Press Conference by Secretary-General António Guterres at United Nations Headquarters

Following is a transcript of UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ press conference, held in New York today:

Ladies and gentlemen of the media, thank you very much for your presence.  Good afternoon everyone and let me say again — happy new year.

As you know, on Wednesday I briefed the General Assembly on the challenges of 2019 — and recounted some of our progress in 2018 on many fronts, and in many cases against the odds.

I wanted to begin today with an observation about the discussion with Member States that followed.

The word I heard most from country after country was: “multilateralism”.

As we look to the challenges we face — from climate change to migration to terrorism to the downsides of globalization — there is no doubt in my mind that global challenges require global solutions.

No country can do it alone.  We need today multilateralism more than ever.

But I am equally convinced that simply saying this will not make it happen.

And simply dismissing or vilifying the doubters of multilateralism will lead nowhere.

The truth is that many people around the world are not convinced of the power and purpose of international cooperation.  We need to understand why — and act on that understanding.

When I served in government in Portugal in the 1990s, there was a sense — a naïve sense as it turned out — that globalization and technological progress would solve all our problems in the world and the benefits would ultimately reach all.

A generation later, we have seen indeed many benefits.  A dramatic increase in global wealth.  Infant mortality down.  Life expectancy up.  And significant reductions even in extreme poverty.

But inequalities have grown — among countries, but even more so within them.

People, sectors, entire regions have been left behind.

And they have been left behind in an atmosphere of overall global prosperity — adding to their hurt and sense of unfairness.

When people see a global economy that is out of whack, when they feel they have no chance, no hope, and no leader or institution tuned to their problems, instability and mistrust are sure to follow.

And today we see a huge deficit of trust in Governments, political establishments and, indeed, international organizations.

At such times, explanations can sound like excuses — and people can become easy targets for nationalists, populists and all those who profit from fear.

The best-selling brand in our world today is indeed fear.  It gets ratings.  It wins votes.  It generates clicks.

And so I believe the biggest challenge that Governments and institutions face today is to show that we care — and to mobilize solutions that respond to people’s fears and anxieties with answers, concrete answers

For the United Nations, this requires action in three areas.

First, we need to demonstrate through concrete solutions that the UN is standing up for people left behind and is connected to their needs, aspirations and everyday problems.

The key is a fair globalization — and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is our blueprint for that fair globalization.

We also need to ensure education, training and safety nets to support all those who are side-lined by change and help them regain opportunity and hope for their future.

This is all the more important because the pace of that change will only intensify with the technological revolution we are witnessing.

This will be the central message I will carry to Davos next week.

Second, we need to show the added value of the United Nations.  I believe we have done so on many fronts.

Just looking at the last month alone, we worked to win approval of the work programme of the Paris Climate Agreement in Katowice, a vital tool for fighting climate change and against the expectations of many, we were successful.

The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration was adopted despite a huge misinformation campaign launched against it.  This was combined with the adoption of the Global Compact in Refugees.

And building on the surge in diplomacy for peace, a UN-brokered cease-fire in Yemen has opened a window of hope to end the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe, even if we are all aware of the enormous difficulties of its implementation.

At the same time, many people still see the UN as cumbersome and bureaucratic.  That is why we are reforming to become more nimble, flexible efficient and effective.  When looking at results obtained last year with the very important decisions of the General Assembly and the programme of implementation that we are adopting in 2019, I believe we can say that we are doing exactly what we have promised in relation to reform.

Third, we need to enlist every segment of society in the battle for values that our world faces today — and, in particular, to tackle the rise of hate speech, xenophobia and intolerance.

We hear troubling, hateful echoes of eras long past.  Poisonous views are penetrating political debates and polluting the mainstream.

Let’s never forget the lessons of the 1930s.

Hate speech and hate crimes are direct threats to human rights, to sustainable development and to peace and security.

That is why I have tasked my Special Adviser for the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng, to bring together a UN team to scale up our response, define a system-wide strategy and present a global plan of action against hate speech and hate crimes on a fast-track basis.

On all these fronts, the message is clear:  words are not enough.

We need to be effective in both asserting our universal values and in addressing the root causes of fear, mistrust, anxiety and anger. 

That is the key to bring people along in defence of those values that are under such grave threat today.

And that is why, when we look to the next year, to 2019, I am absolutely committed to making sure the United Nations is a platform for action to repair broken trust in a broken world and deliver for people.  This is indeed my central priority for 2019 as I presented to the General Assembly two days ago.

Thank you very much for your attention.

Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General:  Thank you. We'll start with the president of UNCA (United Nations Correspondents Association), Valeria.

Question:  Thank you, thank.  Valeria Robecco with ANSA news agency.  On behalf of the United Nations Correspondents Association, thank you for holding this briefing.  And we hope the New Year will start off with even more press conferences, since we have always plenty of questions for you.

So, on Davos, do you have any comment on the decision by the US (United States) to cancel the entire trip delegation to Davos?  And do you think this can affect the results of the forum?  Thank you.

Secretary-General:  I have no comments.  And I believe the discussions in the forum will be extremely rich.

Spokesman:  Sherwin.

Question:  Secretary‑General, Sherwin Bryce‑Pease, South African Broadcasting.  The African Union has just issued a statement calling for the suspension of the proclamation of electoral results in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). They will now send a high‑level delegation to engage with stakeholders over concerns about the electoral results.  What's your take on what is happening in the DRC?  Do you back this position of the African Union?  And have you engaged with any stakeholders in the DRC?

And, secondly, on Zimbabwe, your human rights office has raised concerns about government repression as it relates to the use of live ammunition against protesters protesting economic conditions in the country.  What do you make of developments in Zimbabwe?  And what's your message to the Government there?

Secretary-General:  Well, first of all, I don't believe it was the African Union.  I think it was a summit of… a group of Heads of States convened by the president of the African Union. It was not a body of the African Union.

But, in any case, I do believe our position is consistent with what we have been saying.  I will read you what I said two days ago to the General Assembly.  It will be in French, if you don't mind.  Nous espérons maintenant que le processus électoral en République démocratique du Congo se conclura sans violence et dans le plein respect de la volonté du peuple congolais et des règles juridiques et constitutionnelles du pays.  And I can only say that I hope that this initiative, as any other initiative, contributes indeed to these objectives.

In relation to the situation in Zimbabwe, I echo, of course, the concerns that were expressed.  Indeed, we are worried with the deterioration of the situation caused by the potential use of excessive violence in confronting the demonstrations in Zimbabwe, and we appeal to the authorities for restraint in this regard.

Spokesman:  Edie Lederer.

Question:  Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary‑General.  Edith Lederer from the Associated Press.  You've been speaking a lot about the financial situation of the United Nations.  What impact is the United States' failure to pay its total share… assessed share of the peacekeeping budget having on the United Nations current financial difficulties?

Secretary-General:  Well, we have two different areas.  One area is the regular budget.  In relation to the regular budget, all countries have decided to pay the quotas that are defined by the scale agreed by the General Assembly, and the problems we have there are because of arrears — arrears in the payment by different countries of their contributions, and also because of a number of rules that make the rigidity of the budget management cause effective losses.  And we will be presenting to the General Assembly a detailed report of that situation with our suggestions in order to be able to address this problem.

If you look at the last eight years — and I send it to all Member States — the cash situation of the regular budget has ups and downs because, of course, it varies with the different months of the year, but it is always declining as an average.  And this is, of course, not sustainable.

In relation to peacekeeping, there is, indeed, one situation in which one country, the United States, has decided that they will pay 25 per cent of the peacekeeping budget when the scale that is defined by the General Assembly as assessed contribution for the United States [is] around 28 per cent.  It was a little bit more.  Now it's a little bit less.  That means that we have 3 per cent of the peacekeeping expenditure on average in the different operations, because things are not exactly the same operation by operation, but, on average, we have 3 per cent that are not funded.

Now, the problem is that I cannot successfully solve this problem by simply reducing the expenditure in 3 per cent, because if I could reduce the expenditure in 3 per cent — and it would not be too difficult to do so — if I would do so, the expenditure would, of course, be lower.  And, according to the rules, all Member States that contribute to the budget have the right to get their share of the savings I make, which means that we are in a situation in which we cannot spend the money we do not receive.  And, if we don't spend it, we need to give it back to the other countries, which makes the situation completely unsustainable.  And, so, the solution is not to reduce the budget in that amount.  So, we have a problem of a gap — of a gap that, if you look at the last few years in which the situation has occurred, represents today something around $600 million.

Now, when you have a gap and you need to make payments and you need to pay the salaries of the stuff involved; you need to pay the food for the troops; you need to pay the planes and other equipment that is used, the truth is that this is being funded… until now, the situation has been relatively under control with the exception of December, but things will get… if we don't find a solution, things will get very difficult next year.  This gap is being funded and would be funded, incrementally, by troop-contributing countries and police-contributing countries.  And most of these countries are some of the poorest countries in UN.  So, it's totally unacceptable from the moral point of view and totally unsustainable to keep this situation forever, which means that we will be again confronting the Member States with a detailed description of the situation and with some suggestions in order to find ways to be able to overcome this difficulty that is real at the present moment.

Spokesman:  Thank you.  Majeed.

Question:  Thank you.  Thank you, Mr. Secretary‑General.  Majeed Gly, Rudaw Media Network.  I would like to ask you about Syria, especially the situation in north-east.  As you know, Turkey threatens to attack the Kurdish‑populated areas in north-east after following expected withdrawal of US forces, potentially creating another humanitarian catastrophe.  Now there are proposal for creating a safe zone and even the idea of UN deployment for that area to prevent clashes between the Kurds and the Turks.  Do you support such proposal of creating a safe zone?  And do you see the United Nations being useful of having such a role in that area?

And my second… other question is about Iraq.  As you know, Iraq is in relative stability since 2000… comparing to 2017, after ISIS lost most of their control.  But now, we have a new Government, a new Prime Minister, a new President.  What do you think the international community should do to ensure that we will not have another re‑emergence of ISIS, just like we saw in 2014?  And what will… what is the United Nations next… next step for the country… in the country?  Thank you very much.

Secretary-General:  Well, first of all, about Syria and north-eastern Syria, we believe that any solution that is found need to combine three principles.  First principle:  the territorial integrity of Syria, the unity and territorial integrity of Syria; second principle:  to take into account legitimate security concerns of countries and, namely, of Turkey; third principle:  to recognize diversity of the population of the Syrian Arab Republic and to allow for a voice to be given to the different components of that population.  These are the three criteria that we have in analysing any proposal that might eventually exist.  We have not received any at the present moment.

In relation to Iraq, we very strongly support Iraq.  Our team in Iraq is very active in supporting Iraq.  We support the need for a stable, prosperous Iraq for the capacity of the country to overcome its past difficulties, and we'll do everything possible to help the Iraqi institutions to be successful in the development of the country.

Question:  Secretary‑General, what about UN deployment in Syria, north-east Syria, potential UN deployment to prevent clashes…?

Secretary-General:  We have not any plan for any deployment in Syria at the present moment.

Spokesman:  Thank you.  Maria, TASS?

Question:  Thank you, Mr. Secretary‑General.  Maria Khrenova, TASS news agency.  Last year ended without creation of Constitutional Committee for Syria.  And do you have now any timeframe for this committee to start its work?  I wonder which obstacles do you see for the creation of the committee and if this issue will be raised by Mr. [Geir] Pedersen during his visit to Moscow next week?  Thank you.

Secretary-General:  Yes, Mr. Pedersen had the visit first to Damascus. The visit was very constructive.  He is meeting today the SNC.  I just spoke with him on the phone.  He is still in the middle of the consultations with the Syrian Negotiating Committee that, as you know, is representing the opposition.  And what I could, from this contact, obtain, was also that discussions are being very constructive.  From there, he will be going to Moscow.  He'll be coming back to Damascus, and, of course, the creation of the Constitutional Committee will be central in the agendas of discussion of my Special Representative.  We don't have a time framework now.  We would like to do it as quickly as possible.

Spokesman:  Thank you. Just a general reminder to stick to one question so we can spread the wealth.  Talal.

Question:  Okay.  Just a small follow‑up on Syria.  Are you still sticking to your guns concerning a cred… establishing a credible constitutional committee and otherwise the United Nations role in finding a political solution is not valid anymore?  That's my question on Syria. 

But, on Yemen, how worried and how concerned are you about statements that were made yesterday by senior Houthi officials that General [Patrick] Cammaert is implementing an agenda which is outside the scope of the Stockholm agreement, according to them?

And that's… actually, these statements came after the shooting incident that took place in Hodeidah.  And is the United Nations making efforts to find out the culprits responsible for the shooting, especially that we saw this against Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed in Sana’a Airport before.

Secretary-General:  First of all, I can guarantee that all our people working in Yemen has no agenda but the Yemeni people and peace in Yemen, first of all.  Of course, I'm concerned with the lack of trust that exists and that is a complicating factor in all negotiations.  We have limited capacity in… presence in Hodeidah, but, of course, we'll do everything possible to clarify what has happened.

In relation to Syria, yes, I am a true believer that we need a constitutional committee that is balanced.  And, as you know, the UN has proposed a first list. That first list was not accepted by all the key participants.  Then the three Astana countries have presented also a list that we found was not balanced, and that is the reason why additional consultations are needed in order to have a constitutional committee that is, indeed, balanced and can be well accepted by the Syrian people as a whole.

Question:  But just to follow up, just a quick follow‑up, really, if this road to the… establishing the constitutional committee is not… you don't reach a solution with it, where do we go from there?

Secretary-General:  Well, first of all, our work is to make it happen.  If I'm starting to say what we'll do if it doesn't happen, I'm contributing for it not to happen.  And, so, obviously, we have a mandate.  The mandate is clearly established by the Security Council based on its resolutions.  So, the mandate is clear.  We will act according to the mandate, but our objective now is not to find a plan B.  It's to make sure that the plan A works.

Spokesman:  Betul.

Question:  Thank you very much, Secretary‑General.  Betul Yuruk with the Turkish news agency.  My question will be on the Saudi journalist…

Secretary-General:  On the?

Question:  On the Saudi journalist.  It's been three months since the killing of the Saudi journalist, and you have called for a thorough, transparent investigation.  And also, some of the Member States called for UN investigation, including my own country, Turkey, and also civil society urged a UN investigation.  But, at the same time, there has been no request, which your Spokesperson, Stéphane, told us that you would require some sort of request, official request, by the Member States.  And the UN human rights office did not find the trial of this case sufficient.  My question would be, do you find the trial, which… which took place in Saudi Arabia, sufficient?  And would you take any actions, or are you planning to launch any investigation?  Thank you.

Secretary-General:  I have no right to launch an investigation.  There is a huge confusion about what the Secretary‑General can do and the Secretary‑General cannot do.  A Secretary‑General as such cannot launch a criminal investigation.  I can do it with a mandate from the Security Council if the Security Council recognizes there is a threat to peace and security and, in some less clear circumstances, the General Assembly.  But I have not the right to launch myself a criminal investigation, and no formal criminal investigation was requested to me by any Member State.

Spokesman:  Alejandro.

Question:  Thank you, Secretary‑General.  Alejandro Rincón with NTN24 News.  Would you support a UN‑led effort for a new round of talks to solve the crisis in Venezuela, as the Chancellor [Jorge] Arreaza might may have asked you on the meeting that you had this week? 

And, also, if I may, can you share with us the vision that you have on the challenges that Colombia faces in the process of building peace, especially after the terrorist attack that killed 21 yesterday in Bogota?

Secretary-General:  Well, first of all, in relation to Venezuela, it's very clear for us that only a political, inclusive solution can solve and address the problems of Venezuela.  I've again transmitted it to my visitor, and the UN has offered its good offices and, of course, it can only work if everybody agrees for that weapon.  But I don't believe that a problem like Venezuela can be solved without a political and inclusive agreement based on a serious dialogue.  I know it's not easy, but it is my deep belief.

I emphatically condemned the terrorist attack.  I was on the phone today with President, [Ivan] Duque, that called me.  He says that they have now clear evidence that it was done by the ELN (National Liberation Army), which, of course, is totally unacceptable that an organization is behind a terrorist group of this nature.  So, I totally condemned it, and I want to express my total solidarity with the people of Colombia.  Colombia has a long way to go in the implementation of its peace process, and we know the difficulties and the problems, but we have confidence in the people of Colombia and in the determination of the Government of Colombia to move ahead in this direction.

Spokesman:  Motokura, Kyodo News.

Question:  Thank you, Secretary‑General.  I'm Motokura Kazushige, Japan.  My question is about DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea).  So, what will happen next will have much to do with the ongoing meeting between DPRK, US high‑ranking officials today in Washington.  But I'd like to ask you, if… do you think it's a good time to start… from the point of view of the United Nations, it's good time to start discussing easing sanctions of Security Council against DPRK to push this process of denuclearization forward?

And, also, what would be your opinion about restarting humanitarian aid for DPRK?  So, last years, there have been lot of effort to restart the humanitarian… addressing humanitarian necessity in DPRK, but, for example, Japan is strongly… well, Japan is still saying that it's too early to apply humanitarian exemption for DPRK.  What would be your opinion?  Thank you.

Secretary-General:  I like to separate things.  Humanitarian aid is based on humanitarian principles, and the basic humanitarian principle is that humanitarian aid doesn't follow political objectives.  So, in our opinion, we should never refuse humanitarian aid to any country in the world in any circumstance for the people of that country, if the humanitarian aid can be distributed to the people of that country.  This is clear for us in all circumstances.  So, it's not a matter applied to each country in each moment according to political observations.

Having said so, we believe it's high time to make sure that the negotiations between the United States and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea start again seriously and that a road map is clearly defined for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.  So, we wouldn't advocate for any anticipation of other measures before a clear negotiation is put in place, aiming at the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula with a road map, and then, of course, the two things will be inevitably interlinked.

Spokesman:  Michelle.

Question:  Thank you, Secretary‑General. Michelle Nichols from Reuters.  A question on Myanmar.  It's been 18 months now since the crisis began.  Very few refugees have returned.  The UN is not getting the access that it has requested.  The Security Council is a little undecided on how to approach the situation.  When was the last time you spoke to Aung San Suu Kyi?  What was your message to her?  And [inaudible]…

Secretary-General:  Well, this is already some time that we spoke for the last time.  My message has always been the same.  It is absolutely essential to create the conditions of confidence and trust.  It's not only physical reconstruction; it's a matter of reconciliation of communities and strong commitment by the Government for that reconciliation of communities to be possible and for the safety of the Rohingya population to be guaranteed.

Unfortunately, the truth is that the situation on the ground has not been conducive to it; things have been too slow.  And one of the dramatic aspects when you fail in solving the root causes of a problem is that violence then tends to erupt again, and that's what we have seen recently in Myanmar.

So, I feel an enormous frustration with the lack of progress in relation to Myanmar and with the suffering of the people.  And, in particular, now I cannot forget the people that [are] living in Bangladesh in extremely, extremely difficult circumstances, as you know.  And we insist in the need to create conditions for them to be willing to go back.  And one of the first steps that, of course, could be done is to solve the problem of internally displaced.  Finding adequate solutions for the internally displaced would be a very good way to give credibility to the perspective of a future return.

Spokesman:  Iftikhar Ali.

Question:  Thank you, Mr. Secretary‑General.  The dialogue that you have been urging India and Pakistan to hold to resolve their problems has not happened.  As a result, tensions have increased.  The situation in Indian‑controlled Kashmir has deteriorated as a result of human rights abuses.  The new Government of Prime Minister Imran Khan has made some peace gestures, has sought dialogue, but there has been no response.  Any comment, sir?

Secretary-General:  Well, first of all, in relation to the human rights situation, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has produced recently a very detailed report.  So, the UN has clearly done its job in that regard.  I've been offering my good offices in relation to the dialogue between the two countries that, until now, had no conditions of success.  And I hope that the importance of both India and Pakistan is such in international affairs, I hope that the two countries will be able to engage in a meaningful dialogue.

Spokesman:  Maggie?

Question:  Secretary‑General, Margaret Besheer here with the Voice of America.  Secretary‑General, in September, your High Commissioner for Human Rights, Madame [Michelle] Bachelet, asked… said she would like access to China to see the situation of the Uyghurs, more than a million people in re‑education camps.  This week, Beijing said that they would allow UN officials to come in to see the situation, but they seem to have attached some conditions to it.  Can you tell us if there's been a formal invitation to the UN to come to China to see the situation?  And will Madame Bachelet be going?  When will it happen?  What can you tell us?

Secretary-General:  I know that there is a dialogue between the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the People's Republic of China in that regard.  I am not in a position to give any details at the present moment.  And probably, if I would be talking about it, I would make it more difficult for it to succeed.  I hope that those discussions will be successful.

Spokesman:  Raed.

Question:  I just have a quick follow‑up on… Raed Fakih with Al Jazeera.  A quick follow‑up on Betul's question about the death of Jamal Khashoggi.  In principle, do you support the call of these human rights groups to establish an international investigation, as the Secretary‑General?  And do you encourage Turkey to submit the request in that context?

And, on Sudan, in the last couple weeks, we've seen that the uprising is escalating and the level of suppression, on the other hand, is growing.  What's your position on the situation in Sudan?  And do you have any messages to the Sudanese people and to the Sudanese Government, especially that some groups are promoting the idea that stability is better than democracy?  Do you agree?

Secretary-General:  First of all, the Human Rights Council has the possibility to take decisions in relation to launching different forms of… I don't want to give the wrong name, but different forms of interaction with situations, like the one that you mentioned through different… there have been commissions of inquiry… there are many instruments that Human Rights Council can use requested by Member States, and I'm not in a position to encourage Member States.  I'm saying these instruments are available.  And, of course, it depends on decisions of the Human Rights Council.

In relation to Sudan, first, I think that there is no better way to have stability but democracy.  So, the choice between democracy and stability is a choice I'm not willing to make.  I lived in a country, Portugal, that was a dictatorship, and the reason to refuse democracy, it was to say that it was necessary for stability.  Fortunately, with our democracy, we have been extremely stable.  So, democracy has been a factor of stability, not an obstacle to stability.  Now, we are worried about the situation in the DRC, very worried.  We strongly encourage the Government…

Spokesman:  Sudan.

Secretary-General:  …to… sorry, the DRC.  Sudan.  We strongly encourage the Government to be very attentive to the respect of human rights and to be… to restrain any form of handling the situation of demonstrations that can undermine those rights and can, of course, be dangerous to people.  But we understand also that, beyond the grievances that people have in different aspects related to the traditional problems of the country, there is a very dramatic economic situation.  And, unfortunately, as you know, Sudan is in a complex situation to address this.  There is a number of sanctions and a number of others.  So, I think that international support to Sudan linked to a clear perspective of human rights protection and of political dialogue would be very important.

Spokesman:  Xiangyu, Chinese TV.

Question:  I'm Xiangyu from China Central Television.  My question is also about Syria.  As we know, the UN envoy, Mr. Pedersen, just made visit to Syria.  So, how do you think about current situation in Syria, and was the immediate measure to solve Syria issue?  And do you think how to resolve Syria issue in a multilateral way?  Thank you.

Secretary-General:  Well, there are many dimensions of the Syria problem at the present moment, and all of them need answers.  Idleb, situation needs answers; several others need answers.  But what for me is clear:  There is no solution for the Syrian problem without a political solution, and a political solution in which I believe the UN has the key role to play, and a political solution that leads to something that the whole of the Syrian people can accept and can see themselves represented.

Spokesman:  Carole Landry.

Question:  Mr. Secretary‑General, I wanted to get back to North Korea.  Many important discussions going on in Washington today.  Basically, do you think that in 2019, it will be possible to persuade North Korea to give up their weapons programmes?  You've come up with a suggestion a while ago to send an envoy to Pyongyang to try to open the door.  Is this something that you'd be willing to do again, or would you, yourself, be willing to travel to Pyongyang to advance that dossier?

Secretary-General:  I am not a supporter of having initiatives just to be in the newspapers.  I think initiatives need to be taken when they are useful.  At the present moment, I don't think that it makes sense to try to push both the DPRK and the United States for a negotiation, because I believe both sides are willing to do so.  And I believe that the DPRK has already accepted that the objective of the negotiation, a central objective of the negotiation would be the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.  So, we encourage both countries to move on with the negotiations.  I think we need a clear road map, as I said, to clarify things and to allow to know exactly what the next steps will be and to have predictability in the way negotiations take place.  But I don't think the UN at the present moment can have much added value.  I think it's important for the two parties to come together in an effective way.

Spokesman:  Linda Fasulo.

Question:  Thank you, Mr. Secretary‑General.  I have a question regarding the Palestinians.  I know you met with Mr. [Mahmoud] Abbas this week.  The Palestinians now chair the G‑77 and China.  There's… there have been reports that they may again pursue a bid to get full State status here at the UN.  I was just wondering if you had any views on that and if that were something you would support.  I know that the Security Council has to deal with it, so the reality is, you know, it may not happen, but I was just wondering what your views are.

Secretary-General:  It is a matter in which we have no advice to give.  I think it's a matter for the Palestinians to decide according to their own interests.  We know what the result would be; so, as we know that, we know the limitations of such a move . But I think it's up for the Palestinians to decide whatever they want.

Spokesman:  Mr. Fazal.

Question:  Thank you.  Thank you, Mr. Secretary‑General.  As you know, Bangladesh national election was held 30 December with voting rigging, intimidation, crackdown on opposition.  And opposition party rejected that polls… even the international observer, they were not welcome in Bangladesh, and they did not… Bangladesh Government did not allow even US State Department organized 17 organizations to observe the election.  So, what is your observation on Bangladesh election?  And are you willing to send any envoy or any special team to investigate the whole thing and to restore democracy in Bangladesh?

Spokesman:  Well, again, we have not the right to do investigations like that unless we're mandated for that.  But I would like to say, first of all, that Bangladesh is a very important partner for the United Nations in relation to the Rohingya refugees, and we are extremely grateful to Bangladesh for its generosity in hosting so many Rohingya refugees in the extremely difficult circumstances that exist and taking into account the problems and the difficulties of the Bangladeshi development in itself.  Now, it is obvious that the elections were not perfect, and we encourage the different areas of the Bangladeshi political sphere to engage in meaningful forms of dialogue in order for the political life in Bangladesh to be as positive as possible.

Spokesman:  Ali Barada.

Question:  Thank you, Mr. Secretary‑General.  Ali Barada from Asharq al-Awsat newspaper and France 24.  My question is about Iran, which the international community has been calling to stop developing its ballistic missiles and other interference in the Middle East countries.  How do you view the situation right now?  Do you have any special call or urge for Iran to do at this time, especially with the rising pressure from the United States and especially… and other countries regarding its activity in the region?  And, if you don't mind, Mr. Secretary‑General, I want you to comment on the situation in Southern Lebanon with Israel, regarding the tunnels and other stuff.  Thank you.

Secretary-General:  Well, first of all, in relation to Iran, if there is something I can appeal to Iran is for Iran to have a constructive and positive attitude, namely, in relation to the two situations in which we are very dramatically involved in the region, be it Yemen, be it Syria.  And I believe it's extremely important that Iran plays a constructive role in both of these situations.

Now, obviously, any tunnel with military purposes established in any country crossing the border to any other country is something that is totally unacceptable.  And, indeed, there was, for the UN, the possibility of verification of those tunnels, and we have condemned it very clearly.

Spokesman:  Joe Klein.

Question:  Thank you.  Joseph Klein, Canada Free Press.  First, a very quick request for clarification and then a question on Ukraine.  The clarification…

Secretary-General:  On the…?

Spokesman:  Ukraine.

Question:  On Ukraine.  But the first is a request for a clarification.  Would you consider taking proactive action to recommend an independent, transparent international investigation in such areas as Cameroon, the murdered Saudi journalist, et cetera?  That's the clarification question.

On Ukraine, what comment do you have on Russia's decision to continue the pretrial detention of the sailors, the Ukrainian sailors, who were captured several months ago?

Secretary-General:  Now, in relation to the first questions, we have been actively engaged with good offices in several of the… situations are very different from case to case, but in those that have dimension of conflict, we have been quite strongly engaged in good offices to try to alleviate the situation.  Concretely, in relation to Cameroon, I have spoken, I don't know, probably more than six times with the President of Cameroon.  Our people on the ground have been working actively to try to de‑escalate the tension in the country.

In relation to your second question, we made a very strong appeal for de‑escalation in the situation related to the maritime zone close to Crimea, and we hope that that de‑escalation is conducted, solving all the problems and namely the ones that you have mentioned.

Spokesman:  Nizar and then Mario.

Question:  Thank you, Nizar Abboud of Al‑Mayadeen Television.  With regard to the refugee situation, recently, there was a report yesterday talking about thousands of children who were… been separated from their parents in the border between Mexico and the United States are still missing or not accounted for.  What does the United Nations… what can the United Nations do about that?  And also, what is your position regarding separation of children from their parents when they are seeking to… asylum or refugee status here?

Secretary-General:  Well, the general position that… and I was very active on that in my past capacity at UNHCR (United Nations refugee agency).  The general position of the United Nations is that family unification is always a fundamental principle in all refugee situations.  So, that's our general position.  It applies in all circumstances.  We have been in the crisis situation related to the Northern Triangle and the problems of the Northern Triangle in the movement of people through Mexico.  We have been quite engaged, namely, with the Mexican authorities.  UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) is very active in both borders.  UNHCR is very active in both borders. And so, we will be cooperating with all States.  We are cooperating also with the three countries of the Northern Triangle.  We will be ready to cooperate with all States in order to have humanitarian objectives being met, ful ly met.

Question:  A follow‑up on that. Do you have a position regarding building the wall between Mexico and the United States given that this is a very hot issue at the United States now?

Secretary-General:  I'm not going to enter into that debate, because I don't think it would be a useful thing.  What we always say is that we hope that refugee protection will always be guaranteed and will be guaranteed in line with the '51 Convention.

Spokesman:  Mario.

Question:  Mario Villar con la agencia EFE.  En español si me permite Secretario General.  Volviendo a Venezuela hay muchos gobiernos de la región que han decidido no reconocer…

Secretary-General:  Sorry.  Sorry.  Just a moment, because I have this in English.  [Puede empezar de nuevo.

Question:  Si.  Soy Mario Villar de la agencia EFE.  Volviendo al tema de Venezuela, hay muchos gobiernos de la región que han decidido no reconocer la legitimidad del gobierno del Presidente Maduro.  ¿Es algo que le preocupa decaerá la estabilidad en Latinoamérica y tiene previsto tomar alguna iniciativa para fomentar el diálogo entre estos distintos gobiernos y tratar de llegar a una solución?

Secretary-General:  Naciones Unidas no hace reconocimiento de gobiernos pero respeta el derechos soberano de los Estados de reconocer o no gobiernos de otros Estados.  Naciones Unidas no tiene en este momento ninguna iniciativa específica en la región, ofrecemos nuestro buenos oficios, pero en este momento no hay ninguna iniciativa de Naciones Unidas en desarrollo.

Spokesman:  Marina, RIA Novosti.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  Mr. Secretary‑General, I got a question about the missile…

Secretary-General:  Just a moment.  I have to go back to English.

Question:  …missile defence system that the US plans to place in space.

Secretary-General:  In?

Question:  Space. In space.

Secretary-General:  In space.

Question:  Yes.  And what do you think about this?  Will this affect the security of the whole world if they will do that?

Secretary-General:  As you know, we have presented an agenda for disarmament, and one of the aspects that was central in that agenda for disarmament is exactly the disarmament in relation to the introductions of new technologies and the guarantee that we are not hijacking our future.

Spokesman:  Mr. Abbadi.

Question:  Thank you, Mr. Secretary‑General, and happy new year.  You touched in your introductory remarks about globalization and multilateralism, and my question is of that nature.  The United Nations, as you know, plays a very important role in global forum in international institution and organization and projects.  Yet there seem to be one that is very important where the UN doesn't seem to have a role, and that is the Belt and Road Initiative, which, as you are aware, will have tremendous implications for international cooperation in the future and which some 80 States have embraced.  Do you think that the UN can play useful role in this project?

Secretary-General:  The UN is playing a role in this project in the sense that, when a country as a project links to the Belt and Road Initiative, as linked to any other initiative of development, it's the duty of our country teams to support the country in order to make sure that that project, namely, an infrastructure project, is well integrated into the economy, is a factor of progress that trickles down to the benefit of all the sectors of the economy.  So, our role is a role to support Member States that have foreign investments, and, again, this isn't one of the areas, but there are others, to support Member States to take profit of foreign investment to the benefit of the development of the country and to avoid the risks that also inevitably also exist when we have big projects of infrastructure introduced in an economy.  And I had that experience myself when I was in Government in Portugal.  We had very important projects of infrastructure.  It was very important to act in a way to guarantee that those projects would be well integrated in the economy of the country.

Spokesman:  Iranian News in the back.  Okay.

Question:  Hello?  This is [inaudible] from Iran International.  Hi, and happy new year to you, too.  I would like to know if you have any comments on recently announced US withdrawal from nuclear treaty with Russia.  Also, would you say this longest Government shutdown would affect UN in any aspect?  Thank you.

Secretary-General:  Well, about the shutdown, I do not pronounce myself.  That's a matter of strict internal debate.  In relation to the first question, our position is very clear.  We believe it is very important that the treaty on mid‑range missiles is preserved.  We understand that there are some questions that need to be addressed, and we strongly encourage… there's still time.  We strongly encourage the parties to address those questions, to have a common interpretation on what the treaty really says in order for the treaty to be preserved.

On the other hand, there is another very important treaty, which is the New START.  That will be [renewed], if I'm correct, in 2021.  And I think it's very important that Russia and the United States do on time the negotiations that are necessary to make sure that this treaty is renewed.  The non‑renewal of a treaty like this would have two implications.  First of all, the limitations introduced would disappear, but also, the mechanism monitoring would be put into question.  So, it is very important that the architecture of nuclear disarmament that exists be, if possible, improved and to the extent possible preserved.

Spokesman:  Stefano will be the last one.

Question:  Thank you very much.  Stefano Vaccara, La Voce di New York, Radio Radicale in Rome.  Mr. Secretary‑General, you also today in your speech, you always put emphasis on the human rights and respect of human rights of migrants.  And my question is about what's happening in the Mediterranean.  Yes, there are less migrants, less… situation looks like it's better as far as to do the numbers but not as far as to do the respect of human rights.

My simple question is this.  When a ship of the ONG (non-governmental organization) rescue off sea migrants or several numbers and then the law says they should bring this… those people of the port, the city, the closest port, and instead, those ports get shut down, Malta, Italy, and those people… and don't have a place where they can be… you know, there are situation where the people are in danger of life at the point.  What is your opinion?  Is the international law respected in this case?

Secretary-General:  Well, there are two things that I believe we need to do.  One is to allow for disembarkation to take place and for disembarkation to take place according to international rules.  Second is to be much more effective in cracking down on smugglers and traffickers, because, in some situations, smugglers and traffickers tend to have the control of these movements, and we need to avoid situations in which the human rights of people are also put into question by those that force them to move in circumstances that are not adequate.  I think we need to combine the two approaches.

Spokesman:  Thank you.

Question:  Can I have a follow‑up on the migrants issue?  Thank you, Mr. Secretary‑General.  Ahmed Fathi, ATN News.  A follow‑up on the migrants issue.  There was in Egypt several cases of refugees who had refugee status from the UN.  They were wrapped up, and they were sent back to Sudan, where they are facing persecution.  What is the guarantee in the light of these disregard of international norms in the area?

Secretary-General:  This is an area of UNHCR's competence, and it's an area that is very clear.  People that have… UNHCR has the right to do refugee status determination based on its status, and that right is recognized internationally.  So, people that have status of refugee recognized by UNHCR should never be refouled.  And refouled means sent back to the country where they might face persecution.  This is the general law that should apply.

Spokesman:  Great.  Thank you very much.  Thank you.

Secretary-General:  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.