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United Kingdom
Prime Minister's Official Spokesman
Lobby Briefing
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 this evening.

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 was no.

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.

END


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