» Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Middle East Crisis

Asked whether the Prime Minister supported moves for an immediate ceasefire, the PMOS said that the Prime Minister had all the way through stated that he would like to see the conflict stop now. He had also been making a broader point that the only way to get the conflict to stop was if people believed that there was a process to be put in place that would create a sustainable peace. A quick fix would not do. People could have the pleasure of calling for an immediate ceasefire, but if it did not deliver it was a fairly pointless exercise. A sustainable process was needed that not only delivered peace today, but a peace for the future. Israel was not going to be reassured if it believed that it would continue to be the subject of rocket attacks from Lebanon. There had been no sign that Hezbollah had recognised the need for it to stop its activities. A sustainable process would result in a sustainable peace. We welcomed the efforts of the UN that built on the G8 communiqué. Mark Malloch Brown had spoken this morning supporting the idea of an international force. In addition to this we supported the efforts of Javier Solana. The next steps would be the report back to the UN on Thursday or Friday and the US announcement of a visit by Condoleezza Rice to the region. Those were important steps in the process, but people had to recognise that this would only succeed if there were commitments from both sides to stop, not just for today, but also for good.

Asked what would happen after the UN report, the PMOS said that it would depend on what the report back said and, although Kofi Annan and Mark Malloch Brown had supported the idea, it would have to listen to the view of the UN Security Council as a whole. The G8 could support an idea but the UN had to implement it.

Asked about any contacts the Prime Minister had had on this issue, the PMOS said that the Prime Minister continued to talk to people on a regular basis, but we were at the stage where it was not helpful, to some extent, to give a run down of those discussions.

Put that the Prime Minister of Lebanon and Shimon Peres had both expressed concern that the UK had not used it influence in the region to bring a swifter resolution, the PMOS said that he would not get into a ding dong with anybody, but as a general point people had seen during the G8 summit the very high profile role that the Prime Minister had played in negotiating the G8 communiqué. The Prime Minister had also talked to Kofi Annan and he continued to be in touch with leading players in the region. In the end however it was not the Prime Minister who could stop the conflict on either side, but he could help to bring about a process that would result in the cessation of hostilities. The Prime Minister could not take the decision that needed to be taken by Hezbollah or those who influenced Hezbollah, or equally the decision for the Israeli government. Asked whether the Prime Minister had spoken to Syria or President Assad, the PMOS said that he would not lead journalists down that track.

Asked for an update on evacuation, the PMOS said that two ships would go back in today and people would see that step change in the numbers being evacuated. It would be a rolling process because it was not just a matter of having the capacity in shipping it also meant getting people to and onto the ships safely. The number one requirement was to ensure the safety at all stages of the evacuation be it gathering people together, transporting them to the docks and onto the ships, or taking them to Cyprus.

Asked whether this was being made more difficult because all nations were evacuating by ship, the PMOS said that there was a coordinated effort and we had used the EU, for instance, to help with that. But given that it was a conflict zone people should appreciate the real difficulties in ensuring the safe evacuation of people. That said we were receiving cooperation in this regard.

Briefing took place at 9:00 | Search for related news

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