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Source: Department of Public Information (DPI)
15 December 2008

Press Conference

        Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York



The diplomatic Quartet trying to end the conflict in the Middle East was united in its determination to intensify efforts towards a just and lasting solution to the long-standing problem, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told correspondents this afternoon at a press conference that followed a closed meeting of the group.

Calling the efforts of the outgoing American Administration in the area “tireless and continuing”, Mr. Ban praised, in particular, the organization of the summit last year in Annapolis, Maryland, and the resulting support for ongoing bilateral negotiations.

Joining Mr. Ban on the podium at the press conference were United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and European Union High Representative Javier Solana and European Commissioner for External Relations Bettina Ferrero-Waldner.  Also present was Gérard Araud, Special Envoy of French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner.  The Quartet, which released a joint statement this afternoon (Press Release SG/2147), consists of the United Nations, the European Union, the Russian Federation and the United States.

In response to a correspondent’s questions, Ms. Rice said that a resolution expected to be adopted by the Security Council tomorrow would put the international community on record committing itself to the irreversibility of the Annapolis process as the way forward to fulfil the Road Map to peace.

Asked what pressure could be brought to the new Israeli Government that would be elected in February if, for example, it was led by hardliner Benjamin Netanyahu, she said that the support of the two-State solution had broadened in Israel since 2003.  She would not comment further on internal Israeli politics.  The momentum of the Annapolis process -- which she said was not just top-down but dependent on the parties -- would continue, she felt.

Asked if the Quartet’s meeting today and the Security Council resolution tomorrow had come about because a permanent settlement had not been reached by the end of 2008 as had been foreseen at Annapolis, Ms. Rice said that the Annapolis agreement called for the parties to make their “best efforts” to reach a settlement by that deadline, which they had done.  They had achieved a good deal of progress in negotiations and in work being done on the ground.  It was the first time in a long time that the parties were addressing all the outstanding issues.

Mr. Lavrov added that his country supported the continuing negotiations on those issues, as well as the reaffirmation of the positions on ending settlement activity and improving the Gaza situation.  The final goal remained the same:  two States living side-by-side in peace.

Asked about the efficacy of the Quartet, Mr. Ban said that the team was proven and had been meeting often and closely in order to accelerate the peace process.  He also expressed confidence that the Arab Peace Initiative would be built upon, in a joint effort with other partners.

On the meeting on Iran of the group known variously as the “Three plus Three” or the “Five plus One”, Mr. Lavrov said that it was in everyone’s interest to clarify any misunderstanding of the principles involved in resolving the Iranian nuclear issue.  Russia wanted to make clear it was supporting the work of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and wanted to avoid anything that would further complicate that work.

Asked if she felt that democracy had been furthered in Lebanon and the rest of the Middle East during her tenure, Ms. Rice said that she was still confident that America was most secure when “democracy is on the march”.  The Middle East had been an area where United States foreign policy had not always prioritized democracy.

Now, she said, the conversation was different than it had been in 2001 or even 2005.  The region was now imbued with democratic hopes.  In Lebanon, Syrian forces were no longer present, there were democratically elected leaders, national armed forces were now deployed throughout the country and other advances had been made.  The problems there were by no means resolved, but the momentum was in the right direction, she said.

On what she foresaw as the differences in the relationship between the outgoing and incoming United States Administrations vis-à-vis the United Nations, Ms. Rice commented that the Security Council, in order to keep its mandate in peace and security, must in the future do “the hard things”.  That was what the Bush Administration had asked of it and she did not think the new Administration would ask anything less.

She added that her team was briefing the President Elect’s team extensively on the Middle East and was making certain that the file was being turned over in entirety.  She would not speak of his intentions in that area, but said that his commitment to prioritize the peace process was well known.

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For information media • not an official record

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