Prime Minister's Official Spokesman
September 27, 2001
6:15 P.M. GMT
The PMOS informed journalists the Prime Minister had briefed Cabinet colleagues
on the latest situation today. The Prime Minister had gone through some of the
different military, political, diplomatic and humanitarian issues. He had said
that the coalition of support was strong and the Taliban could change or face
the consequences. He had underlined that the whole process would take time and
that it would be a long haul, but that everyone was determined to get it right.
On the humanitarian side we needed a massive mobilisation. We needed to build
an international coalition in the same way that we had been building a coalition
post September 11 to tackle terrorism. The Prime Minister had spoken to Ruud
Lubbers of the UNHCR and would be speaking to Chris Patten of the European Commission
The PM had gone through a number of themes raised at the press conference earlier
today. He had said that clearly there was a lot anxiety among the general public,
which was understandable. But he had underlined that there was no specific threat
of which we were aware and no reason why people should not go about their lives
in the usual way.
Jack Straw had also briefed colleagues on his tour of the Middle East, which
the PM had said had been very successful. There were three main objectives.
Firstly, to improve relations with Iran. Secondly, to deepen the consensus against
terrorism. Thirdly, to do everything we could to reinvigorate the Middle East
Peace Process. The Foreign Secretary had said he had been very warmly welcomed
in Tehran and the Government there was keen to build on this in the future.
He had said that the sense he had gained though his visits was that the coalition
was strengthening as time passed and countries were able to see how September
11 had an impact for them. His meeting with Prime Minister Sharon had been an
extremely good one. The Government was very pleased that talks were beginning
again between the Palestinian authorities and the Israeli Government. The important
thing was to build on this and to move it forward, but this sign of engagement
was obviously positive.
The Chancellor briefed on the economic situation and the action that had been
taken in the G7 to crackdown on terrorist financing. He had gone through some
of the decisive action taken by Central Banks in terms of reducing interest
rates. The way financial authorities had responded over the past two weeks demonstrated
the collective resolve to maintain the necessary conditions for growth and stability.
The right policy for the UK was to stick to the public spending plans as set
out last year which were affordable because of the tough decisions taken in
the past which meant that today the public finances were in good shape. He acknowledged
that we were entering a period of uncertainty in terms of the international
situation. He repeated that we could not be immune from the global economic
environment but that we would not repeat the mistakes of the past and relax
our discipline. The Government would remain vigilant in terms of public spending
so that we could be best placed to provide additional funding for frontline
public services in future years from a platform of economic stability.
David Blunkett had briefed on some of the issues being looked at in terms of
domestic legislation. Issues in relation to extradition, asylum and immigration,
terrorist financing and any loopholes that may need to be addressed. The Home
Secretary repeated that in terms of civil contingencies work was going ahead.
But it was important that while people should remain vigilant they should not
be alarmed. He echoed the Prime Minister's remarks that there was no evidence
of a specific threat, which we were aware of.
Clare Short then briefed on the humanitarian situation. The International Development
Secretary had said that in any event in Afghanistan 1 in 4 of the population
depended on aid/food aid. Obviously the fact that the UN
staff and aid workers were no longer in the country meant there were real issues
not just in terms of the refugees on the borders but how you could get aid into
Afghanistan. That was something that was being discussed as a matter of urgency
at the Berlin conference today and in terms of building a longer term coalition
on the humanitarian side.
Geoff Hoon went through some of the systems that were in place in terms of the
cooperation between the different militaries.
Robin Cook made the point that while these were very, very difficult times and
this had been the most appalling atrocity with such a huge loss of life there
was the hope that some good could come out of the situation in terms of the
re-ordering of international affairs. We were beginning to see some of that
in terms of the dialogue with Iran; the resumption, although very much in its
infancy of talks in the Middle East and the fact that the international community
had stood so firm in terms of tackling terrorism.
Asked what the Prime Minister was meaning when he had said the "process
would take time" the PMOS said he had been referring to the whole issue
of tackling terrorism. Obviously there were the two objectives 1) to bring to
account those responsible and 2) dismantling the apparatus of terror. That would
require action on a whole range of fronts - diplomatic, political, financial
and obviously military as well. He had underlined that this was going to be
a long haul.
Asked if the Chancellor had said we would stick to the spending limits whatever
happened in the economy in the future the PMOS said he had set out what the
Chancellor had said to Cabinet today. Pressed further the PMOS said that the
Chancellor's message to Cabinet had been clear, that we would stick to our public
spending plans. Asked again about different scenarios the PMOS said we did not
have a crystal ball but the Chancellor was setting out the position as it was.
Asked if Clare Short or anyone else had raised any doubts about the Prime Minister's
strategy the PMOS said no. The Cabinet was absolutely united behind the objectives
set out and the way all parts of the Government were dealing with what were
difficult circumstances. That had come through loud and clear. There was absolute
solidarity on the approach being taken.
Asked about the remarks of Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi the PMOS said the
Italian Prime Minister had expressed himself in the way that he chose to, he
was not a spokesman for him. Journalists had been at the press conference where
the Prime Minister had made his views on the issue very clear. As deadlines
were close the PMOS said he would not run through those again.
Asked if there had been a softening of line on the fight against terrorism the
PMOS said the focus as it had been throughout was on Afghanistan. There was
absolute unity of purpose on the objectives as had been set out. The answer
Asked if this meant that the war was also with those who harbored terrorists
the PMOS said that as the PM had said today one only had to look at what the
United Nations had been saying in terms of those who harbored terrorists being
accountable. The Taliban had a choice, either they complied with the demands
of the made to them or it faced the consequences. That was their choice. We
hoped they understood what it was. We hoped but with no great expectation that
they would heed what was being said. The objective was to dismantle the machinery
of terror. It was quite clear that the Taliban harbor terrorists. In that respect
if they didn't comply with the demands being made of them, as the Prime Minister
had said they would have to suffer the consequences.
Risk Waters Visit
The Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) briefed journalists that the
Prime Minister had this afternoon privately visited the firm Risk Waters, the
financial magazine publishers, at their offices in Haymarket.
This company had been hosting a conference in the World Trade Center at the
time of the attack and had lost a number of its employees including 10 of its
UK staff. The Prime Minister had found the spirit of the firm in such difficult
circumstances to be inspirational.
Crown copyright material reproduced with the permission of the Controller of HMSO.