Annan: Ending Palestinian-Israeli conflict would help Iraq crisis

By Reuters

Haaretz

Kislev 20, 5767

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan said on Monday that trying to end the Arab-Israeli war would help cool other Middle East hot-spots like Iraq and Lebanon.

In his final report on the Middle East before stepping down on December 31, Annan also said the quartet of international Middle East mediators appeared increasingly powerless to help move down the path toward peace, due to internal divisions, and needed a fresh start.

He said the quartet members - the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations - had to join together to revive the peace process and involve Israel and Arab states directly in its work, as promised in September.

"Overall, the instability that prevails in the Middle East is the greatest regional challenge to international peace and security, and needs to be addressed far more thoroughly than it has been to date," Annan said in a report to the 15-nation Security Council to be presented on Tuesday.

After 10 years as secretary-general, Annan hands over to South Korean Ban Ki-Moon on January 1.

"I am convinced that the search for stability in Iraq, Lebanon and elsewhere will be greatly served by a concerted effort" to achieve a Middle East peace, Annan said.

"A regional approach is needed to resolve the various crises and conflicts in the Middle East today, not least because progress in each arena is to a large extent dependent on progress in others."

The Iraq Study Group, led by former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker, told the Bush administration last week it must launch a "renewed and sustained commitment" to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict as part of an effort to address broader regional tensions in Iraq and elsewhere.

Olmert, however, said it was wrong to link the Arab-Israeli war with wider Middle East concerns, saying the region "has a lot of problems that are not connected to us."

Annan urged the council and the quartet to make a fresh start by working together to strengthen a cease-fire in Gaza, extend it to the West Bank and deploy international observers or some other mechanism to monitor it and protect civilians.

The two should also promote unconditional and open-ended talks between the Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and set out an updated, credible political framework for those negotiations, he added.

Annan pressed Syria to show its immediate neighbors - which include Lebanon and Iraq - that it is committed to regional peace and security. He also told Israel there could be no peace until it returned the Golan Heights to Syria.