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Russia calls for Security Council mission to Middle East

Russia on Tuesday called for the UN Security Council to carry out a mission to the Middle East to unblock the peace process and assess turmoil in Egypt and other countries.

The Security Council has not visited the troubled region for more than three decades. Russia’s UN ambassador Vitaly Churkin said council envoys should go to Israel, the Palestinian territories, Syria, Egypt and Lebanon.

“We are making this proposal now because we are concerned about the situation in the Middle East,” Churkin told reporters.

“As we all know, the efforts to restart the Israeli-Palestinian talks are at an impasse and the situation in the region is quite fragile. It is fraught with further possible complications.”

He said a Security Council mission “could stabilize the situation in a certain way and could help the international efforts to restart the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.”

Churkin said there has been no Security Council mission to the Middle East since 1979. “We think that this is not right, that for so many years the Security Council members as a body have not been to the Middle East.”

Russia is one of the five permanent members of the 15-nation council along with Britain, China, France and the United States.

There was no immediate public reaction from other members. One council diplomat said though that a visit would be “difficult” to arrange. “There are many sensitivities involved,” said the diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Another diplomat said council members would refer the proposal to their national governments for a final decision.

Churkin also acknowledged that it was a “complex proposition”.

The Russian ambassador said council envoys were discussing details but there have been “no point blank objections.”

Russia is also a member of the diplomatic Quartet on the Middle East, with the United States, European Union and United Nations, which met in Munich last weekend amid growing concerns about the peace deadlock.

Palestinian leaders have refused to hold direct talks with Israel since Israel refused to extend a freeze on settlement building in the occupied territories at the end of September.

But the Quartet has set a target date of this September for the creation of a Palestinian state.

Speaking at a separate press encounter, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who attended the Quartet meeting with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton highlighted how the Egypt crisis has cast a shadow over the peace process.

“I am also concerned by the very slow process, almost an impasse now of the Middle East peace process,” Ban told reporters.

He said the Quartet had decided to step up its efforts to revive the peace process alongside an Arab peace initiative. Ban said Quartet would meet again in March and had also instructed its envoys to step up their their negotiations “first of all among envoys with the parties concerned.”

“This is quite an important sign of our commitment, that the Quartet should be more visibly engaged in the future process,” Ban said.

Ashton also insisted that Quartet efforts remained active but told the Security Council that the Egypt crisis made new efforts on the Israel-Palestinian conflict more “vital.”

“The search for a negotiated peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians has dominated the region for decades. Current developments must bring us closer to that goal, not further away,” she said.