The Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) advised journalists that the Prime Minister had spoken to President Putin today to congratulate him on his re-election. The two leaders had also spoken about British investment in Russia and the war on terror. Asked for further detail about the discussion on investment, the PMOS said that British investment in Russia was already significant. The President had been making the point that he wanted it to continue.
Spain/PM Elect Zapatero
The PMOS informed journalists that the Prime Minister had also had a fifteen-minute telephone conversation with Prime Minister-elect Zapatero this afternoon. The conversation had been warm and friendly. They had agreed to meet once Mr Zapatero formally took office. The timescale for that - possibly anything up to six weeks - would depend on coalition negotiations between the Spanish parties. Asked if the Prime Minister had met Mr Zapatero before, the PMOS said that Mr Zapatero had visited Downing Street in October 2002 after becoming leader of his party. Asked if the issue of troops in Iraq had been discussed, the PMOS said that they had had a wide-ranging discussion. He had no intention of briefing on it in detail other than to say that it had been warm and friendly. Asked to confirm reports that Mr Zapatero had asked the Prime Minister for a meeting before the Spanish elections but the Prime Minister had turned him down, the PMOS said he was not aware that was the case.
Madrid Bombings/Spanish Elections/Security Threat
The Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) advised journalists that the Prime Minister hoped to have a telephone conversation with the Prime Minister-elect of Spain, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, at lunchtime today. Asked what they would discuss, the PMOS said that the Prime Minister would congratulate him on his victory. It was a statement of fact that there were differences of opinion in Europe over the war in Iraq. The Prime Minister had his view, others had theirs. All were entitled to their positions. The important thing to recognise, however, was that we were in a critical period in Iraq. As we had seen last week, the political momentum was beginning to allow for the transfer of sovereignty on 30 June and we were beginning to see the emergence of the new transitional arrangements. It was important for that momentum to be maintained and to continue to make progress on improving and rebuilding the Iraqi infrastructure. It was also important for us to continue doing what we could to stabilise the security situation there. This was a time for everyone to redouble their efforts in terms of focussing on ensuring that the transfer to sovereignty was successful and in allowing Iraq to develop into a stable and prosperous democracy - something that it had not been able to do under Saddam. Questioned as to whether the Prime Minister had spoken to former Prime Minister Aznar, the PMOS said not at this stage. The Foreign Secretary, however, had spoken to his former Spanish counterpart, Ana Palacio.
The PMOS said that the Prime Minister hoped to speak to President Putin today when he would congratulate him on his election success at the weekend.
Asked the Prime Minister's reaction to allegations of mistreatment by former British detainees at Guantanamo Bay, the PMOS said that as we had made clear last week, representatives of the UK had met with the British detainees a total of seven times. This was more often than any other country had met with their nationals at the camp. The allegations about beatings and so on had not been raised with our officials at the time. Any complaints that had been raised, such as access to sunlight, had been passed on to the authorities. Asked if the allegations about mistreatment had been raised when the former detainees had been interviewed at Paddington Green on their return to the UK when they would have felt safer talking about them, the PMOS pointed out again that other concerns had been raised at Guantanamo Bay and had been dealt with subsequently. If there were other issues, there was no reason why they should not have been raised then as well. Questioned as to whether the UK had passed on the allegations about mistreatment to Washington, the PMOS said that the US authority handling with the issue was the Pentagon. As he understood it, they had denied the allegations.
Asked if the Prime Minister was satisfied with the way that Beverley Hughes was running the Immigration Service, the PMOS said yes. Asked if that remained the case despite evidence showing that the department was in chaos, the PMOS said that in the light of the drop in the asylum figures and in terms of how the problems in the asylum system were being handled, the Prime Minister believed that Ms Hughes was doing a difficult job very well. Put to him that the latest reports about the department did not bear witness to that sentiment, the PMOS said that credit should be given to the Minister for the fall in asylum applications over the past year. Asked why the figures should be believed, the PMOS said that of course this was an area where it was difficult to be 100% accurate. However, changes had been made to the asylum system and the measures in the Asylum and Immigration 1999 had come into force in 2001. Yes, there were still some problems. However, they were being tackled when they came to light. Put to him that the department had not denied allegations about sham marriages and bogus student claims, the PMOS said it was a vast generalisation to take one particular issue and elevate it to a problem which dominated the entire department. He did not believe that was the case.
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