September 14, 2006
Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Wednesday backed a U.N. ministerial meeting next week to help revive the Middle East peace process, saying almost every leader he met recently in the region viewed Lebanon as "a wake up call" to deal with all Arab-Israeli conflicts.
In addition to stabilizing Lebanon after the 34-day war between Israel and Hezbollah militants, he said, Mideast leaders want to see a fresh effort to sort out Israel's problems with Lebanon as well as with Syria and the Palestinians.
Annan spoke at a news conference after a two-week trip primarily aimed at promoting implementation of the Security Council resolution that ended the Israeli-Hezbollah fighting. The hour-long session also focused on the U.N. General Assembly's annual ministerial meeting which begins next Tuesday, where Mideast issues are expected to be high on the agenda.
"Throughout my visit, almost every leader I met felt that Lebanon was a wake up call, and we should really focus on stabilizing the situation in Lebanon, and relations between Lebanon and Israel, but not stop there â€” build on from there to deal with other conflicts in the region â€” Palestine, the Golan Heights," Annan said.
The Arab League's call for a ministerial meeting of the Security Council on Sept. 21 to revive the Middle East peace process has received support from many council members, but not the United States. At a council meeting last week, the United States, Israel's closest ally, was the only country to speak against a ministerial meeting, and U.S. deputy ambassador Jackie Sanders said Tuesday that Washington's position remained unchanged.
Greece's U.N. Ambassador Adamantios Vassilakis, the current council president, said Tuesday he was hopeful the meeting would take place. Annan said Vassilakis told him "it's not quite settled yet, but a vast majority of the council members want it."
The Arab League's envoy to the United Nations, Yahya Mahmassani, said the goal is to have a constructive ministerial meeting with no acrimonious language "to get out of this vicious circle" of violence and no talks between the parties. "I have every indication to believe the Security Council meeting will take place on Sept. 21," he said Tuesday. "What is under discussion is the outcome of the meeting and we are working on this to make sure all the council members will agree on what we are proposing."
A series of proposals, agreed on by Arab ministers, would have the ministers call for a quick resumption of direct negotiations to settle the Arab-Israeli conflict and give the Security Council responsibility for overseeing efforts to set a timetable and agree on a format for the new talks.
Whether that remains part of a Security Council presidential statement â€” which is the likely outcome of the ministerial meeting â€” remains to be seen. "Definitely, something will come out of this meeting that will enhance the diplomatic effort leading to the peace process," Mahmassani said.
Annan said the meeting's backers told him their intention is not to come up with concrete solutions. Their aim is "to discuss the issue and raise awareness as to the urgency of tackling the outstanding peace issues in the region, as well as perhaps asking the council to think through and come up with a mechanism, or commission a report, that will make recommendations as to how to proceed in the future," he said. "I think that sort of discussion can be healthy," Annan said. "I don't think we should be worried about that. Of course, if one is going to take concrete action, that will have to be planned properly and it will take time. But the kind of frank discussions we are going to have should not bother anyone."
Arab League foreign ministers insist the "road map" to Mideast peace unveiled in 2003 is dead and decided in mid-July â€” after the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict began â€” to ask for a ministerial meeting of the council to launch a new international initiative to settle decades of conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese.
The road map was drafted by the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia â€” known as the Quartet â€” and aimed to establish a Palestinian state by 2005. But Israel and the Palestinians have failed to carry out the parallel steps in the peace plan and it has languished.
Annan did not answer when asked whether he believes the Quartet had reached "a dead end" with the road map. Instead, he lamented that it had not been implemented much faster and said members of the Quartet would meet next week on the sidelines of the General Assembly meeting, calling it "a very critical time for the people in Palestine." The Quartet is expected to meet on Sept. 20, U.N. diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity because no announcement has been made.
Annan said he received a call on Tuesday from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas informing him of the agreement with Hamas to form a unity government in which all members must accept the program and previous agreements entered into by the Palestine Liberation Organization. "I think this is a very important development," Annan said.
Hamas rejects the existence of a Jewish state in the Middle East, but the PLO headed by Abbas supports peace negotiations and a two-state solution. Annan said Abbas believes the requirements of the unity government "should satisfy the requirements and the conditions demanded by the international community."
But Annan said the Quartet will consider whether this is the case. If it is, he said, donors should move quickly to assist the Palestinian people "because it is a very desperate and serious situation." Abbas said he plans to send a delegation to the U.N. to try to revive the road map
More Information on Lebanon and Syria
More Information on Israel, Palestine and the Occupied Territories
More on The "Peace Process" in Israel, Palestine and the Occupied Territories
More on UN Involvement in Israel, Palestine and the Occupied Territories
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