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S. Vershinin. Middle East in need of change


S. A. Vershinin, director, Middle East and North Africa Department, Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Russia's G8 presidency promises to be highly saturated where discussion of the Middle East is concerned. Many problems will be discussed at once - conflict settlement in the Middle East, the G8 Partnership with the Countries of the Broader Middle East and North Africa, the situation around Iraq, and other issues.

No particular problems are foreseen in reaching consensus with regard to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Most G8 members, either individually or on a collective basis, are part of the Quartet of international mediators (Russia, the US, EU and UN). Therefore they share the main aims of the Quartet - gradual Arab-Israeli settlement based on a Road Map, eventually arriving at creation of a sovereign and democratic Palestinian state, existing side by side with Israel in peace and security.

Japan and Canada, which are not Quartet participants, agree with this approach, as is recorded in the decisions of the two previous G8 summits.

The principal task is not to allow the positive dynamics that became evident in 2005, when a substantial reduction in the level of Israeli-Palestinian violence was achieved and Israel realised its plan of unilateral departure from the Gaza Strip and a part of the West Bank, to vanish.

Russia will be energetically trying to engage its G8 partners to support this movement and the further shaping of conditions for the parties' return to fulfillment of the Road Map's requirements and for their resumption of a substantive political process on its basis.

The G8's Partnership with the Region of the Broader Middle East initiative, originally formulated by the USA, was approved at the G8's Sea Island summit on 8-11 June 2004, and then developed in the materials of the of the G8 leaders' meeting at Gleneagles in 2005. At these forums, the G8 countries' leaders declared their support for the democratic, social and economic reforms being carried out in the region.

Although Russia has its own vision for the processes of modernisation in the BMENA region, which does not always coincide with that of the USA and other G8 participants, it will act in the spirit of continuity and cooperation, working on the basis of coordination with our G8 partners and regional participants, and giving due attention to the problems discussed by the 'Forum for the Future', which was established based on resolutions adopted at Sea Island.

Our approach is one based on common sense. Yes, the zone, provisionally called the Broader Middle East, is in urgent need of change. However, we are certain that such change must take place at the initiative of the region's parties themselves, without imposing ready-made recipes and with due regard for the experience, customs and traditions of the countries and peoples who live there, their national specifics, religious norms and ethical principles.

Reforms and democracy do not mean that the historical legacies of peoples and of the civilisations created by them should be discarded or devalued. According to our understanding, true reforms represent a continuation of a distinctive history in new forms corresponding to the present historical stage of mankind's development.

Without this, reforms will be rejected by society and perceived as an alien element. The most preferable path is dialogue and partnership among civilisations, as West and East do have something they can learn from one another. Along this path, answers to a common threat the aggression of international terrorism should also be sought.

Without proper respect for history and religion, and for the region's peoples themselves, reform may turn from a factor accelerating development to an instrument of destabilisation, and the new possibilities brought about by the creation of democratic institutions may be used by extremists to seize power. The experience of many countries, including those in the BMENA zone, points to this.

Another point should be borne in mind. Without settlement of regional conflicts and crises, undertaking social, economic and political modernisation of the region will be extremely difficult.

We support the idea of a comprehensive approach to issues of education, of rendering support to small and medium-sized business, of increasing investment activities and strengthening democratic elements, including freedom of speech, women's rights, and dialogue between civil society and the state. A theme that is particularly close for us is the fight against illiteracy in the region, and the programme to develop education and train local personnel. Russia will energetically involve itself in these initiatives.

As regards organisational formalisation of the G8 initiative for partnership with the countries of the region, it is our opinion that the specific mechanisms and principles of cooperation applied should be carefully thought out and weighed up. The chief criterion in this regard must be the demand for such mechanisms by the countries of the region themselves.

Of the whole range of Middle Eastern crises, the situation in Iraq occupies a special position. The expiration of Iraq's transitional period at the end of the past year does not signify that all its complex problems have been solved.

For this reason the issue of international assistance in achieving a final settlement for Iraq and restoration of normal life in the country is no less relevant today. As G8 president, Russia will push for development of consolidated approaches to the entire range of problems connected with Iraq, and will make efforts to ensure that the international factor is used in Iraqi affairs with maximum effectiveness.

As regards the situation in Syria and Lebanon, Russia is ready to continue its joint work with the G8 to ensure implementation of UN Security Council Resolutions 1559, 1595, 1636 and 1644. Substantial progress has already been achieved in this direction - Syrian troops and security forces have been fully withdrawn from Lebanon, and free parliamentary elections have been held in the country, which have allowed formation of a representative government. An international investigation into the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri is being actively conducted.

Of course, the investigation must be carried out impartially and objectively, and must not be used for unrelated political purposes.

It is very important that the implementation of international decisions concerning the Lebanon-Syria dossier should facilitate reinforcement of civil peace and accord in Lebanon, and that it should not lead to destabilisation in Syria and creation of a new seat of conflict in the Middle East region.

Unofficial translation from Russian

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