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UK PMOs Briefing 26th March - Iraq & Middle East

PRESS BRIEFING: 3.45PM WEDNESDAY 26 MARCH 2003

IRAQ

Questioned as to whether a UN Resolution on a post-Saddam Government was necessary, the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) advised journalists that the Prime Minister had done an extensive briefing on the plane on his way to Washington and had answered questions about this matter. He did not want to compete with him. As he had made clear in his news conference yesterday, it was important for a post-Saddam government in Iraq to be endorsed by the UN. Discussions about this issue were continuing in New York. In the meantime, we were addressing the practicalities of the situation as presented to us, which was why it was so important to move ahead with the UN Oil-for-Food programme.

Asked if there was a distinction to be drawn between a "UN-endorsed" and "UN-led" administration in Iraq, the PMOS said that obviously a UN endorsement or UN authority - call it what you will - was needed to achieve the broad international support which everyone wanted to see. The Prime Minister had spoken about this in the House and on the plane today and, as ever, the Prime Minister's words were better than his. Put to him that countries, such as France, Germany, China and Russia, did not want to see broad international support, the PMOS said that he was talking about the importance of ensuring that a mechanism was in place to make sure that the international institutions which could assist in a post-Saddam Iraq would be able to play a part. Put to him that Clare Short had stated categorically that a UN Resolution was needed to unlock those institutions, the PMOS agreed that was the case. Discussions on these issues would continue in the coming days. However, the immediate priority was to sort out the UN role in respect of the Oil-for-Food programme.

Asked for a reaction to Al Jazeera's reported decision to show footage of two dead British soldiers and two British prisoners of war in Iraq, the PMOS said that he had seen the snap on the PA wires which had appeared only a short while ago. As far as he could establish, no one within Government had seen the alleged footage. He was therefore unable to comment on it. It went without saying, however, that the matter was being looked at with all due urgency. Once we had seen it, we would be in a better position to comment.

Asked if Downing Street was any clearer about who was responsible for the explosion in the market place in Baghdad this morning, the PMOS said that it was still too early to say. Investigations were obviously continuing. It went without saying that the coalition would never target a civilian market. Asked if he would agree with an opinion piece in one of the papers today which had suggested that the 'techno-warriors' always over-estimated the capacity of their 'smart' bombs, the PMOS repeated that we were unable to say with any certainty at this stage what had happened this morning. Clearly, the utmost care was taken to pinpoint military installations and targets which were part of the command and control structure. Put to him he was not disputing the possibility that it was coalition ordnance rather than Iraqi ordnance which had been responsible, the PMOS said he was simply making the point that an investigation was ongoing and that he had no intention of pre-judging its outcome.

MIDDLE EAST

Asked if the Prime Minister had been signalling today that he should be judged to have failed in a year's time if he was unable to move the Middle East peace process forward following his comment in the House today that progress on the peace process would be made a central feature of British foreign policy, the PMOS said that, without overstating it, making progress on the Middle East peace process had been an article of faith for the Prime Minister for a very long time. He had lost no opportunity in raising the issue in whatever forum he believed to be appropriate and where his intervention might bear fruit. The commitment by the US to publish the roadmap was significant. The speech by President Bush last summer in which he had set out his vision of a two-state solution was also important. The Prime Minister would continue to play his part in moving the issue forward as best he could. As he had said when President Bush had announced that the roadmap would be handed over, it was particularly important at the current time in relation to the Arab world to show our even-handedness. It was absolutely clear that the single biggest issue for the people and for the leaders in the Middle East was to try to move the peace process forward.


ENDS

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