Prime Minister's Official Spokesman
September 27, 2001
11:00 A.M. GMT
The Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) informed journalists that the
Prime Minister would be meeting Muslim leaders today at 2.30pm. He would follow
that by holding a press conference to talk about the meeting and to update the
current situation at 3.15pm. At 5pm he would chair a meeting of Cabinet. This
had been characterised by some newspapers as a civil contingencies Cabinet.
It was not. It would look across the piece at the diplomatic, political, military
and humanitarian situation.
The Prime Minister hoped to speak to Ruud Lubbers head of UNHCR and Chris Patten
of the European Commission later today to discuss the humanitarian situation.
David Blunkett was at the Justice and Home Affairs Council in Brussels. Jack
Straw would be returning from his tour of the Middle East and was in Egypt at
Asked for an update on whether the Prime Minister would be attending CHOGM the
PMOS said the situation remained under review. He couldn't say any more than
that at the moment.
Asked if there was a meeting with the Airline Pilots Association today the PMOS
said that as he understood it there was one taking place with officials at the
Department of Transport. They would want to discuss a range of security issues
amongst other things. Journalists should not expect an announcement out of this
meeting. Measures had already been taken including the announcement about the
increased use of CCTV at Heathrow made by David Blunkett last week. Obviously
we had been taking steps to tighten our security measures still further since
September 11; today would be a chance to look at some of the longer term issues
that had arisen. Asked for the PM's view on air marshals the PMOS said obviously
it was one of the issues that would be looked at, but he didn't want to indicate
more than that. Put to him that they wouldn't be of use unless they were a global
measure the PMOS said it wasn't clear whether the Americans were looking beyond
domestic flights at this stage. There was an undertaking to look at all the
issues of security, this was clearly one of them and would be looked at. Journalists
should not read any more into it than that at present.
Asked about yesterday's NATO meeting and whether it was the case that any military
action would be limited to the USA and UK the PMOS said that firstly, at this
stage no request had been made as had been clear from the meeting. One only
had to look at the comments of Chancellor Schroeder in terms of the German willingness
to offer military assistance. There were people who would always seek to interpret
these things as "the coalition dividing". The fact was the coalition
was very strong. As the PM had said on Tuesday the Japanese Prime Minister had
indicated that while Japan would not be offering military support it was significant
that he was offering his country's help in other ways. You had to look at this
as an international coalition where different countries would do different things
according to their means. But there was a steadfast solidarity of purpose from
all in tackling international terrorism. There were two phases to this response.
Bringing those responsible to account and dismantling the machinery of terror.
That was going to require a whole range of political, military, diplomatic and
other approaches. We had seen from the international response the wide range
of countries signed up to this.
Asked about the Iranian response, whether they were offering conflicting signals
and if the PM would be raising this with Chris Patten the PMOS said that the
discussion with Mr Patten would mainly be focussed on humanitarian issues. In
terms of Iran what was clear, both in terms of President Khatami's willingness
to meet Jack Straw and through his conversation with the Prime Minister, was
that they condemned what had happened. It was important that those comments
were studied. Pressed that they weren't going to participate in the coalition
the PMOS said different countries would respond in different ways. It was a
sign of significant progress that Jack Straw had been in Tehran this week.
Asked if the Prime Minister was concerned about the fall in consumer confidence
the PMOS said that as the Chancellor had said following the events of September
11 that obviously these were challenging and testing times for the global economy.
What had been demonstrated since then had been its resilience. The right things
had been done. Markets had continued to function. There had been the short pause
in America, but they had been back in days. There had been contact with OPEC
in order to ensure the oil price remained steady. There had been consolidated
action by the Federal Reserve, European Central Bank, Bank of England and other
Central banks in terms of bringing down interest rates. Clearly no economy could
be immune from the global slowdown. But equally the fundamentals here were sound.
We had low inflation. Interest rates at a 30 year low. Unemployment at its lowest
for 25 years. And the public finances were sound. Consumer confidence by its
nature was borne out by how people felt. That was in turn affected by how things
were presented to them. It was important that there was a sense of perspective,
and that difficulties were not exaggerated. People should continue going to
work, travelling and shopping as the vast majority were.
Asked if the Prime Minister's Party Conference speech was likely to be a one
issue speech the PMOS said it was not for him to brief on Labour Party matters.
Clearly the PM's speech would reflect events of September 11, but there was
nor reason for it not to cover other issues.
Asked if the Government would still want to see the Taliban toppled if Bin Laden
was handed over the PMOS said we had made clear to the regime in Afghanistan
that we were absolutely determined to bring the perpetrators of this atrocity
to justice and they had a choice. It was clear to them what they had to do.
To hand over Bin Laden. To dismantle the camps. It was for them now to grasp
that opportunity. As the PM had said if they didn't do that our enemy's friend
would be regarded as our enemy. In terms of our objectives they were as previously
stated. To bring those responsible to justice and to dismantle the machinery
of terror. The international community were united in this. You only had to
see what, for example, the UN resolution had said within days of the atrocity,
that those who harbored terrorists were themselves accountable. Asked if we
considered the Taliban part of the machinery of terror the PMOS said what was
absolutely clear was that they were harboring terrorists. That could not be
said often enough. Our objectives were as he had set them out.
Asked if there was not some irony in asking the Taliban to do something (in
handing over Bin Laden) which the European Union might have difficulty over
because of the issue over him facing the death sentence the PMOS said the international
community was rock solid in the need to bring those who had carried out the
attack to justice. There were clearly talks going on in the JHA about extradition
Asked if there were any formal plans to have an established War Cabinet the
PMOS said should that issue need to be addressed it could be addressed quite
quickly. Pressed, he said he was neither ruling it in nor out.
Asked if the ultimatum was open-ended and if we were telling the Taliban that
time was running out the PMOS said that yes it was and we were. If they didn't
know after last Thursday and the Presidents speech to Congress they had a further
reminder after the Prime Minister had spoken on Tuesday. We saw no signs of
them moving in that direction. Our preparations continued on the diplomatic,
military and humanitarian front. Just because this was taking time people should
not doubt the seriousness of the international community's intent to deal with
Asked if we were any closer to publishing the evidence against Bin Laden the
PMOS said there was nothing he could point to at this stage.
Asked if there was any update on travel advice to UK passport holders in Pakistan
the PMOS said that as he understood it there had been no change since the advice
issued last week.
Meeting with Muslim leaders
Asked if there were any plans for legislation against religious discrimination
the PMOS said not as far as he was aware. In terms of the meeting with Muslim
leaders this afternoon the PM would want to stress again that this was not a
conflict with Islam. The atrocity of September 11 went against all the proper
teachings of Islam. Islam was a peace loving and tolerant religion. The atrocity
had been condemned the world over, that included Muslims the world over. Indeed
many Muslims had died in New York. As the PM had written in the Daily Jang newspaper
blaming Islam for it was like blaming Christianity for the events in Northern
Ireland. What we mustn't let happen was for the terrorists to succeed in setting
different religions against each other, nor to allow extremists in this country
to use it to promote their own racial bigotry. Asked if this meant there were
no plans to change the policy on faith schools the PMOS said that was correct.
Asked if it was correct that the Prime Minister had been reading the Koran the
PMOS said it had been well documented that he had been reading it over the summer.
He had a keen interest in interfaith issues and had been reading it off and
on over a number of years.
Asked about the build-up of refugees and whether there would be a knock-on in
terms of numbers accepted in this country the PMOS said that at this stage the
different aid agencies and the international community were coming together
to work through the whole range of issues involved. There was a meeting in Berlin
today. It was important to look at the history of this. There was a significant
humanitarian issue already as a result of 20 years of war, 3 years of drought
and 7 years of Taliban oppression. This was not a new phenomenon. In that time
some 4 or 5 million Afghans had fled over the border to Pakistan and the surrounding
countries before September 11. There was an issue in terms particularly of getting
food to those who are still in Afghanistan. And that was an issue which the
international community was looking at as a matter of some urgency. At this
stage food was still getting through in the North of the country but not the
South. We were very alive to the humanitarian issues which was why the PM was
talking to Ruud Lubbers and Chris Patten today. It was worth noting that the
UK was possibly the first country to respond with new measures last week to
address the humanitarian issues with the pledge for £25m for the region
on top of the £35m we had given last year.
Asked if we had had any political contacts with the Afghani Royal family or
the Northern Alliance the PMOS said that in terms of the stories over the weekend
about the Afghan King they were unfounded. As far as he was aware there were
no political contacts with the Northern Alliance. The issue in front of us was
meeting our objectives. There may be longer term issues relating to Afghanistan.
But that was where our focus was.
Crown copyright material reproduced with the permission of the Controller of HMSO.