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UN Secretary-General Urges Intensive Middle East Talks

The United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon (file photo)
The United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon (file photo)

The U.N. Secretary-General is urging Israeli and Palestinian leaders to hold intensive talks to resolve their core issues.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told reporters he has spoken in recent days with the principal players in the Middle East talks, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority and United States Special Envoy George Mitchell.

Mr. Ban said all told him they are committed to finding solutions to the problems immediately before them and all want to keep the peace process going.

The key issue immediately before the negotiators is Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank. Israel's 10-month freeze on the construction expired on September 26. The Fatah Party of President Abbas has urged him not to continue direct peace talks unless Israel reinstates the freeze.

The United States has urged Israel to extend the construction freeze.

Arab foreign ministers are scheduled to meet in Sirte, Libya, on Friday in advance of an Arab League summit the following day. At a news conference, U.N. Secretary-General Ban called for intensive talks to resolve the issues.

"I urge Israel to restore settlement restraint under its roadmap obligations and I urge Arab leaders who are meeting in Sirte this week to keep doors open and support President Abbas.," Mr. Ban said. "Negotiations should move forward intensively, focused on resolving core issues, not talks for the sake of talks."

Palestinian President Abbas has said he will decide whether to end the direct peace talks with Israel after meeting with the Arab League foreign ministers on Friday.

On a separate issue, the U.N. Secretary-General gave a strong endorsement to the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, established by the U.N. Security Council to prosecute those responsible for the 2005 attack that killed former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. The tribunal has come under pressure from Lebanon's Hezbollah.

"I want to be perfectly clear," Mr. Ban said. "This tribunal is independent, with a clear mandate from the Security Council to uncover the truth and end impunity. That work is important and it must go ahead."

Mr. Ban urged all Lebanese and regional parties not to prejudge the outcome of the tribunal's proceedings and not to interfere with its work.