The situation in the Middle East was the focus of discussions between Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in Moscow today, a day ahead of tomorrow’s meeting in the same city of the diplomatic Quartet.
The gathering of the Quartet, comprising the United Nations, Russia, the United States and the European Union, comes amid rising tensions between Israel and the Palestinians.
Last week, Israel announced that it plans to expand settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory of East Jerusalem, a move that was condemned by both Mr. Ban and the Quartet.
The Secretary-General and Mr. Medvedev today also discussed nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation; climate change; peacekeeping operations; and cooperation between Russia and the UN.
Earlier today, Mr. Ban signed a joint declaration with the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) to enhance cooperation between the two groups.
The UN chief “said that he saw potential for enhanced cooperation with the CSTO in a number of areas of common interest, including counter-terrorism, drug trafficking and conflict prevention,” his spokesperson Farhan Haq told reporters in New York.
The Secretary-General also met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov today, and the two men discussed Afghanistan, Iran, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and Somalia, among other topics.
Mr. Ban stressed the need for direct peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians to journalists following his meeting with Mr. Lavrov.
“Proximity talks are not an end in themselves,” the Secretary-General said at the press conference. “They should lead eventually to direct negotiations. There is no alternative to direct negotiations through dialogue.”
Tomorrow’s Quartet meeting, he said in an address at Moscow State Institute of International Relations, “comes at a critical moment,” given “worrying developments” such as Israel’s announcement to build housing units in East Jerusalem.
“We need to see an end to provocations from any quarter,” he emphasized. “Meaningful dialogue must begin on all the core issues of this conflict – including Jerusalem.”
Mr. Ban, who received an honorary doctorate at the Institute today, reiterated his call for a two-State solution to the problem, calling it “the only route to peace and security for both peoples.”
Also in his speech, he underlined the need for Russian leadership in world affairs, including nuclear proliferation and rising poverty.
“Together, we can, and must, build a stronger UN for a better world,” the Secretary-General said. “On this, I know we have Russia’s support.”
From the Russian capital, Mr. Ban is scheduled to travel to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory, where he hopes to see the situation on the ground in Gaza more than a year after the end of Operation Cast Lead, the three-week Israeli military offensive conducted with the stated aim of ending rocket attacks by Palestinian militants.
This morning, he condemned today’s rocket attack from Gaza which killed a civilian in Israel, stressing that all acts of violence are “totally unacceptable.”
The rocket reportedly struck the Netiv Ha’assera kibbutz in southern Israel, killing a foreign agricultural worker.
“All such acts of terror and violence against civilians are totally unacceptable and contrary to international law,” Mr. Ban’s spokesperson said in a statement.