» Tuesday, October 31, 2006


Asked for a read out of the Prime Minister’s meeting with the Sudanese Vice President, the Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman (PMOS) said journalists would not be surprised by the messages the Prime Minister had conveyed. They were, first and foremost, that everybody needed to stop fighting. Second, that they resume political dialogue with those people who had not signed up to the Darfur Agreement. Third, the Sudanese Government had to agree to the deployment of a UN force in Darfur. Hilary Benn had put the same messages to President Omar al-Bashir in Khartoum on the Prime Minister’s behalf recently. President Barroso, the European Commissioner, had also visited the Sudan with the same message.

African leaders were due to visit Khartoum in the coming days. The important point was that we gave President al-Bashir one final chance to move to agree a deal or face the consequences of increased isolation. We were reaching that crunch point. We hoped the Secretary General of the UN and the chairman of the African Union would announce they would be meeting soon to consider the situation and further action.

The key point about today’s meeting was that while the message may not have been new, the Sudanese Government needed to be under no doubt of the seriousness of that message, or that the international focus would continue. Asked whether the Prime Minister had detected whether the Sudanese Government was willing to move forward, the PMOS said what was important at the moment was that the Sudanese Government was in no doubt at all of our seriousness in this matter. The PMOS thought they had got that message.

Asked what the UN action would be if they did not comply, the PMOS said that it was always a mistake to speculate about UN action before meetings took place in New York. However, what was clear was the Sudanese Government knew that it faced isolation if it did not respond to the international community. The international community had been remarkably united on this. This was an issue that the Prime Minister continued to raise, not just with Kofi Annan and his conversations with President Bush, but one he would also discuss with Chancellor Merkel at the end of this week when she visited London.

Put that on the recent visit of the Chinese Premier to London he had said the UN could not make the Sudanese Government do anything that it did not want to, the PMOS said in the end what the Sudanese Government knew was that it risked international isolation. There may be differences in specifics, but overall people knew that the Sudanese Government would be isolated if it did not respond. Asked whether the Prime Minister had set out what isolation would mean, the PMOS said it was better to let the Sudanese Government absorb the message before we talked in public. The Sudanese Government was in no doubt about what we meant. Sometimes it was better not to spell out publicly threats but rather deliver private messages. Private messages worked best in this situation.

Asked if the Government supported turning the Sudanese guerrilla forces into a proper army, the PMOS said we supported a resumption of the political dialogue aimed at getting all sides to sign up to the Darfur Peace Agreement. That was where the primary focus should be at the moment. In response to the suggestion that surely it would be helpful to turn those forces into a proper army, the PMOS said that we needed to get the political dialogue resumed first and foremost. Asked how long the Prime Minister had met with Sudanese Vice President, the PMOS said he thought it would be better to leave it where he had. There had been a clear message from the Prime Minister.

Put that isolation meant more that just not phoning the Sudanese Government, the PMOS said agreed that if it ever got to isolation it would be more than just not returning calls. Asked how long the Prime Minister was willing to allow the Sudanese Government to mull over the situation, the PMOS said there had to be clear progress seen in time for the African Union meeting on the 24th November. We were taking about a relatively short period of time.

Briefing took place at 13:00 | Search for related news

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