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30 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.

**Security Council

This afternoon, at 3 p.m., the Secretary-General will speak at a Security Council meeting on cooperation between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, otherwise known as ASEAN, and the United Nations.

He is expected to say that, at this time of increasingly complex challenges for global peace and security, cooperative and inclusive multilateral efforts, including strong partnerships between the UN and regional organizations, are essential.

The Secretary-General will pay tribute to the longstanding contributions of ASEAN Member States to UN peacekeeping and to the organization’s initiatives in quiet diplomacy, conflict prevention and peacebuilding in conflict situations.

We will send out his full remarks this afternoon.

Also, just as a reminder, the Secretary-General’s rescheduled press conference will take place at 11 a.m. on Tuesday…  I expect it in my lifetime, as Masoud would say.

**Libya

On Libya, Ghassan Salamé, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Libya, briefed Security Council members in an open meeting and he did so via VTC from Brazzaville in the Republic of Congo.  He said that he had, in Brazzaville, reiterated the UN’s strong partnership with the African Union as we work towards peace in Libya.

He added that the Berlin talks were a serious effort to unify a discordant international community and give hope to the Libyan people.  But he regretted that the truce [agreed] earlier this month holds only in name.  Mr. Salamé said that in the last two days alone, four children under the age of 12 were killed as the result of shelling in Tripoli.  Meanwhile, we are witnessing severe fighting outside of the capital city.

Mr. Salamé said he was also deeply worried by the military reinforcements coming to both sides, raising the spectre of a broader conflict engulfing the wider region.  He urged the parties and their foreign sponsors to desist from reckless actions and instead renew their expressed commitment to work towards a ceasefire.

The Special Envoy concluded his briefing by expressing his deep anger and disappointment at what has occurred since Berlin.  He told the Council that there are unscrupulous actors inside and outside Libya who cynically nod and wink towards efforts to promote peace and piously affirm their support for the UN.  Meanwhile, they continue to double down on a military solution, raising the frightening spectre of a full conflict giving further misery for the Libyan people.

Also in Libya, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) announced today that it is suspending its operational work at the Tripoli Gathering and Departure Facility.

The chief of mission in Libya, Jean-Paul Cavalieri, said they had no other choice than to suspend work at the Facility after learning that training exercises involving police and military personnel are taking place just a few metres away from units housing asylum seekers and refugees.

He added they fear the entire area could become a military target.  UNHCR has started to move refugees, who have already been identified for resettlement or evacuation to third countries, from the facility to safer locations.  They will also facilitate the evacuation of hundreds of other people.

**Iraq

Turning to Iraq, with ongoing violence and rising casualties in the context of protests and ahead of further planned demonstrations, the Special Representative of the UN in Iraq, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, is urging stepped-up efforts to break the political deadlock and press ahead with substantial reforms.  She warned that the use of force costs precious lives and will not end the crisis.

The Special Representative said that the continuing loss of young lives and the daily bloodshed is intolerable.  At least 467 protesters have been killed and over 9,000 injured since 1 October.

The Special Representative said that it is imperative that the Iraqi authorities protect the rights of peaceful protesters and ensure that all use of force complies with international standards.  Equally important is full accountability:  the perpetrators of unlawful killings and attacks must be brought to justice, she said.

Also on Iraq, a new report on the impact of conflict on children in the country describes violations committed over the last four years against children, mainly by Da’esh, as well as the negative impact of operations by the Government of Iraq and its allies to counter armed groups.

Close to 800 boys and girls are still detained for their actual or alleged association with Da’esh.  The report is on the website of the Office of Children in Armed Conflict.

**Coronavirus

On the coronavirus, the Director-General of the World Health Organization, Dr. Tedros [Adhanom Ghebreyesus], has reconvened the Emergency Committee in Geneva today to determine whether the outbreak constitutes a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.

The Committee will also advise Dr. Tedros on what recommendations should be made to manage the coronavirus outbreak.

We expect a press conference by WHO shortly, at around 1:30 p.m., New York time.  You will be able to follow that on various social media platforms sponsored by WHO and that is taking place in Geneva.

**Niger

Meanwhile, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, the Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations, is wrapping up his visit to Mali today.

Speaking in Bamako earlier today, he highlighted positive results of the inclusive National Dialogue, including the recommendation to hold legislative elections in the spring.  He also reiterated the UN support to the G5 Sahel.

Mr. Lacroix will travel to Niger this evening for a two-day visit, where he will meet with Senior Government officials and key stakeholders to discuss Niger’s contribution to UN Peacekeeping, as well as the situation in the Sahel.  More information on the webpage of the Peacekeeping Mission in Mali.

**Honour Roll

And as I’m rushing through this briefing, I want to thank the two countries that bring the Honour Roll up to 31, and those are the Czech Republic and the Dominican Republic.

**Questions and Answers

James?

Question:  Why don’t I ask about that then first?  Where are we with regard to the US… the UN budget crisis in terms of last year’s budget?  How close are we to removing all of the emergency measures?

Spokesman:  We’re…  Look, you know some of them have already been lifted, as you enjoy the escalator on a daily basis.  Other measures will likely be altered or lifted in the coming days.  We expect a note to go out from the Secretary‑General to Member States either later today or tomorrow, and we will share that with you as soon as we have it.

Question:  Can I ask a question now about the Middle East peace plan of the US again?  This is on the specifics of the settlements and the possible annexation by Israel, very conflicting messages from the US, because the plan says it’s over a four‑year thing, but they seem to be allowing the US [sic] to annex much earlier than that, although now Mr. [Jared] Kushner is saying Israel must wait until March.  What’s the Secretary‑General’s view on this possibly imminent annexation of West Bank settlements?

Spokesman:  Look, this issue of annexation has come up before.  Our position last week, last month, last year and today remains the same — is that, according to Security Council resolution 2334, Israeli settlement activities are flagrant violations under international law.  I mean, that’s been our position.  And as we said in the note in reaction to the plan being issued, we are bound by the relevant Security Council resolutions.

Yes, sir?

Question:  Thanks.  It’s actually…  I was going to ask you this question, but it’s actually now a follow‑up to James’ question.  Many… in many reactions and description of the US plan on the Middle East, people are describing on their own somebody saying it’s like Middle East peace plan like Swiss cheese, with Israelis are getting cheese and Palestinians are getting the holes.  How would the Secretary‑General… with what words… and you as his evocative Spokesperson…

Spokesman:  I’m his what?  Evocative Spokesperson…?

Question:  Very one, I mean, evocative one.

Spokesman:  Flattery will get you absolutely nowhere.  Listen…

Question:  I’m not flattering you.  You know me four years.  [cross talk]

Spokesman:  I will let others and you and analysts do a colourful analogy‑laden analysis of the plan.  I think our reaction to the plan has been laid out, and I really have nothing to add to that.

Question:  Yeah, but if I just can follow up, it’s laid out.  We read what you’ve sent immediately.  You acted immediate… the words are absolutely precise and clear.  Still, we are striving here, and you are a former journalist.  You have to understand us.  We are trying to see the position of the Secretary‑General.  We don’t see it.  [cross talk]

Spokesman:  Listen, we… you have needs.  I try to meet them.  I have needs, and I’d like you to understand them.  Madame?

Question:  Thank you.  So, on the discussion this afternoon in the Security Council, does the Secretary‑General believe that ASEAN forum could be a good platform for improving relations or negotiations with North Korea?

Spokesman:  I think ASEAN has a critical role to play in all peace and security issues in the region.

Stefano and then Mr. Abbadi.

Question:  Yes, thank you, Stéphane.  Again, on the Security Council today — actually, they’re still discussing Libya, and it looks like everybody’s saying that it’s even worse now than before Berlin, means at least… [cross talk]

Spokesman:  It’s not what people are saying.  It’s a fact.  I mean, things are not going in the right direction.

Question:  Yeah.  I even think… but it’s even worse, I think, what they want… the message was… is because, at least before Berlin, there was something like… you know, there was not a decision of something, a document where they were agreeing.

Now, after Berlin, seeing what’s happening, it looks like at stake at least there is also the credibility of the United Nations in this moment while we talking, because also the way the Security Council looks is not able to act, to enforce something.

So, the reaction of the Secretary-General about the situation, how… about the credibility of the United Nation, in this moment, is at stake about Libya?

Spokesman:  Look, what is… I’m not going to go into a grandiose analysis.  What is clear — and Mr. Salamé has said it and the Secretary-General believes it — is that Security Council resolutions on the arms embargo are being flagrantly violated.  We’re seeing it.  Right?  I mean, Mr. Salamé said.  We’re seeing more weapons coming, more reinforcements coming.  We’re seeing more civilians killed through shelling.

Commitments were made in Berlin.  Commitments were made before Berlin.  It is important that people live up to those commitments and re… silence the guns and recommit themselves to a political process, because that’s the only possible way out.

Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Still on the President [Donald] Trump’s peace plan, we have heard and seen worldwide reaction from different parties one way or the other.  What about the Quartet?  Why are they remaining silent?

Spokesman:  We’re only 25 per cent of the Quartet.  So, we have spoken out.  I think your… you should ask questions to the other 75 per cent, if I get my math right.

Yes, sir?

Question:  Two questions.  Number one, UN envoy in the Middle East, Nikolay Mladenov, spoke yesterday at a security conference, saying that, if Israel is to move forward with applying sovereignty over the Jordan Valley, over Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria, that would be the end of the possibility of negotiations.  Is that the Secretary‑General’s stance?

Spokesman:  Yeah, we’ve said… I mean, Mr. Mladenov represents the Secretary‑General.  We’ve said… this is something that we’ve said previously.

Question:  So, how urgent are the next two weeks then?  If that’s it, if that’s the end of negotiations…

Spokesman:  We have no way of knowing what decisions the Israeli Government will take.  We’re just expressing our position.

Question:  The second question I had, Israeli Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu reportedly is going to fly to Uganda on Monday, possibly for an announcement of an embassy move to the capital Jerusalem.  Uganda was part or at least reportedly part of a refugee deal with the UN that Netanyahu suspended under political pressure in 2018.  Last month, the UN envoy for refugees in Israel said that he’s trying to reinstate that deal.  Has there been any movement whatsoever on that?

Spokesman:  I think that’s… I’m not aware of the details of that… that’s a question best asked to our colleagues at the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

Correspondent:  Okay.  Thank you, Stéphane.

Spokesman:  Mr. Bays?

Question:  First, a quick follow‑up to Mr. Abbadi’s question.  The way the Quartet calls its meetings is very opaque.  One doesn’t really know whether the Quartet really exists anymore, but surely, as a member of the Quartet, the Secretary‑General, as one of the four members, could call a Quartet meeting.  Would this not be a good time for him to call a Quartet meeting?  [cross talk]

Spokesman:  I think it would be… you know, let me leave it at that.  [laughter]

Correspondent:  I don’t… [cross talk]

Spokesman:  No, no, exactly.  Leave it… no…

Correspondent:  You didn’t say anything.  [laughter]

Spokesman:  Let me leave it nowhere.  If there’s an update on Quartet meetings, I will let you know.  I’m trying to unfold myself here.  [cross talk]

Question:  Okay.  I have another question on Syria.  It has been decided to kick the findings of the Board of Inquiry into the long grass of March, and yet we’ve heard Mr. [Mark] Lowcock in the Security Council talking about the intensification of the attack on Idlib by the Syrian Government and its allies, and he means Russia.

Surely… and I’ve seen criticism of this.  Now you’re pushing away the Board of Inquiry.  That was potentially pressure that might have stopped this bombardment.  Do you not think it would be sensible for the Board of Inquiry to release its interim findings, because they could act as a deterrent for further violence?

Spokesman:  First of all, I think we have been very loud and clear on the suffering of… of highlighting the suffering of the Syrian people in the north‑west and in the north‑east and on the need for everyone to silence the gun and stop the fighting.  So, that has not stopped our advocacy, our public advocacy and our private messaging on that part.

I can’t speak for the Board of Inquiry, but I think it would be logical to think that on… this is a complex issue.  They want to make sure that it’s done right and in full, and if they need more time, they need more time.

Mercy.  I mean merci, not mercy.  [laughter]  Mercy.  Yeah, uncle.  All right, cheers.

For information media. Not an official record.