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Uk Press Briefing: 11am Monday 21 February 2005

Press Briefing: 11am Monday 21 February 2005

Briefing from the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman on: President Bush Breakfast Meeting/Brussels trip, President Barroso meeting and Northern Ireland.

President Bush Breakfast Meeting/Brussels trip

The Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) informed journalists about the Prime Minister's breakfast meeting tomorrow morning in Brussels with President Bush. We also expected him to hold bilateral meetings with Prime Minister Erdogan of Turkey, Prime Minister Martin of Canada and also President Yuschenko of Ukraine (where they would meet for the first time).

Asked if the Prime Minister would be speaking to President Bush about African issues, the PMOS said that Africa would be one of the subjects discussed, as would our other G8, priority, climate change matters. Israel and Palestine would also be discussed, where we were seeing real progress being made. Iraq matters were on the agenda, as were issues relating to Europe.

Asked to remind journalists why President Bush was not coming to London, the PMOS said the journalist was behind the time. As he had briefed journalists on the plane on the return from the White House, we had not anticipated the President coming to London. This was a visit to Europe, to the EU and to NATO, and this was how we had always envisaged the visit. We were delighted that the President was making the time to have breakfast with the Prime Minister tomorrow. The PMOS reminded journalists that they did talk almost weekly on the video conference.

Asked about the possibility of use of force against Iran, the PMOS pointed out what President Bush had said on German television yesterday. The PMOS quoted "I hear all these rumours about military attacks; it's just not the truth. We want diplomacy to work, and I believe diplomacy can work so long as the Iranians don't divide Europe and the United States, and the common goal is for them not to have a nuclear weapon". The PMOS added "hear, hear".

Asked if there was a reason for not ruling out the use of force, the PMOS said the priority was to ensure that diplomacy worked. Therefore, the priority was that we in Europe, alongside the United States sent a very clear signal about the importance of Iran complying with the IAEA. That message was clear and unambiguous.

Asked what would happen in the NATO meeting, the PMOS replied that the meeting would concentrate largely on Iraq, especially on the issue of training. What was important was that now the elections had happened, we drew a line about disagreements about the past. There was a legitimately elected government in Iraq which obviously needed help, and the important thing was that we all united to provide help that the people of Iraq who had elected the Government to deliver.

Asked to clarify the training, the PMOS said it would be help with police, security and army training. NATO was already involved in that role, but it was being developed further.

President Barroso meeting

Asked for further information about the Prime Minister's meeting this morning with President Barroso, and also if they had discussed the low turnout for the Spanish referendum, the PMOS said he thought the question was highlighting two different issues. President Barroso and the Prime Minister would not comment on the turnout in another country, but both would obviously welcome the result. The meeting was very good, and the Prime Minister congratulated President Barroso on the Commissions strategy for its term and also on the Spring report on the Lisbon agenda.

Northern Ireland

Asked if Paul Murphy would comment any further tomorrow about putting sanctions on Sinn Fein, the PMOS said the IMC had said two things. One was that it recognised that when dealing with a robbery on such a scale as this was, financial sanctions etc seemed relatively paltry in comparison to the size of the robbery. However, it thought that sanctions did have a role in expressing disapproval. No doubt Paul Murphy would want to reflect that balance in his response to the IMC's report. At the same time as doing nothing to divert attention from the substance of where we were, which was saying to the IRA and Sinn Fein that the time had now come for a choice to be made: either be involved in politics or criminality and paramilitary activity. They could not do both.

Asked if the Government agreed with the Irish Justice Minister that the IRA council and army included the two principal leaders of Sinn Fein, Gerry Adams and Martin McGuiness, the PMOS replied what we had consistently said was that we believed that the IRA and Sinn Fein were inextricably linked. That clearly had implications at leadership level as well. We had never wavered in our view that there were inextricable links between the two.

Asked if Sinn Fein were still committed to a democratic state, the PMOS relied that we hoped that they were. We believed that it was only if they were that there was any possibility of a deal involving Republicans. However, there had to be a clear choice made between the paramilitary and criminal past and a democratic future. What we had always said was that we would help Republicans make that transition, but that transition must come to an end. The united view in Ireland was that the period of transition was over, and the time for choice was now.

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