|Quartet reports progress on roadmap for resolving Middle East crisis – Annan |
20 December – United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan today said the diplomatic Quartet on the Middle East - comprising the UN, European Union, Russian Federation and United States - was "very close" to finalizing a roadmap for resolving the region's crisis, which it will soon present to the Israelis and Palestinians.
Speaking to reporters before the Quartet's meeting in Washington, D.C., with US President George W. Bush, the Secretary-General said that the group believes the roadmap "can help bring about the vision of two States, Israel and Palestine, living side-by-side."
A joint statement issued after the meeting said President Bush expressed his "strong support" for the group's efforts as well as his firm commitment to its roadmap, "which would realize his vision of two States - Israel and Palestine - living side-by-side in peace and security."
In addition to Mr. Annan, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller of Denmark, which currently holds the EU's presidency, High Representative for European Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana, and European Commissioner for External Affairs Chris Patten attended the meeting with President Bush and US Secretary of State Powell.
According to the statement, the Quartet agreed to further intensive work to develop a credible and effective monitoring mechanism. "In the meantime, the Quartet calls on the parties to carry out as rapidly as possible their responsibilities to restore calm, pursue reforms, and improve the humanitarian situation - steps that will lead to a political process culminating in Palestinian statehood," it said.
Specifically, the Quartet called for an immediate, comprehensive, ceasefire. "All Palestinian individuals and groups must end all acts of terror against Israelis, in any location," the statement said, noting that such a ceasefire should be accompanied by supportive measures undertaken by the Government of Israel. "As calm is established, Israeli forces should withdraw from Palestinian areas and the pre-Intifada status quo on the ground should be restored."
The Quartet also expressed concern at the deepening humanitarian crisis in Gaza and the West Bank and called for increased effort by the Government of Israel to ease the humanitarian situation in those places. "The Quartet reiterates the importance of immediate Israeli measures, consistent with legitimate security concerns, to improve the lives of Palestinians, including allowing the resumption of normal economic activity, facilitating the movement of goods, people, and essential services and lifting curfew and closures," the statement said. "The Quartet calls on Israel to avoid actions that undermine trust and create further hardship for innocent Palestinian civilians, including demolition of houses and civil infrastructure."
During a press encounter after the White House meeting, Mr. Annan said the Quartet is determined to finalize its plan as quickly as possible, and release it to the parties. "We all agree that that is the only solution," he stressed. "Our challenge now is to work with them to get there in the next couple of years. And we are very pleased to also hear the President's strong support for the work of the Quartet and the achievement of his vision."