Middle East

U.N., EU, Russia back Obama’s Mideast vision

UNITED NATIONS: The United Nations, European Union and Russia gave strong backing Friday to President Barack Obama’s “vision” for achieving peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

They agreed that Obama’s starting point – borders for Palestine, security for Israel – provides “a foundation for Israelis and Palestinians to reach a final resolution of the conflict through serious and substantive negotiations and mutual agreement on all core issues.”

The U.N., EU and Russia, along with the U.S., comprise the “Quartet” of international mediators which has been trying for nearly a decade to promote a Mideast peace settlement.

The Quartet members said in a statement issued Friday that they are “in full agreement about the urgent need to resolve the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.”

“The Quartet reiterates its strong appeal to the parties to overcome the current obstacles and resume direct negotiations and mutual agreement on all core issues,” the statement said.

In a major speech Thursday on the Middle East, Obama for the first time explicitly endorsed the borders that existed before the 1967 Arab-Israeli war as a starting point for negotiations – a key Palestinian demand – and said Israeli occupation could not continue. He and added that there should be land swaps agreed to by both sides which could accommodate some existing Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

Arab League chief Amr Moussa called on Obama to follow through with his support for a Palestinian state based on Israel’s 1967 borders, Egypt’s state news agency MENA said.

“The Palestinian issue is at the heart of instability in the Middle East,” Moussa said, calling on the U.S. to move in “the coming weeks and months toward establishing a Palestinian state based on 1967 borders and with East Jerusalem as its capital.”

“The interests of the U.S. are interconnected with the deep transformations the region is witnessing,” Moussa was quoted as saying, describing the change as an opportunity for the U.S. to adopt “new and balanced policies.”

Moussa also welcomed Obama’s pledge to support the economies of Egypt and Tunisia, which have both ousted their rulers.

Egypt’s U.N. Ambassador Maged Abdelaziz said Obama’s support for the pre-1967 war borders will help the Palestinians win U.N. recognition of a Palestinian state.

In his speech Thursday, Obama rejected efforts by the Palestinians to unilaterally take their bid for statehood to the U.N., saying: “Symbolic actions to isolate Israel at the U.N. in September won’t create an independent state.”

In its first reaction to Obama’s speech, the secretary-general of Iran’s National Security Council said U.S. Middle East policy, particularly its support for Israel and certain autocratic Arab states, had proven a failure.

“The Islamic awakening has pushed America to desperation and dead end,” Saeed Jalili told state television.

“America is the principal loser of the developments in the region and is sinking in the quagmire of [its] support for the Zionist regime as well as for tyrannical governments such as those of [Tunisia’s Zine al-Abidine] Ben Ali and [Egypt’s Hosni] Mubarak and Obama cannot disentangle himself by engaging in contradiction and deception.”

In his speech, Obama did not renew an offer of engagement he made early in his presidency to Iran, a country with which Washington has had no diplomatic relations since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

“Our opposition to Iran’s intolerance – as well as its illicit nuclear program, and its sponsorship of terror – is well known,” he said.

In addition, the Bahraini government insisted Friday that it remains open to dialogue with the opposition, in line with a call by the U.S. president that was praised by the kingdom’s main Shiite opposition group.

The government also rejected “false accusations,” in apparent reference to reports of abuse during and after a pro-reform protest movement in the kingdom between mid-February and mid-March.

In his remarks Thursday, Obama criticized the use of “mass arrests and brute force” in the Shiite-majority Gulf state, which is ruled by a Sunni dynasty.

The Bahraini government said “the door for dialogue has been open in the Kingdom of Bahrain since the launch of a National Action Charter and will remain so.”

“It hopes that the dialogue witnesses the participation of all to achieve a national consensus through constitutional means,” a statement added.

But Bahrain welcomed the principles aired in Obama’s speech, saying they “included visions and principles that fall in line with the democratic strategy adopted by Bahrain.” 

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 21, 2011, on page 8.

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