UN officials stress importance of London talks on Palestinian reform
Even though the Palestinian delegation was not able to attend the conference hosted by the United Kingdom, Mr. Roed-Larsen, who is the UN's Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, said the meeting was important because it facilitated a "clear and sensible discussion" about the progress on reform and what is still needed.
The talks also send a strong message to Palestinians, Israelis and the international community that the UK Government, working closely with the Quartet - which comprises the UN, United States, Russian Federation and European Union - remains focused on and committed to the road map process towards a just and comprehensive settlement for the Middle East, according to Mr. Roed-Larsen.
In New York, Secretary-General Kofi Annan told a press conference today that the decision by the Israelis to bar a Palestinian delegation from travelling to the London meeting was unfortunate. "[They] should have been allowed to attend the conference to hear from others what is expected from them and to be given support for reform of the Palestinian Authority," he said. "And I personally wish they had been allowed to go. I believe each time you bring parties together to discuss solutions it is a positive step."
As for the seemingly endless cycle of violence, the Secretary-General said that he thought it was a tragedy the bloodshed continues. "This is why the Quartet has been very active in trying to work out a road map that will operationalize the objective of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side-by-side as everyone has embraced," he said. "But you can only get there if you take concrete steps and define what is demanded of each of the parties. That road map is ready and I hope we'll be able to put it on the table and to the parties formally as soon as possible, perhaps next month or so and press ahead with the peace effort."
Asked if the current focus on the crises surrounding Iraq and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea has undermined the peace initiative in the Middle East, the Secretary-General said that on the contrary, it has underscored the urgency of doing something about the Israeli-Palestinian issue. "It is even more important today than ever that the international community energetically tackle the issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and this is what I hope that the Quartet will do in the coming months," he said.