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No. 10 Afternoon Press Briefing From 16 June 2008

Briefing from the Prime Minister's Spokesman on: Security and Liberty Speech, Iran, President Bush, Europe, alcohol and fuel strike.

Afternoon press briefing from 16 June 2008

Security and Liberty Speech

Asked for more details on tomorrow's speech, the Prime Minister's Spokesman (PMS) replied that it would be on the general themes of security and liberty. It would look at the new threats that we faced both in relation to terrorism and crime in the 21st Century, and how we needed to respond to those whilst respecting our fundamental freedoms.

Asked if there would be reference to David Davis, the PMS replied that the Prime Minister would be looking at how we would take forward the argument on issues such as pre-charge detention, and issues such as the modern methods we needed to deploy in order to respond to the challenges we faced in the 21st Century.

Iran

Asked to clear up the confusion over Iran sanctions, as Javier Solana's spokeswoman said these had not been discussed earlier in Brussels, the PMS replied that the information that he had from the Foreign Office before he left was that there was agreement among EU member states to freeze the assets of Bank Melli, that Javier Solana briefed EU Ministers today on his talks in Tehran, and they discussed the next steps including further sanctions.

Put that Solana's spokeswoman had said it had not been discussed at all, the PMS replied the information that he had from the Foreign Office was that it had been discussed.

Put that the Prime Minister spoke before those discussions began, the PMS replied that the meeting took place during the course of the day - the Prime Minister spoke at 11:00.

Put that the Prime Minister was under the understanding that this was going to be discussed and agreed at that meeting, the PMS replied that it was discussed and had been agreed.

Put that this was not the case according to the European Union, the PMS replied that the information he had was from the Foreign Office, and clearly someone in Brussels need to give journalists further clarity.

Asked if these were additional sanctions on Bank Melli, the PMS replied that this was correct. This was something that had been under discussion for some time, it was on the agenda of the Foreign Ministers meeting today, and was discussed and agreed.

Asked if this action was part of a wider package of EU sanctions to be agreed in the coming days, or was this a standalone announcement, the PMS replied that people should check with the Foreign Office.

Asked if this would come up on Thursday and Friday, the PMS replied that it was best to wait and see, he was sure that there would be lots of other things to discuss at the European Council on Thursday and Friday.

Asked why the Prime Minister thought it was a good idea to impose extra sanctions on Iran in the name of negotiation offering a new deal to the Iranian regime, the PMS replied that it was because we needed to make clear that in our view so far the cooperation from the Iranians has not been satisfactory.

President Bush

Asked what impression the Prime Minister gathered about the President's intentions towards Iran, the PMS replied that they both spoke at some length about Iran in the press conference, and he did not have much further to add.

Put that the President kept referring to the need for multilateral actions, and was there more action being proposed by the President, the PMS replied that there were discussions in a number of multilateral forums about what further steps may be necessary if Iran continued to fail to cooperate.

Asked if they discussed what further steps might be necessary, the PMS replied that they did have a discussion about Iran, but that was covered comprehensively in their press conference.

Asked what proportion of the meeting was on Iran, the PMS replied that he was not going to get into proportions, they discussed a number of issues. They had a lengthy conversation about Afghanistan, they had a lengthy conversation about the global economy, they spoke about Iraq, and they spoke about Zimbabwe, but he would not necessarily characterise the meeting as was suggested in the question.

Put that the Prime Minister spoke about sanctions on oil and gas, and asked if these were also sanctions coming in today, or were they still to be decided, the PMS replied that this was something that the Prime Minister had talked about for some time, it was something we first raised as a potential issue back in November, and this was something that we would continue to discuss with our European colleagues going forward.

Asked how the Prime Minister felt that this round of talks with the President went, because it did seem rather noticeable that they seemed to be getting on rather better than they did when they first met in Camp David last July, and were relations now warmer, the PMS replied that he did not necessarily accept the premise of the question. They had a good meeting back in July, they had a good meeting in April and they had a good meeting today.

Put that they were getting to know each other a bit more, and were getting on rather better now, and the President certainly seemed a bit warmer, the PMS replied that as he said, it was a good meeting back in July, and was a good meeting today.

Put that Mrs Bush seemed to think it was a shame that the two couples were not going to have the time to get to know each other better, and would the Browns be keeping in touch with the Bushes, the PMS replied that the Prime Minister kept in touch with many world leaders and former finance ministers that he had worked with over the years, and he was sure that the President and Mrs Bush would be no exception.

Asked if they exchanged any gifts, the PMS replied that the Prime Minister gave President Bush a number of old photographs of President Roosevelt and Winston Churchill.

Asked what he received in return, the PMS replied that he did not know the answer to that one.

Asked which Roosevelt the picture were of, the PMS replied that he was not sure there were any pictures of Winston Churchill and Teddy Roosevelt.

Europe

Asked if an acceptable outcome of the upcoming Council meeting would be that European Union members went ahead with the decision making process excluding Ireland, the PMS replied that he was not sure that anyone was proposing that. David Miliband had been making the position pretty clear during the course of the day. And the Prime Minister had made clear today that the legal position was unambiguous - which was that the Treaty could only come into effect once all 27 members states had ratified it, and David Miliband would be saying more about this when gave his statement to the House later today.

Asked if the Prime Minister had spoken to the Taoiseach, the PMS replied that he would be speaking to him this afternoon in Belfast.

Asked if when the Prime Minister meets with President Sarkozy on Thursday, would he tell him that he agreed with the statement the President released with Chancellor Merkel within an hour of the result on Friday, the PMS replied that the Prime Minister had made the British position pretty clear, and had done so today, and David Miliband had given a consistent line on the British response in recent days, and would have more to day this afternoon. But the question was slightly putting interpretations on the Franco-German position and suggesting that there is a big difference, which was not a characterisation that we would necessarily recognise.

Asked what would be on the agenda for the Sarkozy meeting, the PMS replied, that it would obviously come immediately before the European Council, so no doubt they would want to discuss the items on the agenda, in addition to Ireland and the Treaty he was sure they would want to discuss the global economy, oil and food prices.

Alcohol

Asked if the Prime Minister supported what was being done in Scotland by raising the legal age to buy alcohol in shops and supermarkets from 18 to 21, the PMS replied that our general position on this and the focus of the Government's effort was enforcement of the existing law relating to alcohol sales to those under the age of 18. And this week the Home Secretary would be unveiling a new hard-hitting national advertising campaign to drive home the message to 18-24 year olds that excessive drinking could have serious consequences.

Asked if it was fair to say that the Prime Minister was not minded to follow the Scottish lead, the PMS replied that it was the Prime Minister's view that we should focus on dealing with enforcement of the existing legislation, but we did need to do more, and that was what we were doing, to make people in the slightly older age group aware of the consequences of excessive drinking.

Put that therefore he had no plans to follow suit, the PMS replied that what was clear was that the approach that we were taking was to tackle enforcement relating to sale to under 18s and to increase awareness of those over 18 of the consequences of excessive drinking.

Fuel Strike

Asked if the Government had any contingency powers or emergency plans to ensure the free flow of petrol, the PMS replied that this was the final day of the current fuel tanker dispute, and as John Hutton had been saying, although the strike had inconvenienced motorists, the public had shown commendable common sense and restraint, which had minimised its harmful impact. In relation to any future action, we were pleased that the parties were resuming negotiations tomorrow, this was an encouraging step forward, and we hoped that it was possible for the two sides to reach an agreement so as to avoid any repetition of this weekend's disruption.

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