UN chief spotlights Egypt, Syria and Pakistan in first press conference since Middle East visit
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told reporters today that has dispatched the top United Nations political official to hold wide-ranging talks in Cairo on how the Organization can best support peace and reconciliation efforts in Egypt.
Speaking in his first press conference since returning from a trip to the Middle East region and Pakistan, Mr. Ban reiterated that the UN “stands ready to support Egyptian-led approaches to resolving the current crisis.”
“I have asked the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Jeff Feltman, to hold wide-ranging discussions in Cairo starting from tomorrow with a focus on how the United Nations can best support initiatives to restore peace and forge reconciliation in Egypt,” he said in New York.
The UN chief added that given the “sharp polarization in Egyptian society,” both the authorities and the political leaders share the responsibility to end the widespread outbreak of violent protests and excessive use of force which have led to more than 500 deaths and thousands of injuries over the past four days.
Turning to Syria, Mr. Ban said that the UN team probing the alleged use of chemical weapons began its work today, and urged “full access” to the sites of the alleged incidents.
The Secretary-General stressed that the team, which arrived this weekend in Damascus, should have access to the reported sites to undertake necessary analysis and collect samples, as well as interview and examine witnesses, victims, attending medical personnel, and to conduct of post-mortem examinations.
“If confirmed, the use of chemical weapons by any side under any circumstances must be held accountable and would constitute an international crime,” Mr. Ban said. “Anyone responsible must be held accountable.”
Led by Åke Sellström, the team will spend up to 14 days, with a possible extension, probing the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Government of Syria at Khan al-Asal, as well as two other allegations reported by Member States.
He noted that the serious security situation inside the country “will undoubtedly affect the Mission’s activities” and that the Government and the all other entities within the country have assured him that they will ensure the safety and security of the Mission.
The UN chief launched the fact-finding mission earlier this year following a formal request from the Syrian Government. It is the first probe of allegations of the use of weapons of mass destruction in the 21st century.
Turning to Israeli and Palestinian peace efforts, Mr. Ban said he travelled to the Middle East region to underscore the UN’s commitment to a just and lasting peace: “There is at last a fresh opportunity for real progress towards a peace agreement. Both Israeli and Palestinian leaders must seize this historic opportunity.”
While in the region, Mr. Ban said he had “quite moving experiences” meeting young students with whom he had inspiring conversations. In Ramallah, he had a videoconference with students joining from Gaza and the West Bank, while in Jerusalem, he met with a students at the Government House.
“We are living in an interconnected world; a very diversified society,” he said, stressing the importance of the Alliance of Civilizations initiative to promote mutual understanding and respect for others.
During his latest travels, Mr. Ban also visited Pakistan where he said he met “everyone from Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to young students.”
“I left confident that the close bonds between Pakistan and the UN are growing even stronger,” Mr. Ban told the press. “We will continue to support Pakistan as it tackles challenges at home and strengthen their relationship with neighbours.”
During the press conference, Mr. Ban announced that he will depart on 21 August for an official visit to the Republic of Korea. He will then visit the Netherlands to participate in the centennial anniversary of the Peace Palace, and then Austria to participate in a retreat between the United Nations and the European Union co-organized by Mr. Ban and President José Manuel Barroso of the European Commission.