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Time 'not optimal' for West Bank vote - Annan

Time 'not optimal' for West Bank vote, Annan cautions

25 June – United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan today cautioned that the current atmosphere in the Middle East was not conducive to the holding of Palestinian elections and said that members of the diplomatic Quartet on the Middle East - the UN, United States, Russian Federation and European Union - will need to meet to discuss the proposals made yesterday by US President George Bush.

"The time for the elections is not optimal," Mr. Annan told reporters as he entered UN Headquarters in New York this morning. "You could find yourself in a situation that the radicals are the ones who get elected. And it will be the result of a democratic process, and we have to accept that."

There was obviously a need for all members of the Quartet to get together "to determine how we implement the proposals put forward by the President," the Secretary-General said. "How do we operationalize it? Which comes first? Under what circumstances can one hold elections in the West Bank? In the current circumstances, obviously it is not possible. Would the Israeli withdrawal to the 2000 lines be a prerequisite for elections? Can you hold elections in the current atmosphere?"

The Secretary-General noted that there were aspects in the proposals that had to be thought through and clarified: “There has been a call for a new Palestinian leadership. What happens between now and until a new leadership exists? Do we work with the government that we have or do we create a vacuum?”

Asked about the Palestinian leadership, Mr. Annan said it was up to the Palestinian people to decide. "They elected Chairman Arafat, they are planning new elections, let them elect their own leaders," he said, adding that he had not spoken to Chairman Arafat since President Bush's speech, but that the two had been in contact over the weekend and again early Monday.

"At that point he was talking to me about reform and measures he was taking to reign in terrorism," the Secretary-General said. "I don't know what his mindset is but we've already heard that the Palestinians have indicated that whilst they are pleased with certain aspects of the President's speech, as for selection of their leaders it is their responsibility, and I'm sure Arafat would share that view."

On the need for reforms, the Secretary-General noted "that the Palestinians themselves have indicated that they want reform, and have initiated reforms already, and we had hoped that the reforms would not be a condition for the peace process and moving forward."

To a question on how President Bush's speech would affect the situation on the ground, Mr. Annan said that there was something in the statement for each party. "For the Palestinians, the President reaffirmed the establishment of two States in accordance with resolutions 242 and 338. I hope the Israelis and the Palestinians will have the courage, the wisdom and the strength to seize this moment for us to work on the establishment of a Palestinian State living side-by-side with an Israeli State in security," he said. "A timeframe of three years was indicated and I think it is important that it is done in a reasonable timeframe or else people will lose hope."

Asked if there was a timetable for an international conference, he said discussions were ongoing regarding a meeting of Quartet envoys.

FULL TRANSCRIPT OF KOFI ANNAN'S COMMENTS


Secretary-General Kofi Annan press encounter upon arrival at UNHQ, 25 June 2002

SG: Good Morning Ladies and Gentlemen.

Q: Can you speak to us about the significance of having this NAPAD component as part of the G-8 meeting, and maybe a word on Canada's role in pushing to make Africa front and center as part of this meeting?

SG: I think it's extremely important that the G-8 will be discussing their part with African leaders. The African issue was very much on the agenda at the G-8 meeting in Genoa last year, and at that meeting other leaders from the Third World were invited and the leaders decided to follow-up at the Canada meeting. What is important is the African leaders have come together determined to improve the economic and social conditions of the continent and are determined to improve governance, rule of law, regulatory systems and in exchange are asking the developed nations to work with them not only in increased development assistance and debt relief but also to encourage investments. And I would hope that this partnership will lead to a changed economic environment on the continent. But of course I would also want to discuss with the leaders at the G-8, the need for all of us to work together to resolve the conflicts in Africa. I think it is a prerequisite for African economic development. No one invests in bad neighbourhoods, and the conflicts really create the impression that Africa is a continent in crisis, and no one is going to rush there to invest. So we need to work very actively and collectively in resolving conflicts like the ones in DRC and Angola and others, and I'm hoping that we will get the support of the G-8 in that.

Q: Mr. Secretary-General, former Senator Mitchell said this morning that President Bush's proposal won't work if it demands Palestinian reforms before requiring Israel to make any concessions. He also warned that changing the Palestinian leadership could backfire by installing someone more radical. Is this worrying to you?

SG: I think initially, earlier in the year, we had all indicated some reforms were necessary and the Palestinians themselves have indicated they want reform and have initiated reforms already. And we had also hoped that the reforms would not be a condition of the peace-process and moving forward. Obviously we need to sit with our colleagues in Washington, that is the other members of the Quartet, to determine how we implement the proposals put forward by the President. How do we operationalize it? Which comes first? Under what circumstances can one hold elections in the West Bank? In the current circumstances, obviously it is not possible. Would the Israeli withdrawal to the 2000 lines be a prerequisite for elections? Can you hold elections in the current atmosphere? And of course Senator Mitchell's concerns are something that we should take seriously. The time for the elections is not optimal. You could find yourself in a situation that the radicals are the ones who get elected. And it will be the result of a democratic process, and we have to accept that. And as I indicated yesterday with regards to who leads the Palestinians, it is up to them to make that decision. They elected Chairman Arafat. They are planning new elections and let them elect their own leaders.

Q: Mr. Secretary-General, what do you think this speech, this outline, does in the short-term? I mean today, this week, this month to stop the cycle of violence that the Middle East is stuck in?

SG: I think it depends very much on how the parties see it. I think there is something in the statement for each party. For the Palestinians, the President reaffirmed the establishment of two states in accordance with resolutions 242 and 338. And I hope the Israelis and the Palestinians will have the courage, the wisdom, and the strength to seize this moment for us to work on the establishment of a Palestinian state, living side by side with an Israeli state in security. A time frame of three years was indicated, and I think it is important that it is done in a reasonable time frame or else people will loose hope again. You indicated what happens, how do they take it from there, and I think it depends on how the two parties react to the statement. And that is something for them to determine.

Q: Mr. Secretary-General, as a follow up to the G-8 conference, what specific outcomes to you hope to get with respect to the NEPAD initiative?

SG: I think there are certain proposals, plan of action, that the G-8 has got. The African group had also met and come up with a peer review group and also criteria for political, economic progress, which they would review amongst themselves and I think when you put the two documents together, the two partners will be able to see a way forward. We are not going to go there looking for a magic success. In fact, some people think there will be major projects on infrastructure, and all sorts of things. I don't think it is going to be that. And one should not have unrealistic expectations. I think over time NEPAD has a great potential, if the partners work in the spirit that they have been discussing.

Q: Does Yasser Afafat deserve to be dumped by the US? You've talked to him on the phone. What is his mind set. Does he sense the growing pressure? Is there any panic, or does he think he can hold on as usual? What's happening with Arafat?

SG: I haven't spoken to him since the President's speech. I spoke to him over the weekend, and yesterday before the President's speech. At that point he was talking to me aboaut reform and measures he was taking to rein in terrorism. I don't know what his mind set is, but we have already heard that the Palestinians have indicated that while they are pleased with certain aspects of the President's speech, as to the selection of their leaders, it is their responsibility. And I'm sure Arafat will share that view.

Q: Sir, do you think that the plan that Bush announced is a viable plan for going forward and are there any particular things about it that disappointed you?

SG: As I indicated, we need to sit down to see how one can implement this plan, how one can operationalize it with specific steps and timelines as to how this can be done. And obviously we need to sit with our colleagues in Washington who came up with the statement.

Q: Do you have any aspects that you'd like to point out that may have disappointed you?

SG: There are aspects that one would need to think through and clarify. There has been a call for a new Palestinian leadership. What happens between now and until a new leadership exists? Do we work with the government that we have or do we create a vacuum? These are issues that I think are on everybody's mind and we need to work out.

Q: Is there a time schedule for a meeting and for an international conference?

SG: There is a discussion about a meeting at the envoy level of the Quartet: Terje Larson and his colleagues meeting on this issue. And I'm sure there will be other subsequent meetings. And I have been in touch with Secretary Powell, Mr. Solana, and I'll be taking to Foreign Minister Ivanov today.

Q: South Korea's miracle is over. Did you watch the game?

SG: I saw a part of it. Don't say that is why I am late. I saw a part of it. It was 1-0 when I turned the TV off. What was the final score, do you know?

Q: 1-0.

SG: 1-0. Well you were very impressed with Nane's shot the other today, but she wasn't on any team. Good, thank you very much.

Q: (French) Rapidement, vos atteintes quant au sommet du G-8, initiatives africainnes, avez-vous certaines atteintes concrètes?

SG: Je crois qu'on vient de créer une partenariat entre l'afrique et le G-8, et j'espère qu'on va pouvoir vraiement se mettre d'accord au Canada pour travailler ensemble dans les années à venir pour ameliorer la situation economique et sociale de l'afrique. Je crois que les africains attendent beaucoup de cette reunion et j'espère qu'ils ne vont pas etre deçu.

*****

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