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United Kingdom
Prime Minister's Official Spokesman
Lobby Briefing
October 2, 2001
11:00 A.M. GMT

LESZEK MILLER

The PMOS said Leschek Millar, Prime Minister of Poland, would be visiting the Prime Minister today. This would be his first trip abroad, other than to Germany, and this was a sign of our continuing warm relationship with Poland. The PMOS reminded the lobby Poland was a NATO ally and a very solid partner in the international coalition.

The PMOS said the Prime Minister would be reaffirming our commitment to EU enlargement during the meeting. We hoped Poland would be able to join the first wave of enlargement. We were working closely with the Polish Government on EU issues.

The PMOS advised we were likely to issue a joint paper later today. This would contain ideas on bringing Europe closer to its citizens. Asked if the paper itself would be taken to the European Council at Laeken, the PMOS said it was a contribution to the Future of Europe debate.

The PMOS said there was an extensive programme of assistance for Poland's preparations for EU accession. We had always maintained European enlargement was good for our security and good for our prosperity, as the single market extended eastwards.

PRIME MINISTER'S VISIT TO THE MIDDLE EAST

Asked what had been said in private that might make the Government more optimistic about the outcome of the Prime Minister's trip to the Middle East,

The PMOS said we should take a reality check. We could never have solved the problems of the Middle East in 48 hours - nor had we ever expected to. The Prime Minister believed his trip had been absolutely the right thing to do. The only way forward was through dialogue. Of course people had set out their long-held views in public, but there had also been private discussion and engagement during those talks.

The PMOS said it had been clear to the Prime Minister during his private discussions that everyone recognised the situation they were in. If things went on as they were, the cycle of violence would continue and there could never be a just lasting peace. That was a road to nowhere. People were looking for help in trying to turn this situation around. The PMOS said we had to recognise these problems were long entrenched and deep-rooted. As the Prime Minister had made clear yesterday, Israel was going to exist and the Palestinians were going to remain. The Israeli people needed to be confident in their own security and the Palestinian people needed to have their own state. The rest of the process was for dialogue and discussion. But it was not a question of if this process restarted - it was a question of when.

The PMOS said the visit had been important in preparing the ground and bridging what the Prime Minister had called 'the gulf of misunderstanding'. The Prime Minister would not have gone on the visit had he not believed it worthwhile to do so. He believed this beforehand and he believed this just as strongly afterwards.

Asked if there had been any fresh ideas generated 'behind the scenes', the PMOS said it was clear to everyone there needed to be a period of calm in which discussions could take place. We had to create the space for dialogue. We had made clear before the visit we did not have a new plan in our pocket. The Mitchell plan and the Tenet plan already existed. These set out a route map for us to focus on. There would be discussions on how we moved forward using that agenda.

Pressed on whether the Prime Minister had any specific ideas to put to President Bush next week, the PMOS said this was an ongoing process of dialogue. The Prime Minister would be seeing President Bush on Wednesday. They would doubtless discuss the Prime Minister's Middle Eastern talks in detail. The Prime Minister would also see Prime Minister Sharon in London next week.

The PMOS made the point this was an ongoing process. To draw a parallel with Northern Ireland, there were countless times when we had seen people coming out of private talks and candidly setting out their long-held public views to camera. This didn't mean there hadn't been dialogue and engagement going on behind the scenes. There had been on this trip.

In answer to questions, the PMOS reiterated the Prime Minister believed the trip had been the right thing to do and had been worthwhile. No one had ever been under any illusions this would be anything other than difficult. As the Prime Minister had said, he believed you had a choice when faced with a situation like the Middle East conflict. Either you could roll up your sleeves and engage in talks or you could choose not to. He believed engaging in talks was more fruitful than the latter option.

Asked if Sir Malcolm Rifkind's comments about the unwiseness of the Syrian trip had dented the Opposition's support for the campaign, the PMOS replied the Opposition was free to make whatever points it wished. We were a democratic country. The Opposition had said it supported our overall approach to the situation, and we valued this support. Jack Straw had addressed Sir Malcolm's points and so had he indirectly in his earlier comments.

The PMOS said the decision to go to Syria had not been taken with the recognition it would be anything other than difficult. However, a judgement had to be made. We had seen an engagement with President Assad, in Damascus, for the first time ever. The Prime Minister felt it had been important to set out, on Syrian soil, to a Syrian audience, the fact that Israel had a right to exist. We had to confront difficult arguments and long held views head on.

PARTNERSHIP REGISTERS/GAY MARRIAGES

Asked about the Government's stance on Partnership Registers, the PMOS replied that, as Baroness Morgan had made clear, we were not talking about same-sex marriages here. Baroness Morgan had said there was space for discussion on the issue of Partnership Registers. This reflected the growing debate on such issues within society generally.

In answer to further questions, the PMOS said the Government had not formed a settled view on this issue but was watching the debate closely. Jane Griffiths would be bringing forward a Private Member's Bill on the issue in due course. The Government would set out its response to the Bill in the usual way. These were complex issues and it was right to look at them.

Asked if the Government was looking at Ken Livingstone's plans for Partnership Registration or at broader issues, the PMOS replied in the first instance we were looking at the Partnership Registration ideas in London. If other issues were raised we would look at them. We lived in a democracy and it was right the Government should look at live issues like this.

Asked what we had against gay marriages, the PMOS said we believed marriage should remain as it was.

END


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