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United Kingdom
Prime Minister's Official Spokesman
Lobby Briefing
September 26, 2001
11:00 A.M. GMT

Foreign Secretary

The Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) advised that the Foreign Secretary had met the Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, and was due to visit Egypt today where he would meet President Mubarak and representatives of the Arab League.

The PMOS said that Mr Straw's meeting with the Israeli Prime Minister had lasted for around eighty minutes during which they had discussed the fight against terrorism. He had reported back on the meeting and had said that it had gone extremely well. The Prime Minister was in no doubt that Mr Straw's visit to the region had already proven worthwhile and necessary. It was clear from his discussions, particularly with the Israeli Prime Minister, that we could build on the opportunity to reinvigorate the Middle East Peace Process to which we had already been committed prior to the events of 11 September, and which we were now redoubling our efforts to achieve. Mr Straw had also had a working dinner with the Israeli Foreign Minister, Shimon Peres, at which they had discussed the overall situation in the Middle East. The Foreign Secretary had welcomed Mr Peres' intention to meet President Arafat today.

Asked whether Jack Straw had reported back directly to the Prime Minister, the PMOS said Mr Straw had reported back through the usual channels.

Asked if the Prime Minister believed that Mr Sharon was doing everything he could in the war against terrorism, the PMOS said that the Foreign Secretary's meeting with the Israeli Prime Minister had been a good meeting. The whole point of Mr Straw's visit to the region had been to discuss, not just with the Israelis but also others elsewhere, how we could reinvigorate the Middle East Peace Process and build on the momentum which had been created. We warmly welcomed Mr Peres' meeting with Mr Arafat today and believed it was a start to the process.

Asked if the Prime Minister shared Mr Straw's reported view that the problems in the Palestinian territories had contributed to the terror attacks in the US, the PMOS said that in his view this was an attempt to go back over ground we had covered yesterday. The issue of the Middle East Peace Process was one to which we had already been committed prior to 11 September. We now believed that everyone should be committing their efforts to it. He added that it was a good thing of itself to try to resolve the conflict.

Cabinet

The PMOS advised that a Cabinet meeting was due to take place tomorrow afternoon. Asked if there was any significance in the fact that Cabinet was meeting in the afternoon rather than the morning as was usual, the PMOS said no. The timing was purely for logistical reasons.

Asked why the Cabinet was meeting tomorrow, the PMOS said that in the same way the Prime Minister had met the Select Committees at the beginning of the week and had recalled Parliament for next week, he was meeting the Cabinet tomorrow to update them on the information we had received and to give a general view of the situation.

Afghan Support Group

The PMOS advised that a meeting of the Afghan Support Group would be taking place tomorrow in Berlin to co-ordinate the relief effort. It would bring together at official level key donors and humanitarian agencies.

In answer to questions, the PMOS said the meeting would bring together all the main agencies to look at how they were able to co-ordinate their efforts and, as the Prime Minister had said yesterday, to help the situation vis-'is the refugees in surrounding countries. They would also discuss how we could get aid into Afghanistan. Of the £25m extra money which we had already committed, £15m had been committed to UN aid agencies and the Red Cross directly. We had invited NGOs to apply for assistance as well. We were already talking to the Department of Health in the North West frontier area of Pakistan about how we could put together a package which might help its public health system cope. That would mean helping to supply drugs as well as equipment to hospitals which were being set up, existing facilities and any new facilities which might be necessary.

Asked if the Prime Minister was concerned about reports that Pakistan was setting up refugee camps in drought-stricken areas, the PMOS said no doubt these sorts of issues would be discussed at the meeting in Berlin tomorrow. Clearly there was a need for countries and agencies to work together. That was the purpose of the meeting.

Recall of Parliament

Asked whether the measures mentioned by the Prime Minister yesterday would be looked at when Parliament was recalled next week, the PMOS said that the timing had yet to be decided. We were clear, however, that we would continue the process of looking at what measures needed to be taken in the short, medium and long term.

Asked what form the recall of Parliament next Thursday would take, the PMOS said that the day would begin at 9.30am and end at 7pm. It would take the form of a Prime Ministerial statement, followed by a debate which would be wound up by a Minister.

Chequers

Asked when the Prime Minister was due to go to Chequers, the PMOS said later today, as things stood. He would continue to have meetings and discussions about the situation.

Oman

Asked if the military exercise in Oman was still scheduled to go ahead, the PMOS confirmed it would. He referred journalists to the MoD for further details.

END


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Crown copyright material reproduced with the permission of the Controller of HMSO.