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Source: Department of Public Information
10 March 2004


DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL


Following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Fred Eckhard, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

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Good afternoon.

**Secretary-General Back at Headquarters Following Canadian Visit

The Secretary-General is back in his office in New York today, after returning last night from Ottawa, where he met with Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin and other senior officials.

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Asked about reports of a UN plan to broker peace between Israel and Syria, the Secretary-General said “there is no such plan at the moment”, although there have been discussions and working papers on what to do on the Syrian track “when the time comes”.  We have copies of the press encounter upstairs.

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**Middle East:  UN Envoy Larsen Meets with US Officials in Washington

The UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East, Terje Roed-Larsen, is in Washington today, where he met with US National Security Adviser, Condoleezza Rice.  They discussed the situation in the Middle East, including issues related to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s proposals concerning an Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.

They discussed ways in which the international community could assist the parties in this regard.  They also discussed the other tracks of the peace process, including the Syrian and the Lebanese tracks.

This afternoon, Mr. Roed-Larsen will be representing the United Nations at a working-level meeting of the Quartet, which also includes the United States, Russia and the European Union, which is intended to push forward the Middle East peace process.  The meeting will discuss recent developments, including the withdrawal proposals on Gaza.

On the Secretary-General’s instructions, Mr. Roed-Larsen will travel tomorrow to London to have discussions on these issues with UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.

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**Lebanon

The Secretary-General’s Personal Representative for Southern Lebanon, Staffan de Mistura, strongly deplored several Israeli overflights today in Lebanon’s airspace.  Those flights were followed by anti-aircraft fire from the Lebanese side, also across the blue line.  Mr. De Mistura called again on the Israeli authorities to stop these air violations, and on Hezbollah to cease its ensuing, and dangerous, anti-aircraft fire.

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**Questions and Answers

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Question:  To what extent do Roed-Larsen’s meetings in Washington today preview any sort of plan the Secretary-General is said to be working on for the Israeli-Syria and -Lebanon tracks?  How close are we to some sort of plan on that?

Spokesman:  I think his comments this morning sum up our position.  The so-called plan, as reported in an Israeli newspaper, was nothing more than a few ideas committed to paper by Roed-Larsen last October.  So I don’t think it indicates that a fresh initiative on Israel-Syria or Israel-Lebanon from the Secretary-General is imminent.

Of course this is something that, on a planning basis, we’re always looking at.  We were looking at it last fall, as the Secretary-general indicated.  But we are not about to put forward a plan and, as I said from this podium earlier this week, there is no plan.

Question:  Then Roed-Larsen is sharing these old ideas with what in mind?  Just to revive interest in them?

Spokesman:  I’m not going to get into the business of whom he is sharing ideas with.  He has shared ideas with the Secretary-General.  There were some discussions about possible formulae for reviving these two tracks when the time would be right for such an initiative.  How it leaked to this newspaper, I don’t know, but it wasn’t a timely leak.  As I indicated, these thoughts of Roed-Larsen’s date back to last October.

Question:  On the same topic -- I missed what you said earlier –- so could you say a little more about Roed-Larsen’s trip to London.  And have recent events in Gaza perhaps changed the Secretary-General’s mind about whether the Israelis ought to unilaterally pull out of that area?

Spokesman:  I don’t have the Secretary-General’s position on that latter subject.  All I said on the former was that the Secretary-General has asked Roed-Larsen to go to London tomorrow to brief the Foreign Secretary on the same kinds of issues he was discussing in Washington today, which I read out for you.

Question:  So there’s nothing else planned?  Is he going anywhere else while he’s there?

Spokesman:  Roed-Larsen did not mention to me his plans beyond tomorrow -- I don’t know what they are.

Question:  Has Roed-Larsen spoken to governments in the region – Israel, Syria or Lebanon –- about these ideas lately in an effort to revive interest in them?

Spokesman:  I’m not aware that he has.  We’d have to ask his spokesman, but my impression is that some thoughts were shared with the Syrians and with the Lebanese as part of his ongoing efforts to pursue the peace process in the region as a whole.  Again, the timing of this particular leak is a mystery and shouldn’t be interpreted as some fresh initiative about to come from the Secretary-General.  There is no such initiative.

Question:  Is there a goal in mind of having these ideas turned into something more substantial by the time of the Arab Summit in Tunisia later this month?

Spokesman:  No.  Its’ on a contingency basis:  should the time be right for such an initiative, these ideas were being formulated last fall.  There’s nothing fresh.  I’m sure Roed-Larsen is always looking for any opening, but, as I said, there is no link between this leak and any fresh initiative being planned by the Secretary-General or Roed-Larsen now.

Question:  When you say “the time should be right”, what would trigger further steps in the instance?  What are the Secretary-General and Roed-Larsen looking for?

Spokesman:  The political conditions in the region would have to be right for such an initiative.  I don’t think he believes they are right now.

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