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PM: Differences over Iraq can be resolved

PM: Differences over Iraq can be resolved

Prime Minister Tony Blair has said whatever differences over Iraq remain can be resolved, adding that the United Nations must have a key role to play. Mr Blair made his comments after meeting with the leaders of Germany and France in Berlin.

Mr Blair said:

"...whatever the differences there have been about the conflict, we all want to see a stable Iraq, we all want to see Iraq make a transition to democratic government as swiftly as possible, we all want to see, and know there must be, a key role for the United Nations."

Read below a full transcript of the press conference in Berlin, where Prime Minister Tony Blair, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and French President Jacques Chirac briefed journalists on their meeting.


Good Afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen. I would like to give you a few pieces of information on the results of this informal meeting. First and foremost on the eve of the Intergovernmental Conference so to speak, we obviously discussed European issues. We also however had an exchange of views on international issues which are currently very much under discussion and of topical importance. We all agreed that the IGC has to be a success and we all three of us would like to give our full fledged support to the Italian Presidency in order to ensure this success. We need a successful outcome of the conference in December and the constitution has to be adopted before the next elections, after the adoption of the new members. We are also fully convinced of the necessity to keep the package together. The convention, we all three believe, has done a good job, so generally we don't think that this package ought to be undone or to be unravelled. We obviously need to discuss further details, but we would like to state here very clearly that anyone who cast any doubt on the important results of these convention negotiations would then have to bear full responsibility for bringing about a new consensus, which will be very difficult to achieve indeed if one were to undo this package to achieve a consensus of the same type and the same type of quality particularly.

We then discussed issues relating to European security and defence policy, ESDP in short. We were all of us in agreement that it is essential for Europe and for strengthening the capacity to act, and also the capacity to cooperate with the United States of America to actually develop such an initiative and to lead it to a successful outcome. What is necessary is to improve military capabilities which will strengthen we are fully convinced NATO, and NATO after all is indispensable for the security of Europe. So any sort of discussions that have a tenor of ESDP being directed against the United States, or against NATO, are totally unfounded and totally absurd in fact.

Everything we discussed here is in the tradition, in the continuity of what was discussed and negotiated in St Malo with France, on the European Council meeting in Cologne, and also in Nice. We need, and again we are agreed on this, a common capability for planning and it would be a very good thing indeed, and certainly the best thing, to have this adopted among the 25 then members of the European Union, but we have developed this instrument of a structured cooperation, so if we are not able to do this among 25 we would also then have to use this option.

My third point. We did discuss the economic situation in Europe, in our respective countries and also discussed the European stability and growth pact. We think it is a very important tool because it guarantees the necessary measure of discipline that one needs if one wishes to pursue such a three track policy combining structural reforms, sound public finances and cyclical stimuli which we need in order to boost growth in our economies. It is indispensable for this to actually give the necessary stimuli to growth and do this in a better way than we were able to do this in the past. I am very pleased to note that we are in agreement on this growth initiative that was agreed between France and Germany last Thursday here in Berlin, will be one that we shall in the future pursue as a threesome. This after all is an initiative of the Presidency and the Commission, one that we complemented by technological and research aspects. We do hope that on an international frame this will be met with more recognition and I think it has already happened as you can see by what the Executive Director of the IMF has had to say on this.

There were a number of other international issues on our agenda here, particularly obviously Iraq. We do think that it is upon the

international community to outline a perspective of democracy and stability for Iraq. There are obviously differences of opinion on how to achieve that, how to get there, and there are issues that still need to be discussed. This is something that will certainly be done in the Security Council in New York. But what we are after is to give a more prominent role to the United Nations and to see to it that as quickly as possible one does achieve a transition to an Iraqi Authority.

We then discussed the situation in the Middle East, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and we are all three agreed that there is no alternative to the road map and to the content of this agreement. We therefore will continue to give it our support.


Let me first of all thank once again the Chancellor for his very warm welcome, very warm and very pleasant welcome. As the Chancellor rightly pointed out, we mentioned and discussed these issues, we did so in a common framework, a framework that we all three can agree to. So it was a very positive context. It is true that we mainly spoke about the IGC, of ESDP, and also of the need to give a new input and give more impetus to growth, because indeed together our three countries account for 60 percent of European wealth and economy. So we must also try and adapt in the framework of the rules that we have agreed to, and at the same time bearing in mind the need for growth, the rules that apply to the Growth and Stability Pact. On all these items there is a very clear convergence of views between our three governments and I would once again like to thank the Chancellor for highlighting that in his presentation.

On international issues we also had a discussion on a common ground, on a common context. We still do not agree fully on Iraq, but we still all

three of us agree that it should all be dealt with in the UN Security Council, though our analysis might be slightly different. However, on the Israeli-Palestinian front, or on Iran or Afghanistan, we clearly have a common approach that was there also underlined and mentioned by the Chancellor. So in that respect I don't think I have anything special to add.


For my part, first of all let me give my thanks to Chancellor Schroeder for hosting this meeting and say what a constructive meeting I found it.

And as has just been said to you both by Chancellor Schroeder and President Chirac, the largest part of our discussion was on the common issues that confront us at the present time in Europe. We had a discussion on the Intergovernmental Conference where it is important obviously that we try and give every help to the Italian Presidency to build on the good basis that is presented by the convention document and

to make sure that we reach agreement, since agreement is absolutely necessary in my view for Europe to function effectively and well when it becomes a Europe of 25.

In relation to European defence, again I think there is an increasingly common approach here. This was something that began if you like to have

a real momentum, the meeting that I had with President Chirac back in 1998 at St Malo, and I think we can see now that European defence is actually taking place, it is engaged in real activity on the ground in different parts of the world and I think everyone understands that this is best taken forward in a spirit of cooperation and also recognition that European defence and NATO should not be, and are not in any sense, in conflict.

In respect of the Stability and Growth Pact, again I think there is a very common ground in the discussions that we had on the need of course

to maintain budgetary discipline, but to recognise that as economic circumstances change, it is important without in any way compromising that discipline that we also deliver to European citizens the growth that they require, and again there was strong support for the Italian Presidency in the initiative they are taking in this regard.

And then as was being indicated to you a moment or two ago, we had a discussion on the international issues. In respect of Iraq the UN

resolution will be debated obviously in New York and there are discussions going on there, but whatever have been the disagreements,

and these are obviously well rehearsed, I think it is important to recognise that we all want to see a stable and democratic Iraq, that

that transfer to democracy happens as swiftly as possible, and of course the very fact that there is this discussion in the United Nations underlines the agreement on the key role the United Nations should have.

In relation to the Middle East peace process, there was agreement again that whatever the difficulties, the road map provides the only proper basis for the way through.

And just one word on Afghanistan. I would like to thank Chancellor Schroeder particularly for the way that Germany has taken on a leadership role there and I think whatever have been differences in other areas of the world, it is important to recognise that in Afghanistan actually all of the three countries that are represented here today have been working well and co-operatively together, and that simply indicates that whatever the differences may be from time to time, there is a huge degree of consensus between us, and without any doubt at all a common interest both for our countries, for Europe and the wider world in us working together.


Apparently you haven't quite agreed as to what the resolution that will be examined in the UN Security Council on Tuesday will be. Can you tell us whether there was any progress, whether you achieved any progress, however small that might have been, and whether the Franco-Germans on the one side, and Britain came closer to one another?


I think it follows logically from what the President and the Prime Minister said that there is obviously common ground and this has been discussed today, so there is undoubtedly progress that was made. The rest of that, as both have said, will be discussed in New York in a non-public meeting, in a restricted meeting.


May I ask, is this the shape of things to come now, France, Germany and

the UK meeting together in the absence of the Presidency before an

important EU meeting, perhaps to sort of stitch up an agreed position,

which might lead to some concerns among the smaller member states who

are joining?


Sometimes I really don't understand these debates. I mean if and when we are not meeting in this format beforehand, people do wonder whether

we are not getting on with one another. If we are meeting, people worry whether we are getting on too well with one another. No, I really think that these concerns are unnecessary and wrong and certainly we will inform the President of the Commission and the Presidency, and certainly we will have a debriefing also for all those members of the European Union that are in existence and that are part of the club, that goes without saying. These kinds of informal meetings happen left, right and centre in other countries too, they are never directed against anybody but they are meant to emphasise that these three countries, that the President and the two Prime Ministers - or the Prime Minister and the Chancellor actually in this instance - certainly have a vested interest in bringing the enlargement forward successfully and getting integration with it as well so that the larger Europe can work ever more successfully.


Let me just say that I agree entirely with what Chancellor Schroeder has just said to you, and I think the important thing to realise is that a Europe at 25 is going to require a way of working in which we try and resolve any differences that there may be and make sure that Europe is delivering effectively, delivering on growth, delivering on jobs, delivering on a better environment, delivering on issues to do with European defence, and therefore it is entirely sensible that we have this type of informal discussion without in any way that being exclusive towards other countries, and I think we all understand that very well indeed.


Just to say that of course all necessary contacts were taken to inform our partners, including the Presidency, of our talks. I had a lengthy talk with President Berlusconi.


Chancellor, on Iraq again, you said that there was undoubtedly progress. We were told there is a sort of two-tier approach that is in the offing, and it was also said that the transformation process is supposed to take only months and not years. What is the position of the British government on this?


Well first of all, as I was saying to you a moment ago, the main part of our discussion obviously was on the European issues that we debated. But I think in relation to Iraq, as the Chancellor indicated to you, whatever the differences there have been about the conflict, we all want to see a stable Iraq, we all want to see Iraq make a transition to democratic government as swiftly as possible, we all want to see, and know there must be, a key role for the United Nations. Now as I say the detail of that obviously we leave to our people who are negotiating the resolution in New York, but I think whatever the different positions on the conflict, the entire world has an interest in seeing those things happen. And for myself I am sure that whatever the differences that there are they can be resolved, and I am sure they will be.


There is not much point in me saying that we slightly disagree on this topic. However, France feels that we have to take a turn in the way things are done, that we should now embark upon a process that would have as an outcome a transfer of sovereignty to Iraqis themselves, so that the Iraqis can discharge their duties and assume their own responsibilities. Of course that implies technical and financial support from outside. Now this transfer of sovereignty in our view should be as swift as possible, that is to say from our point of view it should happen within a few months. As for substance, I don't think we disagree. As for the practicalities and the timetable, we still have a slight disagreement.


On 8 April this year President Bush promised you at your meeting in Belfast that the UN would have a central role in Iraq. Do you feel that

he has fulfilled his promise, or does he have more work to do? And a question for you Mr President, do you feel that the United Nations are already playing a key role in Iraq, or are we still far short from what you expected?


It is plain that the United Nations has indeed been active in Iraq, and that is one of the reasons for the tragic death of the UN Special Representative there. The whole purpose of the discussion before the United Nations now is that the United Nations can play its full part, and that is precisely the reason why it is in everyone's interest that we reach agreement, as I believe that we will do, and that whatever the nuances or the differences between us, we recognise that this job of

reconstruction that as I say everyone wants to see happen, isn't going to happen unless the United Nations plays a key role. Now we can discuss the details of that, and as I say that is a negotiation that can take place elsewhere, but I don't think there is any disagreement on that basic principle at all. And when I say no disagreement, that includes with the United States of America.


Well to speak the truth, I do believe that the UN, as a representative of the international community, should play a far more significant and more operational role than it already is playing to help Iraq embark upon the path of democracy. As I have said, and I will say it once again, we hope that there can be an immediate transfer of sovereignty to Iraqis, and when I say the Iraqis I mean the current Iraqi institutions, the Governing Council and the Council of Ministers, and then of course a devolution of responsibilities that would happen as swiftly as possible, but of course that should be done with the oversight of the United Nations. That is the French approach. Of course we know, and the Prime Minister and the Chancellor have said it rightly, there is a debate, there is a negotiation in the UN and the appropriate framework for negotiation is indeed the UN Security Council. So let us give the Security Council sufficient time for it to discuss these issues fully.


Chancellor, you were mentioning the Middle East, did you also discuss the situation of Yasser Arafat and what the Israeli government is planning to do with him?


Well we addressed in particular the need to give the road map one more chance. This is an agreed position among the three of us. And we then discussed the need for an international conference, which after all is part and parcel of the road map and as to its validity. We all of us think that pressure needs to be exerted on the two conflicting parties to come back to what we understand the road map to be and what we want it to be.


Can I ask you Mr Blair, a lot of people back at home will see you as coming here partially as an envoy for George Bush to do some of his work for him. Does this cause you any difficulties and embarrassment when you are here with your colleagues?


Now if I may answer this for him. He has been invited as Prime Minister Tony Blair, he came as Prime Minister Tony Blair and I am quite definite he is going to return as Prime Minister Tony Blair. And I had the very distinct impression during our discussions that he is very well in a position to have a very independent position, he has a mind of his own and it was fascinatingly interesting for the President and myself to listen to what he was saying and at no point in time did we have the impression as if he were not speaking for himself but as somebody else's special envoy.


The spokesman has done a very good job for me. The truth is that I think actually both of my colleagues are going to be seeing President Bush before I am. But I think the most important thing for this meeting really was this. As I say, of course we had a discussion on the international situation where our respective positions are well known, but I think for me the most important thing is that we were able on some of these key European issues not to get to the point where there are no differences, but to get to the point where we understand we all have a common interest in resolving those differences. And in the end I hope people in Britain understand that whatever differences there have been for example over the issue of Iraq, for France and Germany and Britain to work together is actually important, it is important for us, it is important for Europe, it is important for the wider world, and I again emphasise, I say that in no sense of exclusivity towards either the Presidency of the European Union or other European countries, but I found it a very, very valuable discussion on Europe where a Europe of 25 is going to need people to try and iron out these differences so that we can move forward.


Can I maybe just pay tribute to this glorious imagination, the imagination of that journalist that put the last question. Of course when they prepare press conferences, and I suppose you have to prepare them, you have to think of all sorts of questions that might be put to you, and when we prepare those press conferences we think about difficult questions, and I can tell you that we hadn't thought about that question.

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