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In Vienna, Annan says 'isolated' Arafat should be given more room to lead

In Vienna, Annan says 'isolated' Arafat should be given more room to lead

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat should be given more room to operate and the “political time to act,” United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan said today – the first day of his official visit to Austria.

"By being isolated and virtually being under house arrest makes it difficult for him to lead," Mr. Annan told a press conference in Vienna following his meeting with Austrian Foreign Minister Benita Ferrero-Waldner. The Secretary-General added that Mr. Arafat was in an extremely difficult situation, being asked to stop the violence and being asked to lead.

"And yet, as a leader, he and his institutions are under so much pressure that I really do not see how that is going help, how he is going to go about delivering what the international community is asking him to do," Mr. Annan said. "We need to be careful how we deal with the situation because when the leader who is supposed to act is weakened to the point of impotence, we have a real problem on our hands."

As for breaking the latest impasse between Israel and the Palestinians, the Secretary-General stressed that too much focus was being put on security only. "I think security should be linked with improvements in the conditions of the Palestinians and it should also be linked with political prospects of getting the parties to the table and discussing a settlement of their differences at the table," he said.

In addition to the Middle East, the Secretary-General's discussions with Ms. Ferrero-Waldner focused on Afghan reconstruction and security, tensions between India and Pakistan, Iraq, Central Asia, Cyprus and the Balkans.

The Middle East and Afghanistan topped the agenda of Mr. Annan's meeting earlier in the day with Federal President Thomas Klestil. In a press encounter afterwards, Mr. Annan said he was encouraged by what he had seen during his visit last week to Kabul but reminded that the new government needed funding to help it consolidate its control.

"We have major hurdles ahead of us, not least in the area of trying to strengthen the [Afghan] Interim Administration and help it expand its authority throughout the country," the Secretary-General said, adding that the question of security should also include the development of a national Afghan army and national police. "But we need resources quickly to be able to strengthen the new Administration and I hope that would be forthcoming."

The Secretary-General had a working lunch with President Klestil before meeting with leaders of the Austrian parliament, including the parliamentary president Heinz Fischer.