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Time 'not optimal' for West Bank vote, Annan cautions

Time 'not optimal' for West Bank vote, Annan cautions

Annan speaking to the press
United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan today cautioned that the current atmosphere in the Middle East was not conducive to the holding of Palestinian elections and said that members of the diplomatic Quartet on the Middle East - the UN, United States, Russian Federation and European Union - will need to meet to discuss the proposals made yesterday by US President George Bush.

"The time for the elections is not optimal," Mr. Annan told reporters as he entered UN Headquarters in New York this morning. "You could find yourself in a situation that the radicals are the ones who get elected. And it will be the result of a democratic process, and we have to accept that."

There was obviously a need for all members of the Quartet to get together "to determine how we implement the proposals put forward by the President," the Secretary-General said. "How do we operationalize it? Which comes first? Under what circumstances can one hold elections in the West Bank? In the current circumstances, obviously it is not possible. Would the Israeli withdrawal to the 2000 lines be a prerequisite for elections? Can you hold elections in the current atmosphere?"

The Secretary-General noted that there were aspects in the proposals that had to be thought through and clarified: “There has been a call for a new Palestinian leadership. What happens between now and until a new leadership exists? Do we work with the government that we have or do we create a vacuum?”

Asked about the Palestinian leadership, Mr. Annan said it was up to the Palestinian people to decide. "They elected Chairman Arafat, they are planning new elections, let them elect their own leaders," he said, adding that he had not spoken to Chairman Arafat since President Bush's speech, but that the two had been in contact over the weekend and again early Monday.

"At that point he was talking to me about reform and measures he was taking to reign in terrorism," the Secretary-General said. "I don't know what his mindset is but we've already heard that the Palestinians have indicated that whilst they are pleased with certain aspects of the President's speech, as for selection of their leaders it is their responsibility, and I'm sure Arafat would share that view."

On the need for reforms, the Secretary-General noted "that the Palestinians themselves have indicated that they want reform, and have initiated reforms already, and we had hoped that the reforms would not be a condition for the peace process and moving forward."

To a question on how President Bush's speech would affect the situation on the ground, Mr. Annan said that there was something in the statement for each party. "For the Palestinians, the President reaffirmed the establishment of two States in accordance with resolutions 242 and 338. I hope the Israelis and the Palestinians will have the courage, the wisdom and the strength to seize this moment for us to work on the establishment of a Palestinian State living side-by-side with an Israeli State in security," he said. "A timeframe of three years was indicated and I think it is important that it is done in a reasonable timeframe or else people will lose hope."

Asked if there was a timetable for an international conference, he said discussions were ongoing regarding a meeting of Quartet envoys.