FORMER PRESIDENT OF FINLAND PRODS OBAMA TO PUSH FOR MIDDLE EAST SOLUTION
(For use by New York Times News Service clients)
By MATTI POSIO@=
c.2010 Hearst Newspapers@=
WASHINGTON _ President Obama should acknowledge the seriousness of the Middle East crisis, and not give in to ‘’fatigue’’ caused by the precarious Israeli-Palestinian situation and extended domestic debate over health-care reform, Nobel peace-prize laureate Martti Ahtisaari said Tuesday.
Ahtisaari, the former president of Finland, said Obama, last year’s Nobel peace prize winner, can’t afford to wait until late in his term to tackle the seemingly intractable Middle East problems, as other U.S. presidents have done. During a visit to Washington on Tuesday, Ahtisaari warned that international leaders should not see the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as merely a regional issue, but as a global problem requiring immediate attention.
The Finnish statesman, one of the world’s most accomplished diplomats and a peacemaker with a successful track-record from Kosovo to Indonesia’s troubled Aceh region, noted that mainstream politicians in many Muslim countries _ as well as religious extremists and terrorists _ have hijacked the Middle East peace process for their own purposes.
‘’The plight of the Palestinians is fueling radicalism in other places,’’ he said. ‘’Not dealing with the regional issue potentially has catastrophic results for all of us. That’s why a lasting settlement in the Middle East is the only hope to finding a solution for many other conflicts as well.’’
Ahtisaari, who won the Nobel Peace prize in 2008 for his peacemaking efforts, was president of Finland in 1994-2000. His country joined the European Union during his tenure in office.
Talking at the Woodrow Wilson International Center, Ahtisaari said ‘’fatigue’’ caused by lack of progress in the Middle East peace process makes important decision-makers downplay the seriousness of the crisis, even though it causes tensions far beyond the tiny area fought over by Israel and the Palestinians.
This is not the first time that Ahtisaari has urged Obama to act on Middle East issues. In his 2008 Nobel acceptance speech, the Finn encouraged Obama to tackle the Middle East issue during the first year of his presidency, rather than leave it to the very last months, as other U.S. presidents have done.
‘’I hope the president is successful with the health bill and gets it done, so that he can actually concentrate then on some of the major international issues,’’ Ahtisaari said in response to a question Tuesday.
Every U.S. president needs to deal with the problems he has inherited from his predecessors first, Ahtisaari said. ‘’These are the facts of life, and I don’t think any president can escape these,’’ he said.
Ahtisaari compared Middle East peace negotiations to U.N. reforms.
‘’If somebody invites me to discuss the United Nations’ reforms, my staff has orders to say: ‘Absolutely no. He’s not going to waste his time. If you want to have a meeting to discuss what is the timetable for implementing those reforms that we all know need to be done, then he might come.’
‘’So we should not waste our time, but try to get the parties to realize this: Every day we lose not finding the solution diminishes the security in the world. And that has to be recognized. It’s high time to recognize that.’’
Asked about prospects for Middle East peace, Ahtisaari replied: ‘’I’d like to see it happen during my life time. And I am 72 now.’’
Ahtisaari, who currently leads his independent non-profit Crisis Management Initiative, is a regular visitor to major international capitals. In February, the veteran peacemaker counted 25 travel days outside of Finland, spearheading negotiations, peace talks and youth education initiatives across the globe.