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10 Downing St Lobby Briefings - December 10-11

LOBBY BRIEFING: 11AM TUESDAY 11 DECEMBER 2001

WAR ON TERROR

Three Months On/Colin Powell

The Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) advised journalists that Colin Powell was due to meet the Prime Minister at 1pm today. At 1.46pm they would attend a simple ceremony in the Street involving the playing of the two national anthems by seven musicians, aged 15-17, from the American School of London. This event would coincide with similar ceremonies taking place at Ground Zero in New York, at the Pentagon in Washington, at the crash site in Pennsylvania, in other states throughout the US, in addition to 86 other countries. There would also be a moment of reflection on the NASA space shuttle. In each ceremony, the country's national anthem would be played to emphasise, as we had said throughout, that this hadn't just been an attack on the US but on the rest of the world as well. The theme was very simple: we must never forget September 11. We must remember the pain and lessons of that day. Many things had changed since then, especially in Afghanistan where there was now a real possibility of a better future. However, that did not mean we should forget the very real and continuing pain of the families of the victims, the pain of those who were involved in the rescue effort, of those who continued to work to try to pick up the pieces. Equally, we needed to recognise that despite the successes, the campaign to stop future terrorist attacks was continuing. September 11 revealed a new kind of threat - the threat of mass terrorism - which respected no boundaries, either physically or in terms of respect for human life. That threat was still very much with us and we had to respond accordingly.

Asked what issues were likely to be raised during the Prime Minister's meeting with Colin Powell, the PMOS said that the agenda would cover the three main prongs of the campaign - the military effort within Afghanistan, the diplomatic efforts to build on the success of Bonn and give the interim administration as fair a wind as possible, and also the humanitarian side. The Prime Minister would also be very interested to hear Colin Powell's personal account of his recent visit to the region. Asked who else would be attending the meeting, the PMOS said that the Foreign Secretary and US Ambassador would also be present. Mr Powell would also have a meeting with the Foreign Secretary after the ceremony in the Street.

Asked why we were commemorating three months since September 11, the PMOS said that speaking from personal experience following atrocities in Northern Ireland, there was a general sense of not wanting to be seen to forget. That was something with which a lot of people would empathise. It was important to show the families of the victims and those scarred by the events of September 11 that we had not forgotten. We continued to reflect on the lessons. We believed that was something that was worthwhile and had a serious purpose to it. Asked if the purpose of marking three months was to prepare public opinion around the world for the next phase of the campaign, the PMOS said no. He noted that the families of the victims and all those involved in the events of September 11 must be having a very tough time in the run-up to Christmas and the New Year. The message was that it was important for us not to forget what had happened. Put to him that no one had forgotten - so what was the point of marking three months since the atrocity, the PMOS said that after Omagh, people had chose various moments, including the run-up to Christmas, to hold public memorial services and reflect on what had happened. Questioned as to whether the ceremony in Downing Street today would still have taken place had Colin Powell not visited the Prime Minister, the PMOS said yes. He pointed out that the US had initially planned events in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. The idea had mushroomed from there. Eighty six other countries thought it worthwhile to mark the three months since September 11. Clearly this was not an empty gesture. It was a demonstration of real commitment.

Anti-Terrorism Bill

The PMOS advised journalists that Robin Cook had published a statement today underlining the Government's determination to implement the Anti-Terrorism Bill and pass it into law this week. The PMOS read an extract from Mr Cook's statement:

"If they could, the terrorists would repeat those terrible deeds of September 11 - just as there are those in this country who would use those deeds to justify their own attempts to create disorder here by attacking innocent people.

"The Government is determined to do everything it can to prevent any such attacks, which is why this week we will pass the new Anti-Terrorism Bill into law.

"It addresses the threat we face both at home and abroad in a practical and common sense way, and recognises, as the Leader of the Opposition himself has said, that terrorism and organised crime are often inextricably linked.

"We must do all we can, therefore, to help the police and other agencies fight the terrorist threat - as well as prevent evil people here stirring up religious hatred. It would be grossly irresponsible of the Government to do otherwise.

"Of course I recognise that people do have concerns and, where we can, we have met those concerns during the passage of the Bill, but we also have to recognise the seriousness of the threat we face, and respond accordingly.

"I hope Parliament will bear all this in mind as we make progress this week."

Asked whether the Government would offer further concessions, the PMOS said that where people had asked us for safeguards which did not dilute the substance and practical measures of the Bill, we had shown willingness to introduce those safeguards, such as sunset clauses. However, where any changes would take away from the practical substance of giving the authorities the powers to tackle terrorism or in addressing the equally important issue of preventing attacks here by those who deliberately stirred up religious hatred, then the Government was determined to push the Bill through. We believed there was a continuing threat both internally and externally and that was clearly something we had to deal with.

Asked repeatedly whether the Home Secretary would drop the religious hatred clause in light of the argument that it had nothing to do with fighting terrorism, the PMOS said no. The clause was about fighting those who exploited the deeds of September 11 to stir up religious hatred. Lord Goldsmith had described several attacks on people which had taken place against this background. Discounting the misinformation that was circulating, the PMOS reiterated that the Bill aimed to prevent attacks which were a direct result people stirring up religious hatred. Asked whether further sunset clauses would be introduced as requested by the Opposition, the PMOS pointed out that the Commons had already expressed its view on the sunset clauses and had voted against introducing them last week. Questioned as to how we were expecting to get the Bill through this week if no further concessions were made, the PMOS said that the Government would do all it could. He had no intention of getting into hour-by-hour, day-by-day tactics. Nevertheless, the Government was determined that people should face up to the very real threat - both externally and internally - and remember the resolve following September 11 to do everything we could stop mass terrorism and prevent people exploiting religious hatred and stirring up public disorder by attacking innocent people.

Deployment

Asked about the possible deployment of British troops, the PMOS said that as we had made clear throughout, we were keen to build on Bonn and help the process of stabilisation. However, discussions on this matter had to continue with the relevant people, namely the UN first-and-foremost, the new interim administration and our other allies including the US. Asked to confirm reports that a meeting involving potential contributors would be taking place in London this week, the PMOS said he was not aware of any specific meeting. However, there were regular discussions going on at all levels.

Asked to confirm that we had ruled out leading a peacekeeping force but not an interim force, the PMOS said we hadn't ruled anything in or out. We were in discussions with the relevant people to work out what was best and those discussions would continue over the course of the week. There was no point in stating that we would or would not play any particular role irrespective of the views of other people. We believed it was important to achieve a consensus about the role people should play. As evidenced by coverage in the Washington Times and New York Post, it was clear that people valued the contribution we had made across a whole range of areas - whether militarily, diplomatically or in terms of the humanitarian effort. It was good that people wanted us to play different roles. However, we had to be clear what those roles were and what roles other people would play. The discussions on these matters would continue.

Questioned about the Chief-of-Defence Staff's speech last night, the PMOS said that he had been underlining that it was good that the world community thought we did a good job in terms of the three prongs of the campaign. Of course there were limitations to what we could do because our resources were finite. However, it was good that our skills were valued, just as the contributions made by other countries were valued. It was important to remember that 80%of the aid going into Afghanistan came from the US, the main military effort continued to be made by the US and they were also deeply involved diplomatically, as you would expect.

Objectives

Put to him that the CDS had appeared to indicate in his speech last night that the UK shouldn't follow any American effort into Iraq, the PMOS said that the Government's view on Iraq had not changed. Similarly, the Government's view, and the Prime Minister's view, of the different phases of the campaign remained unchanged. First-and-foremost we were focussing on Afghanistan. Only then would we see what else we needed to do to address the issue of terrorism worldwide, as well as related issues such as weapons of mass destruction. Asked if he was seriously suggesting that the British military only dealt with one operation at a time and did not plan ahead for future operations, the PMOS pointed out that we needed to obtain as much information as possible about the terrorism network. However, as we had said from the outset, the campaign against terrorism would be carried out in a calm and rational way. So far, that was what had happened. We were taking things step by step. It was important not to get too ahead of ourselves. Asked if we would go into Somalia if the US did, the PMOS repeated that it was important not to get too ahead of ourselves. There was no point speculating. We would take things step by step.

Put to him that Downing Street appeared to have used the CDS's speech to warn the US not to take Britain for granted, the PMOS disagreed. The CDS had said what was obvious. We all brought the different skills we had to the party. Since September 11, we had shown we could co-operate together - not just the UK and US, but all the other members of the consensus, which had held together despite all predictions to the contrary. What we had done was show we could use our different approaches for the common good. Asked what Britain's skill was given that the US's skill appeared to be 'bombing the hell out of people', the PMOS said it was important to recognise that the US had contributed to the campaign in many different ways. For example, they had supplied 80% of the humanitarian aid and had also been heavily involved in the diplomatic effort. It was easy to portray the US's contribution as some sort of 'Punch and Judy' show. However, reality was not like that. Reality was multi-faceted. Britain had different skills which could be used in different ways militarily, diplomatically and in terms of the humanitarian effort. This should not be viewed as some sort of competition but as a process of different countries adding into the pot whatever it was they could do to assist the campaign. Asked if he was saying that the CDS had been talking about the different roles we could play rather than different priorities or different policies between the two countries, the PMOS said yes. As the Prime Minister had said from the outset, the campaign would be carried out in different phases and our contribution would be made in different phases. Journalists wanted him to jump to the next phase and say precisely what we were going to do. However, we were not able to do that. We would take it phase-by-phase and approach each one in a calm and rational way. Asked if he was implying that it had been wrong for the CDS to have said what he had said, the PMOS said no. In the same way countries had made different contributions in this phase which had complemented the role played by others, so they would no doubt make other contributions in future phases which would complement the role played by others.

Put to him that Colin Powell had said in Paris that he wanted the UK to play a lead role in any peacekeeping force in Afghanistan, the PMOS said we were pleased that Mr Powell had such a high opinion of our contribution that he wanted us to do more. That was something we clearly welcomed. However, it would be wrong for us to be unilateralist about this in any way. We had to co-ordinate our efforts with the UN, with the Afghans and with our other allies, as we would continue to do. It was common sense.

Questioned as to whether the choice now facing the Prime Minister, in light of our finite military resources, was whether to contribute peacekeeping troops in Afghanistan or follow the US and tackle terrorist networks in other countries, the PMOS said that the choice facing anybody was how to best apply resources. That was a statement of the obvious. That was what we would do as we went through this phase and was what we would continue to do in the next.

Bin Laden

Questioned as to whether the Prime Minister would tell Colin Powell that bin Laden and Mullah Omar should be tried by a properly constituted international court rather than a 'jumped-up' American court given that September 11 had after all been an attack on the international community, the PMOS said he would leave the journalist to reflect on his characterisation. We had answered this question many times in the past. As the wronged nation - and as recognised in international law - the US was in the lead on this.

ENDS

LOBBY BRIEFING: 16:00 MONDAY 10 DECEMBER 2001

STABILISATION FORCE

Asked if British troops were still on standby to act as a stabilisation force in Afghanistan, the PMOS said that the position remained that we had yet to receive a request from the United Nations. Put to him that no request was necessary and that NATO countries should step forward to volunteer its troops as a coalition of the willing, the PMOS said that the Bonn agreement had established the need for a stabilisation force in Kabul and the surrounding areas. Work was going on at the UN in discussion with the interim administration and Coalition allies as to how things might be taken forward. He was unable to answer the 'when, whether, why or how many' questions at this stage.

Asked if the United Kingdom's stance as a 'belligerent nation' precluded its involvement in a stabilisation force, the PMOS said a nation's participation in the military conflict should not necessarily conflict with that nation's involvement in a stabilisation force. The two were not mutually exclusive. Questioned further about the hostility that would be felt by Afghans towards the British army if they captured and killed Bin Laden, and we had a stabilisation force on the ground, the PMOS said neither of those things had happened. He reminded journalists that the interim administration was made up of a moderate Pashtun contingent and representatives of the Northern Alliance, amongst others. The Taliban had all but collapsed. It was not part of the new government. He could not speak for them, but he doubted the new administration held any candle for Al Qaida or Osama Bin Laden.

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