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Downing St Monday 28 October Morning Briefing

Monday 28 October morning government press briefing
[28 October 2002]



In answer to questions about the ending of the Moscow hostage situation, the PMOS said that no one should under-estimate the dilemma facing the Russian authorities. They had had to deal with a situation where terrorists had not only taken hundreds of people hostage, but had actually begun to shoot some of them as well. We therefore understood entirely why they had taken action. That said, we were not going to comment on how the situation had been brought to an end. Clearly, the Russian authorities had handled the situation in the way they saw fit.

Asked if the Prime Minister thought that the use of gas to end the siege was justified, the PMOS said that it was important not to jump to conclusions. No doubt we would be clearer as to what had happened by the end of the week. That said, people should not underestimate the very difficult situation which the Russian authorities had found themselves in. A large number of terrorists had taken hundreds of people hostage and had shown every willingness to kill themselves as well as their captives. Obviously something had had to be done.

Asked if we had made any representations to the Russian authorities to ask them what sort of gas they had used to end the siege, the PMOS said that the British Ambassador had been on the ground throughout the incident. Fortunately, the Britons who had been caught up in the situation had not been harmed. To that extent, that was the limit of our involvement in the matter. Asked if that meant that the UK was not pressing Russia to explain why they had used gas to bring the siege to an end, the PMOS said that ultimately it was a matter for the Russian authorities.

Asked if we believed that there was a way forward to achieve a peaceful political settlement in Chechnya, the PMOS said that we did not in any way under-estimate the difficulties faced by Russia in dealing with the situation in Chechnya. Obviously, there had to be some kind of political settlement in the long term. However, in order to achieve that, both sides had to be willing engage in a political process.


Asked where we were on a new UN Resolution on Iraq, the PMOS said that this issue had been under discussion since the middle of September. In light of that timescale, we had almost reached the stage where we had to decide whether the matter was going to be resolved through the UN. Obviously we hoped that it would be, which was why it would be helpful to bring matters to a head, if possible, this week. We remained firmly of the view that the UN route was the best way to deal with the issue. However, as the Prime Minister had said in his Sedgefield Press Conference last month, it had to be a genuine way of resolving the issue rather than avoiding it. We were still hopeful that progress could be made, and that things could move forward this week. Asked if he was setting out a deadline for the issue to be resolved one way or the other, the PMOS said that it was not helpful to talk about deadlines or ultimatums. As we had said in mid-September when the discussions had started, this issue would take a few weeks to sort out because that was the history of such negotiations at the UN. We were now at the end of October. The issue had been discussed in the round and questions of concern had been addressed. We believed that we had nearly reached the stage where a decision had to be made.

Asked what we would do if the UN was unable to agree on a new Resolution, the PMOS said that, as always, we preferred to work on the basis of achieving a successful outcome, rather than failure. Asked whether the international community would have the authority to ensure the disarmament of Saddam Hussein without a UN Resolution, the PMOS said that to answer the question would take us into hypothetical territory, which he was not prepared to do. He reiterated our strong hopes that we would be able to achieve a positive result at the UN. Put to him that his comment - that we were fast approaching the time when decisions had to be made - would appear to indicate that we were moving towards addressing the issue of Iraq without a UN Resolution, the PMOS said he would disagree. He had been making the point that we had been discussing the issue for many weeks and that we had almost reached the stage, as you inevitably did, where people had to make up their minds. We continued to hope and believe that we would achieve a positive outcome at the UN. We would wait and see what happened.

Asked whether the 'personal fallout' between the Prime Minister and President Chirac would have an impact on the ongoing discussions, the PMOS said that both the Prime Minister and President were mature politicians with a lot of experience in this field. Just because they might disagree strongly in one area did not automatically mean that they disagreed on everything.


Asked about the assassination this morning of a senior US diplomat in Jordan, the PMOS said that obviously we were very disturbed by the shooting and were expressing our concerns to the relevant people.


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