Secretary-General's joint press conference with Mr. Ahmed Aboul Gheit, Foreign Minister of Egypt (Secretary-General's comments only)
Alexandria, Egypt, 5 September 2006SG: Thank you very much, Mr. Minister. And as you have heard from the Minister, we really covered lots of ground in these discussions, and it is always a pleasure for me to come to Egypt and sit down with President [Mohamed Hosni] Mubarak and exchange ideas and views on the pressing issues of the day. And I also was able to brief him on my assessment of my tour in the region so far and, as you know, it is a visit that is intended to encourage the governments in the region to work together and with us in the international community to stabilize the ceasefire in Lebanon and build on it, aasnd also work on comprehensive peace for the region. I was very, very satisfied with the discussions we had and the advice I heard from the President who is very, very experienced and knows the issues of the region. We will take your questions.
Q: After your tour of the Middle East, what are the main conclusions you are going to put in your report to the Security Council? And are we going to have good news about the exchange of the Lebanese prisoners and the Israeli soldiers? And are you going to have another report on Sudan?
SG: Regarding my assessment of the situation, I am leaving the region quite satisfied with the discussions I have had and I am convinced that countries in the region would work for the full implementation of [Security Council resolution] 1701 and that it is important that we work collectively to strengthen the government of Lebanon, its independence and its territorial integrity. It is important that we work together to pacify Lebanon and its relations with Israel -- but not stay there -- and move on to work on peace on the other tracks – Palestinian in particular, and the Syrian track. And I am convinced that with that determined effort we can succeed. The ceasefire is fragile, but I believe we are taking steps to consolidate it.
With regards to the abducted Israeli soldiers and the Lebanese prisoners, I have accepted to appoint a facilitator who will work with the two parties to find a solution to this problem, and I am hopeful that my facilitator will be ale to work expeditiously with the parties to come forward with a mutually acceptable solution for both parties.
On Darfur, which is at a very critical stage, the Security Council has passed a resolution asking for the deployment of UN troops. But of course we would like to have the consent and cooperation of the Sudanese government. That is the only way these kinds of operations work and work effectively. I am going back to New York and I know that yesterday suddenly an important decision was taken by the Sudanese government which I don't consider entirely positive on the African Union force, and I understand and I thought that they were going to stay on but apparently they are going to leave -- which leaves hanging in the air the question of what happens to the internally displaced people and the people who are in need of help in Darfur. The international community has been feeding and helping about three million people in camps and elsewhere, and if we have to leave because of lack of security, lack of access to the people, then what happens? The government will have to assume responsibility for doing this and, if it doesn't succeed, it will have lots of questions to answer to the rest of the world. And I have always mentioned that the international forces were going to help the Sudanese people, to help the government protect the people and assist them. We are not going there to invade. We have no other intentions.
Q: My question is two-fold. First, I want to follow up on the issue of the mediation, or the negotiator who is going to help. Is the release of the Lebanese prisoners on the agenda? Because Israel said yesterday that the Secretary-General should assist -- not mediate -- in that issue. The second question actually is about lifting the Israeli blockade. This is the main concern of all the Arabs (inaudible) and it is the main objective of the Lebanese government. How far have you gone on that?
SG: First, let me say that a better word is facilitator -- that I am appointing a facilitator to work with the two parties on the issue of the abducted Israeli soldiers and the Lebanese soldiers.
On your second question, we are working that problem very hard. It has been one of the issues on my agenda right from the beginning and I know it is very important for the Lebanese government and for the people of the region. I don't want to raise any false hopes but I hope that within the next 48 hours we will have some news on that – constructive and positive news.
Q: Lifting the blockade?
SG: Yes. I said within the next 48 hours because we are all working very hard and, with a bit of goodwill and reasonableness, we should be able to resolve it in the next 48 hours.
Q: (to the Egyptian Foreign Minister about getting a new peace process going and any steps the Arab League could take. Mr. Aboul Gheit said that Arab Foreign Ministers would discuss this at a meeting next Wednesday and that Arab counties would go back to the Security Council. He believed that the Council would discuss anew the issue on the 21st of September.)
SG: Let me add by saying that the war in Lebanon has been a wake-up call for many leaders around the world. And they are becoming more and more convinced that we need to deal with the root causes of the problem. We need to solve the issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We need to look at comprehensive peace in the region based on UN resolutions and the concept of 'land for peace'. And so I look forward to seeing a reenergized effort to resolve this issue and this is where the initiative of the Arab League that the Foreign Minister has referred to becomes important and critical. Thank you very much.