UN Chief, Heading to Paris Peace Talks, Hopeful for Halt to Violence
A three-way meeting in Paris Wednesday between the Palestinian and Israeli leaders and US mediator Secretary of State Madeleine Albright will hopefully quell the violence that has claimed 63 lives in Israel and the Palestinian territories, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said.
Speaking to reporters before leaving for the Paris negotiations, Annan said Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was meeting with French President Jacques Chirac, and that Chirac would also meet with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak.
Annan said he, too, would hold separate talks with Barak and Arafat.
Those bilaterals would be followed, said Annan, with bilateral meetings between Albright and Arafat and Barak.
"At the end of this series of meetings I would hope there would be a trilateral meeting between Mr. Arafat, Mr. Barak and Mrs. Albright,” said Annan.
"I would hope at the end of the day we would at least come to some understanding on stopping the violence, to calm the situation that is the most urgent task now, to bring calm to the territories and then try to bring the peace process back on track."
Arriving in Strasbourg late Tuesday for meetings with EU leaders, Annan had warned that the situation on the ground in the Middle East was "very grave.
"I had hopes we were very close in the peace process," Annan said.
"Instead of moving forward ... we now seem to have an almost all-out war in a highly-populated area, and it is incumbent on the leaders to do whatever they can to rein in their forces."
"We all feel the pain and the tragic situation the people on the ground are living today," said Annan.
"I think what happens today in Paris will have a major impact on whether we will be able to put the peace process on track and move ahead exeditiously as everybody had hoped," he added.
Albright was to meet the two Middle East leaders at the US embassy just off the prestigious Champs Elysees in central Paris, near the French presidential palace.
She said the aim of talks was "to find a way to end the violence, restore calm and ensure that there is no repeat of such an escalation."
Albright will also attend an Arafat-Barak summit with President Hosni Mubarak Thursday in Egypt, another country that has been trying to act as mediator in the conflict, according to diplomatic sources in Washington.
Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) chief George Tenet and special Middle East envoy Dennis Ross and his deputy, Aaron Miller, were also to attend the talks in Paris -- STRASBOURG (AFP)
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