U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan was preparing for his speech at the University of Maryland Wednesday when he received a faxed letter from the Iraqi government stating its willingness to work with the latest U.N. resolution.
The acceptance of the U.N. resolution passed last week clears the way for an advance inspection team to arrive in the country Monday. And it's a move that may quiet U.S. talk of war with Iraq, should the nation refuse to disarm.
While the Iraq issue intruded, it did not mar Annan's lecture about turmoil in the Middle East in the fifth annual Anwar Sadat Lecture for Peace.
The secretary-general's lecture to an audience of more than 8,000 students, faculty and distinguished guests detailed the violence complicating the Middle East peace process and addressed the hope and "radical daring" needed to resolve the conflict.
"Given the events of the past two years, it was perhaps inevitable that both [Israelis and Palestinians] would come to doubt, fundamentally, each other's real commitment to peace," Annan said. "Somehow, we have to restore hope to both parties, by patiently rebuilding their trust in each other."
Annan called on Israel to give up the land it won from the Arabs in 1967 to a new Palestine, and for the two nations to learn to live with a common border.
The speech was the highlight of the Sadat Chair for Peace and Development, which is based at the University of Maryland and currently held by Maryland professor Shibley Telhami.
It was partly because of the sudden fax from Iraq that Annan did not address the issue of U.S. policy on Iraq during his speech, Telhami said, because Annan was "literally in the dressing room" when he received it and barely had enough time to read it.
But his choice of topic also reflected the fact that the Sadat lecture, in commemorating the legacy of the assassinated Egyptian leader, is intended to focus on peace in the Middle East.
"It was the Sadat lecture," said Annan's spokesman, Fred Eckhard, "and months ago when he accepted to give this speech and he knew that Mrs. [Jehan] Sadat would introduce him, it only seemed appropriate to make it a major speech on the Middle East.
"I don't think he was going to be swayed" by immediate events, Eckhard said.
Despite the gravity of the situation with Iraq, which the Nobel Peace Prize-winning international leader went on to discuss with President Bush at the White House after his speech, Annan "believes that the most pressing threat to international peace is the Palestinian-Israeli issue," said Telhami, who has written extensively on the conflict.
The lecture comes within a week of the 25-year anniversary of Sadat's historic visit to Jerusalem in 1977, a visit which inspired unprecedented hope for a resolution to the seemingly endless conflict.
Annan drew on the inspiration of Sadat's vision to revive hope in achieving a just and peaceful solution in the face of ever-increasing violence in the region.
The international community "must help both Israelis and Palestinians to break through the barrier of which Sadat spoke: `a barrier of suspicion, a barrier of rejection; a barrier of fear, of deception, a barrier of hallucination . . . a barrier of distorted interpretation of every event and statement,'" Annan said. "What is needed on both sides is true leadership, such as Sadat provided in his time."
Anwar Sadat's widow, Jehan, introduced Annan with high praise, adding that the speaker shared with her late husband a "deep desire" to bring about international peace and respect for human rights.
Jehan Sadat is the chairwoman of the advisory committee for the annual lecture, which brings speakers of international stature to the university every year.
Former South African President Nelson Mandela drew an equally large crowd last year, and previous speakers include former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, former President Jimmy Carter and former Israeli President Ezer Wiezman.
Annan's address came in the middle of a two-day visit to Washington, D.C.; on Tuesday, he met with Secretary of State Colin Powell, with whom he spoke about Iraq among other issues.
His noon lecture at the University of Maryland was preceded by a flurry of demonstrations with banners and chants outside the building where he spoke. Pro- Palestinian students held a news conference and pro-Israeli students countered with a demonstration of their own. Others simply held signs declaring their support for peace.