» Tuesday, July 18, 2006

G8 Statement

Asked about the figure of 5000 people that the Prime Minister had mentioned in his statement and would happen to the 10,000 left behind, the Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman (PMOS) said that people needed to differentiate between the number of people who were technically British citizens or dual nationals and the number of people who had requested to leave. It was a fluid situation and as such he would not offer a precise predictions about the numbers that would leave. Put that some people would still have to remain that wanted to get out, the PMOS said that the Prime Minister had not been saying that the effort would then end at that point. It would continue, but it was important to distinguish between those that wanted to leave and those who wanted to stay.

Asked what efforts were being made for those who lived further a field that were unable to travel, the PMOS said that the best placed people to advise on that type of person were those in the embassy in Beirut. This was why we were asking people to get in touch with the British embassy. We appreciated the difficulties individuals were facing and we would try to do what we could to help. Put that some people in the Navy had suggested that the Foreign Office could have responded faster to the evacuation, the PMOS said that this was not a race. We had to do this in a way that got the maximum people out in the safest possible way. We judged that to be by sea. There had been an opportunity to take the most urgent out by air yesterday and we had taken 63 out. There would be more taken out today and tomorrow. As facilities arrived the pace of evacuation would be stepped up quite considerably. We were doing this in a way that maximised both the speed of evacuation and safety of those concerned. Asked when people might see something, the PMOS said that people would see a step change in this over the next 24 hours.

Put that the Prime Minister had been quite specific in suggesting that Iran had supplied devices as it had done in Iraq, the PMOS said that the Prime Minister had pointed out that the rockets that had been launched into Israel had been analysed as being from that source and he had compared that analysis with what had happened in and around Basra. It had not been an off the cuff remark, it had been a considered remark and that obviously had implications. The PMOS did not think that the Basra side should come as a surprise to journalists as the Prime Minister had highlighted that fact when at the EU Informal Summit at Hampton Court last autumn.

Asked what those implications were, the PMOS said that our judgement was that Iran and Syria were both involved in this in some way. This meant that it was not just a localised Lebanese issue but part of a wider problem and this formed the basis for how to respond to it. This was partly why you could not just have a quick fix in Lebanon you had to have a longer-term solution. However you also had to address the wider issues and these therefore played into the judgements that you had to make about Iran’s nuclear ambitions. As Margaret Beckett had said at Cabinet last week if there were now already concerns about Iran you only needed to think how much more they would be if Iran had a nuclear capability.

Asked whether in that case we thought that Iran was the more serious influencer and concern, the PMOS said that he would not like to get into a league table of badness. Damascus was where Hezbollah had its headquarters and we knew that Syria had offered Hezbollah logistical support in the past. We had to address the underlying issues, which were how did you stop rockets from being fired into Israel which in turn meant Israel felt that it needed to retaliate; how did you halt the loss of life in Lebanon and Israel; and how did you stop the constant destabilisation within the region.

Asked whether the Prime Minister was likely to go to Damascus, the PMOS acknowedged, as he had in the morning briefing, that it was a perfectly legitimate question to ask following the unintentionally overheard live mic conversation, but the point of that conversation, which had been one of series of conversations they had been having at the summit, was to discuss how to get someone on the ground to talk to the parties, and whether it should be Condoleezza Rice or the Prime Minister. The Americans had announced that Dr Rice would be going to the region. Therefore at this stage there are no current plans for the Prime Minister to go to the region. So that answered the question in the immediate term.

Put that the implication seemed to be that the government was suggesting that someone in Tehran had taken the decision to widen the crisis out and to involve Hezbollah, the PMOS no, you had to make a strategic judgement in a situation like this about in whose interests this served, about any historic linkages, about the likelihood that Hezbollah had spontaneously decided to respond after the events in Gaza. Our judgement was that there was more to this. We would not however speculate about the precise way that interference happened, but this was our considered judgement.

Put that the clear inference though was that it was being orchestrated from Tehran, the PMOS said that there was a clear inference. We believed that Iran and Syria were involved in some way and it was important to consider the implications of that. Asked if we were saying that our belief was that Iran and Syria were providing the strategic direction of this, the PMOS said that he was saying that we believed that it was not a coincidence, Iran and Syria had in the past been strong supporters of Hezbollah, they had been involved in equipping Hezbollah on this occasion as well as in the past, but he would not speculate on the precise nature of the linkage.

Asked why we he would not speculate on the nature of the linkage, the PMOS said he did not want such speculation to divert attention. He wanted to keep the focus where it needed to be, which was on the ongoing and intense efforts to get a diplomatic process in place that would bring about the cessation of hostilities. To achieve that we needed to address the conditions outlined in the G8 communiqué.

Put that the Prime Minister had made some references to the insurgency in Iraq and did we believe that the same strategic effort was behind that as the crisis in Lebanon, the PMOS said that the Prime Minister had spoken at Hampton Court about his concern that the bombs being used in Iraq had possible linkages to Iran. That concern was still there and it remained at the very least an open question.

Asked why John Bolton, the US representative at the UN, had poured cold water on the stabilisation force, the PMOS said that people needed to acknowledge how the statement had come about. The "old" G7 had mandated the Prime Minister to negotiate the final text with President Putin, the person heading the G8 summit at the time, and they had agreed the text. This, therefore, was a unanimous G8 communiqué, which included the United States. The following day the Prime Minister had meet with Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary General, who had endorsed the idea of a stabilisation force. It would now have further consideration on Thursday at the UN. Put that we had said that we would not fight our way in so it would need the support of Hezbollah, the PMOS said that it would require the conditions for cessation of hostilities to be met by all sides. Everybody would have to play his or her part.

Asked whether the Prime Minister’s view that this "arc of extremism", this preordained strategy was an intellectual theory or something the Prime Minister had based on fact and intelligence, the PMOS said that it was based on experience of what Iran and Syria had done in the past. It was based on knowledge of the historic and current linkages with Hezbollah and it was based on the assessment of those on the ground. We were not going to overstate it but it would have been wrong not to state what we believed to be our judgement of the situation.

Briefing took place at 8:00 | Search for related news

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