ACTIVITIES OF SECRETARY-GENERAL IN LEBANON, 25 – 28 MARCH
The Secretary-General departed New York on Monday, 25 March, to attend the Summit of the League of Arab States, which would take place in Lebanon on Wednesday and Thursday.
During a stopover in London, the Secretary-General learned on Tuesday morning about the devastating earthquakes that had struck northern Afghanistan earlier in the day. The Secretary-General was distressed to hear of the severe loss of life and, in a statement issued through his Spokesman, asked the United Nations Mission in Kabul to do everything possible to help (see Press Release SG/SM/8174-AFG/191).
Almost immediately upon arrival in Beirut on Tuesday evening, he met with Amre Moussa, the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States, to discuss the Arab League Summit.
On Wednesday morning, he met with Javier Solana, the European Union’s High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy, for an assessment of the prospects of the Summit, including of the peace proposal that Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah was expected to present. They also talked of the need to follow up on any proposal.
In his address to the Summit, the Secretary-General called on Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat “to reaffirm the strategic choice for peace”.
“All of us want to see an end to the occupation, the withdrawal of Israeli settlements and the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian State”, he affirmed. “And the Israelis are equally entitled to expect a horizon of peace”, he added. Suicide attacks against Israeli civilians are morally repugnant and should not be glorified, he stated, and the Arab world as a whole “must come to terms -- once and for all, in public and in private -- with the right of Israel to exist”.
He called on the Arab leaders to give “firm and credible assurance” that once Israel concludes a just and comprehensive peace and withdraws from Arab land, it can look forward to peace and “full normal relations with all the Arab world”. That assurance, he said, can and must be their contribution to peace.
He described the proposal put forward by the Saudi Crown Prince as providing “a clear and compelling vision” and appealed to the Arab leaders to unite in support of it.
The Arab world has for too long been prevented from realizing its potential by the persistence of conflict, mistrust and instability, he said. And he appealed to the leaders to confront the menace of extremism, hatred and intolerance and to make sure these find no place in school curricula “or in the minds of your young people”.
In addition to the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Secretary-General briefly mentioned two other issues. On Iraq, he called on the Government to comply with all United Nations Security Council resolutions, saying “the sooner they accept that there is no other path to ending the sanctions regime ... the sooner this problem will be resolved”. And he appealed for continued financial assistance to Afghanistan, particularly in light of the recent natural disaster. (See Press Release SG/SM/8177.)
In the margins of the Summit, the Secretary-General had a series of bilateral meetings, starting with Nabih Berri, the Lebanese Speaker of Parliament.
He then met with the President of Lebanon, Emile Lahoud, for a review of the Summit and a discussion of the situation on the United Nations Blue Line between Lebanon and Israel.
His next meeting was with the President of Somalia, Abdikassim Salad Hassan, with whom he reviewed the situation in that country. The Secretary-General emphasized the need for national and regional reconciliation.
The Palestinian delegation, headed by Farouk Kaddoumi, then saw the Secretary-General on the situation between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
Mr. Kaddoumi emphasized the need for a third-party role in the search for a solution to the conflict. The Secretary-General said he regretted not having had the exchange of views with Yasser Arafat which he had been looking forward to. He added that he hoped that United States mediation efforts led by General Anthony Zinni would result in a ceasefire.
He then met with the Prime Minister of Lebanon, Rafic Hariri, for a full discussion of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They also talked of the situation in Lebanon, including efforts to rebuild the south and the economic situation in the country as a whole.
At a press encounter afterwards, the Secretary-General said that the Arab Summit was “an historic opportunity”. He added that he believed that the peace proposal put forward that morning by the Saudi Crown Prince “would have an echo in Israel”. He said he hoped that the Conference would embrace the Saudi proposal “because it would be a major contribution for the peace process and we would then try and build on that momentum”.
After that, he met with the President of Syria, Bashar al-Assad. Again, the Palestinian-Israeli issues dominated the discussion, but they also talked of Iraq.
At a meeting with Morocco’s King Mohammed VI, the main topics were the Middle East and Western Sahara.
Back at his hotel, he met with an Iraqi delegation headed by Izzat Ibrahim, Vice-President of the Revolutionary Command Council. They talked of Iraq’s current dialogue with the Secretary-General concerning implementation of Security
Council resolutions on Iraq. The Secretary-General pledged to be fair and just, basing himself n the relevant Security Council resolutions. The Vice-President expressed his full confidence in the Secretary-General and said that Iraq was ready to cooperate to find a speedy solution.
In the evening, the Secretary-General attended a dinner in honour of heads of delegations hosted by President Lahoud. After that dinner, he met with Crown Prince Abdullah Ibn Abdul Aziz al Saud of Saudi Arabia.
On Thursday morning, the Secretary-General visited UN House in Beirut, which he had inaugurated four years before, to meet with United Nations staff.
He first sat with the heads of United Nations agencies working in Lebanon. He urged them to realign their priorities to serve the Millennium Goals and to press ahead with reform efforts. They reported to him that they were working much more closely and effectively since being co-located at UN House.
Asked about the Middle East peace process, he said that he hoped the Arab Summit would endorse the Saudi peace initiative, which could then be "another building block in our search for peace".
He then addressed the staff as a whole in a "Town Hall" meeting. He was again asked about the peace process, which has an impact on their work. "In the desperate search for peace", he said, "we should never lose hope."
"Don't get discouraged", he advised them.
He met privately with the Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), Mervat Tallawy.
He then issued a statement on the suicide bombing in Netanya, Israel, the previous evening, branding it as "terrorism" and saying that it "greatly damages the Palestinian cause". Saying he had spoken to both Prime Minister Sharon and Chairman Arafat that morning, he urged Palestinian and Israeli leaders to stay the course and continue the quest for peace. "The essential first step is an immediate ceasefire", he said. (See Press Release SG/SM/8179).
He then sat with the Force Commanders of the three United Nations peacekeeping missions in the region -- Maj. Gen. Lalit Mohan Tewari, Force Commander of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL); Gen. Franco Ganguzza, Chief of Staff of the Jerusalem-based United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO); and Maj. Gen. Bo Wranker, Force Commander of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF). They reviewed the military and security situation in the region.
The Secretary-General returned to New York that afternoon.
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