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

27 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.

**Noon Briefing Guest

Good afternoon. In a short while we will be joined by Luis Alfonso de Alba, who is the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the 2019 Climate Summit.  He will give you an update on preparations for the summit.

**Secretary-General’s Trip

As you know the Secretary-General is traveling, he arrived earlier today in Yokohama, in Japan, where he will attend the seventh Tokyo International Conference on African Development, better known as TICAD.  Tomorrow, he will take part in the opening session, and we expect that he will meet with leaders present for the event.  And he may have a press encounter that we will share with you, of course.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

I have been asked about the naming of the new government in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and I can tell you that we welcome the announcement of the composition of the Government in the Democratic Republic of the Congo which includes a number of women, this represents a positive development for the country.  The United Nations looks forward to working with the Government, including with the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) and the UN country team, to support the country on its path to sustainable peace, development and stability.

**Yemen

Also, in response to questions on Yemen and the implementation of the Hodeidah Agreement, I can tell you that our Special Envoy, Martin Griffiths, has received feedback by both parties on his proposal to implement the agreement.  Mr. Griffiths confirmed that he received an official response to his proposal by one party while an official response by the other party is pending.  He said he is looking forward to receiving the pending official response in the next few days.  The proposal was submitted to the parties for their consideration in the beginning of August of this year with the aim to generate the required momentum to implement important and fundamental steps of the Agreement, and to allow both parties to enter into a broader political process and achieve a negotiated political settlement to the conflict.

**Security Council

And back here, the Security Council this morning heard from Nickolay Mladenov, the Special Coordinator for the Middle East Process.  He told Council Members, by videoconference from Jerusalem, that there’s rising spectre of violence in the West Bank and Gaza and warned of possible regional escalation.  He stressed that with the current deadlock in the Middle East peace process, the situation on the ground has become an explosive mix of unilateral moves and terror attacks.  Mr. Mladenov reiterated that lasting peace can only be based on the idea that Israelis and Palestinians live side by side in peace and mutual recognition as both peoples have a right to their own statehood.  And his remarks have been shared with you.

**International Organization for Migration

A couple of notes on migration, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) is launching five campaigns to prevent the risks of irregular migration and to encourage informed decision-making among young Central American migrants.  The campaigns will take place in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua.  The five campaigns were developed based on the results of interviews and coordination with local partners to identify the type of information that is most needed by migrants.  The campaigns also promote the use of a website set up by IOM, where users can find information about regular migration channels and opportunities for local learning, work and entrepreneurship.

**Migrant Shipwreck

Sad news to report from the Mediterranean today.  We have learned this morning about another migrant shipwreck off the coast of Libya.  According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), at least 40 people are estimated to have drowned and about 60 people have been rescued and brought to a coastal town in Libya.  The rescue operation, carried out by the Libyan Coast Guard and local fishermen, is still ongoing.  In a Twitter post earlier this morning, a UNHCR spokesperson said we cannot accept these boat tragedies as “normal”.  More rescue capacity is needed, he added, as well as greater efforts to give people hope so they don’t risk these dangerous journeys in the first place.  Following today’s tragedy, it is estimated that some 900 people have lost their lives while attempting to cross the Mediterranean this year alone.

**Food and Agriculture Organization 

And the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said that almost 5 million pigs in Asia have now died or been culled because of the spread of African swine fever.  This contagious viral disease was first detected in Asia a year ago this month.  According to FAO, while not dangerous to humans, the disease causes up to 100 per cent fatalities in pigs, leading to severe economic losses in the sector.  The disease is now present in Cambodia, China, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Mongolia and Viet Nam.

**Press Encounter

And we expect, after consultations are done, the Permanent Representatives of the United Kingdom, France and Germany, otherwise known as the E3, to speak to you at the stakeout.  In the meantime and before we turn to our guests, Ms. Lederer?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Steph, has the Secretary‑General received a letter from the Lebanese Government about the recent reported drone strikes?

Spokesman:  Yes, we have.  We have received the letter, and it has been circulated or is being in the process of being circulated to the Security Council.  And it outlines the Lebanese point of view and complaints regarding the recent drone issues.  Masood?

Question:  Yes, sir.  Are you aware, I mean, that the… Brazil has said that it has rejected all offer of help from G9 on the forest fires?  Is that right?

Spokesman:  That's what we have seen in the press.  The Secretary‑General addressed this issue quite extensively on this when he spoke at the G7 meeting.  He welcomed the initial $20 million, but said that was a start.  And the Secretary‑General will do whatever he can to mobilize the international response to the fires, which have hit beyond the borders of Brazil.

Question:  So, at the G7 summit, Indian Prime Minister told President Trump that he believes that he will resolve this issue bilaterally… the Kashmir issue bilaterally.  Do you have any information on that at all?  And do…?

Spokesman:  No, the Secretary‑General was not present in that bilateral meeting.  The Secretary‑General did have a meeting with Prime Minister Modi, as we explained yesterday.  We obviously continue to follow the situation very closely in Jammu and Kashmir, also reports of restrictions and detentions in the Indian‑administered side of the line of control in Jammu and Kashmir.  The Secretary‑General reiterates what he has been saying, both publicly and privately, to India and Pakistan, to their leaders, to exercise restraint and to take whatever steps they can to defuse tensions.

Question:  How long did that meeting last, Steph?

Spokesman:  I don't have the timing on the meeting, but their focus…

Question:  But you have that minutes of the meeting.  But you have the minutes of the meeting, right?

Spokesman:  I don't have the timing of the meeting.  I know what they talked about, which we talked about yesterday.  They talked a lot on the issue of climate, and obviously, the issue of Kashmir came up, as well.  Philippe?

Question:  Yeah, Stéphane.  Do you have more on this Yemen and the tanker, when it is going to… the inspection of the boat?

Spokesman:  Sure.  We have a technical assessment team currently in Djibouti to look at the issue of the SAFER tanker.  We expect the assessment to start either later this week or early next week.  There are obviously some technical preparations that need to be made.  The weather is also, obviously… the weather at sea is, obviously, a big factor.  The cooperation from all the parties has been, obviously, very critical in allowing this important work to go forward.  And just as a reminder that the tanker holds about 1.1 million barrels of oil, and the structure of the tanker's had no maintenance whatsoever since 2015.  And I think it doesn't take much imagination to see what environmental catastrophe could behold if something were to happen to the tanker.  This will be the first mission, and the aim is to conduct a technical assessment and perform some initial basic maintenance if we can.  And assessment results will then clarify, obviously, what will need to be done technically moving forward to strengthen the tanker as soon as possible.  And also, I think what's important to note is that both the Government of Yemen and the Ansarullah authorities wrote to the UN last year, and both requested assistance with the issue.  Abdelhamid?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  In his remarks to the Security Council, Mladenov said the following:  "Israeli authorities allowed Jewish visitors to access al‑Haram al‑Sharif," and he continues and he said, "clashes between police forces and worshippers that took place before and during the entry of Jewish visitors into the compound, 29 Palestinians were injured."  The word "visitors", is it neutral?  Is it correct?  Is it right to use about extremist settlers who invaded the Eid al‑Adha prayer?  He calls them… he gave them a human… a human face calling them "visitor".  Is that right?

Spokesman:  Listen, Mr. Mladenov, I think, spoke and delivered the facts as we see them, which is our…

Question:  Can you answer my question, please?

Spokesman:  I'm trying to answer your question.  He delivered the facts as we see them.  That is his job.  He was describing the events as he sees them.  Now, he delivered his message very publicly in front of the Security Council.  Now, as always, when we deliver such messages, one party or another may not be completely pleased with the facts that we deliver on the ground, but I think his read as a whole, his statement was rather comprehensive, and I think, laid out a fairly bleak picture of the situation, which is something he's been doing for quite some time.  Mr. Abbadi, then James, then Majeed.

Question:  Thanks, Stéphane.  Also on the Palestine… on the Middle East discussion in the Security Council, the representative of South Africa recommended that the Council go to the Middle East, either entirely or under a form of small mission.  Is the Secretary‑General of the same opinion?

Spokesman:  Listen, the Council is master of its domain.  They will decide if they want to go to a field visit or not.  It's not for the Secretary‑General to say.  James?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Another G7 question.  The President of France has been trying to arrange a sit‑down meeting between the Presidents of the United States and Iran.  Those two gentlemen are slated to be here in the UN 24… 25 September time.  Would the UN be able to facilitate such a meeting?

Spokesman:  Facilitating meetings is what we do for a living.  It's a big part of our day‑to‑day work.  We host hundreds of bilateral meetings.  Our job during the GA is to provide the space.  Some Member States want to have bilateral meetings in the UN.  Others have them in one of the many hotels that are here in New York.  Whatever is asked of us, we will be happy to do.  But, I'm not aware of any contacts having been had on that particular issue.  Yes, Majeed?

Question:  Other than the space, will the Secretary‑General has a role to get them together, the…?

Spokesman:  I'm not aware of a call.  The Secretary‑General is always in favour of dialogue and direct dialogue.  That's a matter of principle.  It's also part of our bread and butter.

Question:  Has the Secretary‑General received a letter from the Iraqi Government about recent drone strikes in Iraq?

Spokesman:  My disposable memory is rather short.  I think I saw… I have to check.  I may have seen something coming through my inbox, but I will… I will check.

Question:  And any comments about those strikes that targeted Iran‑backed Shiite militias in Iraq?

Spokesman:  You know, yesterday we expressed our concern about the number of strikes, drones and others that have been taking place in the broader Middle East over the weekend.  And I think the Secretary‑General appealed for restraint and for calm.  Let's go at it again, Abdelhamid.

Correspondent:  I know I… apparently, my question…

Spokesman:  This is… this is what we both get paid for, so let's go.

Question:  I don't get paid, by the way.  Anyhow, in his meeting with the family of an Israeli soldier, the Secretary‑General… a few days ago, he called for his… the release of that soldier, yet that soldier went to Gaza fighting with an army, and he was captured in a battle.  He was not kidnapped from his home, like, for example, others, while there are 51 corpses of Palestinian killed by Israel.  I'm not talking about thousands of Palestinian injured, but 51 bodies of people killed by Israel.  They still capture by Israeli.  Why the SG doesn't call on Israel to release those 51 corpses?

Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General did meet with the family of Hadar Goldin, and I think those… these are all sensitive issues that need to be handled carefully, including in coordination with the International Committee for the Red Cross whenever possible.  The Secretary‑General has and will continue to call on all parties to abide by international humanitarian law and duly inform the families of missing Israelis and Palestinians regarding the status of their relatives.  Mr. Abbadi, and then we'll go to our guest, who's been very patient.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  In the communiqué of the G7 still, it was said that the… in order to have a free and just and fair trade, fair commerce, the W… World Trade Organization (WTO) should be revamped.  What kind of reform does the Secretary‑General anticipate for the organization?

Spokesman:  I've no comment on that.  The WTO does not fall under the authority of the Secretary‑General.  It is up to those Member States of the WTO to decide the best path forward.  The Secretary‑General has always been an advocate of a role for multilateral organizations, an important role for them to play in global trade and the resolution, especially, of global trade disputes.  Mr. Luis Alfonso de Alba, please come forward.  Your number has been called.

For information media. Not an official record.