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Source: Secretary-General
26 March 2007

Jerusalem, 26 March 2007 - Opening remarks by the Secretary-General at a joint press conference with Israeli Prime Minister

Thank you very much Mr. Prime Minister,

Good morning ladies and gentlemen of the media,

It's a great pleasure and honour for me to pay an official visit to Israel in my capacity as the new Secretary-General of the United Nations.

I thank you very much for your warm hospitality and friendship. I'm already very much impressed and overwhelmed by such a warm reception and hospitality shown to me and my delegation by the Israeli government and the people. We have discussed a number of issues which the Prime Minister has just explained which I'm not going to repeat. The meeting was very useful for me, first of all, to understand and appreciate the challenges and issues which the Israeli government and people are facing. But I'd like to assure you Mr. Prime Minister, that you are not the only one shouldering these challenges and difficulties. You have the United Nations and myself as Secretary-General who understand, appreciate and sympathize all these difficult challenges you are now facing. I'm also very much encouraged by the strong and active participation of Israel in all activities of the United Nations. I'd like to see more increased and active partnership between the United Nations and Israel. The reason is quite simple: Israel is one of the important member states of the United Nations and you have all the rights and privileges to be fully engaged and to participate in the United Nations. In that regard, there were some encouraging developments in the United Nations about anti-semitism as well as the Holocaust. Member States of the General Assembly have taken important actions by adopting a relevant resolution on this matter.

On regional issues, Lebanon, Israeli-Palestinian relations, Iranian nuclear issue and also Syria, we also briefly discussed the North Korean nuclear issue. I'm encouraged that the Israeli government is committed to the implementation of the Security Council Resolution 1701 in close coordination with the Lebanese armed forces and Lebanese government. The deployment of the Lebanese army in the South and the gradually enhanced capacity of UNIFIL have been important steps.

The Prime Minister is concerned at reports of importation of weapons into Lebanon without the consent of the Lebanese government. And the fact that the two Israeli soldiers are still being held in Lebanon contrary to Resolution 1701, I'm now working on that but thank you very much for your compliments. More than what I have been doing, but I'm committed to the resolution of this issue as much as I can.

The Prime Minister and I also discussed the importance of making progress on the Palestinian issue. I know there is deep unease here about the new Palestinian government. The Quartet would like to see this government clearly committed to nonviolence, recognition of Israel, and acceptance of existing agreements, and it will be assessed by its actions in the future.

A vital first step would be for the new government to take action against firing of rockets from Gaza and to secure the release of Corporal Shalit.

I explained to Prime Minister Olmert, in the same spirit, that Israel's actions are also very crucial, particularly as regards settlements, outposts, checkpoints and revenues. Existing obligations and commitments, including under the Road Map, need to be kept by both parties. And I also discussed while the Israeli government would not perfectly satisfy with all the National Unity Government and the Mecca Deal. I told them that the new National Unity Government should be given political space so that they could perform. It will be necessary for the international community to encourage as much as we can so that they can abide by all the existing principles laid out by the Quartet for the purpose of peace in the Middle East.

Above all, I stressed my conviction that the long-term safety and security of Israel and the creation of a Palestinian State go hand in hand. I therefore encourage all Israelis to assess carefully the opportunity that may be emerging. President Abbas is ready to talk about peace. The Arab world is ready to renew its peace initiative. Secretary Rice of the United States is working hard for peace. The United Nations and its Quartet partners are ready to do our part. We must use the weeks and months ahead to advance the political dialogue, since the alternative is renewed stagnation, which only means more extremism and violence. In that regard, we need to exercise the leadership. I hope the continued leadership of Prime Minister Olmert for ongoing peace process in the Middle East. As Secretary-General of the United Nations I am also fully committed to contribute as much as I can to this ongoing peace process.

Thank you very much.

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