Afghanistan, Middle East top agenda of Annan's talks with leaders in Iran, Qatar

Afghanistan, Middle East top agenda of Annan's talks with leaders in Iran, Qatar

Kofi Annan with President Khatami
United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan today arrived in Vienna following a weekend of talks with the leaders of Iran and Qatar on topics ranging from support for Afghanistan's new interim administration to the worsening situation in the Middle East.

This morning, the Secretary-General met with his Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Terje Roed Larsen, who had travelled from Gaza to confer with Mr. Annan urgently about the deteriorating situation in the region, a UN spokesman said at a press briefing in New York.

At a press conference over the weekend, the Secretary-General called the situation in the Middle East "rather tragic and very, very serious," stressing that collective international action was needed "to try and break the impasse and bring the parties back to the table."

The Middle East, along with Afghanistan, figured prominently in the Secretary-General's meetings on Saturday in Iran, where he had discussions with President Mohammad Khatami, Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi, Parliament Speaker Hojatoleslam Val-Moslemin Mahdi Karoubi and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

According to Mr. Annan’s spokesman, President Khatami told the Secretary-General that a stable Afghanistan was important for Iran and also categorically denied assertions that Teheran was meddling in Afghan politics. The Iranian leader emphasized that it was in his country’s direct interest to support the Interim Administration.

During a meeting with Foreign Minister Kharrazi earlier in the day, the Secretary-General praised Iran's generosity in hosting more than 2 million Afghan refugees, noting that it would take an estimated two-and-a-half to three years to repatriate them.

After his visit to Iran, Mr. Annan stopped yesterday in Doha, Qatar, where he met with the Emir, His Highness Sheikh Hamad bin Kalifa al-Thani. In their discussion about the situation in Afghanistan, the Emir said that Qatar would do all it could to support the Afghan Interim Administration. Lakhdar Brahimi, the Secretary-General's Special Representative for Afghanistan, who also attended the meeting, appealed to the Emir for immediate financial assistance to the new government.

Mr. Annan and the Emir also exchanged views on the escalating violence in the Middle East and efforts to get Iraq to allow UN weapons inspectors to return to the country.