety and protection of tens of thousands of civilians following the recent intensification of hostilities around the besieged area of Yarmouk and surrounding areas in southern Damascus.  Despite a few hours of calm yesterday, hostilities are reported to have resumed in the area.  Crossing from Government‑controlled areas to Yalda, Babila and Beit Sahm towns remains closed.  Since hostilities escalated in the besieged area of Yarmouk on 19 April, shelling has reportedly resulted in 9 deaths and left 65 people injured, and caused displacement.  The UN in Syria stands ready to scale up the humanitarian response for people in need in southern Damascus.  Meanwhile, we are also concerned for the safety and protection of civilians in southern rural Hama Governorate, where hostilities intensified in early April, resulting in the deaths and injuries of several civilians, and the displacement of an estimated 25,000 people.  Local authorities have also reported that people are suffering from malnutrition and that many people are in need of urgent medical assistance.

**Iraq

The Secretary‑General’s Special Representative for Iraq, Ján Kubiš, visited Anbar Governorate yesterday and pressed ahead with his call on Iraqis to seize the opportunity of the upcoming parliamentary elections to make their voices heard and effect positive change.  He said that elections are a pillar of the democratic process.  Mr. Kubiš said that this is the opportunity for Iraqis to vote and decide their own future by making the choice of their own representatives who will work for security, stability and prosperity.  There is a press release from the Mission in my office.

**Bangladesh-Myanmar

I wanted to give you an update on the situation in Cox’s Bazar as the Security Council members are making their way to the region:  as you know, the overall population of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh is currently estimated to be over 1 million.  New refugees are still arriving, with some 8,000 new arrivals since January 2018.  The Government and people of Bangladesh have displayed extraordinary generosity towards Rohingya refugees, with support by the international community.  The latest round of food distribution reached over 470,000 people. Over 5,000 tube wells and 47,000 latrines have been built, and more than 90,000 children have been receiving primary school education.

Humanitarian partners on the ground also conduct protection monitoring missions to support survivors of sexual and gender‑based violence, and are also strengthening preparedness efforts to the incoming cyclone and monsoon season.  Over 65,000 households have received supplies to make their existing shelters monsoon‑proof. More than 15,000 refugees in particularly at‑risk areas will soon be moved to safer ground, and construction of access roads is also progressing.  To date, the joint response plan for the Rohingya humanitarian crisis, launched in mid‑March, is only 9 per cent funded.  It requests $951 million to help respond to the needs of some 1.3 million people, both Rohingya refugees and vulnerable members of the host community, until December 2018.

**UNICEF

I just want to flag that this evening at 6:15 p.m., the Secretary‑General will be speaking at an event co‑organized by UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund] and the Education Above All Foundation.  That will take place at the New York Public Library.  The event seeks to shine a light on the global education crisis and the remaining work needed to provide every child with a quality education.  If you are interested to attend, let us know.

**Press Briefings

After my briefing, Brenden [Varma] will brief you.  And then immediately after that, there will be briefing here sponsored by DESA [Department of Economic and Social Affairs] on the recently concluded UN forum on financing for development.  Masood?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  On the latest situation in Gaza, which the Secretary‑General's representative said was about to explode any time and in that reference, Amnesty International said that recently, 35 Palestinians were killed, 5,000 probably injured by the Israelis.  Does the Secretary‑General have any reaction to that, and as to… has he talked to the Israelis about this?

Spokesman:  Well, I think a few things.  First of all, I think the Secretary‑General's opinion and point of view is reflected very clearly in the lengthy presentation that Mr. [Nickolay] Mladenov made.  We have made our concerns known to all the parties about… on the Israeli side about the excessive… concerns about excessive… about the use of force, about the need to avoid casualties, especially children, and also the message to those who are demonstrating to ensure that children are not deliberately put in harm's way.

Question:  So what's… what's the Secretary‑General's reaction to the… the suggestion that there should be an international arms embargo against Israel because [of] these things?

Spokesman:  Again, I would refer you to the statements Mr. Mladenov made.  Yep.

Question:  Well, today, they added to their targets the journalists, and especially all journalists and television crews were targeted.  Al Mayadeen's reporter was suffocated and passed out as they were reporting.  So what do… do you have any statement?

Spokesman:  I'll look into… I'm not aware of those particular reports.  We'll look into it.  Obviously, as a matter of principle, we've called for the protection of journalists and ensuring that journalists are not intentionally targeted, but we will look into those reports, and I would also refer you to the statement made by the High Commissioner for Human Rights today.

Question:  Well, since yesterday, the meeting did not come out with anything because of the… of the obstacles put against any statement.  What does the Secretary‑General intend to do to alleviate the situation there?  Does he have any new statements stronger than the one past?

Spokesman:  Well, I think yesterday was a very comprehensive statement on his view on the situation concerning the Israelis and the Palestinians.  His grave concern at further escalation and again, a call for the parties to get back to talking.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  A follow‑up to the inter‑Korean summit meeting.  So although DPRK's leader… the joint statement hasn't mentioned DPRK's own denuclearization, at least they reiterated to make effort for complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.  So how much does UN expect for the future… DPRK's return to the NPT [Non‑Proliferation Treaty] regime and what can UN do for the… make… encourage the DPRK to go back to the NPT?

Spokesman:  Well, I think the Secretary‑General's message and his aim is to see a peacefully denuclearized Korean Peninsula.  That has been his constant message since the beginning.  I think he very much welcomes what was achieved today.  We want to see it implemented.  Obviously, as you know, there are other steps, as we are all looking forward to, I think, the plan… the summit between the DPRK and United States leaders, which has been… which is expected to take place in the near future.  The Secretary‑General in his contacts and all his advisers will continue to pass that message along and to work towards peaceful denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

Correspondent:  Follow‑up.  Thank you.  Thank you, Stéphane.  Follow‑up on that. In today's statement by Secretary‑General on the summit, there was no mention about Security Council resolution, but I would like to first confirm that there is no change in the Secretary‑General's opinion about… it is still important to…

Spokesman:  There's no… I think the fact that it was not mentioned is not a reflection of any change of opinion from the Secretary‑General on the need for Security Council resolutions to be fully implemented.

Question:  Okay, thank you.  And related to that, given the series of positive developments from the beginning of this year, what will be the Secretary‑General's opinion about when it is… when will be the appropriate timing to start discussions to ease sanction resolutions?

Spokesman:  You know, I think it's up to council members to decide when they feel the appropriate time is to discuss sanction resolutions.  Mr. Lee and then Ben.

Question:  Sure.  Some other things, but with this announcement about Madagascar, I had wanted to ask you, you said Mr. Bathily, I guess, is going to be the envoy.  I… one, what's his role in that with the UN?  I thought he used to be the head of UNOCA [United Nations Regional Office for Central Africa].

Spokesman:  Right.  He's now… as of today, he's a Special Adviser of Secretary‑General on a when‑employed basis, and he will be employed to go to Madagascar along the terms outlined in the readout.

Question:  And I had asked you in writing on 10 April about a published report in Senegal and elsewhere in Africa… Afrique Confidentielle, saying that essentially, this is their report, that Mr. Bathily received money from Ali Bongo while he was working on Gabon and I wonder, you never responded to that.  Is that something… once that was published and you didn't answer the question, did the UN look into that publication?

Spokesman:  We don't believe these reports to be true.

Question:  So who suggested Mr. Bathily?  Was it the Secretary‑General or the President of Madagascar?

Spokesman:  He has been on the Secretary‑General's radar as someone who could help on Madagascar.  Obviously, it's the Secretary-General's choice.  As when he sends an envoy representative to any country, it has to be done with the agreement of the receiving country.

Correspondent:  But this… this published… this previous published report basically implies that as a UN envoy, officially at the time, Mr. Bathily went… I don't know, went soft, didn't… was not critical of Gabon in exchange for money.

Spokesman:  As I said to you, we believe these reports to be false.  What's your next question?

Question:  Okay great.  I'm sorry to say… well, I'll go with the friendlier one.  The Côte d'Ivoire… I was surprised not to hear… maybe I missed it.  Maybe you did announce some good news of Côte d'Ivoire giving 450 troops for Central African Republic (CAR)?  Is that the case?

Spokesman:  You know, as Gabon had announced its decision to withdraw its troops from the CAR, we're in discussion with a number of troop‑contributing countries, including Côte d'Ivoire, to send troops, but nothing firm to announce.

Correspondent:  It's been reported that the… that the Foreign Minister said to some press, not I guess at the stakeout, that they are giving 450.

Spokesman:  As I said, you know, we're… I can only announce what I can announce.  Mr. Ben?

Question:  Just on Gaza.  When you said the Secretary‑General has spoken to all sides, does that include the PA [Palestinian Authority]?  Does that include Hamas?

Spokesman:  I think what I've said, or what I should have said, is that through his representatives in Mr. Mladenov, there have been discussions with all the relevant parties.

Question:  What message has that… what message has been given to Hamas, where it all seems to be coming from the organization of this Great March, as it's called?

Spokesman:  I think the message given to relevant parties is the need to respect people's rights to demonstrate peacefully, to avoid violence, and to avoid putting children… intentionally putting children in harm's way.  Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  In the Bandung declaration, the Secretary‑General praised the effort of the two Korean parties towards progress, peace, and reconciliation and unification.  Does he think this is a good example for the parties who are inclined towards territorial disintegration?

Spokesman:  I think positive dialogue should be a good example to anyone who needs it.  Madame, and then we'll come here.

Question:  I have a question again on Kosovo.  Security Council is going to talk Monday?  And are you expecting…?

Spokesman:  Is going to what, I'm sorry?

Correspondent:  To have their report on Kosovo.

Spokesman:  Right, right.

Question:  Is going to happen something to change the situation?  Or is always the same as in January, report, discuss, and nothing happen?

Spokesman:  Well, I… if I could predict the future I would be making a lot of money doing something else.  The report will come out.  There will be discussions in the Security Council.  Obviously, our… and then we'll have to see what happens, but we are always looking for an improvement in the situation.  Madame?

Question:  Thank you.  My question is also about inter‑Korean summit.  Actually, there are many reasons leading to this historical inter‑Korean summit.  Do you think, what are the reasons?

Spokesman:  I think, as you said, there are many reasons.  There… we can see the increased dialogue that has taken place between leaders in the DPRK and interested parties.  We have seen unity on behalf of the Security Council.  I will leave that for the analysts, but it is true that we have seen in the past few months and weeks a change in the overall situation, and I think what's important, an increased willingness of the parties to talk, especially on the part of the DPRK.  Nizar and then Masood.

Correspondent:  Yeah, before me is a… is an internal memo by the Libyan National Accord, complaining that the system of national number, which has been adopted by the Government, which is the registrar of the number of… number of Libyans who are eligible to voting and to getting allowances is totally rigged.  Hundreds of thousands of people are duplicated, which would put the elections in Libya at jeopardy…

Spokesman:  Nizar, I clearly don't have the same memo in front of me.  I will look into this issue.  I can't speak to it off the top of my head.  I can't say anything past that I will look into the issue.

Question:  Did you get anything from Mr. [Ghassan] Salamé regarding this?

Spokesman:  As I said, I will look into the issue.

Question:  I have another question regarding the recent attack in Yemen on a petrol station where about 20 people were massacred by the so‑called Saudi‑led coalition, so…

Spokesman:  I had not seen that report; I will look into it.  Masood?

Question:  Yes, sir.  Stéphane, about this situation in Yemen.  The Secretary‑General, has he had any latest conversation with the Saudi Arabians about this, about letting go of these air strikes which are again continuing to…

Spokesman:  As you know, this is an issue that came up during his discussions in Saudi Arabia and this is… Mr. [Martin] Griffiths has been… his Special Envoy has been deeply involved in discussions with all the parties.  Ben?

Question:  Yeah, just on a State Department report that showed voting along… vote with, for the US is down by 30 per cent on the year for General Assembly resolutions.  Is there a worry within the system that the US may start not funding as much as they have been?  Right now, I think it's 22 per cent.

Spokesman:  Look… it's a fantastic question for debate and for an analysis.  What I can tell you is that obviously Member States vote the way they want to vote.  For the Secretary‑General, the engagement of the United States, engagement with the United States and the United Nations is critical.  It's very important.  He has himself a very constructive and I would say positive relationship with the United States.  As for the scale of assessment, you know, that's a Member State issue.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Sure I wanted to ask you… I had asked you before about the procurement of drones for MONUSCO [United Nations Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo] in the DRC, and I think the upshot of this back‑and‑forth is that the low bidder doesn't necessarily get the bid, but it's since emerged that a… a company has been allowed in as… as now, the presumptive front‑runner, Aeronautics Defence Systems, which will actually banned from… had contracts terminated in Romania in 2017 and Poland in 2012, so many… the people that are… that are, you know, following this to see how money is being spent… what's the… the… it's one thing to say, you know, the low bidder, we can investigate them and not do them, but then how can a company be brought in…?

Spokesman:  Look, I don't have all the facts on the top of my head.  What I do know is that obviously, it's always the lowest… it's the low bidder with the best possible bid.  I mean, you know, what the process is.  All vendors go through a vetting process.  I have no information on this particular company or know whether or not they are, in fact, part of the bidding process.

Question:  Is past… is past record of completion or termination of contracts part of the…?

Spokesman:  Everything is looked at in the procurement process.

Question:  And I wanted to ask you also… thanks for the two readouts of the… of the calls.  Was there a call by the Secretary‑General with the President of Turkey on Thursday?

Spokesman:  There was. They discussed the situation in Syria and they discussed the issue of funding for UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East).

Correspondent:  And what… so I'm just… I'm just trying to understand what the threshold is for a unilateral readout or…

Spokesman:  It's the Secretary‑General's decision.  There are… he has conversations with leaders, which, you know, he's happy for them to remain unannounced for us and other times he makes a decision to go public.  There's diplomacy that goes on under… below the waterline; there's diplomacy that goes on above the waterline.  And sometimes, we're flushed out, and sometimes, we're not.

Correspondent:  Right, but when… when… when one party is above the waterline, like Côte d'Ivoire saying we're giving 450, and then you guys say we're not giving…

Spokesman:  Well, no. I did not say they're not giving.  I said we're in discussions with them.  As you know, we are a procedure-based Organization and obviously, before we formally announce any country's contributing troops to us there's a lot of paperwork and things that need to be worked out, so from our end, we usually like to wait until everything… all the dots are I'ed and all the T's are crossed.

Question:  Are you aware in Canada to have a push for an actual House of Commons vote on the now‑announced by your side Canadian contribution…?

Spokesman:  No, I'm not involved in the internal mechanisms in Canada on this issue.  Mr. Abbadi. I will go back to you, Nizar.  I always do.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  The inter‑Korean summit has been described as a very successful summit.  Does the Secretary‑General believe that President Xi Jinping of China has played a role in the outcome?

Spokesman:  You know, it is clear that leaders that have engaged with the DPRK all over the world have had an impact.  This is a summit that has been able to materialize because of the actions of many and because of a change in the overall circumstances and the overall atmosphere.  Nizar?

Question:  What does the Secretary‑General or Mr. Griffiths think about the targeted assassination of a figure… interlocutor like Mr. Saleh al‑Sammad in Yemen recently?

Spokesman:  Look, any violence, any targeted killings, it's to be condemned.

Question:  How will that affect the political track on Yemen?

Spokesman:  Look, there has been violence and suffering in Yemen for far too long.  What we want and what Mr. Griffiths is working towards is to bring the parties back to the table.

Question:  Do you condone or condemn this assassination?

Spokesman:  I just… I think I just answered that question.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Sure, I wanted to ask you, especially with the council… Security Council going to… to Myanmar.  Do you have anything more on the… the fighting in Kachin areas?  I know that earlier…

Spokesman:  No, I flagged that, I think, yesterday.  I don't have anything… I don't have any update for today.

Question:  And I wanted to ask is the Deputy Secretary‑General going to give a speech in London on the 30th, as is reported?

Spokesman:  I will check.  Nobody tells me anything.  Go ahead.

Question:  On… on Douma, a few days ago, I asked about the return of services and access to Douma, whether by humanitarian convoys or by other… other people.  How is the situation there?  Do you have any idea?

Spokesman:  I have nothing more than what Ms. [Ursula] Mueller said… told the Council, I think a little more over a day ago, which is that we have not had access to Douma in quite some time.  Yes?

Question:  Sure, speaking of Deputy Secretary‑General speeches, I noticed that both the Secretary‑General and the Deputy were at G‑77 this morning and spoke to some people coming out.  Can you give your side?  How does the Secretary‑General think the proposed restructuring of the development system and the moving of the Resident Coordinators from UNDP [United Nations Development Programme] to the Secretariat, does he… does he think it's moving forward or does he think it’s not?

Spokesman:  The process is ongoing and we're deeply engaged in it.  Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Have you been able to convince the Secretary‑General that it is both important and pertinent to have a press conference here?

Spokesman:  We'll see when it happens.  Thank you. I'll leave you with Mr. Varma.

For information media. Not an official record.