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22 July 2021

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 Florencia Soto Niño-Martinez, Associate Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon, everyone.  Let’s start the briefing.

**Deputy Secretary-General’s Travels

Today in Rome, the Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, she arrived there today for the Pre-Summit of the UN Food Systems Summit, which is co-hosted with the Government of Italy.

Ms. Mohammed had a meeting with the Special Envoy for the 2021 Food Systems Summit, Agnes Kalibata of Rwanda, and representatives of the UN Rome-based agencies — the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP).  And tomorrow, she is expected to hold a series of meetings.  Among them is a bilateral meeting with the Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Luigi Di Maio, which will be followed by a press briefing.

The Pre-Summit will take place in a hybrid format from 26 to 28 July.  It will tee up the UN Food Systems Summit in New York in September by bringing together diverse actors from around the world to leverage the power of food systems to deliver progress on all 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

And just a quick note that if you want to be accredited, virtual accreditations for the Pre-Summit closes today.  You can get accredited on the website, which is unfoodsystems.org.

**Guest Tomorrow

And related to the topic of food, tomorrow, we will be joined virtually by the Special Envoy, Dr. Agnes Kalibata, who is the Envoy for the Summit.  She will talk about all the events that are going on in Rome next week.

**Olympics

The Summer Olympics are beginning in just a few more hours in Tokyo, and the Secretary-General, in a video message for the opening ceremony, said that he is proud to salute the world’s Olympic athletes and thankful to the people of Japan.

He said that the Olympic spirit brings out humanity’s best:  teamwork and solidarity, talent and tolerance.

The Secretary-General said that we are all in mourning for those lost to the COVID-19 pandemic.  Every athlete in Tokyo has overcome enormous obstacles and demonstrated great determination, he said, adding that if we bring that same energy to our global challenges, we can achieve anything.

And the full video message can be seen online.

**Cyprus

And you will have seen that yesterday, we issued a statement expressing the Secretary-General’s deep concern about the announcements made on 20 July by the Turkish Cypriots and Turkey regarding a further opening of the fenced-off town of Varosha.  The Secretary-General has repeatedly called on all parties to refrain from unilateral actions that provoke tensions and that may compromise the ongoing efforts to seek common ground between the parties towards a lasting settlement of the Cyprus issue.

The position of the UN on Varosha remains unchanged and is guided by the relevant Security Council resolutions.

The Secretary-General calls on all sides to refrain from any unhelpful actions and to engage in dialogue to bring peace and prosperity to the island through a comprehensive settlement.

**Ethiopia

Turning to Ethiopia, the first passenger flight operated by the UN Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS) has touched down in Mekelle today.

This was the first passenger flight into the Tigray region since commercial flights were halted on 24 June.  The plane carried more than 30 employees from multiple humanitarian organizations, working to deliver urgently needed assistance to communities across Tigray.

As of today, the UN flights will operate twice a week, facilitating the regular movement of humanitarian personnel into and out of Tigray.

Despite this positive development, the humanitarian response in the region continues to be challenged by a lack of humanitarian supplies, limited communication services and no commercial supply chain.

The World Food Programme says that the safe and secure passage for convoys to move humanitarian supplies into Tigray remains a primary concern for them and the humanitarian community.

A WFP-led convoy of over 200 trucks containing food and other essential humanitarian supplies is currently on standby in Semera and is expected to depart for Tigray as soon as security clearances are assured.

**Madagascar

And in Madagascar, hundreds of thousands of people continue to suffer from one of the worst droughts the southern region of the country has faced in more than 40 years.  The severe lack of rains and sandstorms have made it nearly impossible for farmers to grow their own food, leaving at least 1.31 million people — nearly two in every five people in the Grand Sud — severely food insecure.

The UN Resident Coordinator for the country, Issa Sanogo, recently visited the Grand Sud region with Government officials to see the situation first-hand, and said that where joint interventions have taken place, results are promising.  However, needs will rise further as we enter the lean season if urgent action is not taken now.

Since the beginning of the year, donors have generously provided more than $40 million, enabling humanitarian partners to reach 800,000 people with desperately needed and life-saving assistance.  However, the Flash Appeal which is now being revised is just 53 per cent funded as of the end of May.  We call on the international community to step up their support to aid organizations in the country and provide more funding to save lives and alleviate suffering in the Grand Sud.

And that is it from me.  Any questions?

**Questions and Answers

Yes, Edie?

Question:  Thank you, Florencia.  Two follow-up questions from earlier briefings in the week.  Farhan [Haq] did not confirm that the letter from Haiti’s Government to the Secretary-General had been sent to the Security Council.  He talked about consultations but not that the letter had been officially sent to the Council.  Has the letter been sent?  And, if not, why not?

Spokesperson:  Well, what I can tell you is that a letter was sent by the interim Prime Minister to our political Mission the day of the assassination, and assistance was provided in support of investigation efforts under way with four BINUH (UN Office in Haiti) police investigation advisers already embedded in the Judicial Police, but that’s all the information we have for now.

Question:  Can you please find out the answer to my question, which is…

Spokesperson:  Whether it has been sent to the Security Council.

Question:  And, if not, why not?  And a second follow-up question on something totally different.

Couple of months ago, we were told in response to a question that the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) was looking into the idea of some kind of an international travel document so that tourists and businesspeople could travel internationally.

Could you try and get a follow-up on whatever happened to that idea?  Because, obviously, more countries are opening up to travel now, and it seems like this would be a time for some kind of a global effort.  Thank you.

Spokesperson:  Okay.  We will definitely follow up on that.

Philippe?

Question:  Thank you.  My question is on the Bosnia.  I would like to know, what is the position of UN and the position of the Secretary-General on the Bosnia and the need or not the need to keep a High Representative for this country and its bureau?  Thank you.

Spokesperson:  I mean, I think on this, our only position is that this is a matter for the Security Council.  And, as you know, this afternoon at 3 p.m., they will vote on that, but we have no further comment.

I think on the chat, James Reinl?

Question:  Hi there.  Just checking you can hear me because there’s a bit of audio and video delay today.

Spokesperson:  Yeah.

Question:  Okay.  Great stuff.

Listen, just a couple more details on the stuff you were telling us about Ethiopia.  You mentioned the twice-weekly aid flight into Mekelle.  Do you happen to know where they are flying from?

And you also mentioned the WFP convoy, which is waiting in Semera for security assurances.  Who are the assurances from?  And is it right to say that part of the problem now lies with the Tigray rebels who are on the offensive from Tigray into neighbouring Afar State, where Semera is the capital?

Associate Spokesperson:  Well, I will get back to you on where the flights are going from.  [She later said they originated from Addis Ababa.]  And, as you know, I mean, the security clearances… it… the situation there is very fluid, and it… the violence comes from various parts.  So, at this point, I wouldn’t pinpoint it on one thing, but I’ll try to get more details exactly on that.

Any other questions?

Question:  Okay.  Thanks.  If you can still hear me… if you can still hear me, can I do another question on Lebanon?  [cross talk]

Associate Spokesperson:  Yes.

Question:  There was a Security Council briefing on it this morning.  We haven’t really received anything about what was said and by whom.

Was the Special Envoy [Joanna] Wronecka giving a statement?  And can you give us a brief rundown of what she said?

Associate Spokesperson:  I don’t have an update for you on Lebanon as of now, so I will also try to get back to you on that.

And the briefing… I know that the briefing in the Council was by Ms. Wronecka.  So, I will try to give some details on the… she gave some details on the political and economic crisis.  I will try to get some more information on her briefing to you.  [The Special Coordinator’s office later provided details of her briefing, which were shared.]

Any other questions?

Correspondent:  I have my name in the chat.

Associate Spokesperson:  You have… who is… is that Abdelhamid?  [cross talk]

Correspondent:  Yes.

Associate Spokesperson:  Please go ahead.

Question:  My question about this Pegasus spying system.  Everyone is focusing his or her criticism on the system itself and maybe the company, but no one is talking about the country that is behind it, which is Israel.  Israel is acting as a rogue State in this… in that matter.  Why no one is pointing finger at the State that sponsor these wicked activities around the world?

Associate Spokesperson:  I mean, I think that cybersecurity is an issue that pertains to every single country.  We’ve seen hacking from various actors and various… people pointing fingers everywhere.  This is not the only instance.  It’s happened before.  It keeps continuing, and we expect to see it in the future, too, I think.

What is important to say is that the Secretary-General has been talking about the need for a faster and more flexible regulation framework for these types of technologies and how countries need to come together to decide on some limits.  So, I think that the important thing is to focus in how governments and companies and civil society can establish these protocols to define what the best practices together are.  And the Secretary-General has been very clear that we need better governance on these types of practices.

Question:  But when Russia does it, people point at Russia.  When China does it, also, they mention China.  When England bugged the Office of the Secretary-General, it was totally said, it was England.  Why now in this case Israel is missing?

Associate Spokesperson:  I don’t know if you’ve been reading reports, but I will just point you to all the media reports where the facts are laid… [cross talk]

Question:  Yeah, I follow the media… [cross talk]

Associate Spokesperson:  That’s all the comment we have on that.  I think that the Pegasus report is very clear on it, and we’ll let it speak for itself.

Yes, in the room here.

Question:  Thank you so much.  I have a little follow-up on this.  Did the UN staff or relevant UN services take any additional security measures after this story with Pegasus?

Associate Spokesperson:  Yeah, I mean, I think — and Farhan spoke about this yesterday — that we’re taking every measure to ensure that our communications are secure.  And, obviously, as I said, this is not the first time something like this happens, and it won’t be the last, and we do everything we can to secure our communications.

Any other questions?

Anyone in the virtual room which we may not have seen in the chat?  Hold on.

That’s it.  Okay.  So, Farhan will be briefing tomorrow, but he will be briefing virtually.  So, we’ll see you there, and we have the guest from the Food Systems Summit, as well.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.