In his third hopeful comments on the Middle East conflict in four days United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan said today he was encouraged by the recent developments, which have seen an agreement between Israel and Palestinians on a troop pullback and a ceasefire agreement by Palestinian groups.
"We see it as a beginning, but we have a long way to go," Mr. Annan told reporters in Bern, Switzerland, where he was on an official visit. "The decision of the Palestinian groups to agree to a ceasefire is important. I want to see a situation where all these movements and groups are transformed into political parties to play a role in democratic Palestine."
Yesterday the Secretary-General called on all parties to press ahead with the new Road Map peace plan to achieve the vision of the two states living side by side in peace. Sponsored by the so-called Diplomatic Quartet of the UN, United States, European Union and Russia, the Road Map peace plans calls for Israel and the Palestinians to take a series of parallel and reciprocal steps culminating in the achievement of the two-state vision by 2005.
Following the 22 June meeting of Quartet members on the shores of the Dead Sea in Jordan, the top UN envoy for the Middle East peace process, Terje Roed-Larsen, is continuing his nine-day regional tour of Arab capitals where he will engage in consultations on implementation of the Road Map and discuss possible ways for the Quartet's regional partners to assist in this process.
In Riyadh today, he met with the Saudi Minister of Foreign affairs, Prince Saud Al Faisal, and praised Saudi Arabia's constructive role in shaping and moving forward the road map. Mr. Roed-Larsen is meeting with senior government officials in Beirut, Damascus, Amman and Cairo. He travels to Egypt and Jordan next.
As part of his one-day visit to Bern, Mr. Annan held a working session with Swiss President Pascal Couchepin and also met with Foreign Minister, Micheline Calmy-Rey.
The Children's Parliament of the City of Bern presented the Secretary-General with the first "Ole Prize" award. "With this prize, you are not only honouring me but the whole United Nations, and its work for a more peaceful, healthier and fairer world," Mr. Annan told the six child parliamentarians.