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TRANSCRIPT "B" OF THE PRESS CONFERENCE
GIVEN BY THE PRIME MINISTER, MR TONY BLAIR
(CONTINUED FROM TRANSCRIPT "A" )
ON SUNDAY, 17 MAY 1998
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS cont...
Will 50 per cent plus 1 be enough in the Northern Ireland referendum of those who vote or does the doctrine of sufficient consenses extend to you wanting to ensure that you have a majority in both traditions before you proceed to implement the Belfast Agreement?
There are obviously no stipulated figures but of course I want as many people out supporting it as possible and I think, frankly, that all the opinion polling that has been done indicates there are still a lot of people who are undecided there and that is why the last few days are important; they are important in that if people have concerns we address them so I don't think it is a question of plucking out this percentage or that but I think it is a question of saying obviously the stronger the support, the easier it is then to sustain the Agreement afterwards and make it work because as I have constantly said to people on Northern Ireland, the Agreement is the beginning of the process. Then, you have got to make it all work, you have got to put it in place, the various institutions have got to work, the various provisions about violence and the cessation of violence have got to be implemented and that is far easier to do if there is strong support for it.
The interesting thing all the way through is that I have still not heard from anybody what the alternative to Yes is because the alternative certainly isn't the status quo now, that is not the alternative because the status quo that we have at the moment is a few days before an agreement is about to be voted on. What concerns me is that all the way through from the No Camp we don't have an alternative and of course, as I have said before, Britain stands ready, we will have to try and pick up the pieces if the vote is No but I think the arrangement that we put in place in the Good Friday Agreement is actually the only basic, serious way forward for Northern Ireland.
Did you have the opportunity during the deliberations to discuss with President Chirac and President Yeltsin the Iraqi situation in the light of the continued. international concern about weapons of mass destruction and other issues -related to UN Security Council resolutions?
Obviously, our position remains the same. On Iraq, we want full compliance with the UN resolutions, that is very important. We believe that the right combination of diplomacy and the willingness to use force secured us the result that the inspectors could go back in and carry out their work and I think it is as important as it ever was that we make sure that Saddam Hussein is not allowed to develop weapons of mass destruction. After the events of the past few years, it is absolutely essential in terms of world security that we do so, so obviously we reiterate and reaffirm our support for the UN resolutions being carried out.
QUESTION (BBC WORLD SERVICE):
Mr. Prime Minister, in the G7 Chairman's Statement, you had a separate article on the Ukraine. What is the reason behind this, would you just comment on it?
The reason why it was important to have a separate discussion on Ukraine is first of all to express our support for the financial and economic reforms that the Ukrainian government is in the course of implementing and our strong support for President Kutchmer (phon) in achieving that and also, of course, to address specifically the issue of Chernobyl, the nuclear reactor there and the need to make sure that we deal with that in as safe and secure a way as possible and that was a discussion that we had last year and it was right to return to this year to reaffirm our basic position on both those issues and to make sure that we do our very best to help Ukraine in circumstances both where they need to reform economically and where they need to take the safety measures necessary in respect of the Chernobyl plant.
QUESTION (THE GUARDIAN):
On China, you say in the communiqué that the Asian crisis was a temporary setback. Are the comments on China and its financial stability a reflection that it could turn into something much nastier than that if the Chinese were forced into a devaluation?
Secondly, on debt, some of the aid agencies are expressing concern that the package didn't really live up to the advance billing let alone to what is needed to help some of these poor countries. Do you honestly think that what you have come up with is commensurate with the needs of these countries and meets the demands of those people who came out on the streets of Birmingham yesterday?
In respect of the first, it is a statement of the obvious in a sense that the more stable the economic and financial system in China is, the better it is for Asia and the economies of Asia. What I wanted to say and draw attention to in my remarks to you was in a sense to congratulate China on the very firm position it has taken particularly in respect of ruling out devaluation and to say how much that had contributed to the process of bringing back stability to Asia but I think there is a recognition that there is still a long way to go in that region generally.
In a sense, because they are by consent that we have made those agreements, it is easy for people to say: "Oh, well, let us bank that and move on!" but as a result of the package the Finance Ministers put before us on the openness and transparency of financial systems, on the IMF drawing up a code of practice to which countries can subscribe and the IMF then publishing their concerns about the financial systems of countries they feel are not operating in accordance with the code of practice in accordance with proper systems, openness and transparency do not underestimate the impact that will have in bringing greater order and stability to the world financial system or the fact that increasingly as that code of practice is promulgated and as steps are taken by countries to come into compliance with it, the fact that it will mean significant reform in some of the national financial systems so in respect of the Asian economic crisis and our response to it and the new finance and accounting standards, I think we made considerable progress.
In respect of debt, I think the honest answer is to say that of course we did not go as far as many would have liked us to go and I guess it is fair to say that Britain has a pretty advanced position on this but I think we did make very considerable progress, I think the fact that we got agreement on the measures that we laid out before you is itself a significant step forward for the heavily-indebted poor countries, an agreement not merely to get them into the process by the year 2000 but the possibility of interim relief for them, increased forgiveness of aid-related debt, specific measures for post-conflict countries, which is a particular problem for many countries in Africa, untying aid to the least-developed countries with a view next year to having a specific text on that; the action on malaria - the 60 million pounds I have just announced today - but also on other diseases; the French proposal, for example, in respect of AIDS. These are all things that are extremely important plus, of course, the various measures that we are suggesting are taken by the World Bank and the IMF.
The honest answer to the question is that I have got no doubt that this is an area in which people would always like us to go further but I would say that it represents a significant step forward. There is a great deal of sense amongst the countries of the G8 and indeed in the developed world that Africa has enormous economic potential but that we have got to do what we can to put them in a position where they are not spending too much of their gross domestic product servicing their debt that they are not able to invest in the infrastructure of the country that they require for the future. That was a pretty powerful message that comes out in the communiqué and the length, in terms of the overall communiqué, that we have devoted to this issue indicated the seriousness with which we have treated it.
OLIVIA WARD (TORONTO STAR):
Throughout the Summit, there has been persistent concern about Pakistan and its response to the Indian nuclear tests. Could you tell us first of all is there any truth to the rumour that Pakistan has today detonated a test? Secondly, what is your assessment of Pakistan's nuclear readiness?
In respect of the first point, the answer is we simply do not know at the present time but like you, I have read the various reports that have come in and reports and counter-reports as to what may happen. It is also the case that I have seen some of the comments that have been made by the Pakistani government indicating their desire to do such nuclear tests and you will know what we said in the separate statement in respect of the Indian nuclear tests.
In respect of the readiness of Pakistan, I don't think it is right to comment on that but obviously you know the comments that have been made by the Pakistani government and we understand the domestic pressures that Pakistan is under following the Indian nuclear tests but our concern is to limit this as much as possible because otherwise the consequences would be very serious indeed and this is a grave situation that has been brought about by India's decision.
I agree entirely with the words that President Clinton was uttering when he was expressing his sympathy for the desire of India to take its place in the forums of the world and the recognition that India is a powerful and hugely significant country in the world today but saying that testing nuclear weapons is not the way to demonstrate that.
RAYMOND LLOYD (THE PARITY DEMOCRAT, WESTMINSTER):
On Northern Ireland, now that President Clinton will definitely not go there before the 22nd May referendum, are you planning to surprise us with an llth-hour visit by the greatest of all modern conciliators, the Nobel Peace Laureate, Nelson Mandela?
If it is going to be a surprise, it would probably be better not to announce it but I have no plans to do that, no.
Are you frustrated by the apparent lack of leverage or influence that your government, the United States and the other members of the G8 seem to be suffering from regarding India and Pakistan? Aside from your now repeated pleas, there doesn't really seem to be much that you or President Clinton can do.
I think there is a sense of frustration about what has happened, yes, but I think there is also a determination that we have to have a strategy to deal with this and the best strategy in my view without any doubt at all is to make the demand of India very clearly and strongly that they come within the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty process and do so unconditionally. It is important that we begin discussion about that straight away because that is in the end the only thing that is going to mitigate what, are the very serious consequences of the act that India has undertaken but yes, of course we are both concerned and frustrated by it.
QUESTION (THE HINDU):
Have you received any kind of commitment from the Indian Prime Minister that he is going to sign the CTBT and if you have not, what was the commitment that he made to you? You seem to have hinted that he did assure you that he would do certain things.
He assured me that he would begin discussions immediately with a view to coming within that CTBT process and I trust that that will be the case and I obviously expressed our very strong determination that that should happen and that is something that we have to take forward from now.
The position of the Indian prime minister was obviously that he noted the dismay that the rest of the world felt about these tests and indicated his readiness to begin discussion upon it but I would like to emphasize that we need to begin that discussion with a view to India coming within the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty process unconditionally.
QUESTION (USA RADIO):
I have a follow-up question to the aid you are going to be giving the Third World countries but that is not my original question. What kind of political hoops will they have to jump through in order to qualify for aid? I have heard this at many other conferences, the idea of helping them, and I am not sure they have received any yet.
My real question is that the idea of a token tax keeps surfacing as it has this weekend. Do you agree with the concept and would you support the proceeds going to a multilateral investment fund?
That hasn't formed part of agreement this weekend.
In respect of the first point on aid, there is a process that has been set out already by the Finance Ministers in their heavily-indebted countries initiative and of course there are certain conditions that have to be gone through but our desire is to make those conditions as little a burden as possible consistent with ensuring two things: one, that there is the necessary process of economic reform in those countries but secondly, in ensuring that the aid that we give is actually directed towards improving the quality of life of people there and that is extremely important because my judgement is that in the terms of the aid policy to the developed world, the most important thing is to convince our people that if more money is going it is going to benefit those countries directly and ensure that the money goes to the types of project and infrastructure and development of those countries that people desire it to go to.
Those are the conditions and I think it would be wrong to describe them as hoops that we are in some unreasonable way making people jump through. What we simply want to do is to make sure that if money goes, it is used for the purposes it is supposed to be used for.
Prime Minister, do you accept that the appearance of Michael Stone and the Balcombe Street prisoners at political rallies seriously damaged the Yes campaign in Northern Ireland and were you surprised at the wave of public revulsion which it caused?
I was not in the least surprised at the public revulsion because it is a revulsion I share myself, I think what it did was focus people's minds on the issue of prisoners.
The most important thing to keep emphasising to people is that these day-release schemes under which these convicted criminals were let out are part of a process that is nothing to do with the Agreement, they were there in any event.
The other point to keep emphasising to people - because people are concerned about prisoners - is that even under existing provisions, nothing to do with the Good Friday Agreement, the majority of prisoners currently held in Northern Ireland for terrorist offences would be coming out in any event.
What is important obviously, therefore, is to take account of the concern, to emphasise to people that there is no question of an accelerated prisoner release unless violence stops for good, tested in the way that we have described, laid down in legislation in the way that we have described but that in the end it is important for people to look at the agreement as a whole and realise that if you look at the agreement as a whole it offers both institutional stability and a way forward for the future where in return, if you like, for the principle of consent being fully accepted in the Republic of Ireland and in Northern Ireland all argument then happens by way of democracy afterwards. In return for that, there is a equality and fairness of treatment for the Nationalist community and a recognition of their identity.
We keep coming back to those two foundation stones of the Good Friday Agreement and it seems to me they are right in principle and they offer really the only hope forward in the future so whilst I understand the concerns that people have when they see the Balcombe Street gang or Michael Stone of course everyone feels that but actually that isn't a reason for rejecting this agreement.
(END OF TRANSCRIPT B AND END OF WHOLE TRANSCRIPT)
Source: Released by Radio Technical Services, Birmingham G8 Summit, 17 May 1998.
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