Press Releases

     
    For information only - not an official document.
      UNIS/SG/2696
        23 October 2000
     Calm and Quiet Needed to Create Best Atmostphere for Resumption 
    Of Middle East Peace Talks, Secretary-General States

    Describes Recent Efforts for Peace,
    At General Assembly Emergency Special Session

    NEW YORK, 20 October (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of the statement by Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the resumed tenth emergency special session of the General Assembly:

     I am glad to have this opportunity to report to the General Assembly on my recent mission to the Middle East.  I am also grateful to you, Mr. President for adjourning proceedings on Wednesday to await my return to New York. 

    My main purpose was to try to help the Israelis and Palestinians to resolve the current crisis by reaching an agreement with the following elements; disengagement, an end to violence and a return to normalcy; a resumption of the peace process; and the establishment of a mechanism to inquire into recent tragic events and ways of avoiding a recurrence. 

    To this end, over a period of 10 days, I had a series of meetings with Prime Minister Barak in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and with Chairman Arafat in Gaza.  During this period, I also attended the Sharm el-Sheikh summit, jointly chaired by Presidents Mubarak and Clinton.  In addition, I paid a visit to Lebanon to discuss regional issues and the capture of three Israeli soldiers from the Shaba area of the occupied Golan.

     Throughout my visit, the situation on the ground in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza was extremely tense.  While I was in the region, more than 50 Palestinians were killed, and two Israeli reservists were lynched in Ramallah.  Feelings on both sides were at fever pitch and there was a real danger of the situation spiralling out of control.  I found each side deeply mistrustful of the other’s true intentions.  Both were talking, privately as well as publicly, the language of war. 

     This is the backdrop against which my peace efforts were set.  The situation had in my view reached the brink of the abyss.  My primary objective was therefore to get the two leaders to address public appeals to their respective populations for calm, and to ask them to indicate some specific measures that they were prepared to take in order to de-escalate the tension.  To this end, I was in frequent telephone contact with international leaders such as Presidents Clinton, Mubarak and Chirac, Prime Minister Amato of Italy and the Foreign Ministers of Turkey, Norway and Germany.  While in the region, I also met the Foreign Ministers of the Russian Federation and the United Kingdom, and with Javier Solana of the European Union.

     Unfortunately, it became apparent that the rapidly deteriorating situation on the ground and the consequent hardening of public opinion on both sides had made it impossible for the two leaders to make statements that could be interpreted as conciliatory.  In close consultation with Presidents Clinton and Mubarak, I devoted all my energies to persuading Prime Minister Barak and Chairman Arafat to attend the Summit that was to be held at Sharm el-Sheikh.  This involved further intensive shuttling between the two sides.

    Neither leader was enthusiastic, and Chairman Arafat in particular expressed reluctance to go to Sharm at a time when, in his words, his people were under military occupation, an economic siege and repeated missile and artillery attacks.  I was accordingly glad when on the morning of 14 October, just as I was preparing to leave for Egypt, Chairman Arafat informed me on the telephone that he was accepting my appeal for him to attend the Summit. 

     During the 48 hours in Sharm el-Sheikh prior to the opening of the Summit, I met the President and Foreign Minister of Egypt and I had many telephone conversations, including with the Presidents of the United States, France and Tunisia, the Kings of Jordan and Morocco and the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, the President of Tunisia, the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs of the United Arab Emirates, as well as with senior Israeli and Palestinian officials. 

     The Summit itself was in keeping with the atmosphere and events leading up to it.  That is to say, it was clear that there was a lack of confidence between the two sides.  Emotions were running high, and at times the proceedings became turbulent -- especially in negotiating sessions at the Foreign Minister level.  In procedural terms, the formal talks were focused largely on the agenda.  But it was clear to all that this was a negotiation about substance:  what in specific terms was to come out of the Summit?  Would it be possible to break the cycle of violence and return to the negotiating table?  To put the issue at its starkest, would it be peace or war?

    The Sharm el-Sheikh summit unfolded at two distinct levels.  My senior advisers took part in the negotiating sessions of Foreign Ministers.  Meanwhile, apart from plenary sessions to open and close the Summit, heads of delegation met in the margins in intensive bilaterals.  I myself took part in a series of meetings with the Co-Chairmen, Presidents Mubarak and Clinton, and their respective foreign policy teams; Prime Minister Barak and Chairman Arafat, as well as with other leaders of the two parties; King Abdullah of Jordan; and Javier Solana of the European Union.

    My aim throughout was to support the efforts of the Co-Chairmen to promote an outcome of the Summit that met the minimum needs of the two sides, in terms of an end to violence and restoration of the status quo ante, a renewed effort to revive the peace process and the establishment of a mechanism to inquire into recent tragic events.  At times the gap between them seemed unbridgeably wide.  But throughout I believed that nevertheless there would be an agreement.  For in the end peace remains the only strategic option for Israel and Palestinians.  The difficult question is:  how long will the journey take, and how hard will be the road to peace? 

    Here I would like to pay heart-felt tribute to the extraordinary efforts of President Clinton.  He stepped off an overnight flight and straight into action.  Over the next 28 hours the President worked continuously with the parties, late into the night and early morning.  It is very largely due to his personal efforts that President Clinton was able to announce on 17 October, at the end of the Sharm el-Sheikh summit, that Prime Minister Barak and Chairman Arafat had agreed on three basic objectives and steps to realize them.

    What was agreed at Sharm el-Sheikh can be summarized as follows:

    First, both sides agreed to issue public statements unequivocally calling for an end of violence.  They also agreed to take immediate, concrete measures to end the current confrontation, eliminate points of friction, ensure an end to violence and incitement, maintain calm and prevent recurrence of recent events;

    It was agreed that, to accomplish this, both sides would act immediately to return the situation to that which existed prior to the current crisis, in areas such as restoring law and order, redeployment of forces, eliminating points of friction, enhancing security cooperation and ending the closure and opening the Gaza airport.  The United States undertook to facilitate security cooperation between the parties;

    Secondly, it was agreed that the United States would develop with the Israelis and Palestinians, as well as in consultation with the United Nations Secretary-General, a committee of fact-finding on the events of the past several weeks and how to prevent their recurrence.  The committee’s report will be shared by the United States President with the Secretary-General and the parties prior to publication.  A final report shall be submitted under the auspices of the United States President for publication;

    Thirdly, it was agreed that, if we are to address the underlying roots of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, there must be a pathway back to negotiations and a resumption of efforts to reach a permanent status agreement based on United Nations Security Council resolution 242 and 338 and subsequent understandings.  President Clinton announced that, towards this end, the leaders had agreed that the United States would consult with the parties within the next two weeks about how to move forward.

    In my view the agreements reached in Sharm el-Sheikh are a vital first step back from the brink and towards a resumption of the peace process.  It is essential that they should be faithfully implemented in their entirety by both sides.  They may contain elements to which one side attaches more importance than does the other.  But both parties need to demonstrate good faith -- above all by their actions.  It is not going to be easy.  Mutual mistrust is deep.  There are wounds in the families and communities concerned that may take a generation to heal.  But we must move forward, painful though it is, so that the children and youth of today -- angry and frustrated as they are -- can have a better world to live in. 

    One of the lessons of the past few days is that there can be no lasting security without lasting peace.  That is why we need to look beyond the violence and bitterness, the pain and the hurt, to a future in which Israelis and Palestinians can live side by side in a just and lasting peace. 

    This leads me, if I may, to end by addressing a few words to the wider international community, and to you, the Ambassadors of the Member States.  It is only natural that the events of the past few weeks should arouse strong feelings.  I myself have strong feelings about those events.  I believe deeply that every life lost is a human tragedy, and that all human life is of equal value.  My thoughts and prayers are with the families and communities on both sides that have endured such pain and suffering.  I want to see the violence ended and the peace process put back on track.  That is why I went to the region at such short notice and with such uncertain prospects of success.

    But I also believe that you, the General Assembly, can make a real difference.  We are not yet certain whether or not normalcy will be restored.  We can only wait and hope.  The next few days are vital.  Meanwhile, we should remember that, as I said in Sharm el-Sheikh, words can inflame or soothe, and everyone needs a restoration of calm and quiet so as to create the best possible atmosphere for a resumption of peace talks.

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