Asked to comment on an open letter from 14 NGOs expressing concern that the UK had not used its full influence to bring about a ceasefire, the PMOS asked whether that was for an immediate ceasefire on both sides. The Prime Minister had said last Tuesday in the House of Commons that he hoped there would be a stop to the violence on all sides. The real question was how you brought that about and as the Prime Minister had said yesterday you needed a plan. The Prime Minister had been engaged on an almost hourly basis since the St Petersburg Summit in working behind the scenes to bring a ceasefire from all sides about. He wanted that ceasefire to last, not just a day, a week, a month or even a year – he wanted a sustainable solution. If that meant taking heat from people whilst that was brought about so be it. The important thing was to bring about a durable end to violence, which would mean everybody affected by this – civilians in Lebanon and Israel – did not have to go through this again. This would only be possible if people were able to negotiate a durable plan and the Prime Minister was focused on achieving that.
Asked if there were still hopes of achieving progress in Rome tomorrow, the PMOS said that we hoped to see broad agreement in principle on the idea developed by the G8 for a stabilisation force, which the Prime Minister had negotiated in St Petersburg with President Putin. We hoped to get an international consensus behind that in order to allow the detail of that to be worked out. This would in turn help bring about a cessation of hostilities. The emphasis had to be on all sides supporting a cessation including calls for Hezbollah to stop firing rockets into Israel. The reality was that you could not get peace unless those rockets stopped going into Israel.
Asked whether we would contribute to the stabilisation force, the PMOS said that traditionally we had not acted as a force in the region because of historical reasons. We also had commitments elsewhere. The make up of the force was a matter of active discussion and what had helped enormously in those discussions had been that ever since his meeting with the Prime Minister in St Petersburg the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan had backed the idea and had called on nations to contribute.
Asked whether the Prime Minister’s willingness to take the heat meant that he was not worried about opinion polls that said he was too close to the US, the PMOS suggested that there seemed to be a contradiction in people expressing that view. On the one hand they wanted the United States to be more engaged and call for and push Israel into a ceasefire and on the other they wanted to UK to distance itself form the United States. The question then had to be how do you talk to the US if you distanced yourself from it. Of course the Prime Minister shared the horror at the deaths of innocent civilians on both sides of the Israel/Lebanon border, but you had to take a step back and ask what in reality would bring about a durable cessation. The only way that would happen would be if you put together a robust and durable plan. This was why it was worth all the hard work trying to make the stabilisation force a reality. That would provide the assurances necessary on all sides.
Asked whether the Prime Minister was saying that there should not be an emotional reaction but a considered reaction to the bombings, the PMOS said that the Prime Minister shared the same emotions as everybody else when he saw innocent civilians and innocent children die. However, the question had to be how could you actually get the participants to take a step back and then reassure them that more people would not die in the future. The reality for Israel was that it had withdrawn from Gaza and Lebanon and yet that had not ended the attacks coming from those two areas contrary to UN resolutions. We had to create a situation where those attacks stopped and where Israel could be reassured sufficiently enough to stop its operations as well. This meant bringing about a cessation on both sides.
Briefing took place at 17:00 | Search for related news
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