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Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York

5 March 2015

The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon.  Excuse the delay, we will get under way here.  I think my colleague Jean Victor Nkolo will brief you after this on behalf of the President of the General Assembly.

**Security Council

Back here, the new round of talks on Libya was kicked off today in Morocco, as we have told you.  We hope to have more information on the talks later today.  This afternoon, the Security Council is also expected to meet on the UN Support Mission in Libya for a technical rollover.


Meanwhile in Lebanon, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Valerie Amos, met with Prime Minister Salam and the Minister for Social Affairs and other senior officials, as they discussed the impact of the Syria crisis on neighbouring countries and the need for more support.  Ms. Amos thanked the Government and the people of Lebanon for hosting refugees from Syria and acknowledged the impact on the country's economy and people.  She hoped that donors for the forthcoming Kuwait Conference will generously support Lebanon's efforts to help refugees, as well as its own economic stability.


On Yemen, UN agencies and humanitarian partners today launched a revised aid appeal for Yemen, seeking more than $747 million to address the urgent needs of 8.2 million people in 2015.  The funding will help aid organizations provide essential life-saving aid, including food assistance, and carry out protection programmes.  More information is available online.  I do hope to have an update on Mr. Benomar's activities for you before the end of the briefing.


Meanwhile, on Ebola, the World Health Organization today announced the launch of a Phase III trial in Guinea to test the VSV-EBOV vaccine, to check its effectiveness to prevent Ebola.  This phase will start on Saturday, with the Health Ministry of Guinea, Médecins Sans Frontières, Epicentre, as well as the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, and is based on promising data from initial clinical trials.  Vaccination will take place in the areas of Basse Guinée, the region which currently has the highest number of Ebola cases in that country. 

The objectives of the trial are two-fold:  one to assess if the vaccine protects the contacts who were vaccinated and if vaccinating the contacts will create a buffer – or ring of protected individuals – around the index case to prevent further spread of infection.  Vaccination will also be proposed to frontline workers in the area where the trials will take place.

**Human Rights

And from Geneva, our colleague the High Commissioner for Human Rights urged today States not "to lose their grasp" of the human rights principles underlying their societies in their struggle against violent extremism.

He said that the fight against terror was a struggle to uphold the values of democracy and of human rights – not undermine them.  And that counter-terrorism operations that are non-specific, disproportionate, brutal and inadequately supervised violate the very norms we seek to defend and can risk handing terrorists a propaganda tool.

The High Commissioner said he was deeply concerned at the measures that restrict freedom of expression and democratic space in numerous countries.  And these remarks were at his presentation of his annual report to the Human Rights Council.


On Iraq, humanitarian agencies report that a small number of families continue to arrive in Samarra every day, but getting accurate numbers of displaced people remains challenging as no assessment has yet been conducted.  The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says our humanitarian partners are planning to conduct a needs assessment this weekend but humanitarian assistance is beginning to arrive in Samarra.

Meanwhile, the World Food Programme (WFP) has dispatched about 2,000 Immediate Response Rations ready to eat for newly arrived internally displaced families.  UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) have respectively provided 500 and 1,000 household kits.  And the World Health Organization (WHO) is also working with the Government to provide health services through four mobile clinics provided by WHO and expected in Samarra in the next few days.

**Food Prices

Lastly, our colleagues at the Food and Agriculture Organization want to flag that their price index has declined to a 55-month low in February, dropping 1 per cent from January and 14 per cent below its level a year earlier.  Lower prices for cereals, meat and especially sugar more than offset an increase in milk and palm oil prices.

**Honour Roll

Lastly, our honour roll:  we are happy to reach a number of 53 and we thank Saint Lucia for paying up its dues.

**Press Conferences Tomorrow

Tomorrow, at 11 a.m., a press conference here by the Executive Director of UN-Women on the forthcoming fifty-ninth Commission on the Status of Women, as well as plans for International Women's Day, as the Beijing Platform turns twenty.  And at 12:30 p.m., a briefing here by Michaëlle Jean, the new Secretary-General of the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie.  Errol?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Just minutes before, Turkish Prime Minister said it's about time for Mr. Ban Ki‑moon, Secretary‑General, to present his plan on Cyprus like Kofi Annan did by the end of his mandate.  What say you on that?  And also, he said that the international community and I assume [inaudible] that he thought about the United Nations, as well that they didn't even have a plan A on Syria rather than plan B.

Spokesman:  Well, on your first question on Cyprus, as you know, the Secretary‑General's Special Adviser Mr. Eide is hard at work continuing his consultations.  When he is ready to unveil something, it will be unveiled.  But obviously, Cyprus remains very high on the agenda for the Secretary‑General, and as I think both the Secretary‑General and the Prime Minister said in their meeting, it's a permanent agenda item, which they both would like to see resolved.

On your second question, I don't think… listening to the Prime Minister, I don't think the Secretary‑General was the target of that line.  Obviously, we have not seen the unity we would like to see in the Security Council on Syria.  For our part, our humanitarian colleagues, OCHA, UNICEF, World Food Programme and UNHRC to name just a few, are obviously hard at work in trying to bring some semblance of aid to the Syrian refugees outside of Syria and to all those internally displaced inside.  Mr. de Mistura's efforts continue on trying to find… get a foothold in order to break the violence to stop the violence.  The focus has been on Aleppo.  It's a start.  It has to start somewhere, and obviously, keeping a focus on trying to get the political talks restarted.

Question:  …efforts… part of plan A or plan B?

Spokesman:  The only plan is to stop the violence, it is to create an environment where the millions of civilians who have been hurt in Syria can return to their normal lives, where the refugees who have been so graciously hosted by the Turks, by the Jordanians, by the Lebanese, to mention those three, can go home again and restart their life.  That's the focus.  That's always been the focus.  Mr. Lee.

Question:  I have questions on South Sudan and Mali.  But first, I wanted to ask you this one.  And I just want to ask, maybe you can say, it seems… it's not for every visiting dignitary that the UN decides to postpone its briefing and set it up that way.  So, I wanted to know, with all due respect, how is that decision made in this instance and not any instance?  Can any country do this?

Spokesman:  You know, I'm an accommodating kind of guy.  Okay?  If people ask… if they… the schedule had been for the Prime Minister's briefing to start at 11:45 a.m., finish by 12:15 p.m., I'm fine with that.  If somebody asks to use this briefing room… this is a Member State organization.  When the Prime Minister of a country asks for the briefing room and asks if I can delay my briefing by 15 minutes, I will do it gladly.  It was delayed much longer due to the situation outside.  We don't have any window here, but you and I know it's snowing heavily.  The meeting with Secretary-General started late, everything got delayed.

Question:  Any Prime Minister that asks for this could get it?

Spokesman:  As I said, I'm a very accommodating guy.  If the Head of State or Head of Government of a member of this organization comes and asks me to delay the briefing by 15, 20 minutes… sure.

Question:  Let me ask you about one thing he said, then.  He seemed to say that prior to Turkey going into Syria on the ground, that he spoke to the Secretary‑General and he said that the Secretary‑General didn't say anything negative about it, thereby, it would seem, implying that it was kind of a green light.  Can you confirm that this communication took place?  If it did, why weren't we given some indication at the time?  Is it a green light?  What does he think about that… does he think that the land to which Turkey went is in fact internationally recognized as Turkish land?

Spokesman:  I'm not going to confirm the conversation and I'm not going to get into this issue.  Roger.

Question:  The Prime Minister mentioned that he thinks that it's going to be many more refugees coming into Turkey in the coming months.  And he also noted the lack of support from Europe.  Is the Secretary‑General still making efforts to use his good offices to encourage European Member States to reset some more refugees or has that been given up on that?

Spokesman:  It's an issue that comes up regularly in conversations the Secretary‑General has had with European officials.  The issue of burden-sharing:  we're seeing Turkey… you know, Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt bear a huge… big burden of the Syrian refugees, just like we're seeing Italy having to deal with a huge burden of refugees and migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean.  Every Member State has a role to play and the burden needs to be shared.  Oleg and then Go.

Question:  Stéphane, can you confirm there was a conversation between Ban Ki‑moon and Mogherini from the EU [European Union]?  Reportedly they were discussing probable peacekeeping force for Ukraine.  What else did they discuss?

Spokesman:  No, there was a phone conversation.  I do not have a readout to share with you on that.  Go.

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  There is some report that Canadian protestant pastor is held by North Korea and apparently this was confirmed by both Canadian Foreign Ministry and the church itself.  Do you have any information…?

Spokesman:  I don't have any specific information.  I saw the reports this morning in the press, but I'll check if I have anything for you on that.  Matthew.

Question:  In light of that question, is the Secretary‑General aware and does he have any comment on the slashing of the US Ambassador in Seoul while he was giving a speech about the Korean peninsula?

Spokesman:  He's very much aware and was aware of it rather quickly after it happened.  I think he was very shocked by the brutal attack, by the violent attack on Ambassador Lippert.  He sends his sympathies to his family, wishes him a full recovery.

Question:  Okay.  And on South Sudan, I saw the statement that was put out, and it seems like the deadline… I don't know if… it seems to be passing, although talks go on.  I just wanted to know, does he have any… is that a… is that a solid deadline?  What… what does he think the implication should be?

Spokesman:  I think the Secretary‑General is making a round of calls to various leaders in South Sudan and in the region.  We will have… once all those calls are completed, we will have a readout, but obviously, the message is for both Salva Kiir and former Vice-President Machar to come to the table and to agree on a political solution that would alleviate the suffering of the people we've seen in South Sudan, the number of deaths, the millions that have been displaced, so that is a message that is being transmitted.  Errol and then we'll go to Oleg.

Correspondent:  It also came to my mind to ask you this.

Spokesman:  You guys should all turn off your minds.

Question:  No, no.  Absent-mindedly from time to time.  Indeed.  Did the Secretary‑General as the champion for the freedom of the press tackled any press issues with the Turkish Prime Minister during their meeting?

Spokesman:  I think the Secretary‑General's stance on freedom of the press and freedom of expression is unchanged.  It was not an item on the meeting they had.  They focused on the situation obviously in Iraq, in Syria.  The Secretary‑General made a point to commend Turkey for all the help they were providing for Syrian and Iraqi civilians that were displaced by the fighting.  They discussed the situation in Gaza, the lack of funding for reconstruction in Gaza and the Secretary‑General said he looked forward to attending the G20 later on.  But, the fact that an item is not on the agenda doesn't mean the Secretary‑General doesn't feel strongly about it.  Oleg.

Question:  On tomorrow's meeting in the Security Council on Ukraine, can you tell us what briefers are requested from the Secretary‑General?

Spokesman:  Mr. Feltman will brief and keep our fingers crossed, he may come to the stakeout.  That's what I know.

Correspondent:  All right.

Spokesman:  It's… what is it?  That's what I know, not the known unknowns.  It's what I don't… yes, sir.

Question:  Just on that, you'd said yesterday that you were going to ask Mr. Feltman to address his Sri Lanka trip at the stakeout.  Would this be the opportunity?  Is he going to brief the Council?

Spokesman:  He's briefing the Council on Ukraine tomorrow.  We hope he'll come to the stakeout.

Question:  And I wanted to ask you something that came up at the stakeout but wasn't answered yesterday and it has to do with the report into the incidents in Gao.  The guys are back, they're briefing the Secretary‑General and it will be finished by the end of March.  One, will it be released?  But I also just wanted to know:  is it a report of the type that will go to the Security Council, given it is their peacekeeping mission that's involved?Spokesman:  That's a very good question.  My sense is some of its findings will be shared with the Council.  Its findings will be made public, as well as the kind of actions we recommend.  It is at UN Headquarters.  The team is back, and it's being finalized and hopefully fairly quickly.  Thank you very much.  Sorry?

Question:  I was kind of expecting… I kind of wanted to defer, but I wanted to ask you this question.  There's a statement put out by a number of ambassadors in Dhaka urging the two parties to talk and somehow citing to what's been said essentially from this podium by the Secretary‑General through you on Bangladesh.  And I wanted to know, does the UN have any role in that… in what seems to be a… kind of a coordinated diplomatic attempt to reduce violence?

Spokesman:  I'm not aware that we're involved in this group of ambassadors, but I think the message that was reflected is a message we have been talking about from here.  Okay?  We'll leave you with Jean‑Victor.  Thank you.

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