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

8 June 2001

Press encounter on visit to the Middle East, New York, 8 June 2001

SG: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. As you know I briefed the Security Council this morning and also issued a statement about my visit to the Middle East. I have been working in very close collaboration with many leaders around the world, in the Middle East and beyond. There is a real international team working on this.

I have been in very close contact with Secretary of State Colin Powell, Javier Solana of the European Union, Mr. Igor Ivanov [Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation] and of course, with the leaders in the region, in particular President [Hosni] Mubarak and King Abdullah, and of course Prime Minister [Ariel] Sharon, Mr. [Shimon] Peres and President [Yasser] Arafat.

I do intend to go to the region to discuss with the leaders in the region the crisis in the region, to seek their views, to exchange ideas, to explore with them how collectively we can work together to end the tragedy and the violence and move the parties back to the table.

As to my travel plans - I will go to Saudi Arabia, to Egypt, to Damascus [Syria], to Lebanon and Jordan. I will end up in Jerusalem and Gaza, and I hope in the meantime the progress that is being made, the ceasefire is holding, attempts are being made to work with the parties by the team that is on the ground. We know that Mr. [George] Tenet is there, Mr. [William] Burns is there, and others are trying to work with the parties on the implementation of the Mitchell plan. I would hope this progress will be sustained and if it does I trust that it will also provide an opportunity and give the international community a chance to really make a collective effort to push them forward. I will take your questions.

Q: Mr. Secretary-General. In light of this window of opportunity - at the end of next week when you return back to New York, what would you realistically hope to have achieved in pushing this forward? What specifically?

SG: I don't think I want to get into too much detail on that. What I have indicated quite clearly - that we have a proposal
on the table, which both parties have accepted. Both parties have stated they accept the Mitchell recommendations. Both parties have now declared a ceasefire and the ceasefire is holding. I think the international community should work with them to get them into the logic of implementation of the Mitchell Plan, which envisages not just a ceasefire, but a cooling off period, confidence-building measures, and eventual return to the table. I think all of us, all those who are interested in calming the situation, are working in the same direction. There are no divergences of views or separate initiatives. We are all together on this.

Q: You are leaving on Tuesday, correct?

SG: I would hope to be in the region on Tuesday.

Q: If the ceasefire breaks down over the weekend, for example, will you still go?

SG: I hope the ceasefire doesn't break down. Obviously by implication of your statement, peacemaking is a risky affair. It's a risky affair for the peacemakers, and it's a risky affair for the protagonists. I hope it will not break down. It is holding, and I hope it will continue to hold.

The other message I will give to the leaders of the two parties is that obviously some of these events, attacks or bombs here or there, may happen, but once they have made the strategic choice for peace, they should stay the course, and deal with the terrorists when they strike. But not allow the terrorists to lead the game. Not allow the terrorists to determine when they meet, when they pursue peace and when they don't.

Q: Mr. Secretary-General, for a few days now there has been a sense around here at the UN that you would indeed be making this trip. But up until the last minute it seems like there was a lot of indecisiveness surrounding your decision. What finally made you decide that this was the right time to go to the region, and what role can you play that the U.S. doesn't feel it can play right now?

SG: I wouldn't call the discussions or the process I went through to decide "indecision". I think it was assessing the situation, analysing the situation, working with our partners for peace, and determining the right timing to go to the region, and when I thought it would be most opportune and helpful to go. So it was a question of analysis, a question of coordinating with others, and a question of timing. And so I am going at the precise moment that I think I should go. The other things, the previous discussions and all that were part of the process.

Q: On the same question, you have been on the telephone a lot to determine this trip. Can you tell us who you have been speaking to?

SG: Gosh, I have spoken to quite a lot of the leaders in the region. I have indicated obviously to the two parties, to Prime Minister [Ariel] Sharon and Foreign Minister [Shimon] Peres, to President [Yasser] Arafat. I have spoken to President Mubarak, Foreign Minister [Ahmed Maher el-Sayed] of Egypt, Secretary-General of the Arab League, Amre Moussa. I have spoken to the King [Abdullah] of Jordan, and I have been on the phone a lot with [Javier] Solana, the Prime Minister of Sweden [Goran Persson], who holds the European Presidency, [Russian Foreign Minister] Igor Ivanov, and of course, almost on a daily basis with Secretary of State Colin Powell, just as I have been with Solana and Igor Ivanov.

Q: Mr. Secretary. Do you think you could share with us what you consider the next steps in terms of confidence-building measures? Measures that you feel perhaps will really spur the process forward?

SG: Well, I think, without prejudging what the parties will do - I mean the confidence-building measures were one of the things - the ceasefire - for each party to appeal to its population to disengage, and avoid any violent acts. It would also require the right messages coming from the leaders. There should not be any incitement. The leaders have to watch their words. As I have had on occasion to say before "words can soothe, but words can also inflame". And in this sort of situation we don't need incitement. And then of course there will be the other issues of easing the economic squeeze on the Palestinians, and a whole series of other things that need to be done.

Q: Would you also be meeting with any non-government leaders, perhaps with people in the region?

SG: Well, I am rather on a very tight schedule. If time permits I would want to do that. Otherwise I will be focussing mainly on the leaders.

Spokesman: Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen.

SG: Thank you.

For information media - not an official record