Members of the Mideast Quartet voiced optimism Sunday for the peace process, saying that "things are moving again" on several fronts in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict including the planned autumn meeting to be hosted by the United States. By JT Nguyen
Meeting at United Nations headquarters in New York in advance of the UN General Assembly session opening on Tuesday, the quartet - the US, Russia, the UN and European Union - said in a joint statement that it "recognized the present opportunity for progress and the robust regional and international desire for peace."
It gave support for the conference to be convened by US President George W Bush in November in Washington, with Arab governments and parties involved in the Middle East conflict invited to attend. Russia said there is hope that the Washington meeting would lead to an international conference on the Middle East, proposed by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The statement gave "strong support" for talks between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and the establishment of an Israeli-Palestinian team to discuss core issues to make progress toward a negotiated, two-state solution that would end the long-running conflict.
"The Quartet expects the meeting (in Washington) to affirm its support for the two-state solution based on a rejection of violence and its support for progress by the parties in their bilateral discussions," the statement said.
The quartet meeting in New York was attended by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the European Union's foreign policy and security envoy Javier Solana, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who is the Quartet representative.
Also in attendance were Portuguese Foreign Minister Luis Amado, whose country holds the current EU chair, and Benita Ferrero-Waldner, EU commissioner for external affairs.
In a press conference following the closed-door Quartet meeting, Rice said the US would not have called for the Middle East conference unless it could produce "serious and substantive" results.
"We recognize that those coming to the meeting are interested in working for a solution, end violence," she said. "Coming to the meeting also brings responsibility."
Blair said: "Things are moving again in the Middle East."
He cited a "reinvigoration of the political process that puts credibility back in the peace process."
The Olmert-Abbas negotiations, which have moved toward discussion of institutional establishments for a Palestinian state, and other developments on the ground have given hope that "things are going to change," Blair.
The joint statement of the Quartet expressed "concern" over conditions in the Gaza Strip and called for the continued emergency delivery of humanitarian goods "without obstruction."
"The Quartet called for the continued provision of essential services," the statement, including reopening of crossing points between Israel and Gaza. dpa tn ff