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3 January 2020

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 Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

**Secretary-General’s Statement on Events in the Gulf

Earlier this morning, we issued the following statement attributable to the Spokesman for the Secretary-General:

The Secretary-General has consistently advocated for de-escalation in the Gulf.  He is deeply concerned with the recent escalation.

This is a moment in which leaders must exercise maximum restraint.  The world cannot afford another war in the Gulf.

**Syria

The heads of the UN’s political and humanitarian offices — respectively, Under-Secretaries-General Rosemary DiCarlo and Mark Lowcock — briefed the Security Council this morning on Syria.

Our humanitarian colleagues have stressed that the UN remains deeply concerned about the safety and protection of over 3 million civilians in Idlib in north-west Syria, over half of whom are internally displaced, with violence escalating in the past three weeks.

Nearly 300,000 people have been displaced from southern Idlib since 12 December, according to current estimates, with children and women being the most affected.  Over half of the displaced, at least 175,000, are children.

The city of Ma’arrat An-Numan and surrounding areas are reported to be almost empty of civilians as families flee north to safety.

The new displacements add to over 400,000 women, children and men who were displaced by hostilities between the end of April and early December last year, many of them multiple times.  Over the same period, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights recorded over 1,330 civilian deaths.

Winter conditions are exacerbating the dire humanitarian situation.

Families are fleeing in torrential rain and temperatures at night are close to freezing.  People who have moved further north now face a particularly difficult situation due to the rain and cold.  Many are reported to be living in camps, unfinished or partially destroyed buildings, in tents, under trees, and out in the open.

Humanitarian agencies have provided emergency food and cash to over 180,000 of the newly displaced.

Additional ready-to-eat rations for more than half a million people, for up to five days, have already been pre-positioned in anticipation of further displacement.

**Libya

Turning to Libya, in reaction to news that three mortars fell close to the Tripoli Gathering and Departure Facility yesterday, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) has expressed its deep concern for the safety of refugees and asylum-seekers.  Fortunately, there were no casualties.

The Gathering and Departure Facility was established to host refugees identified for a solution outside of Libya, pending their evacuation.  With close to 1,000 people staying at the site, including groups of around 900 individuals who entered spontaneously since July, it is severely overcrowded and is no longer functioning as a transit centre.

The site falls under the jurisdiction of the Libyan Ministry of Interior.  The refugee agency urges all sides to the conflict in Libya to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure.

**Sudan

Our humanitarian colleagues tell us that fighting has uprooted some 40,000 people in Sudan’s West Darfur State, most of whom were already internally displaced and living in camps.

The UN and our partners are working to supply food, health supplies, medicines, water and other items.

**Zimbabwe

On Zimbabwe, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that some 6.7 million Zimbabweans urgently need assistance, with 1.6 million of them facing life-threatening needs due to drought, crop failure, the aftermath of Cyclone Idai and macro-economic challenges.

Many families cannot afford basic food, with at least 70 per cent of disposable income being spent on food.  The crisis has already severely affected access to health, water and sanitation, and education services.

The UN and our partners are ramping up operations to support the people of Zimbabwe and a humanitarian response for 2020 is being finalized.

**Financial Contributions

And we are off to the races on the budget.  On the third of the month, already we have three Member States to thank for their full contributions to 2020’s regular budget.  We are grateful to Armenia, Portugal and Ukraine for their payments.

And, for the record, we closed out 2019 with 146 Member States having paid their regular budget dues in full for that year.

**Questions and Answers

That’s it for me.  Are there any questions?  Yes, James?

Question:  Yes.  With regard to the killing of General [Qassem] Soleimani, does the Secretary‑General believe this is legal?  Is it a violation of the UN Charter?

Deputy Spokesman:  On that question, I've nothing further to add to the statement that we issued this morning.  That is what the Secretary‑General has to say on this at present.

Question:  Does he need to get some legal advice on this from the Office of Legal Affairs (OLA)?  It seems it's rather a pertinent subject, whether this is a breach of the Charter or not.

Deputy Spokesman:  I don't dispute the importance of the topic.  I'm just saying that this is as much as the Secretary‑General can say at the present moment.  Yes?

Question:  Farhan, on this issue, has the Secretary‑General been making any telephone calls to leaders, either in the United States or in the region, Iran and elsewhere?

Deputy Spokesman:  There may be a number of calls coming.  I do know that he spoke with the US Ambassador just in the past half‑hour.  Yes, please?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  On the same subject, about preventive diplomacy, I mean, that Iran and US are on the verge of war, we know for long time now.  How did Secretary‑General, in the last months, what did he try to prevent what we heard today?

Deputy Spokesman:  In terms of our preventive work, we have, as you know, UN Missions and diplomatic efforts throughout the region.  Regarding the situation in Iraq, as you know, there is the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI).  Our Special Representative there, Jeanine Hennis‑Plasschaert, has been very active in working with various groups to make sure that the situation on the ground can be as stable as possible, and we continue to work with all parties for… to further the cause of stability in Iraq.  Yes, please?

Question:  What's the assessment from the UN about the… this… this situation now, especially the impact on JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action)?  Is that dead or something?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, regarding the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, as you know, the Secretary‑General has viewed this as a significant diplomatic achievement and has repeatedly called on all parties to continue to uphold it.  This is what our approach continues to be now, and we are aware of the developments in recent years that have affected the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, but it continues to be an agreement that is in force, and we hope that all parties will abide by it.  Yes, please?

Question:  Can you elaborate at all on the call between the US Ambassador and the Secretary‑General?

Deputy Spokesman:  No, I don't have anything further than to mention that that call just happened.  Yes, please?

Question:  Damilola Ogunbiyi, as you know, is the special rep for the SG… to the SG on Energy for All and all that.  Then is the SG aware of her suspension by the Nigerian Government as the head of Rural Electrification Agency for her alleged infractions and the [inaudible]?  And how would that affect her chances in this new role?

Deputy Spokesman:  I will have to check and see what we have to say about those.  Yes?

Question: Thank you, Farhan.  Happy New Year.  For the US… Secretary‑General's diplomacy facing with this heightening tension between the US and Iran, so, did Secretary‑General convey the very con… serious concern to the US Ambassador to the UN through the phone?

Deputy Spokesman:  All I have on that really is to refer you to the statement that we've issued, which expresses what his concerns are at this moment.  Yes, please?

Question:  Sorry.  A further comment specifically on your statement that you have put out in the last couple of hours, and this has come from Agnès Callamard, who is, as you know, the Special Rapporteur for this particular issue, extrajudicial killings — independent, appointed by the Human Rights Council.  And she says of your statement, "There is no more pressing time for the #UN and its leadership to step up than now.  But this statement does not bode well."  Then she says to the UN, "You have the legal tools and the platform.  Please use them."  She doesn't believe you're being forceful enough.  How do you respond to that?

Deputy Spokesman:  I'm aware of her remarks.  As you know, she's an independent expert and speaks in that capacity.  Yes, please?

Question:  Farhan, it's the beginning of the year.  One hundred and forty-six countries paid their dues in full.  I assume that that provided enough money for the UN's operating expenses.  So, when are the escalators going to re‑open? And when are the other measures, including keeping guards at the gates until 9 o'clock, the delegates' lounge open later, etc.?

Deputy Spokesman:  As you're aware, those measures are still in place.  The Controller will continually review what the financial situation is.  We'll have to see, depending upon how quickly we get the contributions from the Member States this year, whether the sort of measures that were put in place in the last few months can be lifted.  Obviously, that hasn't happened so far.  So, that is a sign that we have not yet evaluated that the time is right to go without those conditions.

Question:  Can we ask for a briefing by the Controller?

Deputy Spokesman:  You may.  And I will ask him.  Yes, Stefano?

Question:  Thank you.  This is about Libya.  Recently, the President of Turkey, [Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan, announced that Turkey will send, after the approval of the parliament, military forces in Libya.  What does Secretary‑General think about this move?  Is going to help the situation or actually is going to be dangerous?

Deputy Spokesman:  I would just refer you to what our Special Representative, Ghassan Salamé, has been saying, where he has been imploring all sides to avoid any further escalation and militarization of the conflict in Libya.  And those continue to be his concerns, and he calls not just on the parties in Libya but on all those in the region to be aware of that.  Yes, Sylviane?

Question:  Thank you.  Happy New Year.  My question is on Carlos Ghosn.  He fled Japan to Beirut, Lebanon.  It's a matter of human right issues.  Does the Secretary‑General has anything to say about this issue?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, this is an issue that is one for the legal authorities in the respective countries.  So, we'll leave the matter in their hands.  Yes, you had a question?

Correspondent:  No, it was recalled.

Deputy Spokesman:  Okay.  Yes?

Question:  Two further questions related to Iraq and Iran.  As you're aware, the US is urging all its citizens to leave Iraq now.  I'm wondering whether there is any change in the UN's situation of its international personnel in Iraq.  Perhaps you could update us — how many international UN personnel from the UN and its agencies are in Iraq?  And are there any plans to scale back those numbers?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, the UN has its Assistance Mission in Iraq.  If you look at the website for UNAMI, it has the relevant numbers there.  We remain in place on the ground.  There's no change to report.

Question:  And another follow‑up question on Iran.  As you know, there is, next week, an important Security Council meeting on the upholding of the UN Charter that's taking place next week.  Among those planning to attend is the Iranian Foreign Minister.  Given this current tension, one assumes that him being here and engaging with diplomats would be a positive thing, and yet he has not yet received a visa for his visit.  Does the UN think it's, you know, necessary that he's able to come here?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, as you know, under the terms of the Host Country Agreement, people who have business to conduct at the United Nations should be allowed to travel here in order to go about that business.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Today was the first press conference by the Spokespersons of the Secretary‑General this year.  So, what does Secretary‑General prioritize the agendas for this year?  And what strategy does Secretary‑General have for addressing these agendas?

Deputy Spokesman:  As the events of the last day or so should show you, sometimes the priorities for the year can change at a moment, depending upon what is actually happening and what we have to deal with in the world. 

Obviously, we hope for peaceful and negotiated solutions for the crises we face in the year.  The Secretary‑General has also, as you know, come out with a video message for the start of the year, expressing his concerns but also his hope that the peoples of the world and especially the youth of the world will have an impact on the world's leaders in terms of pressing forwards with the sort of concerns we have on topics such as climate change. 

Beyond that, the Secretary‑General does expect to have a press conference this month where he'll talk about his priorities for this year.  And at this stage, we expect that to happen on 20 January, so set that aside. 

And with that… oh, yeah.  One more?

Question:  You mentioned that there was a conversation between the SG and the US Ambassador.  I'm wondering if there are any other measures that you're able to tell us about that the SG is taking now with regard to the situation in Iraq.  Are there any other plans?

Deputy Spokesman:  Not this stage.  He remains in consultations on the topic. 

Have a good afternoon, all.

For information media. Not an official record.