UPI U.N. Correspondent
United Nations (UPI) May 07, 2007
The United Nations has declared the high-level meetings in Sharm el-Sheik, Egypt, a success, but there was disappointment the informal Middle East diplomatic Quartet session couldn't have been a full-fledged affair to allow for a one-two, velvet-gloved diplomatic punch.
Three official meetings were held at the luxury resort on the Red Sea Thursday and Friday, launching the International Compact with Iraq. There were scores of independent, bilateral consultations on the margins, some of which scored diplomatic breakthroughs.
"The Secretary-General (Ban Ki-moon) was quite happy with the meeting and ... above all the Iraqis themselves thought this was worthwhile," Undersecretary-General Ibrahim Gambari, the man charged for the last year with pulling together the first meeting, told reporters at U.N. World Headquarters in New York Monday.
Ban and Gambari claimed in Sharm el-Sheik that $30 billion in debt relief and contributions had been pledged, but on questioning it turned out they were referring to what occurred in the run-up to the Sharm-el-Sheik conclave.
The secretary-general was obviously pleased, telling reporters with him in Sharm el-Sheik that 74 delegations, including from international organizations such as the World Bank, attended the launch. More than 20 countries were represented at the ministerial level.
Held at a seaside resort, the meetings presented the bizarre situation of business-suited diplomats passing bikini-clad tourists in hotel hallways.
A high-level expanded Iraq neighbors meeting also was deemed a success not only for the number attending but also for the presence of foreign ministers of the two adjacent states, Iran and Syria, which have been accused of aiding insurgents in Iraq.
The presence of U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice added drama to the cavernous halls of the conference center, with reporters and others wondering if she would "accidentally" on purpose, perhaps, run into the foreign ministers of Syria and Iran.
She did and she didn't.
Rice met with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem for about 30 minutes, and U.S. officials said she asked Damascus to help stem the flow of foreigners into Iraq to take part in the insurgency. It was the first high-level meeting between the two countries in two years.
She disappointed those who anticipated a meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki. It came close, though.
They both attended a luncheon Thursday and exchanged pleasantries. A later dinner meeting was ruled out when Mottaki left before eating, complaining of a woman musician's clothing being inappropriate for Islamic traditionalists.
It was reported Rice had planned to talk with the Tehran envoy at the dinner.
When asked about following after Mottaki, Rice said, "I am not given to chasing anyone."
However, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker and David Satterfield, a senior adviser on Iraq to the secretary of state, reportedly had a three-minute impromptu meeting with an Iranian foreign ministry official during the sessions.
As a senior U.N. official said of the Rice-Moallem encounter, "It's not the fact they met for three minutes or 30 minutes, it's the fact they met," and that could be applied to both meetings.
At the second conference, the one on Friday of Iraq's neighbors, Mottaki delivered a sharp attack against the United States with Rice present.
"We unfortunately are facing a vicious cycle in Iraq," he said. "The terrorists claim that they are fighting the forces of occupation, while the occupiers justify their presence under the pretext of the war on terror. Therefore this axis of 'occupation-terrorism' is the root of all problems in Iraq. There should be no doubt that the continuation of and increase in terrorist acts in Iraq originates from the flawed approaches adopted by the foreign troops."
Mottaki called on Washington to announce its withdrawal plan "in order to allow the return of peace and stability."
He listed "guiding principles for a successful withdrawal plan" as offering support for Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, giving greater authority at the earliest opportunity to the elected government in Baghdad, training and equipping Iraqi police and armed forces and "sufficient will and determination to help Iraq in its reconstruction efforts."
Said Mottaki, who announced he was participating in the conference only days before it started, "In light of the oppressions meted out to Iraqi people and the immense size of the destruction, we need to show a greater sense of responsibility."
That was a welcome endorsement of the compact, which Gambari and Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih co-chair.
As for the Quartet session, the fact a full, formal meeting couldn't be called prompted Ban to leave Sharm el-Sheik a day earlier than scheduled. But when he was departing, Ban expressed encouragement over the informal talks and said a full Quartet session would be held mid-month, probably in the Middle East.
Source: United Press International
The plan was drawn up by U.S. Security Coordinator Maj. Gen. Keith Dayton and discussed in weekly meetings with the parties. It was presented a fortnight ago, and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is expected to push it on her next visit to the area.
Its text, leaked to the Haaretz newspaper and confirmed by a knowledgeable Western source, has two essential elements, one of which is to improve Palestinian movement and access. It talks of easing Israeli restrictions on movement in the West Bank, especially in the Bethlehem, Hebron, Nablus and Jordan Valley areas.
No later than July 1 there should be five bus convoys a week linking the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. No later than May 15 the main cargo terminal between Israel and the Gaza Strip should contain special lanes for fresh produce with expedited procedures, a move clearly designed to prevent them from rotting. No later than June 1 the Rafah Crossing from Gaza to Egypt should be open to "normalized" passenger operations and initial commercial exports.
The second major element concerns security. Palestinian security forces should actively enforce law and order and fight terrorism, the plan says. No later than June 15 they should deploy near Gaza's border with Egypt, conduct counter-smuggling operations and begin to destroy tunnel networks that have been used for smuggling.
By June 21 the Palestinian president should deploy forces to stop Qassam rocket attacks into Israel.
Dayton asked that Israel immediately, and routinely, approve and support his requests to provide armaments, ammunition and equipment to the "security forces under the control and reporting to the (Palestinian Authority) President." That means Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah. The Islamic Hamas has established a rival force.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's media adviser, Miri Eisin, told United Press International, "The proposals are being reviewed." Olmert will consult this week in order to decide Israel's position.
However, she added, "There are certain aspects that Israel won't be able to address at present because of security concerns."
A senior defense official indicated the defense establishment did not want to open a corridor between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. "There is a mess and chaos in Gaza. Why bring it to the West Bank?" he asked.
The Gazans are more prone to violence, the situation in the West Bank is already "problematic ... delicate," and if Gazans reach the West Bank "within a week there will be terrorist attacks here."
The source insisted Israel maintain its roadblocks in the West Bank. "Most of the people don't understand their value," he said. Militants caught at checkpoints are interrogated and the intelligence they proved is used to get to the people who plan attacks and are inside Nablus, for example, he said.
"The Americans are quite naive," the official continued. Dayton "thinks this is the Mexican border. It is something totally different."
President Abbas told Fatah leaders in Gaza that the document contains important elements and many significant steps to restore security and start ending the Palestinian people's suffering, the Wafa news agency reported.
However, the U.S. policy of distinguishing between the president who seeks a compromise with Israel and the Hamas element in the government that is considered terrorist impedes Palestinian cooperation.
Cabinet Secretary Ghazi Hamad, of Hamas, told UPI the government couldn't comment on the document because it has not seen it.
Whether the president's office passed it on or not, whether the ministers saw the Haaretz copy or not, is not the issue. Hamad seemed to be making the point that the government should be addressed as well.
"All the time they are talking about the Presidential Guard. They never mentioned the government," he told UPI.
"The government is responsible for internal security," he stressed.
Hamad and Information Minister Mustafa al-Barghouti suspected the plan sought to drive a wedge between the forces loyal to the president and those that answer to the government, whose prime minister is of Hamas.
Hamas' spokesman in Gaza, Fawzi Barhoum, minced no words about the Dayton plan.
"The American plan is rejected and we will work to make it fail by any means," he declared according to the State Information Service.
Even if Hamas were to cooperate, it would be a long time before the authorities could end the chaotic security situation where clans and factions seem armed to the teeth.
Two of the latest incidents show how bad the situation is.
Monday morning gunmen from one of Gaza's clans broke into the al-Aqsa University's campus chasing two young men, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights reported.
"The gunmen opened fire inside the campus ... captured one of the young men ... and attacked him with sharp tools. He was injured in the face, the neck and the hands. When the guards of the campus attempted to stop the gunmen, those gunmen kidnapped one of the guards."
Sunday another group attacked a festival that the United Nations Relief and Works Agency organized in Rafah.
"Members of the Group shot machine guns and threw grenades toward participants in the festival under the pretext of the groups' mixing of men and women," the Palestine Times reported.
"Members of the group raised placards calling for boycotting the festival and shouted slogans through loudspeakers claiming that Islam prohibited such things," the newspaper said. In the attack a 45-year-old guard was killed and seven others, including three children, were wounded, PCHR reported.
BBC correspondent Alan Johnston, who was abducted on March 12, is still missing. A Western official who spoke on condition he not be identified said the U.S. document was "an informal draft and a flexible set of targets intended to help move the (peace) process forward.
"Neither side has been asked to approve or accept" it, he added.
Source: United Press International
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Washington (UPI) May 03, 2007
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