Press Releases

    28 March 2002


    NEW YORK, 27 March (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the address by Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the Summit meeting of the Arab League, Beirut, Lebanon, 27 March:

    It is a special privilege for me to join you today. I am very grateful to the Government and people of Lebanon –- in particular President Lahoud and Prime Minister Hariri –- for the warm welcome I have received. I wish to pay tribute to His Majesty King Abdullah for his wise and vigorous leadership as Chairman of the Arab League over the past year. And I join you in welcoming President Lahoud as the new Chairman of the Arab League, and His Excellency Mr. Amr Moussa as its new Secretary-General.

    There is no conflict in the world today whose solution is so clear, so widely agreed upon, and so necessary to world peace as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Tragically, however, there is no conflict whose path to resolution seems so thickly entangled with hatred and mistrust, or so vulnerable to the acts of extremists. This paradox must not be allowed to persist. Through political courage and leadership, we must bridge the gap between our vision of peace and the present reality of conflict.

    There is a solution to the paradox. The leaders on both sides, specifically Prime Minister Sharon and Chairman Arafat, must reaffirm the strategic choice for peace, based on a just, lasting and comprehensive settlement. It is their role, and their duty, to lead their peoples back from the brink. History, and their peoples, will remember them kindly if they rise to the challenge. History, and their peoples, will judge them harshly if they do not.

    We all yearn to see a new era of peace and security for all. This yearning is reflected in Security Council resolution 1397, passed earlier this month, which affirms a vision of the Middle East as a region "where two States, Israel and Palestine, live side by side within secure and recognized borders." Building on the bedrock of its earlier resolutions 242 and 338, the Security Council has thus established a firm framework for a just and viable solution of the problem of Palestine.

    We are no less united in our grave concern for the regional dimension of this conflict, and in calling for a comprehensive peace between Israel and all its neighbours, including Syria and Lebanon. The world as a whole yearns, with your peoples and the people of Israel, for an end to the bloodshed and suffering.

    The people of the Arab world are not alone in believing that the Palestinians have a right to their own State in peace and security; that the long occupation must end; that there must be an immediate improvement in the unbearable living conditions of the Palestinians; and that Israel must immediately abandon such indefensible methods as targeted assassinations, and the use of heavy weaponry in densely populated areas.

    But the people of Israel are not alone, either, in believing that they have a right to live in peace and security, free from terror; that suicide attacks against Israeli civilians are morally repugnant, and should not be glorified but denounced as such by all Arab leaders; and that the Arab world as a whole must come to terms -– once and for all, in public and in private –- with the right of Israel to exist.

    These beliefs of both sides are shared by people all over the world.

    The Palestinians are right to call for a horizon of peace. All of us want to see an end to the occupation, the withdrawal of Israeli settlements, and the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian State. And the Israelis are equally entitled to expect a horizon of peace. All of us want to hear a firm and credible assurance from you –- the leaders of the Arab League –- that, once Israel concludes a just and comprehensive peace and withdraws from Arab lands, it can look forward to peace and full normal relations with all the Arab world. That assurance can –- and I say must -– be your contribution to peace between Palestinians and Israelis.

    The important proposal put forward by His Royal Highness Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia can be the foundation. Based on the principle of "land for peace", it provides a clear and compelling vision. The search for peace and stability has never been more urgent. I appeal to you today to unite in support of this vision, showing the world -– and the parties -– that you are ready to help them in making the crucial choices for peace.

    Let me now briefly mention two other countries whose fate is, I know, a cause of great concern to Arabs, to Muslims, and indeed to the whole world.

    Earlier this month I held frank and useful talks with the Iraqi Foreign Minister on how to implement the relevant resolutions of the Security Council, and we shall be meeting again next month. Meanwhile, I appeal to the Iraqi leadership, once again -- for the sake of the Iraqi people and for the sake of peace in the region -- to comply without delay with all relevant resolutions. The sooner they accept that there is no other path to ending the sanctions regime and relieving the suffering of the Iraqi people, the sooner this problem will be resolved. And I am confident that you, leaders of the Arab world, will join me in this appeal.

    Meanwhile, the situation in Afghanistan is yet another reminder of the destruction and misery that result from war. The international community has shown an almost unprecedented determination, notably at the Tokyo Conference in January, to help the Afghans rebuild their country and so lay the foundations of lasting peace. Saudi Arabia was one of the co-chairs of that conference and many other countries present here today made generous pledges of assistance. The Afghan people are counting on your help, which is all the more urgently needed now that natural disaster has been added to the ravages of war. I send my deepest condolences to the families of all those who have lost loved ones in the terrible earthquake that struck northern Afghanistan two days ago.

    The Arab world has for too long been prevented from realizing its potential by the persistence of conflict, mistrust and instability. Though we meet at a time of crisis and tension, I urge you to look towards a future of peace and prosperity, and to take steps within your own societies to bring it closer. I appeal to you to confront the menace of extremism, hatred and intolerance, and to ensure that they find no place in your school curricula, or in the minds of your young people.

    Your peoples, like all peoples –- and particularly the youth –- the under-twenties who represent nearly 50 per cent of your population –- yearn for the opportunities of free and open societies characterized by good governance, human rights, freedom of expression and the rule of law. Only in this context will they be able to make the most of their abilities and bequeath a better future to their children. Only in this way can poverty, illiteracy and extremism be replaced by peace, stability and prosperity –- to the benefit of all the peoples of this region.

    I wish you all success in your deliberations, and thank you for the honour of being invited to address you today.

    Shoukran jazeelan wa as-Salaam aleikum.

    [Thank you very much, and Peace be with you!]

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