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Kofi Annan Declines to Negotiate with Israel

With an Israeli delegation en route to New York, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan says he will not negotiate with Israel on the composition of the fact-finding team he appointed to investigate the Israeli assault on the Jenin refugee camp. That mission was authorized by the Security Council last Friday.

An Israeli delegation made up of representatives from the Israeli defense ministry, the foreign ministry and the Israeli Defense Forces is due in New York Thursday. U.N. officials say they are trying to set up a mid-day appointment for them. The Israeli government has demanded a clarification of the Jenin mission and says it wants anti-terrorism and military experts included on the team.

But a U.N. spokesman says Secretary-General Kofi Annan will not be meeting with the Israelis. The talks will be chaired by Undersecretary-General Kieran Prendergast. U.N. peacekeeping officials will also be present.

U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard says Mr. Annan agreed to allow time for these consultations, as requested by Israel. At the same time, Mr. Eckhard says, the Secretary-General stands by his choice of people for the mission and is determined to get the team into the Middle East by Saturday. "The Secretary-General declined to discuss the composition of the team," he said. "He feels it was his team to name. He feels that the Israelis indicated to him in advance that they would cooperate with whatever team he named. And those are his people. And that is the end of the discussion."

The fact-finding mission is being led by former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari, an experienced U.N. trouble-shooter. Also on the team are former High Commissioner for Refugees Sadako Ogata, and the former head of the International Red Cross, Cornelio Sammaruga. A retired major-general from the United States and a police chief from Ireland are going along as advisors.

The Secretary-General says Mr. Ahtisaari will expand his team of advisors as he sees fit, and the United Nations has confidence in his judgment.

The U.N. Security Council reacted quickly to the news of Israel's hesitation. The 15-member body, including the United States, called on Israel to live up to its promises.

Israel, through foreign minister Shimon Peres, agreed to the fact-finding mission last Friday, giving the Council the go-ahead to authorize it.