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UK PMOS Press Briefing On Iraq 18th March 2003

PRESS BRIEFING: 3.45PM TUESDAY 18 MARCH 2003

IRAQ

Asked when Downing Street would announce the replacements for those Ministers who had resigned, the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) said that appointments would be made in due course. Asked if the Prime Minister was waiting to see if there were any further resignations, the PMOS said no. The Prime Minister's attention was currently focussed on today's debate in the House, as you would expect. Questioned as to whether he was aware of any more resignations to follow, the PMOS said not that he knew at this stage. Obviously we respected the rights of individuals to come to their own conclusions. However, he would simply point out that some of the wilder estimates that had been floating around had not materialised.

Asked if the Prime Minister had been signalling his intention to resign if he was defeated in tonight's vote when he had said that he would not be a party to pulling troops out of the Gulf, the PMOS said we remained confident that the majority of the House of Commons would back the Prime Minister's position. The question was therefore hypothetical and did not merit an answer. Put to him that the Prime Minister himself had appeared to put forward the suggestion, the PMOS said that the Prime Minister had simply been indicating how strongly he felt about this issue. Asked if journalists would be free to interpret the Prime Minister's comments as a signal that he would resign if he was defeated tonight, the PMOS said that this was a free country, unlike Iraq. Interpretation was a matter for the journalists, not him. It wasn't his job to speculate on the outcome of the vote. Asked if the Prime Minister was confident that he would achieve a majority of the PLP, the PMOS said that as a Civil Servant he was unable to speak about party matters. However, the Prime Minister was seeking to get the backing of the majority of the House of Commons.

Asked for further detail about a new UN Resolution proposed by the Prime Minister in his Statement to the House this afternoon relating to the governance of Iraq post-Saddam, the PMOS said that the idea had been mentioned in the Azores Summit conclusions on Sunday. We believed that the UN was the right authority to handle the reconstruction of Iraq after Saddam given the economic desert it had become under his regime. Asked if the process to draw up the new Resolution was already underway, the PMOS said he was not aware of any processes underway at this stage. That said, we had been sounding people out about this idea and would continue to do so.

Asked if the Prime Minister was intending to remain in the House until the vote later tonight, the PMOS said that he would be staying in the House for as long as he could, although he did have other business to attend to as well. That said, there was nothing to point to at this stage which might require him to return to Downing Street. Asked if he would meet MPs during the course of the evening, the PMOS said that the Prime Minister had signalled his willingness to talk to whoever wished to talk to him as and when he could.

Asked why the Prime Minister was speaking to HM Queen by phone this evening, the PMOS said that it was instead of his regular weekly Audience at Buckingham Palace. In the light of today's events, he was unable to meet the Queen in person, so he would be speaking to her by phone instead. Asked if this was the first time the Audience had been substituted for a phonecall, the PMOS said no.

Asked if the War Cabinet had officially met yet, the PMOS pointed out as a statement of fact that we were not yet at war. Asked if he was implying that the War Cabinet would only be established once hostilities had begun, the PMOS repeated that we were not yet at war. Asked if a group of key senior Ministers was meeting each day to discuss the issue of Iraq, the PMOS said that Ministers were meeting in different formats on a rolling basis, as you would expect.

In answer to questions about Clare Short's comment regarding targeting which she had mentioned in her statement this morning, the PMOS said that obviously targeting was very carefully considered according to a well-rehearsed process. That would continue to be the case during any military action in Iraq if we reached that point.

ENDS

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