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Annan Cool on Proposal To Replace Arafat - 2002-06-25

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan has expressed caution about U.S. President George W. Bush's proposal for new Palestinian leadership to replace Chairman Yasser Arafat.

Mr. Annan urged Israelis and Palestinians "to muster the courage and political will" to reach a final peace settlement within three years, as President Bush suggested. At the same time, he warned against insisting on a speedy departure for Yasser Arafat, indicating that what some may consider questionable leadership is better than no leadership at all.

"There has been a call for new Palestinian leadership. What happens between now and until the new leadership exists? Do we work with the government that we have, or do we create a vacuum? These are issues that I think are on everybody's mind and we need to work out," Mr. Annan said.

The Secretary-General also suggested that elections to replace Mr. Arafat might be premature at this point. "Can you hold elections in the current atmosphere? And of course, Senator George Mitchell's concerns are something that we should take seriously. The time for the elections is not optimal. You could find yourself in the situation that the radicals are the ones who get elected. And it would be the result of a democratic process. And we have to accept that," Mr. Annan said.

Secretary-General Annan believes these issues have to be worked out before any plan is set in motion.

Mr. Annan is part of the so-called "quartet" that meets regularly to try to promote a negotiated settlement in the Middle East. The group also includes the United States, Russia and the European Union.