UN chief and US Secretary of State discuss preparations for Iraqs elections

The two also discussed Middle East reform, Haiti, Sudan, Afghanistan and UN reform, and held a brief one-on-one encounter, according to a spokesman for the world body.Afterward during a press encounter, the Secretary-General said the United Nations will put in the staff in Iraq it deems necessary. “It’s not a question of numbers. It’s a question of what you need to get the job done,” said Mr. Annan, who also met today with US National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice.The UN currently has some 220 people in Baghdad serving with the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) – 157 Fijian guards providing security for UN premises and personnel and 64 international staff, up from a previous ceiling of 59.Another 70 UNAMI international staff are based in Amman, Jordan, and in Kuwait. Electoral staff from the Mission inside and outside Iraq are part of an integrated team of some 50 international electoral experts from the UN, European Union and other organizations operating under UN coordination.The UN has helped to train 6,000 elections workers, opened 450 voter registration centres and recruited and trained up to 130,000 poll workers in preparation for the elections scheduled for 30 January.Meanwhile, yesterday was the last day for political entities to register in the run-up to the elections and the certification of their candidate lists. The latest figures show 237 political entities have signed up – with none rejected so far, translating to more than 11,000 candidates running for the elections.A UN spokesman in New York said the entities reflect a broad spectrum of Iraqi society, with all religious and ethnic groups represented. “Some of the candidate lists include representatives from other tribes and minority religious sects, showing that groups are using the electoral process to form alliances and attract wide support,” Stephane Dujarric told reporters.The Secretary-General will travel later today to Brussels to attend the European Union summit on Friday. read more

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UN envoy discusses FatahHamas reconciliation deal with Palestinian President

The deal, which will reportedly lead to the formation of a unity government in the coming weeks, was among the developments discussed during a meeting between Robert Serry, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah.During their meeting, Mr. Serry was assured that this agreement “will be implemented under the leadership of the President and on the basis of the PLO commitments,” according to a statement released by the Special Coordinator.“President Abbas emphasized that these commitments include recognition of Israel, non-violence, and adherence to previous agreements. President Abbas also reiterated his continued commitment to peace negotiations and to non-violent popular protests.”Mr. Serry confirmed the UN’s continued support for unity on this basis as the only way to reunite the West Bank, which has been controlled by Fatah, and Gaza, which has been under the rule of Hamas since 2007, under one legitimate Palestinian Authority. “The Special Coordinator also underlined the importance for the parties, at this critical juncture, to refrain from measures that run counter to creating an environment for continued meaningful negotiations,” the statement added.The Israelis and Palestinians resumed negotiations last August following efforts by United States Secretary of State John Kerry. Direct negotiations between the two sides had stalled in September 2010, after Israel refused to extend its freeze on settlement activity in the occupied Palestinian territory.Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today that the round of peace negotiations being led by the US offers an opening to advance the two-State solution to the conflict.“Most importantly, the Israeli and Palestinian leadership committed themselves to nine months of focused talks on all core permanent status issues,” he stated in a message delivered to a round table held in Geneva on the question of Palestine. “However, given the complexity of the issues, nine months have proved to be insufficient to complete the task.” He urged the parties to continue the talks on a substantive basis beyond 29 April, warning: “The costs of walking away from the negotiating table would be exponentially higher than the pain of the compromises required to resolve the conflict.” read more

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