8 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.


We’ll start off with a statement on the plane crash that took place in Iran.  The Secretary-General is deeply saddened by the crash of a Ukrainian airliner near Tehran today.  He expresses his deepest condolences to the families of the victims and to the Governments of all the countries whose nationals lost their lives in this tragedy.


Earlier today, we issued a statement from the Secretary-General, in which we said that, on Monday, the Secretary-General had made a passionate appeal for peace.  His message to world leaders was simple:  Stop escalation.  Exercise maximum restraint.  Re-start dialogue.  And renew international cooperation.  This appeal remains as important today as it was on Monday.  For his part, the Secretary-General will continue his active engagement with relevant actors.  It is our common duty to make every effort to avoid a war in the Gulf that the world cannot afford.  We must not forget the terrible human suffering caused by war.  As always, ordinary people pay the highest price.

In addition to the statement, I just want to add that the Secretary-General has been continuing with his calls to world leaders over the past few days.  Yesterday, he spoke by phone with Iraqi President Barham Salih, to whom he expressed the solidarity of the United Nations and continuing support for the Iraqi people.  For the Secretary-General, it is important that everyone respect the sovereignty and unity of Iraq.  The international community should support the Iraqi people as they seek to create the conditions for political dialogue.  Iraq should not pay the price for external rivalries.


Today, the Secretary-General is appointing Lizbeth Cullity of the United States as the new Deputy Special Representative and Deputy Head of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA).  Ms. Cullity succeeds Kenneth Gluck, also of the United States, who completed his assignment in December of last year.  The Secretary-General is grateful for Mr. Gluck’s dedicated service in the Central African Republic during this crucial period in the political process.  Ms. Cullity brings over 25 years of leadership experience in the United Nations — in Africa, the Americas and the Pacific.  Most recently, she served as Chief of Staff of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA).  More information in the bio.

**Security Council/Sahel

In Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, more than 4,000 people have died as a result of terrorist attacks last year, Mohamed ibn Chambas, the head of the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS), told members of the Security Council this morning.  The number of displaced people has increased 10-fold to about half a million, and he added, the geographic focus of terrorist attacks is increasingly threatening West African coastal States.  Mr. Chambas pointed out that relentless attacks on civilian and military targets have shaken public confidence.  Governments, local actors, regional organizations and the international community are mobilizing across the region to respond to this threat, but, he said, now is the time for action.  Mr. Chambas called on regional and subregional leaders to follow through on their pledges and on international partners to fully support the governments in the region.  The Special Representative will be available to answer your questions at the Security Council stakeout in a short while.


Turning to Sudan, the Government and the United Nations have wrapped up a joint two-day visit to El Geneina in West Darfur, the site of deadly recent intercommunal violence.  The delegation assessed the situation to see how to provide immediate humanitarian aid to the most vulnerable people, including women, children and people with disabilities.  It is estimated that approximately 40,000 people have been internally displaced, with thousands having already crossed the border into Chad.  Humanitarian agencies and partners, together with the Government, are currently assisting people with food, water and emergency household supplies.  Health, nutrition and protection services are also being provided.

**Central African Republic

The United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic reports that its police component is supporting Central African authorities to carry out investigations, including interviewing victims and witnesses, into clashes late last year between criminal gangs and traders in Bangui’s PK5 district that had resulted in dozens of people killed.  MINUSCA is working with local authorities and community leaders, including representatives of groups involved in the violence, to find a sustainable solution through disarmament and dialogue.  The Mission continues to conduct joint patrols with Internal Security Forces in the PK5 neighbourhood to help protect civilians and ensure that arms do not flow into the area that was recently declared “weapons‑free” by the Government and the United Nations.


Turning to Zambia, our humanitarian colleagues say that a combination of drought in the west and south and floods in the north have increased hunger, with more than 2.3 million people expected to be severely food insecure through March.  Four districts are facing emergency levels of food insecurity, and decreased access to clean water has also [increased] the risk of communicable disease outbreaks, such as typhoid and cholera.  As of December 2019, the humanitarian country team had mobilized $38 million — that’s including $8 million from the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) — towards the humanitarian appeal, which has a total requirement of $90 million.  More funding is required urgently to prevent the humanitarian situation from deteriorating as the country approaches the peak of the lean season.

**Press Briefing Today

Just to flag for you that, later today, at 4 p.m., there will be a briefing here with a group called Leaders for Peace and they will be talking to you on their efforts to raise awareness among political leaders and public opinion about the risks of armed conflict.  They will also present their work in developing a creative and inclusive diplomacy, and that briefing is being sponsored by the Permanent Mission of France.  I stop here and I listen to you.  Yes, Sato‑san?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  You just mentioned about Secretary‑General diplomacy with the Iraqi President.  So, was… did Secretary‑General any contact with US Mission or US Government after yesterday's Iran's attack?

Spokesman:  Not as of… he has not directly as of this morning.  Contacts have, obviously, been had at different levels.  But over the past few days, he's spoken, as you well know, to Secretary [Michael] Pompeo, as well as to Ambassador [Kelly] Craft.  Linda?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  I have a question regarding the Iranian attack on the bases.  I know, in general, there's sort of a UN policy that responses to attacks should be commensurate with the original attack, and I was just wondering what the SG feels in terms of this Iranian attack vis‑à‑vis the killing of [Qasem] Soleimani.

Spokesman:  Look, what is important for us is for leaders to walk back from risk of a major confrontation.  As for Iraq, as I said, for our part, it is important that Iraq not pay the price for external rivalries.  We very much support the unity, the sovereignty of Iraq.  We also take note of the statement made by President [Donald] Trump not long ago, and you know, we welcome any indication that leaders are walking back from major confrontation and are doing whatever they can to avoid any further escalation.

Question:  And do you expect the SG to have any substantial communications with the Iranian president?

Spokesman:  You know, we… the usual discussion is at the level of the Foreign Minister or the Permanent Mission.  If we have calls… if calls have been had, I will share the fact that they've at least happened.  Yes, sir, and then Zach.

Question:  Does the Secretary‑General have a particular view on whether US forces should leave Iraq following the Parliament's vote there?  And did he discuss that when he spoke to Iraqi leadership?

Spokesman:  I'm not aware that he discussed that.  That is a bilateral issue to be handled between the US and the Iraqi Government.  Zach?

Question:  Was the Secretary‑General encouraged by President Trump's message?

Spokesman:  As I said, we welcome any statement that shows that there is a step away from escalation and from direct confrontation, so, yes, in that sense.  Maria, and then… did you have a question?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan…

Spokesman:  I know.  That's what happens when I show up on time.  You call me Farhan.  I know.  I'm sorry.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.

Spokesman:  I'll be late next time.  Trust me.

Question:  Can you confirm that the Iranian Mission sent a letter to the Secretary‑General prior to the attack and if Secretary‑General took any action after receiving this letter…?

Spokesman:  Yes, we did receive a letter very recently from the Iranian Mission.  It is being processed and circulated as requested.  Yes, Carla?

Question:  Thank you.  Is… did the Iranian Foreign Minister get a visa to come here or not?  We were all talking about that yesterday.

Spokesman:  We, indeed, were all talking about that yesterday for quite some time.  That question is best asked of the Iranian Permanent Mission or the US Permanent Mission.  We are there to encourage.  We do not hold any stamps.

Question:  But has… is it still being denied or…?

Spokesman:  Again, Carla, we're not the ones issuing visas, so that's… you should… the question should be asked to either the people who are issuing visas or the people who request the visas.  It's not a question I'm able to answer.  Yes, ma'am?

Question:  Thank you.  The Secretary‑General has offered… the Secretary‑General has offered his condolences on the plane crash in Tehran.  Would the Secretary‑General want to see an investigation of why this happened?

Spokesman:  Well, I mean, I think it is standard procedure in civil aviation that there is an investigation, and I have… from what I've read in the press, it will be investigated, and I think normal procedures, there… whenever, unfortunately, there's a crash, especially one with casualties, the airlines, the plane‑makers, the national civil aviation of the countries where the crash took place, of those nationals also that were… that perished were involved.  So, I have no reason not to believe that the usual procedures will not take place, and we, obviously, look forward to that process.  Yep?

Question:  Is there any possibility that the UN would mediate between US and Iran?

Spokesman:  Well, you know, the Secretary‑General's good offices, as a matter of principle, are always available, should parties request it.  And as you know… I mean, I don't know if you were here yesterday, but we did mention that, you know, he had been… he'd had a series of phone calls with the US authorities, with the Iranians, with the Iraqis, with leaders in Germany, with representatives of many other countries, always delivering the same message.  Yeah, go ahead, and then we'll come…

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  About cross‑border aid operation to Syria, can you tell me the deadline of the operation — is the end of Thursday or the end of Friday?

Spokesman:  It will… if there is no resolution in the Council, they will close by 10 January, if there's no reauthorization.  I think we've been underscoring here repeatedly, almost on a daily basis, the alarming situation… humanitarian situation in the north‑west and the north‑east of Syria.  That situation would be markedly worse if we did not have the cross‑border operations.  We very, very much hope that Security Council members will find a way forward and a solution in the days ahead.

Question:  So, I mean, the deadline is the end of Friday, New York time?

Spokesman:  Like, exactly what time it is?  I will get… I mean, if it's… is it 11:59 p.m. on 10 January?  I have to check what the… there's always this… unfortunately, this is not the first time we've had an issue with times on resolutions, but the general gist, you get.  Yep?

Question:  Iran seems to be taking a lot of efforts to justify their actions under international law, including submitting a letter to the Security Council citing their right to self‑defence under Article 51.  Does the Secretary‑General have a view on whether their actions, now that we know a little bit about what their response was, were justified under Article 51?

Spokesman:  You know, these letters are addressed to the Secretary‑General to circulate to the Council.  I think those… that will be for Member States to decide.  All right.  Thank you much.  I'll see you tomorrow around 12:30 p.m.

For information media. Not an official record.