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Annan discusses Middle East, Iran, Darfur in talks

Annan discusses Middle East, Iran, Darfur in talks with national ministers

In a continuing series of bilateral talks with leaders attending the United Nations General Assembly’s 60th anniversary session, Secretary-General Kofi Annan today held wide-ranging talks on such crisis flashpoints as the Middle East, Iran’s nuclear programme and the conflict in Sudan’s Darfur region.

In a meeting lasting more than 40 minutes with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Mr. Annan underscored the need for Israel and the international community to support and strengthen the Palestinian Authority as it takes full control of the Gaza strip following Israel’s withdrawal.

“This includes providing the Palestinian people with a political horizon as the peace process moves forward,” a UN press statement on the meeting said.

It noted that Mr. Sharon told Mr. Annan Israel’s withdrawal would provide momentum for a furtherance of the peace process and stressed that the Palestinian Authority now had a responsibility to stabilize the situation in Gaza and prevent acts of terror against Israel.

The Israeli leader said he was committed to the Road Map plan drawn up by the diplomatic Quartet – UN, European Union, Russia and United States – which calls for a series of parallel steps leading to two states living side-by-side in peace, originally by the end of this year.

Mr. Annan noted the professionalism shown by the Israeli army and police during the disengagement process, and the two men also discussed ways in which Israeli expertise on agricultural and development issues, notably in combating desertification, could be used through the UN system to help developing countries.

In a later meeting Mr. Annan told Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Nasser al-Kidwa that the Gaza disengagement was an important opportunity and he hoped that it would be a step forward towards the full resumption of peace talks. He stressed the importance of moving back to the Road Map.

Mr. Al-Kidwa replied that the Palestinians realized the disengagement was an important opportunity for them but stressed that it would be impossible to solve all of Gaza’s economic, political and security problems without further movement forward in the West Bank as well.

He expressed strong support for the work of Quartet Special Envoy James Wolfensohn, entrusted with coordinating the withdrawal from Gaza and the economic and social transition there, and noted the importance of moving forward with all points on Mr. Wolfensohn agenda.

Mr. Annan also met with Indian Foreign Minister K. Natwar Singh and the two men discussed Iran and the nuclear issue as well as the possibility of achieving UN reforms in the current General Assembly session with particular focus on Security Council expansion.

Iran's nuclear programme has been a matter of concern since 2003, when the UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) determined that the country had for almost two decades concealed its nuclear activities in breach of its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Iran insists its nuclear programme is for peaceful energy production but some countries, including the United States, say is part of an effort to produce nuclear weapons.

On Security Council expansion India, along with Germany, Japan and Brazil, was a member of the so-called G-4 that expressed their desire during the lead-up to last week UN World Summit to become permanent members.

Mr. Annan also held talks today with Sudanese Foreign Minister Mustafa Osman Ismail. The two agreed on the urgent need for a political settlement in Darfur, where tens of thousands of people are estimated to have died and more than 2 million others have been displaced since a conflict erupted in 2003 between the Government, allied militias and rebels seeking a greater share of economic development.

They discussed the implementation of a comprehensive peace agreement and Mr. Annan assured the minister that the UN intended to assist in the implementation of the agreement “over the long haul,” the statement said.

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