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Annan to visit Middle East next week in pursuit of political solution to crisis

Annan to visit Middle East next week in pursuit of political solution to crisis

With a ceasefire offering hope for progress in the Middle East, Secretary-General Kofi Annan announced today that he would travel to the region early next week in pursuit of a political settlement to the current turmoil.

Speaking to reporters at United Nations Headquarters in New York, Mr. Annan said he intended to meet with leaders in the region "to seek their views, to exchange ideas, to explore with them how collectively we can work together to end the tragedy and the violence and move the parties back to the table."

The Secretary-General said he would visit Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. A meeting with the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia is also scheduled in Europe. "I will end up in Jerusalem and Gaza, and I hope in the meantime that progress is being made, the ceasefire is holding, attempts are being made to work with the parties by the team that is on the ground."

"I would hope this progress will be sustained, and if it does, I trust that it will also provide an opportunity and give the international community a chance to really make a collective effort to push them [the parties] forward," he said.

The Secretary-General said he would work towards the implementation of the recommendations of the Mitchell Committee, which "envisages not just a ceasefire, but a cooling off period, confidence-building measures, and eventual return to the table." The Committee was named for its Chairman, former United States Senator George Mitchell.

Mr. Annan said he would urge the parties to "stay the course" of peace and "not allow the terrorists to determine when they meet, when they pursue peace and when they don't."

The Secretary-General has been closely monitoring the situation in the Middle East, particularly the current crisis between Israel and the Palestinians, and has maintained close contacts with the parties, other top officials in the region, and leaders of the international community.

In a separate development earlier in the day, Mr. Annan was asked by journalists to comment on reports that the Security Council would soon nominate him for a second term as Secretary-General. "I'll be honoured if Member States endorsed me and appointed me to continue the work that I'm doing," he replied.