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XXIII Congress of the Socialist International, Athens
Global Solidarity: The courage to make a difference

30 June-02 July 2008

REPORT OF THE SECRETARY GENERAL

THE COURAGE TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE
 

It is a pleasure to present this report to the XXIII Congress of the Socialist International in Athens. It is the first time we have held our Congress in this city which is so rich in the history of democracy and the promise of human endeavour, and I would like to thank our President George Papandreou, leader of PASOK, and our comrades and friends of PASOK for their efforts in hosting this gathering.

The period covered by this report has been an active and productive time for our International and I would like to record my appreciation to our President, to the leaders and to the members of our political family who have been at the forefront giving shape to all that we have achieved together.

We carry out our work at this Congress knowing that the world has reached a threshold. The people of this Earth, our only home, will either begin now to make the decisions that can ensure that the planet remains habitable for human life in the future or will increasingly endure the consequences of not doing enough in time.

What needs to be achieved and when with regard to global warming and climate change is now generally understood and agreed. How to accomplish it amidst the ever more complicated challenges of globalisation – particularly with regard to the perpetuation of conflicts, financial volatility, economic injustice and the vast migration of people in search of survival, dignity and a decent life for their children – is the question.

The answer will come from new forms of politics that the Socialist International is in a unique position to conceive, construct and carry forth. It will stem from the realisation that only social democracy – rooted in, connected with and fully respectful of all the world’s citizens – can inspire the solidarity among people at the local, national and global levels necessary to make a difference in humanity’s critical struggle to secure peace and stability, not only among ourselves but between us and the planet upon which we live. And it will succeed only if there is the courage to follow through with all that needs to be done.


ACTING NOW ON CLIMATE CHANGE

Climate change constitutes the greatest challenge of our time, and tackling it is the most vital priority before us and is rightly at the top of our agenda at this Congress. The indisputable scientific facts of global warming and the impact of human activity on the earth’s climate system with disastrous consequences mean decisive political action is needed now.

The goal of living in a Sustainable World Society, bringing a secure future for all our citizens and next generations, demands our best efforts. For this reason we established the Socialist International Commission for a Sustainable World Society to examine the crucial issues of climate change, energy and governance, and draw up a common, global, progressive blueprint on these fundamental matters. The establishment of this body is part of our long held commitment to the environment, which has been at the top of our priorities on the political agenda, and is a natural progression from our work on sustainable development. Tackling global issues, such as protection of the environment, is fundamental to the identity of our movement.

At the International's Council meeting in Santiago on 6-7 November 2006, which established the Commission, we said:

“To make the necessary course correction for building a sustainable world society requires immense political will and new forms of governance necessary to achieve coordinated action at every level, especially between nations and international bodies... The long held principles and values of the Socialist International, its belief in an interdependent world and its presence on every continent make it the only political organisation capable of successfully promoting such an effort.”

The Council in Geneva in June 2007 then elected Ricardo Lagos, former President of Chile and a Special Envoy of the United Nations Secretary-General on Climate Change, and Goran Persson, former Prime Minister of Sweden, as the Commission Co-Chairs. Attaching great importance to this initiative, the Socialist International has brought together leading personalities, among them serving and former heads of state and government ministers from different continents, in this fifteen-member Commission to lend their experience, vision and capacity to this task. Those on the Commission are drawn from both member parties of our International and other relevant actors of the international community, from Belgium, Brazil, Chile, Germany, India, Mexico, Morocco, Panama, Poland, the Russian Federation, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States, with invited guests from China. In this way, we aspire to harness the potential to articulate from the world of progressive politics a way forward to address global environmental concerns, climate change and the issues of governance required to deal with these common challenges.

“Since globalisation is here to stay, it is necessary to establish progressive guidelines that will make possible to have a sustainable society, not only at the national level, but also at the world level... There are a growing number of international issues that cannot be solved at the national level. Migration, international trade and internet financial flows, maintenance of a world peace, pandemias that cross national borders, international terrorism, climate change are just a few examples of the need to solve these problems.” Socialist International Council, Geneva, 29-30 June 2007

London meeting: The urgency of the task

The inaugural meeting of the Commission for a Sustainable World Society was held at 10 Downing Street on 19 November 2007, hosted by Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Leader of the British Labour Party, just days after the presentation of the IPCC Synthesis Report of the Fourth Assessment Report in Valencia, Spain, which provided scientific evidence that the warming of the climate system was unequivocal and set out potential targets for CO2 emission reductions for policy-makers.

Echoing the sentiments of the Commission members, Prime Minister Brown said that allying environmental care and stewardship with social justice and economic progress was the urgent challenge facing social democrats everywhere, one that was transforming the role of government. The Prime Minister, Co-Chair of the Commission Goran Persson, members of the Commission at the meeting, the President and Secretary General of the Socialist International, along with Ministers from the British government, all took an active part in the discussion, during which the urgency of the task of the Commission was underlined, as was the vital role of our International and partners had to play in developing a model where economic development, combating poverty and protecting the environment were combined, with the firm conviction that a socially and ecologically sustainable society could create new opportunities for economic growth, employment, social protection and a cohesive society. It was felt that the high-level, representative composition of the Commission was fundamental to this work. Participants also highlighted the need for identifiable aims for action to tackle the issue of climate change, setting a course with both immediate and long-term policies; the responsibility of developed nations towards developing countries with a new spirit of North-South dialogue and action; the need to find a way to ensure sustainable development with energy security and environmental concerns; the key role of the citizen in addressing climate change; and, the importance of international institutions increasing their effectiveness.

“No country can deal with this issue alone, neither can the planet afford to leave any country behind. Too many people in different regions of the world are suffering, exacerbating social divisions, cultural differences and inequality within and among nations. Climate change needs a common, adequate and effective multilateral response. This can only be provided by ensuring the necessary governance at all levels.” Socialist International Commission for a Sustainable World Society, London, 19 November 2008

The Commission decided on the priorities of its work, defining and outlining its tasks and activities, as well as addressing the current environmental agenda ahead of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bali in December, and issued a statement reflecting its discussions. 

Santiago meeting: Advancing common sustainability in an interdependent world society

The Socialist International Commission for a Sustainable World Society next met on 24 March this year, in Santiago, Chile, a week before the United Nations Ad-Hoc Working Groups were due to gather in Bangkok for their first sessions as set out by the Bali roadmap. In the midst of great media interest, the Commission met with the participation of H.E. Michelle Bachelet, President of the Republic of Chile, and was chaired by Commission Co-Chair Ricardo Lagos.

Introducing the discussions, Lagos underlined that the issues before this Commission were for the first time truly global in nature and could only be resolved globally; problems might begin nationally but the effects soon spread worldwide. The perspective progressive forces could bring to the international agenda on climate change included initiatives for all, based on the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities.

Speaking at the opening, President Bachelet underscored the new sense of urgency felt by the international community in tackling climate change. A new political consensus was gathering to generate global political action, to which the role of progressive ideas was fundamental. Climate change was not simply a sophisticated concept that only applied to developed countries, but a reality for the world's most vulnerable which required a new global capacity.

The participants also included H.E. Martin Torrijos, President of the Republic of Panama and leader of the Democratic Revolutionary Party, PRD; Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of South Africa; Beatriz Paredes, President of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, PRI, Mexico; Sergei Mironov, Chairman of the Council of the Russian Federation; Mohammed Elyazghi, Minister of State of Morocco; Elio Di Rupo, Minister of State and leader of the Socialist Party, PS, Belgium; Aleksandr Kwasniewski, former President of Poland; Mona Sahlin, Chair of the Swedish Social Democratic Party, SAP; Marco Aurélio Garcia, PT, Brazil; Zhijuan Zhang, Vice-Minister of China; and myself. The Commission engaged in another lively debate on raising environmental issues higher up the political agenda and promoting a comprehensive and truly global approach to climate change. It considered how to combine ecological concerns with technological advances, growth and sustainability, as well as public and private cooperation. The importance of unprecedented solidarity between developed and developing nations was highlighted, as was the vital contribution of politics to the international climate change agenda. A statement was unanimously agreed which underlined that global governance was no longer a concept but an urgent need, in an ever more interdependent world where crises touched everywhere. Bali had provided a window of opportunity but the multilateral system required leadership and an understanding of the global implications and consequences in a changing world. Development, the Commission agreed, had to go hand in hand with sustainability, not dictated by markets alone and greater education was needed.

A Call from Antarctica

In connection with the Commission meeting in Chile, a group of the participants visited Antarctica and Patagonia in the days prior to the discussions in Santiago, from Friday 21 March to Sunday 23, to gain a greater understanding at firsthand of the effects of climate change in that part of the world.

At the Eduardo Frei Chilean base, located in one of the ‘hotspots’ of global warming on the white continent, in the Antarctic peninsula which has warmed faster than anywhere else in the Southern Hemisphere, the political leaders were given briefings by those responsible for the base, one of the largest in the region where some one hundred people are permanently stationed, and by a leading glaciologist who made a presentation on the dramatic and rapidly changing environmental circumstances in the continent, affected by human activity in other parts of the globe, resulting in collapsing ice shelves and less sea ice in areas of the Antarctic where warm air and exposure to ocean waves were causing the ice to break up.

From Antarctica, Ricardo Lagos on behalf of the participants appealed to the international community to undertake a new path to preserve and safeguard the environment for present and future generations.

The work goes on

The Commission will next meet in Sweden in September 2008, where it will consider more in-depth ideas and proposals on financing, technology transfers and mitigation, in advance of the UN Climate Change Conference, in Poznan, Poland, in December 2008. The first Commission seminar will take place in St Petersburg following this Congress on 14-15 July, with a focus on tackling climate change with economic growth based on equity, employment and respect for the environment; assessing alternative sources of energy; and strengthening national and international regulations to protect water and forests.

The programme of work continues with meetings of the Commission in India in March 2009, culminating in the last meeting, together with the presentation of the Commission’s final report in connection with the United Nations General Assembly in New York in September 2009. In conjunction with these meetings, further seminars will be held with political and social leaders and experts in South Africa in November this year; and in 2009 in Washington D.C in February and in China at a date to be announced.


WORKING FOR A WORLD IN PEACE

The fundamental commitment of the social democratic movement to lessen conflict and reduce threats to peace in the world today remains as strong and vital as ever. We must remember that our security is linked and coexists with growing inequalities between rich and poor countries; with dramatic migratory tensions; with an increasingly threatened environment; with hunger and pandemics which always strike the weakest; with poverty and the marginalisation of millions of people; and with the labour and sexual exploitation of many children and women.

We in the International understand that the prospects for human progress, for a fairer, more justly governed world, are greatest when people can live free of conflict and without fear. And we know, too, that the task is never completed, that working to achieve and preserve peace is a part of life, virtually everywhere. The quest for peace - between nations, among peoples, across boundaries of language, culture and faith - is fundamental to the identity we share and a mission we will always embrace.

Building a more secure world
Our first Council following the last Congress in Sao Paulo was held in Madrid on 7-8 February 2004, hosted by the Spanish Socialist Workers’ party, PSOE. The discussions centred on the main theme of "How do we build upon the Social Democratic vision for a more secure world?" and approximately 400 delegates from our members from every continent participated.

Three specific panels were held under the main theme. The first was on "Prospects for peace in the Middle East", with contributions from leaders and members of the Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian member parties as well as from other parties from that region and beyond; and the second panel "Ensuring a democratic future for Iraq", included the participation of leaders and representatives from Iraqi parties and others. A Resolution on the Middle East and another Resolution on Iraq were adopted by the Council. A third panel discussion focused on "Regional efforts toward greater security and democracy" with contributions by delegates from other regions of the world.

“At this historical moment, with so many uncertainties, the responsibility of the SI and of its member parties becomes extremely important. This is a moment loaded with uncertainties and concerns in the search for a road that may lead us to an international order with greater security, peace, dialogue and greater equilibrium between poor and rich countries.” Madrid Declaration, Socialist International Council, Madrid, 7-8 February 2004

Overcoming acts of terror

Just over a month after the Madrid Council, on 11 March 2004, horrendous bomb attacks were perpetrated in the city which took the lives of so many innocent people. The Socialist International immediately expressed its strongest condemnation of the unprecedented murderous terrorist attack in Europe and we extended our deepest condolences to the families and friends of the victims.

At the polls the following weekend, the Spanish people reaffirmed and massively demonstrated their faith in democracy and their institutions, electing the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party, PSOE, on 14 March, and a new government led by PSOE General Secretary José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero. We greeted the victory of our Spanish comrades as a reaffirmation and a clear message for peace and security in a world faced with many uncertainties, equally saluting their victory as a message of hope and confidence in the values and principles of the social democratic movement for a more humane, more peaceful, and fairer world. The country returned to the ballot box this March and gave a clear endorsement to the government's programme, reelecting a PSOE administration for another term.

It was with immense sadness that we then had to condemn further indiscriminate acts of terror when they were perpetrated in London on 25 July 2005. We stood firm alongside the people of London who reacted calmly and courageously in the face of such acts of barbarism, demonstrating that the values of freedom, tolerance and humanity shared by the citizens of London and all other cities of the world, cannot be destroyed, contrary to the designs of the criminals behind these attacks. We expressed our heartfelt sympathy and condolences to all those who had been touched by these despicable acts.
Such moments of violence and tragedy only reaffirmed and strengthened the resolve of our International, as pursued collectively by all our member parties in every region of the world, to eliminate terrorism everywhere and bring to justice all those responsible for acts of terror, to strengthen peace, to deepen democracy and to guarantee respect for human rights.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict

The International has been closely involved and our presence felt in the Middle East region for many years during this major conflict deeply affecting both Palestinians and Israelis. Our solidarity with the people there and their dreams for a more peaceful, prosperous future has been steadfast during even the most difficult moments. We have remained committed to supporting all possible efforts in the region to achieve peace, ensure respect for human rights, provide economic opportunities for all its citizens and strengthen democratic governance based on social democratic values. Recognising the Middle East’s important place in the world, we firmly believe in the crucial role of the international community in achieving a lasting peace in the region and are convinced that there will be no solution, nor peace, without dialogue and negotiation.

Our work in the Middle East following the Congress in Sao Paulo, included in December 2003, our attendance at the signing of the Geneva Accords, a peace initiative launched by a wide array of Israeli and Palestinian civic leaders, begun nearly three years previously by Yossi Beilin and Yasser Abed Rabbo after the last official talks between Israel and the Palestinians had ended, with the intention that Israeli and Palestinian leaders would be encouraged to return to the negotiating table and we shared in that hope.

At our Council meeting in Madrid in February 2004, we had urged both parties in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to abstain from all use of violence and implement a ceasefire, reiterating the demand for an immediate resumption of negotiations based on the roadmap, which could lead to a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders with the possibility of land swaps, a capital for both states in Jerusalem and a just solution to the refugee problem. Following a decision taken by that Council, the Chair of our Middle East Committee, Thorbjørn Jagland, SI Vice-President Massimo D’Alema and myself, held talks in Brussels, Jerusalem, Ramallah and Tel Aviv from 22 to 25 March 2004, on the seriously deteriorating situation in the Middle East. The first discussions, in an intensive programme of talks, were held in Brussels on 22 March with EU Secretary General and High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy, Javier Solana, and with European Commission President Romano Prodi on the European Union’s role and contribution to the advancement of peace among Israelis and Palestinians. In Jerusalem, on 23 and 24 March, we met with Labour Party Chair and Leader of the opposition, Shimon Peres, Israeli Deputy Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, Yossi Beilin, leader of Yachad. We then went to Ramallah, where we met with the President of the Palestinian Authority, Yasser Arafat, the Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority, Ahmed Qurei, and other members of the PA cabinet and Fatah leadership. On 25 March, as a result of the earlier discussions with both Israelis and Palestinians, a tripartite meeting was held with the participation of the leader of the Israeli opposition, Shimon Peres, the Palestinian Minister for Negotiations of the Palestinian Authority, Saeb Erekat, and ourselves, in which the current deteriorating situation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was examined and initiatives to urgently move forward the process for peace were discussed.

The following month, in a statement, our International regarded the Israeli Prime Minister’s proposals for an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza as a welcome step. Withdrawal by Israel from the West Bank and Gaza and the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel was in our view a key objective for a definitive solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

On 18 September 2004, the International called for an immediate revival of the Quartet Committee and implementation of the roadmap, and on the international community to help the Palestinian Authority in re-building its security forces to resume control of Palestinian arms and restore the rule of law. The need for Palestinians to hold presidential, legislative and local elections was also addressed.

In November, the International held talks with Palestinian and Israeli leaders at critical times for both, as Palestinian institutions continued in the absence of their President, then undergoing treatment in a hospital in Paris, and Israelis debated their disengagement plan for Gaza. On the eve of a specially prepared meeting of our Middle East Committee in these circumstances, Thorbjorn Jagland, Chair of SIMEC, and myself held talks on 1-2 November in Ramallah with Mahmoud Abbas, then responsible for the Political leadership of the PLO and Ahmed Qurei, Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority. Later in Jericho, on the afternoon of November 2 in the first part of a two-day session of our Committee, we held discussions with Nabil Shaath, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Palestinian Authority, Saeb Erekat, Minister for Negotiations and Abbas Zaki, responsible for international relations of Fatah, among others. On November 3, the Committee members convened in Jerusalem for a second session, this time held at the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament, with the participation of the leader of the Israeli Labour Party Shimon Peres, Amir Peretz, Chairman of the Histadrut, as well as members of the leadership of the Yachad party, including Abu Vilan. The deepening of the tensions in the region, the increasing toll in human lives, the continuing spiral of violence and the lack of a political horizon for peace in the Middle East - major concerns for the Socialist International - formed the basis of the discussions which sought to define, in advance of the Council meeting in Johannesburg later that month, the most effective ways in which the International could continue to actively support efforts for peace.
Sadly on 11 November 2004, the Palestinian people lost their President Yasser Arafat and the Socialist International honoured his memory and his legacy, as a symbol of the unity of the Palestinians and their aspirations for the establishment of a state of their own. The Council at its meeting in Johannesburg four days later paid tribute to Arafat and extended its sympathy to the Palestinian people.

The International sent an observer delegation to the Palestinian Presidential elections held on 9 January 2005. On this occasion we met in Ramallah with representatives of the Palestinian Authority, members of the leadership of Fatah, with Presidential candidate Mahmoud Abbas and with officials from the Palestinian Central Elections Commission (CEC). On election day, members of the delegation followed the voting in various electoral districts, visiting polling stations in Jenin, Tulkarim, Nablus, Qalqilya, Ramallah, Jericho, Bethlehem, Hebron, Gaza and East Jerusalem. Discussions after the poll were again held with Fatah and with Palestinian officials, including Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath. Following a collective evaluation by the delegation, a statement was issued greeting the clear election of Mahmoud Abbas as President of the Palestinian Authority. After the elections, on 10 January, the delegation also held discussions with Shimon Peres and Yossi Beilin on the formation of a new government in Israel that day and on the new opportunities arising in the region to regain a horizon for peace and to implement the agreed roadmap.

On 23-24 May 2005 we held our Council in Israel and Palestine for the first time, marking another important milestone in the history of our International. As a platform for peace between the two peoples, and a bridge for understanding and dialogue, it was natural and fitting that amidst crucial developments and at a time of renewed hope, the entire International gathered there.

Under the main theme "For a Middle East in peace, with political and economic democracy: the social democratic vision", leaders and representatives from member parties and organisations attended from around the world. Reaffirming its commitment to supporting in every way possible efforts in the region to achieve peace, ensure respect for human rights, provide economic opportunities for all citizens and strengthen democratic governance based on social democratic values, the Council gave a number of pointers on how to move forward.

Peace, democracy and cooperation were the best way to combat terrorism, we said, and the international community had to unite to take a clear stand against all terrorist activity. Clear incentives for peace had to be established, and we called upon all regions to increase cooperation with the Middle East. We underlined that the planned withdrawal from the Gaza Strip had to be coordinated with the Palestinian Authority as a part of the roadmap and followed by negotiations on final status issues, and insisted that all settlement activities and the building of the wall on Palestinian territory had to be halted. We extended our support to the further strengthening of thereform process in Palestine and to the Palestinian Authority in its efforts to stop all forms of violence,disarming militia groups.

Later in August, the International welcomed Israel’s disengagement from Gaza and some West Bank settlements. We joined the Palestinian and Israeli peoples in believing that this decisive step demonstrated that further and other necessary measures could be taken towards peace through a process of negotiation, compromise and concessions from both sides.

The International returned to observe the Palestinian legislative elections held on 25 January 2006, and declared them to have been free and fair, commending the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian people for the peaceful and orderly way in which the vote was carried out. We expressed our appreciation for the way in which Fatah accepted the results of the election. The delegation reaffirmed its confidence in the Palestinian political institutions and expressed its support for President Mahmoud Abbas.

The Council meeting some days after in Athens, on 30-31 January 2006, an event which would be marked by the election of our Greek party leader, George Papandreou, as the new President of the International, underlined the commitment of the global social democratic movement to reinforce international cooperation based on shared values and principles. Under the main theme "Peace, Democracy, Solidarity - among peoples, across cultures", the Middle East was a special focus of attention in discussions which included Amir Peretz, then recently elected leader of the Israel Labour Party, Ilan Halevi from Fatah, and Roby Nathanson from Yachad.

“The International reaffirms that the peace process begun in Oslo, the roadmap and the return to serious negotiations to achieve a two-state solution based on mutual recognition, on justice and respect for human rights, and on international law and agreements already signed, remain the only way to overcome stalemate, end violence and achieve a lasting peace.” Socialist International Council, Athens, Greece, 30-31 January 2006

Deeply concerned at the continuing conflict and the spiralling hostilities, the Socialist International Presidium met in Samos, Greece, on 15 July 2006 to pay special attention to the latest grave developments affecting the Middle East, in particular the situations on the Israeli-Lebanese border and in Gaza, and the developing crisis with regard to the use of nuclear technology in Iran.  In advance of the meeting, the President and I had visited some of the countries concerned in the region.
The Presidium called for an end to the cycle of violence with indiscriminate attacks on the civilian populations of Israel, Palestine and Lebanon. It appealed for all sides to abide by and respect international law, the decisions of the United Nations Security Council and the expressed will of the international community for an end to confrontation and violent action.

At our Council meeting in Santiago, Chile, in November 2006, representatives from our member parties in the Middle East updated delegates on the latest developments and participated in the discussions under the theme “New Horizons for Peace: Promoting Solutions to Conflicts”.

When the Council met in Geneva on 29-30 June 2007, we were delighted to be joined by the President of the Palestinian National Authority, H.E. Mahmoud Abbas who gave a keynote address on prospects for peace in the Middle East and on the Palestinian-Israeli situation.

“The foundation for progress towards a solution lies in the principle of partnership, agreement on the legal terms of reference and commitment to agreements signed, so we can achieve solutions to the problems stemming from decades of bloody and bitter conflict, a partnership that takes into account the legitimate concerns of the other side, and paves the way to a new and different future for both Israelis and Palestinians.” H.E. Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian National Authority, Socialist International Council, Geneva, 29-30 June 2007

The Council expressed its recognition of the leadership and work of President Abbas at such a crucial time. We called for an immediate end to the violence in Gaza and remained committed to dedicating our efforts to preventing a humanitarian disaster there. We considered the promotion of the Arab Initiative for Peace as an opportunity to move forward a comprehensive agreement in the region, including peace treaties between Israel, Palestine and Syria, and called on our member parties to encourage Israel and Syria, on the basis of their declarations of good will, to enter into serious negotiations to find an agreement for full peace between them. The International reiterated its appeal to the Israeli government to resume negotiations for a permanent accord.

During the month of August, the Co-Chairs of the SI Middle East Committee, Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre of the Norwegian Labour Party and Piero Fassino of the Democrats of the Left, DS, Italy, visited the region for a round of talks with leaders and representatives of the SI Israeli and Palestinian member parties, as well as other members of the Israeli and Palestinian governments.

In advance of the Annapolis Conference, which was held a month later, we held a meeting on 29 and 30 October 2007 in Tel Aviv and Ramallah, with delegates of both the Israeli and Palestinian member parties taking part in the proceedings in both cities. The discussions on the prospects for peace, which counted on the participation of our President George Papandreou, and in which I took part along with the Middle East Committee Co-Chair Piero Fassino and Deputy Foreign Minister of Norway Raymond Johansen as acting Co-Chair, focused on the urgent need to advance the stalled peace process and to seize the new opportunity which had arisen to find a framework upon which to build a sustainable peace. Our session in Tel Aviv opened with the Israeli perspective, with contributions by Ehud Barak, Leader of the Labour Party and Minister of Defence, and Yossi Beilin. The next day, in Ramallah, the Palestinian perspective was introduced by the Chief Palestinian negotiator Ahmed Qurei, former Palestinian Prime Minister.

Among the key questions addressed in the meeting were the immediate need for visible and tangible changes on the ground, including a ceasefire, the release of prisoners, the lifting of road blocks, access and freedom of movement, an end to arms smuggling, military build-up and militia activity, stopping the confiscation of land and the freezing of settlements. Equally, the need to address the security and humanitarian situation in Gaza and the restoration there of the legitimate institutions of the Palestinian Authority was seen as fundamental to achieving a comprehensive peace. Tackling the core issues of the conflict - Jerusalem, refugees, borders, security, settlements, water, economic development - was stressed as urgent and crucial to both Palestinians and Israelis. Participants agreed that essential to a lasting peace was placing Jerusalem, by a mutually agreeable solution, as two capitals for two nations and that a fair, creative and realistic approach to the refugee question, taking into account the national character of the Israeli state and the expectations of the Palestinian people, was needed, accompanied by the active support of the international community. The meeting unanimously approved a statement highlighting the shared views.

The resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict continues to be at the forefront of the concerns of the International, as, in our view, it is crucial for peace and stability in the whole region. During the period covered by this report, a lasting peace based on a two-state solution with secure borders, along with the strengthening of the legitimate political institutions of the Palestinian Authority, have remained central to the position of the International.

Supporting the democratic forces in Lebanon

Lebanon, a country that plays a vital role as part of both the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern communities, has undergone critical events during this period and the International has offered its support and solidarity to the forces for democracy there, among them our member party, the Progressive Socialist Party, PSP, and its leader Walid Jumblatt.

On 4 April 2005, following the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri the previous February, which had sparked mass popular demonstrations, we held a special one-day meeting of our Mediterranean Committee in Beiteddine, Lebanon. Members of the opposition, including representatives of Democratic Renewal, Movement of the Democratic Left, Mustaqbal, Kataeb, Kornet Chehwan, Lebanese Forces, Free Patriotic Movement, National Block, Democratic Gathering and representatives of Independents, took part in the discussions alongside the SI-member PSP, headed by Walid Jumblatt. Lebanese guests and the numerous SI member parties participating engaged in detailed discussions which covered the main issues affecting Lebanon, which were reflected in the agreed Declaration. In that document we expressed our strong condemnation of the assassination of the former Prime Minister, highlighting his leadership in the process of national reconstruction. We further deplored all acts of violence in the country and affirmed our support for the Lebanese people in their call for truth and justice in regard to the killing of Hariri and other acts of political violence.

The meeting expressed its full solidarity with the people of Lebanon, the PSP and all democratic forces in the country as they reaffirmed the independence and sovereignty of Lebanon, its democracy and constitutional integrity, the foundations for holding free, fair and transparent national elections which were due on 29 May through to 19 June. The International remained committed to closely monitoring the situation in the country, particularly with regard to the withdrawal of Syrian forces.

We returned to Lebanon to observe the elections in May and June. The International welcomed the outcome of the vote and the clear majority won by the Alliance, which included the Future Movement, the SI-member Progressive Socialist Party, and others, as a new beginning for Lebanon. SI representatives, who followed different rounds of the elections over the course of a month in Beirut, Mount Lebanon, the Bekaa Valley, and cities of the North, including Tripoli and Zgharta, witnessed an election in which there were no significant incidents and which was characterised by citizen and voter participation and enthusiasm, in an atmosphere of respect and tolerance.

Alarmingly the situation deteriorated in Lebanon during 2006, and the Presidium, when it met in Samos in July that year, received a report from Walid Jumblatt on developments in the south of the country. Two weeks later we had to call for an end to hostilities and for an urgent and immediate ceasefire in the south of Lebanon. We asserted that a new dynamic for peace was required: the indiscriminate aggression by Hezbollah on Israeli civilians and the Israeli bombing in Qana underlined dramatically how mistaken the logic of war was, we said, which had thus far driven policy and events in that region. We called for a ceasefire supported by a United Nations Security Council Resolution; immediate access for UN humanitarian relief to the victims; the release of all those held captive; a strengthening of the authority and integrity of the state of Lebanon through the implementation of UN Security Council Resolutions 1559 and 1680; with the deployment of a multinational peace force on the Israeli-Lebanese border, and with the resumption as soon as possible of peace negotiations between the authorities of Israel and Palestine.

We were shocked and deeply dismayed at the assassination of Pierre Gemayel, the Lebanese Minister of Industry and one of the leaders of the 14 March movement, on 22 November 2006. We strongly condemned this act of violence and reaffirmed our solidarity with the Lebanese people and their democratically elected government. Coming at a particularly crucial time for Lebanon, and as the Lebanese cabinet was in the process of approving the establishment of an international tribunal, supported by the United Nations Security Council, to bring to justice those responsible for the killing of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and twenty-two others, the political assassination of Gemayel clearly sought to undermine the country's stability and fragile democracy. We appealed for national unity in the country and reiterated our firm support for the democratic forces there, rejecting all forms of outside interference in the internal affairs of the country, and the continuation of the vital reconstruction process.

In this context, we held an extraordinary meeting of the International in Beirut on 16 December 2006 to examine the grave situation there. The meeting was hosted by the Progressive Socialist Party, PSP, and included the participation of the leaders of the 14 March Movement. The meeting began with a minute’s silence in memory of all those Lebanese who had lost their lives in recent times. At the opening, interventions were made by the leader of the Kataeb Party, Amin Gemayel, father of the recently assassinated Minister of Industry, Pierre Gemayel; the leader of the Progressive Socialist Party and host of the event, Walid Jumblatt; the leader of the Future Movement, Saad Hariri, son of assassinated Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, myself, and the President of Socialist International, George Papandreou, who chaired the meeting.

The conclusions of the meeting highlighted the International’s support and solidarity with the efforts of the members of the 14 March Movement, and of the government, to maintain peace and stability in the country and to carry out the creation of the Special Tribunal. Equally, we were united in making a renewed call for an end to foreign intervention and the attempts by external forces to destabilise the country, as well as for the implementation of the resolutions in relation to Lebanon adopted by the United Nations Security Council. The meeting was followed by discussions with Prime Minister Siniora and the President of the Lebanese Parliament Nabih Berri.

It was with sadness that we learnt on 13 June 2007 of the assassination of Walid Eido, Lebanese parliamentarian, which we condemned in no uncertain terms. Eido was the third member of Lebanon's pro-democracy majority in the parliament to be killed in a bombing in the past two years and the International continued to deplore these concerted and continuing attacks clearly designed to divide the country and undermine the hopes of the Lebanese people for peace and stability.

The situation in Lebanon continued to be of concern when the Council met in Geneva on 29-30 June 2007. Walid Jumblatt addressed the meeting and we reaffirmed our backing of the legitimate and democratically elected government of the country and called for the respect of the parliamentary institutions, for the re-establishment of its free functioning and for the application of the constitutional process to arrive at an election, within the legal timeframe, of a new President of the Republic. The International urged the rigorous application of UN Security Council resolutions 1559, 1595, 1701 and 1757 to put an end to terrorist attacks, and called on the Arab and international community to take measures to secure the Lebanon-Syrian border and to end all illegal infiltration of people and military equipment coming from Syria. We called for the speedy implementation of the United Nations international tribunal and expressed our wholehearted solidarity with the Lebanese people in their quest to reaffirm the independence, sovereignty, democracy and the unity of their country.

Continuing our focus on developments in Lebanon, the Socialist International reconvened in Beirut when its Mediterranean Committee met on 25-26 April this year, hosted by the PSP. On the eve of the meeting, on 24 April, we had the opportunity to meet with the Maronite Patriarch, His Eminence Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir; Prime Minister Fouad Siniora; and Speaker of the Lebanese Parliament, Nabih Berri. The next day the Committee’s discussions centred first of all on the situation in Lebanon, under the theme “Working together for a united, democratic and stable Lebanon: the contribution of the international community”. Our Lebanese hosts expressed deep concern about the current institutional crisis affecting the country following the continuing failure of Parliament over the previous eighteen months to agree on the election of a new President and the fact that the Parliament in the present circumstances was not functioning. The Committee members pointed to the need for all the Lebanese political forces to respect the constitutional process and the democratic rules; to the importance of keeping alive dialogue and thus moving forward the political process; to achieve the implementation of the unanimously adopted national dialogue resolutions, particularly those related to Lebanese-Syrian relations, including the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two states, and the delineation and demarcation of the borders between the two countries. While noting the third anniversary of the withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon, the members of the Committee stressed the need of the international community to see a Lebanon in peace as a prerequisite for stability in the region.

In the days and weeks that followed our last discussions in Beirut, thanks to the efforts of the Lebanese themselves, a number of issues raised at our meeting were achieved. We remain committed to accompanying Lebanon in the realisation of the hopes and aspirations of the great majority of its people for peace, democracy and independence.

The way forward for Iraq

The International has never underestimated the incredibly difficult moments in which Iraq has lived in recent years, and we have offered our steadfast support and solidarity along the way. At our Council in Madrid in February 2004 we addressed the question of a democratic future for Iraq, and issued a resolution underlining the complexity of the situation just eight months after the official end of the war in the country, one in which violence and terrorism continued, resulting in many victims both among the Iraqi civilians and among soldiers from the international forces. The Council welcomed the end of the dictatorship, but remained convinced thatsecurity, stability, democracy and peace in Iraq were still far off. Our belief was that a deep change was necessary in the transition process and we urged the international community to promote this change giving the United Nations full and effective responsibility for the Iraqi transition and reconstruction, implementing UN Security Council Resolution 1511; organising a multinational force in Iraq under the authority of the UN; accelerating the transfer of power to Iraqi authorities recognised by all the components of Iraqi society; and, helping the Iraqi people to move forward in building a secular, democratic, multiethnic and multi-religious state.

On the eve of the NATO Summit in Istanbul assembling Heads of State and Government from North America and Europe, we gathered in that city on 25 and 26 June 2004. Our meeting focused on strategies to strengthen peace and democracy internationally, addressing key areas of concern including the situation regarding Iraq, the Middle East, the struggle against terrorism, the role of international institutions in promoting peace, democracy and human rights and on issues on the agenda of the NATO Summit. Reiterating the International’s position against military interventions outside the framework of the UN Security Council, we expressed the need for a stronger and more effective role by multilateral institutions, starting with the United Nations. We welcomed in this context the unanimously adopted Resolution 1546 of the UN Security Council, endorsing the formation of the interim government and the holding of democratic elections by January 2005, as a significant step towards the beginning of a new phase in Iraq’s transition. We reaffirmed the importance of strong support from the international community to help the Iraqi people to approve a Constitution and to organise free and fair elections. Meeting days in advance of the handover on 30 June, when the Interim Government of Iraq would assume effective responsibility and authority, we stressed the importance of this event. The International strongly condemned all terrorist and other acts of violence taking place in Iraq, fully aware that stability, democracy and peace in Iraq were closely related with the solution of security problems, and expressed fear that the electoral process might be affected.

30 January 2005 saw the holding of legislative elections for the newly-formed 275-member Iraqi National Assembly, with 8.4 million votes cast. As the reconstruction process continued, we asked for a stronger role by the UN in the democratising process, when we met for our Council in May 2005. The International called on all countries to support a democratic Iraq, one which could lead to the restoration of full sovereignty of the Iraqi people. The future Iraqi constitution, we underlined, had to give all peoples in the country equal rights, and the rights and the role of women were of special concern. The Kurdish population also had to be able to exercise their rights within the framework of a united and federal Iraq.

We expressed our condolences following the dreadful tragedy that took so many lives during the religious procession in Baghdad on 31 August 2005. We extended our solidarity once more to the people of Iraq and remained steadfast in the struggle to defeat terror. We stood together with all those who had to live in the climate of violence and fear in which such tragedies could occur.

Jalal Talabani, leader of SI-member Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, PUK, was re-elected President of the Republic in April 2006, the first president elected under the new Constitution, which had been approved by referendum the October before. It was our great privilege to receive and listen to the President when he came to share with us his views on the way forward for his country, at the Council meeting in Geneva on 29-30 June 2007.

“We come to you from the new federal and democratic Iraq. An Iraq that afforded the widest range of democratic freedoms for its people on the ruins of a criminal dictatorship that committed many crimes against the people and betrayed the homeland... We have also started to regain our national sovereignty and our diplomatic relations with the world. But the security task including the rebuilding of the armed forces and combating terrorism, which is a joint responsibility of the Iraqi government and International coalition, remains unfinished. We are striving to return this responsibility to the hands of the freely-elected Iraqi government.” H.E. Jalal Talabani, President of the Republic of Iraq, Socialist International Council, Geneva, 29-30 June 2007

In Geneva, the International paid tribute to the efforts of President Talabani. We reiterated out strongest condemnation of the terrorist acts against the different sectors of Iraqi society, and our full support for the initiatives to strengthen national reconciliation and to guarantee the incorporation of all sensibilities and social sectors in the democratic political process. We called on other states in the region to refrain from interfering in the internal affairs of Iraq, respecting its independence and sovereignty, as well as its national unity. We also called for financial assistance and support for any terrorist activity from abroad to stop. Whilst recalling previous resolutions of the SI, the Council urged the end of the presence of all international troops and for their withdrawal as soon as possible when circumstances allow and with the support of the Iraqi people.

Kurdish Question
The International has continued its longstanding solidarity with the Kurdish people, and we expressed our outrage and condemnation of the bombings against the Kurdish political parties at the beginning of February 2004, at their respective party headquarters in the city of Arbil in northern Iraq. Those criminal acts, which took the lives of dozens of people and killed senior members of both political parties, were attacks not only on the Kurdish people but against all those engaged in the effort to build democracy and guarantee freedom and security throughout Iraq.

The SI Working Group which addresses the Kurdish Question met in London on 9 November 2005 for a review of developments affecting the Kurdish people, with first hand reports on their respective national situations by delegates from Iraq, Iran, and Turkey. Participants had the opportunity to discuss in detail the outcome of the referendum on the Iraqi constitution, the implications for the Kurds in Turkey of the membership negotiations with the EU, and the grave situation affecting the Kurds in Iran following the latest repressive actions by the Iranian regime. The Working Group recognised the key role played by the Kurdish parties in Iraq in the development and strengthening of democracy and its institutions, expressing its concern over the ongoing terrorist activities intent on destabilising the country; welcomed the advances made by the Kurdish political forces in Turkey in uniting to form one single political party, the Democratic Society Party; and deplored the latest acts of aggression and grave human rights violations carried out by the Iranian government against its Kurdish population. At the same time the Working Group welcomed the increased cooperation among the Iranian Kurdish groups and the formation earlier that year of the Congress of Nationalities for a Democratic Iran, with the common goal of seeking a federal solution for the nationalities question in that country.

The International visited Northern Iraq from 28 to 30 May 2006 for a far-reaching examination of the Kurdish issues there. Preliminary discussions were held with the leadership of the PUK at Qalachualan on Sunday 28 May, and then the SI Working Group on the Kurdish Question convened in Dukan, outside Suleymania, on Monday 29, with the participation of delegates from the PUK and the Kurdistan Democratic Party, KDP, of Iraq, which heads the regional government in Arbil, as well as the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan and Komala from Iran, the Democratic Society Party, DTP, from Turkey, and representatives from SI parties in France, Greece, Italy, Norway and Sweden. Conny Fredriksson, Chair of the Working Group, chaired the proceedings, which were addressed at the opening by the leader of the PUK and President of the Republic of Iraq, H.E. Jalal Talabani, and myself.

The discussions focused first on the situation in Iraq following the formation of a new Kurdistan regional government and a government of national unity in Baghdad. The PUK and KDP representatives described the evolving situation in their region. There were many challenges still to be faced, however, the democratic experience continued to bring positive developments in their economic, cultural and political life. One of the problems resulting from Saddam Hussein’s policies were the consequences of the forceful removal of people from Kirkuk and the placement there of people from other regions of the country. In this regard, the implementation of Article 140 of the current Iraqi Constitution, relating to the normalisation of Kirkuk, was regarded as crucial. The meeting commended the political parties for their cooperation and united action in forming the new regional government, as it called for continued support for their work to strengthen democracy and advance economic progress.

The situation of the Kurdish people in other countries in the region was also addressed. Conditions for the political representation of Kurds and their enjoyment of other rights in some countries of the region remained limited. Cooperation among different political groups was perceived as a positive step. It was highlighted that the only way to protect and foster the rights of the Kurdish people remained in the political arena and in advancing and deepening democracy without resorting to any form of violence. The work of the Democratic Society Party in advancing Kurdish issues was recognised. The continuing hardship suffered by the Kurdish population in Iran was deplored and the increased levels of cooperation that were being established between different Iranian Kurdish groups were noted. After the closure of the meeting, a special gathering took place with hundreds of PUK activists, who I addressed on a wide range of issues and the work of the International.

On Tuesday 30 May, we visited the city of Kirkuk. Meetings were held with the head of the PUK in Kirkuk, Jalal Jawher, and with the Governor, Abdul Rahman Mustafa, who briefed us on the background to the present situation affecting the city, the provisions for its future included in the Constitution of Iraq and the serious problems of the displaced people - both Arabs and Kurds - and of the refugees housed in the city’s Shorija stadium, who were also visited by the SI delegation. A large meeting was held with the entire Kirkuk Provincial Council headed by PUK member Razgar Ali, where a lively debate was held on the situation affecting Kirkuk and its bearing on Iraq as a whole.

Concerns over Iran

The International during this period has been following with concern the situation in Iran regarding its nuclear programme and the state of human and civil rights in the country.

At our Council meeting in Tel Aviv and Ramallah in May 2005, the International called fora solution to the controversy over Iran’s nuclear programme, stating that the international community had to harmonise their policies.

In a statement issued on 27 October 2005, the Socialist International strongly condemned the call by Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for Israel to be "wiped off the map" as deeply offensive and dangerous at a time when the situation in the Middle East had reached another delicate point. We called upon the international community to unite in rejecting this statement and to take the steps necessary to ensure that Iran acted responsibly as a nation of the world, in both its actions and its words.

We continu