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UK PMOS Briefings On Iraq March 12 2003

PRESS BRIEFING: 10.30AM WEDNESDAY 12 MARCH 2003

IRAQ

Asked if it was conceivable that US troops might go into action in Iraq without the British military, the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) said that it was important to put Donald Rumsfeld's comments into context. The Prime Minister remained firmly of the view that it was right to ensure that Saddam Hussein was disarmed and that it was therefore right for us to be part of that process. Saddam continued to have a choice. He could either disarm voluntarily through the UN process or go into exile. However, if he did neither, he would have to be disarmed by force. It was up to him to decide. Whatever he chose, the UK would be involved in the process.

Asked whether Mr Rumsfeld's remarks had followed a conversation he had had with Geoff Hoon in which they had discussed the possibility that the US might go it alone, the PMOS said that he had no intention of briefing on the detail of any conversations that might have taken place - in the same way that he had no intention of providing a running commentary on the discussions the Prime Minister was having with other world leaders. Asked if Downing Street believed that Mr Rumsfeld had been 'musing out loud' last night or whether he was reflecting on conversations he had had with Mr Hoon, the PMOS said that he was neither a political commentator nor a spokesman for Mr Rumsfeld. Questioned as to whether the British Government shared Mr Rumsfeld's view, the PMOS said that, as Mr Rumsfeld had stated in his clarification later last night, we believed that British troops would play a significant part if military action was considered necessary. Questioned as to whether they might be asked to play a humanitarian, rather than a military, role, the PMOS said that it would not be helpful to speculate about the role of British troops. However, it was important for people to recognise that Resolution 1441 had spoken about Saddam having to be disarmed if he did not comply. Clearly somebody was going to have to take on that responsibility if that happened. Pressed as to whether military action would include British troops, the PMOS said the Prime Minister believed that it was right for us to be involved in any action because it was right for Saddam to be disarmed and right for the UN's will and authority, as set out explicitly in 1441, to be upheld. Asked how he would square his assertion that we wanted to be involved in the process of disarmament with his declaration that we believed that the UN should be part of the process given the two were not necessarily compatible, the PMOS said that as 1441 made clear, Saddam had to comply fully and immediately or face 'serious consequences'. No one, not even the French, was suggesting that he was doing either.

Asked whether diplomacy had any bearing on the exact nature of the military role that Britain would play, the PMOS declined to get drawn into a speculative discussion. Asked if he would deny Donald Rumsfeld's apparent suggestion that diplomacy did indeed have a bearing and that we would play a military role if a second Resolution was achieved, but a humanitarian role if not, the PMOS drew journalists' attention to Mr Rumsfeld's later remarks stating that in the event a decision to use force was made, the US had every reason to believe that there would be a significant military contribution from the UK. Questioned repeatedly as to why he was refusing to confirm or deny whether Mr Hoon had had discussions about Britain's military role with Mr Rumsfeld, the PMOS repeated that he had no intention of giving a running commentary on the conversations either the Prime Minister, Defence Secretary or Foreign Secretary had with other people. Asked if the Government was therefore 'content' to allow critics of its position to continue to believe that this was a get-out clause which was being discussed privately, the PMOS said that he was neither a spokesman for Donald Rumsfeld nor for critics of the Government's position on Iraq. Asked why he was refusing to declare outright that British troops would be involved in any military action, the PMOS said that he was not going to speculate about what might happen once conflict began for the very simple reason that we were not yet at that point. We were still at the stage of seeking to confront Saddam with a clear choice through diplomacy. That was where the questions, focus and pressure should be. It was important to underline to him that this time he had to make a choice.

Asked if Downing Street had asked Mr Rumsfeld to issue a clarification of his earlier statement last night, the PMOS repeated that he was not a spokesman for Mr Rumsfeld. However, given the interpretation which was being put on his first statement last night, it was clear that his second statement had been helpful. Asked if he was implying that the first statement had been unhelpful, the PMOS said that any confusion was unhelpful. It therefore followed that anything which helped to clarify matters was considered to be helpful. Asked whether Downing Street had been in contact with the US Administration since Mr Rumsfeld's comment yesterday and whether the Prime Minister was expected to speak to President Bush today, the PMOS said that the Prime Minister was in regular contact with other world leaders, as you would expect. He would continue working the phones today, as he had been doing for the past week.

Asked if the Prime Minister remained confident that a second UN Resolution would be achieved, the PMOS said that not only were we continuing to work flat out on this matter, as you would expect, but there would also be a sustained bout of diplomacy at the UN today in an effort to get a second Resolution. We believed it was still possible, provided people were reasonable about coming to an agreed position. We were not going to deny that things had been made much more difficult by France's declaration that it would use its UN veto whatever the circumstances or whatever the evidence of continuing non-compliance by the Iraqis. However, the Prime Minister had always been firmly of the view that the UN should be a way of dealing with the issue, not avoiding it. He continued to believe that the UN would recognise the logic of the case and uphold what it had voted for unanimously in Resolution 1441. The Resolution had given Saddam a final opportunity, stating that "Council has repeatedly warned that Iraq will face serious consequences as a result of its continued violations of its obligations". To show how far we were prepared to go to pursue that logic, the Foreign Secretary would use a speech this morning and the Prime Minister would use PMQs to set out the key tests, on which we were working with others, to define how Saddam could show that he had had the fundamental change of heart that was necessary in this process.

Asked whether Dr Blix would play any role in deciding whether the tests had been met, the PMOS said that the suggestion was to misunderstand the precise role Dr Blix played. It was his job to report on fact, not to make judgements. Judgements were a matter for the Security Council. He referred journalists to the draft text of the second Resolution which had been co-sponsored by the UK, US and Spain.

Asked if the Prime Minister stood by his comment in his recent Newsnight interview that the only circumstance in which the UK would go to war against Iraq without a second Resolution would be in the face of an unreasonable veto, the PMOS said that our position on achieving a second Resolution had not changed. We believed that the UN would recognise the logic of 1441 and that it would uphold its clear and unambiguous terms. The Resolution stated that Saddam was being given a final opportunity to comply fully and immediately, but that he would face 'serious consequences' if he did not do so. Asked if he was implying that Britain would go to war without a second Resolution if we received the minimum nine votes at the UN, given the fact that a veto would not be needed if the minimum was not achieved, the PMOS said that he had no intention of getting drawn into a hypothetical debate about what might or might not happen in a UN vote. Discussions were continuing and it was better to leave it to those at the UN to conduct them.

Questioned as to whether the UK continued to believe that 1441 gave clear authorisation for war, the PMOS said that we were still working flat out to achieve a second Resolution. That was the current position. Pressed further, the PMOS said that 1441 was clear and unambiguous. Equally, we believed that there was a value in working for a consensus of as many nations as possible before moving forward, not least in terms of maintaining the pressure on Saddam. However, it was better to wait and see how events unfolded rather than engage in speculation.

Questioned as to whether the UN would vote on the second Resolution this week, the PMOS said that as we had been saying since the weekend, we believed it would take place later in the week rather than sooner. That remained the position. In the end, however, these were matters to be discussed by the UN. People simply had to be patient and await the outcome.

Asked how flexible the March 17 'deadline' was and whether a further forty five days grace might be granted to Saddam, the PMOS said that as we had been indicating over the past few days, any deadline would have to be tight so as not to give Saddam any suggestion that he could avoid making his choice. Forty five days appeared to be at the longer end of the spectrum.

Asked to clarify who, other than the Security Council, would have the right to impose a timetable on delivering the 'serious consequences' as set out in Resolution 1441, given 1441 did not set out a precise timeframe, the PMOS pointed out that 1441 did, in fact, contain a timeframe since it stated that Saddam had to comply immediately. Not in a month's time, six months' time or a year's time. But immediately.

Asked if the Attorney General believed that it would be legally justifiable if the UK decided to go ahead with military action in the face of unreasonable vetoes at the UN, the PMOS drew journalists' attention to paragraph 24 of the Ministerial Code which stated that "The content of opinions or advice given by the Law Officers, including the Scottish Law Officers, either individually or collectively, must not be disclosed outside Government without their authority". As a mere Civil Servant, he had to abide by that code. Put to him that he could avoid invoking the Attorney General's name simply by presenting any legal advice as 'legal advice', the PMOS said that, as we had underlined consistently from the outset, any action that was taken would be carried out in accordance with international law. That remained the case. Asked to explain which bit of international law he was referring to, the PMOS said that he had no intention of getting drawn into a speculative discussion about what we might or might not do. Asked whether the Government would ever explain why it believed that military action would be legal if a second Resolution was not passed, the PMOS said that we would deal with circumstances as they arose. He cautioned journalists against getting too far ahead of themselves at this stage. Put to him that a senior member of the Opposition had stated that what he was saying was 'tosh' given previous Administrations had always set out the legal position, the PMOS repeated that we would act in accordance with international law and with agreed procedure.

Questioned as to whether the Government believed that it could go to war under the terms of Resolution 1441 which stated that 'serious consequences' would follow if Saddam did not comply, as Geoff Hoon had suggested in an interview this morning, the PMOS said that Mr Hoon's words were correct. At this moment in time, however, we were continuing to work for a second Resolution.

PRESS BRIEFING: 3.45PM WEDNESDAY 12 MARCH 2003

ZORAN DJINDJIC

The Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) drew journalists' attention to a statement the Prime Minister had put out following the assassination today of the Serbian Prime Minister, Zoran Djindjic.

"I am deeply shocked and saddened by the news today of the assassination of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic. My thoughts are now with Prime Minister Djindjic's family and the people of Serbia.

"Zoran Djindjic was a leading supporter of democracy and reform in Serbia. He worked hard during the previous decade to ensure that Serbia was liberated from Milosevic and those who opposed democracy and the rule of law. I met him in 2002 and was impressed by the energy he devoted to reforming Serbia and improving life for all her citizens. His murder is a loss to all those, from whatever political party, who have made strenuous efforts to deliver a better future for Serbia.

"Those responsible for this cowardly act must not be allowed to derail Serbia's progress towards European integration. The UK stands firmly with our friends in Belgrade in their determination to safeguard democracy and the rule of law."

IRAQ

Asked to confirm reports that Mexico was likely to vote in favour of the second Resolution at the UN, the PMOS said that he had no intention of providing a running commentary on the different positions adopted by different Security Council members, other than to reiterate the point made the Prime Minister during PMQs that we were continuing to work flat out in our efforts to achieve a second Resolution at the UN. As part of those intensive efforts, we had set out the six tests which we believed Saddam should, and could, meet easily and quickly. We were operating in challenging circumstances given France's declaration that it would use its veto whatever the circumstances. Obviously that was making life more difficult. However, we would not stop working flat out to achieve a consensus at the UN. The implementation of 1441 had always been our objective which, we believed, would safeguard the credibility of the UN.

Asked again about the legal position regarding the launch of military action without a second Resolution, the PMOS said that it was a long-standing convention not to discuss any legal advice the Government received. However, it went without saying that any action that was taken would be in compliance with international law. Asked whether 1441 provided the legal basis to go to war with a second Resolution, the PMOS said that he had already answered the question. It wasn't the Government's policy to comment on advice given by the Attorney General. However, we were confident that any action that was taken would be done in accordance with international law - and we had a sound basis for that confidence. Pressed as to whether the Government had received advice from the Attorney General concerning the meaning of the term 'serious consequences' and whether it could be used as a legal basis for military action, the PMOS pointed out that 1441 had been signed up to unanimously by the Security Council last November. It had stated that, "The Council has repeatedly warned Iraq that it will face serious consequences as a result of its continued violations of its obligations". We did not believe that anyone had been in any doubt as to what that had meant. Put to him that the term had been used in order to give us 'wriggle room' and that if we had wanted to be unambiguous, the usual turn of phrase "all necessary means" should have been used instead, the PMOS repeated that no one had been in any doubt at all last November as to what "serious consequences" meant. He reminded journalists that 1441 had also underlined the need for immediate and full co-operation and compliance.

Asked if he recognised reports claiming that the Spanish Foreign Minister had suggested that a second Resolution might not be tabled at the UN after all on the grounds that it might be vetoed, the PMOS said that the Spanish Foreign Minister spoke for herself. That said, the suggestion was indicative of the problems we were facing as a result of one of the P5 threatening to use its veto whatever the circumstances and whatever progress was, or was not, made in getting Saddam to comply with the six tests we had outlined today. However, our position had not changed. As the Prime Minister had reiterated today, we would continue to work flat out to build a consensus at the UN. It was important for UN members to understand that the issue was not just about disarming Saddam. It was also about the future credibility of the UN as an institution. Pressed as to whether it was possible that a second Resolution might not be presented to the UN in the end, the PMOS said that we would continue to work with our colleagues to achieve a second Resolution. He pointed out that we would not have produced the six tests today were we not deadly serious about our intent to show Saddam that he was being given a final opportunity to comply which he should seize with both hands. We were straining every sinew to demonstrate to Saddam what he had to do under the terms of Resolution 1441, namely to comply fully and immediately.

Questioned as to whether the six tests had been discussed with the US Administration before being announced today, the PMOS said that it had not been a unilateral move. It was an idea which we had discussed with our international partners. Its purpose was to confront Saddam with the choice he had to make and also explain to others in crystal clear, unmistakable and unambiguous language why it was that we believed Saddam could, and should, comply. Asked whether the tests would be attached to the second Resolution as an amendment, the PMOS said that this was part of the 'UN-ary' that was going on at the moment. The Foreign Secretary was holding a briefing later this afternoon to update journalists on the UN process.

Asked if the Prime Minister remained confident that a second Resolution would be achieved, the PMOS said that we remained confident that the members of the UN would want to implement Resolution 1441 which they had passed unanimously. Failure to do so would send the wrong message to the rest of the world that the UN was not going to enforce its will. We believed that people would recognise that it wasn't only the future of Iraq that was at stake, but the core credibility of the UN, and they would therefore act accordingly.

Asked when we were expecting the vote on the second Resolution to take place at the UN, the PMOS said that as we had been indicating since the weekend, our hunch was that the vote would be later in the week, although ultimately it was up to the UN to decide. That remained our view. At this stage we were unable be any more specific.

Asked if the Prime Minister had spoken to President Bush today, the PMOS said that we were not giving a running commentary on whom the Prime Minister was speaking to. That said, the Prime Minister remained in close contact with all the world leaders that you would expect him to speak to.

ENDS

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