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Annan: Outlook for Mideast Peace Looks 'Bleak' - 2002-02-21

The secretary-general of the U.N. is calling for urgent action to address the escalation of violence between the Israelis and Palestinians. In a speech to the Security Council, Kofi Annan says unless something is done soon the situation will only get worse.

Kofi Annan said the situation has deteriorated so much there is now a serious risk of full-fledged war between the Israelis and Palestinians. "We are nearing the edge of the abyss," he said.

Mr. Annan's remarks came just hours after Israeli leader Ariel Sharon announced the creation of "buffer-zones" as a means of containing the violence. The U.N. leader said he was particularly concerned by the almost complete lack of trust between the two sides.

"During the past seven days, there have been more than sixty deaths on both sides," he said. "Unless something happens to change the dynamic, it is all too likely that violence will escalate still further. Particularly alarming is the growing belief, among both Palestinians and Israelis, that there can be no negotiated solution to the conflict."

In assessing recent efforts to resume negotiations, Mr. Annan said it is clear to him that any attempt to deal only with security concerns will fail.

"A reduction in the violence is the most immediate priority," he said. "But I have become more and more convinced that trying to resolve the security problem on its own cannot work. Security cannot be dealt with in isolation. It has to have a context."

That context, he said, included political issues such as land and social issues such as the economic plight of the Palestinian people.

Mr. Annan called on the Security Council to increase its efforts in trying to persuade both sides to return to the negotiating table. He also announced that he has instructed his representative in the region, Terje Roed-Larson, to increase his consultations with all those involved, including key members of the international community.

Mr. Annan conceded that the outlook for the current peace process is grim. Yet he urged the Security Council to continue the search for a breakthrough.

"The outlook is bleak. But the present course of events is not irreversible," he said. "There is a high road which the parties had been on not so long ago - as well as a low road. Let us do everything in our power to persuade the parties to pull back from the brink, and return to the high road."

Mr. Annan made reference to two elements of the overall peace process, one put forward by former Senator George Mitchell, the other by CIA Director George Tenet. He noted that while both parties had agreed to these proposals in principle, they have not been implemented in practice. He therefore called on the international community to work toward developing new ideas to bring both sides back to peaceful negotiations.