Asked for further information on the Prime Minister’s talks with Prince Saud today, the Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman (PMOS) replied that where we had been going since St. Petersburg was the idea of developing a stabilisation force, not only as a way of addressing the medium term problem, but rather, as a way of getting to where we all wanted to be, which was the cessation of violence on all sides. That idea which the Prime Minister had negotiated with President Putin at the G8 had been gathered momentum, as Israel now seemed to be moving in favour of it, as did others. The Core Group was meeting in Rome tomorrow, which was a representative body that included countries such as France, Germany, Italy, Lebanon, the UK, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Russia and the USA. We hope that tomorrow would in broad principle support the ideas that we and the US had been putting forward, and that we could then move forward to the next stage. Today was important in getting Saudi Arabia’s understanding in what we were proposing, as well as getting an idea of where they were on the issue. The important thing was that as momentum built up, there was a ceasefire on all sides, and that that ceasefire was not just another sticking plaster, but rather, was durable, as that was the only way that politics could be allowed to work.
Asked if the British Government’s position was the same as Dr. Rice’s in that Israel could continue firing onto Hezbollah until they handed over their weapons and prisoners, but people in the region could wait until "hell froze over" for that to happen, the PMOS said that what was important was that we had assurances that the rockets would stop going into Israel, that the prisoner issue would be dealt with, and that we had the assurance that this was not just another sticking plaster. In terms of the detail, what was important was that we got momentum behind what would work in the medium to long term so that we could then provide the assurances in the short term to give them breathing space to get such things in place. As the Prime Minister had said yesterday, there was no point shouting "ceasefire" unless there was a plan to make the ceasefire work. There was no point uttering words if there was no action behind them to back them up. Therefore, we were prepared to take as much heat as necessary to get that done, and the Prime Minister would keep working away behind the scenes as he had been doing in order to get it done.
Asked if the Prime Minister had spoken to the President of Syria and what was the situation with them at the moment, the PMOS replied that as he had said previously, he was not going to give a running commentary on who the Prime Minister had been speaking to. We were talking to those in the region who had influence, and we were talking to others who had different influences in the region than we did. The important point was that all countries in the region had to play their part in trying to get this to end, and that meant all countries. The PMOS said that different people had different roles and different relationships, and it was important to recognise that.
Put that the Syrians were not natural allies of Iran so therefore, did the Prime Minister think that the Syrians were listening more and could they be more neutral players in the region, the PMOS replied that the way to show it was by actions, not words, therefore, we would wait and see.
Asked who would contribute troops to the stabilisation force, and would the UK send soldiers, the PMOS said that the Prime Minister had said in St. Petersburg that traditionally, we had not played a role in this area for historical reasons, and we also had commitments elsewhere. With regards to who would contribute troops, the best thing would be to allow those discussions to continue in private, as countries wanted to know what the mission was, what their role would be etc.
Asked if it would take several weeks for a stabilisation force to get the mission on the ground, the PMOS replied that the important point in encouraging countries to join such a force was to know that there was a genuine international consensus behind it. That was what the point of tomorrow was, as it was to illustrate that in broad principle, there was such a consensus behind it. Only then could the detailed questions behind it be answered. What was also important was that this idea had been blessed by the UN right from the start with Kofi Annan speaking with the Prime Minister in St. Petersburg.
Put that there was some reluctance with Afghanistan and Iraq to get involved with the mission, so why was there cause for optimism with this mission, the PMOS replied that the precise point was that we hoped at the stage which countries got involved, they would not be getting involved in a conflict, but rather, ensuring that peace was durable.
Put that it was inevitable that they would be involved in a conflict, the PMOS said that the entire point was to make sure that that did not happen and that the sovereign will of the democratically elected Lebanese Government was in force. In the international community, there was a choice: the paramilitary tail could wag the democratic dog, or the democratically elected Lebanese Government could enforce its will towards its country, and people helped it to do so. That applied elsewhere as well.
Put that that was what had happened in Afghanistan, and that there were great expectations, the PMOS said that it was sometimes a mistake to say that one country would be the same as another. The PMOS reminded people that in the case of Lebanon, not only was there a democratically elected government, but there was also the UN resolution 1559 for two years that said precisely what should happen. Therefore, if the international community came behind a stabilisation force, and the international community expressed its view not just the US, UK, but also the Muslim countries as well, then that would have an international consensus of the like that we had not seen before.
Put that when it came to committing forces, however, people were not prepared to do anything, the PMOS said that people should wait and see. People could be fatalistic about it, shrug their shoulders and stand and call for a ceasefire. We were not being fatalistic about it, as we were actually doing it, and being criticised for not just shrugging from the sidelines. We were prepared to get it done and help the job of putting together a stabilisation force, and that was what we were doing.
Asked if Hezbollah would agree to a stabilisation force, the PMOS replied that Hezbollah would have to stop firing rockets into Israel, and that was part of creating conditions. That was why we said that the ceasefire had to be on both sides. That was also why we said that the calls for a ceasefire had to meaningfully applied to both sides.
Asked what would be the mandate for the stabilisation force, the PMOS replied that again, that was part of what had to be worked out in precise detail after tomorrow’s meeting in Rome. The broad principle would be agreed at first, then the detail would be worked out.
Asked if the mandate would be worked out at the meeting, the PMOS replied that it would be after the meeting tomorrow. What we were hoping for was the broad principle of agreement of the concept, which had been gathering momentum, and the details could be worked out afterwards.
Put that the reality was that "there was not a chance in hell" that a stabilisation force would be on the ground much before the Israelis had completed their military assignments in Lebanon, therefore it would not be relevant, the PMOS said that the reality was that the idea which was written off by the media a week ago was now becoming a reality. The PMOS said that an idea which the Prime Minister had negotiated with President Putin was becoming a reality. That reality took an international consensus behind it, and people could not just snap their fingers and say "fall into place", as it had to be worked at. That was what we were doing.
Put that that was not reality, because by the time we had reached that situation, Hezbollah would have been bombed into submission, the PMOS said that the reality was that Hezbollah could help towards the ceasefire if it was willing to indicate that it was prepared to stop. We had not yet heard that; the ball was as much in Hezbollah’s court as it was in the Israeli’s court.
Put that our response was always about what the Israelis would think about what we were saying about the situation, rather than what it was we actually thought about it, and what we thought was the right thing to do, the PMOS said that it was a judgement about which was likely to actually achieve the end result more. People could either stand on the sidelines and act as a commentator, or they could get their hands dirty, roll up their sleeves and start convincing people to do the things that were necessary to help. Acting as a commentator could get in the way of achieving the results that we wanted to do; people had to make a judgement call about whether acting as a commentator was more important than getting the result of a ceasefire on all sides. The Prime Minister had taken the judgement that it was better to roll up sleeves, take the heat, but get the job done, rather than do what people wanted to do and call for a unilateral ceasefire.
Put that we could be seen as genuinely trying to stop the war, or it could be seen as the Prime Minister and President Bush were trying to put it off as long as possible and for Israel to continue in order to fight the war on terror, the PMOS replied that if it was the latter, then there would not have been as much effort and energy as the Prime Minister had done since St. Petersburg onwards to get the idea of a stabilisation force up and running as a concept, and to get the international community behind it and to try and push it forward. It was much easier in terms of domestic public opinion to act as a commentator and get brownie points for saying the right thing, but it was much more difficult to take the heat and to do the job behind the scenes.
Asked what evidence was there that the Israelis or Hezbollah wanted a ceasefire, the PMOS replied that the evidence was the democratically elected government in Lebanon wanted a ceasefire. That should count as something.
Put that that was not Hezbollah, the PM said that it was the majority of people in Lebanon, and we should give some weight to that opinion. It was also the stated view of the Israeli Government that if it had assurances about its security, then such hostilities would not be necessary. That was why it said it had withdrawn from Gaza and Lebanon. It was also our judgement in the interests of all involved that there should be a ceasefire on all sides. We should get that done.
Asked about Ming Campbell’s call to end arms sales by the UK to Israel, the PMOS said that he did not want comment on what an opposition party had said. Any arms sales to Israel were done under EU rules, and the PMOS presumed that people wanted arms to stop being sent to Hezbollah as well.
Briefing took place at 17:00 | Search for related news
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