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UN Upbeat on Middle East Peace Prospects


The U.N. Security Council - noting positive developments in the Middle East - has agreed that the time is right for revitalizing the road map peace plan.

Undersecretary-General for Political Affairs Kieran Prendergast says a more positive atmosphere is emerging in the Middle East.

Briefing the Security Council Thursday, Mr. Prendergast noted several hopeful signs. Among them, he said, is the smooth Palestinian transition after the death of Yasser Arafat, the planned Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, and a drop in the Palestinian public's support for terrorism.

He said the Quartet behind the Road Map peace plan - the United States, Russia, the European Union and United Nations - agree this is the time to push ahead. "I think it would be right to say that all members of the Quartet are united in their view that the situation at present is conducive to change - long overdue change, change with one another for the better," he said.

Mr. Prendergast cautioned that much work needs to be done. U.N. diplomats noted Israeli and Palestinian leaders are already bickering about the purpose and the agenda of a possible London peace conference even before it is officially proposed.

Even so, Security Council ambassadors concluded that signs are better than they have been in some time. A statement of support was read by Algerian Ambassador Abdallah Baali, the Council president for November. "Members of the Security Council agree that the moment is propitious for movement to implement the road map and look forward to free, fair and open Palestinian elections," he said.

The upbeat assessment came on a day when Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon predicted that the Gaza Strip pullout could lead to a historic breakthrough for peace. He said Israel is ready to coordinate the controversial withdrawal with a future Palestinian government.

An Israeli newspaper, however, quoted Palestinian cabinet minister Saeb Erekat as saying Mr. Sharon would not find a partner for his vision. An article on the Jerusalem Post website quoted Mr. Erekat as saying Palestinians would not accept any solution that does not include a full Israeli withdrawal to pre-1967 borders, including Jerusalem, and the right of return for refugees.

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