SG/SM/20258
16 SEPTEMBER 2020

Following is a transcript of UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ press conference, held in New York today:

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Question:  Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary‑General, and it is nice to see you.  Edith Lederer from the Associated Press.  We all saw yesterday’s ceremony at the White House, where Israel signed diplomatic agreements with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.  Do you believe that this opens up new prospects for peace in the Middle East?  And what is your message to the Palestinians, who were very angered about this?

Secretary-General:  I think it’s important to seize the opportunities that exist.  That agreement, independently of its context, managed one very important result, and that was the suspension of the annexation of occupied territory.  Now, we always have said that that annexation would have dramatic consequences to the peace and stability in the region, would undermine the two‑State solution.  And we believe that the two‑State solution is the only way to address the problem of the two peoples that need to be able to live together in peace and security.  This opportunity now exists.  The annexation was suspended, and we believe it’s the moment in which it’s important that Palestinians and Israelis restart their dialogue in order to find a political solution in line with what are the Security Council resolutions and the different [inaudible] of the international community in this regard.  And so, I believe that, independently of the opinions that might exist about the agreement, it would be very important for Palestinians and Israelis to engage in direct negotiations for peace in the Middle East.

Question:  Could I ask a quick follow‑up?  Is the UN doing anything to promote these negotiations as part of the Quartet, for example?

Secretary-General:  Yes, we’ve been pushing hard not only to promote direct contact, but also to try to find a format in which the Quartet or a group of countries linked to the Quartet could meet.  Until now, we were not able to gather the consensus necessary for that, but we will persist in our efforts.  It is very important not to give up on the peace process in the Middle East.

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Question:  Mr. Secretary‑General, beyond the question of annexation, do you have anything to say about the fact that, for the first time in 26 years, in more than quarter century, there was an agreement by two Arab States to normalize relations with Israel and break a pattern that has lasted for such a long time?  Also, can you comment on the execution of Navid Afkari in Iran?

Secretary-General:  Well, first of all, in relation to the agreements, we were the first… or one of the first to welcome the agreement, and I think that international cooperation is an absolutely essential aspect to solve problems.  Obviously, the question of the annexation is politically important, because it allows for the resumption of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.  And I’ve just seen today that Mr. [Benny] Gantz said that it’s important to restart those negotiations, which show that there is an agreement with this perspective.  On the other [question], we are against death penalty in all circumstances.  I’m a strong believer that death penalty should never be applied to anybody anywhere.  I believe my country is either the first or one of the two or three firsts that abolished death penalty, and I will consider the fight against death penalty as a major, major objective in my tenure in the United Nations.

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Question:  Hello.  Thanks for your… taking my question, Secretary‑General.  You mentioned just a little earlier it’s very important not to give up on the peace process in the Middle East.  It seems the Palestinians seem to have given up on following through on peace agreements, and the UN only seems to encourage that rejection.  With that said, don’t you think the historic Abrahamic Accord signed yesterday should be seen as a positive way forward to peace in the region?  And would you encourage the Palestinian leadership to accept them fully and return to peace talks with Israelis?  Thank you.

Secretary-General:  I do believe it’s absolutely essential that Palestinians and Israelis go back to direct negotiations, and I will do everything I can to make sure that we find the format — Quartet or similar format — in which a number of countries can be helpful in making sure that the peace process can move forward.  It is absolutely clear for me that this is a problem that need to be solved, and I hope that what was achieved in relation to the… namely, in relation to the suspension, I hope that that will create an opportunity for direct talks between Palestinians and Israelis that I believe are essential to solve the problem.

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For information media. Not an official record.