The high-level General Assembly meeting on the Culture of Peace was an important step in building a more harmonious world, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told correspondents this afternoon at a Headquarters press conference in which he was joined by Prince Saud Al-Faisal, Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia, whose King Abdullah proposed the gathering. (See Press Release GA/10784.)
"King Abdullah's initiative has come at a time when the need for dialogue among religions, cultures and civilizations has never been greater", Mr. Ban said of the two-day meeting that included what he described as the enthusiastic participation of Heads of State and senior officials of more than 75 Member States. "It has brought together people who might not otherwise have a chance to interact", he added.
Mr. Ban introduced a declaration, which affirms the rejection of the use of religion to justify the killing of innocent people and acts of terrorism, violence and coercion. He pledged his full support to the effort that was now needed: going beyond the positive words spoken in the past two days.
Prince Al-Faisal said that such an effort would ensure the security of all mankind through reaffirming common values. It was now incumbent on all participants to declare to the world that difference must not result in confrontation.
The initiative, he said, began in Mecca at a Muslim scholar's conference, and then continued in Madrid with participants of all cultures and religions. Establishing the committee on interfaith dialogue proposed by King Abdullah would now help enlist the principles of tolerance, dignity, family and integrity, common to all faiths, to combat a host of world ills.
Thanking President of the General Assembly Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann, the Secretary-General and all participants, he said he looked forward to the continuing support of the United Nations for dialogue among all beliefs and cultures.
A correspondent asked how the committee, proposed by King Abdullah, would be established and avoid politicization. Prince Al-Faisal replied that participants in the dialogue would establish operating modalities to ensure its independence. Mr. Ban said that it was in the interest of Member States to promote further the understanding of different cultures and faiths. All related initiatives should work together to maximize harmony. "This is not the end, it is just the beginning", he said.
The dialogue that began in Madrid was not centred on theology or dogma, but on the common ethics of religions, such as the Ten Commandments, he added. Those common values opened the way to cooperation and understanding that had not previously existed, and helped world leaders to look at problems from the same perspective.
Asked if there would now be a similar meeting in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, he said the locations of further meetings would depend on the wishes of participants. As for whether Saudi Arabia would now allow tolerance of religious freedom within its borders, he replied that his country was the centre of Islam, the point of its origin, and the location of the two holy Mosques. It was, therefore, responsible, not only to its own wishes and will, but to those of the international Muslim community, as well.
The correspondent's question of how a country could call for religious tolerance when it did not practice it was against the spirit that began in Madrid, he continued. It was agreed there that dogma and ideology would be left aside and common values would be the focus, in order to bring people together.
"But to say from the beginning, 'You have to transform yourself into something which you aren't now or nothing else can be achieved' is I think carrying the argument too far", he said. He proposed, instead, increasing understanding between faiths, which would allow all cultures to change themselves "as much as needed to see the point of view of the other and work together for harmony and peace and not for confrontation".
Another correspondent asked Prince Al-Faisal how he would interpret the Israeli answer to the Saudi peace initiative, expressed at the meeting, and if his country would now build on that potential opening. He replied that King Abdullah's peace initiative was always aimed at Israel and it deserved serious attention. The disappointing part of the statement by the President of Israel was that he left certain issues untouched. The Saudi proposal, however, was a "package deal". There was still a long way to go before Arabs and Israelis saw eye to eye.
Mr. Ban said that what was needed now was "dialogue that delivers". This meeting, he hoped, would lead to more substantive dialogue between faiths. On the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Saudi peace initiative was important, and further dialogue must be encouraged. Although there had not been concrete agreement this year, there had been much dialogue along with agreement that negotiations should continue. "We must nurture and support this ongoing dialogue", he said -- even if the process took a long time.
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