PRESS BRIEFING: 3.45PM THURSDAY 6 FEBRUARY 2003
The Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) advised journalists that the Prime Minister had had a brief telephone conversation this afternoon with Prime Minister Balkenende of Holland on the way to his Newsnight interview in Newcastle. It was part of a series of conversations he was having with world leaders to update them on his meeting with President Bush last week and to present our view of the proceedings at the UN yesterday.
Asked for a readout from the Prime Minister's meeting with Hans Blix and Mohammed ElBaradei this morning, the PMOS said that the meeting had provided an opportunity for the Prime Minister to listen to the two weapons inspectors. The tone of their comments had been reflected accurately by what they had said in the Street afterwards. They were looking for 100% co-operation from the Iraqi regime - not only on process, but on substance too which they were not currently receiving. As Dr ElBaradei had remarked, the hour was getting late.
Asked for a reaction to Condoleeza Rice's comment today that there was no need for a second UN Resolution, the PMOS said that in the British Government's view, a second Resolution was preferable and we remained confident that we would be able to obtain one if necessary. Following the Prime Minister's meeting with President Bush last Friday, we were confident that the US would assist in that process.
The PMOS drew journalists' attention to Javier Solana's comments today which, he said, we agreed with completely. He had said that Colin Powell had given a very important report to the Security Council. Its content, and also the way it had been presented, was very solid and should be taken seriously by everyone. People should take the time to reflect on it. He had also said that time was very short. Saddam had to realise that he had to co-operate fully. The mandate was very clear. He had to disarm. That was what the international community wanted him to do.
Asked whether the inspectors thought there was any point in carrying on with the inspections given the lack of co-operation, the PMOS said that he was not a spokesman for the weapons inspectors. That said, it was clear that Resolution 1441 had not set up the current inspections regime for the sake of carrying out inspections. Its purpose was to ensure that Saddam was disarmed. Paragraph 7 of Resolution 1441 made clear what the role of the inspectors should be - "To remove, destroy and render harmless all prohibited weapons, sub-systems, components, records, materials and other related items". All, not some. Equally, Paragraph 9 of 1441 set out Saddam's duty "to co-operate immediately, unconditionally and actively". Immediately, not at some distant point in the future.
Asked whether we had set a target of 'weeks' rather than 'months' to disarm Saddam Hussein because we were becoming embarrassed at the length of time it was taking or if it was because we had received intelligence that his weapons capability was such that he was considered an imminent threat, the PMOS said that it was partly because Saddam had defied nine UN Resolutions over the past twelve years. In that time, the UN had placed twenty seven different obligations on Saddam. He remained in breach of twenty tree of them. There was therefore a clear record of non-compliance. There was also a fear, as Colin Powell's presentation had demonstrated yesterday, that as time passed by Saddam was able to develop his weapons further. Both factors meant that we had to bring things to a head. It was not coincidental that the UN had judged twelve years ago that Saddam was not a fit person to possess WMD.
Asked whether there would be sufficient time for a Commons debate if a second Resolution was actively sought, the PMOS said that the position on a Commons debate had not changed. It would be held at the appropriate time, as long as it did not put our troops at risk in any way.
Asked if the Prime Minister would accept the City's assessment that today's cut in interest rates was a vote of no confidence in the Government's economic policies, the PMOS said that the Government always supported the Monetary Policy Committee's decision on interest rates. Asked the Prime Minister's opinion about the state of the economy, the PMOS said the Prime Minister remained firmly of the view that we were in a better position than most other countries to face the problems which the world economy as a whole was now facing. He pointed out that the last time interest rates had been this low was in 1955. Put to him that low interest rates were bad, the PMOS said that those of us with mortgages would disagree.