UN's Ban Tells Haaretz: Quartet to Invite Israel, PA and Moderate Arab States to Next Meeting

The international Quartet is planning to invite to its next meeting Israel, the Palestinians and the Arab Quartet, comprising Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told Haaretz in an interview last night.

The United Nations chief said the issue was discussed in a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice yesterday, in which they exchanged their impressions of meetings held with leaders in the region.

Ban said the meeting with Rice was good and expressed his hope the international community will be able to take full advantage of the diplomatic momentum that is currently being created.

The UN secretary-general will participate in the Arab League summit in Riyadh during the weekend, and expressed his hope the Arab peace initiative will be authorized at the gathering and that the composition of the Palestinian unity government will serve as the basis for the renewal of the diplomatic process in the region.

Ban also said he expects to meet Syrian president Bashar Assad in Riyadh and that the renewal of negotiations between Israel and Syria will be one of the subjects the two will discuss.

The head of the world body described Syria as an important regional player and expressed his hope that Damascus will play a positive role in Lebanon.

The secretary-general, who visited the West Bank yesterday and met with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and ministers of the new government, strongly criticized violations of the basic human rights of the Palestinians.

He referred to the separation fence and the road blocks that are disrupting routine life in the territories.

According to Ban, there is a need to find the right balance between Israel's security needs and the basic rights of the civilian population in the territories.

With reference to the economic boycott on the Palestinian Authority, Ban said that political reactions to the national unity government must not affect the humanitarian situation of the Palestinian people.

Ban said he was deeply saddened by the conditions he witnessed during his visit to a refugee camp yesterday, but he added that the high spirits of children at a school filled him with optimism.

Regarding the efforts to gain the release of the abducted Israeli soldiers, Ban said that during his meeting with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert today he intends to express his support to mutual gestures that will bring about the release of Palestinian prisoners and Gilad Shalit.

The secretary-general said that during his meeting with Abbas yesterday, he told his host the international community will judge the new government on its conduct on the ground. He said fulfilling the three preconditions of the Quartet - recognition of Israel, accepting earlier PLO-Israel accords, and relinquishing violence - are in line with the interest of preserving world peace.

However, Ban did note that he intends to emphasize to the prime minister the need for Israel to comply with its obligations, including an end to the settlements and a removal of the illegal outposts.

Ban said that ending the Arab-Israeli conflict will have a significant impact on the region, and as such he is determined to place the issue in one of the top spots on the United Nations agenda.