U.S. and Russia seek U.N. council agreement on Middle East

UNITED NATIONS Fri Dec 12, 2008 7:24pm EST

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United States and Russia are pressing the U.N. Security Council to send a strong signal supporting the Middle East peace process at ministerial meeting next week, their ambassadors said on Friday.

The 15-nation Security Council has been unable to reach a consensus on anything related to the Middle East for months so a resolution or a statement would be a rare accomplishment.

U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and his Russian counterpart Vitaly Churkin both told reporters they were hoping to agree a document that would be passed by the council.

"We have asked for a (Security Council) meeting on Tuesday at the ministerial level to focus on the Middle East," Khalilzad said after a closed-door council meeting.

"The purpose would be to support the progress that has been made in the peace process and to encourage the sustainment and the successful conclusion of achieving the two state solution and the Annapolis principles."

Renewed talks were launched at Annapolis, Maryland, a year ago by U.S. President George W. Bush, but all sides have said the year-end deadline for a deal will not be met. Bush leaves office on January 20, when Barack Obama will take over as president.

The Quartet of Middle East peace negotiators are due to meet at U.N. headquarters on Monday and will also meet Arab foreign ministers. The Quartet is composed of the European Union, Russia, the United Nations and the United States.

The talks have been hobbled from the start by violence and bitter disputes over Jewish settlement-building and the future of Jerusalem. Political transitions in Israel and the United States have further delayed any progress.

"The Middle East peace process is now at quite a delicate and important stage," Churkin said, pointing to political transitions in Israel and the United States and the possibility of Palestinian elections.

"We believe it's very important to avoid any kind of pause in the political process," Churkin said, adding that a Security Council document would be an important political signal.

"It's been a long time since the Security Council has approved any kind of joint reaction, joint signal on the matter of the Middle East peace process," Churkin told reporters.

The Security Council will meet again on Saturday when the United States will distribute a draft document, which could be either a resolution or a nonbinding statement.

Historically, Arab members of the council have pushed for condemnation of Israel over its treatment of Palestinians in Gaza as well as settlement activity -- language that the United States has blocked, insisting on condemnation of Palestinian violence against Israel.

Libya, a strong supporter of the Palestinians, is now on the Security Council. It has repeatedly clashed with Washington on the Middle East.

(Editing by Jackie Frank)