The Middle East quartet, a group comprising Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, US Secretary of State Colin Powell, their EU counterpart Javier Solana and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, has tried to integrate the recent unilateral actions by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon into the Road Map of peaceful settlement in the Middle East. At least, this was their original intention to be formalized in the final document of their New York meeting, which ended in the afternoon of May 4 (late in the evening according to European time).
The details of the complicated balance achieved were outlined at a joint press conference at the UN headquarters where, at the Secretary General office on the 38th floor, the meeting took place.
Russia was the most active proponent, if not the initiator of today's meeting, Alexander Saltanov, deputy foreign minister of Russia in charge of the Middle East affairs told RIA Novosti's correspondent on the way to New York. There were many reasons for that, first of all, the plan of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to withdraw unilaterally from some of the Palestinian territories. This plan was greeted with dismay by the Arabs who saw in it a way to evade the implementation of all of the UN resolutions, notably, the resolutions demanding Israel's withdrawal to the 1967 borders.
The Russian diplomats were trying to schedule the New York meeting right after the date of the referendum among the Likud party members in Israel, Mr. Saltanov says. The Prime Minister's party crippled his plan, having voted against it, and now it is just the time to get rid of the negative aspects of his plan and integrate the positive ones into the Road Map - the basic document stipulating reciprocal steps towards the comprehensive settlement of the Middle East problem.
Among the negative aspects of the plan, the diplomat listed the unilateral style of Sharon's actions, which boiled down to the imposition of certain steps by one conflicting party upon the other. The intentions to withdraw at least from some of the Palestinian territories are quite in line with the Road Map and should be welcomed, provided, of course, that these steps are followed by other measures.
It is necessary to note that none of the quartet participants have fully supported Sharon and no one ever admitted that the Road Map is dead after Israeli's action. This uncertain situation has paved the way for today's meeting and its cautiously optimistic statements.