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UN Press Conference By Quartet On Middle East

Press Briefing


Opening a press conference this morning by the members of the diplomatic Quartet on the Middle East*, Secretary-General Kofi Annan announced a three-phase "roadmap" to achieve, within three years, a comprehensive and long-lasting Israeli-Palestinian settlement.

Other participants in the press conference were the Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, Igor Ivanov; the Secretary of State of the United States, Colin Powell; the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Denmark (representing the European Union presidency), Per Stig Moeller; the High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy, European Union, Javier Solana; and the External Relations Commissioner of the European Commission,

Chris Patten.

Mr. Annan highlighted the results of a “historic meeting” of the Quartet, which had met for the first time by itself and with five Arab States and Israeli and Palestinian representatives. Stressing that “the morally repugnant violence must end”, he said the overall plan must address political, humanitarian and economic dimensions and have reciprocal, monitored steps by the parties. A performance driven and hope driven process was essential. The process would take place in three phases, and progress would be assessed based on the parties’ compliance with performance benchmarks.

He said the first phase (2002-first half of 2003) would focus on Palestinian security reform, Israeli withdrawal and support for Palestinian elections. It should include a ministerial-level meeting of an "Ad Hoc Liaison Committee" to review the humanitarian situation and prospects for economic development in the West Bank and Gaza and an ad hoc meeting in November to assess the humanitarian situation and the development process.

The second phase (2003) would focus on the creation of a Palestinian State with provisional borders and based on a new constitution as a way status to a permanent status settlement, he said.

The third phase (2004-2005) would envision Israeli-Palestinian negotiations aimed at a permanent status solution, he continued. That solution should include Israeli measures to improve the lives of Palestinians, to allow resumption of normal economic activity, facilitate freedom of movement of goods and services, and easing or lifting closures and return of tax revenues owed by Israel. Israeli settlement activities must also stop. The Palestinian party must work with partners to reform security services and combat terrorism, and both the Israelis and the Palestinians should re-establish security cooperation.

The Quartet was discussing the timing and modalities of an international conference. It remained committed to the search for a comprehensive and long lasting settlement, the Secretary-General concluded.

* The Quartet comprises the European Union, Russian Federation, United Nations and United States.

Questions and Answers

Asked whether the parties to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could have hoped that the new plan outlined in the communiqué would not be derailed as previous plans had been, the Secretary-General replied that the Quartet intended to work with its regional partners. However, the main onus was on the parties themselves.

Another correspondent asked what the new plan contained for Palestinian suicide bombers, since there had been no halt in Israeli settlement activities?

Secretary-General Annan responded by noting that the communiqué not only stressed the need for progress on the political, economic, social and security fronts, but also offered Palestinian statehood. There would be concrete steps to achieve that, hopefully giving Palestinians an incentive. Any new peace plan must not only be performance-driven, but also hope-driven, he reiterated.

Asked why the Quartet had taken so long to come to agreement while people were dying in the region, the Secretary-General replied that the situation was not one where the Quartet could simply come in and impose a solution. He pointed out that while the Quartet had been meeting with the Foreign Ministers of Saudi Arabia, Syria, Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon, as well as with Israeli officials, any progress would depend on the political will and actions by the parties. Progress must be judged in light of the complexity of the issue.

Noting that a senior Israeli official visiting Washington, D.C. last week had ruled out January elections in the West Bank, another journalist asked whether Israel could take such a position.

Mr. Powell replied that it was indeed appropriate that elections be held next year. It was necessary to work out how the electorate would get back and forth to cast their votes as well as the purpose of the elections. While taking note of what the Israeli official had said, it was necessary to move ahead and permit the Palestinians to have elections.

Another correspondent asked whether the position of the five Arab Foreign Ministers had affected the United States’ view of Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat, even if the Palestinians re-elected him.

The Secretary of State said the position of the United States was that

Mr. Arafat's leadership had failed and that the Palestinian people were looking for new leadership, as evidenced by what had happened with the Palestinian Cabinet last week. The United States Government would not dictate to the Palestinians, but it must retain the option of deciding who it would deal with and who was effective in helping to move the peace process forward.

In response to a question about reported attempts by the Lebanese guerrilla group Hizbollah to divert river waters from northern Israel, Mr. Powell said American experts are examining that issue, and others would be dispatched to look into the relevant rules and agreements made over the years. The United States

understood the sensitivity involved and did not want another crisis over the water question.

Regarding Iraq, a correspondent noted that the United States had been dismissive of that country's latest letter allowing United Nations weapons inspectors back into Iraq without conditions. Was a Security Council resolution required for that and if so, how soon?

The Secretary-General replied that the Iraqi Foreign Minister's letter must be seen as a beginning and not an end. From the end of 1991, the weapons inspectors had done an incredible job in destroying weapons, and the only way to ensure disarmament was to have them back in the country while bearing in mind the history of the past.

Mr. Powell added that the Foreign Minister's letter was a response to the enormous pressure imposed on Iraq by United States President George W. Bush's clear indictment before the international community last week. The letter was not the end of the matter, as the world had seen that tactic before.

The Iraqi leadership must show that it was going to act differently from the past, he emphasized. The issue was not just the return of weapons inspectors, but disarmament, as well as the treatment of minorities and terrorism. The United States had noted the letter and would now go back into consultations with other Security Council members. The letter did not mean everything was now all right, he reiterated.

Mr. Ivanov, noting that the Council had sought the weapons inspectors' return to Iraq since 1998, stressed that they should return because the international community was concerned about whether Iraq had programmes to produce weapons of mass destruction. Answers were required, and only the inspectors could provide them. Iraq had agreed to their return without conditions, and the main task now was to ensure that they got down to discharging their functions.

Another journalist asked Mr. Ivanov whether he disagreed with Mr. Powell on the need for another Security Council resolution authorizing the inspectors' return. What other steps was the United States calling for, and was the Secretary-General willing to dispatch the inspection team right away?

Secretary-General Annan said he had discussed the matter with Hans Blix, Chairman of the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), and he was ready to move as quickly as practicable. If the Council gave him further guidance, the Chairman would take that into account.

Mr. Ivanov said there was no need for further resolutions, as all those required were already at hand. However, the Council may have different views about adopting a resolution on how to deal with other problems concerning Iraq that did not involve the question of weapons of mass destruction.

Mr. Powell stressed that the shortcomings of the previous inspection regime would not be acceptable in any future inspection, but that was a question for the Council to determine.

Mr. Moeller, noting that Iraq had said there would be no conditions to the inspectors' return, said compliance was not good enough. The Iraqi authorities must also extend their cooperation, and the Security Council must ask what exactly Iraq had offered.

Asked whether the consequences for a failure to cooperate should be spelled out before the inspectors returned to Iraq, Mr. Ivanov said there was no end to hypothetical discussions. Today, there was an opportunity and the inspectors had to return. The inspectors would report back to the Council on a regular basis, whether there was cooperation or not. It was up to the Council to ensure that the inspectors could do their job.

Mr. Powell underscored that those issues must be discussed now in the light of former experiences with Iraq. It was appropriate for the Council to consider the circumstances under which they might return, what additional conditions might be appropriate and what consequences there would be if Iraq failed to comply. What had changed in the situation was not the letter from Iraq, but the fact that the will of the international community had been directed fully to the problem.

The Secretary-General concluded by stressing the importance of unity, saying that the Council could do a lot when united, and that the unity shown over the last few days must be maintained.

* *** *

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