Russia to host UN talks to revive flagging Mideast peace

UNITED NATIONS, May 10, 2009 (AFP) - Russia hosts UN ministerial talks Monday to revive flagging Middle East peace talks aimed at creating an independent Palestinian state living side-by-side with a secure Israel.

Russia's UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, who chairs the 15-member Security Council this month, called the Council meeting to stress the "urgency of reaching comprehensive peace in the Middle East."

Participants at Monday's open debate will include Foreign Ministers Sergei Lavrov of Russia, David Miliband of Britain, Bernard Kouchner of France, Ahmet Davutoglu of Turkey, their counterparts from Austria and Costa Rica as well as US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice, other council envoys and UN chief Ban Ki-moon.

A Palelstinian boy plays outside his family's new mud brick house in the southern Gaza Strip refugee camp of Rafah on April 29, 2009 (AFP photo)

Israeli and Palestinian representatives will not take part, diplomats said.

"Vigorous diplomatic action is needed to attain the goal set by the international community -- lasting peace in the region, based on an enduring commitment to mutual recognition, freedom from violence, incitement and terror, and the two-state solution, building upon previous agreements and obligations," according a preliminary draft statement Russia wants the council to adopt unanimoulsy.

The text, a copy of which was obtained by AFP, also encouraged the work of the Middle East diplomatic Quartet -- the European Union, Russia, the United Nations and the United States -- "to support the parties in their efforts to achieve a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East."

A roadmap drawn up by the Quartet calls for the peaceful co-existence of Israel and an independent Palestine and for a halt to Jewish settlement activity in Palestinian territories as well as an end to Palestinian attacks against Israel.

The plan has made little progress since it was drafted in 2003.

US President Barack Obama has pledged to work vigorously to jumpstart the stalled peace process, but his efforts risk running against the hardline policies of the new Israeli government headed by hawkish Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Netanyahu has so far refused to publicly endorse the idea of a Palestinian state, a bedrock principle of international plans to resolve the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Netanyahu is due to present his cabinet's policy on the peace process at a meeting with Obama on May 18 in Washington.

"For the United States, the key issue on the calendar is of course the Netanyahu visit in two weeks' time and I think the development of US Middle East policy will be geared to first Netanyahu's visit and then the visits of other Middle Eastern leaders to Washington in the following two to three weeks," a Western diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said here this week.

Meanwhile a flurry of bilateral meetings is planned for Monday, with Miliband notably set to confer separately with his Russian and Turkish opposite numbers as well as with the UN boss.

And on the sidelines of the Middle East debate, Miliband and Kouchner are also to co-chair an informal session between ministers and non-governmental organizations on the humanitarian crisis in strife-torn Sri Lanka.

During a visit to Sri Lanka late last month, the two European ministers urged the government to stop the fighting and allow humanitarian access to the conflict zone.

Thursday, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse said the long-running war against the separatist Tamil Tigers was "rapidly" nearing its end.

The Colombo government estimates that up to 20,000 civilians are being held in the less than five-square-kilometre (two-square-mile) area where the rebels are holed up. The United Nations has said the number could be as high as 50,000.

Source: AFP

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