Asked if the Prime Minister agreed with the comments made by General Richards on there being no troop withdrawal until 2012 at least, the PMS told the assembled press that the Prime Minister and the Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS) were of the same mind; the CDS’s position was entirely consistent with the Prime Minister’s, both on withdrawals before 2015 being dependent on conditions on the ground and also the UK’s long-term relationship with Afghanistan.
We would continue to have a long-term relationship that may include troops in training roles and also through our diplomatic and development channels.
Put that the Prime Minister had seemed to raise hopes that troops would be pulled out sooner, the PMS said that these views were consistent as conditions on the ground would dictate troop withdrawal. The PMS added the sooner we could bring the troops home the better, but that would have to be dictated by conditions on the ground.
Put that the Prime Minister had said that troops could begin to be drawn out next year rather than 2012, the PMS said that that had come with the caveat of conditions on the ground being suitable.
Asked what the Prime Minister was hoping to achieve in China, the PMS replied that the key aims included securing improved business links and a series of important meetings with ministers.
This would be the largest business delegation to travel with the Prime Minister and business would be a clear theme for the whole visit. However, the Chancellor, Climate Secretary and Education Secretary would also be going, so there would also be other elements to the trip.
Asked if the Prime Minister would be taking any of his ‘vanity staff’ with him on the trip, the PMS said that she would not be getting into who from the Prime Minister’s office would be going. The PMS added that she would not divulge which civil servants would be travelling.
Asked about Jack Straw’s comments on a permanent partition in Cyprus, the PMS advised people to speak to the Foreign Office.