Joint press encounter with British Prime Minister Tony Blair
St. Petersburg, Russia, 17 July 2006Prime Minister Blair: Good morning everyone. The United Nations Secretary-General and myself have obviously been discussing the situation in the Middle East, which is very critical. I would like to thank the Secretary General for the efforts of his mission that is out there at the moment and to which we are giving every support and assistance. You have the statement that the G8 put out last night. It is obviously a very critical situation and the most immediate priority is to create the conditions in which a cessation of violence can happen. But this is a very, very serious situation indeed and it is going to be vital that we use every single effort that we possibly can to make sure over the next few days that we put in place those conditions that can actually allow us to have that cessation of violence.
So in addition to that obviously we discussed issues, Iraq, Afghanistan, the progress on Africa and the World Trade Organisation talks which again are at a very critical stage. But for very obvious reasons, as you can guess, our discussions have been dominated by the current international situation.
But Kofi, again thank you for all you are doing, for your work on this and on all the other parts of the agenda that we are working on and consulting on together.
SG: As the Prime Minister said, we have had a very full discussion this morning particularly on the situation in the Middle East -- Lebanon and Gaza. We are extremely concerned about the situation and as the Prime Minister said, we need to find ways of bringing this to a halt. And obviously you saw the statement that the G8 issued yesterday. But in addition to that, I think we need to get the parties to agree as soon as practicable to a cessation of hostilities. But to do that, they need to do that to give diplomacy time and space for us to work. And obviously the Security Council will be briefed by my team when they get back and the Council will be fully seized.
In the meantime, I have appealed to all concerned to spare civilian lives, to spare civilian infrastructure because these are things the civilian population will need for their livelihood, for their daily activities and we should not inflict any more suffering on them. Both parties should bear that in mind and respect international humanitarian law.
Obviously we have people on the ground and we are looking at possibilities of taking out dependents out of Lebanon and I'm sure that others will be doing that. But of course that also implies that the situation is extremely dangerous and if that is the case, that is one more urgent reason for us to do whatever we can to get the parties to bring a halt to this.
Q: Why not simply demand an immediate cease-fire by both sides?
PM: Look, the very obvious question is why don't we just say to everyone you have got to stop and stop right now. The answer to that is it isn't going to stop now unless we create the conditions in which there can be such a cessation. And for that to happen in the north, as between Lebanon and Israel, the only way in my view we are going to get a cessation of hostilities is if we have the deployment of an international force into that area that can stop the bombardment coming over into Israel and therefore gives Israel the reason to stop its attacks on Hezbollah. And the only way therefore that this is going to work, whatever we say as the G8, is if we actually give people a reason for ceasing hostilities, and that is why the input at the United Nations in this, and the mission of the Secretary General's colleagues is extremely important, but the blunt reality is that is the only way this is going to happen.
Now on the other side of the part of this, down in the Gaza, what is important again there is that we have a situation where the hostage is released, you can then have the cessation of Israeli activities in the Gaza and we try to get back to some sort of process of negotiation and discussion. But unless we create the conditions in which a cessation is going to happen, then to be very, very blunt about it, the G8, the international community can issue whatever calls they want, but without the action there in place it isn't going to happen in my view.
Q: Two very quick questions. One, Prime Minister what kind of pressure is being put on Iran to allow something of the scenario that you are painting to happen in the first place; and secondly, can you give us a sort of update, an assessment of where we are with plans to evacuate British citizens from Lebanon?
PM: On the latter, we are doing everything we can. We have got a rapid deployment team now in Lebanon, in Beirut, seeing how quickly we can do this. We have got two ships on the way there, as you know. We are looking at the possibilities of an air bridge, though that is complicated for very obvious reasons by what has happened to the airport in Beirut. But we will do everything we can, particularly to get the most needy out as quickly as we can.
And on the first part of what you say, look I think the most important thing with the countries that came together yesterday and issued our statement is that it gives us, under the auspices of the UN, a plan of action. And I hope that if the UN is able to take that forward then everybody, including Iran, plays their part in making sure that it can work.
Q: How do you rate progress on Africa since Gleneagles, and what additional steps do you think need to be taken in 2007?
SG: Before I answer that question, let me on Lebanon say that I intend to pursue this with the other leaders as I have with the Prime Minister later on in the day. And I think that several of the countries here are also key members of the Security Council and I expect them to work with us to get a package of actions that will push us forward – a package of actions, not exhortations, a package that is action-oriented that is practical, that requires the parties to release their abductees, stop the katushas going in, Israel to stop its retaliatory actions and to pursue this idea of a stabilization force.
And I hope once that I put together the parties will accept cessation of hostilities as I said to give diplomacy time for the Council to act. And we would want to move very quickly and appeal to governments once that package is approved to make sure that we have the troops, well-trained, well-equipped troops that can go in quite quickly. So that will be part of the work that I will be doing this morning and then we will follow it up in New York.
On the African issue, obviously we have made some progress. I think since Gleneagles 14 African countries have been given complete debt relief, eight more have substantial debt relief. We have seen some progress in development assistance for the first time in many years, for the first time we have gone over $100 billion. So there is progress but there is much more to be done. And that is why I am very pleased with the Prime Minister's idea, following the African Commission report, that we set up a monitoring mechanism, a monitoring group to monitor the performance of both the developing countries and the donor community's promises, and I think it is extremely important that that sort of monitoring be done with annual reports released, and I am grateful to the Prime Minister for following through on that.
Q: I just want to ask you, what about the international presence in Lebanon, and yesterday the leaders of the G8, they say that they will be glad if the Security Council will discuss this opportunity of an international presence in Lebanon.
SG: I was going to say that this is something that the Security Council will have to discuss. I expect that my team that is in the field, which is in the Middle East, will be able to report to the Council towards the end of this week depending on the progress they make in the region. The Council should then discuss it, and not only discuss their input and report on practical suggestions they come with but pursue the package that the Prime Minister and I have discussed, including the stabilization force. And the sooner that discussion and the decisions are taken by the Council, the better it is. But the parties need not wait for full implementation of that to stop the cessation of hostilities and to spare the civilians.
Q: What type of reaction have you gotten from both Israel and Lebanon and were you surprised by the strikes today?
PM: I think that if you look at the situation that has developed over the past few days with rockets coming over into the Israeli side and civilian casualties there, with the air strikes then on Beirut, I don't think it is I am afraid in the least surprising that the situation is very difficult and has been escalating. The question, as I say, is how do you put in place the conditions to stop it and to de-escalate it, and my view is that that will not happen unless you get an agreement to put a stabilisation force into that area in order to act as a way of stopping, give people the ability to stop the hostilities and the violence. And that is the only thing I think of as giving us any opportunity of working in this situation. Now I think it is best that we have that discussion with Israel and with the Lebanese government, but what I am sure both civilians in Lebanon and people in Israel want is for this situation to be stabilised so that hostilities can stop. The reason they are not stopping is that the violence is continuing, people feel under threat and therefore they are taking strong action. And you can understand the pressures that people are under in this situation, and as I say the only way that you are going to change that is by changing the dynamic by introducing a new element into it.
SG: Let me say that the Prime Minister is right in that the fighting may continue for a while. But I would want to say, once again, is to appeal to the parties to focus their targets narrowly and to bear in mind that under international humanitarian law they have an obligation to spare civilian lives, they have an obligation to spare civilian infrastructure, they have an obligation to stay away from targets like electricity and communication and things that civilians need for their livelihood. Last Friday, we had a pledging conference in Geneva for Gaza, and I told (UN Emergency Relief Coordinator and Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs) Jan Egeland to warn the 30 countries gathered in Geneva that today we are focused on Gaza but tomorrow it may be Lebanon. And here we are. But I think what is important is that not that we go out and collect humanitarian money and reconstruction money, yes we will need that in time, but we have to do whatever we can to stop the destruction and the killing as much as we can.