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United Kingdom
Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS)
Lobby Briefing on the US Terror Attacks
September 18, 2001
11:00 A.M. GMT

The Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) outlined arrangements for the rest of week.

The Prime Minister had spoken to the Chinese President this morning. It had been a useful and constructive conversation. This was followed by a long-standing meeting with African leaders, namely the Presidents of Senegal, Nigeria, Ghana, Botswana, Tanzania and Mozambique at Chequers. Jack Straw would be attending a pre-planned meeting in Brussels with EU Commissioners, including Commission President Romano Prodi. It had originally been scheduled to discuss EU matters but would obviously now focus on current events. Tessa Jowell would continue her private meetings with families and institutions in the City.

The Prime Minister had today written an article, the first of a series, for the Daily Jang newspaper, a Muslim newspaper printed in London.

On Wednesday the Prime Minister would meet, as previously scheduled although the agenda would obviously change, the German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. He would then fly on to Paris where he would overnight before a breakfast meeting with President Chirac on Thursday. He would then fly to New York and Washington where he would be having a meeting and dinner with the President of the United States. This, as the White House had said yesterday, had been at the invitation of the President.

The Home Secretary would be attending the special Home Affairs Council in Brussels. Among the issues under discussion would be how the EU harmonised extradition laws. We had been looking, as indicated in March, at how we could fastrack procedures on extradition across the EU. And we would be looking at progress on that. This would include the possibility of a European-wide arrest warrant. The idea being that if for example you committed a crime in Copenhagen you could be arrested in Athens.

On Friday morning the Prime Minister would fly on to the special European Council in Brussels. That was scheduled to start around 6pm EST.

Asked if it was unprecedented for the Prime Minister to be out of the country when the order for military action was given the PMOS declined to engage in hypothetical questions.

Asked about plans for an EU-wide arrest warrant the PMOS said the idea arose out of an initiative by HMG in March looking at harmonising and fast-tracking the approach to extradition across EU. There was a meeting taking place on Thursday and we would see where we were after that.

Asked about the special European Council on Friday the PMOS said the important thing was that we continue the process of dialogue and consultation and that everyone felt engaged in the process. As journalists were aware President Chirac was in Washington today and there was a constant conversation not just with the United States but with EU leaders and leaders around the world. As we had said the Prime Minister had been speaking today to the Chinese President and African leaders following on from meeting Prime Minister Berlusconi yesterday. There was continuous dialogue. There was a genuine consensus developing not just in terms of condemning what had happened but agreeing the need to act against mass terrorism. It was very important we continued to discuss both the assessment and the options.

Asked why it was important to meet the President face-to-face rather than over the telephone the PMOS said it was obviously possible to have a deeper conversation than over a trans-Atlantic telephone line. It was important to remember this was not just about a one off event but was about tackling mass terrorism in the short, medium and long term. So it was important that we understood each others position as well as possible. What was clear was that a genuine consensus was building. As Gerhard Shroeder had said there was "total solidarity. Terrorism must be combated with military, economic and diplomatic means." President Chirac had said "France will stand with the United States and show solidarity with regard to Article 5 of the NATO treaty". There was a consensus at EU, NATO and UN levels.

Asked who would be travelling with the Prime Minister the PMOS said that he was not going to give a cast list of officials but he could say that the Foreign Secretary and Defence Secretary would not be travelling.

Asked about voices of caution being raised by Ministers in France and Germany the PMOS said that the strength of democracy was that different opinions could be expressed. What was important was that Government's agreed, as Prime Minister Berlusconi had said yesterday, not just in condemning the attack but on the need to act against these people who showed no respect for the sanctity of human life. This was being backed up by action, as had been seen from the Italian Prime Minister's commitment of Italian forces.

Asked to what extent the Prime Minister saw his role as one to urge caution on the United States the PMOS said that to characterise the conversation in those terms was to misunderstand it. It was a genuine dialogue both about assessment and looking at options. We had always been the American's strongest ally but the international community was adding its voice to this consensus. This was an exercise in bringing people with us. There had been consultation by the United States and the Prime Minister. As could be seen from his actions today he was talking to every part of the globe.

Asked about the threat of chemical and biological attack the PMOS said that we had to be clear with regard to the seriousness of the threat posed by mass terrorism. These people had no regard for human life and therefore we had to be aware of the dangers of mass terrorism by whatever means. The continuous threat assessment would go on. As had been said last week we do not believe that terrorist organisations have this capability at the moment but we do believe that they aspire to have it. That was why we were not talking about a one-off event but the short, medium and long-term campaign against terrorism.

Asked if the Chinese were part of this consensus the PMOS said we had not given details of any of the conversations that the Prime Minister had been having but he repeated that the discussions had been useful and constructive.

Asked if we would consider subsidies to British Airline companies as had happened in America the PMOS said that the Secretary of State for Transport had been meeting with representatives from the industry this morning. The purpose of the meeting was primarily to discuss security issues but would also inevitably touch on economic issues. But the reality was that no direct request had been received from any of the airlines but obviously we would be listening to what they had to say.

Asked if the Government had alerted local government of the threat of biological/chemical attack the PMOS said that the threat assessment would go on and obviously, should the need arise, the relevant people would be informed.

Asked about the Prime Minister's article in Daily Jang the PMOS read journalists an extract. The Prime Minister had written "Blaming Islam is as ludicrous as blaming Christianity for loyalist attacks on Catholics or nationalist attacks on Protestants in Northern Ireland. We know that the overwhelming majority of Muslims totally condemn these atrocities as the strong statement of the Muslim Council of Britain last week made clear, denouncing the 'senseless and evil acts that appall all people of conscience'."

Asked why the Prime Minister was so keen to get the message across to Muslims the PMOS said that our primary concern was that everyone including the Muslim community understood that we properly delineated who we thought to be responsible for this act. We did not believe that the Muslim community as a whole was responsible. We believed that those who carried it out and those who supported them in any way were responsible.

Asked whether the Prime Minister was worried about reprisal attacks in Britain the PMOS said it was a situation that we would continue to monitor. The PM had been absolutely clear from the start that nobody should sweep all Muslims into the bracket of those who had carried out this atrocity.

Asked what else the Prime Minister would be talking to African leaders about the PMOS said that the meeting was originally conceived as an opportunity for the PM to talk to, and more importantly listen to views on the challenges and opportunities facing Africa. It was the only continent not benefiting from globalisation. He wanted to discuss how we could in partnership address that. Among other areas they would discuss conflict resolution, good governance, trade and investment and issues relating to the trade round.

Asked if we would prefer to have Bin Laden dead or alive the PMOS said that the Prime Minister had said that those responsible for the atrocity should be held to account. We then needed to recognise that this was a medium to long term issue. It was not about one individual but eradicating the terrorist networks. Asked if was helpful to use this phrase the PMOS said that the President would express himself in his own way, he spoke for the Prime Minister. Pressed if the PM took exception to the President's form of words the PMOS said they continued to discuss these issues in the calm and measured way which we had described. Asked if and when we expected to hear a response from the Taleban the PMOS declined to outline discussions we had. Asked what the British policy on assassination was the PMOS said that as we had said these people should be brought to account, no more or less. Our services would operate within the law. Asked where Osama Bin Laden would be taken if he was captured the PMOS declined to address the latest in a long line of hypothetical questions.

NORTHERN IRELAND

Asked if there were any plans to meet the Taioseach the Prime Minister said they would have a breakfast meeting at Downing St tomorrow.

END


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