Asked if the Prime Minister was getting on with his reshuffle, the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) said that as the Prime Minister had told journalists in his press conference this morning, we would let people know once we were ready to do so. Asked if he was meeting and speaking to people today, the PMOS repeated that we would let people know about any reshuffle when we were ready to do so. Asked if the reshuffle would take place this week, the PMOS said yes. In answer to further questions, the PMOS said that he was not going to provide a running commentary on the issue. He had nothing further to add to what had already been said.
Prime Minister Allawi
Asked if the Prime Minister had been indicating this morning that Prime Minister Allawi of Iraq would be visiting the UK in the near future, the PMOS pointed out that Prime Minister Allawi himself had said that he hoped to visit Britain at some point within the next few weeks. Final dates were still being worked out.
Asked if he would agree that the Prime Minister had appeared sympathetic this morning to the plight of the former Gurkhas who were seeking British citizenship and whether he might help them achieve their objective in any way, the PMOS said that the Prime Minister had simply been acknowledging that the matter was being reviewed. It would therefore be wrong to attempt to pre-judge the outcome of that process before it had concluded.
Asked about the possibility of trying another route should the talks on Northern Ireland at Leeds Castle next week fail, the PMOS said that as the Prime Minister had told journalists this morning, he did not think it would be helpful to start talking about Plan B when we were still trying to get Plan A to work. As he had made clear, we needed to be able to judge whether progress was going to be made or not. That meant asking whether we were going to see an end to paramilitarism, whether we were going to see decommissioning - and if so, whether the Unionists would agree to share power with the elected representatives of Nationalism and Republicanism. As he had underlined at Lancaster House in July, at some point we would need to come to a decision as to whether to keep travelling down the road we were currently going down, or whether we needed to do something different to take the process forward. Asked if the Prime Minister was considering the possibility of abandoning the Northern Ireland Assembly if the talks at Leeds Castle were not successful, the PMOS said that he did not think it would be helpful to get drawn into a discussion about specifics. No one should underestimate the importance of the talks next week. We believed that the parameters existed for a deal to be done. The key question was whether the will was there. If, at the end of the process, we concluded the answer was no, then obviously we would have to reflect on how to take the process forward. The Prime Minister was absolutely determined that the momentum we had seen until now should continue in some form because it had already had a positive impact in terms of bringing the conflict to an end in Northern Ireland. That being said, the talks at Leeds Castle had yet to take place. We hoped that a deal could be done there because we believed that such a thing was possible.
Asked to expand on the Prime Minister's comments this morning about legal issue relating to extremist clerics and religious hatred, the PMOS said that this was really a matter for the police. However, as we had made clear from the outset, we were keeping the process under review.
Asked if the Prime Minister had been in contact with the Clintons following President Clinton's heart surgery, the PMOS said that everyone was obviously aware of their close friendship, so it was therefore fair to assume that the Prime Minister had been in touch. However, he had no intention of briefing on the precise nature of that contact because it was a personal matter.
Prime Minister’s press conference
[This is the transcript of one of the Prime Minister's occasional press conferences; these are the words of the Prime Minister giving a statement and answering the questions of journalists. Unlike the PMOS's briefings, this is a more-or-less verbatim transcript of the Prime Minister's words. Such press conferences happen about once a month, and occasionally more often.]
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