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Monday, 25 February, 2002, 15:48 GMT
Annan urges Middle East talks
Kofi Annan and Tony Blair
Mr Annan and Mr Blair held talks for almost an hour
It is essential that Israel and Palestine return to the negotiating table, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan insisted on Monday.

Mr Annan gave the warning in Downing Street following talks that lasted nearly an hour with UK Prime Minister Tony Blair.

I think it is important that we find some creative ways of breaking the impasse and getting the people back to the table

Kofi Annan
UN Secretary General

Mr Annan said: "I am worried and concerned about the tragedy going on in the Middle East and I'm not the only one. The prime minister shares the concerns.

"I think it is important that we find some creative ways of breaking the impasse and getting the people back to the table."

Mr Annan also reiterated his belief that the United States would be "unwise" to attack Saddam Hussein's Iraq.

Mr Annan was responding to questions from journalists about reports that President George W Bush is considering extending his war on terrorism from the recent actions in Afghanistan.

"I don't think Washington has taken any decision yet as to what to do about Iraq," said Mr Annan.

"But I myself am on record as saying that any attack on Iraq at this stage would be unwise."

Democratic appeal

The next step in the campaign against international terrorism is likely to be a key issue at a summit expected to be held between Mr Blair and President Bush in the US in April.

President Bush has identified Iraq as one of the states which form an "axis of evil" - the others being Iran and North Korea.

Britain has made clear that it has seen no evidence that Iraq was involved in the 11 September atrocities.

Asked about the forthcoming Zimbabwe presidential election, Mr Annan admitted: "The situation in Zimbabwe is worrying."

It was "unfortunate" that the European Union's monitors had had to leave the country, he said.

Kofi Annan
Mr Annan spoke to reporters outside Number 10

He added: "I would appeal to the government of Zimbabwe not to interfere with the process and allow the people ... to express themselves freely."

Mr Annan's talks with Mr Blair also covered Afghanistan.

The UN Secretary General said it was important that the detainees being held at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba - including several Britons - be treated in accordance with international norms.

"It is important that all prisoners be treated humanely," said Mr Annan.

Mr Annan was also set to have talks with Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown, Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and International Development Secretary Clare Short.

See also:

25 Feb 02 | Americas
Rumsfeld dismisses US critics
10 Dec 01 | Middle East
UN chief warns against Iraq attack
22 Nov 01 | Middle East
Iraq fears US military attacks
25 Feb 02 | Middle East
Shootings raise Mid-East tensions
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