I am delighted to be the first Minister of the new British Government to address the Security Council. It is a particular honour that you are in the chair as I do so, particularly on a day when my Foreign Secretary has made a key announcement in the House of Commons in relation to non-proliferation designed to assist all our efforts to promote understanding through greater transparency between nations.
I would like to congratulate you on Lebanon’s membership of the Council and pay tribute to your delegation’s handling of Lebanon’s Presidency this month.
I would also like to join in the welcome to the Secretary-General to the Council and to thank him for his introductory remarks. The new British Government looks forward very much to working closely with you, Mr Secretary-General.
We welcome the importance you attach to intercultural dialogue as an instrument to prevent, manage and resolve conflict, and to build peace after conflict.
We see all too often that prejudice and misunderstanding can cause and perpetuate conflict, within and between societies.
In Afghanistan, it is clear that sustainable peace requires a truly representative, transparent Afghan political process that gives all Afghans a real stake in that process. Next month’s Peace Jirga is an important opportunity to begin a process of dialogue aimed at achieving an enduring national consensus for a political settlement. We must all support this process as a fundamental part of ensuring Afghanistan emerges, after 30 years of conflict, as a peaceful and functioning state.
In the Middle East, the unresolved Israeli-Palestinian issue has been a source of anger and resentment for over 60 years. It is one of the biggest obstacles to inter-cultural dialogue and understanding, particularly between Muslims, Jews and Christians. We will work for peace in the Middle East, with a secure and universally recognised Israel living alongside a sovereign and viable Palestinian state.
The current process of proximity talks offers hope for a solution. We welcome and support the United States efforts, we call on the parties to continue to narrow the gap between them and take the bold political decisions necessary to achieving a lasting peace. The region must play its role too - by supporting dialogue and negotiation, and taking steps to build a greater sense of trust.
We applaud the range of international efforts underway to promote intercultural dialogue. We support the work of the Alliance of Civilisations in promoting such dialogue as a means of preventing conflict. I wish the Alliance well as it begins its Annual Forum in Brazil tomorrow. The Alliance is at its best when engaged on projects that draw upon the energy of the media and civil society to promote dialogue and understanding.
I would like to highlight three points.
First, while intercultural dialogue should acknowledge our differences, it must also be built on universal human values. The United Nations has led the way in promoting human rights and fundamental freedoms - through the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and subsequent human rights treaties. These rights and freedoms are universal, indivisible and interdependent. Respect for those rights enriches and underpins our common humanity.
Second, dialogue must mean exactly that. Mr President your moving opening address made clear your views upon this. It requires a willingness to be influenced as well as to influence. It must be based on a recognition that diplomacy, politics and life are not a zero-sum game. Reconciliation requires both an acceptance of different views and approaches, and a recognition of shared values and common interests and Mr President, in your words: ‘Not avoiding the difficult things, not ignoring contradictions’. The United Nations, with its unique legitimacy and global reach is well placed to support such dialogue.
Thirdly, we need an approach to intercultural dialogue which builds understanding across cultures and helps us deal with diversity and difference in a tolerant and respectful way. This cannot only be done by politicians, or by the diplomacy of the United Nations. It must begin with open societies, whose citizens are able to engage positively with other cultures, both in their own country and around the world. Mr Secretary-General, you noticed this in your opening remarks as well, when you said that improved technology and communications will ensure that those we represent are better informed than ever before and ever more keen to join with others in the dialogue that we are discussing today. This openness in communication and the involvement of those we represent will both inspire us and challenge us in our roles on their behalf.
Thank you again for organising today’s debate. We must now ensure that its lessons are reflected in the Council’s ongoing vital work in preventing and resolving conflict. May intercultural dialogue help all of us to live up to the highest ideals as set out in the United Nations charter.
Thank you very much indeed.
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