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Secretary-General welcomes President Bush's call for Israeli withdrawal

Secretary-General welcomes President Bush's call for Israeli withdrawal

Secretary-General Kofi Annan
The United Nations Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, today welcomed the statement by United States President George Bush earlier on Thursday calling for Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian cities.

"I think that was an important call from the President," the Secretary-General said, responding to questions from the press at UN Headquarters in New York.

"We should not forget that the US along with 13 other members of the Security Council voted for the withdrawal of the Israeli troops in Resolution 1402. I am really happy to see the President reaffirm this publicly, and I urge the Israeli leadership to listen to him and implement the resolution."

Mr. Annan also described as "encouraging" today's announcement by the White House that Secretary of State Colin Powell will travel to the Middle East.

"I have spoken to the Secretary of State, and I am happy that the US is becoming much more engaged," the Secretary-General said, adding that he was in "constant touch" with Secretary Powell as well as leaders in the European Union, the Russian Federation and the Arab world.

"What I have stressed all along is that we cannot focus on security alone, and that we need to understand that peace and security are two sides of the same coin," he said. "And we need to broaden our efforts to bring in the political aspects as well as do something about the horrible humanitarian conditions of the Palestinian people, so I hope our efforts, as we move forward would embrace all these aspects and be comprehensive."

Today's announcements from Washington were also welcomed by the Permanent Observer of Palestine, Nasser Al-Kidwa, who told reporters in New York that the statement by President Bush reflected "much more readiness on the part of the Administration to get engaged at the high level."

He noted also that there was recognition of the need to have a "political context through which one can deal with the security aspect."

However, Mr. Al-Kidwa said the Palestinians "reject the unjustified criticism of President Arafat and frankly we are seeking clarifications of the meaning of what was said."