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

26 August 2019

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.

Good afternoon.

**Secretary-General’s Travel

The Secretary-General is in Paris, on his way to Tokyo, where he will attend the TICAD summit that is being held in Yokohama, Japan.  TICAD is the international conference on African development.  And he is stopping on his way back from Biarritz, where he attended the G7 summit.  A short while ago, he spoke to the press in Biarritz, stressing how we are facing a dramatic climate emergency.  He pointed out how July was the hottest month on record and how the level of CO2 in the atmosphere is the highest during human life.  The Secretary‑General emphasized that we need more ambition and a stronger commitment, pointing out how society — in particular, the youth — are mobilizing ahead of the Climate Change Action Summit that is being held here in New York in September.  The Secretary-General added that the G7 summit had been an excellent opportunity to appeal to the international community’s very strong engagement.  Earlier today, he spoke at the G7 session on Climate Change, Biodiversity and the Oceans.  Yesterday, he took part in events on the fight against inequalities and the partnership with Africa, he also met with the leaders of France, Chile and India.  And we expect him later tomorrow in TICAD, in Yokohama.


Turning to Syria, over the weekend, hostilities continued to impact civilians in the northwest part of the country, across Idleb, northern Hama and western Aleppo Governorates.  Fifteen people, including four children, were reportedly killed, according to our humanitarian colleagues.  In Idleb alone, displaced people have sought shelter in more than 100 schools.  Camps for the displaced people are already overcrowded, with hundreds of thousands of people forced to stay out in open air, outside camps and reception centres.  As a reminder, since the start of the hostilities in that area, nearly four months ago, there have been nearly 575,000 individual displacement movements.  Many people have been displaced up to five times, while some have been displaced up to 10 times already.  As the new school year is scheduled to begin soon, access to education will be compromised for many children.  The UN calls on all parties to the conflict to de-escalate the situation in the north-west part of Syria and to recommit to the ceasefire arrangement memorandum of understanding between Turkey and the Russian Federation that was signed on 17 September 2018.

**Non-governmental Organization Conference

And in Salt Lake City, Utah, the sixty-eighth UN Civil Society Conference kicked off today under the theme "Building Inclusive and Sustainable Cities and Communities."  Up to 5,000 representatives of civil society from more than 100 countries will take part in the Conference, with about 40 per cent of the participants being under the age of 32, which, for the UN, is pretty young.  The conference will feature 11 thematic sessions, close to 200 NGO-led workshops and some 150 exhibits, as well as a youth hub.  We’ll be bringing you updates over the next couple of days.

**Security Council

Back here, the Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, briefed the Security Council on the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID).  In his remarks, delivered by video conference he highlighted the transitional arrangements signed by the Transitional Military Council and the Forces for Freedom and Change earlier this month.  He also stressed that these transitional agreements entail a pledge to end all outstanding conflicts in Sudan, which could bring long-term stability to Darfur and other marginalized areas.  Talks between the new government and various armed groups in Sudan are expected to take place, he added, including with the Sudan Revolutionary Front that includes some of the Darfur movements.  His remarks have been made available to you.

**Senior Personnel Appointment

I have a personnel appointment to announce.  Today, the Secretary-General is appointing Rosemarie McClean of Canada as the Pension Benefits Administrator of the UN Joint Staff Pension Fund.  This appointment follows the recommendations of the UN Joint Staff Pension Board.  Ms. McClean brings to the position over 32 years of progressively responsible experience in pension administration and management.  Currently Chief Operating Officer of the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan in Toronto, she manages a sizeable budget and is responsible for operational activities including financial operations for pension administration and investments, information technology, project management and process improvement.  The Secretary-General wishes to extend his appreciation to Janice Dunn Lee of the United States for her commitment and dedicated service to the Organization as Acting Chief Executive Officer of the Pension Fund.

**Press Conferences

And tomorrow, I will be joined by the Special Envoy for the 2019 Climate Summit, Luis Alfonso de Alba, who will brief you on the upcoming Climate Summit preparations.  Nabil?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  The Israeli drones were dropped or exploded in Beirut suburbs, and I want to know if you have any details or information about the incident and your position on that?

Spokesman:  Sure.  We're not in a position to independently verify or confirm the reports that we've seen.  As far as the UN presence in the UNIFIL area of operation, it remains calm.  UNIFIL remains engaged with the parties to prevent any incidents that could endanger the cessation of hostilities.  We have, obviously, taken note of the statements made by President Aoun and Prime Minister Hariri, including on the ongoing investigation of these reported drone attacks… drones and the investigation being led by the Lebanese authorities.  We have also received a letter from the Government of Lebanon on the incident in Beirut and the one in the Beqaa Valley.  This is a good time to reiterate our appeal to all concerned to cease violations of resolution 1701 (2008) and to fully implement its provisions.  The UN calls on the parties to exercise maximum restraint, both in action and in rhetoric.  Yes?

Question:  Could I follow up?  So, you cannot… the UN cannot investigate or check the ground or the place where the incident took place, either in Beirut suburb or in Beqaa Valley?  You don't do that?

Spokesman:  First of all, that is outside of UNIFIL's area of operations, and the primary responsibility for those investigation lays with the Lebanese authority.  You know, I would add that, over the last few days, we have seen, in the broader Middle East, reports of drone attacks, missile attacks and air strikes all over the region — Israel and Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, as well as Saudi Arabia — and that all since… since Friday.  I think all of these reports are of concern to us.  We're continuing to follow the situation closely.  And I think, as the Secretary‑General has said and consistently maintains, the Middle East region cannot afford any additional turmoil.  Edie?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  I was going to ask you about all those broader drone strikes, but also, the Israeli Prime Minister has ordered the military today to cut fuel transfers to Gaza in half in response to rocket attacks from Gaza.  Does the Secretary‑General have any comment on that?

Spokesman:  We've seen those reports.  I was in touch with our colleagues in Jerusalem just a bit earlier.  They're checking on them, and hopefully, we'll have something a bit later.  Sherwin?

Question:  Steph, our understanding is the SG went to the G7 summit to lobby world leaders ahead of the Climate Action Summit in September later this year… earlier next month.  Is that correct?

Spokesman:  That is correct.  I mean, it is… it was there to push them for greater political action.

Question:  So, as he was pushing in that round table, there was a seat vacant, the seat of the President of the United States.  I've seen the transcript just released by your office.  He was also asked if he was able to convince the United States president of this climate change emergency that he keeps talking about, and he again then deferred to the fact that it's going to be up to civil society and American cities and American states.  Is it fair then to say that the United States President is no longer an ally of this Secretary‑General's top agenda item, which is climate… action on climate change?

Spokesman:  Look, the analysis part of this is your responsibility.  I'm not going to…

Correspondent:  I'm asking you a question.

Spokesman:  No, I understand you're asking me a question.  I'm trying to…

Question:  Is the United States…?

Spokesman:  I'm trying to answer to the best of our ability.  The Secretary‑General, in the past, has had good conversations with the President of the United States on climate.  We look forward to the Climate Summit, to the participation of the United States authorities in the General Assembly debate, as well.  But, again, our position, the Secretary‑General's position has been made clear.  His sentiments, I think as you've read them and as he mentioned them in the press in Biarritz, as he will mention them again to you directly, as I have no doubt, on October… on 18 September… are very clear.  The compare‑and‑contrast part is really your job.

Question:  Is there a message he would have for this President at this time?

Spokesman:  The message he has for the US President and the message he has for every world leader — and this is a message he's delivered to every world leader — is that the need for climate action is now, that this is the primary emergency that we are all facing.  His message for everyone is exactly the same.  Monsieur?

Question:  Stéphane, can you tell us a little bit about this oil tanker close to Yemen?  Apparently, there is a UN expert [inaudible] in Djibouti to inspect the ships this week.

Spokesman:  Yes, my understanding is that we have gotten clearances to inspect and to look at that tanker.  As soon as we have an update to share, I will share with you.  But, my understanding is that we have gotten the right authorities.  Yes, sir, and then Maria.

Question:  Thank you.  I have two questions actually.  One if… do you know how many Syrian refugees went back to Syria from Jordan?

Spokesman:  No, that's a question you should ask UNHCR.  I don't have those numbers here.

Question:  And the second question is, there are many media news outlet, American news outlet, reported today that the US President suggests to nuke hurricanes before they hit the land.  Have you seen the report?  And what is the position of the UN on…

Spokesman:  I've seen the press reports, and I'm not going to comment on them.  Yes, Maria?

Question:  Yeah, thank you, Stéphane.  So, the possibility of return of Russia to G8 for month is now under discussion.  The Secretary‑General has his own opinion about the G8 or G7 is better?

Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General is… in the one through seven or one through eight, the Secretary‑General is not in there.  It is a… that decision is up for the members of the G8… excuse me.  That… that decision is up for the members of the current G7 to make.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you.  I came in late, Stéphane, so I don't know if you already said anything about this.  The Secretary‑General met Prime Minister Modi at the G7 summit.  Do you have a readout of that? And were any regional issues discussed given that the Secretary‑General has been following what is happening in the region, in Kashmir, so any details?

Spokesman:  Yes, the Secretary‑General had a meeting with Prime Minister Modi.  They had a long and fruitful discussion on climate change, on climate issues.  The issue of Kashmir did come up.  For the Secretary‑General's part, he reiterated the message that he has been saying publicly, and that's basically a need for all parties to avoid any sort of escalation.

Question:  Again, there was… since India has also maintained that it's a bilateral issue, anything on that regard did he ask?

Spokesman:  No, as I said, the Secretary‑General's message is, publicly and privately, reflects what he said and what we said in a statement last week.  Yep?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I'm… talking about G7, where they are taking actions on this crisis of the fire in the Amazons in Brazil, they are pledged to provide $20 million in help for this crisis in Brazil.  So, my question is, it seems like this is being… getting politicized in some ways for this help that nobody's giving something for nothing.  So, in this regards, my question is, who really… for who is really this concern on this kind of crisis where this affects the whole world on the climate change and according to how this…?

Spokesman:  I think the Secretary‑General, in his remarks that he made to the press earlier today, referred to the Amazon Forest, which spans a number of countries, as a global patrimony, as a global good.  He welcomed the initial pledge of $20 million to help the countries of the Amazon fight the fires, but he said this was only a start, and he would hope to see greater mobilisation of funds and efforts.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Thank you.  Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg is supposed to arrive in New York either tomorrow or day after, Wednesday.  I just wonder if the Secretary‑General has some warm welcoming words for her and if he will meet her tête‑à‑tête?

Spokesman:  Yeah, definitely warm words of welcome.  We hope the crossing is going well.  The Secretary‑General will, no doubt, have a chance to see her at some point when she's in New York for the climate events.  As you know, the Secretary‑General has met Ms. Thunberg on two occasions, in Poland and most recently in Vienna, and he's praised her for being a symbol of youth mobilization, which he has admitted has really been a driving force in mobilizing action on climate.  As the Secretary‑General has said, his generation — and I would have to include mine in there — has failed the younger generation on climate.  So, her voice, as representative of youth everywhere, is a very important voice indeed.  Linda and then Edie and then… sorry.

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Regarding the Middle East, it was mentioned there's a lot of attacks going on.  I was just wondering if the SG is in touch with any of the leaders from those countries involved and if, perhaps, during the… during UNGA, he might be planning, perhaps, a group meeting or something to that effect?

Spokesman:  I have nothing to share for plans during UNGA.  The UN, the Secretariat, has been in touch with various parties at many different levels to pass on our message of concern.  Edie and then Betul.

Question:  Back to the Amazon, the President of Brazil has accused the G7 of treating Brazil like a colony after the initial pledge of €20 million.  Does the Secretary‑General plan to talk to President Bolsonaro and in light of his statement that the Amazon is global patrimony?

Spokesman:  I have nothing to share with you right now as to direct phone contacts.  I have no doubt that the Secretary‑General will meet President Bolsonaro on the side‑lines at the General Assembly.  And the UN is there to help mobilize support to those countries that need assistance, that may need assistance in fighting the fires that we're currently seeing in the Amazon.  Betul?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Just a technical question.  Can you remind us when the Secretary‑General is planning to hold this press conference ahead of the UN General Assembly in September?

Spokesman:  18 September.  Did I say 18 August earlier?

Question:  You did, but I just needed a reminder.  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Okay.  Sorry.  18 September, you have not missed it.  Yeah.  18 September in this very room.  Yes, ma'am?

Question:  Does the SG have a message for Women's Equality Day today?  Women's Equality Day is today.

Spokesman:  Well, I think the Secretary‑General has been making gender parity and gender equality central to his mandate.  You can see it in his senior appointments.  You can see it in the people that are sitting around the table where we have just about reached, if not gone over, gender parity in the senior management group.  We've reached gender parity in terms of the resident coordinators that the Secretary‑General appoints, and he has a gender parity strategy put in place to ensure that we have gender parity at all levels of the administration.  Yes, sir?

Question:  Good afternoon, Stéphane.  West Africa… back to West Africa, Mali, the Sahel, what's going on.  Five Malian soldiers were killed last week and the week before 24 soldiers from Burkina Faso.  We have Operation Barkhane, 4,000 French troops, MINUSMA.  What's the Secretary‑General's reaction to this situation still unstable and dangerous, anything…?

Spokesman:  Well, I would have to agree with your description of the situation.  The Secretary‑General has been very much focusing on ensuring that the so‑called G5 Sahel force has the support that it needs, the financial support that it needs.  He calls on countries to make sure that the financing for this force is regular and predictable and that the international community do what it can to help support those countries that are on the front lines.  Evelyn, and then we will let Monica speak.

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Is there any update on UNRWA, any change in the top leadership?

Spokesman:  No, no updates to share with you at this point.

Question:  Anything expected soon to save UNRWA?

Spokesman:  I can only speak for the president or at least the next 10 minutes so nothing that I know of.  Monica, all yours.

For information media. Not an official record.