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