PMOs Briefings On Iraq - 4th and 5th March 2003
PRESS BRIEFING: 3.45PM TUESDAY 4 MARCH 2003
The PMOS advised journalists that the Prime Minister was expected to meet the Russian Foreign Minister, Igor Ivanov, tomorrow morning following the postponement of their meeting today since the Prime Minister was currently in Northern Ireland.
Asked for a reaction to a report in today's Washington Post suggesting that the US and UK would not go for a second Resolution unless they were sure that they would achieve the minimum nine votes at the UN and that the Prime Minister was now committed to the participation of British troops with or without a second Resolution, the PMOS pointed out that no decision had been taken at this stage to deploy British forces. He said that it was also the Prime Minister's expectation that there would be a second Resolution if it was shown that Saddam Hussein was in further material breach of his obligations. Hans Blix was due to present his report to the UN on Friday. We would have to see what it said about full co-operation. However, as the Foreign Secretary had reiterated today, if people were suggesting that Iraq's destruction of its al-Samoud II missiles was about Saddam disarming, it could be argued equally that he was still intent on rearming given he had included these weapons in his December declaration despite the fact that they exceeded the permitted range under international law. The Prime Minister believed absolutely that the logic of the process dictated that Resolution 1441 meant what it said and that people would have to face up to the consequences of what they had signed up to. Questioned as to whether US Administration officials might have got hold of the wrong end of the stick and had briefed Washington Post reporters erroneously, the PMOS said the Prime Minister continued to believe absolutely that we had to confront the threat posed by Saddam Hussein and his WMD. If he could not be disarmed peacefully he would have to be disarmed by force. That said, it was important to recognise that no decisions had yet been taken in relation to military action.
Asked if the Prime Minister 'definitely' wanted to see a vote at the UN on a second Resolution, the PMOS said the position remained that we would not have tabled a further draft Resolution had we not been serious about achieving a second Resolution. The logical consequence of that was it would be put to a vote at some point.
Questioned as to whether the Prime Minister was disappointed with the Russian Foreign Minister's refusal to rule out using Russia's power of veto at the UN, the PMOS said it was well known that different countries were approaching this issue from different perspectives. Mr Ivanov's words today should perhaps come as no great surprise to anyone. In the meantime, however, discussions were continuing to take place at the Security Council regarding the big issues which were at stake. The PMOS reminded journalists that Resolution 1441 talked about a final opportunity, complete compliance, full and immediate co-operation and the fact that serious consequences would flow should there be a further material breach. The Prime Minister was convinced of the logic of the argument that had been mounted and continued to believe absolutely in the integrity of the UN process. He also remained firmly of the view that people would have to confront the logic of what they had signed up to. While it was perfectly understandable for people to speculate about what might happen at the UN, it should be remembered that many predictions which had been made in the run up to the first Resolution last year had turned out to be completely wrong. This showed the importance of being patient and waiting to see how things panned out in the days and weeks ahead.
Questioned as to whether any financial inducements had been given to any Security Council member in the light of the Chancellor's remark today that he would spend whatever was necessary, the PMOS said certainly not as far as he was aware. The discussions the Prime Minister had had, and was continuing to have, with world leaders were focussed on the detail of the Iraq situation. He took every opportunity he could to go through the arguments with our partners on the Security Council about the issues confronting us. The Chancellor had been talking about funding for our armed forces. Pressed as to whether the Prime Minister was dangling any 'carrots' in front of the wavering members of the Security Council, the PMOS said that that was hardly the way the system operated. We were taking this forward on the basis of argument.
Asked whether it would be the job of the Security Council to decide whether Saddam was in further material breach and if so how that might happen given the fifteen members would clearly be unable to maintain a coherent position, the PMOS said that it was Hans Blix's role to present his reports to the UN and it was the Security Council's job to reach a judgement on that basis. No one was pretending that all fifteen members were coming at this from the same perspective. Self evidently they were not. Nevertheless, at some point they would all have to confront what it was that they had signed up to. 1441 had talked about a final opportunity and full and immediate co-operation. The Resolution had to mean what it said otherwise the edicts of the Security Council were essentially irrelevant.
Asked if he could conceive of any circumstances where the US would go to war against Iraq but the UK would not, the PMOS said it was important for people to take things one step at a time. No decision had been taken regarding military action. A joint US/UK/Spanish draft second Resolution was currently in circulation and the Prime Minister continued to expect it to be passed.
Asked, in the light of the Telegraph story, whether there were any British ground troops currently operating inside Iraq at the moment, the PMOS said that we never commented on the work or whereabouts of our Special Forces in any circumstance. That said, it was well known that our pilots were patrolling the No-Fly-Zones in the north and south of Iraq. In answer to questions about recent activity in the No-Fly-Zones, the PMOS took the opportunity to point out that since December 1998 we estimated that there had been 2,500 direct threats against US and UK aircrew, including missile attacks and heavy anti-aircraft fire. As we had underlined many times, coalition planes were entitled to act in self defence under international law.
Asked if any further thought had been given to a post-Saddam regime, the PMOS said that he had nothing further to add to what had already been said about this matter at present. The Prime Minister had outlined on several occasions the importance of the UN in relation to post-conflict scenarios. Obviously work was ongoing in this area and the Prime Minister would want to provide further details at an appropriate time. It should not come as any surprise that this was one of the issues which came up in his regular conversations with world leaders. That said, it should also be remembered that Iraq still had an opportunity to comply with its obligations.
Asked why the Foreign Secretary had suddenly decided to speak up against recent Israeli incursions into Gaza in which a number of people had been killed, the PMOS said that the premise of the question was based on an assumption that Mr Straw hadn't spoken about this matter in the past. In fact, he had raised the issue publicly on a number of occasions. There were clearly real concerns about what was happening in the region.
Questioned as to why momentum to deal with the Middle East situation appeared to have fallen by the wayside following President Bush's speech last week despite all the pre-hype, the PMOS said that we had welcomed the President's speech inasmuch as he was refocussing his attention on the issue and that he was reiterating his ambition to work towards a two-state solution and see an end to settlements. The road map obviously had an important part to play in the process. The Prime Minister himself had raised the issue of the Middle East peace process with the American Administration on many occasions. For what were understandable reasons, the President's speech last week had been reported with an Iraq focus. Nevertheless, what had been said about the MEPP was significant.
PRESS BRIEFING: 3.45PM WEDNESDAY 5 MARCH 2003
Asked whether the Prime Minister remained confident about achieving a second UN Resolution even in the light of the meeting today between the Russian Foreign Minister, Igor Ivanov, and his French and German counterparts in Paris, the PMOS said yes, absolutely. There was nothing which had been said today that hadn't been said before by the respective Foreign Ministers. The Prime Minister was confident that there would be a second Resolution was because of his firm belief in the inescapable logic of 1441 which had always been the route map for this process. Paragraph 9, for example, talked about Iraq co-operating 'immediately, unconditionally and actively'. Elsewhere, the Resolution referred to the final opportunity being given to Saddam, with Paragraph 13 talking about the 'serious consequences' the Iraqi regime would face as a result of its continued violations of its obligations. Resolution 1441 was not Resolution 1284. The one could not mutate into the other even if some might wish otherwise. The two were not interchangeable. This was not about containment through inspections. It was about disarmament through UNMOVIC.
Questioned further, the PMOS said that we were engaged in a period of intensive diplomacy. That process had not yet concluded. The next stage was a report by Dr Blix to the Security Council on Friday. People had to be patient. All manner of predictions had been made before 1441 had been approved unanimously last year. The Resolution meant what it said and people would ultimately have to face the logic of what they had signed up to.
Questioned repeatedly as to whether a second Resolution was really needed, the PMOS said that we would not have tabled a draft Resolution unless we were serious about getting it. As the Prime Minister had said today, it would be put to a vote and he was confident it would be carried.
Questioned as to whether the Prime Minister had declared that a second Resolution would be put to the vote because the US Administration had given him an undertaking that that would happen, the PMOS said it was a jointly tabled Resolution and we were in close contact with our co-sponsors. He pointed out that the Prime Minister had stated on many occasions how Saddam could still comply with his international obligations. No one was claiming that he was co-operating fully. On the contrary. Quite clearly he wasn't. 1441 also talked about immediate co-operation. Immediate meant immediate and co-operation meant co-operation. It was clear what he had to do. The choice was still his to do it. Pressed further, the PMOS said that we had worked with two other countries to circulate the text of a draft Resolution. No country would do that unless they were serious about getting it. Evidently, at some stage it would have to be put to a vote. That was the logic of the process. Asked if that might happen next week, the PMOS said that it would be foolish to predict a precise timetable at this point. We had indicated in the past that it would be shortly after the report by Hans Blix. He couldn't be more specific than that.
Asked if the Prime Minister had any contingency plans in the event of a failure to get the draft Resolution passed, such as an alternative Resolution, the PMOS repeated that the Prime Minister remained confident and continued to believe that a second Resolution would be achieved. Questioned as to whether the Prime Minister stood by the conditions he had set out in his Newsnight interview some weeks ago, the PMOS said that the Prime Minister's words spoke for themselves and he stood by what he had said in the past. Asked if there were any circumstances under which the Prime Minister could foresee moving towards military action in the face of two vetoes at the UN, the PMOS urged journalists to be patient as the process moved from stage to stage. We remained confident that there would be a second Resolution which would go to a vote at some point. The Prime Minister believed in the integrity of the UN process and in the integrity of the wording of 1441. He also believed that UN Resolutions had to mean what they said.
Asked if the Prime Minister's increased buoyancy today about getting a further Resolution was the result of an indication given to him by the Russian Foreign Minister during their meeting this morning that the Russians would not use their veto, the PMOS said that he wouldn't point journalists to anything beyond the logic of the Resolution which UN members had already signed up to unanimously.
Asked if Downing Street had been given any indication as to what Dr Blix would say in his report on Friday, the PMOS said not as far as he knew, although he had read media speculation about it. He reminded journalists that in recent weeks Iraq had attempted to turn the al-Samoud II missiles into the issue against which their co-operation should be judged. But what about the other key points we had identified? For example, had Saddam allowed Iraqi scientists to be interviewed in the manner chosen by the UN? Answer: no. And what about the UNSCOM leftovers - the anthrax, VX and precursor chemicals?
Asked for the Prime Minister's reaction to the suicide bus bomb attack in Israel today, the PMOS said that Jack Straw had issued a response on behalf of the Government. The Prime Minister condemned absolutely what had happened and called on all sides to do what they could to break the cycle of violence. It was only through engagement that we could realise the vision everyone wanted to see - two states living peacefully side by side.
Questioned as to whether the Prime Minister would continue to push his proposals forward, the PMOS said that trying to push the Middle East peace process forward was an article of faith for the Prime Minister. He lost no opportunity to raise it as an issue wherever it was strategically useful to try to move things forward. The fact that President Bush had talked about the Middle East again in a speech last week was an important and welcome signal of renewed US engagement. The Prime Minister believed absolutely that it was important for momentum to be injected into the peace process as quickly as possible. Asked if the Prime Minister took the view that the Israelis should not talk to the Palestinians until terrorism came to an end, the PMOS said the Prime Minister believed that there needed to be dialogue in order for the issues to be resolved. The Israeli Administration had to have confidence that their interlocutors on the Palestinian side could deliver, which was one of the reasons why we had put a high premium on the reform of the Palestinian Authority, hence the conference we had hosted in London in January.