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UNITED NATIONS
Department of Public Information · News Coverage Service · New York


SG/SM/6453
GA/PAL/773

4 February 1998

Français

CAUTION: ADVANCE TEXT
Not for release before
11 a.m. (EST) Thursday, 5 Feb.

COUNTRIES AND PEOPLES OF MIDDLE EAST 'ARE OF THE HIGHEST PRIORITY TO ME',

SECRETARY-GENERAL TELLS PALESTINIAN RIGHTS COMMITTEE

Kofi Annan Stresses Importance of Creating
Political and Economic Conditions To Support Lasting Peace


Following is the text of Secretary-General Kofi Annan's statement to the opening meeting of the 1998 session of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, at Headquarters, on 5 February:

Mr. Chairman,

I would like to congratulate you on your unanimous re-election to the leadership of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People. This is a clear reflection of the Committee's appreciation for the consistent support that you and your country, Senegal, have given to the search for a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East.

At its fifty-second session, the General Assembly reaffirmed the mandate of this Committee and of the Secretariat units which support its work. The Assembly also reviewed the work of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories.

Overall, the General Assembly reaffirmed the importance that the great majority of Member States attach to the role of the United Nations in the Middle East and especially to questions related to Palestine. They expressed their conviction that the mandates should continue during the transitional period of the agreements signed by Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, and until a final settlement is achieved.

The convening last year of the tenth emergency special session of the General Assembly was testimony to the world's deepening concern about the prolonged stalemate in the peace process. The international community remains determined to make a concrete contribution to the peaceful resolution of a conflict that has preoccupied the United Nations for over half a century.

Encouragingly, the past years witnessed historic developments in the Middle East, following the mutual recognition of Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1993. Notwithstanding difficulties and delays, the parties have accepted negotiation as the most hopeful means to resolve their differences.

Regrettably, the developments of the last year have sparked concern that the fragile edifice of the agreements reached since 1993 is in danger of collapse. More than once, I have been compelled to voice sorrow and dismay at horrifying acts of violence against innocent civilians.

Those acts are the work of the enemies of peace. I have appealed to the parties not to let themselves be discouraged or distracted by the actions of a radical few who seek to destroy the undeniable achievements of the peace process thus far.

The situation in the occupied territories has been aggravated by worsening economic conditions as a result of security restrictions. Further, there has been a deepening anxiety among Palestinians over the construction of settlements and its potential consequences for the final status talks.

Consequently, tensions are high and the situation could become fragile. I have called on the parties to take measures, in a spirit of partnership, to restore mutual confidence and resume negotiations in earnest.

I was encouraged by the recent meetings in Washington with the Israeli and Palestinian leaders, aided by the personal involvement of the President of the United States, and by the agreement to continue these talks in the near future. It is essential that remaining obstacles to the resumption of the bilateral negotiations can be overcome.

I also hope that the parties, in accordance with the agreements already signed, will be able to make progress on other outstanding issues. The aim must be a comprehensive, just and lasting settlement based on Security Council resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973). I also hope that it will become possible to resume talks on the other tracks of the Middle East peace process.

It is essential that political and economic conditions be created that will support a lasting peace. To that end, we must strive to promote social and economic development and cooperative relationships throughout the Middle East region.

The United Nations has long played a crucial role in this effort through its agencies present on the ground, especially UNRWA. That is a role that has been strengthened and expanded in recent years with the United Nations Development Programme's (UNDP) Programme of Assistance to the Palestinian People and the establishment of the Office of the Special Coordinator in the Occupied Territories.

Great challenges remain, however, particularly as deteriorating conditions on the ground have set back some of our endeavours. The continuing serious financial situation faced by UNRWA and the hardships caused to refugees by austerity measures must be addressed urgently in order to contribute to stability in the area.

I plan soon to visit Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, as well as the areas under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority. Besides meeting with the respective leaders to discuss issues relevant to the activities and objectives of the United Nations, I shall visit United Nations peacekeeping missions in the area, as well as the headquarters of UNRWA in the Gaza Strip.

The countries and peoples of the Middle East, at the centre of United Nations attention for so long, are of the highest priority to me. I look forward to listening to their hopes and concerns, and learning what more the United Nations can do to support their efforts for peace.

I should like to conclude by expressing once again my appreciation for the work of this Committee and my continuing commitment to support its endeavours.

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