Asked for an update on the hostage negotiations in Iraq, the PMOS said that obviously we remained very concerned about Ken Bigley and the other hostages. We were monitoring the situation very closely. As journalists were no doubt aware, the Foreign Office had used Arab media to broadcast an appeal for information. However, as the Prime Minister had made clear yesterday, given the sensitivity of the situation, we would not – and should not – say anything further at this point. Asked if there were plans for any further appeals, the PMOS said not at this stage.
Asked if the Prime Minister was happy for his comment yesterday about a “new Iraqi conflict” in Iraq to be interpreted by some as ‘Gulf War III’, the PMOS said that the Prime Minister’s words spoke for themselves. We were at the stage where there was a stark choice between those who were straining every muscle and effort – and risking their lives in the process – to enable the Iraqis to hold free elections in January, and those who wanted to stop democracy in its tracks. That had implications not only for Iraq, but for the entire region – and therefore for the world. That was why the Prime Minister believed it was important for people to understand the nature of the conflict and what was at stake, no matter what their views were about the war. Asked if he was implying that practical support should be given by our European partners, the PMOS said that he was referring to people assisting the process in whatever way they were able. Obviously that would vary from one country to another. However, the aim was clear. As Prime Minister Allawi had underlined yesterday, Iraq was not just about the violence that we saw on our television screens, serious though that was. It was also about the process of reconstruction, getting the economy up and running, finding people jobs and putting in place an electoral process by January. All these things were in the process of being done, but the important point was that everyone needed to support it in whatever way they could.
Asked if Downing Street agreed with the Iraqi Foreign Minister’s determination to go ahead with elections in January despite the fact that parts of Iraq would still not be enfranchised by that time, the PMOS said that the Iraqi Foreign Minister had been echoing the views of Prime Minister Allawi ten days ago when he had said that any small pockets of violence should not prevent the Iraqi population as a whole – all 25 million of them – from expressing their view. For example, elections had taken place recently in Umm Qasr in which there had been a turnout of 60%. Obviously we wanted elections to be held in as stable an environment as possible. However, it was important to recognise that the whole objective of the insurgents was to stop democracy in its tracks. Consequently, it was necessary to do what we could to ensure such a situation did not occur. Asked if he was suggesting that the Prime Minister believed it would still be a “worthwhile exercise” to hold elections in January, even though some Iraqis would be unable to vote, the PMOS said he did not think it would be helpful to get drawn in to a hypothetical assessment of what the situation might be in several months’ time. It was important to recognise that not only had the Iraqi interim government not in any way resiled from its commitment to democracy, but, rather, had reinforced its commitment to democracy, despite the difficulties. That was something which we supported 100%. Asked if the Prime Minister believed that we would be handing victory over to the terrorists if the elections failed to go ahead in January, the PMOS said that it was important for us to do everything to ensure that the elections did take place, rather than predict failure.
Asked if there was a news blackout in Iraq, as had been suggested by the Opposition’s Defence Spokesman this morning, because Ministers had not been put up for interview on the Today Programme, the PMOS said not as far as he was aware. He pointed out that the Prime Minister and Prime Minister Allawi had held a joint press conference yesterday at which those journalists who had attended had been entirely free to ask whatever questions they had wanted to ask.
Briefing took place at 11:00 | Search for related news
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