Blair On Iraq, Hawk Jets, Guantanamo Bay
PM Press Conference
Asked when the Prime Minister's monthly press conference would take place, the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) said that, as things stood, it would be on Monday 28 July in Downing Street.
PM'S SPEECH TO CONGRESS/IRAQ/CONGRESSIONAL MEDAL
Asked what the Prime Minister would say in his speech to Congress later today, the PMOS said that he would say that Europe and the US shared common values. These were not western values, but universal values. We needed to work together in partnership because the world was a more secure and prosperous place when we did. He would underline the need for the Coalition to finish the job in both Iraq and Afghanistan so that we could see failed terrorist states transformed into nations of prosperity and set an example to the world. He would once again emphasise the crucial importance he placed on achieving a Middle East settlement so that the issue could not be exploited by anyone. He would say that without a settlement, terrorism could not finally be defeated. He would also express strong support for the WTO round in September, and, while acknowledging our differences over Kyoto, he would emphasise the need to address the issue of climate change without restricting economic growth.
Asked to explain what he meant by the need to 'finish the job', the PMOS said that, as with Afghanistan, we had set ourselves a goal to transform Iraq from a failed state into a prosperous nation in which the Iraqi people could choose their own leaders. We were very clear about the importance of seeing this process through. Put to him that he appeared to be indicating that the British Government feared that the US Administration might not have the stomach to finish the job, the PMOS said he would disagree - as would anyone who was aware of the scale of the US's commitment to Iraq. In the world of twenty-four hour news, we recognised the need to keep reiterating to publics on both sides of the Atlantic that things would not change overnight. No one should be in any doubt about the US's commitment. Equally, it was important to understand that commitment appeared in many different forms.
Asked if the Prime Minister felt he ought to apologise to President Bush for any embarrassment caused over the Niger/uranium claim, the PMOS said no. As we had underlined many times, our statements on Niger had been based on different intelligence sources to the US. As a result, it was not ours to share. The US understood the way in which intelligence material needed to be handled.
Asked if the Prime Minister agreed with the view of the head of Centom, General John Abizaid, who had suggested that we were now engaged in a classic guerrilla war, the PMOS said that just because conventional conflict had come to an end did not mean that dangers and security problems did not exist. This had been anticipated from the outset, which was why we were taking steps to deal with it. At the same time, it was important to recognise the huge amount of progress that had been made in Iraq so far. Were we to be standing at the threshold of a new political term, predicting that by this stage we would have fought and won a war, that we would have a Governing Council in place and that Iraqis were beginning to run things themselves at a local level in cities like Basra, people would have been incredulous. But that was precisely what had happened. However, as the Prime Minister would say in his speech later today, we recognised that there was still a lot more to do. Put to him that there was a difference between security problems and a guerrilla war, the PMOS said that General Abizaid was entitled to express himself in his own way. Asked how long troops were likely to remain in Iraq, the PMOS said he did not think it would be helpful to get drawn into a speculative discussion about timeframes. As the Prime Minister had pointed out in his recent Observer interview, the original timeframe that had been predicted for the war had been much longer than it had turned out in reality. Progress could be made at different speeds, in different timescales in different areas. The important thing was not to set artificial deadlines but simply make sure that the job was being done properly, which was precisely what we were doing.
Asked for a reaction to Doug Henderson's comments on the Today Programme this morning where he had said that the Prime Minister should be using his time to persuade the US to back a new UN Resolution for the reconstruction of Iraq, the PMOS said that he had been somewhat surprised by Mr Henderson's comments because we actually had the unanimous backing of the UN Security Council to do just that in terms of Resolution 1483. The role of the UN Representative was also very important, as had been demonstrated at the opening of the Governing Council. President Bush had clearly lived up to the commitment he had given at Hillsborough to involve the UN in a post-Saddam Iraq.
Asked about reports that the Prime Minister was due to receive the US Congressional Medal, the PMOS said that the issue was still being processed by Congress. It went without saying that the Prime Minister felt honoured to be considered for the Medal. However, since the process had not yet been signed off', any official award would come at a later date.
Asked when an announcement would be made on the Hawk Jet contract, the PMOS said that he was not aware of any announcement being made today. Asked the reason for the delay, the PMOS said that these matters were considered in the round and were given due thought, as you would expect. An announcement would be made when we were ready to do so.
Asked if the pressure we had said we were exerting on the US regarding the British detainees at Guantanamo Bay was paying off, the PMOS underlined that we had never said that pressure was being exerted on the US about this matter. All we had said was that discussions were taking place and were continuing. We had no intention of giving a running commentary on them. Questioned as to whether the Prime Minister would discuss the issue directly with President Bush when they met later today, the PMOS said that it would be unusual if the issue was not raised in some way. That said, the Prime Minister and President would want to discuss a wide range of issues, including Iraq and the progress being made with the establishment of the Governing Council, recognising all the while that we needed to finish the job. It went without saying that the issue of the Middle East would also be discussed.
Asked for a reaction to an article in the latest edition of the New Statesman in which it appeared that 'friends' of the Chancellor were trying to undermine the Prime Minister by suggesting that he was going 'potty', the PMOS said that he hadn't seen the article in question. That said, the term was not one he would recognise in this context. Over the last six months, the Prime Minister had achieved a considerable amount in terms of handling a major international issue like Iraq, in pursuing the goal of a Middle East settlement and in pursuing public service delivery at home, for example. This was obviously a Prime Minister with a very clear sense of direction, who understood fully the difficult issues and decisions facing this country, but equally recognised the need to maintain progress and work through the process of investment and reform to which the Government was committed. The PMOS said that in this context, he would consider the use of the term 'potty' as slightly potty. Put to him that the Prime Minister had also been accused of being a 'psychopath' in the article, the PMOS said he thought that that was a very strange term to use as well. Asked to rule out the possibility that the Prime Minister was 'psychologically flawed', the PMOS repeated that it was not a term he recognised.
Asked for a reaction to the latest crime statistics which had been published this morning, the PMOS said it was important to recognise that the British Crime Survey, which had been the stable standard over the last twenty years, stated that people's chances of being the victim of crime were now at their lowest level for twenty years. Obviously that was not to suggest that we were complacent. We would continue to focus on issues such as violent crime. We recognised that there was still a need to encourage people to report it. On street crime, it was worthwhile noting that it was down 17% in the ten areas where we had been focussing our attention. This showed that the targets were being met and that the process of delivering such an achievement had worked.