Israel Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and
United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan
following their meeting Jerusalem, June 17, 2001
Foreign Minister Peres: (in progress) [I would like to thank the Secretary-General for] paying a visit and offering a contribution to the peace process in the Middle East. Personally I believe that Kofi Annan is one of the greatest and the best Secretary-Generals we have ever experienced, because as Secretary-General of the United Nations he is always in the face of conflicting situations. He manages them without becoming a controversial Secretary-General; it’s very difficult to do so, to offer compromises without compromising himself, and the trust and respect for him is great and high.
I think his present mission is of great importance, because in addition to the meetings which are taking place between the representatives of the Palestinian Authority and ourselves, there is a real need to explain to the leaders where each party stands without being victims all the time of over-suspicion. I think the Secretary-General can really carry a message of objectivity, hope, and promise. I think the Secretary-General played a very important role in our withdrawal from Lebanon, trying really to be true to Resolution 425 in its whole meaning, and taking a very strong position on it.
I think there is no doubt in the hearts of any of the parties which are today negotiating in the Middle East about the need for a world coalition for peace that will comprise the United States, a United Europe, Russia, and, if possible the Egyptians and the Jordanians, where the United Nations can really bring them together in an agreeable manner.
I think the Secretary-General played an extremely important role in the production and adaptation of the Mitchell Report. Officially the report was submitted to the President of the United States and a copy to the Secretary-General of the United Nations. It was very much dependent upon the two of them to make the draft of the Mitchell Report into a working paper, and happily that’s what has happened. The Mitchell Report is, in my opinion, the only valuable and important document that can lead the parties from an air of desperation to a new beginning of negotiations.
I do hope the Secretary-General will take initiative to introduce a parallel document to the Mitchell Report in the domain of economics. I believe economy can play a major role in enhancing peace and bringing the parties together. During our lunch and private conversations we discussed this issue, and I believe that the Secretary-General will find a ready and prepared mood to accept an additive to the political one.
I know that travelling in an area of such controversy is not a real touristic experience, but then again, if you’re equipped with the sense of serving the highest cause of our life – peace – you can overcome this unpleasantness to pave the way for a better future. I thank you very much for your visit.
Secy-Gen Kofi Annan: Thank you very much, Mr. Foreign Minister, and good afternoon ladies and gentlemen.
I have had a full exchange of views with Israeli leaders last night and this morning, and of course I just came out of a very important and useful discussion with the Prime Minister, and I did the same yesterday with Chairman Arafat and his colleagues in Ramallah.
My purpose in coming to your region was to seize the opportunity offered by the present ceasefire and to use it to help restart the movement towards a lasting peace, negotiated within the framework of United Nations resolutions.
My efforts have been fully coordinated with those of the European Union, of the United States, and the Russian Federation. I think you heard Mr. Peres refer to a coalition for peace. The international community is united in its concern about the fragility of the situation in this region, and also in its belief that the Mitchell Committee’s recommendations offer the most hopeful route back to renewed dialogue in an atmosphere of calmed and renewed trust, as we heard Mr. Peres say.
I have been encouraged to hear both President Arafat and Prime Minister Sharon repeat that they fully accept the Mitchell Report in all its elements. I hope they will build on this vital piece of common ground. By agreeing on a ceasefire, they have already begun the implementation of the Mitchell recommendations. I have been pressing them to agree on timelines for implementing all the others, and to accept the help of third parties in whom they both have confidence.
With Prime Minister Sharon, I also discussed the situation in southern Lebanon. Once again I emphasized, as I did in Beirut and Damascus, the vital importance of respecting the Blue Line. Let me make it clear that the United Nations is implacably opposed to violations of any kind in either direction. Calm on this front is essential to stability in this region. My talks in the region have reinforced my belief that this is an opportunity to consolidate a ceasefire by embedding it in wider political process, and moving forward as fast as possible with the implementation of the Mitchell Report.
Secy-Gen Annan: I think the parties have fully accepted the Mitchell Plan. Now it’s a question of implementation. I won’t say that it’s a disagreement. What I would want to see is a clearer definition of the road ahead, with timelines, so that people do not think that the only issue we are dealing with is a cease-fire. A cease-fire is a good beginning, it’s an important element of the whole process. But we need to have the timelines to make it clear to all concerned that if we implement the cease-fire that’s not the end of the road, and in fact there are good and positive things ahead to give hope and to encourage people to work for peace.
Secy-Gen Annan: I expect both parties to implement the agreement fully, since they have both accepted it, and I don’t think that either side should try to hold back. I hope that will be the case, and that is what the international community is determined to have the parties do.
On the question of a meeting, as the Foreign Minister has indicated there is a discussion, and I will leave the Foreign Minister to handle that here.
FM Peres: I think there is a confusion. There is no disagreement, neither among ourselves nor with the Palestinians. The Mitchell Report is built on a sequence. Number one is ceasefire, number two is a cooling-off period, number three is confidence-building measures, number four is political negotiations. I am not aware that anybody suggested that at the first station we shall deal with the issues of the second and third stations. While this is a package deal, and there is an interconnection between all the four steps, there is also an order of doing things: A, B, and C, where settlements belong to station number C, and we would like in an orderly way to proceed from station to station until we shall arrive at the final one.
Secy-Gen Annan: I think I made it quite clear here that the Mitchell Report is a package, as the Foreign Minister said, with a certain sequence of events. But what I have said is to make it clear to everyone, the linkages and interrelationships, is to establish a timetable for how you go through he various phases until you get to the negotiating table, so it is clear to the ordinary person who has not read the report that there is a roadmap that will lead to the table, and for them to discuss peace. So that is what I am referring to.
On the question of a senior-level meeting: I have been involved in many cease-fires. Cease-fire is not an end in itself, it’s often part of a larger scheme, and cease-fire is often managed on the ground by the military and the officers, but it is done on the political level. If there is a conflict at the lower levels, between the militaries, you need to go to someone at the political level to get it sorted out very quickly. I have the experience that in those situations, where you have that sort of link, where, if there is a problem between the militaries you don’t let it fester and become a bigger problem, but you have two senior people who can come together, reinforcing the ceasefire. It is not the beginning of political negotiations, as has been indicated. This is the way I see it.
FM Peres: May I say that the Tenet report is a specification of the first step in the Mitchell Report. It’s not in contradiction; on the contrary, it is a translation of the first step. The first step consists of four different acts; one is the cessation of fire, the second is the cessation of incitement; thirdly, the redeployment of the Israeli forces to the lines which existed before the intifada; and fourthly an improvement in the situation of the civilian life in the territories.
We have said, and I insist that we shall do it, that when it comes to the territories we shall go ahead and facilitate the life in the territories, reducing and bringing an end to the closures, enabling the flow of goods and people, so civilian life can go on without any collective punishment.
As far as the redeployment of forces is concerned, the Israeli move is supposed to take place 48 hours after the Tenet report was published, and so it happened. The second move is a week later, when the Israeli army has to offer a timetable for the ongoing redeployment of forces.
The cessation of fire has not been complete. We insisted that it will be complete. As for the cessation of incitement, we are at the very very beginning, which I regret very much, because I believe we need a different climate of expression, publicly and privately, in order to have the train leaving the station and moving ahead in the right direction.
FM Peres: I am not aware that the Secretary-General has suggested that a meeting will start with negotiations on Chapter No. 2 or 3, but there is always room to discuss how to improve the ceasefire, how to improve the cessation of incitement, how to improve the conditions of life, all these within the framework of the first step.
FM Peres: We are following strictly, almost religiously, the sequence of the Mitchell Report. It is not an order introduced by us, it’s an order introduced by the Mitchell Report, and as I have said it is a package that we are moving towards the next station, station after station as it was described. [As for the cooling-off period], the Palestinians suggested four weeks. Israel has suggested eight weeks. So the compromise, the natural compromise is six weeks, which makes the two parties equally dissatisfied.
FM Peres: I believe that the first step includes confidence-building measures, as well. For example, the improvement of the state of the territories. The Secretary-General has expressed himself very clearly on it; I don’t think he has met with any opposition on our side, but otherwise we really have to move, as it was described in the Mitchell Report. I believe the whole government of Israel, from the Prime Minister to the last member of the Cabinet, have accepted the Mitchell Report, not as a pro-forma acceptance, but really with the understanding that this is the best way under the present circumstances to divorce the stalemate and the skepticism and the desperation and move ahead. We know it calls for efforts and sacrifices. We are not blind, and we are not forgetful. We shall try really to do it as it should be done.