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10 Downing St Briefings - Comments On War

Wednesday 15 January morning government press briefing



The Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) advised journalists that the Prime Minister was due to speak to the Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police, Michael Todd, this morning following yesterday's tragic events. David Blunkett would also be making a Statement to the House today after PMQs.

Asked whether any of the three men arrested last night had attended Al Qaida training camps in Afghanistan, the PMOS said that it was important to observe the legalities arising from the arrests. Since those detained had not yet been charged, it would not be helpful to discuss the case in detail. He added that this was a day for mourning the death of a police officer who had been in the frontline of efforts to protect this country from terrorism. The debt that we as a society owed people such as Stephen Oake, and the heartache of his family, was what was uppermost in the mind of the Prime Minister today. No doubt the rest of the country felt the same way. The Prime Minister had met Mr Oake in his role as a member of his protection team during past visits to Manchester. In answer to further questions, the PMOS said that yesterday's operation was an example of how the Security Service and the Police were co-operating on intelligence-led operations against those suspected of terrorist activity.

Asked to confirm reports that some of the police officers involved in yesterday's incident had not been made aware that it was an anti-terrorist operation and whether we believed it had been right to keep them in the dark, the PMOS said that as the Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police had indicated, if there were any operational lessons to be learned, he would take them forward in due course in the proper way. There was no point trying to second-guess him. Clearly this was not a day for rushing to judgement. It was a day for recognising the work being done by the police and security services as they calmly and rationally assessed the threat we were facing and responded to it appropriately. Even in these very difficult circumstances when they were mourning the loss of a colleague, they would continue to do their job and we would continue to support them in whatever way we could.

Asked what the Prime Minister would say to Mr Todd today, the PMOS said that he would send a message that our thoughts were with the family of DC Oake, as well as his colleagues at Manchester Police. This was clearly a difficult day for all of them. He would also underline our support for the work that they and the security services were doing to counter the terrorism threat.


Asked for a reaction to criticism expressed by Church of England Bishops regarding the Prime Minister's stance on Iraq, the PMOS said that the Prime Minister had set out the case very clearly in his news conference on Monday. No one welcomed the possibility of war. Ultimately, however, it was entirely up to Saddam Hussein. If he co-operated and disarmed, then there would be no need for war. As the Prime Minister had underlined on Monday, the UK's national security was at risk due to the very real threat posed by Saddam's weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Equally, it was important for people to understand that the danger of a crossover between WMD and terrorism was also very real.

Asked if the Prime Minister was meeting backbench Labour MPs today to reassure them about his position on Iraq, the PMOS said that as a Civil Servant he was unable to comment on political matters. On Iraq more generally, however, the Prime Minister had signalled at his Sedgefield news conference last year that we would go down the UN route - but that it had to be a way of dealing with the issue, not avoiding it. As challenging and as difficult as the circumstances, people should be reassured that we were pursuing a coherent and consistent approach. Asked if the Prime Minister's task at the PLP today was to reassure MPs or persuade them, the PMOS said that he was not a spokesman for the Labour Party. That said, the Prime Minister was seeking to explain the reasons why we had acted in the way we had, why we had put so much effort into going down the UN route, and why we were determined to achieve the objectives set out in Resolution 1441 - i.e. the disarmament of Saddam Hussein - one way or the other.

Tuesday 14 January afternoon government press briefing



Asked to clarify the Chancellor's remark that Saddam Hussein should be punished, the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) said that the Chancellor had been underlining the point that if Saddam Hussein continued to defy the international community he could not go unpunished. That was a bit different. His comments had not been particularly remarkable or groundbreaking. He had simply been amplifying and endorsing what the Prime Minister had said yesterday.

Asked for a reaction to a report that the weapons inspectors had found a quantity of suspicious materials in Iraq which appeared to have been imported illegally, the PMOS said that we were aware of the report. Although it should come as no surprise to anyone to hear that Saddam was breaking sanctions, it was nevertheless important to wait for Dr Blix's progress report to the UN Security Council on 27 January. As we had said from the outset, it was essential for the UN route and the new inspection regime to have integrity so that the inspectors could do their work properly. We were serious about going down the UN route. No one had been paying lip service to it. However, we had to be clear that the purpose was to disarm Saddam Hussein of his weapons of mass destruction (WMD). In his interim report to the Security Council last week, Dr Blix had observed that a large number of unanswered questions still remained. It was worth remembering that Resolution 1441 was about active Iraqi co-operation with the weapons inspectors rather than simply allowing them into Iraq. As the head of the IAEA, Mohammed El-Baradei, had said yesterday, it was no use co-operating in process if you failed to engage on substance. Thus, Dr Blix's comment that there were questions to which the Iraqi regime had a responsibility to provide answers was clearly significant. As our dossier published last year had outlined, UNSCOM's report to the UN in January 1999 had set out in some detail a number of items which they believed had not been accounted for. We had assessed, for example, based on their reports, that they had been unable to account for 360 tonnes of bulk chemical warfare agent, including one and a half tonnes of VX nerve gas. UNSCOM had also stated that Iraq had not verifiably accounted for a minimum of 2,160 kilos of growth media for biological agents, and had also failed to provide credible evidence that mustard gas-filled artillery shells and biologically-capable aerial bombs had been destroyed. So when Hans Blix and his team were underlining that there were unanswered questions, the Iraqi regime had a responsibility to account for what the UN had set out in previous reports. Moreover, when they stated that Saddam's declaration was incomplete, that was obviously a cause for concern. Saddam had to understand that co-operation with the weapons inspectors meant more than just opening gates. It meant answering their questions as well. Active, not passive, co-operation.

Asked if he would agree with some in the US who believed that Saddam should be seen as guilty until proven innocent, the PMOS said that people should not forget that a UN process was ongoing. Hans Blix was a serious figure and he was doing a serious job. He now had a full complement of weapons inspectors and was determined to move the process forward. Given the outstanding questions, however, it was clear that the Iraqi regime had a responsibility not only to allow the weapons inspectors into the country, but to answer the perfectly legitimate questions which the international community was asking about a WMD capability that had been identified by UNSCOM under previous inspection regimes. The UN process had to go at its own pace. There was no point jumping to the next chapter before seeing how this one concluded. That said, the final outcome was already clear - Saddam Hussein would be disarmed. How that might happen was a decision for him.

In answer to further questions, the PMOS said it was worth remembering that, despite the obstruction and deceit which UNSCOM had had to deal with in Iraq before leaving, they had still managed to destroy large quantities of chemical and biological agents. However, as Hans Blix had said, there were still a large number of unanswered questions - not least in relation to what UNSCOM had reported was still left there. In our view, it was important to listen to what he had to say.

Asked if the Government had a view on the legality of the US Administration's decision to remove 8,000 of 11,000 pages from the Iraqi dossier before making it available to the non-permanent members of the UN Security Council, the PMOS said that what was important was for the declaration to be tested by Hans Blix and his team now that the weapons inspectors were up to full strength. They had access to the full declaration and were the ones whom the UN had tasked to do the job.

Asked to detail the precise nature of Hans Blix's work, the PMOS said that where Dr Blix went and who he spoke to was a matter for him. He had expressed concern and disappointment about unanswered questions and issues which had not been addressed in Saddam's declaration. That was where the focus should lie.


Asked if Downing Street was concerned about the European Parliament's criticism of the UK's record on human rights post-September 11 with regard to terrorists and asylum seekers, in addition to their accusation that Downing Street had been involved in excessive media manipulation in the days following the September 11 attacks in New York, the PMOS said that he hadn't seen any reports on this issue and therefore could not comment in detail. However, he would point out that the human rights of the people in Afghanistan had improved considerably as a result of the removal of an oppressive, violent regime which had thought nothing of executing women in football stadiums, for example. Moreover, all Governments had had to take difficult decisions post-September 11 as a result of an increased threat to security.

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