» Tuesday, May 29, 2007


Asked why the Prime Minister was travelling to Libya, the Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman (PMOS) replied that this trip was all about showing the need to keep re-engaging with Africa as a whole. There was a direct line in terms of theme from Gleneagles to the G8 this year in Germany. Chancellor Merkel had said that the two top themes for her G8 summit would be climate change and Africa, our two top themes from Gleneagles. Taking Sierra Leone, here was a country moving towards elections, the first since the UN has left. This was only possible due to continuing engagement from countries such as ourselves. Looking at Libya, the Prime Minister visited Libya in March 2004 after Libya had said the previous year that it was giving up its WMDs. This was not the end of the story. We had continued to re-engage at a political level through Ministerial visits. We also continued to re-engage at an economic level and today BP will announce that they would be going back into Libya. Re-engagement works – whether it be in Sierra Leone, Libya or Africa in general. South Africa was also an important player in its own right regionally, but was also now on the UN Security Council. Therefore it had an even more important voice on issues such as climate change, but also regional issues such as Darfur.

Put to him that the Prime Minister was making a farewell tour to burnish up his contacts before he set up a post Downing Street foundation of which Africa could be key, the PMOS replied that people should look at what the Prime Minister had done in Gleneagles – that was for real. As a result the two subjects of Africa and climate change, which when we put them on the agenda for our G8 were thought to be quixotic but were today central themes in global discussion. However we needed to keep at it. Between now and the G8 we would see other countries step up to the plate, and we would see the aid targets set in Gleneagles met. This was not the result of one week in Scotland in 2005, this was due to continuing engagement. The key was maintaining that engagement. Part of why the Prime Minister was going back was to make sure that we did. Equally taking climate change as an issue, climate change would directly affect Africa in a very detrimental way if it went unchecked. Therefore Africa was at the front line of climate change. These were big issues. Going to Libya in 2004 was not a given, it was highly controversial. But it was the right thing to do, and similarly continuing to engage in Africa was the right thing to do.

Asked how the British Government viewed the Qadhafi regime in terms of human rights and engagement with the continent, the PMOS replied that we were at the point of beginning to engage with Libya on such issues. There was a proposal for Libyan officials to visit the UK to study our legal system for example. Libya was a sovereign country and we respected that, but equally an important side in our engagement throughout Africa was to stress the need to move forward on democratic and judicial fronts, and to move forward in terms of fighting corruption. That was our position and it was an important part of our engagement.

Asked if right now we would say that Libya was a corrupt dictatorship that abused human rights, the PMOS replied that Libya was a sovereign country, but people knew our stance on such issues. Change would only happen through engaging with such countries and talking with them about precisely such issues, not through standing on the sidelines. It was important to have a situation where we could exchange views on such issues.

Asked to expand on BP’s moves back in to Libya, the PMOS replied that there would be further information later today.

Asked what had changed since the Prime Minister’s last visit to Libya three years ago and what Britain had gained, the PMOS replied that the biggest gain of all was that Libya had given up its WMDs, and that they were now helping us with issues such as counter terrorism. Equally we were now beginning to develop an economic relationship with Libya that was hugely important. That was why countries such as BP could begin to go back in to the country.

Asked whether there would be talks with Colonel Qadhafi, and why was Gordon Brown not on the trip, the PMOS replied that there would be talks with Colonel Qadhafi, and that the Prime Minister was the Prime Minister.

Asked if Britain supported the announcement the US would be making on Darfur later today, the PMOS replied that when the Prime Minister was in Berlin recently, he talked very clearly about the need to step up moves towards sanctions on Sudan. We believed that Sudan agreed to things whilst under pressure from the international community, but back tracked from those agreements at a later stage. We needed to maintain that pressure. The EU was slightly further ahead of the US on issues such as banning arms sales, for example, but we needed to go further. Further at the UN, and further on issues such as no-fly zones and targeting individuals. We welcomed any moves by the US and others in adding to the pressure on President Bashir. What was happening in Sudan was not acceptable by any international standard.

Asked to expand on the Prime Minister’s aims in terms of engaging with South Africa on Zimbabwe, the PMOS replied that we needed to find Africa solutions for Africa problems. We could maintain pressure, and we did, but the reality was that the pressure is misrepresented by President Mugabe who wants to turn this into a conflict between Britain and his regime. This was not the case. The best way to work towards a solution in Zimbabwe was through those who had most influence. That was why we welcomed the intervention of President Mbeki who was trying to move things forward in Zimbabwe, and we obviously want to talk to him about how that was happening. We believe that things needed to move more urgently. We had set out clearly where we needed to go. We would remain fully engaged, and we wanted to hear President Mbeki’s assessment of the situation in Zimbabwe.

Asked if the Prime Minister would lobby for the release of the Bulgarian nurses in the HIV case, the PMOS replied that we had discussed this with the Bulgarian Prime Minister in February. Our position was well known, but again we had to work with the Libyan authorities on this.

Asked if we had a sense whether Libya could bring any pressure to bear on the Darfur issue, the PMOS replied that Libya had played a useful role in the Africa Union, and played a useful role in regard to Saddam. That was partly why there was real value in engaging with Libya, because of its influence in the Africa Union. Again we will want to hear their assessment of where we are, but we were all agreed that the present situation was not sustainable or acceptable.

Briefing took place at 9:00 | Search for related news

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