» Monday, September 4, 2006

Middle East

Asked when the Prime Minister’s trip to the Middle East would be, the Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman (PMOS) said that there was no new information on that. We would announce it when we believed it would be helpful to the process to do so. The Prime Minister had made it clear in his Los Angeles speech that he believed, despite the obvious difficulties at the moment, that people needed to re-engage. His trip would be a part of trying to get that process of re-engagement up and running and we would announce it whenever we were ready. Put that the Israeli newspaper Heretz was reporting a meeting on Saturday night with Prime Minister Olmert, the PMOS said that his usual advice on these occasions was for people not to get ahead of themselves. That applied in this case too.

This was not saying the trip was on or off, it was simply stating that we were not yet at the stage where an announcement was right or proper. Asked if we were waiting for a green light from Washington, the PMOS said that he would not get into talking about discussions with any of those involved. The key point, for the Prime Minister, on the Middle East was that inevitably after events like we had seen, there was anger and distrust on all sides. There were also real difficulties in getting people to focus on more than just immediate events like keeping the process of getting the multi-national force into Lebanon. However we needed to try and get people to start the process of re-engagement. This was where we were likely to be: starting to get people to re-engage with the political process. This meant small steps at this stage.

As the Prime Minister had said himself in Los Angeles this was not a problem that could be allowed to continue to drift. This was not a problem that would go away if you ignored it. The events in the summer had reaffirmed the view of the need to address this underlying and fundamental issue. This meant Palestine. This was why the Prime Minister believed that a visit was not an end in itself, but it would be a method of trying to get a restart to re-engagement. The ambition was no higher than that. However given the events of the summer the Prime Minister believed that was a worthwhile objective. The time to talk about the detail of the visit would be once we had confirmed it.

Asked about The Times report on Saturday suggesting the Prime Minister had changed his view as a result of Sir David Manning’s intervention, the PMOS said that those who had travelled to Los Angeles heard that, and some had even reported it as such, the Prime Minister in his speech had not changed his fundamental position, which had been to look for a ceasefire on all sides. This had always been our position. Right the way through we wanted a ceasefire urgently, but from all sides not a unilateral ceasefire. The Prime Minister had also been saying for many years that you needed to address the underlying fundamental issue, which was why you needed to have proper engagement on all sides. The key was how, in the midst of a difficult phase, you began to get people to start that process of re-engagement. The challenge was to get the parties, who had been through a conflict, to re-engage with each other. That was difficult and something that initially required small steps, but you needed to get the momentum moving in the right direction.

Briefing took place at 16:00 | Search for related news

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