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.
I’ll start off with a statement on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. The Secretary-General welcomes the second anniversary of the achievement of the “Implementation Day” under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, and that was yesterday, 16 January. This marks another significant milestone in the historic agreement reached by the E3/EU+3 and Iran, and endorsed by the Security Council in its resolution 2231 (2015).
The JCPOA constitutes a major achievement of nuclear non-proliferation and diplomacy, and has contributed to regional and international peace and security. The Secretary-General remains convinced that the JCPOA is the best way to ensure the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear programme and to realize the promised tangible economic benefits for the Iranian people. He notes that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has repeatedly confirmed that Iran is fulfilling its nuclear-related commitments under the JCPOA.
The Secretary-General calls for concerns regarding its implementation to be addressed through the mechanism established by the agreement. He believes that issues not directly related to the JCPOA should be addressed without prejudice to preserving the agreement and its accomplishments.
As you will have seen, a bit earlier today, the Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, today sent separate invitations to the Syrian Government and the Syrian Negotiation Commission to a special meeting with the United Nations in the framework of the United Nations-facilitated Geneva political process, and that will be on 25 and 26 January 2018. Owing to logistical reasons, this special meeting will be held on the UN premises at the [International Vienna Centre] in Austria.
The Special Envoy looks forward to the participation of both delegations in this meeting. He expects that delegations will be coming to Vienna prepared for substantive engagement with him and his team with a specific focus on the constitutional basket of the agenda towards the full implementation of Security Council resolution 2254, and bearing in mind the parameters and observations he laid out in his briefing to the Security Council on 19 December of last year. As he prepares for the session in Vienna, the Special Envoy reiterates the view of the United Nations that any political initiative by international actors should be assessed by its ability to contribute to and support the UN-facilitated Geneva political process and the full implementation of resolution 2254.
Staying on Syria, the UN in Syria has issued a statement today urging all parties, inside and outside of the country, to prevent further violence and enable humanitarian organizations to access and assist people in need.
Escalating violence in Aleppo, Damascus, Daraa, Deir Ezzour, East Ghouta in Rural Damascus, Hama, Hassakeh, Idleb and Raqqah has resulted in the deaths and injuries of hundreds of civilians, including many women and children.
Meanwhile, the UN and our partners are increasing the humanitarian response in the north-western area of Syria following an influx of tens of thousands of newly displaced people, due to increased fighting and heavy aerial bombardment in southern Idleb, in northern rural Hama and in southern rural Aleppo.
Since [15 December], some 212,140 men, women and children have been displaced in Idleb. Many of those have now been displaced more than once, and are scattered across open areas of the central, western and northern parts of the governorate, including around overcrowded informal sites.
Pierre Krähenbühl, the Commissioner-General of UNRWA confirmed that the US Government yesterday announced a contribution of $60 million in support of the Agency’s work. While important, the $60 million, this funding is dramatically below past levels. The US contribution in 2017 was above $350 million.
Mr. Krähenbühl noted that the US has consistently been UNRWA’s largest single donor, something he sincerely thanked the American people for. But he added his concern that the reduced contribution threatens one of the most successful and innovative human development endeavours in the Middle East.
He said he is now confronted with the most dramatic financial crisis in UNRWA’s history, and he called on the Agency’s partners to rally in support and join UNRWA in creating new funding alliances and initiatives to ensure Palestine refugee students continue to access education in its schools and the dignity of Palestine refugee children and their families is preserved through all its services. Mr. Krähenbühl will launch in the next few days a global fundraising campaign to capture the large-scale commitment to keeping UNRWA schools and clinics open throughout 2018 and beyond.
This morning, the Security Council met on Libya. The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the country, Ghassan Salamé, briefed by video conference. He warned Council members that the spectre of violence remains present in the country, that military forces are flexing their muscles, and that we must remain alert.
He said that the fragile and shaky status quo is not sustainable and that Libya needs a competent and efficient government that can deliver public services to people in desperate need. Amending the Libyan Political Agreement is the most appropriate means to achieve this endeavour, he added.
**Democratic Republic of Congo
You will have seen that we issued a note late last night on the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, has appointed Lieutenant-General (Rtd) Chikadibia Isaac Obiakor of Nigeria to lead a special investigation following the 15 September 2017 incident in Kamanyola, in South Kivu. The special investigation will look into the challenges facing the UN Mission in the DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo], in discharging its mandate to protect civilians and provide recommendations on improving the performance of its troops.
And still on the DRC, our colleagues from the UN migration agency warned that the humanitarian situation in the country has deteriorated dramatically over the past year due to a massive escalation of conflict and widespread insecurity. However, the agency’s humanitarian appeal remains vastly underfunded. The agency is appealing for $75 million to urgently meet the growing needs of displaced Congolese and the communities hosting them in North and South Kivu, Tanganyika and in the Kasai.
Turning to Somalia, our humanitarian colleagues today launched the 2018 Humanitarian Response Plan for Somalia, which calls for $1.6 billion dollars to protect 5.4 million people. The Response Plan is an extension of last year’s famine prevention efforts and prioritizes immediate relief operations to help the most vulnerable, such as the internally displaced, women and children.
The [Humanitarian Coordinator] for the country, Peter de Clercq, said that while famine was averted last year, food security needs have nearly doubled the five-year average, with some 2.4 million people still in need of aid, and an estimated 1.2 million children who are projected to be malnourished this year. He called for continued support for immediate and long-term needs in the country.
More information available online.
The UN Office in Myanmar said it is following with concern reports of violent clashes between the police and protesters in Mrauk U in Rakhine State.
The UN Office deplores the loss of life and injuries that have been reported. It urges respect for the rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression, and calls for the security forces and demonstrators to act with restraint and avoid further clashes. The UN colleagues on the ground urge authorities to investigate any disproportionate use of force or other illegal actions that may have occurred in relation to that incident.
**Questions and Answers
Khalas. Speaking of khalas, yes, sir, go ahead.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. The national director of Yemen ports has said that the Coalition are preventing 13 ships from docking in Aden port. Has the UN been informed about this incident? And do you have any position on that?
Spokesman: Well, obviously, we'll look into this particular incident. I had not been briefed on it. We have been working with the Coalition to ensure the best possible flow of aid, not only on humanitarian ships, but, almost more importantly, on commercial ships as, as you know, as… as Yemen is really… imports the vast majority of its… of its food and other goods, but I will check and let you know.
Let's continue with the Al Jazeera theme.
Question: Question about your announcement about the Geneva process continuing next week in Vienna, and it's back to the old question about Sochi, because this is now taking place on the 25th and 26th. And, unless you've heard anything from the Russians, I understand that, for now, Sochi is still on the 28th.
So, is the UN's position that it will decide in that one day, the 27th, whether to go to Sochi or not? And, as you said, the Secretary‑General had clear conditions for Sochi to be useful, and they included the Government engaging properly with Geneva. Is really two days enough to see if the Government is engaging properly?
Spokesman: Well, I think where… decisions can be taken rather quickly once a decision is taken. You can get people to wherever they need to be rather quickly. The distances between Geneva and Sochi and Vienna and Sochi are not that great in terms of kilometres. But, obviously, no decision has yet to be… has yet to be made, and we will wait and see. And I think, at some point, Mr. de Mistura will make his decision.
Question: Stéphane, anything more from the Secretary‑General…
Spokesman: Your microphone. Sorry.
Question: Anything further from the Secretary‑General on UNRWA? A senior European diplomat said that he doubts that any other country would be able to fill the US's gap, especially on a continual yearly basis. So, I know you say that there's going to be a global fundraising campaign, but what are the Secretary‑General's concerns?
Spokesman: Our concern is for this… you know, is, obviously, for a dramatic cut in resources to UNRWA, which we see very much as a stabilizing force and presence in the… in the area. We'll have to wait and see who and… and who can fill the gap. I think UNRWA is looking at creative ways to raise funds, and we do obviously hope that, down the line, the United States will contribute more and, if not, others will step up to the plate.
Mr. Lee and then Mr. Roth, then Mr. Avni or not.
Question: Sure. I wanted to… actually, I have some other things. But on your… this announcement about an investigation into Kamanyola, where some 39 Burundian refugees were killed, what… it's like… that happened about four months ago, so it's probably… can you explain what… what took so long… what triggered this decision four months after the fact to begin an investigation now?
Spokesman: The decision, I think, had been taken quite a while ago to put an investigation team together. The security, the security factors on the ground did not allow for a rapid… a rapid employment.
Question: And, also, you've probably seen that…
Question: And also, I guess you’ve probably seen that Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, in meeting with, I guess, a UN team about the attack on the peacekeepers by the ADF, has said that, quote, the UN is preserving terrorism in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It's a direct quote, and I'm just wondering, is there any response?
Spokesman: Look, I don't know if the quote is true. I haven't seen the quote directly. This hasn't been said to us directly. As a matter of fact, I think MONUSCO [United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo] is a positive presence in the DRC. It provides protection to civilians, including vulnerable groups, refugees, displaced people, in what, I think, no one would disagree is an increasingly dangerous and complex situation on the ground. We've seen it first‑hand with attacks on… on UN peacekeepers.
In addition to working with… with the people, for the people, and in support of the govern… the Congolese authorities, the UN is also mandated by the Security Council to conduct targeted offensive operations aimed at neutralising armed groups and continuing to reduce the threat posed by armed groups. And I think they're doing just that.
Question: I was trying to get my question in while the television people were asking, but I didn't raise my hand fast enough and BBC and Al Jazeera, and I missed the beginning of your remarks because I don't get the briefing on my TV here. Has the Secretary‑General spoken with Mr. Abbas about the UNRWA developments? And I know this is trickier, but does the UN leadership feel that the Trump Administration slowly and slowly is shaking things up to the point that it has to question how… where's the next pincer move coming from?
Spokesman: Look, the Secretary‑General continues to have a very constructive and useful relationship with the United States, especially with the… with the Permanent Representative, with Nikki Haley, and he continues… he looks forward to continuing that discussion, addressing their concerns and also making the case for continued support to the United Nations.
I'm not aware of any contacts with… between the Secretary‑General and President Abbas, and I think it bears repeating that UNRWA is not a Palestinian agency. It is a UN agency that operates under a General Assembly mandate, that operates not only in the… in the occupied territories but also in Lebanon and also in Syria and provides critical services — education, health, and other social services — to a population that's extremely vulnerable and would find it difficult to get the same level of services without UNRWA's presence.
Question: I have an UNRWA question too, but let me start with what you started, which is JCPOA…
Spokesman: No, I didn't start anything.
Spokesman: I didn't start anything.
Question: You started JCPOA…
Spokesman: Okay. Sorry.
Question: The JCPOA, as the name might indicate, is a Plan of Action rather than a legal document. There… it wasn't ratified by any of the principals, and, basically, the only legal authority that guides it is the Security Council resolution that endorsed it. How am I doing so far?
Spokesman: It's fine because there's no question mark, so I just…
Question: Okay. So now the question is, on the other hand, when you describe it and when the other principals describe it, they always say that it is… Iran is fulfilling its obligations under the JCPOA. They never mention the fact that there are violations documented by the UN of the Security Council resolution, including travel infringements, the missiles, the call to refrain from missile experimenting and so forth.
I mean, why is it that, in your characterization earlier and in usual UN pronunciations, it's always about the nuclear side only rather than other specification of the other Security Council resolution that endorsed the JCPOA…
Spokesman: Well, we're talking about the JCPOA. And that's what I was talking about. It is, obviously, incumbent on every Member State to abide by Security Council resolutions and to respect… respect the sanctions imposed by the Security Council. But what we're talking about here is the JCPOA.
The Secretary‑General notes previous statements made by the IAEA on Iran's obligations under the JCPOA. The Secretary‑General is also mandated to report back to the Security Council, and he does… he does so on a… on the basis that is required by him through the… through the Security Council resolution.
Question: But the Security Council resolution, again, is the only legal authority of the JCPOA. The others are not… There's no treaty, there's no…
Spokesman: You know, I'm not going to get into the… the legalese of it, because I'm not trained. But there was a… there was an agreement, a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, that was signed by a number of parties. The Secretary‑General thinks this agreement was a very important… a very important agreement and that everything should be done to try to preserve it.
Question: Okay. On UNRWA, follow‑up on the questions on UNRWA, is this an opportunity, perhaps, 70 years into the existence of this very unique agency to re‑examine its goals and the way it works and its premises? For example, you didn't mention Jordan as part of it but…
Spokesman: That was… that was a mistake. There are operations in Jordan…
Question: Most of… most of UNRWA clients or patients or whatever in Jordan are also Jordanian citizens. Why wouldn't Jordan take the responsibility? The same with the Palestinian Authority.
Is it an opportunity here to re‑examine how UNRWA works and… and maybe, perhaps, make some minor or major changes…
Spokesman: The… the mandate given to it by [the General Assembly], which, in fact, precedes even the creation of other agencies that deal… that deal with refugees, was very specific. It's been unanimously supported throughout the years. It is there to support a specific population while others deal and try to work on a political agreement, while… the political agreement is created that will deal with the refugee crisis, that will deal with the Israeli‑Palestinian conflict.
UNRWA is not a political organization. It is there to provide humanitarian services, and it will continue to do so, and we would encourage the parties to come together and find a political agreement so… so this… this issue can be… can be resolved and we can have a two‑State solution the Secretary‑General's been talking about.
Question: Follow‑up on this. But the mandate is, again, 70 years old. The refugees that the mandate was supposed to help are now mostly dead. We're talking about the third, fourth generation. Isn't it time…
Spokesman: Well, I mean…
Question: … to…
Spokesman: … the reason UNRWA's been existing for 70 years is because of a lack of political agreement, and we need to have a political agreement. And UNRWA will continue its mandate as given to it by its Member States until that time.
Yes, sir. You've been very patient. Then we'll go to the back. You've been patient too. No, we'll go here and then… go ahead.
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. I've been behind the camera almost since I had a full set of hair. Today, at the Security Council…
Spokesman: No comment, yes.
Question: No comment, yes. Today, at the Security Council, when Ms. Sharif was addressing the Security Council, she was placed on the corner of the frame…
Spokesman: Who was?
Question: Ms. Sharif, founder of Together We Can Build It.
Spokesman: Yes, yes.
Question: She was placed on the corner of the frame, and, meanwhile, Mr. Salam… Salamé was covering the whole frame and while she was speaking. I was wondering if there was any reason for that or…
Spokesman: I don't know. I'm happy to…
Question: …or… or…
Spokesman: I'll talk to our technical colleagues, but I don't know what the reason was, but I'm happy to try to find out.
Yes, sir, and then Majeed.
Question: I was just curious if there was any reaction to the Koreas… the two Koreas deciding to field a joint team at the Olympics and marching under a unified flag at the opening ceremonies.
Spokesman: I think the Secretary‑General sort of addressed this yesterday in his press conference. I think he welcomes these positive developments as relating to the Winter Olympics. He himself… he himself will be there, but I think, yesterday, he also said that, while these developments are very much welcome, we also have to remind ourselves the crux of the matter of the issues on the Korean Peninsula still need to be dealt with.
Majeed then Masood.
Correspondent: Thank you.
Spokesman: No, Majeed and then Masood. Go ahead.
Question: Stéphane, yesterday, Secretary‑General was asked about the situation of Syria, and he didn't give a specific answer for it. The US is planning new Kurdish security border guards, which is composed of nearly… more than 30,000 fighters. Is this an army… it's basically an establishment of an army inside Syria, a major security development there. What is the UN's position about this? Does the Secretary‑General see this as a positive or a negative…
Spokesman: I would re-read exactly what the Secretary‑General said yesterday, because I think he answered… he, in fact, answered the question on the increased presence, military presence, in… in northern… in northern Syria.
You know, obviously, I think for… we're following the situation very closely in these operations. There've been reports already of some shelling that we've seen in the media, and it's important that there's avoidance of any further escalation and that all the parties involved […] do their utmost to protect the civilian population.
Question: [inaudible] Turkey too because they're…
Spokesman: I think anyone, any party that directly or has… has influence on another party that is involved in any military action needs to do its utmost to protect civilian population.
Question: And a question about Iraq. Since the Kurdish referendum in September, the end of September, the Iraqi Government, as you know, is supplementing a blockade on 6 million people in Kurdistan region, no salaries, no aviation. This is… is described by the Kurdish official as a collective punishment for people participating in the democratic process. And, since then, your… the SG's envoy and the Security Council asked for dialogue, and this di… there are some, like, technical teams going back and forth between Baghdad and Erbil, but the Prime Minister himself still refuses to sit on a table. He refused to listen to the call of Secretary‑General and the Security…
Spokesman: Majeed, with respect, where is the question mark?
Question: That is the question mark. What's the reaction of the UN about that?
Spokesman: I think the Secretary‑General, through his Special Envoy, have been doing whatever they can to help encourage dialogue between Baghdad and Erbil, and we'll continue to do so, but obviously, the parties have to… have to agree both.
Question: [inaudible] on Yemen and the Saudi Arabian charges and the [inaudible] charges that the Iranian… Iranians have been funding these Houthi rebels and Houthi organizations within Yemen to inflict this damage over there. Has that been — what do you call — investigated by the United Nations? Have you determined that, in fact, that is going on?
Spokesman: Well, my understanding is that the various sanctions… the Sanctions Committee on Yemen has issued a number of reports, and I would encourage you to contact them.
Question: One more question. I can…
Spokesman: Yes, sir.
Question: Yes, sir. Can you give me… is there a… finally a figure on how many Palestinian children in Israeli jail? The last figure was 450…
Spokesman: I don't have an update. You're welcome also to check with our human rights colleagues if they have one.
Question: Thank you, Steph. Regarding the Secretary‑General's participation at Davos, I was just wondering, given, you know, all the high‑level Government leaders, civil society, business leaders, are there any plans in terms of the Secretary‑General meeting with specific people?
Spokesman: No, and I… we're waiting for an official confirmation, but I do not believe the Secretary‑General will be… will be there.
Question: On UNRWA, also, since Israel is the country who created the refugee… Palestinian refugee problem in 1948 and after, also in 1967, why the UN is not asking Israel to pay the budget of UNRWA until the issue… the question of the refugees is solved? Thank you.
Spokesman: Without going into the premise of your question, the funding of UNRWA is open to all Member States, and we hope that all Member States will contribute generously to UNRWA.
Question: Thanks. Following the SG's comments to Michelle yesterday on the Bangladesh‑Myanmar refugee deal, I'm curious if the UN has received any communication from these Governments…
Spokesman: I have not…
Question: …at all?
Spokesman: You'd have to check with UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees]. In fact, I was going to check with them earlier today and I failed to do so, but I do not believe we received anything new.
Question: [inaudible] BBC Persian. We just had news that the family of Baquer Namazi, who used to be a UNESCO employee, has issued a statement saying their father, over 80 years old, who is in very critical health condition in Iranian jail, was rushed to a hospital. Is there any chance, we know Secretary‑General has pressed…
Spokesman: I'll check. I had not seen that report, but I'll check right after the briefing. And, just for the record, he used to… he used to work for UNICEF.
Correspondent: UNICEF. Right.
Spokesman: Yes, just so… Ben and then Matthew.
Question: Just back to the JCPOA statement. What are the tangible economic benefits for the Iranian people? And then last few weeks, continuing to today, protests continue over the economy and corruption. What are those benefits?
Spokesman: I think, overall, increased trade with the outside world is a benefit.
Question: But is that helping the people? It doesn't seem to…
Spokesman: Well, I think, obviously, the Secretary‑General answered the question on the… on the demonstrations that we've… that we've seen. We're taking it at a macro level. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. I wanted to ask you, yesterday, the Secretary‑General said, I think, twice, in relation to budget cuts, first, there were no budget cuts in relation to the regular budget of the United Nations. And I spent the morning speaking to some… you know…
Spokesman: No, what the Secretary‑General…
Question: What did he mean?
Spokesman: …because I replayed in my head the exchange. I think he was referring to Edie's question on US budget cuts and the fact that there was no unilateral cut by the US contributions into the UN budget. That's what he was referring to.
There were obviously… the… the budget of the UN has gone down, so it's obviously been cut, but he was referring specifically to the fact that there was no unilateral cut by the US into the UN's regular budget.
Question: Okay. And… and… I… I wanted to know, I mean, obviously the town hall meeting was closed, but I heard that one of the things that… as he… as he said here, was about gender equality and anti-sexual harassment. So, I'd asked you a few… maybe it was last week about this Frank La Rue complaint or case at UNESCO, and so I'm… I just want to get, I guess… what is the position… I understand that he's entitled to due process…
Spokesman: No, I think you may… you may have seen that UNESCO announced that he was relieved of his… of his post. Whether it's administrative leave, I don't know what the exact term is, but he's no longer in that… in that function. UNESCO has its own investigative mechanisms, which are fully… fully under way. And whether it's UNESCO or the Secretariat, there's obviously zero tolerance for… for sexual harassment, and the case will be… will be investigated.
Question: One more thing, just because it happened at this Nimetz stakeout just now, Mr. Nimetz on the… of the name issue fame. I'd asked him about whether… whether, in his… during his time with General Atlantic investment firm, he ever had a con… recused himself or had a conflict of interest. And he said… he acknowledged that… that they had invested in something called Saxo Bank but said he didn't know they had a Greek subsidiary. They do. You can just go online and find it.
So, what I wanted… what it made me won… think, it was good that he answered it, but who's in charge of looking at the potential financial conflict of interest of UN envoys like him? And I'm thinking of… there are a number of other ones.
Spokesman: All the…
Question: Is it self‑regulation…
Spokesman: Obviously, all the envoys… all the envoys deal with the Ethics Office. They are given advice. They ask questions. And, obviously, we expect… we expect them to ensure that there is no conflict of interest. And I think Mr. Nimetz was very open and transparent in answering this question, he also made the point that he no longer works for the company.
Question: Right. I agree, but it leaves me with the question, if he tells the Ethics Office, my firm at the time invests in Saxo Bank, who's the one that's supposed to just do a Google search to find the subsidiaries of Saxo Bank and find that one is in Greece?
Spokesman: Well, I think the… you know, I don't know about this particular case, but, obviously, our colleagues also look into each individual case.
Thank you, and I will leave you with Mr. Varma, happily leave you with Mr. Varma.