Tag Archives: PeaceProcess

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.

**Migrants Day

Today is International Migrants Day.  In his message for the Day, the Secretary‑General stressed that solidarity with migrants has never been more urgent.  He said that evidence overwhelmingly shows that migrants generate economic, social and cultural benefits for societies everywhere and yet hostility towards them is growing around the world.  He called for international cooperation in managing migration to ensure that its benefits are most widely distributed and that migrants’ human rights are protected.

Today at 2 p.m., the Secretary‑General will be taking part in a panel discussion at UNICEF House, which you are welcome to attend.  And my guests today at the briefing will include Béla Hovy, Chief of the Migration Section of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs.  Béla will be discussing the International Migration Report 2017, which the Department produced, and also here will be Leonard Doyle, the Head of Communications for the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

**Middle East

Nickolay Mladenov, the Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, briefed members of the Security Council today in an open meeting — that’s part of the regular, the periodic briefing on the situation in the Middle East, as well as the briefing on the follow‑up to resolution 2334 (2016), passed just about a year ago.  He said that he is particularly concerned as to the future of our collective efforts to achieve peace between Israelis and Palestinians.  The Secretary‑General, he recalled, has been clear that ending the occupation and realizing the two‑state solution, with Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and Palestine, is the only way to achieve such a vision.  Today, however, he warned, there is a growing risk that the parties may revert to unilateral actions.  His full statement is online and I believe the Council went into closed consultations.

**Mali

Our colleagues from the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) tell us that a patrol — a UN patrol — hit a suspected improvised explosive device in Kidal city this morning.  One peacekeeper was slightly wounded.  In response to the attack, the Mission deployed a Quick Reaction Force and an explosive ordnance disposal team to secure and clear the incident site and to recover a vehicle that was damaged.  This follows four separate attacks against peacekeeping personnel and premises in Kidal on Friday, all of which were repelled by peacekeepers.  One peacekeeper was severely wounded.  Two UN Mission staff and two civilians were slightly wounded, as well, and they were immediately given medical attention.  In a statement over the weekend, the Special Representative of the Secretary‑General, Mahamat Saleh Annadif, strongly condemned the attacks on peacekeepers that also put civilians at risk, adding that the Mission would continue to repel all attacks in a similar robust manner.

**Nigeria

The Humanitarian Coordinator in Nigeria, Edward Kallon, today deplored Saturday’s deadly ambush on a convoy carrying humanitarian food supplies for people impacted by conflict.  He also expressed grave concern over the limitations that attacks of this nature may have on the delivery of life‑saving supplies to people in need in north‑east Nigeria.  Four civilians are reported to have been killed in the ambush that took place on the road between Dikwa and Gamboru, in Borno State.  Aid items destined to alleviate the suffering of thousands of people have also been destroyed.

**Lebanon

The Special Coordinator for Lebanon, Pernille Dahler Kardel, met separately this morning with President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister Saad Hariri.  She said she also met with Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri last week.  Ms. Kardel, who arrived in Lebanon last week, discussed with Lebanon’s top leaders the key issues that are on the agenda between Lebanon and the UN.  She underscored the UN’s continued support for Lebanon on crucial issues related to peace and security, stability and socioeconomic development.

**Yemen

Humanitarian organizations working in Yemen released a joint statement yesterday on allegations of corruption and bias in the provision of relief assistance, in which they condemned in the strongest terms allegations put forward by the parties to the conflict in Yemen without proper substantiation.  The humanitarian partners in Yemen emphasized that they maintain their neutrality and do not take sides with any of the parties to the conflict.  Meanwhile, clashes and air strikes are reportedly continuing in southern Hodeidah Governorate, about 100 km south of Hodeidah.  Renewed clashes along the south‑west coast have reportedly caused significant civilian displacement, although comprehensive displacement estimates are not yet available.  That’s it.  I will stop there and take some questions, and then we’ll have Brenden [Varma], and then we’ll go to our guests.  Mr. Lee.  Why not?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Sure.  I’m… And I’m… you’ve just spoke about Yemen, and I… I may have missed it.  This airstrike in Ma’rib, did you address that?

Spokesman:  No.  We’re aware of the… we’re very much aware of the reports, and we continue to call on the parties to the conflict to uphold their obligations under international law not to target civilians or civilian infrastructure, among other items.

Question:  Sure.  I guess just to follow… it seems it’s a pretty well‑sourced report, and it seems these were women on the way to a… to a wedding…?

Spokesman:  I mean, we’ve seen… as I said, you know… I’ve seen the reports.  We’re just not in a position to confirm them.  I mean, the reports as they stand are fairly horrific by any standard…

Question:  What I meant to ask was this… in… in creating that list under Children and Armed Conflict, it seemed that the Secretary‑General concluded or said that the Saudi‑led Coalition had taken steps to… to avoid these things.  And so I’m wondering whether an incident like this calls into… is it… is it… is it an aberration?  What were those steps that they took?

Spokesman:  Well, obviously, the steps they had briefed us upon is better command and control and more detailed information as to where… I guess, better targeting.  I mean, I… you know, they’ve told us they’ve taken steps.  I mean, obviously, those are for the military side of the Coalition led by Saudi Arabia.  All of these events, as events around the world, are obviously… continue to be checked and rechecked by our staff and would be then put into the relevant reports.

Okay.  And I do have a statement on the attacks over the weekend in Pakistan:  The Secretary‑General strongly condemns the attack on a Methodist church in Quetta in Pakistan.  He extends his sincere condolences to the families of the victims and wishes speedy recovery to those injured.  He calls for the perpetrators of the attack to be brought to justice.  Yes, in the back?

Question:  Thank you.  On Honduras, the Organization of American States (OAS) have asked for the elections… presidential elections to be held again because of the many irregularities.  Does the Secretary‑General share these concerns, or what is his opinion on the elections?  And I have another question afterwards.

Spokesman:  Sure.  I mean, we’ve been, obviously, following the developments over the last few weeks in Honduras very closely, especially in the wake of the elections.  As far as the Secretary‑General is concerned, he reiterates his call for leadership with responsibility in this crucial moment and for a solution to differences within the mechanisms established by the Electoral Law.  He again urges calm and restraint.  He’s aware of the questions raised by the preliminary electoral observation reports of the Organization of American States and the European Union and of the pronouncements of the Secretary General of the OAS.  Yes, ma’am, and then Walter.  Yes, you.  Yep?

Question:  Hi.  [Inaudible] a few weeks ago, [António] Guterres proposed several internal change at the UN.  Could you please make some comments about the progress in the process of reforms?

Spokesman:  Sure.  The process of reform of the United Nations is not an easy one.  The proposals on management reform, on the peace and security pillar, on the development system reform are continuing.  There are very deep and detailed consultations with Member States, often led by the Secretary‑General himself.  We do hope to have more a public update, at least on the development system report, in the next few days to share with you.  But the work is continuing, and we very much continue to hope and hope we will receive the full support of the Member States for these efforts.  Ma’am?

Question:  Hi.  Eve from Al Arabiya.  So, we saw the Secretary‑General’s report on the implementation of 2231 (2015).  Does the Secretary‑General believe that there’s clear evidence of Iran’s involvement in supplying the Houthis with weapons?

Spokesman:  Sure, I mean, I know there was some exchanges last week with the Spokesman characterizing the conclusions of the report to 2231.  I just want to make it clear that we do not wish to characterize the conclusions and information contained in the report in any way.  The information and the Secretary‑General’s words in the report are clear, and the conclusions speak for themselves.  Walter?

Question:  Thank you, Stéphane.  This morning, a new Government was sworn in in Austria.  It includes the right‑wing Freedom Party.  Does the Secretary‑General have any comment?

Spokesman:  You know, we obviously… we’re aware of these latest developments and the formation of the government.  Austria is obviously a very important partner to the United Nations, and I hope to have a bit more to say on this shortly.  Evelyn.  Sorry.  I thought you had raised your hand but… Sorry, Linda, or one of you.  Whoever’s holding the mic, so since Linda is holding the mic, go ahead.

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  I just wanted to ask a question about the migration report that said that there are about 260 million people living in countries other than their birth, that of their birth, and that it’s… there’s been a 50 per cent rise since 2000.  I just have a question about policy… UN policy towards migration.  I mean, within those numbers, are they… does that include legal immigration, you know, where there are patterns and people follow that, or does it include sort of everyone, migrants who decide that they want to leave their countries, go wherever they go, and then have the right to stay in the country…?

Spokesman:  I think it’s a very interesting and detailed questions, and I will let our guest, Béla Hovy, from Department of Economic and Social Affairs, answer that question, because [he] is much more learned in this process than I ever will be.  Mr. Lee?

Question:  Sure.  I… this is… it may be a different kind of UN reform or changes, but I’d wanted to ask you, I’ve become aware that… that… that… you know, throughout the building, there’s various changes to called like flex… flex space or hot desking.  So I learned of… protocol… the protocol office, which is here on this floor, is being moved down to 3B, and I’m told that it’s going to cost $500,000 to essentially rip out the… the configuration that was put in just under the Capital Master Plan.  So, I’m wondering, I mean, I know that there are competing mandates on the Secretary‑General, but how can you justify the… the… the… the… a recently renovated space being torn down at… at pretty substantial cost when the… when the UN is also saying it shouldn’t face budget cuts?

Spokesman:  I don’t know the exact cost.  The whole point of shared space is to make much more efficient use of the space that we have in this building, which enables us to stop renting and paying tenants outside of the UN Headquarters.  So, we’re freeing up a space that we’re paying rent on.  So, obviously, there are some costs involved in the creation of that space, but in the long term, it will be a cost saving.

Question:  But in the case of protocol, like, are there prot… are there offices of protocol that are based in the Albano or in other buildings?  And… and… and was it considered sort of, basically for the next three months at least, you’re going to have diplomats going down to 3B to get whatever information they need and…

Spokesman:  I think anytime an organization is being reformed or a space is being refurbished, it involves some inconvenience.  The whole point is about better use and more efficient use of the space that we have and cutting down on costs of rental properties.

Question:  But was any of this known at the time that the Capital Master Plan built up these spaces that they would, in fact, be torn out at greater costs within two years or three years?

Spokesman:  That I cannot answer.  Yes, sir.  And then… sorry, then we’ll go to you, Evelyn.

Question:  Thank you again.  On Mexico, Congress just approved a national security law that could further endanger human rights, according to the High Commissioner for Human Rights and other experts of the UN in Geneva.  Does the Secretary‑General has… have any comments, or is he concerned about this decision?

Spokesman:  I can’t speak to that, because I haven’t seen those reports.  So, right now I would leave you with what the High Commissioner says and what other experts have said.  If I have something from the Secretariat, I will share it with you.  Walter, I know you… I have some more information for you, which is that the Secretary‑General congratulates the Austrian government led by Chancellor Sebastian Kurz.  As Austria is a long‑standing partner of the United Nations, the Secretary‑General trusts that the new government will continue to strengthen the bonds of international cooperation, uphold shared ideals, and play a leading role in the promotion of peace and security and to promote human rights, foster greater equality and minority rights.  Evelyn?

Question:  Thank you, Steph.  On Yemen, [inaudible] months ago [inaudible] investigate, quote, mishaps, tragedies that their air force had inflicted and that these would be publicized.  Has the UN ever seen any of these or…

Spokesman:  I will check if we’ve gotten any updates.

Correspondent:  And the SG gave a very nice comment on his reform on Friday night.

Spokesman:  Alright, I will leave you with Brenden for a brief briefing, and then we will go get our guests.  Thank you.

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 Farhan Haq, Spokesman for the Secretary‑General.

**Noon Briefing Guest

In just a short while, Jamie McGoldrick, the Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator for the Republic of Yemen, will join us by telephone link from Sana’a to brief on the situation there.  After the guest is done we’ll also have Brenden Varma, the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.  First, I’ll read a few notes and take a few questions and then we’ll get to our guest.

**South Sudan

The Security Council met on South Sudan this morning.  The Under‑Secretary‑General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean‑Pierre Lacroix, warned that, as the dry season sets in, we face the possibility that the military conflict will escalate, as well as intercommunal fighting.  Civilians will suffer the consequences of any escalation of violence, he said, adding that we cannot continue to stand by and watch.  Mr. Lacroix therefore urged the Council to remain vigilant and exert more effort to condemn and stop the violence, protect civilians, and urgently facilitate a political settlement of the conflict.  Fighting cannot continue in tandem with efforts to craft a durable peace, he said.  The two are simply incompatible.

The Under‑Secretary‑General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, added that, while over 2 million people have fled South Sudan as refugees over the past four years, 7 million people inside the country — almost two thirds of the remaining population — still need humanitarian assistance.  One and a quarter million people are in an emergency phase of food insecurity — that is almost twice as many people one step away from famine as the same time last year.  In early 2018, half of the population will rely on emergency food aid.  Mr. Lowcock called on Council members to use their influence to ensure that the parties comply with their obligations under international humanitarian law to respect and protect civilians, including humanitarian workers, and to ensure that the parties allow and facilitate humanitarian relief operations and people’s access to assistance and protection. 

And the Victims’ Rights Advocate, Jane Connors, is wrapping up a four‑day visit to South Sudan.  This morning, she briefed the press in Juba on her role as the UN’s first Victim’s Rights Advocate and on the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) efforts to prevent and respond to sexual exploitation and abuse, in close partnership with the UN system in the country.  She also strongly reiterated the Secretary‑General’s message of zero tolerance for sexual exploitation and abuse.  During her trip, she met with UN representatives and civil society.  She also visited the Protection of Civilians site in Malakal and met with community and traditional leaders, as well as the humanitarian community.  This is her second visit to a peacekeeping mission since taking up her assignment in September, after visiting the Central African Republic with the Secretary‑General in October.

**Syria

Staffan de Mistura, the Special Envoy for Syria, spoke to reporters in Geneva today and confirmed that the Syrian Government has informed him that its delegation will return to Geneva on 10 December.  After that, he said, discussions with the parties will continue, with no preconditions, until 15 December.  Based on how this round of talks goes, the Special Envoy said, he will assess whether the parties are negotiating seriously and draw conclusions accordingly.  And Mr. de Mistura’s Special Adviser, Jan Egeland, also briefed the press on the situation of some 400,000 people trapped in eastern Ghouta, adding that for the past six months, we have been trying to get acceptance from the Syrian Government of a very detailed evacuation plan for what is now 494 people who need to leave eastern Ghouta on medical grounds.  He again pleaded for the Government to allow those evacuations, including those of children with serious long‑term medical conditions.

**Deputy Secretary-General’s Travels

This afternoon, the Deputy Secretary‑General will depart New York for Paris, to co‑chair the Ministerial meeting of the International Support Group for Lebanon on 8 December.  On Sunday, 10 December, she will proceed to Quito, Ecuador, to address the High‑level Panel of Eminent Personalities of the South, to be held the following day.  The Deputy Secretary‑General will return to New York on Tuesday, 12 December.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

From the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the World Food Programme (WFP) warned today that an acute hunger emergency in the Greater Kasai could turn into a long‑term disaster.  While the agency has been working against the clock to help ever more people, cash is quickly running out.  Claude Jibidar, WFP’s Representative in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, said that a tightly planned surge makes a big difference, but WFP has largely funded this from its own resources.  He added that without immediate donor support, many will die, particularly women and children.  With 3.2 million people desperately short of food, WFP has stepped in with emergency assistance.  A lull in fighting has allowed more staff to be deployed.  As a result, the number of people assisted has grown rapidly — from 42,000 in September to 225,000 in November.  But donors’ reluctance to commit to Kasai is jeopardizing this effort.

**Ukraine

From Geneva, the Humanitarian Coordinator in Ukraine, Neal Walker, today urged Member States to support the 2018 Humanitarian Response Plan, which calls for $187 million to help 2.3 million people in the country’s east.  As Ukraine enters its fourth year of conflict, many people in conflict areas have exhausted their savings and ability to cope.  They are now forced to make impossible choices between food, medicine, shelter, heating or their children’s education.  Mr. Walker said that the people of eastern Ukraine continue to pay the highest price for the conflict, adding that, while Ukraine may no longer be front page news, millions of men, women and children urgently require our help.  And we’ve been informed that the World Food Programme will stop providing food aid to conflict‑affected people in the east at the end of February 2018.  Food insecurity levels have doubled in both Government‑controlled and non‑Government controlled areas, with up to 1.2 million people in need of food.

**Food

Our colleagues at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) tell us that even though global food production is booming, localized drought, flooding and conflicts have intensified and perpetuated food insecurity.  According to FAO’s latest Crop Prospects and Food Situation report, some 37 countries, 29 of which are in Africa, require external assistance for food.  Ongoing conflicts continue to be a key driver of food insecurity, having triggered near‑famine conditions in northern Nigeria, South Sudan and Yemen, as well as widespread hunger in Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Syria.  And adverse weather conditions are also taking their toll on farm food outputs in some regions, notably due to drought in East Africa and floods in parts of Asia.  The full report is available online.

**Dementia

The World Health Organization (WHO) today said that the number of people affected by dementia is set to triple in the next 30 years, going from 50 million people with dementia to 152 million by 2050.  According to the agency, the annual global cost of dementia is $818 billion dollars, equivalent to more than 1 per cent of global gross domestic product.  By 2030, the cost is expected to have more than doubled, to $2 trillion, a cost that could undermine social and economic development and overwhelm health and social services, including long‑term care systems.  WHO has just launched a Global Dementia Observatory, an online platform to track progress on the provision of services for people with dementia and for those who care for them, both within countries and globally.  More information is available online.

**Human Rights Day

Ahead of Human Rights Day, which falls on 10 December, when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was proclaimed by the General Assembly back in 1948, the High Commissioner for Human Rights underscored the need for the values enshrined in this landmark document to be defended.  He cautioned that the universality of rights is being contested across much of the world, pointing to what he called mounting cruelties and crimes being perpetrated in conflicts across the world, as well rising levels of nationalism, racism, xenophobia and other forms of discrimination.  His full message is available online.

**Aviation Day

Today is International Civil Aviation Day.  This year’s theme is “Working together to ensure no country is left behind” and it highlights the International Civil Aviation Organization’s (ICAO) efforts to assist States in implementing standards and recommended practices so they can have access to safe and reliable air transport and can address safety, security and emissions‑related issues.  Like I said, we’ll have Jamie McGoldrick talking about Yemen right after.  Yes, Edie?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Eight members of the Security Council have asked for an emergency meeting on Jerusalem, and they have asked for the Secretary‑General to brief the meeting.  The meeting is expected to take place tomorrow morning.  Will the Secretary‑General be briefing?

Deputy Spokesman:  Our expectation, if a meeting is called tomorrow… and I believe it’s yet to be confirmed… but we anticipate that there will be something tomorrow, and if that’s the case, then the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Nickolay Mladenov, will brief the Council members by video conference.  Yes, Ali?

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Do you have anything on the clashes today in the occupied territories between the Israeli forces and the demonstrators?  This is one.  And the second part of my question is about the legality of the… of President [Donald] Trump’s announcement regarding the move of the embassy to Jerusalem and to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.  Asking about the legality from the UN perspective.  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, regarding that, you’re aware of the resolutions of the Security Council, and you’re aware that the Security Council does intend to hold discussions tomorrow, so we’ll be waiting to see what they have to say.  You’ve already heard what the Secretary‑General had to say on the issue.  As he made clear, Jerusalem is a final status issue that must be resolved through direct negotiations between the two parties on the basis of the relevant Security Council and General Assembly resolutions, taking into account the legitimate concerns of both the Palestinian and the Israeli sides.  As for your question about today’s clashes, as you know, we’ve always been concerned about being sure that the status quo in the city of Jerusalem is preserved, and we hope that all sides will exercise calm and restraint.

Question:  Does the Secretary‑General have a say on the legality of the US move, or this is a US sovereign decision?  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  He’s made his comment on what he believes the situation is and what is needed in what he’s told you yesterday.  And like I said, we will await anything further in discussions as the Security Council is scheduled to meet.  Yes, please?

Question:  Thank you.  This is also on Jerusalem.  Has the SG spoken to the White House or to any officials from the United States on the issue of Jerusalem?  You know, Mr. Trump spoke to many world leaders, and I was wondering if the SG was one of them?  If not, did the SG speak to anybody about this dangerous move?  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesman:  We’ve made clear our views, including through various interlocutors, but, no, the Secretary‑General has not spoken by phone with President Trump.  Yes, Joe?

Question:  Simple question.  Has a date yet been set for the Secretary‑General to have a year‑end press conference?

Deputy Spokesman:  What the Secretary‑General intends is actually to have a press conference for the beginning of the year.  So what we’re looking forward to is something that will be in the early part of January.  Yes, please?

Question:  Thanks.  It appears that Mr. [Jeffrey] Feltman has met with Ri Yong Ho, the Foreign Minister of North Korea.  Is there anything at all you can say about that meeting or about the progress of his trip?

Deputy Spokesman:  Not really at this stage.  We’re aware of the discussions he’s been having.  We believe that the process so far has been constructive, but we won’t have any particular details to share until a little bit later, once he’s completed his trip.  Yes, Nizar?

Question:  Do you have any updates about the relief to Yemen?  Are any ships coming in?

Deputy Spokesman:  You’re in luck.  The guest of the briefing who is going to speak… you can’t see him.  We only have a UN seal up.  But Jamie McGoldrick, the humanitarian coordinator, will talk right after we’re done.  Yes?

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to… I mean, I guess you won’t read out the meetings that Mr. Feltman’s had in North Korea, but the Swedish ambassador today in front of the Security Council said that he has a report from Sweden’s embassy there.  Can you say whether… has Feltman met with any of the remaining diplomatic corps in Pyongyang?  And also, in terms of… for getting readouts, can you say what the composition of his team is?  Is Katrin Hett on it, and if so, is she back with DPA [Department of Political Affairs], and who else is with him?  Usually people do readout who went to a place.

Deputy Spokesman:  No.  We’re not doing that at this stage.  Like I said, we’re waiting until he’s completed his visit to be able to provide some details.  And he does intend to brief both the Security Council and the press corps once he’s back.

Question:  And on Jerusalem, I wanted to ask you, the decision… because a number of ambassadors were saying that they were hoping that the Secretary‑General would be the briefer.  Is there some reason that it’s Mr. Mladenov and not… and not António Guterres?

Deputy Spokesman:  We feel it’s best at this particular point in time for Mr. Mladenov, as the lead expert on the ground, to provide the details.  Yes, Evelyn?  Just press the button.

Question:  Terribly sorry.  Thank you, Farhan.  Jan Egeland, at his briefing today, talked about Syria, the Damascus Government, not giving the right licenses to get humanitarian aid into many areas.  Is anyone here picking that up?  Complaining or what?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes.  We’ve been complaining at various levels, but I also mentioned at the start of this briefing his concerns, particularly about the situation in eastern Ghouta.  And we’re trying to do what we can to make sure that various of these areas that have been essentially under siege for a long period of time are opened up.  Yes?

Question:  You mentioned on South Sudan.  There are 2 million South Sudanese, they are refugees, the 2 million are refugees?  And can you tell us, like, how many are IDPs [internally displaced people], as well, and then if you have a break, or how many… like, where are they, the 2 million?

Deputy Spokesman:  Yes.  The basic numbers are that there’s 2 million who have fled the country as refugees basically to neighbouring countries in the Central African region.  There’s 7 million people in need in the country.  Many of them displaced people.  And, as you know, there have been well over 100,000 in the various UN camps in protection of civilian sites in the country.  And 1.25 million people are in an emergency phase of food insecurity.  Yes?

Question:  Shifting gears.  I’m sure you and the SG have seen that a prominent American magazine has named these women, Silence Breakers, as the person of the year for exposing really horrible workplace culture and abuses of power by men.  I’m curious, does the SG believe that the mechanisms that the UN currently has, particularly here in the Secretariat, putting aside peacekeeping in far off places, are sufficient to address this behaviour?

Deputy Spokesman:  It’s always hard to say whether something is sufficient.  I mean, we are trying to improve the mechanisms.  As you know, the Secretary‑General has put in place new procedures to try to do what we can to improve how any of these allegations can be reported and responded to.  At the same time, part of what’s needed is a change of culture.  What you’ve seen with the Silence Breakers is the idea of changing the idea that certain types of behaviour are normal or acceptable, and that requires a change in culture, and that needs to happen here as elsewhere.  By the way, one of the things I wanted to point out in terms of the Silence Breakers that were recognized by Time magazine, one of them is, of course, UNFPA [United Nations Population Fund] Goodwill Ambassador Ashley Judd, and we’re proud to see that her work has been recognized.

Question:  Just following up.  I understand, I’ve seen the quarterly update with the road map for some reform here in the UN.  But at least looking in Washington, there’s an effort, perhaps, to go back and look at claims that may have been settled in the past under a different system and maybe open them up again to see if they deserve to be reheard under a new system.  Is there any push by the SG to look at sexual claims within this institution in the past and give them the light of day again, or is the past just going to be the past?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, certainly if people have stories like this, you know, outrages that have been committed upon them, they need to feel that it’s always appropriate and always acceptable for them to speak out.  And they will be listened to.  And we do have systems in place, including the work of the Ethics Office, the Ombudsman, the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), and various other mechanisms to make sure that they’re listened to.  Yes, in the back?

Question:  Yes, sir.  Yesterday the Secretary‑General, on this thing on Jerusalem, mentioned about Jerusalem being the capital of both countries which is echoing what Secretary‑General Ban Ki‑moon said.  Does the Secretary abandoning… or have any ideas of resurrecting the idea to internationalize the… Jerusalem, place it under a special international regime, as was the original idea back in late 1940s?

Deputy Spokesman:  I think what he said yesterday is where we stand.  And how that vision, including the vision of a two‑State solution, is to be achieved is really a question for the parties and for all of those who are trying to support the peace process.  Yes?

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask you on Burundi.  The most recent round of talks in Arusha has ended without any outcome document, and the mediator, [Benjamin] Mkapa, is basically blaming the participants for not moving at all.  And most of the opposition didn’t even attend.  Does the UN have any comment on what people are saying is kind of a failure of the process?  And was Michel Kafando there in Arusha or not?  And if not, where is he?

Deputy Spokesman:  I believe he has been involved in the process.  We’ll see whether there’s anything he has to say by way of an evaluation, but certainly he’s continuing to deal with the various parties and try to get the process going again.

Question:  And on the ramifications of this indictment of the China Energy Fund Committee and what it says by name about Sam Kutesa and a bribe being directed to the President of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni, their role in this process.  Does the UN have any reflection on what this means for the process?

Deputy Spokesman:  Nothing beyond what we’ve said before.  We obviously want the officials who serve as the President of the General Assembly to uphold the highest standards, but this as an issue is really an issue that the Government of Uganda needs to respond to, and I’ll leave the response in their hands.

Question:  Can I ask you also on Cameroon?  Stéphane [Dujarric] had said the UN was trying to figure out what President Paul Biya has said.  Since that time, there’s said to be… many people have left the region where they were told that they’ll be viewed as collaborators if they don’t leave.  And now a writer, Patrice Nganang, has been disappeared from Douala Airport.  He’s a professor here at Stony Brook, and he went and reported on the Anglophone region and was taken off his flight and whatever.  It seems to be a pretty… Many people are saying that somebody needs to get involved.  I wonder if Mr. [Francois Lounceny] Fall is aware of it.  Has the UN system taken note of the disappearance of this journalist?

Deputy Spokesman:  Obviously everyone who is in Cameroon or traveling to Cameroon, if there are any problems that occur during their travels, that needs to be investigated thoroughly by the local authorities.  We certainly hope and expect that this particular person will be found, and we’re hopeful that nothing untoward has happened.  But…

Question:  What if the authorities are at fault?

Deputy Spokesman:  We’ll have to see what happens, but first and foremost they need to investigate what’s happened.  And with that, let us get to Mr. McGoldrick.

Press Briefing by Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, 12/7/2017, #38

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

1:40 P.M. EST

MS. SANDERS: Good afternoon. Today is a solemn day of reflection across our nation, as we remember the “date which will live in infamy” when we were attacked at Pearl Harbor.

As the President said in a stirring video released earlier today, “We remember the lives that were lost, the families torn from loved ones, and the heroes who rose to America’s defense.” The President will be meeting with members who served at Pearl Harbor later today, as you all know.

Also, as you’re aware, the President will meet later this afternoon with congressional leaders from both parties to discuss the need to fund the government, particularly our military and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The President and the Republicans in the House and Senate are eager to pass a bill fully funding the federal government and the military. With the threats we are facing, our national security should not be held hostage for irresponsible demands. And we certainly hope that won’t happen.

Now, with Christmas season is full swing, I want to shine a spotlight on some of the incredible stories of generosity and love that show what the Christmas spirit and the American spirit are all about.

Today, I’d like to start with a story of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Wheeling, West Virginia. The story starts over 100 years ago, when a young girl tragically died around the Christmas season, and her family donated money to the church in her honor and asked that the money be used for children at Christmas. What they may not have realized at the time was that this act of kindness — in the midst of incredible heartache — would bless countless children for the next century.

To this day, St. Matthew’s continues helping children and families during the Christmas season. They usually do it anonymously, but word of their generosity spread through social media this year.

At the local Walmart, numerous families will come to pay the bill for Christmas toys they had put on layaway, and be told that “there’s no need” because it’s already been paid in full.

There will be so many acts of generosity and kindness that go unnoticed this Christmas season, and that’s okay. St. Matthew’s Church wasn’t looking for credit, and neither are so many others. But these stories are important because they remind us of what this season is all about — and that’s the greatest gift of all, that a savior was born. And, hopefully, we can all focus and take time out of our busy schedules to enjoy the Christmas season, or however you may celebrate.

And with that, I’ll take your questions.

Q Thank you, Sarah. I want to ask you about the possible government shutdown and the optimism that the President might have that he can avert a shutdown. And if I could follow up and ask about the California fires and the very latest the White House has on it.

MS. SANDERS: Sure. In terms of the government shutdown — look, we expect a clean CR to pass with Democrat support. It’s what we hope will happen. Funding the government, particularly our military, our Veterans Affairs, are always important. But particularly now, with so many threats that we face globally, this is certainly an important priority for the administration, and we hope something that will be discussed and agreed to later today.

Q On the fires, I’m sorry.

MS. SANDERS: Sorry, on the fires, was there a specific question?

Q Yeah. Is the White House in coordination with the folks out in California in battling that wildfire? Is there more money to be made available, especially for the areas near Los Angeles, which are under siege right now by so many devastating fires?

MS. SANDERS: Absolutely. The administration is in regular contact. Both FEMA and folks here at the White House are speaking regularly to state and local authorities and making sure that we’re ready and able to help when needed and when requested by those authorities.

Jennifer.

Q Can you say a little bit about why John Bolton was here at the White House today? And also, on taxes, we’re a little confused on whether the White House would support a 22 percent corporate tax rate. You had the White House economist, Kevin Hassett, talking about — saying it would be okay and it wouldn’t undermine the economy. And then, a few hours later, the Legislative Affairs Director, Marc Short, said something about it needs to be 20. So can you say —

MS. SANDERS: Look, our focus has been on getting the lowest corporate rate possible. Fifteen is better than twenty. Twenty is better than twenty-two. And twenty-two is better than what we have. Again, we’re going to continue to push, but we’re not going to negotiate that from the podium, and we’re committed to getting the lowest corporate rate we can.

Q And on John Bolton?

MS. SANDERS: On John Bolton, he is here; he’s a friend of the President. Somebody who he wanted to visit with. Nothing more than that. Nothing more than a check-in and a friendly visit.

Jonathan.

Q Sarah, Donald Trump, Jr. refused to talk about his conversations with the President, citing attorney-client privilege. Would the President release him from any such privilege and allow him to speak to the committee?

MS. SANDERS: That’s a question you would have to ask his attorneys. We believe that his lawyers had a legitimate reason and basis for not answering those questions. But that’s something I would direct you to his attorneys to address more fully.

Q But can you explain to me how it could be attorney-client privilege when neither Donald Trump, Jr. nor President Trump are attorneys?

MS. SANDERS: Again, that’s something that you would have to talk with Don Jr.’s attorneys about. That’s not something I’m able to comment from here.

Matthew.

Q Thanks, Sarah. Senator Franken today, in announcing his resignation, said that he’s “aware that there is some irony in the fact that I’m leaving while a man who has bragged on tape about his history of sexual assault sits in the Oval Office, and a man who has repeatedly preyed on young girls campaigns for the Senate with the full support of his party.” What’s the White House response to that?

MS. SANDERS: Look, the President addressed the comments back during the campaign. We feel strongly that the people of this country also addressed that when they elected Donald Trump to be President. And I’ve addressed it several times from here and don’t have anything new to add.

Q Can you say anything more broadly about the differences in the way the two parties are handling these accusations of sexual misconduct?

MS. SANDERS: I think that some of that would be left to some of the party leadership. I’m not sure if there’s a specific question in there on the differences.

Jon.

Q Thank you, Sarah. Have any of the President’s counterparts around the world contacted the President, contacted the White House to indicate that they too will follow the President’s lead in moving their embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, or acknowledging that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel?

MS. SANDERS: I’m not aware of any country’s commitment to follow suit on this.

Q Do you expect any? Do you expect that to happen? Do you expect that others will follow the President’s lead here?

MS. SANDERS: I’m not aware of any countries that we anticipate that happening at any point soon. I’m not saying that they aren’t, but I’m not aware of them.

Jordan.

Q Thanks, Sarah. Last week, the President said that the U.S. would be imposing additional sanctions on North Korea today. Do you have an update on where that stands?

MS. SANDERS: We expect the Department of Treasury to put out more details on that, hopefully by the end of this week. And we’ll keep you guys posted on that front.

Jennifer.

Q Thanks, Sarah. What is the President’s reaction to some U.S. allies, particularly in Europe — notably in the United Kingdom — who had expressed opposition to this action recognizing Jerusalem? And also, does the fact that he kept his promise give him more credibility when negotiating in the Middle East?

MS. SANDERS: Certainly, I think one of the abilities to follow through on something you’ve committed to, as the President has done. But, also, let’s not forget that this is something that Congress voted on starting back in 1995 and has reaffirmed 10 separate times over the last 20 years. This is something that the President took action on — a very courageous and bold action — and something that, frankly, the members of the United States Congress have voted on many times before.

Olivier.

Q Thank you, Sarah. So, yesterday, you guys put out a statement under the President’s name, saying that he was directing other officials in the administration to reach out to Saudi Arabia and urge them to immediately allow the flow of humanitarian supplies into Yemen. I have two questions about that. The first is: Why isn’t the President himself working the phones? And the second is: Are there any consequences for Saudi Arabia if they don’t immediately allow this flow of goods?

MS. SANDERS: My understanding is the President did bring these up on previous conversations, and that I believe there are actions that are taking place for a port to open. And we’ll keep you posted as those details become more available.

Q Any consequences for Saudi if they don’t do this?

MS. SANDERS: As I just said, if we have reason to believe that they’re moving in that direction for a port to be open, we’ll keep you posted.

Major.

Q Hallie asked on Monday when the President became aware that Michael Flynn lied to the FBI. You referred her to John Dowd, those questions. We’ve tried. John Dowd is not engaging on that. That’s a knowable fact in this building; it’s not a legal matter — not for their attorney to say. Can you just tell us when the President became aware of that?

MS. SANDERS: The attorneys feel differently, and they feel this is a question that should be answered by them. And I’ll encourage them again to respond to you, but I’m going to have to refer you back to John Dowd again.

Q Why is it a legal question for them not about something the President knew and when he knew it?

MS. SANDERS: As I said before, Jon Decker is the only attorney in here. I’m going to listen to the attorneys on this one, and John Dowd hopefully will follow up with you in short order.

Q One other question, Sarah. One other question.

MS. SANDERS: Sorry, Major, I’m going to keep bouncing because we’re tight on time.

Q I think you want to take this one. It’s real simple; it’s very simple. Today, the U.N. Ambassador said it’s an open question whether the United States will participate in the Winter Olympics in South Korea. Is it an open question? Is that now in doubt?

MS. SANDERS: Look, that wasn’t exactly what the ambassador said. No official decision has been made on that, and we’ll keep you guys posted as those decisions are made.

Q So it is (inaudible).

MS. SANDERS: Look, I know that the goal is to do so, but that will be a decision made closer to time.

Q By whom?

MS. SANDERS: I think that’s an interagency process. But I think, ultimately, the President would certainly weigh in. But, again, that’s something that he would take into account — probably a number of the stakeholders that would be involved.

Q And it’s all about security?

MS. SANDERS: Absolutely. If we felt there was an issue, that would come up.

Q I just have two government funding questions. First, does he want S-CHIP reauthorized?

MS. SANDERS: I haven’t had that specific conversation with him, but I do know that we want to fully fund the government. Beyond that, I’m not going to get into any more details before their meeting today.

Q Okay. The bipartisan leadership is coming up in a much different atmosphere than the last meeting where he tweeted about how he didn’t think a deal was possible because the Democrats were so bad on illegal immigrants pouring over the border. I’m wondering, has the President changed his mind about that? And also, specifically, what was he referring to since, in a government shutdown, ICE and the Border Patrol aren’t affected?

MS. SANDERS: The President is still very much committed to a strong border and to a border wall, and I would imagine that’s discussed at some point today.

Q But do you think a deal can be reached with the Democrats?

MS. SANDERS: I think we all hope a deal can be reached. We hope that the Democrats will be willing to put aside partisan politics and focus on fully funding the government.

Josh.

Q On the Hill today, Chris Wray praised the FBI and said it was the finest law enforcement force in the world. The President said, you know, it’s “in tatters” and it’s at its worst place in history. Can you explain that discrepancy?

MS. SANDERS: Look, we don’t think that there is a discrepancy. We agree with Chris Wray that FBI field agents are appreciated and respected. The President’s issues are with the political leaders in the FBI under former director Comey, particularly those that played politics with the Hillary Clinton email probe. And we don’t see a discrepancy beyond that.

Q Would he undermine —

MS. SANDERS: Sorry, I’m going to hop around because we’re tight on time.

Q If he undermines the FBI and says it’s in tatters, does the White House fear that that could create ramifications that people won’t trust law enforcement; that people will say —

MS. SANDERS: No. And again —

Q — why should we interact with the FBI when it’s in tatters?

MS. SANDERS: No. And again, the President is referring to the political leaders at the FBI, particularly those that were involved in the Hillary Clinton probe.

Blake.

Q Sarah, thank you. Two quick ones about a government shutdown. Chuck Schumer, on the Senate floor, said today of the President: His party controls the Senate, the House, and the presidency — speaking of Republicans, rather. And he said a shutdown would fall on his shoulders. How is that not just a reflection — an accurate reflection — of the political realities that Republicans control Washington at this point?

MS. SANDERS: Look, they may control Washington, but this still takes some Democrats to be engaged in the process, and we hope, frankly, that Democrats will play by the Schumer rule and not hold this bill hostage by playing partisan politics and that they’ll come to the table, help fund our Defense Department, help fund our military, and help fund Veterans Affairs.

Q And you said you want a clear CR. At some point, though, DACA is going to have to be brought up, or potentially be brought up. Is the White House willing to mix, at one point, a DACA fix with government spending? And if so, when would that be the case?

MS. SANDERS: Look, the President said that, with DACA, he wants to make sure that we have responsible immigration reform, including a border wall and other things that we’ve laid out in those priorities and those principles. And that’s something that would have to be part of that discussion.

John.

Q Yeah, thank you, Sarah. From that podium, Secretary Mnuchin and Gary Cohn both assured us that, when a final tax reform bill is passed, the alternate minimum tax would disappear immediately. Now, of course, recent statements by the President, as the conference is about to begin, indicate it might not completely disappear and not immediately, certainly. Is the administration still committed to ending the AMT right away?

MS. SANDERS: Look, I don’t think our position has changed on that front at all. But at the same time, look, the conferees were just named. We want to let this thing work through its process. We’ve laid out our principles. We’re very committed to those, and making sure that the bill and the final piece of legislation delivers on that.

Charlie.

Q A lot of attention on sexual misconduct and harassment by members of Congress. Is the President confident that Congress and its leaders can police and investigate themselves on this issue?

MS. SANDERS: I think that we have no reason, at this point, to see otherwise. And hopefully that process will move forward.

Hallie.

Q Thank you, Sarah. I just have one question, but I need to clarify something that you said from the podium here on taxes. You said, I think to Matt, on Tuesday, that as long as his taxes are under audit, he’s not going to release them. His 2016 taxes, to our knowledge, are not under audit, unless they are. Can you —

MS. SANDERS: My understanding — and I will double-check — but the President’s taxes, no matter who the President is, actually immediately go under audit after being filed. So that’s actually inaccurate. But I’ll double-check to be 100 percent sure.

Q Will you get back to us on that? So my question to you, then, more broadly, is on this moment that we find ourselves in, frankly, of a national reckoning when it comes to sexual harassment. And so in, again, a broad 30,000-foot way, does the President believe that he has a credible role in leading this conversation? And can you speak to the specific steps this White House has taken to make sure the women who work here feel like they are in a comfortable environment to talk about these things?

MS. SANDERS: I mean, I think that the President treats — certainly, as a woman myself, I’ve never felt anything but treated with the highest level of respect and been empowered to do my job. And I think that’s what I’ve seen the President do, day in and day out, since we’ve been here and during the campaign. And so I think that’s a pretty good start and a pretty good example on that front.

Q A lot of workplaces are having sessions, they’re having seminars. Are you guys doing that here? Are you talking about, in recent days, what people in this work environment can do? Are you taking —

MS. SANDERS: There are certainly White House policies that we are reminded of. And I think all of us expect each person to live up and to meet those policies, and to not cross a line that is not only not legal but not appropriate or not ethical.

Kristen.

Q A follow-up: We’ve seen Democrats forcefully call for John Conyers’s resignation, and Al Franken’s resignation, which happened today. Do Republicans, and does this President, risk losing their moral authority on this issue — which is a huge issue right now — by endorsing a candidate like Roy Moore, which has now been backed by the RNC as well?

MS. SANDERS: Look, I’ve addressed this in depth. We think that the allegations are troubling and that ultimately this is something the people of Alabama should decide.

Q Why not call for him to drop out of the race, or a write-in candidate? Sarah, is the President failing to lead at this critical moment?

MS. SANDERS: Hey, Kristen, I’m going to move around to your colleagues.

Q But just a quick follow. Is he failing to lead on this issue?

Q Was the President’s proclamation on Jerusalem delayed because of concerns expressed by the Secretaries of Defense and State, about security they wanted to get — adequate security in place for U.S. embassies around the world?

MS. SANDERS: We wanted to make sure that we had a thoughtful and responsible process, and that the decision and the components of that decision went through the full interagency process. And once that was completed, the President moved forward and took action.

Steve.

Q The Palestinians are under the impression that the President pulled out of the peace process yesterday based on the Jerusalem decision. How do you correct that? Did he do that?

MS. SANDERS: No. In fact, in the President’s remarks, he said that we are as committed to the peace process as ever, and we want to continue to push forward in those conversations and those discussions. And hopefully the ultimate goal, I think, of all those parties is to reach a peace a deal. And that’s something that the United States is very much committed to.

We’ll take one more. David.

Q Sarah, thank you. Given the recent revelations that at least one prosecutor on Robert Mueller’s team was sending anti-Trump texts to another DOJ lawyer, and given the revelation that yet another one was congratulating Sally Yates for refusing to uphold and defend the President’s travel ban, Chairman Goodlatte, at the hearing this morning, said that even the appearance of impropriety would devastate the FBI’s reputation.

So the question is: Does the White House believe that the fix was in that Robert Mueller’s probe was biased from the beginning?

MS. SANDERS: Look, we are fully cooperating through this process. We’re going to continue to do so as we — as I said a few minutes ago, we certainly felt like some of the political leadership at the FBI was problematic.

We’re glad that Director Wray is there. We feel like he’s going to clean up some of the messes left behind by his predecessor. And we look forward to this concluding soon and showing what we’ve been saying all along — that there was nothing to see here and certainly no collusion.

The President has got an event here in a couple minutes. Just a couple of last-minute notes: The President has got an event here with the members of the Pearl Harbor survivors, and then we’ll also have a pool spray at the top of the congressional meeting this afternoon at three o’clock.

So we’ll see you guys shortly. Thanks.

Q Sarah, a question about his health, after he appeared yesterday — just on his health, how he appeared yesterday.

MS. SANDERS: I’ll break the rules and I’ll come back. I know that there were a lot of questions on that — frankly, pretty ridiculous questions. The President’s throat was dry. Nothing more than that.

He does have a physical scheduled for the first part of next year, the full physical that most Presidents go through. That will take place at Walter Reed, and those records will be released by the doctor following that taking place.

Thanks so much, guys.

END

 

1:59 P.M. EST

News in Brief 06 December 2017 (PM)

Listen /

CAPTION: UN Secretary-General António Guterres. Photo: UN/Mark Garten (file)

“No Plan B” for Middle East Peace Process: UN chief

The UN Secretary-General has reiterated his belief that there is “no alternative” to the two-State solution for Israelis and Palestinians.

António Guterres was addressing reporters at UN Headquarters in New York on Wednesday following the announcement by US President Donald Trump to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

“From day one as Secretary-General of the United Nations, I have consistently spoken out against any unilateral measures that would jeopardize the prospect of peace for Israelis and Palestinians. Jerusalem is a final-status issue that must be resolved through direct negotiations between the two parties on the basis of the relevant Security Council and General Assembly resolutions, taking into account the legitimate concerns of both the Palestinian and the Israeli sides. I understand the deep attachment that Jerusalem holds in the hearts of so many people. It has been so for centuries and it will always be. In this moment of great anxiety, I want to make it clear: there is no alternative to the two-State solution. There is no Plan B. It is only by realizing the vision of two States living side by side in peace, security and mutual recognition, with Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and Palestine, and all final status issues resolved permanently through negotiations, that the legitimate aspirations of both peoples will be achieved.”

Italian funding allows UNICEF to continue birth registration project in Ethiopia

A project between Italy and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) aims to ensure the basic rights and protection of more than 800,000 newborns and children in Ethiopia.

The partners have signed a €1 million financing agreement to strengthen civil registration for children in Oromia and the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples’ regions (SNNP) of the country.

It covers the second phase of a project to reach the remaining 50 per cent of the area targeted, over a 12-month period.

Activities to be implemented include improving the institutional and technical capabilities of regional agencies that register vital events, as well as providing them with modern devices and transportation to better reach remote and disadvantaged areas.

South African tax on sugary drinks welcomed by WHO

A decision by South Africa’s parliament to pass a bill on implementing a tax on sugary beverages has been welcomed by the World Health Organization (WHO).

The bill was passed on Tuesday and the tax is set to come into effect in April.

It is expected to result in a roughly 11 per cent increase in the price of soft drinks.

WHO Representative in South Africa Dr. Rufaro Chatora called it “a brave and powerful step towards promoting the health of the country’s citizens and reducing diet-related noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), such as diabetes”.

The UN agency recommends Governments should introduce effective taxation on sugar-sweetened beverages to help reduce excessive sugar intake.

Globally, more than 30 countries have either introduced a tax or passed legislation to implement such a policy.

Dianne Penn, United Nations.

Duration: 3’36″

Europe and Eurasia: Press Conference at NATO

SECRETARY TILLERSON: Well, good afternoon, all. It truly is a pleasure to be back in Brussels. Someone reminded me this is my seventh trip to Europe already this year. But it is great to be back. I had a great visit with our tri-mission here in Brussels. These are the people who represent America’s interests here at NATO, but it – with the EU and here in Brussels, as well. Really working hard. And had a chance to meet their newest member of their family, a two-week-old son that was born to one of our folks that’s located here from the U.S.

And, of course, to be with Ambassador Hutchison, who is – who I’ve known for a very long time, and we have a very deep and strong friendship and a deep respect for one another, in terms of her service in the United States Senate for so many years, and really proud that she leads our NATO mission here, as well.

The United States, obviously, I think has affirmed now on multiple occasions our support for NATO’s mission. We know that the security NATO provides protects Western democratic principles, protects our right to live in freedom. To that end, the United States is eager for our NATO allies to exert their sovereignty and take on greater responsibility for our shared deterrence and our defense burden. I think, as each of us contributes, the better we will be able to deter and defend against the threats on Europe’s frontiers, which also can become threats for America.

We do commend the many countries that have made additional commitments and greater contributions. This year Romania joined the United States, Greece, Estonia, the United Kingdom, and Poland as six allies that spend at least two percent of their GDP on defense. And two more allies, Latvia and Lithuania, will join that club in 2018. We expect 26 allies will increase their defense spending budgets this year and five more NATO allies have put plans in place to achieve the 2 percent objective by 2024.

Increased spending, however, is not enough. It is really about increasing capabilities. And we’ve spent a lot of time in the sessions here at NATO over the last day-and-a-half talking about that. It is interesting, since NATO was formed the single largest cause of loss of lives within NATO from threats has been terrorism. And I think President Trump, as all of you well know, has made it clear that stopping terrorism must be a growing focus of attention for NATO. And we had just completed a session on the subject.

Yesterday we discussed how to further leverage the action plan to strengthen the allies’ resilience against terrorist attacks and, in particular, to build upon NATO’s already long-standing commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan, increase their cooperation as the President has announced his new South Asia strategy. We appreciate NATO members’ commitments to the United States effort to defeat ISIS globally, as well as our other counterterrorism efforts.

The original mission of NATO, obviously, is still relevant. We have been clear with Russia that we cannot return to business as usual in the NATO-Russia relations, as long as Russia continues its illegal occupation of Ukraine. And Russia’s continued use of hybrid warfare seeks to undermine Western institutions, and this stands as a significant obstacle to normalizing our relations, as well.

Russia’s aggression in Ukraine remains the biggest threat to European security, and demands continued transatlantic unity in confronting that threat. Our NATO allies stand firm in our support of Ukraine’s sovereignty and their territorial integrity. We do not accept Russia’s efforts to change the internationally-recognized borders of Ukraine or recognize Russia’s illegal occupation of Crimea.

Earlier this morning we also had a productive discussion with Georgian Foreign Minister Janelidze. Georgia is a large contributor to our joint efforts in Afghanistan. In fact, they are the largest per capita of any contributing nation, and we strongly support Georgia’s aspirations to become a NATO member.

Looking ahead to our final session, which will be over lunch today, the United States does support NATO’s open-door policy, and our commitment that any Europe-Atlantic country that wishes to join the alliance and meets the requirements to do so should be allowed to do so. And no third party should have anything to say about that pursuit of NATO membership.

As we have done for decades, the United States will continue to maintain our straightforward, ironclad commitment to Article V. We will continue to work for the common defense and the preservation of peace called for in the NATO charter, and do so with confidence that our allies will continue to do the same.

Thank you. Happy to take questions.

MODERATOR: The Secretary has time for a few questions. Josh Lederman, AP?

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. On several occasions – thank you. On several occasions, the President has publicly undermined your diplomatic efforts. In recent days, White House officials have said that you are going to be pushed out. And these are not media inventions. These are coming from the White House.

Many Americans see these efforts as humiliating to you. You have had an illustrious career. Why do you put up with it? Why don’t you quit?

SECRETARY TILLERSON: This is a narrative that keeps coming up about every six weeks. And I would say you all need to get some new sources, because your story keeps being wrong.

MODERATOR: Teri Schultz from Deutsche Welle, right there in the middle.

QUESTION: Hi, over here. Yesterday, the German foreign minister arrived at the meeting saying that there was an increasing divide between the U.S. and Europe, that Europe needs to take more of its responsibility, which is not just the funding question, and that transatlanticism was suffering. So I’m interested particularly in whether you’ve heard that in your meetings with allies – you had a meeting with them on Iran yesterday – and did they express as strongly as we hear them differences with the administration on Iran policy?

SECRETARY TILLERSON: Well, I heard Foreign Minister Gabriel’s statement, and Sigmar and I have become quite close. I think I’ve probably met with him as many times and had as many telephone conversations as any of my counterparts. And look, Germany is going through a very difficult political process right now. Sigmar is part of that. And I don’t want to say anything that’s going to suggest any leanings one way or another.

In terms of the support that we’ve received in our talks around our approach to Iran and in our Quad meeting yesterday, it was a very productive meeting. We share a common view of the threat that Iran poses in terms of its destabilizing activities in the Middle East region, most particularly in Yemen and in Syria, its support for terrorist organizations like Hizballah, its export of lethal weapons, including rockets and missiles. And that – we’re all very concerned about how to address that issue, and that was the discussions that we held in our Quad meeting yesterday. It was very productive discussions.

MODERATOR: Dave Clark from AFP.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. Much of the world is holding its breath as President Trump declares Jerusalem the capital of Israel. Major European allies are saying its wrongheaded, and Middle Eastern partners and even some in your own department are warning of potential violence and unrest. Is this part of a thought-out strategy to improve peace prospects, or is President Trump just fulfilling a campaign promise? And how can you claim to be a neutral broker in the Middle East conflict?

SECRETARY TILLERSON: Well, I want to be respectful that the President has not been allowed to address this issue himself, which he will be doing later today, as you know, with a speech that he’ll be giving. So I don’t want to go too far in terms of getting ahead of his speech.

What I would encourage people to do is a couple of things. First, listen carefully to the entirety of the speech; listen to the full content of the speech. The President is very committed to the Middle East peace process. He has a team that he put in place almost immediately upon entering the White House. That team has been working very diligently on new approaches to the peace process. They’ve been engaged in a quiet way with many in the region around that process. They’ve shared it with me so that I could give them my steer on certain elements of the process, give them guidance on areas that I thought would be challenging to address, and they’ve gone – they’ve done the hard work to try to address those.

So I would just say that all of this, we continue to believe there is a very good opportunity for peace to be achieved, and the President has a team that is devoted to that entirely. And I would – with respect to the decision on Jerusalem, I really would leave that until you hear the President’s full statement on that.

MODERATOR: Julian Barnes with The Wall Street Journal.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, Julian Barnes, Wall Street Journal. Ukraine. Is the peacekeeping proposal by Russia real? Is there a possibility to negotiate something that would – the United States could support that would put peacekeepers on the border, restore control to Ukraine? And related, do you support expanding Russia-NATO dialogue or is the current sort of high-level NATO-Russia Councils the right track to be on?

SECRETARY TILLERSON: We’ve been engaged with the Russians now for some time through, as you know, I appointed Ambassador Volker to be our point of contact with the Russians on finding a way to break the logjam on Ukraine. We’ve prioritized ending the violence as our first priority, and we think to do that, we need to put a peacekeeping force in place. Russia has long resisted a peacekeeping force, but they have agreed now, and as you point out, they put the first proposal forward for peacekeepers. I think it’s significant that we’re talking about the right thing.

We have a significant difference between the mandate that a peacekeeping force would be given and the scope of their mandate, and that’s what we continue in conversations with the Russians as to the peacekeeping force. We hope we can close those gaps. We think it’s vitally important to stop the violence in east Ukraine. People are still dying every day from that violence, and that’s our objective, is to stop the killing, stop the violence, and then we still have a lot of work to do to address all elements of the Minsk accord, and including the government in Kyiv has significant work to do as well. But this is a process that’s ongoing, and the peacekeeping and stopping the violence was our first and foremost objective.

With respect to dialogue with Russia, we had a lot of discussion during this NATO meeting, and in particular around dinner last night, over what is the proper engagement with Russia. And I think there is broad consensus among all the NATO members that there is no normalization of dialogue with Russia today. What dialogue occurs, whether it be through periodic meetings of the NATO-Russia Council – and I say periodic because we are not going to return to regularized calendar meetings. If there is a reason to meet, if there is a dialogue with a result expected, then we should meet and we support dialogue to produce results. But having dialogue just to be talking and trying to regularize or renormalize this relationship cannot be undertaken until some of these actions that I’ve addressed – in particular Ukraine, hybrid warfare – until Russia begins to address those actions which we find not just unacceptable but intolerable.

So I think we do support dialogue when there is a purpose, when there’s a substance, when there’s a result that we’re attempting to achieve.

MODERATOR: Carol Morello, Washington Post.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, you’ve often said that you start every meeting in the – every day asking about the safety of diplomats abroad. It’s been more than a year now since your diplomats started coming under attack in Cuba, and you have still not put forward publicly a single piece of evidence, yet you’ve taken some pretty drastic steps in response that have seriously damaged the Cuban economy and reputation, and Havana has complained that you won’t share even basic information that they need to investigate. So are you still convinced that these were attacks, and will you tell us what you know about what happened to them?

SECRETARY TILLERSON: We are convinced these were targeted attacks. We have shared some information with the Cubans, and there are two restrictions I’ve placed on sharing information. One is respect for the privacy of individuals and their medical conditions, and the second is not to provide whoever was orchestrating these attacks with information that’s useful to how effective they were. What we’ve said to the Cubans is a small island, you got a sophisticated security apparatus, you probably know who’s doing it, you can stop it. It’s as simple as that. So that’s what we’ve asked the Cubans. We understand the Cubans don’t like the actions we’ve taken. We don’t like our diplomats being targeted.

MODERATOR: Essia Bouguerra, Al-Sabah.

QUESTION: Thank you, Secretary. I’m Essia from Tunisia. My question is related to the – does the U.S. Secretary still believe that the two-state solution is still available or still present in the – in your priorities?

But the second one, concerning the meeting of President Putin and President Bashar al-Assad: What role has the Syrian regime right now in the – any coming negotiation in the future about Syria? Thank you.

SECRETARY TILLERSON: With respect to anything related to Jerusalem, I really would like to let the President make his statement before I comment. So we’ll be happy to comment later today or tomorrow, after he’s had an opportunity to lay out the full contours of the decision he’s made.

With respect to the Syrian regime and Bashar al-Assad’s role in the peace discussions in Geneva – and this is a process that will follow the UN Security Council Resolution 2254 – we have said to the Russians it is important that the Syrian regime be at the table and be part of these negotiations and part of the discussion. We think it’s important that as long as Bashar al-Assad is still the leader of that regime, that he be directly engaged in these discussions and negotiations. We have left it to the Russians to deliver them to the table, and we did have a delegation from the Syrian regime attended the first week of the talks that have resumed in Geneva. We hope they will – that they will return to those discussions. These talks have a process, as you know, that lays out the development of a new constitution, that moves towards an election process where all Syrians will have an opportunity to voice their views on the future of Syria, including all Syrian diaspora that may have been – may have had to leave the country due to the violence. This is as – all as is called for under the UN Security Council resolution.

MODERATOR: Thank you very much. Thank you.