The Secretary-General: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. I am here mainly to answer your questions, but let me start by mentioning three or four things that are particularly on my mind.


No less worrying is the situation in the Middle East, where I shall be going next week to attend the Arab summit. There, too, it is important for all to understand that there is no solution to be found in violence and no sense in postponing the day when they return to the negotiating table.


Question: The Security Council is weighing whether to send observer forces to the Middle East. Given the fact that Israel has clarified that it will not accept such force, is it your view that this makes the United Nations an effective instrument if such forces will be decided on?

The Secretary-General: Yesterday I met Prime Minister [Ariel] Sharon and he reaffirmed to me his Government’s position that they will not accept an observer force. The Council is still in deliberation and I don’t know what final decisions it will take, but you are right, they are discussing this issue. Of course, for any force to go in, it would need the cooperation of both parties to be effective. If it does not get the cooperation, the question is should it go in, and if it does, what can it do?


Question: One point of clarification first. You did mention the five years when you were considering whether you wanted to do this for another five years. Have you and Mrs. Annan or your staff discussed the possibility of a shorter term when you are ready to run again? Do you have in mind the possibility of a shorter term, or are you seeking the full term?

My second question is with regarding your trip to the Arab summit. You know that there is a lot of disappointment in the Arab world, with where the United Nations has not been active enough, not forthcoming enough in the point of view of many Arabs on the issue of the Palestinians. Are you ready to really take a clear position in holding Israel responsible as an occupying Power for whatever it is doing in the occupied territories, and not only the economic side? This is an occupying Power, and there is the Fourth Geneva Convention and Israel is violating that. As Secretary-General, can you take a position [inaudible] going to the summit?

The Secretary-General: I think on your first question, the procedure here has been five-year terms, and the next term, I think, will be the same as it’s always been, unless the Member State decide to change the duration of terms.

On your second question, I think the United Nations has been quite clear, and I think the Council and myself have been very active in getting the message across that there has to be an easing of the economic sanctions against the Palestinians. There has to be a return to the negotiating table. The violence must stop, and both parties must work in accordance with the Sharm el-Sheikh agreement to bring the violence to an end. The United Nations has always been there from the resolutions which are often quoted. Security Council resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973) which are the basis for the discussions, are United Nations resolutions and I think that recently the United Nations has also been physically actively involved in the search for peace in the Middle East, and we will continue to do that. I will continue to make my good offices available to the parties to the conflict and work with others concerned to try and bring the parties to the table.


Question: My colleague from the other waiting position country for the Security Council already asked your opinion, your forecasting opinion, so there is just one question left. In general terms, what might be your grade of optimism regarding the peace process in the Middle East? Did it increase or decrease after the talks with Sharon?

The Secretary-General: Do you have a crystal ball for me? Let me say that, obviously, there is a new Government in Israel and a new administration in Washington. The new Government in Israel is also trying to define its own policies and direction. Of course, Chairman Arafat has indicated that he is prepared to go to the negotiating table, but where they left off in Taba. Prime Minister Sharon has indicated that it has to be based on agreed signed agreements and therefore you already have a gap there which will have to be resolved when they come back to the table. But what is important is that both are talking about political process, about resuming talks. How soon they will get to the table, I cannot tell. Even though I am in touch with both parties, it is a bit early yet to say. Would it be easier, would the process go faster? It is difficult to say. But I will wait until they get to the table and see how they begin before I answer your question.

Question: Mr. Secretary-General, a follow-up on the Middle East. The United Nations seems to be coming back, if you will, on the Middle East map, with the Israelis showing an increasing desire to bring the United Nations in. Did you discuss with Prime Minister Sharon the kind of role the Israelis foresee for the United Nations and for yourself in the peace process? And did you hear from him any intention to restart the peace talks from the point they were left off?

The Secretary-General: Yes, indeed, they are working with us — just us. We are working with Chairman Arafat and the other party. We did not define or discuss what role he would want to see the United Nations play. But he was aware that my good offices are available, as they have been in the past, and he indicated willingness to work with me on the Middle East issue.


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