Notes following Briefing by Deputy Minister Aziz Pahad, Imbizo, Media Centre, 120 Plein Street, Cape Town, Tuesday 20 February 2007

CONCLUSION OF SA-SWITZERLAND BILATERAL DISCUSSIONS

(Deputy Minister Pahad) South Africa regards Switzerland as a very important partner and Switzerland has declared South Africa a "strategic partner." I want to say we have had excellent discussions on a series of issues.

Switzerland ranks among South Africa's top ten trading and investment partners. Switzerland is also very involved in African conflict and post-conflict situations and discussions looked at how we can increase co-operation.

Switzerland is also very involved in the Middle East and nuclear non-proliferation issues. We had some excellent discussions on this matter and decided to intensify our co-operation.

(State Secretary Ambuhl) I would like to say I am very happy to be here and had excellent discussions with the South African delegation.

Let me make three points regarding our bilateral relations:

Firstly, I would like to say that the peaceful transition to the new South Africa has sent a very strong political message to the world. Democratic and modern South Africa is the embodiment of a dynamic and successful country committed to good governance and to universal values such as peace and human rights.

We in Switzerland have great admiration for the wisdom with which you have managed the transition processes.

Secondly, regarding our bilateral relations - they are as Deputy Minister Pahad said, excellent politically, economically and on the levels of scientific co-operation.

Frequent contact between both sides attest to the fact that we have excellent political relations. Just recently, three weeks ago, our two Presidents met and had good policy dialogue.

On an economic level, Switzerland is indeed an important investor in South Africa - viz. the fifth largest one and bilateral trade (import and exports together) has reached a level of R12 billion.

We are very confident that in this semester we will begin to see the fruition of already signed trade agreements.

We have concluded a free trade agreement (FTA) between EFTA (European Free Trade Association = Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Lichtenstein) and SACU (Southern African Customs Union). This will come into force later this year. We are sure this will contribute to the increase in our bilateral trade.

Scientifically, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) is about to be finalized. This will set the basis for bilateral scientific co-operation.

Thirdly, I refer to the meeting we had yesterday. We have basically decided on the following two points:

  • We have finalized an MoU for further deepening our bilateral relations. This will now be submitted to the relevant authorities on both sides for approval whereupon it can be signed. This MoU is the outflow of the decision of the Swiss government in May 2005 with which the government identified strategic partners: China, India, Japan, Russia, US, Brazil and South Africa. This is therefore an instrument to enrich the partnership with South Africa.

  • We have also identified five concrete trilateral projects to be implemented in third countries or in international fora:
    • South Sudan regarding institution building around traditional leadership.
    • Burundi: co-operation in the question of transitional justice where we believe we can complement South Africa's practical experience and have good co-operation in Burundi.
    • Democratic Republic of Congo regarding police training in the field of prevention of sexual abuse towards women and children. This is an area in which we both already have joint ventures.
    • Democratic Republic of Congo regarding good governance and decentralization.
    • UN Human Rights Council: South Africa and Switzerland have proposed a joint resolution that will be tabled in the Council. This last example shows how well we can co-operate, each from a different perspective, in joint projects.

ATTACK ON COMMUTER TRAINS IN INDIA

The South African government expresses its strongest condemnation of the terrorist attack on a train traveling from India to Pakistan which left scores injured and killed.

We believe this cowardly attack against civilians is a crude attempt to sabotage the talks between the governments of India and Pakistan and must not succeed in achieving its objectives.

The South African government welcomes the condemnation of this ghastly act by both the governments of India and Pakistan and indeed almost all countries of the world.

The peoples of India and Pakistan seek, which is clear from their dialogue, peace and prosperity, not terrorism.

We believe the cause of terrorism can never be justified and we urge the authorities to take every measure to arrest the perpetrators of this crime.

AFRICA

LESOTHO ELECTIONS

In line with positive developments that we are having in Africa in general and sub-Saharan Africa in particular, the Lesotho elections were held at the weekend.

The latest official results available indicate a comfortable win for the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) in the 80 constituencies and its alliance partner the National Independent Party (NIP) in the 40 Proportional Representation votes. The final results are expected to become available by Tuesday 20 February 2007. There are 9 outstanding results. Clearly the LCD and its alliance has decisively won these elections.

Once again we are seeing what is now becoming a trend: although an election can be declared free and fair albeit with a few problems by international observers (the Commonwealth, SADC, etc), there is a tendency for parties to challenge the outcomes. If this is the view of observer missions to the elections, we must express some caution in attempts to challenge the outcomes by claiming that there were irregularities especially when the elections have been described as a model for future elections.

I am happy what while the leader of the ABC has declared the party's intention to challenge the results in court, he has said he will accept the decision of the court. This tendency of challenging results even when it is so obvious that the party has won by a sizeable majority is a problem that we will have to deal with.

As at Tuesday, 20 February 2007 the results are as follows: Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD) has won 54 constituencies; the All Basotho Convention (ABC) 17; and the Alliance of Congress Parties (ACP) 1. The LCD enjoys a comfortable lead having obtained approximately 75 seats in the 120 member parliament. This represents a 63 percent of the seats. It is therefore obvious that the LCD will remain in power.

The ABC and its alliance partner, the Lesotho Workers Party (LWP) has already obtained approximately 24 percent of the seats in parliament.

Of the 10 districts, the LCD has captured roughly 6. These are Mafeteng, Mohale's Hoek, Quthing, Qacha's Nek, Leribe and Berea. The ABC has captured Butha-Buthe, Mokhotlong and Maseru. There are some constituencies outstanding in the Maseru, Thaba-Tseka, Mohale's Hoek and Quthing.

The LCD has performed very well in the outlaying / rural areas while the ABC has done well in the urban and peri-urban areas.

The ABC has reported a number of irregularities in some of the constituencies his morning. Tom Thabane stated that although his party will challenge the results in court, he will accept the election results.

SOMALIA

The volatile situation continues to exist.

On 18 February 2007, a car bomb exploded in Mogadishu killing all the occupants of the car. This is of concern because this is the first time that there has been a car bomb explosion in Mogadishu's history especially when one considers the violence that the country has experienced.

Other recent attacks include mortar attacks on Ethiopian troops based in the Digir Hospital and the killing of a policeman by unknown gunmen. These attacks concluded a week of increased violence which saw an explosion at a rally in support of the intended peacekeeping mission (AMISOM) and attacks on the Kaah Hotel in northern Mogadishu where the TFG has been discussing the reconciliation of Somalia. While no one has claimed responsibility for the attacks over the weekend, including the car bomb, a new group called the "Popular Resistance Movement in the Land of the Two Migrations" or "Muqaawama" has claimed responsibility for other attacks aimed at Somali government buildings and Ethiopian troops. The group demands the immediate withdrawal of Ethiopian troops.

What is again more worrying is that clan-based militia are also becoming more involved, changing the dynamic of the violence.

A UN sponsored week-long workshop focused on preparation for the national reconciliation conference was held in Mogadishu. The workshop was attended by government officials, traditional elders, religious leaders and civil society members. Some criticism that the workshop was: firstly that warlords were not invited to attend the workshop. Marginalising the warlords in Somalia may undermine all reconciliation efforts, given the power and influence they still exert. Secondly, during the workshop, Prime Minister Ghedi announced a reshuffling of his Cabinet and other TFG institutions, which, most importantly, did not see the reinstatement of the former Speaker of Parliament, but rather the appointment of Sheikh Aden Madobe as Speaker. Finally, President Yusuf is adamant that the UIC will not participate in any negotiations, stating that the UIC is a terrorist network that will be caught and put on trial.

The International Somali Contact Group (ISCG) met in Tanzania on 9 February 2007 to discuss the current status of the situation in Somalia. The ISCG reiterated its support for the Transitional Federal Institutions and the Somali people in pursuing an all inclusive political process as well as the speedy deployment of the peacekeeping force to Mogadishu, AMISOM.

AMISOM deployment is gaining momentum, with the AU making US$ 11, 6 million available for AMISOM, while the US is looking at extending its initial US$ 15 million to US$ 60 million for Somalia.

Uganda is preparing to send 1500 troops to Mogadishu and the deployment could begin within days. Ugandan army Major General Levi Karuhanga has been appointed to command the AMISOM and spokesperson for Uganda's Ministry of Defence, Major Felix Kulayigye, stated that "These are soldiers who have prepared for two years for that mission…they are well-seasoned combatants. They have been in counter-insurgency operations in northern Uganda. In other words, we are psychologically, physically and materially prepared." In a resolution passed during a Ugandan Parliamentary session it was noted that the Ugandan Parliament urges Somalia to embark on an "acceptable process of inclusive dialogue and reconciliation, which includes the Union of Islamic Courts".

Burundi has also supported the AMISOM and is contributing 1700 troops to the Mission. Army spokesman Colonel Adolphe Manirakiza has stated that the first elements are expected to leave next week and that 80 extra army officers would also be sent".

This is the beginning but we do expect that the target of 8000 troops will be met sooner rather than later.

The UK has introduced a draft resolution in the UN Security Council to amend Resolution 1725 and make provision for the deployment of the AU Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). This is necessary as Resolution 1725 makes provision for the deployment of IGASOM in Somalia.

South Africa supports the national reconciliation process in Somalia and is willing to assist the TFG to ensure that the national reconciliation process is all inclusive, incorporating all relevant role players including civil-society, clan elders, the moderate elements of the UIC and the warlords.

That process remains volatile but there is some movement to put in place the AMISOM operation which would allow the Ethiopian forces to withdraw.

On 9 February 2007, President Mbeki reiterated, in the State of the Nation Address, that the challenges in Somalia cannot be underplayed and that South Africa will respond appropriately, given the current peacekeeping constraints, to assist in the realisation of lasting peace and reconciliation in Somalia. The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma also noted in her response to the Parliamentary Debate on the State of the Nation Address that "Somalia will be [a] major preoccupation for us and the rest of the African continent for months to come".

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO

Political

Security Council Resolution 1742 (2007)

We are pleased that the Security Council on 15 February 2007 extended the mandate and personnel strength of the United Nations Organisation Mission in the DRC (MONUC) with was to expire on 15 April.

Unanimously adopting resolution 1742 (2007) and acting under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, the Council requested the Secretary-General to report, as soon as possible and not later than 15 March, on his consultations with the Congolese authorities and to submit recommendations on adjustments the Council might consider making to the mandate and capacities of MONUC.

"The Security Council …

Reaffirming its commitment to continue to contribute to the consolidation of peace and stability in the DRC in the post-transition period.

Underlining its attachment to the continuation of a regular political dialogue with the Congolese authorities, and recalling the importance it attached to the consultations undertaken with them by the Secretary-General on possible adjustments to be made to the mandate and capacities of MONUC during this period.

Noting that the situation in the DRC continues to pose a threat to international peace and security in the region.

Acting under Chapter VII of the Charter of the UN decides to extend the mandate and personnel strength of MONUC until 15 April 2007.

Requests the Secretary-General to report, as soon as possible and not later than 15 March 2007, on his consultations with the Congolese authorities and to submit recommendations on adjustments the Council may consider making to the mandate and capacities of MONUC.

However, South Africa, through a determined effort, will stay engaged in the DRC. We are of the view that early withdrawal of the international community risks a reversal of gains that have already been made in establishing peace and security in that country. South Africa is therefore seeking sustained international support with the purpose of further consolidating democracy, rebuilding the economy and engaging the people of the DRC. The process should ideally proceed in such a way as to ensure meaningful development and a gradual withdrawal of international peacekeeping forces when peace, security and stability are ascertained.

The Secretary-General in his latest report on the DRC looked at the question of whether or not sanctions should be imposed on the country as a way of cleaning up the mining industry. However, given the uncertainty of whether sanctions would work against such practices, as well as the recent election with the first democratically elected President, the Secretary-General recommended against imposing them as it would do little to reduce the use of force in extracting minerals, diminish fraud and encourage responsible corporate behaviour.

South Africa concurs with the Secretary-General that UN sanctions against the DRC may be perceived as punitive, whether they target State actors or are intended to reflect on the capacity of the State to manage its affairs.

Economic recovery constitutes a major challenge for the DRC. As the South African government departments are contributing towards the post conflict reconstruction of the DRC, we encourage South African businesspeople to support the efforts of government to rehabilitate the economy in that country through increased foreign direct investment.

Security

It is essential for the newly formed government to continue to draw the populace closer and to reconcile with the minorities from the Eastern Provinces of the DRC. This would assist in stabilizing the security situation in the Provinces and the region.

The integration of General Nkunda's forces into the FARDC, as part of the agreement brokered by Rwanda, has been in progress since the start of 2007. South Africa supports the process and encourages the government of the DRC and the forces of General Nkunda to continue with the process and adhere to agreements reached for the well being of the country and the region.

SUDAN

On Sunday 18 February 2007, the AU's Salim Ahmed Salim and the UN's Jan Eliasson briefed President Omar Hassan Al Bashir on the outcome of the discussions they held with senior government officials and both signatories and non-signatories to the Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA).

President Al Bashir "stressed the commitment of the Government to support the dialogue with non-DPA signatories and expressed Sudan's keenness to improve relations with Chad," according to the UN Mission in the country (UNMIS), which said the Sudanese leader also pledged to boost humanitarian work and co-operate with UN agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

At a joint news conference with Salim Ahmed Salim, the AU's special envoy to Darfur and UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy Jan Eliasson warned, "a missed opportunity again on Darfur - not building on what we have achieved and not taking the chance to finally get this conflict behind us - will be a serious mistake."

"There cannot be a military solution to the crisis in Darfur," Salim said. "The result is only suffering, death and destruction for ordinary people."

Salim said they had urged parties to the conflict to stop the violence. "We have been encouraged by the initial reaction of everybody we met on this issue - the importance of the de-escalation of violence - and by the assurances from all the other parties that they will do their utmost to facilitate the operations of humanitarian organizations."

"We are going to operate with a sense of urgency," the envoy added. "Because if you say 'we will continue to consult and consult and consult,' the more time you take, the more people will die."

Over the past year, a significant number of attacks have been directed at humanitarian workers, severely curtailing aid operations. Observers say the culprits remain largely unidentified due to growing confusion over which groups are politically motivated rebels and which are mere bandits.

The UN Human Rights Council voted to send a fact-finding mission to Darfur, but Sudan this week did not issue visas to the team as it waited in Addis Ababa.

Statement by the US: "The United States is deeply disappointed that the Government of Sudan has publicly announced it will not grant visas … the United States calls on the Government of Sudan to grant the entire team entry into Sudan."

The UN Human Rights Council's fact finding mission on Darfur traveled to neighbouring Chad to interview refugees who fled the war-torn region, having failed to secure Sudanese visas.

Speaking in New York, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said he was disappointed the team could not visit Sudan, and had raised the issue with the Sudanese president.

The Secretary-General also indicated that President Bashir "promised he would send his reply as soon as possible on the planned deployment of a hybrid UN-AU force for Darfur.

Darfur Rebel Group accepts ceasefire

The good news is that one of the biggest Darfur rebel factions said on Thursday 15 February 2007 it would respect a ceasefire and was ready to resume peace talks with the government to try and halt violence that has killed 200 000 people. This means that one of the largest rebel groups that was not part of the process now is and we hope that the conditions can be created for a better solution to be achieved.

Peace talks have faltered in the past, and only one of three main rebel factions signed a 2006 deal. Since then the rebels have fragmented into numerous factions, but the group which agreed to the ceasefire on Thursday is one of the largest.

"We will respect the ceasefire and once we have our commanders conference we will attend peace negotiations," rebel commander Jar el-Neby told reporters.

Chad-Sudan-Central African Republic Summit

The second good news is that Sudanese President Omar el-Bashir, Chadian President Idriss Deby and President of the Central African Republic Francois Bozize have agreed to not support fighters attacking each other's territory.

Lam Akol, Sudan's foreign minister said, "There is agreement that each country will respect the sovereignty of the other countries and no country will support any rebellion within its territory."

The deal was reached on the sidelines of the Franco-Africa Summit in Cannes.

AU Chairperson President John Kufuor said the three parties might be ready to accept a new proposal for a joint AU and UN force operating at the borders between them.

There are these two important processes and we hope President el Bashir would respond urgently to the Secretary-General's letter regarding the hybrid force so we can get a better sense of where we are.

BURUNDI

It is significant that Guerrilla's belonging to Burundi's last rebel group, the Pahiphehutu-FNL who have been in Tanzania for many years, arrived in Bujumbura on Sunday 18 February 2007 to work alongside the government to monitor a ceasefire in the Central African nation. Both sides have committed themselves to this process that is now unstoppable.

Rubin Tubirabe, Head of the FNL delegation said, "The FNL does not want anymore fighting but it wants lasting peace for the Burundian people."

Tubirabe said FNL leader Agathon Rwasa was already in Burundi to implement the ceasefire agreement.

South African mediator Charles Nqakula, who was in Burundi with his team, said the monitoring team led by South Africa and which includes UN and AU representatives, would begin its work on 19 February 2007.

"The way forward will allow combatants of FNL to be led to areas where they will assemble. That exercise will open up a programme that will see them being integrated into the social, political and economic life of this country."

Burundi's Interior Minister Major-General Evariste Ndayishimiye said, "We are happy to receive our brothers and sisters from the FNL. We want them to understand that it is now time to end the war and think about rebuilding the country which was destroyed by many years of war."

Good progress is also being made in Burundi.

MIDDLE EAST

Palestine-Israel

We are also very happy that there have been significant developments in the Middle East.

We welcome the Mecca Accord between President Abbas and Prime Minister Haniyeh on Friday 9 February 2007 to form a government of national unity. They have issued a statement indicating the basis on which the agreement was reached. We are happy that this has opened up the prospects of moving the process forward. We believe that an opportunity has been opened up for a united Palestinian government to be able to now go into negotiations with the Israeli's on the final status solutions. I am happy that the Hamas leadership has said it would accept a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders with Jerusalem as its capital and the issue of Palestinian refugees to be dealt with. This does indicate that there has been a marked shift on the part of the Hamas leadership.

As I say, a government is in the process of being formed. The Constitution mandates that it should be completed within five weeks.

The statement issued by Fatah and Hamas after this dialogue said it "fortunately ended in success". The Mecca Agreement said "an agreement was reached on the following:"

"First: a ban on the shedding of Palestinian blood including the adoption of all necessary measures to prevent this; reaffirmation of the importance of national unity as a basis for national steadfastness, confronting the occupation and achieving the legitimate national goals of the Palestinian people; adopting the language of dialogue as the sole basis for solving political disagreements in the Palestinian arena...

"Second: reaching a final agreement on forming a Palestinian national unity government according to a detailed agreement approved by both sides, and which would be based on taking the appropriate constitutional measures to form this government.

"Third: to move forth in activating and reforming the PLO and expediting the work of the preparatory committee based on the Cairo and Damascus Understandings. Detailed steps in this regard have also been agreed upon by both sides.

"Fourth: to reinforce the principle of political partnership on the basis of enacted laws in the PNA and on the basis of political pluralism according to an agreement ratified by both parties.

"We are happy to present this agreement to our people, to the Arab and Islamic nation and to all our friends throughout the world. We pledge our commitment to this agreement in letter and in spirit so that we can devote our time to achieving our national goals, eliminating the occupation and regaining our rights. We need to devote our time to key issues, mainly Jerusalem, the refugees, the Aqsa Mosque, the prisoners and detainees and to our battle against the wall and settlements."

Subsequent to the conclusion of the historic Mecca Agreement, and consistent with its provisions, the President of the Palestine National Authority (PNA), Mahmoud Abbas, wrote a letter of commission to the PNA Prime Minister, Ismail Abdul Salam Haniyyeh, in which he said:

"In my capacity as Chairman of the PLO Executive Committee and President of the PNA, after reviewing the Basic Law and based on my mandated authorities:
"First: I commission you to form the next Palestinian government within the period stipulated in the Basic Law...

"Third: I call on you as premier of the next government to abide by the interests of the Palestinian people; to protect their rights and preserve and develop their achievements; and to work towards achieving their national goals as ratified by the resolutions of the PNC, the Basic Law, the national conciliation document and the resolutions of Arab summits.

"Accordingly, I call on you to respect legitimate Arab and international resolutions and agreements signed by the PLO."

Prime Minister Haniya asked to form unity government

President Abbas on Thursday 15 February 2007 said, "Brother Ismail Haniya presented me with his government's resignation and I charged him with forming his new cabinet."

The president said he hoped that the new government, following a period of political and economic crisis, would "inaugurate a new Palestinian era in which people live in peace and security.

Haniya has five weeks to put together the new cabinet and get it approved by parliament.

Haniya said he would "work in accordance" with Abbas's letter of designation.

The key finance ministry will go to the internationally respected Salam Fayad from the Third Way party, and the foreign ministry to independent MP Ziad Abu Amr, a moderate who was elected with Hamas backing.

The interior ministry will also go to an independent, nominated by Hamas but approved by Abbas. Another three parliamentary political factions are entitled to nominate a minister to the new cabinet.

Reactions

"Israel needs a negotiating partner that acknowledges Israel's right to exist, renounces the use of violence against Israel and also abides by previous international agreements involving the Palestinians and Israel," spokesperson Tony Snow said.

Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice said, "In fact, we have said that we will wait until the government is formed and then we'll make a decision about how to deal with that government," she told pan-Arab television Al-Arabiya.

Briefing by Special Coordinator for Middle East Peace Process

ALVARO DE SOTO, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, said a very important step forward had been taken in the cause of stability and unity among Palestinians, with the agreement reached in Mecca to form a national unity Government.

A newly active Quartet, a more closely involved Arab world, a Palestinian national unity Government, and the beginning of political dialogue between the parties had, when taken together, the potential to help restore calm and re-energize efforts to achieve a two-State solution.

Significantly, the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moonn yesterday said, "I sincerely hope that with the establishment of a national unity government … we will be able to see soon the vision realised when Israeli and Palestinian people will be able to live side by side in peace and prosperity - the ultimate objective of the Quartet process … with the national unity government we hope that the Palestinian Authority and Israel will further engage in a peace process .. in such a case I cannot see any reason why we would not be able to lift sanctions."

After the Mecca Agreement was concluded, Khalid Mish'al, leader of Hamas, wrote an article which appeared in the British "The Guardian" newspaper on 13 February. Among other things he said:

"A historic new phase in the Palestinian struggle for freedom and independence has begun. Last week's Mecca agreement between Hamas and Fatah will pave the way for the first ever truly Palestinian national unity government. Hamas and Fatah, joined by all the other Palestinian factions, will now seek to rebuild Palestinian society following the destruction brought upon it by Israeli occupation and resume the campaign for our national rights.

"The Mecca agreement has laid the foundations for a power-sharing process that will produce a functioning government capable of attending to our people's needs. It will also pave the way for rebuilding the PLO to include all the factions and become the legitimate representative of all Palestinian people. The partnership born out of the Mecca meeting is possible because of the consensus among the Palestinians that their primary objective is to win their freedom, and that their struggle should be solely against occupation. It is now up to the international community to respect this accord and the will of the Palestinian people...

"Now that Hamas and Fatah have agreed to form a national unity government, the international community has no excuse to maintain the siege against our people. We know that many governments around the world are unhappy with these sanctions and want to see an end to them. The Palestinian national accord achieved in Mecca envisages the establishment of a truly sovereign and independent Palestinian state on the territories occupied by Israel in June 1967 - with Jerusalem as its capital, the dismantling of the settlements in the West Bank, the release of all Palestinian prisoners and the acknowledgement of the right of the refugees to return to their homes.

"Once translated into reality, this vision will pave the way for real peace in the region. There must be no more blackmail of Palestinians, for there is nothing else they can give away. Global powers should have learned by now that neither sanctions nor any other form of pressure or bribery will force the Palestinians to abandon their struggle for freedom and independence...

"It must be understood by all that the people of Palestine have the key to both peace and war in the Middle East. There can never be peace and stability in the region without settling the Palestinian question. And that can only be achieved by ending the occupation and recognising our people's rights."

President Mbeki in the ANC Today on Friday 16 February 2007 wrote, "Everybody genuinely interested in securing the legitimate national rights of the people of Palestine, in achieving the long outstanding just and permanent peace between Israel and Palestine, in bringing peace to the Middle East, in the interest of both the peoples of the region and the rest of humanity, must take the observations made by Khalid Mish'al seriously.

The conclusion of the Mecca Agreement must surely serve as a firm signal that the rest of the world must now end all measures intended to isolate the Palestinian Authority, and thus show respect for the wishes of the Palestinian people and their decisions to determine their own internal affairs. Anything else will not contribute to advance the cause of peace between Israel and Palestine and the rest of the Middle East.

The challenge also faces the Government of Israel to respond positively to the Mecca Agreement, among other things by releasing all funds due to the Palestinian Authority and adopting a positive posture with regard to the tasks to reduce the misery afflicting the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, and create a climate conducive to the peaceful resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict.

President Mbeki on 16 February 2007 wrote, "The balance of power in this regard decisively favours Israel. To end the destructive conflict that has gone on for far too long, will require the wisdom and courage of the more powerful. The positive results that both the Israeli and Palestinian people pray for will not come of their own accord.

They will come about as a result of conscious and deliberate actions which must be taken in the first instance by the more powerful. Each positive step towards a just peace will create the conditions for the next positive step towards a just peace, until the process towards a just and permanent peace develops an organic logic and momentum that convinces all antagonists that to resort to violence is to turn the guns against the irreversible prospect of peace and security for all.

But it is imperative that the first step is taken, the first building block of peace put in place, without waiting for the perfect conditions for the construction of peace, because those perfect conditions will never amount to anything more than a dream forever deferred. The moment demands that all those charged with the responsibility to lead should dare to sue for peace, inspired by the same courage with which they have dared to go to war."

These views expressed by President Mbeki demands inspired and creative leadership in the interests of the Palestinian and Israeli people, the region and international peace, security and stability.

In my view, it seems that once again, powerful forces are incapable of grasping an opportunity for peace and stability and remain committed to negotiating positions that make solutions impossible.

Prime Minister Olmert's stated before the meeting between himself, President Abbas and Secretary of State Rice, they would not deal with the Palestinian unity government unless it recognised Israel, renounced all violence and accept previous peace accords. He suggested that President Bush supported this position.

A statement like this, prior to any meeting, I believe, would have created very difficult conditions for the Secretary of State to see if we could have gained more movement forward.

The New York Times today 20 February 2007 reported that:

"An American-sponsored meeting between Israeli and Palestinian leaders meant to start a new peace initiative after six years ended Monday with little more concrete than a promise to meet again.

Ms Rice and her aides made it clear that her efforts had been complicated by the recent decision in principle of the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to bring Fatah faction into the unity government with Hamas, which Israel, the US and the EU consider a terrorist organisation.

The joint statement read by Ms Rice after two hours of talks on Monday with Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas was vague. The two men "discussed their views of ht diplomatic and political horizon," the statement said and agreed to meet "soon."

If we do not push for a more decisive move forward, we believe, as I just said, a golden opportunity to find a solution to a conflict that gone on for too long.

A top Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat said, President Abbas had agreed to the unity government deal, signed in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, to end weeks of fighting between Hamas and Fatah. He added that President Abbas, as the legal representative of the Palestinians as head of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, "recognises Israel, and that's what really matters."

Clearly, the playing around with interpretation and the seemingly contentious issues being put by powerful forces would make it very difficult for us to get some movement forward.

South Africa will, within the Security Council and the Non-Aligned Movement, and bilaterally try to see whether we can convince the powers that be that this is an opportunity that should not be missed and the Palestinian government should not be punished even when it has taken such major steps.

Remarks by Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice after her meeting

"It was a very useful and productive meeting.

All three of us affirmed our commitment to a two-state solution, agreed that a Palestinian state cannot be born of violence and terror, and reiterated our acceptance of previous agreements and obligations, including the Roadmap.

The President and Prime Minister also discussed issues arising from the agreement for a formation of a Palestinian national unity government, and the position of the Quartet that any Palestinian Authority government must be committed to non-violence, the recognition of Israel, and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations, including regarding the Roadmap.

The President and Prime Minister agreed that they would meet together again soon. They reiterated their desire for American participation and leadership in facilitating efforts to overcome obstacles, ally regional and international support ant move forward toward peace.

I expect to return to the region soon."

Comments by Prime Minister Olmert

Prime Minister Olmert demanded yesterday in talks with President Abbas and US Secretary of State Rice that the Palestinian Unity Government recognise Israel, renounce terror and accept previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements.

The conditions were first set by the Quartet, comprised of the US, EU, UN and Russia.

Israel will not have any contact with Palestinian figures who are considered moderates, such as finance minister-designate Salam Fayad, if they serve in a government that does not accept the Quartet's conditions. Prime Minister Olmert rejected the suggestion that Israel negotiate with the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, headed by President Abbas, thereby freeing Hamas of the requirement to recognise Israel.

Prime Minister Olmert promised that Israel would maintain contact with President Abbas, but said the relationship would be limited to two subjects: fighting terror in accordance with the first phase of the roadmap and making the daily lives of Palestinian civilians easier.

Speaking after the Summit at a meeting with politicians from his Kadima Party, Prime Minister Olmert said he would maintain contact with President Abbas, despite his dissatisfaction with the incoming Palestinian government. He said he had stressed "unequivocally" during the Summit that the Palestinian government must accept international conditions for recognising Israel.

Al Jazeera's correspondent speaking from Jerusalem said, "it is difficult to see anything tangible from the meeting."

The Al Jazeera correspondent speaking from the Gaza said, "The view here is that Rice has backed the Israeli line and disregarding Palestinian aspirations."

Quartet Position

While awaiting formation of the new Palestinian government, the Quartet reaffirmed its statement of February 2 regarding its support for a Palestinian government committed to nonviolence, recognition of Israel, and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations, including the Roadmap.

The Quartet will meet again on 21 February 2007 during which it will, among others, discuss outcomes of the meeting between US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and President Mahmoud Abbas.

Should this not yield any decisive move forward, it will incumbent upon the UN Security Council to see how it can contribute taking this process forward.

IRAN: NUCLEAR NON-PROLIFERATION

Japan has decided to impose trade sanctions on Iran in an effort to block the country's nuclear development programme, Tokyo's top government spokesman said.

Japan has also decided to ban Iranian imports of materials related to nuclear activities.

The measures include freezing the financial assets of 10 entities and 12 individuals deems to be involved in Iran's nuclear programme and bans on transfers of materials, technology and funds that could enhance its nuclear activity.

The resolution demands that Iran ends all research on uranium enrichment, which can lead to the production of fuel for nuclear power plants as well as for bombs, and halt all research and development of methods for producing or delivering atomic weapons.

The United Nations Security Council will receive a report from the IAEA on Friday 23 February 2007 on Iran's compliance with UN Security Council Resolution 1737.

President Ahmadinejad in an exclusive interview with ABC:

"We are opposed to any proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and nuclear weapons. The time is now over for nuke weapons. It is a time for logic, for rationality and for civilization. Our people have no problem with American public, and we have a very friendly relationship."

"Within the framework of regulations, we're always ready to co-operate. We've always co-operated, and we'll continue to co-operate. We want dialogue within the framework of regulations."

"We are a member of the agency, and we intend o have what we are entitled to … within this framework we are ready to negotiate."

"The current president doesn't feel obliged to speak within the framework of the law. He thinks to be above the law."

We hope that those who are negotiating, what Mr Larijani the Chief Negotiator said at the Munich conference last week, can take on board what has been said to deal with the Iranian nuclear issue without further escalating the conflict.

I believe the North Korean agreement has shown us that with a more creative approach to these problems, more constructive diplomacy that takes into account the interests of all sectors without trying to impose positions, an attempt to understand the background and fears of all parties, we can find solutions to these issues with which we have been confronted.

It has taken us a long time to come to the North Korean solution. The answer was staring at the international community and at last it has been seen so that a solution could be found.

I believe, similarly, that a solution that asks both sides to be open, frank and to meet their commitments, an attempt to deal with the suspicions on both sides, we may be able to find a solution to the Iranian nuclear issue.

It is unfortunate that with the sending of ships to the region, the continuing leaked reports about the possible military action against Iran is causing very serious tensions in the region.

Dr ElBaradei, only yesterday in an interview said, that is would be absolutely suicidal to launch any military action against Iran and we must solve the matter through peaceful means and negotiation.

We are at a difficult place in both the Palestine-Israel and the Iranian nuclear issues. Handled correctly by those handling these matters, we can find a solution.

IRAQ

A new UN-backed study said that from a thriving middle incoming economy in the 1970s and 1980s, one third of today's Iraqi population lives in poverty with more than 5% living in extreme poverty.

Prepared by the Iraqi Central Organisation for Statistics and Information Technology with the support of the UN Development Programme, the statistics show that a high percentage of people in Iraq live under various levels of poverty and human deprivation despite the country's huge economic and natural resources.

The policies applied to transform the Iraqi economy to a free market, such as the lifting of subsidies and the dismantling of state instruments, are exacerbating deprivation levels, the UNDP said.

Questions and answers

Question Secretary of State Ambuhl, can you elaborate on the joint resolution to be tabled in the Human Rights Council?

Answer This Resolution will be a resolution on transitional justice. We have agreed that we look into this in greater detail. We will table it in one of the next sessions of the Council.

Issued by Department of Foreign Affairs
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20 February 2007


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