7 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 Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.


A couple of items for you and then I’ll be happy to take your questions.

Starting off with Australia:  As the people of the country bravely battle the wildfires ravaging their country, the Secretary-General extends his condolences to the families of the victims and wishes those injured a speedy recovery. 

With forecasts of a long and challenging fire season, the Secretary-General commends the search and rescue operations being conducted by the Government of Australia and all those who are taking part in these efforts — as they fight devastating fires, save lives and do what they can to preserve their country’s rich biodiversity.

For its part, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said today that the bushfires have killed more than 20 people, destroyed hundreds of homes, and created hazardous air quality, some of which has reached South America.


Turning to Syria, Mark Cutts, the Deputy Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Syria Crisis, said today that he is alarmed at the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Idlib, in the north-west of the country, where over 3 million civilians remain trapped in a war zone — the vast majority of them women and children. 

He said that at least 300,000 civilians have fled their homes in southern Idlib since mid-December, following a sharp escalation in hostilities.  All this is happening in bitter winter temperatures, which pose further risks to people who fled with little more than the clothes on their backs.

Mr. Cutts said that every day we receive more disturbing reports of families caught up in the violence, seeking refuge and access to essential services in overcrowded camps and urban areas.  Many are now sheltering in schools, mosques and other public buildings.  Critical shortages of food, shelter, health and winterization assistance, as well as other basic services required for survival, are being reported across Idlib. 

The United Nations continues to call on all parties to the conflict to take the necessary measures to ensure that civilians are protected, in accordance with international humanitarian law.  The United Nations also reiterates the call of the Secretary-General at the end of December for an immediate cessation of hostilities.


On Sudan, we are reporting along with our partners, excuse me, we are continuing to help people affected by clashes between communities in and around El Geneina, the capital of West Darfur State.

The situation appears to be stabilizing, with the hospital in the city open with the support of the UN and others.  Clinics will be set up in seven areas for internally displaced people.

Some 40,000 people — most of whom were already living in IDP camps — have been uprooted by the fighting.

UN agencies and partners are providing food, blankets, sleeping mats, water, and protection services, among other services and supplies.

Thousands of people have crossed the border into Chad, seeking refuge in villages near the border with Sudan.  The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said that it has identified at least 3,700 people of these people, noting that the conditions are dire, with most refugees staying out in the open, with food and water urgently needed.

A response plan is being prepared to provide assistance.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

Turning to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  We have mentioned over the past months that the country is struggling to end a measles epidemic.  Today, the World Health Organization said the death toll from the epidemic has surpassed 6,000 people, and said the outbreak is currently the worst in the world.

Since the start of 2019, around 310,000 suspected measles cases have been reported. The epidemic has been aggravated by low vaccination coverage among vulnerable communities, malnutrition, weak public health systems, and insecurity that has hampered the response in some areas.


The Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, is in Mexico City to participate in the inaugural ceremony of the Joint Training Centre for Peace Operations in Mexico, which will take place tomorrow.  President López Obrador will also be in attendance.

Today, Mr. Lacroix will give a keynote presentation at an event at the National Defense College in Mexico City.

During his visit, he will hold meetings with senior Government officials, including the ministers of Foreign Affairs, National Defense and the Navy, and thank Mexico for its support to peacekeeping and discuss ongoing operations.


You saw yesterday we issued a statement in which the Secretary-General said he is following with concern the events surrounding the election of the president of the National Assembly.

He called on all actors to take immediate steps to lower tensions and to work towards a peaceful and sustainable solution to the political crisis.


The World Health Organization’s Emergency Committee said today that the risk of the spread of polio remains what it calls a public health emergency of international concern.

It found that cases of polio quadrupled in the past year, with no significant success in reversing this trend.

WHO says that the transmission of polio continues to be widespread in Pakistan, while in Afghanistan, the challenges posed by the security situation makes eradication efforts very difficult.


I have a personnel announcement to share with you.  The Secretary-General is appointing Ms. Daniela Kroslak of Germany as Deputy Head of the UN Mission to support the Hudaydah Agreement, or UNMHA for short. 

Ms. Kroslak brings to the position a wealth of experience in the field and at Headquarters.  Since 2018, she has been the Chief of Staff of the United Nations Mission for Justice Support in Haiti; and from 2014 to 2018, she was the Principal Officer for the Sudan Integrated Operational Team within the Department of Peacekeeping Operations.  More details…


And lastly, I just want to flag that this afternoon, the Secretary-General will speak at the opening of an exhibit sponsored by the Italian Mission to the UN and titled Recovered Treasures: The Art of Saving Art.

The exhibition presents works of art that have been stolen and subsequently recovered.

In his remarks, he is expected to point out how much of the world’s cultural heritage has been lost in recent years, from Iraq and Syria to Yemen, and Mali and Afghanistan, and to highlight the importance of international cooperation to protect cultural property and prevent illicit trafficking.

**Questions and Answers

Edie, and then Michelle.

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Two questions related to the phone call between Secretary of State Pompeo and the Secretary‑General.  It's been reported that the Secretary of State relayed to the Secretary‑General the US decision not to grant a visa to Foreign Minister Zarif to come to speak at the Security Council meeting on Thursday on upholding the UN Charter.  Can you confirm that?  And then I have a follow‑up, a follow‑up question.

Spokesman:  What I can tell you is that, yes, the Secretary‑General and Secretary of State Pompeo spoke yesterday.  They discussed a number of issues.  That was part of a series of phone calls that the Secretary‑General has been involved in with senior officials from all over the world for the past few days.

On the particular case of the visa for Foreign Minister Zarif on which there has been quite a lot of press coverage, on the particular case, we do take note of what Secretary of State Pompeo just said at a press briefing not long ago at the State Department, in which he said the US would comply with its obligations under the Host Country Agreement.

As you know, for many months, the Secretary‑General and the… our Legal Counsel have repeatedly conveyed their concerns and the legal position of the UN to senior representatives of the Host Country.  We will continue to engage closely on that regard.

As for the specific status of Mr. Zarif's visa, I think that's a question best addressed to the Iranian Permanent Mission and to the Mission of the United States.

Question:  My follow‑up question is, having read the 1947 agreement between the United States and the United Nations this morning, section 11 says the federal, state or local authorities of the United States shall not impose any impediments to transit to or from the Headquarters district of, basically, Government officials, number one, representatives of Member States.

It also states that, when visas are required for persons referred to in that section, they shall be granted without charge and as promptly as possible.  What is the Secretary‑General's comment in relation to the denial of…

Spokesman:  I think…

Question:  …a visa to Foreign Minister Zarif?

Spokesman:  We believe that the Host Country Agreement, including the paragraph that you shared with us, needs to be upheld. That is our position, and that is the principled position, that's one we have conveyed numerous times.

Again, I'm not privy to the exact status of that visa request.  That's an, a question only the US and the two relevant Permanent Missions can answer.


Question:  Thanks, Steph.  On the same issue, Foreign Minister Zarif said this morning, he said what we know is the US in a call, the call yesterday that Pompeo had with Guterres, that Pompeo said, "We did not have time to issue a visa for Zarif, and we will not issue a visa."  The Secretary‑General responded by saying that it is in Iran, is Iran's right to take part in the Security Council session.  Is that an accurate readout of what happened?

Spokesman:  Our position, the Secretary‑General's position is that the Host Country Agreement should be upheld.  And as I said, you know, whether it's the Secretary‑General, the Legal Counsel, we have made that position clear over the last few months where there have been a series of cases.  I'm not going to get into the details of the phone call.

Question:  So, just a quick follow‑up to what Edie was saying about what's actually in the agreement, does the Secretary‑General believe there is some sort of caveat in there that allows the United States to do this?

Spokesman:  The agreement, I think, is pretty specific, and it stands.  And the, we believe it should be upheld.  I'm not going to get into an analysis of it, but I think it's a public document, and you can quote from it and read from it as well.

Question:  And what communication has there been between the UN and Iran on this issue?

Spokesman:  The, on this, I'll just, what I will tell you is that the Secretary‑General, as he said himself, has been making a series of phone calls, given the current ongoing crisis.  He spoke to Foreign Minister Zarif on Friday. He has not spoken to him since then.  However, the Iranian Permanent Mission did contact the Secretary‑General's Office yesterday afternoon and spoke to a senior member of the Secretary‑General's Office yesterday afternoon.

Linda, and then Mike.

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Apropos of the same issue, regarding the Host Country Agreement, does the SG believe that a foreign diplomat has the right… I mean the agreement says, I gather, that a foreign diplomat can come to and attend UN meetings.  I get, my question is, is there any position about how long these foreign diplomats can stay in New York?  Can they just stay the month, go to a spa?  Can they go, you know what I mean?  They have to leave within ten hours of the meeting?

Spokesman:  No, I don't… I think everyone would expect a good‑faith, would expect a good‑faith interpretation and reading of the Host Country Agreement by every party involved.

Mr. Hanna.

Question:  Foreign Minister Zarif said that he did apply for a visa weeks ago, but he hasn't been informed whether or not he got it.  The US is not saying that they've refused the visa as the host for this meeting.  Is there any way in which the UN can try and involve itself in easing this logistical…

Spokesman: You know…

Question:  …logjam?

Spokesman:  I wish I could bring clarity to a situation which is unclear, and I can't.  The issuance, the responsibility to apply for a visa is by the requesting Permanent Mission.  The responsibility to issue the visa is by the Host Country.  Whether it, if a meeting is happening here, it's the US.  Whether, or in Geneva, it would be Switzerland, or in Nairobi, it would be Kenya.

We are not involved in the processing of these things.  There is, we've been around for 75 years.  The Member States all know the process and how to follow it.

Over the past, I mean, you know, over the past 75 years, at different times and in the last few months, we have conveyed to Host Countries our position on the fact that the Host Country Agreement should be respected.

Mr. Avni, and then we'll go back to the left.

Question:  So, here's what I don't understand.  I mean, I understand that you're saying that it's up to the, this applicant and the country and the Host Country to answer our questions, but there was a frenzy of phone calls to the Secretary‑General.  Has the US communicated to Guterres whether or not it will grant a visa to Zarif?

Spokesman:  I will not get into the detail of the phone call…

Question:  It's a simple question.

Spokesman:  I…

Question:  It's not the detail.  I mean, it's… 

Spokesman:  I'm not arguing the simplicity of your question.  I'm just trying to underscore the complexity of my answer.  And my answer stands.

Yes, Erol.

Correspondent:  That was simple.

Spokesman:  Yeah.

Question:  As a matter of fact, I'm going to be a devil's advocate again, I mean, to Mr. Avni…

Spokesman:  I don't think Mr. Avni needs a devil's advocate.

Question:  All right.  That's what he, he tried very best, and what I'm saying here, I mean, to put it very bluntly, since we are trying to write a story, and this is all about whether the Secretary‑General was a good facilitator as one would expect from him to be, and to ease, as colleagues said, this procedure.  Did he actually say to Mr. Pompeo, hey, Mike, don't, let's don't fool each other?  Try to give him a visa even in the airport in New, JFK in New York.  It could be a solution.

Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General and his Legal Counsel have repeatedly shared their belief that the Host Country Agreement needs to be respected, and the Secretary… and we will continue to do that.  The, as you put it, the facilitator is not the actor.  Okay?  So, our position has been made clear, and I will leave it at that.

Question:  But did he ask him…

Spokesman:  I will not get into the phone call.  As I've said…

Question:  Why?

Spokesman:  As we've said repeated… I mean, you've actually been here, Erol, in this room, and I've no doubt you've paid attention, right, that we have said these things in the last few weeks, in December, when these issues had already arisen.  The situation is unchanged in terms of our position.


Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Although the Secretary‑General made a general statement about global turmoil resulting from United States killing of General Soleimani, but he has not addressed specifically to President Trump's threat to destroy cultural sites in Iran.  The UNESCO chief yesterday spoke out…

Spokesman:  I think the UNESCO chief spoke very well on this issue.  I think the, I think the Secretary‑General's position on the current situation is clear.  His belief, his principled belief on the need to protect art, I've just shared it with you, but, as you know, we're not in the business of commenting on things that have not happened, and we've seen also other statements come out, out of Washington on that very issue.

Question:  [inaudible] of UNESCO chief, the Secretary‑General.

Spokesman:  Yes, and that's, that is her role.

Yes, Masood, and then we'll go…

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  I mean, following up on the Secretary‑General's, yesterday's where he asked people to talk to each other instead of talking at each other, basically what he said.  So, what I'm saying is, has anybody heeded the Secretary‑General's call, number one?  Number two, has…

Spokesman:  I'm sorry.  What's number one?

Question:  Has anybody heeded the Secretary‑General's call to talk to each other?  It doesn't seem to be that way.

The other one, thing is that there is a situation.  When is the Secretary‑General going to be more proactive meaning thereby there's certain crises which are absolutely out, I mean going out of control, and he is not… he should move… I mean, I think he should move, either to go to Tehran or to go to India in case of the situation in Kashmir.  So, when is he going to be proactive?

Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General has literally had his phone glued to his ear for the last few days.  Right?  He is, as he put it, he is in discussions with world leaders.  He gave you, I think very clearly, what his message was to them.

Whether or not those people are speaking to each other, you'd have to ask them.  I think this kind of involvement that he has is exactly what he should be doing.  Grand gestures and travels that may not, that will be good for headlines but not good for substance is really of no interest to him.

Question:  But in case, in this case, the other question that I asked was about Kashmir.  The people have been incarcerated for less… for more than a year…

Spokesman:  On the issue of Kashmir, and I've…

Question:  And you have said it so many times.

Spokesman:  …I feel like a broken record, that nobody uses records anymore.

Question:  But…

Spokesman:  But the Secretary‑General has raised…

Question:  I'd like you to repair that record…

Spokesman:  …the issue repeatedly with the Prime Minister of Pakistan and with the Prime Minister of India.

Question:  So…

Spokesman:  Signora Presidente.

QuestionGrazie.  Couple of things.  On Iran, if the situation remains unchanged and the Foreign Minister Zarif will not come to the US, to the UN, the SG is planning to raise the issue, to raise the question to the US officials, to the US Department of State?

Spokesman:  We remain in, very much in touch with the Department of State.

Question:  Okay.  And another thing on…

Spokesman:  And the Secretary‑General will address that meeting on Thursday.

Question:  Yeah.

Spokesman:  Just to be clear.

Question:  Yes.

Spokesman:  The Secretary‑General, Mr. Guterres.

Question:  And the SG has any comment on the last development of the situation in Libya, which is getting worse and worse?

Spokesman:  You know, we're obviously, I mean, I think Mr. Salamé was very eloquent and very passionate yesterday in his message to the international community to leave the Libyans alone, leave Libya alone and focus on what, on the people.

In terms of the situation in Sirte, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that, as of this morning, no major civilian displacement has been recorded following the announcement by the LNA of its territorial advances in Sirte.  We're continuing to monitor developments in the area and continue to remind all parties of their obligations under international humanitarian law to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure.

Aid workers continue to provide assistance to people impacted by the conflict in and around Tripoli as well as other parts of the country.  Humanitarian operations reached more than 400,000 people with assistance in 2019, and we estimate that 900,000 people will be in need of humanitarian assistance in Libya next year.

And, also, just to give you an example of the impact of the continuing and escalating violence, in and around Tripoli, five schools have been destroyed and over 200 schools have closed their doors, depriving 115,000 children of their right to learn.  This is since the beginning of this latest round of conflict last year.

And UNICEF says that schools in Tripoli have become places of fear, adding that children out of school face higher risks of violence and recruitment as child soldiers to join the fighting.

Question:  Did you mean next year or this year, 2020?

Spokesman:  Aid workers…

Question:  900…

Spokesman:  We already are in 2020, aren't we?  So, let's focus on 2020.  Yes, I mean aid workers will estimate 900,000 people will be in need of humanitarian assistance in Libya this year, which is 2020.


Question:  Yes, is a kind of a follow‑up.  Yesterday, on his speech, the Secretary‑General told us about the world situation, but he never mentioned countries, especially never mentioned United States, President Trump or Iran.  Does mean that this was because the Secretary‑General wanted to say that the situation is not only about Iran and United States but also, for example, Libya and so on, or because for other reasons he didn't mention those countries?

Spokesman:  There is, currently, in the general area of the Gulf, there are a number of parties involved, and the Secretary‑General's message of de‑escalation and need for dialogue is to all involved and all those who have an influence over those parties.

The situation in Libya is also of great concern to him and of the increased involvement, not only of parties on the ground, but those who have an influence over them, and I think Mr. Salamé spoke to that, as well.


Question:  Thank you, Stephane.  Navigating between simplicity and complexity, have… you said that the Secretary‑General and your position is that the Host Country needs to uphold its obligations under the Charter.  Has the Secretary‑General conveyed that to the United States within the last 24 hours?  And, if so, through what channels?

Spokesman:  That is a message that has been repeatedly conveyed.

Question:  Through what channels?

Spokesman:  Phone and in‑person conversations.

Yes, Ibtisam.

Question:  Yeah.  First follow‑up.  So, the issue of the visas and the denial is an old issue, and it's happened in the past, in last decades, several times and, in the last two years or a year and a half, a lot.  So, you are saying that you conveyed the message several times to the US officials, et cetera, but which practical steps are you taking other than expressing your opinion to the Americans, which other steps?  There were some suggestions from the Russians and others to move some meetings to other UN Headquarters, to offices, to make it possible to others to attend.

Spokesman:  The location of a meeting is up to the organisers of the meeting, whether it's a General Assembly committee meeting, Security Council, ECOSOC [Economic and Social Council].  Whatever legislative body is having a meeting, that's an issue for Member States themselves to decide.

Question:  But are you taking other steps than just expressing your disappointment…?

Spokesman:  Our role is to uphold the Charter, to uphold, and to encourage Member States to uphold the Charter, which is a responsibility, to uphold the agreements they have signed, for all the countries that host UN facilities.

I would also refer back to what we heard Secretary Pompeo say earlier today, but the practicality of visa delivery is in the hands of a Host Country.

Question:  On Libya.

Spokesman:  Yeah.  On?

Question:  On Libya.

Spokesman:  Yeah.

Question:  So Mr. Salamé was talking yesterday about the Berlin conference, and he was not sure if it's going to take place by the end of the month or not or at all.  To which extent are you involved and, or are you thinking about, or are you supposed to be part of the Berlin conference…

Spokesman:  Yeah, I mean, Mr. Salamé… both Mr. Salamé and the Secretary‑General have been involved with various parties, including the German Government.


Question:  Yeah, just referring back to you said what Secretary of State Pompeo said.  He also said that the US is con, continues to abide by the Headquarters Agreement.  Are you saying the US is not abiding by it?

Spokesman:  No, that's not what I'm saying.


Question:  Two…

Question:  What are you saying?

Spokesman:  What I'm saying is that they, first of all, that it is not for me to announce what the status is of an individual visa, because we're not the ones delivering it.

Question:  [inaudible]

Spokesman:  Okay. I'm saying… 

Question:  [inaudible]

Spokesman:  And we have repeatedly, as I've said here, made our concerns known to the Host Country.


Question:  Steph, just to beat this question down, I…

Spokesman:  It's not the question that's being beaten down.

Question:  On this issue of the visa, do you see an increase in the last two years or three years for, of visa denials by the United States since, recently, the Secretary‑General reacted to Russia's comments about their visa denials?  Fatou Bensouda, the ICC prosecutor, little known, was also denied a few of the visas that she applied for.  The… certainly, the… Iran…

Spokesman:  I don't have, I don't have data.  I would encourage you… I mean, there have been cases in the last, in the fall that we've raised.  I would also encourage you to look at the report of the Host Country committee, which I think outlines these things.

Question:  Right, and I'm sorry, on a, just a secondary, on the letter that Ambassador Ravanchi wrote to the Secretary‑General talking about the actual killing of Soleimani, is that, is that anything the Office of Legal Affairs would look into in…

Spokesman:  We just received the letter officially yesterday.  We're studying it, and it's also being circulated, I think, as requested.


Correspondent:  Thank you.

Question:  What steps is the UN ready to take if a Host Country breaks the 1947 agreement?  Is there any practical steps that you can take if the Host Country stops following the agreement?

Spokesman:  I'm not going to get into hypotheticals of people breaking an agreement.


Question:  On a different topic.

Spokesman:  Ah, thank you.

Question:  On Australia and the bushfires there, does the Secretary‑General believe that these fires are a direct result of the climate crisis the world is facing?

Spokesman:  Look, I think what we're seeing in the world over a rise in extreme weather, in fires, in floods, which, to us, are linked to the ongoing climate crisis.

Question:  So that's a yes?

Spokesman:  I would refer you to what I've just said.

Question:  And…

Spokesman:  Mr…

Question:  …sorry, just on another topic, North Korea.

Spokesman:  Yeah.

Question:  Has the Secretary‑General had any communications with North Korean officials…

Spokesman:  Not… 

Question:  …in the past week?

Spokesman:  …that I'm aware of.


Question:  Thank you, Steph… 

Spokesman:  And then Benny.

Question:  Again, same issue, visa.  Going back to this issue of this, how long diplomats can stay in New York or the United States once they've been granted a visa to attend a UN meeting, is there any rule of thumb in terms of, can a, if a diplomat comes here… 

Spokesman:  Listen, I can't…

Question:  …they could stay for months or they have to leave…

Spokesman:  I can't speak to that off the top of my head. I will see if there's something in the actual agreement, but otherwise, I cannot speak to…

Question:  Or also if their movements can be restricted.

Spokesman:  Benny Avni.

Question:  From the sublime to the utterly and continuously ridiculous, I would be remiss if I wouldn't ask about promises made before the end of last year that the escalators will be renewed?

Spokesman:  Yes, I, in fact, I, you know, I raised that issue with some senior colleagues, and I'm doing my best to lessen your load on that front.  And I very much hope that we can invite you, within the next, soon to an escalator re‑opening party.

Question:  At the risk of making various…

…complex issues simple…

Spokesman:  Sorry?

Question:  At risk of simplifying a very complex issue, isn't it a question of just flipping a switch?

Spokesman:  So much is just an issue of just flipping a switch.

Yes, Edie.

Question:  On that same escalator issue…

Spokesman:  It's not, it's an issue that's not moving, yes.

Question:  You had said…

Spokesman:  Ah, thank you, thank you.  I'm here all week, by the way.  Yeah.

Question:  You had said, when I asked about…

Spokesman:  Yeah.

Question:  …the state of the UN's finances, that you were going to ask the Controller…

Spokesman:  Yes, and I'm in touch with him. There are a number of issues they are trying to work out.  He is, he has committed to coming down.  They're going through some numbers and counting some beans before he comes down here.

Question:  And will you please tell him when he comes that we would like a cost estimate on how much it is costing to keep the escalators…

Spokesman:  Maybe…

Question:  …closed between the 2nd and the 4th floor?

Spokesman:  Maybe we can get him to ride the escalator down.

Question:  You're going to make some fund‑raising for that?

Spokesman:  Erol.

Question:  Yeah, by the way, did you mention before — I haven't heard — complexity or complicity?

Spokesman:  What?

Spokesman:  Complexity.

Question:  Complexity.  All right.

Spokesman:  Yeah.

Question:  Anyhow, I just wanted to… since yesterday Secretary‑General addressed us in a very short kind of speech, he said he… let me just… yes, that is the highest geopolitical tensions of the century.  So, what… to put it down to the readers, what does it mean?  And would he like to share with whom he really talked of the world leaders, not to say just he's addressing the world leaders and so on? So, please, if you can explain all of it.

Spokesman:  He just feels that tensions and risk of conflict and risk of war are very high.  I mean, that's basically it.  I mean, I think it's pretty, the words he used are pretty simple, and I think his ideas are pretty simple.

He has spoken to officials in Iraq, in Iran, in the United States, in Germany.  He has spoken to a number of Permanent Representatives here.  He's spoken to a wide‑ranging number of people.


Question:  Just one short?  The number of people [inaudible] actually identifying who could be the biggest threat of the world peace, even naming and blaming and shaming the country.  Would the Secretary‑General move that… in that direction?

Spokesman:  I think you can answer that question for yourself.

Masood, and then Pam.

Question:  Thank you.  Thank you, Stéphane.  Stéphane, on this… the assassination of — what do you call it? — Mr. Qasem Soleimani at the hands of the United States, has the Secretary‑General had a direct conversation with the Ayatollah since that…

Spokesman:  No, he has not spoken to the Ayatollah.

Question:  And he has not had any conversation with any other Is… Iranian…

Spokesman:  Yes, as I said a few minutes ago, he spoke…

Question:  But the thing is…

Spokesman:  …to Foreign Minister Zarif on Friday.

Question:  But no conversation with…

Spokesman:  No.

Question:  …Ayatollah.

Spokesman:  No.

Correspondent:  Okay.

Spokesman:  Pam?

Question:  Before, when I asked you about the letter, I wasn't talking about yesterday's letter on Iraq.  I was talking about [the] 3 January letter of…

Spokesman:  Okay.  Let me take a look.

Correspondent:  Okay.

Spokesman:  I have a problem remembering what year we're in, forgetting what day.


Question:  Yes, about the exhibition the [inaudible]…

Spokesman:  Yeah.

Question:  And the Secretary‑General is participating, you say.

Spokesman:  That's what I said.

Question:  Yes.  Does he think it's very timing, the topic, protecting art in conflict?

Spokesman:  Protecting art in conflict is always important.

Question:  No, but I mean this week in particular.

Spokesman:  I mean, just look at what has happened in Syria and in Iraq, in Afghanistan.  I mean, it's…

Question:  Sorry.  I was referring to President Trump…

Spokesman:  I know what you were referring to.  I appreciate that, but I'm just answering the question.

Yes, Linda, and Yassein, and then we'll all go eat our separate ways.

I don't want to eat with any of you.  Go ahead.

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  Last question on the visa.  Is there a…

Spokesman:  No, latest question on the visa.  Yeah.

Question:  Latest question.  Is there a mechanism that would allow a foreign official to participate in a Security Council meeting by way of teleconference or calling in?

Spokesman:  That's a question best asked of the presidency or, I mean, technically, anybody, I mean, technically, UN officials participate all the time by VTC.  So, it's not a, technically, everything's feasible.  I mean, you can do it on an iPhone.

Whether or not, in any meeting of ECOSOC, Security Council, GA [General Assembly], somebody participates, a Member State participates externally, that's a decision that would have to be taken by the meeting organizers.

Yassein, and then we'll give you the last word.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Libya, Turkey send troops to Libya.  What's Secretary‑General think about that?

Spokesman:  We addressed that, I would refer you very clearly to what Mr. Salamé said yesterday is that…

Question:  It's not clear what he said… 

Spokesman:  He said to leave, for people to leave Libya alone and focus on helping the Libyan civilians.

Thank you.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.