17 September 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.

**Saudi Arabia

Good afternoon.  The Secretary-General has just returned to New York after having been in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, yesterday, where he witnessed what he called a "historic moment" — the signing of a peace agreement between Ethiopia and Eritrea.  Speaking to reporters with the Saudi Foreign Minister after the event, the Secretary-General expressed his deep appreciation to the role played by His Majesty, the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, for bringing the parties together.  The Secretary-General noted that the agreement means there is a wind of hope blowing in the Horn of Africa.  He pointed to other progress that’s being made in the region, including talks between the leaders of Djibouti and Eritrea.  While in Jeddah, he met separately with King Salman, as well as with the Crown Prince and the Foreign Minister.  In all of these meetings, he discussed the funding shortfall for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and the situations in Syria's Idlib, as well as in Yemen.


I want to say that we expect to issue a statement on this later today, but I do want to say for now that we extend our condolences to the victims of Typhoon Mangkhut in the Philippines and China, as well as those of Hurricane Florence that hit North and South Carolina.  In the Philippines, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs is working closely with the Government to coordinate rapid assessment and response.  Major areas of need include food, health, water, sanitation and hygiene, as well as shelter.  Access to high mountainous areas is often of concern, as well as potential floods and landslides.  The United Nations stands ready to support the Government’s relief efforts as needed.


And Martin Griffiths, the Special Envoy for Yemen, is in Sana’a; he’ll also be there tomorrow.  On Wednesday, he will travel to Riyadh for two days and then go onward to New York, to be here during the General Assembly.  Over the weekend, the Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen, Lise Grande, initialled a note verbale with authorities in Sana’a to enable the medical transfer of critically ill patients, by chartered flight, to a medical facility that is equipped to manage such cases.  The World Health Organization (WHO) is working with all parties to confirm the operating procedures for the humanitarian air bridge.  And an independent international company has been contracted to review the medical records of the patients who are selected to ensure they are eligible for the service.  The humanitarian air bridge will operate for an initial period trial of six months.

**Middle East

And Nickolay Mladenov, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, said yesterday he was concerned at the intention of the Israeli authorities to demolish the Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar, also known as Abu al-Helu, a community of 181 people, over half of whom are children.  He calls on the authorities not to proceed with the demolition and to cease efforts to relocate Palestinian communities in the occupied West Bank.  Such actions are contrary to international law and could undermine the chances for the establishment of a viable, contiguous Palestinian State.  Today, Mr. Mladenov extended his condolences to the family of Ari Fuld, an Israeli-American civilian, who was stabbed in the West Bank yesterday.  Everyone must stand up to violence and condemn terror, Mr. Mladenov said.

And today, the Humanitarian Coordinator for the occupied Palestinian territory, Jamie McGoldrick,, announced the release of $1 million from the Humanitarian Fund for the Occupied Palestinian Territory to prevent the collapse of life-saving services in the Gaza Strip.  The funds will be allocated to the UN‑Assisted Emergency Fuel Programme, which provides emergency fuel, mainly for back-up electricity generators, to around 250 critical health, water and sanitation facilities in the Gaza Strip.  While the allocation will provide enough fuel for one and a half months, at least $2 million in additional support is still needed to cover the bare minimum.

**South Sudan

And on peacekeeping, our colleagues report that a Nepalese peacekeeper serving with the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) was shot and wounded by a Government soldier while travelling in a convoy in the town of Yei over the weekend, on Saturday.  The peacekeeper was evacuated to the UN base before being airlifted to Juba for further medical treatment.  In a statement over the weekend, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, David Shearer, described the attack as unacceptable, and said the perpetrator must be found and held accountable by the authorities of the Government.  He added that it was beholden on the Government to bring their forces under control.  In the same statement, Mr. Shearer said it was disheartening that, despite the signing of the revitalized peace agreement by all parties to the conflict days ago, fighting is continuing in South Sudan’s Central Equatoria region.  He said all forces must disengage as required by the peace agreement, and the parties must work together to build trust between themselves and with the people of South Sudan.

**Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

Back here, as you will have seen, Rosemary DiCarlo, the Head of the Political Affairs Department, briefed the Security Council this morning on developments in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and she recalled that the Secretary-General has welcomed the commitment made by Chairman Kim Jong Un on 5 September to realize the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.  Under-Secretary-General DiCarlo also said the Secretary-General, during his upcoming high-level week during the United Nations General Assembly, will discuss how he and the UN system can further support the parties and what steps can be further taken towards advancing sustainable peace, security, and complete and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, in accordance with relevant Security Council resolutions.  He hopes that the inter‑Korean summit, as well as the planned summit between the leaders of the United States and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, will further contribute to the process.

**Climate Action

Late on Friday, UN officials welcomed the outcomes of the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco.  The Secretary-General said the Summit had “brought together actors demonstrating the vast opportunity afforded by climate action.  They are betting on green because they understand United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Executive Secretary, Patricia Espinosa, said the Summit will encourage governments worldwide to step up their actions, demonstrating the vital role that states and regions, cities, companies, investors and civil societies are playing to tackle climate change.  The outcomes of the Summit will provide a valuable contribution ahead of General Assembly discussions and New York Climate Week, taking place in a few days’ time, as well as for the Climate Change Conference in Poland in December.  There’s more on the UNFCCC’s website.


Also, an update on the Declaration of Shared Commitments to UN Peacekeeping — part of the Secretary-General’s efforts to renew our collective action to strengthen and support UN peacekeeping operations.  We’re now pleased to announce that 109 countries have now endorsed the Declaration.  They represent:  15 of the top 20 uniformed personnel contributors, accounting for 84 per cent of all personnel contributions; 9 of 13 States that host peacekeeping operations; 10 of the 15 current Security Council members and 4 of the 5 incoming Council members; and 8 of the top 10 countries by assessed financial contributions, which make up almost 80 per cent of all contributions to peacekeeping.  The Secretary‑General calls on all remaining Member States to join in endorsing the Declaration before the high-level event on 25 September.  The list of endorsing countries is published daily on the website of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations.


And a new report released today says that the UN Development Programme (UNDP) mobilized $25 million to increase resilience and restore over 800 buildings for the most vulnerable people in Dominica and Antigua and Barbuda, which were hit by two powerful back-to-back hurricanes a year ago.  UNDP partnered with the Governments, the private sector and other UN agencies to install more resilient roofs in devastated houses and nearly 1,000 contractors were trained in more resilient recovery techniques.  Thousands of tonnes of debris were also removed and recycled, allowing for recovery of roads and important sites.

**Press Briefings

Tomorrow morning, at 11 a.m. in the Press Briefing Room, there will be a presentation of the 2018 Global TB Report by the World Health Organization (WHO).  Also, at 12:30 p.m. tomorrow afternoon, there will be press conference by Lise Kingo, the head of the UN Global Compact.  She will share highlights of the 2018 UN Global Compact Progress Report and the upcoming UN Global Compact Leaders’ Summit.  I just do want to note that today is the last briefing as President of the General Assembly Spokesperson by Brenden Varma.  It’s been a pleasure to have you here with us, and starting tomorrow, we will have Monica Grayley, who will be the Spokeswoman for the President of the General Assembly for the seventy-third session.  Before Brenden's final adieu, I will take some questions.   Yes, Linda?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Regarding the peacekeeping declaration, you said that 10 out of the 15 Security Council members have signed on.  I was wondering how many of them are perm… permanent members?

Spokesman:  That is such a valid question and underscores my lack of preparedness, because I should have the list with me.  But, it's publicly available, so we'll get you the list.  Welcome back.  How are you, Rick?

Question:  I wanted to ask… can you hear me?  I wanted to ask you if… has the Secretary‑General made any plans to invite any Rohingya representatives to the General Assembly?  Rohingya refugees.

Spokesman:  Yeah, yeah, no, no, refu… yeah.  I'm not aware of any plans.  We'll have to look at all the side events that are planned, whether it’s organized by the Secretariat or not, that may involve the situation in Myanmar.  But, I'm not aware of any plans on behalf of the Secretary‑General.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Do you have any update for Libya?

Spokesman:  On Libya, no, I do not have anything today.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I'm not sure whether you mentioned Yemen in the talks between the Secretary‑General and the Saudi…?

Spokesman:  I did.

Question:  Oh, I see.  But, as you know, there has been an escalation in bombing and there have been [inaudible]… any comments…?

Spokesman:  I mean, I think the message for the Secretary‑General on the conflict in Yemen is clear, which is that all the parties should actively support the work of Martin Griffiths, his Special Envoy, who is currently in Sana’a and then will be going to Riyadh later in the week, and he wants to see an end to the conflict.  And he also calls on all the parties, including the Coalition, to ensure that civilians are not hit and that civilian infrastructure is not hit, either.  Stefano.  Oh, sorry… yeah?

Question:  I know there has been a statement by Mr. Mladenov, but has the Secretary-General also…?

Spokesman:  Mr. Mladenov represents the Secretary‑General in these matters, so he's the representative of the Secretary‑General in the region.

Question:  Yes.  On that, as a follow‑up on the Yemen, actually, but because the situation, especially where children have been involved of even few hours ago in Yemen, they continue to die from bombing, after meeting the king and the prince, did… is the Secretary‑General satisfied the answer he received from the Saudi in trying to prevent this…?

Spokesman:  I think… you know, A, I would refer you back on his report on Children and Armed Conflict.  But, second, the Secretary‑General will only be satisfied when he sees an end to the fighting and the end of the suffering of the Yemeni people.  Mr. Varma.

Question:  No, I… I have… can I have… not on this, on another question.  Actually, two questions.  One is, we had the… just on the press briefing room of UNCA [United Nations Correspondents Association], we had the press conference with the parents of journalist Austin Tice.  He's being held in… in Syria for six years now.  Does the UN have any information that maybe can be useful for his release?

Spokesman:  We have been… Austin's parents have been in touch with various UN officials.  We are very aware of the case, and we're following it very closely.

Question:  And then the last thing is a matter of another journalist, I received from Matthew Lee an email where he's asking me to ask you a question.  Can I ask you the question of Matthew Lee?

Spokesman:  You may ask me a question.  The questions you choose to ask are your… is your own responsibility.

Correspondent:  No… I'm just telling you openly, he's… 

Spokesman:  You're not… you don't need my permission to ask me a question…

Correspondent:  Okay, so he asked me…

Spokesman:  If you have a question to ask me…

Correspondent:  Yeah, but it's not my question.  It's…

Spokesman:  Well, no… Stefano, it's… your question is your responsibility.  Okay?  So you ask me a question…

Question:  Okay.  So, I ask a question on behalf… behalf of…

Spokesman:  No, you ask me your question.  It's your responsibility.  It's your question.

Question:  Well, I think I'm not risking anything.  I don't know.  But I'm going to ask anyway.  He is asking… okay.  Matthew send me an email, what he says… what he wanted to ask this question:  As a matter of due process, which diplomat's mission complaint were the basis of the ban of Inner City Press? Do you allow candidates which don't like an independent media question to ban… to ban it for the UN?

Spokesman:  Caro, I have spoken at length on the status of Mr. Lee and Inner City Press.  I think, in very clear terms, a decision was taken by the Secretariat without any input from any Member States.  Mr. Bays, do you have your own question or are you asking on behalf of Linda?

Question:  No, I have my own question, and it's coming rather late because it's things that are developing while you're speaking, and I know you don't like that.  But, I wondered if you could get an initial reaction to the fact that we've seen President [Vladimir] Putin and President [Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan speaking in the last few minutes.  I will read you the quote from President Putin.  "We've decided to create a stage‑based demilitarized zone of 15 to 20 kilometres in Idlib supervised by Turkey and the Russian Military Police".  What is the UN's reaction to that?

Spokesman:  As you said, it's asymmetrical warfare when you're reading me things I haven't seen.  Well, obviously, I think the meeting between President Putin and President Erdoğan is a very important one; one that we hope can have a positive impact on the civilians that are in Idlib.  They are at great risk.  We will take a look very carefully at what was said, and we very much hope it's a positive development.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.