Meeting with leaders of Syria and Jordan, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan today discussed prospects for peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians as well as the sanctions against Iraq.
Beginning his day in Damascus, the Secretary-General met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to review efforts to calm tensions in the Middle East. According to a UN spokesman, the talks lasted for more than an hour and included a tête-à-tête session. The two leaders also discussed the stalled Syrian track of peace negotiations with Israel, tensions along the Lebanon-Israel border and the Security Council's review of the Iraq sanctions regime.
Talks between the Secretary-General and the Syrian President touched on the report of the committee of fact-finding headed by former United States Senator George Mitchell. Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Mr. Annan said he had pointed out that the Mitchell committee report did not supplant UN resolutions which form the foundation for a peace settlement. "I indicated that the Mitchell report is not replacing the resolutions but it is an interim step to get the parties back to the table," he said, adding that a settlement "will have to be based on 'land for peace,' which is the basic premise of the UN resolutions."
Asked about the discussions on Iraq, the Secretary-General noted President Assad's view that the Security Council should bear in mind the concerns of neighbouring countries, and added that the question of Iraqi oil sales to Syria was "part of the issue being discussed."
Mr. Annan also discussed the Middle East and Iraq during a meeting yesterday evening with Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa, who then hosted a dinner in the Secretary-General's honour.
Following his talks in Damascus, the Secretary-General travelled to Aqaba, Jordan, where he met with King Abdullah the Second, Prime Minister Ali Abul Raghed and Foreign Minister Abdul Elah al-Khatib. Their 45-minute encounter included a 10 minute one-on-one session between the Secretary-General and the King.
According to the UN spokesman, the discussions focused on the Israeli-Palestinian situation. The Secretary-General also received a comprehensive briefing on the implications for Jordan of the current Security Council discussions on Iraq.
The Secretary-General is scheduled to travel to Beirut, Tel Aviv and Ramallah in the coming days. "The immediate focus of my mission is the crisis between Israel and Palestine, but I also hope to help stabilize the situation on the Blue Line of Israeli withdrawal [from Lebanon], with a view to avoiding further escalation by either side," he told the press in Damascus.