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Middle East Tops UN General Assembly Debate

The problems of the Middle East figured prominently during Friday's U.N. General Assembly debate as many leaders from the region - including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority - addressed the annual gathering, along with permanent Security Council members Russia and China. From U.N. headquarters in New York, VOA's Margaret Besheer has more.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas says it is time to move toward a serious settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Mr. Abbas called for an end to Israel's occupation of Palestinian territory and a return to pre-1967 borders.

"Is it not now time to create a Palestinian State with East Jerusalem as its capital; to settle the issue of refugees and put an end to the suffering that has gone on for six decades?, asked Mahmoud Abbas.

The Palestinian leader called on Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to break, what he called "the cycle of missed opportunities."

"Today, there is not the slightest obstacle to promoting the holding of the peace meeting which will take place shortly, in particular because our brother Arab countries have demonstrated through the Arab Peace Initiative their true readiness to bring about a just, lasting and comprehensive peace," he said.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says a U.S.-sponsored peace conference this November is an important step toward a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine.

"We are convinced that this goal could be advanced through holding a representative international conference preceded by thorough preparation," said Sergei Lavrov. "We consider the U.S. initiative to convene in the coming November a multi-party meeting on the Middle East settlement as a step in this direction."

On Iran's controversial nuclear activities, permanent Security Council member China says diplomacy remains the best option for solving that issue peacefully. Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, says Beijing opposes nuclear weapons proliferation and supports peace and stability in the Middle East.

"Non-proliferation efforts should not deviate from the goal of upholding international peace and stability," said Yang Jiechi. "Countries should honor their international obligations and their right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy should be fully respected."

On Iraq, all of the leaders called for national dialogue and reconciliation as a means to restoring law and order.

Turkey's southeastern region borders northern Iraq, and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, says it is Ankara's highest priority to see the restoration of peace and stability in that country.

"Ensuring a dignified place within the international community for a territorially intact, nationally unified and democratic Iraq at peace with itself and its neighbors is at the top of our endeavors to restore stability in our region," said Recep Tayyip Erdogan. "In line with our desire to realize this common vision, we continue to diversify our cooperation with the Iraqi government and support the process of national dialogue and reconciliation in this country."

In Ankara Friday, Turkey and Iraq signed a counter-terrorism pact to cooperate against Kurdish rebels of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Turkey had sought an agreement that would allow it to send troops into northern Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdistan region to pursue the separatists in their mountain hideouts, but the accord did not include that key demand. But it did include commitments to crack down on terrorist groups, including stopping their financial and logistical support.

World leaders will continue the annual debate at the General Assembly on Monday, when Israel, Syria, Libya and Burmese leaders are expected to speak.