» Monday, November 8, 2004

Middle East

Asked if it was fair to say that the Middle East Peace Process (MEPP) was top of the US trip agenda and whether the PM had any ideas how to revive the roadmap the PMOS said that in terms of the significance the Prime Minster places on the importance of MEPP he would point people in two directions. First they should look at what he said in his party conference speech where he said that after the US elections the MEPP would be a personal priority and secondly what he said after the re-election of President Bush in which he said that a key part of the dialogue with President Bush would be about revitalising the MEPP. The PMOS said that it was important to pause and look at where we were. It was inevitable given the length of the US election process that things would be on hold for that reason but also for reasons more integral to the Middle East itself. We all had to recognise that the process had lost momentum so the first priority therefore was to restore that momentum and to do so by clearly stating our intent that we do want to see the process revitalised. In terms of process and procedure we should take that one step at a time. The most important thing first of all was to get some momentum back into the process.

Asked what else would be on the agenda and whether the Prime Minister would resist the suggestion that there should be UN Security Council action against Iran, the PMOS that in terms of Iran it was best not to get ahead of ourselves this was a tentative understanding that still had to go back to governments. Governments had to consider it and we should allow that to happen on all sides before commenting. In terms of the US bilateral agenda it would be wherever the discussion goes because part of it would be to allow the PM and President to have time for informal discussions between themselves as much as possible. That said Iraq obviously was an important issue as was the Middle East and EU/US relations, but it would no doubt range over other issues also.

Asked if some sort of Middle East initiative could then be expected from the President and Prime Minister, the PMOS that as we all know from experience of peace processes closer to home, you do not just go from one part of the process to another in one move. You had to first of all establish a framework then work within that framework. People should avoid getting into the processology. What was more important was to get that signal of intent and that we get that momentum back into the process.

In response to the suggestion that the outcome would inevitably be something pretty vague and that it would be hard to agree something particularly with the Yassar Arafat/leadership situation, the PMOS said that people should not think that we had not been thinking about this or analysing this or planning about this subject for quite some time. As such it was not like we were starting from a blank page. However there was a distinction between what could be said publicly and what was going on behind the scenes. People should wait and see where we were afterwards but that he thought that a clear signal of intent would have a lot of depth behind it.

Asked whether the Sharon plan had taken over from the roadmap the PMOS said no, the Prime Minister had made it clear on his last trip to the White House in the Press Conference in the Rose Garden that the Gaza withdrawal was only the first step in the process and that the Roadmap was still the basis on which we were moving forward.

Briefing took place at 11:00 | Search for related news

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