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Middle East: UN envoy sees consensus on peace aims but not on reaching them

Middle East: UN envoy sees consensus on peace aims but not on reaching them

Continuing a diplomatic tour of the Middle East with stops in Damascus and Beirut, a senior United Nations envoy said that while there was a growing consensus on goals for the peace process, the parties differed widely on how to attain them.

Terje Roed-Larsen, the Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, met today with Lebanon's President, Emile Lahoud and other senior Lebanese officials as well as ambassadors of the five countries that are permanent members on the UN Security Council. Today's discussions followed talks in Damascus with Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk Al Sharaa.

In all his meetings, Mr. Roed-Larsen reviewed in detail recent developments in the region and focused on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In addition, discussions touched on the full range of issues related to all tracks of the Middle East peace process.

The envoy noted that there was one positive development in the Middle East - a growing consensus that a solution had to be based on UN Security Council resolutions 242 and 338, the principle of an end to occupation and, in the Palestinian context, the creation of a State of Palestine. The bad news, he said, was that the "parties are far away from agreeing on how to walk towards that goal."

Mr. Roed-Larsen reiterated his position that "the bridge back to the negotiating table had to be built on political, economic and security pillars." In the absence of political progress, he expressed doubt that the "recent relative calm could last."

Expressing concern about the continuing economic and social difficulties in parts of the region, the envoy noted that the UN was active in all fields. In addition to Secretary-General Kofi Annan's political efforts, the UN peacekeeping missions helped maintain stability in the tense region while UN agencies - particularly the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) - assisted in the economic and humanitarian realm.