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UN Secretary-General’s press encounter: 5 September 2017

Burmese temples - by Sven Scheuermeier

Secretary-General António Guterres on North Korea and Myanmar’s Rakhine State

In two weeks’ time, world leaders will be here in the General Assembly to address the full range of global challenges.

But in recent days we have seen the dramatic aggravation of three of the main threats we face as an international community: the nuclear threat, sectarianism and climate change.

The latest nuclear and missile tests by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea are profoundly destabilizing for regional and international security.  I condemn them unequivocally.

Yet again, the DPRK has broken the global norm against nuclear test explosions.

Yet again, the country has defied the Security Council and the international community.

Yet again, the DPRK has needlessly and recklessly put millions of people at risk — including its own citizens already suffering drought, hunger and serious violations of their human rights.

I call again on the DPRK authorities to comply fully with its international obligations, including Security Council Resolution 2371 adopted last month.

I welcome yesterday’s meeting of the Council.  The unity of the Council is crucial in addressing this crisis.

That unity also creates an opportunity to engage diplomatically to decrease tensions, increase confidence and prevent any escalation — all aimed at the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

Let us promote the dialogue and communication necessary to avoid miscalculation [or]  misunderstanding.

Confrontational rhetoric may lead to unintended consequences.

The solution must be political.  The potential consequences of military action are too horrific.

As Secretary-General, I am ready to support any efforts towards a peaceful solution of this alarming situation, and as I said, to the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

Let me turn now to sectarianism.

I am deeply concerned about the security, humanitarian and human rights situation in Myanmar’s Rakhine State.

We are all aware of a long-standing history of discrimination, hopelessness and extreme poverty in that State.

I have condemned the recent attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army.

But now we are receiving constant reports of violence by Myanmar’s security forces, including indiscriminate attacks.

This will only further increase radicalization.

Nearly 125,000 people—victims of unbearable suffering and desperation — have sought refuge in Bangladesh.

Many people have lost their lives trying to flee the violence.

The grievances and unresolved plight of the Rohingya have festered for far too long and are becoming an undeniable factor in regional destabilization.

I have written officially to the President of the Security Council to express my concern and to propose various steps to end the violence and address the underlying causes of the crisis.
The international community must undertake concerted efforts to prevent any further escalation and to seek a holistic solution.

The authorities in Myanmar must take determined action to put an end to this vicious cycle of violence and to provide security and assistance to all those in need.  I urge them to ensure unhindered humanitarian access for life-saving relief operations.

At the same time, it is no longer possible to delay an effective action plan to address the root causes of the crisis.  It will be crucial to give the Muslims of Rakhine State either nationality or, at least for now, a legal status that will allow them to have a normal life, including freedom of movement and access to labour markets, education and health services.

The recommendations of the report of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine led by my predecessor Kofi Annan, and which the Government has signalled it accepts, must be fully implemented.

I am grateful to the authorities of Bangladesh for their decision to allow refugees to enter the country, and I encourage them to meet the needs of recent arrivals.

The United Nations is and will remain totally committed to help.

For my part, I will continue to engage with all relevant parties in the region and beyond.

Finally, ladies and gentlemen of the media, we continue to see climate change gather force.

I want to express my solidarity with all those suffering the devastating impacts of the unprecedented events we have seen in recent weeks from Texas to Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Sierra Leone.

The United Nations stands ready to support relief efforts in any way possible.

The number of natural disasters has nearly quadrupled since 1970.

The United States, followed by China and India, have experienced the most disasters since 1995.

Last year alone, 24.2 million people were displaced by sudden-onset disasters – three times as many as by conflict and violence.

Even before the current floods, preliminary reports for this year show that there have been 2,087 deaths from natural disasters.

It is true that scientists caution us about linking any single weather event with climate change.
But they are equally clear that such extreme weather is precisely what their models predict will be the new normal of a warming world.

With science forecasting a dramatic rise in both the frequency and severity of disasters, it is time to get serious about keeping ambition high on climate action – and on building resilience and reducing disaster risk.

Thank you.

Spokesman:  Pam?

Question:  Mr Secretary‑General, Pamela Falk from CBS News. You just offered help on the North Korea negotiations. The Swiss President today also offered help. Is there anything you have done or can do to actually get those negotiations going? Thank you.

Secretary-General:  Well, the negotiations depend on the will of the parties. I have signalled to the parties my availability to support any serious efforts in that regard.  I think here the unity of the Security Council is absolutely crucial, because it’s based on the unity of the Security Council that I believe it will be possible to make the pressure that is necessary in relation to DPRK be effective, allowing for successful negotiations to take place.

Question:  And… [Cross talk]

Secretary-General:  Sorry?

Question:  And in Spanish? Can you tell that in Spanish?

Spokesman:  If you could just repeat the same thing in Spanish.

Question:  In Spanish, the same.

Secretary-General: Yo creo que lo que es crucial hoy es garantizar la unidad del Consejo de Seguridad. Sólo con una total unidad del Consejo de Seguridad es posible mantener una presión fuerte sobre la República Popular Democrática de Corea capaz de crear las condiciones para que una solución diplomática sea posible.

[Cross talk]

Spokesman:  James… excuse me. James.

Question:  Secretary‑General, Myanmar’s most prominent political figure, as you know, won the Nobel Peace Prize. Is it now not time for Aung San Suu Kyi to speak out… use her moral authority and political power in her own country to speak out about the human rights abuses you’ve talked about? And would you describe those human rights abuses now as ethnic cleansing?

Secretary-General:  I think that we are facing a risk. I hope we don’t get there.  And I appeal to all, all authorities in Myanmar, civilian authorities and military authorities, to indeed put an end to this violence that, in my opinion, is creating a situation that can destabilise the region.

Question:  Are you disappointed in her?

Secretary-General:  It’s not a matter of being disappointed. I understand the complexity of the situation in Myanmar. We want a Myanmar that is democratic, but we also want a Myanmar where the Rohingya population will see their rights fully respected.

Spokesman:  Carole?

Question:  Mr Secretary‑General, on North Korea, do you think the Russian‑Chinese proposal for freeze, for a freeze, should be entertained by the US? And, in terms of… you said you would support, but how about meeting efforts? Would you meet with the Foreign Minister of North Korea when he’s in town in two weeks? Would you like to go to North Korea to meet with the leadership there?

Secretary-General:  Well, I think what is important is the capacity of the Sec… that all members of the Security Council to come together and of the five countries that deal with [the Democratic People’s Republic of] Korea in the framework, the past framework of the six‑party talks to be entirely united. So, my appeal is not for any specific solution. It is for the capacity to people to come together and make it clear to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea that they need to negotiate in order for the achievement of the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula.  I know that the leverage of the UN is limited. I know that our capacity is limited. I’ve just signalled to the parties that I’m entirely at their disposal, but I recognise that what is crucial here is the unity of the Security Council and the capacity of the five countries to come together with a single strategy to deal with the Government of the DPRK.

Spokesman:  NHK?

Question:  Secretary‑General, that the… as you mentioned, there are many issues in the world stage today, for example, the climate change, as you mentioned, North Korea, and the Libya immigration issue. So… but what… which issue do you think will be the most focussed for world leaders when they meet here the High-Level Week?

Secretary-General:  I think the most dangerous crisis we face today, the crisis related to the nuclear risk in relation to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. We all have the experience of the First World War. Wars usually do not start by a decision taken in a moment by the parties to go to war. If you look at the history of the First World War, it was on a step‑by‑step basis, one party doing one thing, the other party doing another, and then an escalation taking place. And, as a book called The Sleepwalkers described in an extremely effective way, all of a sudden, the parties discovered they are at war. This is the risk we need to avoid in relation to the situation of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Spokesman: Ali?

Question:  Thank you, Secretary‑General [off mic, inaudible]. You have the unique opportunity to meet with President [Donald] Trump and the world leaders on climate change. Do you want to convey a very specific message to President Trump in order to try to convince him to get back to Paris Agreement? Thank you.

Secretary-General:  I… our position is very clear on that. We are totally committed to the Paris Agreement, and we hope that all countries will understand that it’s not only the right thing to do. It’s also the smart thing to do, because the green economy is the economy of the future.

Spokesman:  Thank you very much.

Secretary-General:  Thank you very much.

[Cross talk]

Question:  [Off mic, inaudible]

Secretary-General:  [Off mic, inaudible] My letter to the President of the Security Council is an official letter, and it is will be… it is public. So it will be…

Spokesman:  It’s in my office.

Secretary-General:  It can be obtained.

United Nations, 5th September 2017

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