Press Release
Department of Public Information · News Coverage Service · New York

19 June 2001



Secretary-General Kofi Annan departed New York on Monday morning, 11 June, to begin a Middle Eastern trip aimed at pressing the Palestinians and the Israelis to implement the recommendations of the Mitchell Commission, which would eventually mean a return to the negotiating table.

He travelled first to Egypt, via London, where he rested on Monday night.

On arrival in Cairo late in the day on Tuesday, he told journalists waiting at the airport, “I think we have a fleeting moment, a fleeting opportunity which we must seize and seize promptly, and I hope the parties see it this way, otherwise we may lose an opportunity.”

“There is a real international alliance for peace working on this issue”, he said. “The Americans, the European Union, the Russian Federation, the Arab leaders and the United Nations are all agreed that we should push for full implementation of the Mitchell plan.”

“There is too much suffering in the region ...”, he added. “We should do whatever we can to bring this tragedy to an end.”

On Tuesday evening, he met with Amré Moussa, the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States. Together, they reviewed the latest efforts by the United States to shore up the ceasefire declarations by both sides with a security agreement and to move to a timetable on implementing the Mitchell plan. Mr. Moussa raised three other issues of concern to the Arab League: Iraq, Sudan and Algeria.

They met with reporters afterwards. In response to a question, Mr. Annan said that he and the other international actors were working as a team. “We don’t have different proposals on the table”, he said. “There is one proposal” --implementation in their entirety of the Mitchell recommendations.

This is in the parties' interest, he argued, and it is in the interest of their people. He concluded, “I hope they will make the right decision.”

Afterwards, the Secretary-General and Secretary-General Moussa had a private dinner.

On Wednesday, the Secretary-General had an early morning meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. They discussed the prospects for the Israeli ceasefire in the wake of the security agreement concluded late the night before by United States Central Intelligence Agency Chief George Tenet. They agreed that any security agreement, to endure, must be embedded in a political process. They reviewed the efforts currently under way to encourage the two parties to implement the recommendations of the Mitchell Commission. They also discussed broader regional issues, including the Syrian track, the Lebanon-Israel border, and Iraq.

The Secretary-General met with the press afterwards. Asked if current efforts by mediators would alleviate the suffering of the Palestinian people, he said, "I would hope to see a better situation for the Palestinian people." He added, "I know they are suffering, I know the pain, and I think this is why we are all here."

At midday, he met with the Foreign Minister of Egypt, Ahmed Maher, who had also been in the meeting with the President. They discussed the Israeli-Palestinian security agreement, the Iraq sanctions review exercise, and the situation in the Sudan.

The Foreign Minister and the Secretary-General then together spoke to the press. A journalist asked what practical role the United Nations could play to complement the role of the United States, which traditionally has been the main player in the peace process.

The Secretary-General responded that the United Nations has been involved in the Middle East from the beginning, with peacekeeping forces, aid to the Palestinians, and Security Council resolutions which serve as the framework for the discussions. "Today", he said, "I am working in close cooperation with the leaders of this region, the American Administration, the European Union and the Russian Federation. I think there is emerging a real international alliance for peace", he added. "And I think that is a very useful thing."

The Foreign Minister then hosted a lunch in honour of the Secretary-General, where their discussions continued.

After lunch, the Secretary-General and his team flew to Damascus, Syria. In the early evening, he met with Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk Al-Shara' for a discussion of the latest developments between the Israelis and the Palestinians. They discussed the implementation of the Mitchell Commission recommendations and the prospects of a return by the two parties to the negotiating table. Their talks also touched on the proposed revision by the Security Council of the “oil-for-food” programme for Iraq and the need to keep tranquil the border between Israel and Lebanon.

On Wednesday evening, the Foreign Minister hosted a dinner for the Secretary-General and his delegation.

The Secretary-General met on Thursday morning, 14 June, with the President of Syria, Bashar Al-Assad, for a review of recent efforts to calm tensions in the Middle East. Their talks, which lasted over an hour, including a private one-on-one session, also touched on the stalled Syrian track of peace negotiations with Israel, tension along the Lebanon-Israel border and the Security Council's efforts to overhaul the Iraq sanctions regime.

In a meeting with the press later, the Secretary-General, in response to a question, said that he and the President had also discussed the status of Lebanese and Israeli prisoners, but added that he had nothing specific to report on that issue.

To another question, he replied that they also discussed the Mitchell Commission report. The President, he said, had insisted that the basic frame of reference for the search for a Middle East peace be found in Security Council resolutions 242 and 338. He had indicated to the President, he said, that the Mitchell report does not replace those resolutions, "but is an interim step to get the parties back to the table".

Asked about their talks on Iraqi sanctions, the Secretary-General said that the President's view was that the Security Council should bear in mind the concerns of neighbouring countries. When a journalist then inquired about Iraqi oil sales to Syria, the Secretary-General replied, "This is part of the issue being discussed."

At mid-afternoon, the Secretary-General left Damascus for Aqaba, Jordan, to meet with King Abdullah II Bin Al Hussein, Prime Minister Ali Abul Ragheb and Foreign Minister Abdul Ilah El-Khatib. They discussed the political climate in, and prospects for, the region, in the wake of the security accord between the Israelis and the Palestinians. The Secretary-General reiterated the importance of full implementation of the recommendations of the Mitchell Commission, including international support for the process.

On the subject of Iraq, the King briefed the Secretary-General comprehensively on the possible impact on Jordan of the current discussions in the Security Council on reviewing the oil-for-food programme for Iraq.

After those meetings, Mr. Annan flew to the Jordanian capital, Amman. The Foreign Minister also returned to Amman and hosted a private dinner for the Secretary-General.

On Friday morning, 15 June, the Secretary-General arrived in Beirut, Lebanon, where he was greeted by the Foreign Minister, Mahmoud Hammoud.

At the airport, he had the opportunity to meet with some members of the families of Lebanese prisoners in Israel. They said it was the third time they had met with him to appeal for his support for the release of 13 Lebanese nationals, some held for up to 25 years. They presented him with a paper, which read in part, "In order to break the wall of silence, we demand the release of our children." He told them, and later told the press, that he intended to once again raise the issue with the Prime Minister of Israel.

He made brief opening comments to the press at the airport. "Lebanon has as strong an interest as anyone in lasting peace and stability in the region", he said. "And your leaders have an important part to play in ensuring that calm prevails."

The Foreign Minister then commented, "What is of interest to us in this visit is to listen, and we will listen well, to the Secretary-General's assessment of the situation in the entire region."

"He is a partner", he added, "in the search for the best means to reinforce international peace and security."

At midday, the Secretary-General met with President Emile Lahoud for about three quarters of an hour. Afterwards, at a press conference, the Secretary-General said that he and the President had reviewed the situation in southern Lebanon and the need to respect the "Blue Line" drawn by the United Nations in May 2000 as a reference point for Israeli withdrawal. They also talked about Israeli overflights of Lebanese territory, he said, the United Nations mine-lifting programme in Lebanon, post-war reconstruction and the economic prospects for the country. They then assessed the situation in the Middle East generally, following the Palestinian-Israeli ceasefire agreement.

Asked about the Shab'a Farms area, the Secretary-General said that, according to United Nations records, it belongs to Syria. "Israel knows that Shab'a Farms is not Israeli", he said. In the meantime, "we have enough problems in the region", he said, "we do not need to open another front".

In the afternoon, he met with the Speaker of Parliament, Nabih Berri. He told the press after that meeting that they had talked about the situation in southern Lebanon, the restructuring of United Nations forces there, and Israeli violations of the Blue Line, which the Speaker said must stop. He said that they also discussed the demining process undertaken by the United Nations with a generous contribution by Sheikh Zayed of the United Arab Emirates. He added that they had also touched on the question of the Israeli-Palestinian crisis and the future of comprehensive peace talks in the region.

The Secretary-General then went to the residence of Prime Minister Rafic Hariri. After their meeting, he and the Prime Minister spoke to the press. The Prime Minister called the meeting "fruitful" and said that they had discussed the Palestinian-Israeli question and, in this context, added that the Secretary-General believed that United Nations resolutions had to be implemented, especially resolutions 242 and 338. "All of us are worried about the situation in the Palestinian territories", the Prime Minister said, "and we are working very closely with the United Nations to assure the stability of the region."

His last meeting of the day was with Foreign Minister Mahmoud Hammoud. At a press encounter after that meeting, the Foreign Minister described their talks as useful, comprehensive and fruitful, touching on all issues of relevance to the Middle East. They started with the peace process, and included matters of interest to Lebanon, such as demining, and Lebanese prisoners in Israeli jails. In response to a question, the Secretary-General said, "Everyone I have spoken to believes we should bring a just and comprehensive peace to the region."

On Friday evening, he had a private dinner with the Prime Minister at his residence.

On Saturday morning, the Secretary-General returned to Amman, Jordan, from Beirut, Lebanon, in order to take a Jordanian helicopter into Ramallah, in the West Bank, to meet with the President of the Palestinian Authority, Yasser Arafat.

The President and the Secretary-General met with their delegations for about half an hour, and then one-on-one for another 15 minutes.

At a press conference afterwards, President Arafat welcomed the Secretary-General warmly and thanked him for his efforts to advance and protect the peace process. He reported that nothing had changed on the ground, saying he was sorry that Israeli soldiers were not following the orders of the political leadership. He called on the Secretary-General to support the idea of international monitors and suggested another meeting of the Sharm-el-Sheikh group at an appropriate level.

“We are disciplined and we are committed to fulfilling all the agreements related to the ceasefire”, he said. “And we hope the other side will make the same commitment.”

The Secretary-General replied that he was gratified that both the Palestinians and the Israelis had accepted the ceasefire, “so that we can move on to the other essential and important aspects of the Mitchell report”. He found concern about the situation in the occupied territories in other countries in the region he had visited.They are worried”, he said. He assured President Arafat that the United Nations and other international actors would work with both parties to secure peace, and they must also do their part. He urged quick implementation of the Mitchell recommendations.

Asked whether the Mitchell report replaces Security Council resolutions on the Middle East, the Secretary-General responded firmly, “the United Nations resolutions stand, and are relevant”. The Mitchell report, he explained, provides a road map to the negotiating table where discussions will take place in the framework of resolutions 242 and 338, based on the concept of land for peace.

In a concluding comment, the Secretary-General referred to the suffering and economic deprivation caused by the conflict. He urged quick implementation of the Mitchell recommendations so that people could begin to rebuild their lives. “So I appeal to everyone to work actively for peace”, he said, “for the sake of the people, for the sake of the region and for the sake of the two parties involved.”

President Arafat then hosted a lunch for the Secretary-General and his delegation.

After lunch, the Secretary-General met with Abu Ala, the Speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council.

He then visited a girls’ school run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), the agency that assists Palestinian refugees. Here children suffering psychological trauma receive special counselling. The Secretary-General watched students painting, acting and playing sports, all part of a remedial programme.

He then went to see one of the nine clinics in the West Bank where people receive rehabilitation from traumatic injuries -– mostly nerve damage and multiple fractures. Some 20,000 Palestinians were injured in the occupied territories during the current uprising. Many of the injuries to people in these rehabilitation units were from mortar shrapnel or rubber bullets. He walked through the clinic, stopping to ask patients about their progress in recovering.

The Secretary-General then had the opportunity to have a private meeting with the United States Ambassador to Israel, Martin Indyk, and United States Consul-General Ronald Schlicher, who deals with the Palestinian Authority.

At sundown, the Secretary-General travelled by helicopter to Jerusalem, where he had a private dinner at the residence of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

On Sunday, the Secretary-General met a series of Israeli leaders from different parts of the political spectrum, starting with an impromptu visit by former Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu. He then saw former Minister of Justice Yossi Beilin, followed by Dan Meridor, current Chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee of the Knesset.

He then went to the presidency to meet with the President of Israel, Moshe Katsav. Back at his hotel he had another meeting with Ambassador Indyk before a private session with Israel’s Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, Shimon Peres.

The Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister then hosted a lunch for the Secretary-General where the discussion, in addition to focusing on the situation in the region, also touched on the United Nations agenda for the new millennium, the upcoming United Nations Conference on Racism and other topics.

The Secretary-General and Mr Peres then met the press. The Foreign Minister welcomed the Secretary-General warmly, saying that in situations of conflict, he managed not to become controversial. “It’s very difficult to do”, he said, “to offer compromises without compromising himself.”

He said the Secretary-General’s present mission in the Middle East was “of great importance”, as he can carry a message “of objectivity, hope and promise”.

On the current situation, he said that “the Mitchell report is, in my judgement, the only valuable and important document that can lead the parties from an air of desperation to a new beginning of negotiations”.

In his opening statement, the Secretary-General said that his purpose in coming to the region was “to seize the opportunity offered by the present ceasefire and to use it to help restore the movement towards a lasting peace, negotiated within the framework of United Nations resolutions”.

He said he was encouraged that both Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had repeated to him their commitment to fully implement the recommendations of the Mitchell Commission.

“I have been pressing them to agree on timelines”, he said, “and to accept the help of third parties in whom they both have confidence.”

On the subject of Lebanon, he said he had discussed with the Prime Minister violations of the Blue Line. “Let me make it clear”, he emphasized, “that the United Nations is implacably opposed to violations of any kind, in either direction. Calm on this front is essential to stability in the region”.
In response to a question, the Secretary-General denied he had any disagreement with the Israeli Government on implementation of the Mitchell report. "But what I would want to see is a clearer definition of the road ahead, with timelines", he said, "so that people do not think the only issue they are dealing with is a ceasefire." He added that people have to see that there are good and positive things ahead to give hope and to encourage them to work for peace.

Both men were asked about the proposal that Mr. Peres, Yasser Arafat and the Secretary-General have a meeting in Ramallah, to which Prime Minister Sharon was reportedly opposed. The Secretary-General cited his experience in peacekeeping, saying that the way to resolve conflicts at the military level is to have people at the political level who can sort them out. It’s a way to reinforce the ceasefire, he argued. "It's not the beginning of political negotiations, as has been indicated", he said.

After the press conference, the Secretary-General visited a high school outside Tel Aviv that had lost seven of its students in the suicide bombing near Tel Aviv that had claimed the lives of 21 young people. The Secretary-General laid a wreath before a display that included photos of the seven students who died. He then joined the Principal of the school and the Mayor of Tel Aviv to address the students. "From the bottom of our tragedy", the Principal said, "we are not calling for revenge, we are calling for hope.”

"The United Nations has the mission to bring peace to our world", he went on. "We are calling you, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, to help us build bridges between us and our neighbours. Please, please, help us teach youth on both sides to communicate and not to hate."

"My dear young friends", the Secretary-General began, "it is difficult to come into a room full of young faces of young people who had to go through the shock that you went through."

But, he added, “if you are able to come through by supporting each other, by remaining strong, you're going to be much better for it”.

"I came here in the name of peace", he said. "You have many friends outside Israel who are all working together in the name of peace."
He offered his deepest sympathy and condolences to the students, and to the friends and families of the victims.

The Secretary-General flew to London on Sunday night. On Monday, 18 June, he met privately with his Special Coordinator for the Middle East, Terje Roed-Larsen.

* *** *
For information media - not an official record