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Downing St Briefing 16 Jan. War On Terror / Iraq

Thursday 16 January morning government press briefing

PRESS BRIEFING: 11.30AM THURSDAY 16 JANUARY 2003

WAR ON TERROR/DEATH OF DC OAKE

The Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) advised journalists that the Home Secretary would be putting out a Written Ministerial Statement later today to update on the tragic events in Manchester on Tuesday. Asked for further detail, the PMOS said that he had no intention of pre-empting the Written Statement. However, it followed the Home Secretary's declaration in the House yesterday that he would continue to provide as much information as he could about the incident without prejudicing any inquiries or prosecutions.

IRAQ

Asked how long the Cabinet's discussion on Iraq had been this morning, the PMOS said around forty-five minutes. Questioned as to whether all Ministers had participated, the PMOS said that the majority of the Cabinet had contributed to it. Asked if the Prime Minister had taken the opportunity to get across a particular message on Iraq at the outset, the PMOS said that the Prime Minister had made some general remarks. He had told Ministers that he would be meeting Hans Blix at Chequers tomorrow and had added that Dr Blix's report to the UN Security Council on 27 January was important inasmuch as it had been enshrined in Resolution 1441, although clearly the option remained open to the weapons inspectors to report back to the UN at any time. He had also underlined the point that the inspection team was now at full strength and was operating properly as a result. Alongside that, the military build-up was continuing. If there was one message that got through in Iraq it was that the threat of force was real and would be used if necessary. In concluding, he had emphasised again that we had embarked on this strategy by going down the UN route and we would see it through. Saddam would be disarmed.

Asked the purpose of the Prime Minister's meeting with Hans Blix tomorrow, the PMOS said that Dr Blix was an important figure in the process. As the head of UNMOVIC, he had been mandated by the UN to take forward the weapons inspections programme. As one of the P5, the UK was an important member of the UN Security Council. Tomorrow's meeting was therefore a chance for the Prime Minister to hear personally from Dr Blix about the progress he was making in Iraq and whether he had any concerns. The Prime Minister would also offer Dr Blix any continued assistance if it was needed. Asked if the Prime Minister would use the occasion to pass over additional intelligence information, the PMOS said it went without saying that there had been a huge amount of co-operation from the outset of the process. That would continue. However, tomorrow's meeting was primarily a listening exercise for the Prime Minister.

Asked if the Cabinet had discussed the possibility that Saddam 'might do a runner' and seek asylum in another country, the PMOS said no. He said there was no point in attempting to write the next chapter before seeing how this one concluded. A number of scenarios could unfold. That said, the final outcome was already clear - Saddam Hussein would be disarmed. How that might happen was his choice and a matter for him.

ENDS

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