Now in terms of developments here, can I first of all clearly welcome the fact that the Security Council has passed the resolution on Iran. That is both significant and welcome and we hope that Iran abides by what the Security Council says.
In terms of the UN at the moment, we are talking to both the US and the French about a UN resolution. There has been a merging of drafts and that trilateral process is going on. Obviously we are talking to others as well at the UN, but it is fair to say that we are talking most to the US and the French.
In terms of the Prime Minister, this morning he has so far talked to Prime Minister Olmert of Israel, as well as Prime Minister Siniora of the Lebanon. As I left the room he was just about to talk to Prime Minster Erdogan of Turkey and he is due later today to talk to Prime Minister Prodi of Italy, and once again Chancellor Merkel of Germany.
Now is it easier to deal with the Middle East issue and then come back to climate change for those who are interested in more detail on climate change. Is that agreeable to London? There seem to be nodding heads here. Good. Thank you.
Well our position on British contributions to the stabilisation force hasn’t changed. We do have commitments elsewhere and historically we have not taken a role in this area. In terms of his conversations with other Prime Ministers, can I just make a general point, which is that all along we have said exhortation in itself is not going to be enough to resolve this issue. Simply saying, as we have been, that we want the conflict over, and over as quickly as possible, is not actually going to bring it to an end. There has to be a process of negotiation, that process of negotiation that he is involved in, and we as a country are involved in, particularly with the US and the French at the UN. The important thing is that if we pass a resolution it is a resolution which is accepted by both sides of this conflict, otherwise it won’t work, and it is getting it to that point that we are working very hard.
Sorry, other nations’ troops. Well clearly in terms of other nations, that does form part of the discussions, but again I am not going to get into the detail of discussions because it would not be right for me to comment on what other people are saying.
The UN has postponed the specific sort of troops issue on this because until we get the framework right, people want to know what that framework is before they take final decisions on troops. Now that does not mean that we are not making progress, we are, but there are different elements that have to be agreed and you have to get the sequence right, that is part of the sequence.
Tom, were we disappointed that the Israelis today appeared to break their 48 hour cessation of bombings with air strikes on the border, or is it the British government’s position that we don’t view that as a breach of that cessation?
Well there has been, as I understand it, action on both sides. The important point is that we negotiate to bring the action on all sides to a close, and that is where our focus is. I am not going to give a running commentary on what people are doing, the important thing is that we get agreement on both sides to a resolution which helps them to bring it to a close on all sides.
When the Prime Minister spoke to Prime Minister Olmert, was he informed, as the Israeli Defence Minister has now said publicly, that they are not ready for a cease-fire, or did the Prime Minister … in response to that?
I am not going to get into the detail of the conversation, but the Prime Minister sticks by the views he expressed late last night here, early hours of the morning UK time, that there is a will to try and bring this to a close. However, the point, as I say is that saying that isn’t going to do it, what we have to do is negotiate through the difficult issues on all sides and reach a resolution that all sides can accept.
Can I just be clear on this, you said … people will see the comments from the Israeli Defence Minister … but Israel is not ready for a cease-fire and therefore the Prime Minister is being hopelessly optimistic. You don’t believe that is the case?
I am not going to comment on what is said by people in different governments, for reasons I hope you understand. What I am going to do however is say that the Prime Minister, the discussion was a discussion about how we try to overcome the difficulties that we have to overcome if we are going to get a resolution that people can accept.
Well we are talking to the Prime Minister of Lebanon, the government of Lebanon does include representatives of Hezbollah, and it is one of the key objectives in this negotiation is to ensure that the authority of the Lebanese government runs throughout all of the country, as was envisaged in UN resolution 1559.
From what you are saying, is it right that we and America don’t think the UN resolution should be put until it is understood that both sides – Israel and Lebanon – will accept the terms of the resolution? Would that mean that you could have for instance an agreement within the Security Council about the resolution, but if a party, such as Lebanon or Israel rejected it, it wouldn’t be put?
Well the key point is not to put a resolution down simply for the sake of putting a resolution down, the key point is that it does actually bring about a change, and a permanent change on the ground. Therefore I think it is axiomatic that you have to have a resolution which you have very good grounds for believing both sides will respect.
Well there are strong feelings, could I say as I see it, on both side and those strong feelings are part of the issue, and therefore you have to be aware of those strong feelings on both sides. The important thing however is to recognise that we do need, as the Prime Minister is saying, to bring this situation in which innocent civilians are being killed on both sides to an end and therefore that is what he is working for.
The French Foreign Minister in Beirut said that if the Americans, and I take it by implication to mean the British as our positions are the same, had followed the French advice and called for an immediate cease-fire, that the outrage in Qana would not have happened?
Well what she said was the important thing is actually to get a situation where both sides can stop. As I said at the start, exhortation is not going to bring this situation to an end, what is going to bring this situation to an end is a negotiated agreement which both sides can accept. We cannot force both sides to accept it, what we can do is negotiate a situation where both sides can accept it.
What you call exhortation, it follows Patrick’s question, I mean the whole point of the Security Council is to speak for the civilised world and to say X should or should not happen, that is why we passed a resolution saying get out of Kuwait, or again with the Soviet Union, that is the whole point of the Security Council. If you are saying you have got to wait until everybody agrees it, surely you are giving the warring parties a veto on … and the politics of the international community?
But equally the UN does not have sovereignty over individual countries, individual countries are sovereign, individual countries speak for themselves. Lebanon is a sovereign country, Israel is a sovereign country. We can’t tell them what to do, any more than they can tell us what to do. The important thing is that you reach a position where both sides feel that they can stop and that their interests are secured.
Can you give us an idea about your thinking on how quickly we can get a resolution? The day of Wednesday has been mentioned. And if it is agreed, how quickly are we likely to see a stabilisation force on the ground in Lebanon, are we talking days or weeks?
The answer to when do we expect to see a resolution I am afraid can only be as quickly as possible. We are working flat out in London, in the UN and from here to try and reach a situation as quickly as possible where there is agreement on a text in New York. We hope that will then have an immediate effect on the ground. What we are also doing is negotiating about who will make up the stabilisation force and how and when it goes in. But to speculate about those matters I think isn’t going to be helpful. This is a fluid situation, it is a situation in which there is a lot of effort going in, but there are also difficult issues to crack.
Who is speaking to Hezbollah, how do we know what Hezbollah thinks? Is that through the Lebanese government, is that through Iran, is that through Syria or France, how do we know what they are thinking, how are we going to find out if they will agree with the terms of the UN resolution …
I think the answer is this. As I said earlier, Hezbollah are part of the Lebanese government, but there are other countries – Iran and Syria you mentioned – which have influence and in turn there are members of the Security Council which have influence with those countries. So the first answer is the Lebanese government speaks for the government of Lebanon, of which Hezbollah is a part; the other part of the answer is the different influences within the Security Council on people in the region.
Is the Prime Minister aware of … like landing American aircraft carrying weapons to Israel is perceived in the region as Britain taking part in the war against Lebanon? And is the Prime Minister aware that not putting enough clear water between us and the Americans is damaging British interests in the region?
Can I go back to something I said last week, which is that there seems to be a contradiction here between on the one hand people want us to distance ourselves form the United States, and on the other hand people want us to use our influence with the United States. We can’t have it both ways. As Margaret Beckett said this morning on the radio, people have to be aware that if you are going to have influence where it counts, then you do have to be careful about what you say, because you can of course satisfy an audience by saying particular things, but you have to ask yourselves at what price are you doing that. Now that is the balance that we have to strike all the way through.
I think the best answer to that is we are pushing with the same urgency, in fact I would say a greater urgency, for a resolution after the events of the last few days, as we were last week. We believe a resolution can help bring this conflict to an end and I think the sooner we have it, the better. That is why we are still going hell for leather for a resolution, and the amount of effort that is going in I think you can actually see from the phone calls he has made today, the phone calls he made yesterday, the fact that we are in trilateral discussions with the US and the French at the UN, and the other efforts that are being made.
Tom, can I ask the question, do we really believe that if the UK and the US together had used stronger language in relation to Israel, that would not have (a) produced an effect on the ground, and that had we used that language Israel would have stopped listening to the US? Is that really feasible?
I think in terms of what is affecting Israel’s policy on the ground, I think the thing that you have left out is the grim reality of rockets going into Israel killing people. In terms of the reality of what we can do, the reality is that we have to assure Israel that that violence coming across the border is going to stop. Equally I accept that we have to try and get a situation which the government of Lebanon can agree. Now that is the process we are involved in, and you do have to calculate what effect your words have on your impact to deliver such a negotiation. Now we have to keep working at it. We are.
Do you accept that Israel will not accept a cessation of hostilities until the new force is in place? Secondly, are the French asking that the force operate on both sides of the border and that Israel won’t accept that? And finally I come back to this point, you have just said that if we agree a text in New York, that will have an effect on the ground, but you are saying there is no point in agreeing a text until those on the ground have agreed to whatever the text may say. We seem to be going round in a circle here.
Right, let me deal with it in reverse order. Let me come back to the basic point. We are dealing with sovereign governments, we are not dealing with puppets at the end of a string, we are dealing with sovereign governments. Sovereign governments make up their own minds, therefore you have to get a situation which sovereign governments can accept. On your second question, I am not aware of that. And on your first point, the sequencing of these events is precisely part of the discussions and therefore is precisely why I won’t give you a commentary on it.
The French proposal was that no force could even be thought about going in until there was a political solution, and as I understand it the American and British proposal was that the force has to go in as part of bringing about a solution.
I am not going to get into the detail of the resolutions, what I will simply point out to you is that I have said round the top of this that we are in trilateral discussions with the French and the US about producing a merged resolution, and that is precisely what is going on at the UN.
Tom, has the Prime Minister made any attempt to speak to President Assad of Syria, and if not, why not? I mean this is a chap who he has stood next to at press conferences and had official visits with.
I remember the press conference well. In terms of Syria and Iran, there are other people who have influence on what they do, and I think you have to concentrate your efforts on where you actually think you can influence things, and that is what the Prime Minister is doing. And we also have to ensure that we maintain as united a position as possible, and that is why for instance we issued the joint statement with Chancellor Merkel yesterday, and why again today he will be speaking to Chancellor Merkel.
Can I follow that up? You say the effort has to be concentrated on where the effort can make a real difference, is that a tacit acknowledgement that the Prime Minister’s influence over President Assad is pretty limited and it would be damaging if he actually had a direct approach and that is why you are doing it via intermediaries?
Well I think if you look traditionally I do believe, if my memory is right, that the press conference reflected this. We do take a different view of the world and other people traditionally have had greater access in Syria and Iran than we do. Now that is just a fact of life.
We keep talking about two sides. If the Israeli government and the Lebanese government basically say OK, will that mean a signal for us to move forward or do we have to get some sort of tacit signal from Hezbollah as well that they are signing up to this, or can we have a situation where those two governments, that will be enough and somehow we isolate Hezbollah? How does it work?
The simple answer is there are two sovereign governments here. This will not proceed unless those two sovereign governments are in broad agreement with where we are going, and I think that is where we are concentrating our effort.
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