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The meeting was called to order at 9 a.m.
Statement by the President
The President : I would like to welcome the heads of State and Government, as well as other heads of delegation, who have assembled here for the general debate at this important and challenging time. I am particularly heartened by such high-level participation from all Member States despite the rescheduling of the general debate. Let me also express my gratitude for the special arrangements that our host country, the United States of America, and the host city, New York, have made to ensure the maximum convenience and security of all participants.
The heinous terrorist attacks of 11 September were an unspeakable tragedy not just for the United States, but for the entire international community. They deeply affected the work of the United Nations, forcing us to postpone and reschedule various events, including the start of the fifty-sixth session of the General Assembly. The general debate has had to be postponed for seven weeks and the special session on children for an even longer period. Thus, the opening of the general debate today carries with it both a special meaning and a renewed sense of responsibility.
The President: On behalf of the General Assembly, I have the honour to welcome to the United Nations His Excellency Mr. Fernando Henrique Cardoso, President of the Federative Republic of Brazil, and to invite him to address the Assembly.
President Cardoso (spoke in Portuguese; English text provided by the delegation): I greet you, Mr. President, and pay tribute to the Republic of Korea, which offers the world an example of dedication to the cause of peace and development.
Just as it supported the creation of the State of Israel, Brazil today calls for concrete measures towards the setting up of a Palestinian state that is democratic, united and economically viable.
The right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and respect for the existence of Israel as a sovereign, free and secure State are essential if the Middle East is to rebuild its future in peace.
This is a moral debt owed by the United Nations. It is a task that must not be postponed.
The President: On behalf of the General Assembly, I have the honour to welcome to the United Nations His Excellency Mr. George W. Bush, President of the United States of America, and to invite him to address the Assembly.
President Bush: We meet in a Hall devoted to peace; in a city scarred by violence; in a nation awakened to danger; in a world uniting for a long struggle. Every civilized nation here today is resolved to keep the most basic commitment of civilization. We will defend ourselves and our future against terror and lawless violence.
The American Government also stands by its commitment to a just peace in the Middle East. We are working towards a day when two States — Israel and Palestine — live peacefully together, within secure and recognized borders, as called for by the Security Council resolutions. We will do all in our power to bring both parties back into negotiations. But peace will come only when all have sworn off — forever — incitement, violence and terror.
The President : On behalf of the General Assembly, I have the honour to welcome to the United Nations His Excellency Mr. Thabo Mbeki, President of the Republic of South Africa, and to invite him to address the Assembly.
President Mbeki : Please accept my congratulations, Mr. President, on your assumption of the stewardship of this important Assembly.
In this regard, it is clear that the situation in the Middle East cries out for an urgent and lasting solution. In this context, we might recall the words of the Irish poet, William Butler Yeats, when he said “too long a sacrifice can make a stone of the heart”. The sacrifice of the Palestinian people should not be allowed to drag on any longer. Whatever these long-suffering people might themselves think and feel, it is clear that there are some in the world who will justify their destructive rage by claiming to be front-line fighters for the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people.
The President: On behalf of the General Assembly, I have the honour to welcome to the United Nations His Highness Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, Emir of the State of Qatar, and to invite him to address the Assembly.
Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani (spoke in Arabic): It is my pleasure to address the General Assembly today in my capacity as the Emir of the State of Qatar and as Chairman of the Ninth Summit of the Organization of the Islamic Conference.
In this context, we feel it is high time to put an urgent end to the tragedy of the Palestinian people at the hands of the Israeli occupation forces. We call on the international community to shoulder its responsibilities in providing the necessary international protection for these people against the unjustified and unacceptable daily aggression to which they are exposed.
That is indispensable if we want to avert an imminent human catastrophe, which would lead only to a further cycle of violence, terrorism and destruction in our region. We urge everyone to support their political leaders when they call for restraint so as to avoid the loss of innocent civilian life and so that the right climate can be created for a just peace to prevail in that troubled region.
In this context, we should like to put on record our support for the positive stance of the President of the United States, George W. Bush, and his Administration, with regard to the establishment of a Palestinian State. We would also like to pay tribute in this respect to friendly European countries and other international bodies concerned with the settlement of the crisis. The ultimate test will be whether they implement measures reflecting the positions that they have taken and move from making statements to taking action.
The President: On behalf of the General Assembly, I have the honour to welcome to the United Nations His Excellency Mr. Fernando de la Rúa, President of the Argentine Republic, and to invite him to address the Assembly.
President de laRúa (spoke in Spanish ): Allow me at the outset to congratulate you, Sir, on your election as President of the General Assembly. We are especially pleased that the designation went to a personality with such a remarkable career, a representative of the Republic of Korea, a country that maintains a friendly relationship and intense cooperation with Argentina. I also wish to acknowledge the excellent way in which the Foreign Minister of Finland, Mr. Harri Holkeri, presided over the Assembly at its fifty-fifth session.
The persistence of conflicts such as the one in the Middle East is a source of tension, with a wide range of repercussions for the region, causing legitimate concern for the international community. The Argentine Republic wishes to renew its expression of support for a stable and lasting peace in the Middle East, based on respect for the inalienable right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and to establish an independent State, as well as recognition of the right of the State of Israel to live in peace within safe and internationally recognized borders.
Violence and terrorism in any form are absolutely unacceptable and can only exacerbate the situation. The parties should urgently agree on a ceasefire and begin negotiations on a final settlement, which until recently seemed reachable.
The President : On behalf of the General Assembly, I have the honour to welcome to the United Nations His Excellency Mr. Hugo Chávez Frías, President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, and to invite him to address the Assembly.
President Chávez Frías (spoke in Spanish ): Just over a year ago, we were here, attending the Millennium Summit, some 100 days before the dawn of the twenty-first century. At that time, I made a statement on behalf of Venezuela and its Bolivarian people, referring to the supreme example of Christ and his struggle for justice, peace and life.
Those who have spoken before me have pointed out many of these causes. The Emir of Qatar and Chairman of the Organization of the Islamic Conference also made a very important point. He said that our words should not once again remain empty. As we say in our part of the world, there is a big difference between words and action. Now is the time to move towards concrete action. We want to see a Palestinian State become a reality. Let us not come here day after day, month after month and year after year just to repeat the same old words. Let us move on towards reality. We want to see the transformation of the Bretton Woods institutions. We want to see the transformation of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. We want justice for the wretched of the Earth, as Frantz Fanon said. But we want it now, not tomorrow; tomorrow may be too late.
The President: On behalf of the General Assembly, I have the honour to welcome to the United Nations His Excellency Mr. Ricardo Lagos, President of the Republic of Chile, and to invite him to address the Assembly.
President Lagos ( spoke in Spanish ): Mr. President, I wish to congratulate you on your election, which is a mark of recognition of the Republic of Korea and of your distinguished personal record in the public and academic spheres. I am confident that, under your guidance, the work of the Assembly will be successful for the States Members of the United Nations.
We also feel obliged to say that we view with horror the deteriorating situation in the Middle East. That conflict poses a threat to international security. Like other delegations that have spoken today, we hope for recognition of the inalienable right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, including the right to establish an independent State, as well as the right of Israel to live within secure and internationally recognized borders and at peace with its neighbours.
The President : On behalf of the General Assembly, I have the honour to welcome to the United Nations His Excellency Mr. Seyed Mohammad Khatami, President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and to invite him to address the Assembly.
President Khatami ( spoke in Farsi; English text furnished by the delegation ): At the outset, Sir, I would like to congratulate you on your election to the presidency of the General Assembly. I would also like to express my appreciation for the wise and persistent efforts of the Secretary-General during the current crucial world situation.
Today, beyond mere rhetoric, one can see the convergence of the ideas of the peoples of the United States and Iran, who have also experienced, in earlier times, the mute but brutal massacre resulting from the use of chemical weapons. This convergence of ideas can also be discerned among all those refugees and displaced persons who are victims of war, suppression and terrorism — including State and non-State terrorism — in Afghanistan and Palestine.
We must have empathy for the suffering of people everywhere: in occupied Palestine, oppressed Afghanistan, New York, Washington or any corner of the globe.
In the midst of the global terrorism crisis, the world faces an intensive and severe kind of terrorism in the Middle East. The occupation of the Palestinian territories, the expulsion of the Palestinian people from their homeland, the Judaization of Palestine — in particular Al-Quds Al-Sharif — the building of illegal settlements, the killing and terrorizing of defenceless Palestinian civilians in their homeland, and the destruction of historical sites, civil institutions and residential areas are all examples of this phenomenon.
The Acting President (spoke in Spanish): I call on His Excellency Mr. Louis Michel, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Belgium.
Mr. Michel (Belgium) (spoke in French ): I have the honour today to speak on behalf of the European Union, which wishes, through you, Sir, to congratulate the President on his election. That election testifies to the esteem of the international community for his person and his country. I commend the speed of action and efficiency that you have shown in the face of the tragic events of 11 September, in adapting the agenda for the work of this Assembly.
The situation in the Middle East is worsening. The lack of any political perspective naturally encourages continued confrontation and plays into the hands of extremists. Defiance, fear and resentment radicalize people’s mindsets. The European Union calls on Israelis and Palestinians, while there is still time, immediately to resume the peace process, without preconditions, on the basis of the Mitchell report. It calls on the Israeli authorities to immediately withdraw their forces from Palestinian-administered areas. It calls on the Palestinian Authority to do its utmost to arrest those responsible for violence against Israel.
It is necessary to preserve what has been achieved so far in the peace process: the principles of the Madrid Conference, in particular the principle of land for peace, as well as Security Council resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973) and the agreements signed by the parties, which have already led to real results on the ground and to progress on the basis of earlier negotiations. The European Union calls on both parties to do their utmost in the political, security, economic and social areas in order to get back to the negotiating table, without preconditions, with the objective of realizing the legitimate aspirations of the peoples of the region, as set out at the Madrid Conference of 1991. For the Palestinians, the establishment of a viable democratic State and an end to the occupation of their territory is essential. The Israelis must have the right to live in peace and security within internationally recognized borders. The European Union also recalls that the search for a comprehensive and lasting peace in the region requires due account to be taken of the Israeli-Syrian and Israeli-Lebanese aspects of the conflict. The same principles should apply in the resolution of those situations.
It is primarily for the parties themselves to try to find peace through negotiating all elements relating to permanent status. This will include finding a viable and just solution to the particularly complex issues of Jerusalem and the refugees, as well as those of the economic support for the Palestinian people.
The European Union, in close cooperation with the United States of America and the other partners involved, reaffirms its willingness to work for a final settlement to the conflict. We believe that it is now a matter of urgency to develop an initiative to strongly urge the parties to resume their political dialogue.
The Acting President ( spoke in Spanish ): I call next on His Excellency Mr. Anatoliy M. Zlenko, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Ukraine.
Mr. Zlenko (Ukraine): Allow me at the outset to congratulate the President of the General Assembly at its fifty-sixth session, Mr. Han Seung-soo, on his election to that important and responsible post. On behalf of the Ukrainian delegation, I would like to assure him of our full support and to wish him every success in his work. I take this opportunity also to express our appreciation to his predecessor, Mr. Harri Holkeri, whose political wisdom and diplomatic skill enabled the Assembly to achieve important results at its fifty-fifth session.
We also note with concern the escalation of tensions in the Middle East during the past year. The entire history of the conflict in the Middle East proves that its vicious circle can be broken only through renouncing violence and reviving mutual trust and tolerance between the sides to the conflict.
The meeting rose at 1.50 p.m.