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Source: Department of Public Information (DPI)
8 November 2005

Cairo, Egypt, 8 November 2005 - Secretary-General's press encounter after meeting Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit [revised]

SG: Thank you very much, Mr. Foreign Minister.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am extremely happy to be back in Egypt. In the relatively short period that I have been here I and my team and my wife have been made to feel at home and I always look forward to having very frank and constructive discussions with my good friend the dynamic and effective Foreign Minister of Egypt. As he has indicated we have discussed quite a lot of issues, from UN reform to the Middle East to Africa and other issues, and also the comprehensive convention on terrorism which has been discussed in New York. We are both hopeful that the Member States will be able to agree to the convention by the end of this year which I think will be a very good end of year gift to all the peoples of the world and those who are fighting this scourge of terrorism.

I will pause here to take your questions.

Q: Question on the issue of Syrian cooperation with the Mehlis commission.

SG: Yes, Syria has indicated it will cooperate fully and I myself have had the chance to speak to President Assad after the passing of the Resolution and he confirmed that to me. Actually, recently Syria has had a good record in implementation of UN resolutions. They did cooperate on 1559, on the withdrawal of the Syrian troops from Lebanon and withdrawal of security apparatus from Lebanon. The last Lebanese elections were free and fair without any interference from the outside, as far as we know, and I would expect Syria to continue the cooperation with the investigation and work with Mehlis. I think if they do cooperate and we get to the truth and the culprits are brought to the dock and made accountable that should be the end of it. I think whoever did this should be punished and the message must go out that the impunity will not be allowed to stand. and I think for the [Security] Council, most of the Council members, this is the objective and that this will be enough.

Q: Question on the fact that the Palestinians are complaining that there has not been any contacts between themselves and Israelis in the last ten days? Also Prime Minister Sharon said he would never give up the Golan Heights.

SG: We are dealing with a very complex situation and the Quartet, as you recall, met last in New York in September and discussed all these issues and came up with a comprehensive statement. Mr. [James] Wolfensohn has a six point agenda where he wants to see certain things done to be able to move ahead with this plan of helping the Palestinians establish a viable economy and this includes the removal of the closures and the crossings and I think the Foreign Minister referred to the Rafah crossing and other areas, because for them to have a viable economy they need access to the outside world and connectivity with the West Bank and all these issues are being looked at. And so, from Mr. Wolfensohn's point of view, which I agree with, things are not moving fast enough and here the Quartet all of us - US, UN, the European Union and Russia - should continue our pressure to ensure that the right environment is created for the work to proceed and to favour viable development in the economy on the issue. And of course I have here with me Mr. Alvaro de Soto, my Special Envoy for the Middle East. You see him here, he's the gentleman with the green shirt and very nice hair. [laughter] On the Golan Heights obviously this is an issue that will also come up. We are interested in peace progress in all tracks. Our ultimate aim is comprehensive peace on all the tracks and, in time, we will need to tackle the issue of the Syrian track as well. And I think it is still very much on the table that is not resolved and that we will have to come back to.

Q: Question about the Arab League initiative for a Iraq Reconciliation conference.

SG: I think it is a very good initiative. The need for reconciliation in Iraq is real. If we are not able to help the parties in Iraq reconcile, elections alone are not going to resolve their problems. So I am extremely encouraged by the Arab League initiative to bring the parties here to Egypt for talks on reconciliation and we at the UN support that fully. In fact, all the UN resolutions have [called] for an inclusive process in reconciliation and for a united Iraq working together to establish stability and sovereignty, so we are very much in favour of that.

Q: How do you see the Syrians' own investigation?

SG: I think it could help the work of Mehlis. In fact, Mehlis himself when he appeared before the Security Council suggested that it would be a good idea for the Syrians to set up their own investigation. The Syrian Foreign Minister assured the Council that that commission will cooperate with Mehlis, as well as with the Lebanese investigation. What is important is that Syria cooperates and they must get the message loud and clear. All the 15 members of the Security Council want Syria to cooperate with the investigation and for us to get the truth.

Q: Are we about to see another Iraq in Syria?

SG: I hope nobody is thinking of going in that direction. That going in the direction of Iraq, you mean a war. Is that your implication?

Q: Yes.

SG: No, first let me say that no one on the Security Council, as far as I know, is thinking in those terms and as I have indicated the objective is to get the truth and punish the perpetrators and send a message that impunity will not be allowed to stop us. I think we have enough problems in the region not to look on other fronts.

Thank you very much.

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