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UK PMOs Press Briefing 7th April 2003

PRESS BRIEFING: 11AM MONDAY 7 APRIL 2003

IRAQ

Asked when the Prime Minister would make a Statement to the House on Iraq, the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) said that the Prime Minister had committed himself to making a Statement before the Easter recess and he would do so. When that might be, however, had not been decided as yet.

Asked to characterise the role of the UN in each of the three post-conflict phases which we had set out last week, the PMOS said that discussions regarding this matter were continuing at their own pace, both at the UN in New York and between the UK and US Governments and our other allies. The general picture of a post-conflict Iraq had been set out clearly. In the immediate phase - and in accordance with our international obligations - the Coalition would be in control. At that stage, the head of the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Affairs (ORHA), General Jay Garner, would also be involved. He had indicated a timetable of ninety days for the duration of this phase. However, that might be shorter or longer, depending on events on the ground at the time. The transition would then be made to the Iraqi Interim Authority (IIA). The IIA would consist of the Iraqi people themselves and would represent the country's multi-ethnic make-up. The third phase would see the establishment of a constitutional Iraqi Government. The post-conflict principles were clear. However, there were many details which had yet to be worked out. It was therefore only right and proper to allow people the time and space to do just that, rather than rush in and answer questions prematurely. Questioned as to whether we would want to see a UN mandate administering the three phases, the PMOS said that as had been made clear at the Azores Summit on 16 March, both we and the US believed that the UN should have a role to play. That role, however, was a matter for the UN itself to decide, given Kofi Annan's warning that he did not see the UN as having the capacity to run Iraq. Indeed, the UN had not run Afghanistan and other areas in the past. Questioned as to whether the UN would play a 'leading' role or merely 'a' role in Iraq, the PMOS said he thought he had better not get drawn into a discussion about semantics otherwise he might lose the will to live. The nit-picking was quite unbelievable. As he had said, the UN would play a leading role. He couldn't be clearer than that.

Asked if the Government was feeling more confident about the situation in Iraq and whether he would agree that today we were seeing the beginning of the end, the PMOS said it was true that the position was improving all the time. However, we were right to remain cautious given the fluidity of the situation. Yes, things were going in the right direction. And yes, each day was better than the last. However, we continued to remain cautious, not least because our forces were still under sporadic fire in Basra and because of the ongoing operation in and around Baghdad.

Asked whether the Prime Minister would raise the issue of contracts during his meeting with President Bush in Northern Ireland over the next couple of days, the PMOS said that this was one of the many details that would be discussed in slower time. It was important to remember that we were still in the middle of a military campaign.

Asked the Prime Minister's view of Ahmed Chalabi, the PMOS said he thought that speculation relating to certain individuals was ahead of the reality of the situation on the ground. The important point was that any interim authority would be representative of the Iraqi people as a whole.

NORTHERN IRELAND SUMMIT

Asked what we were hoping to achieve in holding a Summit in Northern Ireland, the PMOS said that the Summit would provide the Prime Minister and President Bush with the chance to take stock of where we were. It was only ten days since the Prime Minister had visited President Bush a Camp David, but it seemed much longer. So much had changed since then. There was now real momentum on the ground in Iraq. The meeting would give the two leaders a chance to compare their assessments of the current situation, particularly in terms of what was going on in Baghdad and Basra. They would also discuss post-conflict issues, as you would expect, focussing in particular on how to ensure that the transition to Iraqi rule would take place as quickly as possible. They would also take the opportunity to discuss the wider strategic picture. As at Camp David, they would talk about the Middle East, as well as other issues such as relations with Europe. Given the nature of the Summit, these matters could be discussed at greater length and in a more reflective way than was possible through short telephone calls.

The PMOS pointed out that these talks would be taking place against the backdrop of what was going to be an important week in Northern Ireland. The agenda for this week had been set out by the Prime Minister in a speech he had given in Belfast last October in which he had talked about the days of inch-by-inch negotiation being over and the need for final acts of completion - in other words, implementing the Good Friday Agreement in full. The British and Irish Governments would publish their proposals for the way forward later this week and it would be up to the parties to respond. The fact that President Bush was coming did not mean that a deal had been done or that we were taking parties' reactions for granted. Rather, it demonstrated a united will on the parts of the British, Irish and American Governments, to encourage the parties to take the big steps necessary to complete the process.

Asked to explain how President Bush could help the Northern Ireland peace process, the PMOS said that, together with the British and Irish Governments, both the previous US Administration and the current one had been intimately involved in encouraging the parties and helping them find their way through the process. The President's visit to Northern Ireland was a clear statement of the US's recommitment to the Good Friday Agreement and the framework it published. Together with the British and Irish Governments, the US Administration believed that the Agreement offered the only viable way forward to bring a lasting settlement in Northern Ireland. Put to him that President Bush didn't care about what was going in Northern Ireland and that he had simply agreed to attend the Summit as a reward to the Prime Minister for his support over Iraq, the PMOS said that this cynical view quite clearly did not stand up to scrutiny. As anyone who had any understanding of the peace process knew well, both the current and previous US Administrations had been intimately involved throughout. The work of US Special Envoy to Northern Ireland, Richard Haass, should also not be under-estimated.

EURO

Questioned as to whether the Government was intending to publish the results of its economic assessment of the Euro this week, the PMOS said that since the question was Budget-related, journalists were surely not expecting him to respond to it.

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