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INTERVIEW WITH TONY BLAIR
UK PRIME MINISTER

UK PRIME MINISTER'S OFFICE

November 14, 2002

 

  INTERVIEWER:

Prime Minister, you say that the war against Iraq could be avoidable. Do you still believe in this after the answer of Iraq?

PRIME MINISTER:

The situation is very clear. If Saddam Hussein agrees to disarm Iraq of all chemical, or biological, or nuclear weapons programmes and capability then conflict will be avoided and his duty is to cooperate fully with the inspectors to tell them exactly what material he has, to cooperate and comply with them in the eradication of that material. And the duty is not simply to let the inspectors back in and they do their best to find it, he does his best to conceal it, the duty is to cooperate fully with the inspectors in providing an honest declaration of what is there and then cooperate in eradicating it. And Iraq is entitled to keep its conventional forces, to keep its military forces in the way that other countries do, but not to have these weapons of mass destruction.

INTERVIEWER:

How can you be sure that you will disarm him and how long will it take?

PRIME MINISTER:

It is up to him as to whether he does it, and if he doesn't do it then the consequence is that the weapons will be disarmed by force, and that is why it is important to realise this is a very, very clear choice, but if he wishes to comply and cooperate with the inspectors, that is fine.

INTERVIEWER:

But Resolution 1441 doesn't call for regime change. If the Iraqi President Saddam Hussein will comply fully, can you convince the American Administration and can you trust the Iraqi regime?

PRIME MINISTER:

So far as our objective, it is disarmament, not regime change - that is our objective. Now I happen to believe the regime of Saddam is a very brutal and repressive regime, I think it does enormous damage to the Iraqi people, the Iraqi people are potentially a prosperous people, Iraq is a country that is potentially rich. The standard of living and prosperity of the Iraqi people would be infinitely greater were Saddam not there. And you only have to look at the recent election, what we actually know is that only one in three people turned out to vote and the election was plainly a sham. Now in the end countries do better if they have greater freedom and greater democratic capability for their people, so I have got no doubt Saddam is very bad for Iraq, but on the other hand I have got no doubt either that the purpose of our challenge from the United Nations is disarmament of weapons of mass destruction, it is not regime change.

INTERVIEWER:

Many Arabs believe that the Americans want to finish and substitute Saudi Arabia by Iraq. Iraq is a vast country, full with oil and with know-how, as you just said. And also we heard that the British advised the Kuwaitis before this crisis to be careful, if Iraq will be a democratic regime it will rise above the other Gulf countries. How do you answer this?

PRIME MINISTER:

First of all, the idea that this is about oil for us is absurd. If all we wanted was greater oil supplies we could probably do a deal with Iraq or any other country on that basis. It really is about the issue to do with weapons of mass destruction because we know Saddam has used these against his own people, he started the war, not just with Iran but then with Kuwait, and that is what this is about. And for us, for Britain, we want good relations with the Arab world. You know we used to have great relations with Iraq, the British Council used to do a lot of work in Iraq. We would like to see that happen again, we want Iraq to come back into the international community, but it can't come back in whilst it has this fundamental problem with the nature of the way that the current regime operates.

INTERVIEWER:

But what about your advice to the Kuwaitis?

PRIME MINISTER:

We have given no advice to the Kuwaitis other than we have said to them very clearly that we will protect them should Saddam launch an aggressive attack again.

INTERVIEWER:

But if it would be a democratic country - Iraq - it will be above the other countries.

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, it is not a question of being above. I personally believe in the end that the more democratic countries are the more likely they are to be prosperous. But it is not for us to dictate to people in Iraq or elsewhere how they are governed; it is for us though to make sure the will of the United Nations is properly implemented. And let me make another thing absolutely clear. I know there are rumours that are put round by the Iraqi regime that we are going to try and import some government from exile into Iraq. We have no intention of doing that at all, that is simply not the case. I think that the tragedy of the Iraqi situation is that the Iraqi people are in many ways the worst victims of Saddam.

INTERVIEWER:

But some Iraqis are convinced the war will come because the Americans want the oil and to redraw the map of the Middle East. Have you any idea how will be the Middle East region after the war, the map of this region?

PRIME MINISTER:

But you know, as I said a moment or two ago, if oil was the only issue then you can do deals on oil very easily.

INTERVIEWER:

Even with Saddam Hussein?

PRIME MINISTER:

I have no doubt at all that if we were to say to Saddam we will let you do whatever you want to do then I should imagine he would be willing to do all sorts of things. That is not what it is about at all. Indeed the whole prospect of issues of conflict in the Middle East has if anything meant that the oil market is more difficult. So this isn't about oil, it is about weapons of mass destruction and it is about a regime that is deliberately flouting the will of the United Nations. And what we want for the Arab world is we want partners in the Arab world, because as we know from the crisis there is in the Middle East peace process and the issues between the Israelis and the Palestinians, if this region is not stable then it has an adverse impact on the whole of the world. And what I would like to see is two things happen: first of all that Iraq comes back into the world community as a proper nation and takes its place there and the Iraqi people take their rightful place there; and secondly, that we do get major progress on the Middle East peace process. So I think these things are all consistent with each other and they are all about trying to create a stable Middle East which can be partners for us for the future.

INTERVIEWER:

But the Israeli Prime Minister, Sharon, said that Iran should follow Iraq. What is your response to this?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well our Foreign Secretary said that he didn't agree with that, and my own view is that it is again very important that we try and work with countries who are undergoing a process of change so that we minimise the risks and dangers.

INTERVIEWER:

But Britain is still selling arms to Israel, and at the same time you are telling us that you want to solve this problem peacefully. How can it be solved?

PRIME MINISTER:

We have arms relationships with many countries, including many Arab countries as well, and actually the amount of weapons sold to Israel recently has been very, very small indeed. But anyway leave that aside, we have arms relationships with lots of different countries. You see I think that there is a consensus now around the world that the best solution to the Middle East peace process is a two state solution - that Israel should be able to exist, confident of its own security, recognised by all, and then we should have a viable Palestinian state for the Palestinian people. And I think most people support that solution. Now we have got to try and get far greater activity and energy in the international community to resolve this, which is why I said a couple of days ago in my speech in London that I believe that terrorism and weapons of mass destruction are real issues for the world, but I don't think they are the only real issues for the world, I think issues to do with the Middle East peace process, to do with poverty and development are also critical issues.

INTERVIEWER:

But Israel might exploit the war against Iraq to destruct completely the Palestinian authority. This will be bad for her. How can you control Prime Minister Sharon?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it is not a question of controlling him, it is a question of making sure that the international community states very clearly that we want to see progress on the Middle East peace process as well as dealing with the issue of weapons of mass destruction, and that is the position of Britain, we have argued that very, very strongly all the way through. And President Bush has offered a vision of two states. This is the first time an American President has come out very, very clearly and said there should be a two state solution to the Palestinian issue and we need to follow that through.

INTERVIEWER:

But what about the conditions that you put on the Palestinian section. Arafat, you know that an old man of 73 years old, he won't be able to reform or be convinced on reform.

PRIME MINISTER:

I think there are issues to do with political reform and it is interesting that the Palestinians themselves are talking about that now. I think we need to help that political reform process along because President Bush is right in a sense that you do need partners that are willing for peace, and we do need to get to the stage where in the end there is a negotiation that is successful, based on the two state solution.

INTERVIEWER:

Britain knows very well the Arab world, and you know I think very well that the Palestinians, that they are suffering, they will not be satisfied with only hope that you will have a Palestinian state if you will be good, or I don't know what. What should we do for the Palestinian people to be convinced?

PRIME MINISTER:

There are three things that are necessary, and I totally agree with you, the despair and abject state in which Palestinians are living is a cause of real concern throughout the Arab world, and actually throughout the western world. People feel strongly about this issue here in this country too. Now at the same time we have to recognise that whilst those extremists on the Palestinian side are killing civilians in terrorist attacks in Israel it causes a significant problem for them too obviously. So we said three things have to happen: first of all we need detailed discussion and the rebuilding of the security infrastructure of the Palestinians, because we need a proper security infrastructure where we can at least know that the Palestinian Authority is not complicit in any shape or form in the terrorism that is taking place; secondly we need to make sure that the political reform is there so that we can have a proper process of negotiation; and the third thing is that we need to start the Final Status negotiations. Now as a result of better security, as a result of political reform, that then can allow us to start unlocking some of these economic problems, you know the barriers that are there at the moment which prevent people going to work, which prevent people on the Palestinian side getting a decent standard of living, and it is all part of a process to get to that end result of the two state solution, but it needs a tremendous amount of activity and energy. And what we are saying, this is the British position, is that we have got to put the same amount of energy into that as we do into the issues to do with weapons of mass destruction.

INTERVIEWER:

What about the role of President Arafat in this process and the future of President Arafat?

PRIME MINISTER:

You know President Arafat is there and the head of the Palestinians and I am not suggesting that we don't accept that or that we don't try and work with it. But I do say that I think there are serious issues to do with political reform for the Palestinian Authority and I do also say, and this I think was part of the frustration that President Bush was articulating, that if we are to have a peace process we need people who are going to negotiate seriously on the details of that, because in the end, as we discovered in Northern Ireland where we have had a peace process there that has been pretty successful and brought about a change in circumstances there, the only way you get these things done is to get people round a table talking to one another.

INTERVIEWER:

So Arafat is still a partner?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well he has got to prove frankly that he is willing to partner this all the way through to a conclusion, and I think in any event there are issues to do with political reform on the Palestinian side that are important. Because we also need to make sure that you see on an issue like security that where we do have a proper security infrastructure and apparatus on the Palestinian side, it is actually doing its job properly. Now we can help on that in the international community, but we need people to negotiate that with.

INTERVIEWER:

But also we need Israel to understand this ...

PRIME MINISTER:

Of course, and that is why it is important that we make sure that we pull everyone into a process where we are going to get these things negotiated.

INTERVIEWER:

About terrorism, you say that the war against terrorism couldn't be made without a price. What price is Great Britain ready to pay?

PRIME MINISTER:

I believe we will pay a price if we don't deal with this issue of weapons of mass destruction. We paid a price in the Gulf war, many Iraqi people paid a very heavy price in the Iran-Iraq war, Iraqi people have paid a heavy prices when weapons of mass destruction have been used against Iraqi people.

INTERVIEWER:

But you consider this terrorism?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think there are two separate issues but I think they are linked. One is international terrorism, and again we are paying a price in the world now as a result of that; and the other is to do with weapons of mass destruction.

INTERVIEWER:

Yes, but Britain is threatened by international terrorism, as you said, and he is asking you are you ready to pay a price for this and what kind of price?

PRIME MINISTER:

Of course we are ready to do what it takes to defeat it, and my point is to you though that if you don't take on terrorism or weapons of mass destruction you pay a price as well. There is no cost-free solution here.

INTERVIEWER:

Can you take on al Qu'eda?

PRIME MINISTER:

I believe that we can defeat it, but I think we need to defeat it by more than security and policing. I think we also need to defeat it by ideas, by engaging with the Muslim and Arab world, by showing that we are serious about the Middle East peace process, and also by showing that it is a complete myth that for example we are on at Saddam Hussein because he is a Muslim. It has got nothing to do with religion. When I fought the Kosovo war, which was the first military engagement of a considerable size I took as Prime Minister, we were fighting an orthodox Christian regime in Serbia to liberate Muslims in Kosovo. So this is nothing to do with a war of religion, it is to do with the issue of weapons of mass destruction. And you know the tragedy of all this is that if you look at the Iraqi people and you look at the wealth of Iraq, Iraq could be doing so well, its people could be so much better off than they are now, their standard of living would be so much higher if the money that goes into Iraq wasn't spent on weapons of mass destruction, palaces, and propping up a regime that is repressive, that is corrupt and that does very little for the Iraqi people.

INTERVIEWER:

Your current policy in the region, in the Arab world, is reviving ... in the spirit and the soul of the people in this region. What can you do to calm this feeling?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think that one of the reasons I wanted to speak to you today is to communicate with people directly. Because what happens in a situation like this is that there are myths that grow up. I have just dealt with one myth that this is about Christians versus Muslims - it isn't - or it's about the west versus the Arab world, or it's about oil. It is just to explain to people that in the end we live in a different world today. International terrorism for example, the al Qu'eda network, who could ever have thought that leaving Afghanistan as a failed state, living on terrorism and drugs, would then have erupted on to the streets of New York on 11 September. But it did. And the world now knows that these problems are international problems, they require international solutions, they require united will by the international community and no country can stand apart from them. And weapons of mass destruction is the same, if we allow countries which have got repressive and brutal regimes to develop these weapons, at some point they will use them, and that is why we have got to take the action.

INTERVIEWER:

One question about France. Were you really rude with President Chirac and what happened?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well first of all I wasn't, as you probably know I am not a rude person. But we had a policy disagreement, that happens in politics sometimes.

INTERVIEWER:

What did you say?

PRIME MINISTER:

I said in the meeting of the European Council, you see one of the things that concerns me is poverty and development in the Third World. Now I think that what happens with the west is that we preach to some poor countries to stand on their own feet and to make their own way in the world, but then we stop them getting access to our markets, and in particular the Common Agricultural Policy of the European Union is a very backward policy and it stops a lot of the poorest countries in the world selling their agricultural produce to us, and that is what the argument was about. Now I understand it is difficult for the French agricultural industry because they rely on the subsidies from Europe, but I think we have to reform that, so that was what the argument was about.

INTERVIEWER:

And what about the next French-British Summit?

PRIME MINISTER:

I am sure we will fix that at some appropriate time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

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