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Middle East tops agenda as Annan meets with leaders at Arab League summit

Middle East tops agenda as Annan meets with leaders at Arab League summit

Kofi Annan meeting with President Emile Lahoud
With efforts to bring peace to the Middle East at the top of his agenda, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan today held a series of meetings with leaders attending the Arab League summit in Beirut, Lebanon.

Beginning with senior Government officials from Lebanon, the Secretary-General held talks with Nabih Berri, the Speaker of Parliament, and then President Emile Lahoud, with whom he reviewed the summit and discussed the situation on the UN Blue Line between Lebanon and Israel, according to a UN spokesman.

Mr. Annan also met with Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri for a comprehensive discussion of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as well as the situation in Lebanon, including efforts to rebuild the south and the economic situation in the country.

In a television interview after the meeting, Mr. Annan described the summit as an “historic opportunity” and said he was very pleased that Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah had put forward his proposal. “I believe his speech this morning would have an echo in Israel because he really spoke of peace in the region and he came in the name of peace,” the Secretary-General said. “And I hope at the end of the day the conference would embrace the proposal that he’s put on the table because it would be a major contribution for the peace process and we would then try to build on that momentum.”

The Secretary-General also met with the Palestinian delegation, whose chief, Farouk Kaddoumi, underscored the need for a third-party role in the search for a solution to the conflict, according to Mr. Annan’s spokesman.

“The Secretary-General said he regretted not having had the exchange of views with [Palestinian Authority President] Yasser Arafat, to which he had been looking forward,” spokesman Stephane Dujarric said, adding that Mr. Annan expressed the hope that mediation efforts led by US Gen. Anthony Zinni would result in a ceasefire.

Earlier Wednesday, the Secretary-General met with Javier Solana, the European Union’s High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy, to assess prospects for the Summit, including the peace plan put forward by Prince Abdullah. They also talked of the need to follow up on any proposal.

Over the course of the day, Mr. Annan also met with the President of Somalia, Abdikassim Salad Hassan, to review the situation in that country, and emphasized the need for national and regional reconciliation.

He also held discussions with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Iraq, and later met with King Mohammed VI of Morocco to talk about the Middle East and Western Sahara.

Following that encounter, Mr. Annan met with an Iraqi delegation headed by Izzat Ibrahim, Vice President of the Revolutionary Command Council, and talked of his current dialogue with Baghdad concerning implementation of Security Council resolutions on Iraq.

The Secretary-General pledged to be fair and just, basing himself on the relevant Security Council resolutions, Mr. Dujarric said. The Vice President expressed his full confidence in Mr. Annan and said that Iraq was ready to cooperate to find a speedy solution.