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United Kingdom
Prime Minister's Official Spokesman
Lobby Briefing
October 1, 2001
11:00 A.M. GMT

Phonecalls

The Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) said that the Prime Minister had been at Chequers over the weekend and had now departed for the Party Conference in Brighton. He had spoken to President Bush for about half an hour on Saturday. The conversation had covered the military and diplomatic fronts and had also focussed on the humanitarian effort. He had also spoken to Kofi Annan yesterday about humanitarian matters. They had discussed some of the different ideas relating to how we could co-ordinate the humanitarian effort across the different agencies. The PMOS pointed out that Chancellor Schroeder was attending the Party Conference today and no doubt would meet the Prime Minister there. He did not rule out the possibility of other phonecalls today and tomorrow.

Humanitarian Aid

The PMOS advised journalists that the first of two flights this week carrying humanitarian aid in the form of emergency shelters to Afghan refugees in Iran was due to leave RAF Manston this evening. The flight would be carrying 40 tonnes of winterised tents (1,300 tents in total), rolls of plastic sheeting and canvas tarpaulins. The total cost was £400,000, which was part of the £25m of aid which had been announced two weeks ago. A further £11m had been allocated to Pakistan on Thursday.

Anti-Terrorism Measures/Legislation

Asked if we were giving any thought to the possibility of allowing the use of wiretap evidence in court, the PMOS said he wouldn't encourage journalists down that route. We were looking at a whole raft of different issues, principally focussing on how we could make it easier to detain, deport and extradite terrorist suspects. As the Prime Minister had indicated on Frost yesterday, an Emergency Terrorism Bill could be expected within four to six weeks. This would look at a number of different areas in relation to asylum and detaining and deporting suspects. Other issues which were also being considered carefully included data sharing between the Inland Revenue, Customs and Law Enforcement Agencies. Asked why there was a reluctance to allow wiretap evidence in court, the PMOS said it would not be helpful to get into 'whys' and 'wherefores' as we had not made any announcements yet. The Bill would be published shortly. Clearly, judgements had to be made as to the most effective vehicles for countering terrorist activity and, if we went down a certain route, whether that might have a contradictory effect at another stage of the chain of operations.

Asked whether new extradition measures could be applied retrospectively, the PMOS said that issues of retrospection were being looked at, but not necessarily. He said that at the moment we had no powers to detain terrorist suspects who had exhausted the asylum process and had had their applications turned down but who we were unable to return to their country of origin possibly because of issues relating to human rights. Obviously we would have to look carefully at whether we could introduce and use such powers against people who were here and considered a threat to national security. In answer to further questions, the PMOS cautioned journalists against expecting the Prime Minister to announce specific details of the measures we might be taking in his statement to the House on Thursday.

ID Cards/Devolution

Asked the current position on ID cards, the PMOS said the position remained as set out by the Prime Minister. It was obviously important to weigh up all the different arguments. As the Prime Minister had said yesterday, the key to this was the issue of effectiveness - i.e. whether, by introducing ID cards, we would be able to achieve what we wanted to achieve. A whole range of different arguments were being looked at - but at a slightly slower pace than some of the other issues he had already set out.

Asked about reports at the weekend about the possibility of introducing Citizens Cards, the PMOS said that this was one view which had been put forward. Different arguments were being mounted on all sides in terms of what an ID Card might do, what it might be used for, how it might work, how secure it would be, how effective it might be, what it would cost and so on. Discussion about this issue was continuing in a calm, measured way within Government. He reiterated the Prime Minister's point expressed yesterday that the key to such a proposal was the issue of effectiveness.

Asked if the Government was concerned about reports that the Scottish Parliament would not back the introduction of ID Cards, the PMOS said we had not made proposals yet. Of course there would be discussions with the devolved administrations in terms of taking forward the emergency terrorism measures. We would hope that by doing so we would be able to achieve cross-party support for these measures. We also hoped that it would speed up their passage onto the statute book. Obviously that did not mean that debate and discussion would be curtailed. In answer to further questions about individual rights, the PMOS said that in trying to bring about these changes, the Prime Minister hoped he would be able to win people round on the basis of the arguments. Everyone would accept that the events of 11 September had changed the balance of the arguments in respect of issues relating to people's individual rights and terrorism.

Bin Laden

Asked if the Prime Minister agreed with the US Administration's assertion that it had no reason to believe anything the Taliban said following the Taliban's latest statement that they knew where Bin Laden was and were protecting him, the PMOS said he wouldn't disagree with anything the US Government had said. It was clear that anything that came from the Taliban had to be treated with considerable caution. If it was true that the Taliban knew where Bin Laden was, this underlined the stark choice facing them. They had to hand him over, dismantle the terror camps and prove that they had done so - or face the consequences. They knew what they had to do. They could do it now.

Asked if there was a timetable for the Taliban to make their choice before having to face the consequences, the PMOS said there was no timeframe. President Bush had set out to Congress the ultimatum to the Taliban. We hoped they understood the seriousness of the situation. As the days passed, the international coalition was continuing to be built and the necessary planning was going ahead. Asked what further work was needed to build the coalition, the PMOS said there were obviously two phases in which the coalition was involved. First bringing those responsible to account. The international community, almost without exception, had voiced its horror at the events of 11 September. The UN Security Council Resolution in the days afterwards talked of those responsible being brought to account and those harbouring them being accountable. The second part of the equation was the dismantling of the machinery of terror. That would require action at all levels on the financial front and the diplomatic front, as well as individual countries looking at their own domestic laws, as we were now doing. The coalition was widening and deepening on a daily basis.

Asked if any thought had been given to what a post-Taliban Afghanistan might look like, the PMOS said that it was important to be clear about our objectives: to bring those responsible to account and to dismantle the machinery of terror. As the Prime Minister had said, the Taliban were harbouring Bin Laden and were also host to a network of terror camps. The choice was theirs as to whether they wished to co-operate with the international community to bring those responsible for the atrocity in the US to justice. If they did not do that, they would become an obstacle to us achieving that objective. If that was the case, they would therefore have to face the consequences - one of which could clearly be their removal. Questioned further, the PMOS pointed out that Afghanistan was made up of many different tribes and ethnic mixes. It was a very complex country. In the longer term, it would be most beneficial for the people there to have an open society which represented all the different social tribal mixes. Clearly, however, we were some way off that point. Asked if the Prime Minister agreed with Peter Hain's comment that he would welcome a popular uprising against the Taliban, the PMOS said it was clear that the Taliban regime had inflicted great suffering on the people of Afghanistan. Even prior to 11 September, there had been 4-5 million refugees fleeing the country as a result of the civil war, drought and famine. It was a regime which had no regard for basic human rights, particularly those of women. That said, however, the Taliban had a choice. It was not an objective as such to remove them from power. The objective was to bring Bin Laden and his associates to justice and to get rid of the terrorist training camps in Afghanistan. On a more general point, our desire had always been to see a broad based legitimate Government in Afghanistan. Our fight was against terrorism and those who supported it.

Asked if there had been any contact between the British Government and the Northern Alliance, the PMOS said not as far as he was aware. We understood the concerns the Northern Alliance had in relation to the regime in Afghanistan. However, he pointed out that the Alliance was a solely Tajik movement. A broad based Government in Afghanistan would need to be truly representative of the country's different ethnic tribes.

Intelligence

Asked if the Prime Minister would use his statement to the Commons on Thursday to set out any of the evidence he had seen which linked Bin Laden to the terror attacks in the US, the PMOS said we were still looking at what information could be put in the public domain. Obviously in a situation like this we would not want to jeopardise intelligence sources and intelligence gathering. At the appropriate time and when we were in a position to do so, we hoped to be able to set out the evidence to which the Prime Minister had referred. Asked if this would be a joint UK/US paper, the PMOS said that we were looking at our own evidence at this stage.

NORTHERN IRELAND

Asked about the possibility of taking action against the LVF following the murder of Martin O'Hagan at the weekend, the PMOS said that clearly this was an appalling act. We condemned absolutely such barbarism. We did not yet know who was responsible. The Chief Constable and RUC were currently conducting their own investigations and we were unable to draw any conclusions at this point. Over the weekend, Ronnie O'Flanagan had said that he did not believe the UDA were involved. As to whether the LVF were responsible, we would have to wait and see how the investigation progressed. As John Reid had repeated at the weekend, all ceasefires were kept under constant review. The Government would not hesitate to specify any group breaking its ceasefire agreement.

END


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