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    Press Release No:  UNIS/SG/2512
    Release Date:  2 March 2000
     Secretary-General Stresses 'Precious Opportunity' for Middle East Peace
    In Message to Asian Meeting on Question of Palestine

     NEW YORK, 1 March (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the message of Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the United Nations Asian Meeting on the Question of Palestine, delivered on his behalf by Adrianus Mooy, Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), in Hanoi, Viet Nam, on 1 March:

     Allow me at the outset to thank the Government of the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam for hosting this Meeting and for its warm hospitality and assistance in the preparations.

     At the dawn of the twenty-first century, the Middle East peace process is in a critical phase.  Both sides in the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations have embarked on the permanent status talks.  Although the target date for reaching the framework agreement was missed, it is my fervent hope that the parties will work to overcome the obstacles at hand.  I urge them to do everything in their power to move the peace process forward towards the achievement of a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East based on Security Council resolutions 242 and 338.

     Realities on the ground demonstrate the urgent need for a just solution to the question of Palestine.  The continued construction and expansion of settlements and roads will have a serious impact on the outcome of the permanent status negotiations.  I appeal to the parties to exercise restraint and to build, instead, on the achievements of the peace process.

     Any viable peace agreement will also require an improvement in the social and economic situation of the Palestinian people.  The United Nations remains fully engaged in efforts to improve their living conditions.  For half a century, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) has been providing humanitarian assistance, education and health care to more than 3 million Palestine refugees.  It is my sincere hope that UNRWA will get the resources it needs to continue this mission, which constitutes a humanitarian imperative beyond other considerations.  I would also urge the parties not to lose sight of the need for a just solution to the refugee question, without which peace and stability cannot take hold.

     At this stage, it is all the more crucial to ensure that United Nations support for the peace process is well-prepared and coordinated, and that United Nations development assistance play an effective part in that support.  That is why I am glad to have secured the services of Terje Rød-Larsen of Norway -- who has been closely involved in the peace process since the early stages of the Oslo negotiations -- as Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, and as my Personal Representative to the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinian Authority.  I know that in the critical transitional period ahead, he will spare no effort in making the assistance provided by the United Nations more effective and more focused.

     The road to peace has been long and arduous.  We now have a precious opportunity to reach our goal, and we must not be defeated by the remaining hurdles.  Today, I call on all parties and the entire international community to reinvigorate their efforts.  And so, on behalf of the United Nations, I am pleased to convey my encouragement and best wishes to all who take part in this meeting.  I add the hope that the contribution of our Asian colleagues will bring inspiration to the deliberations, and to the peace process as a whole.

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