28 March 2007
Secretary-General
SG/SM/10926

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

SECRETARY-GENERAL, CITING GROWING CAUSES OF MIDDLE EAST INSTABILITY IN ADDRESS


TO ARAB LEAGUE SUMMIT, PINPOINTS VITAL NEED FOR PALESTINIAN STATEHOOD


Following is the text of United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s address to the League of Arab States in Riyadh, today, 28 March:


I thank Your Majesty King Abdullah and the people of Saudi Arabia for hosting this gathering, and for the warm welcome and hospitality accorded to each one of us.


I also thank Secretary-General Moussa for his leadership of the League of Arab States.


It is an honour for me to join you in this Summit meeting, my first as Secretary-General of the United Nations.  I very much look forward to our meetings here in Riyadh, and to our common efforts in the weeks and months ahead to promote peace and well-being throughout the region.


The United Nations Charter envisages an important role for regional arrangements in resolving disputes between States.


The General Assembly and Security Council, for their part, have repeatedly stressed the value of close ties with regional organizations.  Indeed, organizations such as the Arab League, with close historic and cultural ties and the knowledge that comes from geographical proximity, have a distinct advantage in understanding the root causes of the conflicts they face.


I would like to assure you, at the outset of my tenure, that I am strongly committed to working with your instrument of common progress.  Fulfilling the aspirations of your peoples is one of my main priorities, too.


For the past week, in encounters with leaders and ordinary people alike, I have seen first-hand many of the complex challenges with which you are dealing.  This visit to the region has convinced me that this Summit is among the most important you have held in recent years.


The Middle East region is more complex, more fragile and more dangerous than it has been for a very long time.  Deep mistrust continues to constrain Palestinians and Israelis from conducting a meaningful peace process.  In Lebanon, political stalemate threatens to undermine one of the region’s most vibrant societies.


The violence in Iraq continues to take a shocking daily toll in civilian lives.   Iran forges ahead with its nuclear programme, heedless of regional and international concern.  The crisis in Darfur is no closer to being resolved, as instability ripples out beyond its borders.  The situation in Somalia is deteriorating amid banditry, violence and clan rivalries.  Throughout the region, in addition to the grievous toll of lost lives and destroyed property resulting from armed violence, there is the quiet despair, felt most keenly among young people, of unemployment and the lack of economic opportunity and political participation.  It is in such conditions that radicalism and militancy find it easier to take hold.


Instability in the Arab League States is of profound significance for international peace and security.  I am here with you today, in the early days of my tenure, to pledge my support, and that of the United Nations, for peace, justice and the well-being of your peoples.


There are a number of growing causes of instability and uncertainty in this region.  But for most in the Arab world, the wound that is still fresh, even after 40 years, is the continued occupation of Arab territory and the denial of legitimate Palestinian claims to statehood. 


The basis for a solution is clear:  an end to the occupation that began in 1967, the creation of an independent and viable Palestinian State, alongside a secure and fully recognized State of Israel, and a just, lasting and comprehensive peace in the region, as called for in the resolutions of the United Nations Security Council.


I commend President Abbas for his leadership.  His commitment to peace with Israel is unambiguous, as is his determination to forge Palestinian unity in support of that cause. 


During my visit to the Occupied Palestinian Territory just a few days ago, I reiterated my view that the formation of a National Unity Government is an important step forward.  I congratulate King Abdullah and the other Arab leaders who helped make this agreement possible.  I encourage the new Palestinian Unity Government to take actions which demonstrate a true commitment to peace through a negotiated two-State solution.  And I encourage Israel to do the same by ceasing settlement activity and barrier construction in the West Bank, and engaging in serious dialogue with President Abbas on a political horizon for a final settlement.


The broader Arab world continues to have a decisive role to play.  The Arab Peace Initiative is one of the pillars of the peace process.  Endorsed in the Road Map, the Initiative sends a clear signal that the Arab world, too, craves peace.  When I was in Israel, I urged my Israeli friends to take a fresh look at the Arab Peace Initiative.  Here in Riyadh, I urge you, my Arab friends, to use this Summit to reaffirm your commitment to the Initiative.


We must build on these new stirrings of potential.  The status quo is dangerous.  But there are positive signs.  The formation of a National Unity Government in Palestine and the prospect of an Israeli-Palestinian dialogue offers the prospect of hope.  At the same time, the Quartet has been re-energized and the Arab Peace Initiative suggests a new way forward for the region.  Peace between Israelis and Palestinians will not be a regional panacea.  The region’s conflicts and fault lines have their own complex dynamics.  But it would go a long way towards promoting political moderation and pluralism.  Solving this conflict is a moral and strategic necessity.


The situation in Lebanon must be another of our priorities.  I attended the Paris conference during my first month in office to signal my commitment, and I will travel to Lebanon itself after this Summit to see for myself the situation on the ground.  I am pleased that the cessation of hostilities is holding.  I regret, however, that Lebanon continues to go through internal political turmoil.  Prime Minister Siniora has displayed impressive leadership under difficult circumstances, and I urge you to support his democratically elected Government.  Differences should be resolved through dialogue and genuine efforts at national reconciliation and consensus.  In this connection, I should recall that all parties are committed to the implementation of the Taef Accords.  The United Nations, through our good offices and a strengthened UNIFIL, will continue to do its part to ensure full implementation of Security Council resolution 1701.


I have also just made a very useful visit to Iraq.  The situation there remains troubling.  Daily attacks on innocent civilians continue to cause immense suffering.  Access to essential public services is shrinking.  Large numbers of people are displaced, both within Iraq and beyond the country’s borders. 


I commend Jordan and Syria in particular for extending a helping hand to so many Iraqis in need.  Next month in Geneva, the United Nations will hold an international conference to mobilize financial and other support to meet the urgent needs of those who have been displaced.


I had good meetings with Prime Minister Maliki and with Iraqi parliamentarians and officials from across the political spectrum.  I am strongly committed to having the United Nations do more, in particular in areas where the Organization has a comparative advantage, such as political facilitation.  As co-chair of the International Compact for Iraq, the United Nations is also devoting itself to the country’s economic and social recovery.


Improving security will require not only military means, but genuine and essential efforts to promote national reconciliation, reduce sectarian tension and improve the human rights situation.  Above all it requires relieving the suffering of the Iraqi people.  Dialogue within Iraq will have to lead the way, but regional and international initiatives have a key role to play.  I urge you to do your part.


The Darfur crisis should also have a claim on your political and humanitarian energies.  The peace agreement signed last year has failed to end the fighting.  Serious human rights abuses, targeted sexual violence and grave violations of international humanitarian law continue to be committed by all sides.  Two million people have now been displaced.  Four million rely on international humanitarian assistance.  We have to redouble our efforts to bring all parties concerned to the peace process.  At the same time, our plans to deploy a heavy support package for peacekeeping should go ahead expeditiously.


These plans are fully in accordance with the Abuja and Addis agreements, and I urge you to use your good offices on these two tracks.  And I am confident that the League of Arab States has a positive role to play in enabling an early settlement that will bring peace to Darfur.  The people of Darfur have waited too long, and suffered so much.


In Somalia, we face a dire humanitarian situation, intensified fighting in Mogadishu and expanding violence elsewhere, as well as severe drought and heavy floods.  Nearly one million people have been displaced -- about one in nine of the population.  Still, the overall events of the past few months have given rise to hopes that Somalia can resolve the conflicts that have left it without a functioning Government since 1991.  The African Union is proceeding with the deployment of troops to Somalia despite tremendous security risks.  I call on the Transitional Federal Government to reach out to the country’s main political and social forces, and to those who renounce violence and extremism and pledge to constructively engage in achieving a viable political settlement.  There can be no military solution to this crisis.  Lasting stability in Somalia can only be achieved through an inclusive political process.


Alongside the political conflicts that plague the region are the deep yearnings of people for freedom, opportunity and human development.  The Arab world has made significant strides in areas such as literacy and life expectancy.  The emergence and rise of a more dynamic civil society also bodes well.  The United Nations, through its longstanding and wide-ranging development presence in your countries, will continue to work with you to address challenges and overcome the obstacles you face in attaining all the Millennium Development Goals.


Indeed, our two organizations are close partners.  As we move ahead, let us remember the common goals that have the power to unite States and people throughout the region:


-- an independent Palestinian State next to a secure Israel in the framework of a just and comprehensive peace;


-- a stable, independent and democratic Lebanon;


-- an Iraq at peace with itself and its neighbours;


-- peace and an end to strife in Darfur;


-- a region free of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction, where such weapons are not felt to be either necessary or desirable;


-- and finally, a region where all people, regardless of their nationality or religion, can pursue their lives and aspirations free from want and free from fear.


Over the past week, I have listened closely to leaders struggle with delicate decisions on their peoples’ safety and well-being.  Most of all, I have witnessed the age-old longing to live in dignity and peace.  Having now made this invaluable first trip to your region as Secretary-General, I am more eager than ever to work closely with you towards these noble objectives.


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For information media • not an official record