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Source: Department of Public Information (DPI)
31 March 2008


Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York



Following is UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s message to the League of Arab States Summit, delivered by B. Lynn Pascoe, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, in Damascus, 29 March:

I am pleased to send my greetings to all who have come to Damascus for this Summit meeting.

This meeting comes at a crucial juncture within the Arab world, as well as the broader region.  Recent political developments represent a particular challenge to you, the leaders of the region, as well as to the international community as a whole.

Lasting peace and progress in the Middle East hinges on a just and lasting solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict.  You have already made a bold and collective commitment to this goal through the Arab Peace Initiative, which remains a key element in our efforts to achieve peace.  I hope you will all work to sustain and enhance this commitment in the coming weeks and months.  Let me assure you of my support in achieving the goal of a just, lasting and comprehensive peace in the Middle East.

Your engagement is particularly crucial for the fragile political process currently under way between President [Mahmoud] Abbas and Prime Minister [Ehud] Olmert.  They have expressed their desire to reach an agreement by the end of this year.  Yet, the path to peace remains littered with daunting challenges.

In particular, I share Arab concerns that continued Israeli settlement activity and manifold restrictions on access and movement undermine the credibility of the political process.  I once again urge Israel to live up to its obligations by halting settlement construction, rolling back checkpoints and enabling access and movement.  We must work to ease the suffering of the Palestinian people and give them hope for the future.

I have called for a different and more positive strategy for Gaza.  I encourage all Arab countries to act responsibly and exercise whatever influence they have to support a cessation of violence in and around Gaza, a reopening of crossings, secure borders and the fulfilment of Palestinian obligations under the Road Map.  This is essential for the welfare of the population of Gaza, the security of the Palestinians and Egypt, as well as of Israel, and prospects for a peaceful reunification of the West Bank and Gaza within the framework of the Palestinian Authority.

Our goal must remain a just, lasting and comprehensive peace, the end of occupation and the establishment of a Palestinian State which will live side by side in peace and security with Israel.  As Secretary-General, I will also continue to look for opportunities to encourage a comprehensive resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict, which requires the Israeli-Syrian and Israeli-Lebanese tracks to be addressed and resolved.  This vision is consistent with Security Council resolutions as well as the Arab Peace Initiative.

Elsewhere in the Middle East, Lebanon remains in the grip of an intense political crisis centred on the election to the country’s presidency, which has lain vacant for more than four months.  I regret that regional interests and domestic Lebanese constraints have so far prevented any breakthrough.  This situation is no longer sustainable.  All Lebanese leaders should put the interests of their country and people first and bring the country away from the brink. It is paramount that Lebanon’s sovereignty, independence and unity be preserved.  Lebanon’s friends have the responsibility to facilitate the process of a political solution and everyone should rally behind and work for the implementation of the Arab League initiative.

There has, however, been significant progress in the establishment of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.  Most of the elements for the Tribunal are now in place.  Judges have been selected and the Prosecutor and the Registrar appointed.  Firm pledges and contributions taken together appear to meet the budgetary requirements for the first year of operations.  It should be noted that the Secretariat began this work mindful that the Government of Lebanon requested the Tribunal and the all-party Lebanese National Dialogue unanimously endorsed it as its first act.  After that, the United Nations continued in the same spirit the process of making the Tribunal a reality, pursuant to Security Council resolution 1757 (2007), out of the belief that this important step towards ending impunity could make a contribution towards building a just and lasting peace in the country.

The United Nations has also increased its activities in neighbouring Iraq in response to Security Council resolution 1770 (2007).  As in Lebanon, the United Nations is working hard to promote reconciliation within Iraq, while also assisting with pressing humanitarian and reconstruction needs.  We believe that regional dialogue is essential to this process.  That is why the United Nations is ready to work with the Arab League to support the Expanded Ministerial Process of Iraq and its Neighbours.  The United Nations will also participate in the forthcoming ministerial meeting in Kuwait on 22 April.  And in May, Prime Minister [Nuri] al-Maliki and I expect to co-chair the International Compact with Iraq Annual Review meeting in Stockholm.

I urge all Arab League members to support these efforts and to help bring lasting peace to the Iraqi people.

Beyond the Middle East, the distressing situation in Sudan demands sustained international attention.  It is clear that any lasting solution to Darfur’s misery can only come through a negotiated settlement.  That is why the United Nations and African Union Envoys are doing all they can to convince the parties to resume talks.  The Arab League and its members are well placed to support these existing efforts; your contributions can help speed up the deployment of the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID), and your influence can give fresh impetus to the stalled political process.

The United Nations and the Arab League share a strong and abiding interest in resolving the many political challenges confronting your region.  At the same time, I hope to increase our cooperation on broader issues of common concern.  In particular, our organizations must work closely to combat the rising tide of terrorism and intolerance threatening Arab and non-Arab regions alike.

I have condemned, in the strongest possible terms, the recent release of an insulting and defamatory film on the Holy Koran.  There is no justification for hate speech or incitement to violence.  The right of free expression is not at stake here.  I acknowledge the efforts of the Dutch Government to stop the broadcast of this film and appeal for calm to those understandably offended by it.  Freedom must always be accompanied by social responsibility.

The United Nations is the locus of the world’s efforts to advance mutual respect, understanding and dialogue.  We must also recognize that the real fault line is not between Muslim and Western societies, as some would have us believe, but between small minorities of extremists, on different sides, with a vested interest in stirring hostility and conflict.  The United Nations, led by our Alliance of Civilizations initiative, will continue to seek ways to spread this message and to promote understanding and trust between followers of different faith and cultural traditions.

The challenges ahead are substantial, but they are not insurmountable.  Let us therefore continue to enhance ties between the League of Arab States and the United Nations.  Let us make our collaboration even more effective and mutually reinforcing.  And let us build a strong and strategic partnership, one that delivers on the security, development and human rights aspirations of the Arab people.

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For information media • not an official record

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