TUESDAY 21 JANUARY 2003
Mr Alan Williams, in the Chair
RT HON TONY BLAIR, a Member of the House, Prime Minister, examined.
Chairman: Welcome again, Prime Minister, to the second extended session of questioning of the Liaison Committee. It is inevitable that the prime interest is going to be in relation to Iraq, the war on terror and, indeed, the defence of our own people and our own country. We will start on that and we may spend an extended period on it. Our first questioner will be Donald Anderson.
(Mr Blair) I believe it is inevitable that they will try in some form or other. Indeed, I think we can see evidence from the recent arrests that the terrorist network is here as it is around the rest of Europe, around the rest of the world. I think it is important that we do everything we can to try to show people the link between the issue of weapons of mass destruction and these international terrorist groups, mainly linked to al-Qaeda, who will do literally anything they possibly can in order to destroy and disrupt the lives of ordinary people.
(Mr Blair) Zarqawi is an important operative. Whenever I am asked about the linkage between al-Qaeda and Iraq, the truth is there is no information I have that directly links Iraq to September 11. If I can just be absolutely frank with you, there is some intelligence evidence about loose links between al-Qaeda and various people in Iraq, but I think that the justification for what we are doing in respect of Iraq has got to be made separately from any potential link with al-Qaeda. I am not suggesting, in other words, that there is not a potential linkage there, all I am saying is in my view the case that we make for disarming Iraq of weapons of mass destruction has got to be made on its own terms. Incidentally, I totally understand why public opinion is sceptical about Iraq. People will say "What is the need? For ten years we have been containing Saddam, is North Korea not a greater threat?", all these arguments which are familiar to us and are perfectly reasonable arguments, but the points that I would make, however are these: first of all, that the policy of containment I think only worked up to a point and was beginning to fracture very badly; secondly, Saddam has actually used weapons of mass destruction and that puts it in a unique category vis a vis other countries; thirdly, this has come to a focal point around Iraq and, therefore, my point to people is not only is Iraq a threat in its own terms but if having taken a stand on Iraq and said they must disarm the weapons of mass destruction we fail to make them disarm then the consequences for the whole of the world in respect of weapons of mass destruction, in respect of terrorism, is adversely impacted. As I say, I understand what the difficulties of public opinion are, and it is my job to explain to people why it is necessary. It is also the case, incidentally, that we are not in conflict yet so we have not reached the context or the circumstances in which I am saying to the British people, "We are now going to be in conflict with Iraq". I believe that the circumstances in which we will opt for conflict will be circumstances that people find acceptable and satisfactory because there is no other route available to us. The whole reason for going down the UN route was to try and give us an alternative.
(Mr Blair) There is none that I know of that directly links al-Qaeda, Iraq, terrorist activity in the UK but, and forgive me if I am just choosing my words very carefully, there is some intelligence evidence about linkages between members of al-Qaeda and people in Iraq. It does not go further than that and, as I say, I am not using it as a justification for anything that we are doing but it would not be correct to say there is no evidence whatever of linkages between al-Qaeda and Iraq. What is true to say is that I know of nothing linking Iraq to the September 11 attack and I know of nothing either that directly links al-Qaeda and Iraq to recent events in the UK.
(Mr Blair) Yes, that is true. Actually I have not seen the newspaper reports that Donald was talking about. It is the case that there is evidence about al-Qaeda people in parts of Iraq. There is evidence to that effect. In my view what there is not evidence of is the Iraqi Government and al-Qaeda co-operating in respect of anything in this country. There are points at which unless you choose your words very, very carefully you can either suggest there is nothing to link al-Qaeda and Iraq at all, which would not be correct, or alternatively that somehow we are suggesting that Saddam Hussein is responsible for recent events in the UK, and I am not suggesting that.
(Mr Blair) I think that is true. We did share a certain amount of information in the dossier. What we are finding now is that a lot more information is coming out of Iraq. There is no doubt at all that as a result of the pressure there is evidence that the regime in Iraq and Saddam's immediate entourage are weakening, that they are rattled about the build up of forces, there is more intelligence coming out. I think it is important if we get into the circumstances of conflict that we share as much as possible with people. As I say, at the moment we are not in conflict. When we get to the point of taking the decision, the circumstances will not be the circumstances we have got today, they will be changed by what the inspectors find, by what we are able to tell people, by the circumstances that will exist at that time. I agree with you, I think it is important that we try and share as much information as possible, understanding that there will always be people who are sceptical about it because it is intelligence evidence.
(Mr Blair) That is true. I did not discuss it over the weekend with President Bush but I have discussed this with him before and how we make the case, obviously. The other thing that is happening is that we have to be careful each time we do disclose any intelligence exactly how we are disclosing it because obviously there are sources of intelligence that we do not want to compromise.
(Mr Blair) I am not suggesting there is evidence directly linking members of the regime with al-Qaeda. I am simply saying to you that there is some intelligence evidence about linkages between people in Iraq and al-Qaeda and I do not think that is in quite the same sense, if you like, as links between al-Qaeda and, say, people in this country. I have said what I have said and I do not think I can really add to it at all. What I am trying to do is to steer a fairly careful path between saying to you there is a direct link between al-Qaeda and the Iraqi regime, because I do not know there is, and on the other side saying there is no linkage at all between al-Qaeda and Iraq of any significance, which I do not think is true either. The actual position is that we cannot be sure of what the exact nature of that linkage is but I would justify whatever we are doing here or in respect of Iraq separate from that. Does that help?
(Mr Blair) I accept North Korea is a real problem and potential threat, yes. I would not accept, however, that Iraq is not a potential problem or threat. The evidence about al-Qaeda and Iraq may be open to question but the evidence about Iraq and weapons of mass destruction is absolutely clear because this is a regime that has used them.
(Mr Blair) Yes, there most certainly is, which is the evidence we published in the dossier a couple of months ago.
(Mr Blair) Evidence that they are building a capability of weapons of mass destruction.
(Mr Blair) In respect of North Korea the problem is either they use it all or they have proliferated. The problem in respect of Iraq is not the problem necessarily of proliferating the weapons of mass destruction, it is actually that they may use the weapons of mass destruction. In respect of Iraq we have the clearest possible evidence, both because of what they have done before and what is left over from the previous inspections when the inspectors were kicked out in 1998 and, what is more, the evidence that we published a couple of months ago. The position is this: the British security services, and I believe in their integrity, I believe that they are not giving me information that they believe to be false, their information about the activities of the Iraqi regime in respect of weapons of mass destruction is overwhelming and, indeed, the intelligence has grown over the last couple of months, not diminished. I could, as British Prime Minister, say "Well, I just do not believe the security services are telling me the truth", but I do not think that is a very responsible position and I think that I am bound to take account of that. I think we are in this slightly curious position at the moment: most people believe Saddam has weapons of mass destruction but what they want is for the international community to prove it in order to justify taking international action.
(Mr Blair) First of all, I do not think the focus should be totally on Iraq. That is why the Security Council will shortly have a discussion on North Korea, and so we should. If the point you are making to me is that it does not end at Iraq, I agree totally, Iraq is not the only problem in relation to weapons of mass destruction. I agree that what has happened in respect of North Korea recently is extremely worrying, which is why we need to get a proper strategy in the international community for dealing with it. I do not think it follows from that, Donald, that we do not also deal with the key question of Iraq, which has actually used weapons of mass destruction.
(Mr Blair) I hear a lot about the hawks in the Pentagon or elsewhere and all I know is the discussions that I have with President Bush, who I think is more important than any newspaper speculation may be about different positions in different parts of the administration. I just want to make this thing absolutely clear. If George Bush was not raising the issue of Iraq and weapons of mass destruction, I would be raising it. In fact, I did raise it at the very first meeting I had with him in February 2001, before September 11, before any of the recent events. This is a serious issue. If we do not deal with it now and take a stand on it now, and it has come to a focal point around Iraq, then is North Korea going to believe us if we say "This is what you must do to come into line in the international community"? Are any of these other countries who are trying to acquire this weaponry going to believe us if, when we come to the point of decision on Iraq, we face the challenge and then we duck it? As I say, I understand why public opinion says "Why do we need to deal with this now?" I understand why people say "North Korea is a big issue as well" but my answer to that is deal with both. Having come to the point of decision over Iraq do not veer off and say "North Korea is the issue, Iraq is not an issue any more" because both are issues and Iraq is particularly an issue because of the history of the UN Resolutions, because of the fact that ---- Look, Saddam is a leader who four times has either threatened or invaded his neighbours, has used weapons of mass destruction against other countries, against his own people, and I think most of us know perfectly well that what he said in his declaration of 8 December is not true. We have tried everything we can to get this resolved by the international community. We have gone down the UN route. Those people who told me that the hawks in the Pentagon or elsewhere were going to stop this going down the UN route were proved wrong, we are down the UN route, let us stick with it and get the job done, but the UN has got to be the way of dealing with this issue, not a way of avoiding it.
(Mr Blair) What we are sure of is chemical and biological weapons. What we believe they are doing is trying to reconstitute their nuclear programme. How far along the path they have got on that we cannot be sure. I think it is worth pointing out that they had a fully fledged nuclear programme, which they denied for years, incidentally, until they were obliged to admit it and if they get the right ballistic missile technology and the highly enriched uranium, it is not impossible for them to do it. The truthful answer is that we cannot be sure how far along the path of the nuclear weapons programme they are. What we believe is that they are trying to reconstitute it. On the chemical and biological side we believe they have still got weapons that they can use and they have also got the missile capability of firing them a significant distance.
(Mr Blair) Again, what we believe, and I think the recent finds by the inspectors would bear this out, is that they are being dispersed to different parts of the country. I think the inspectors have done a good job, they have been in there really at full strength only a few weeks, and I think we can be reasonably hopeful that they will do their job well.
(Mr Blair) I think that is a very, very good point. I think what has changed is this: first, that the policy of containment post-1998 has not really worked. Because it was not in the news really prior to September 2001 people were not aware of the fact that there were constant negotiations going on as to how you tightened and changed the sanctions regime because the sanctions regime, frankly, was crumbling. We estimate that it is probably in the region of $3 billion a year now that he gets from illicit oil sales that he can use for whatever purposes he wants, including weapons of mass destruction. Secondly, again the intelligence that we have that we published in the dossier, and as I say it is a decision for people to decide whether they think the intelligence services are just telling us this for fun or whether they are serious about it, as I believe they are, is that they have been making every attempt to reconstitute and rebuild those programmes, particularly trying to use dual use facilities that might have a civilian use and might have a military use. The third thing, I think, which has changed the context in which these decisions are made is September 11 because, as I say to people, if we had said in the summer of 2001 that al-Qaeda was a serious problem and we had to do something about their network in Afghanistan there would have been no international support for doing that at all, and yet it would have been better in retrospect if we had been acting on that some time before. I think that this issue of weapons of mass destruction is a really serious issue. I think on the link with international terrorism it is, as I say, only a matter of time before it develops and I think it is important that we deal with it, which is why the UN have come together and they have passed a resolution in the Security Council. I think there is an additional reason now, which is that the UN having laid down a very clear mandate has got to make sure that it is obeyed.
(Mr Blair) When we talk about Saddam, and we were talking about North Korea a bit earlier, I think it is just as well to reflect on his regime for a moment.
(Mr Blair) Since the early 1980s whenever he has had the opportunity he has been at war. In the Iran-Iraq war a million people died, he then invaded Kuwait, he has threatened others of his neighbours too and, as I say, he has used these weapons of mass destruction. When people say "Why do we believe this person constitutes a threat?" it always strikes me as a slightly odd thing to say. He has been, in the plainest possible way, a severe threat in the past to his own people and to the outside international community. The only question is do you carry on trying to contain him the whole time or do you recognise that at some point this policy of containment is not going to be enough. Even containment has meant that over the past ten years we have kept several thousand British troops down there patrolling the no-fly zones, doing other work down there, but it cannot go on forever in that way. What is clear is that although to a certain extent there has been success in containing him through the policy of sanctions, through the no-fly zones, through the pressure from the international community, I think all the evidence, which was why we were involved in these detailed negotiations in the UN in mid-2001, was that was not sufficient.
(Mr Blair) The weapons inspectors will make their findings and, yes, there has got to be a further discussion in the UN Security Council. One of the reasons why I wanted this to go down the UN path was so that Saddam was given the chance to resolve this peacefully. All he needed to do was very, very simple. When we passed the UN Resolution in November he could have come forward and said "Look, here are the programmes. This is the weaponry we have got. This is what was left over from the previous inspections", the inspectors could come in and close it down. It is not an impossible thing to do. One might ask the question why has he chosen not to do that, but instead to give a 12,000 page declaration on 8 December that I do not think anybody seriously believes is a correct view of what weaponry he has.
(Mr Blair) As I have always said to people, and I make no secret of it, I think it would be an excellent thing for the region and the world if Saddam was removed, but the issue is weapons of mass destruction and he has got a choice and the choice is the same as it has been throughout.
(Mr Blair) Let us wait and see what actually happens. The weapons inspectors have got to make a report on 27 January and at the moment we do not know what they will put into that report. I have said that they should be given the time to do the job, and I am sure they will be.
(Mr Blair) As I say, let us wait and see what he turns up on 27 January. The weapons inspectors should be allowed to do their job properly. I have said that 27 January is an important day but it is not the end of it. It depends what the weapons inspectors find on the 27th. If I could just add this point: the weapons inspectors as well will make a judgment about the degree of co-operation with Saddam. I want to make this point because it is absolutely crucial to how much time they should have. This is not a game of hide-and-seek. The aim of weapons inspections is not that they go in and, like detectives, try and search the country in order to see if they can discover some weapons of mass destruction. The way it is supposed to work is this: the regime is supposed to give total co-operation to the weapons inspectors, make an honest declaration of what weapons they have and then the purpose of the inspectors is not really to go round the country and try and find the stuff, the purpose of the inspectors is to inspect the material that is given to them, close it down, destroy it and monitor it. There will be a point in time, and this is the purpose of what Hans Blix has been saying in the last few days, when he has to come to a judgment about whether they are co-operating or not. You do not put the weapons inspectors in there and say "Well, you stay in there for as long as you can just to see if you can find it". The purpose of them going in and making their reports back to the UN is to state whether they believe that there is proper co-operation going on with the Iraqi regime. Do you see what I mean? They need the time not just to find the material but to make a judgment as to whether the regime is co-operating with the inspections or not.
(Mr Blair) Correct.
(Mr Blair) Of course that is a judgment the Security Council has got to make and will make that judgment on the basis of what the inspectors say to us. You are absolutely right in saying, David, that, if you like, there are two different sets of circumstances. There is a set of circumstances in which you find the conclusive proof and there is a set of circumstances in which a pattern of behaviour develops of non-cooperation. The first is easy to describe as a category and the second, as you rightly say, requires more considered judgment and I agree with that. Part of the difficulty is that what we are doing at the moment is we are increasing massively the pressure on Saddam and his regime. How are we managing to get the intelligence out of there? How are we managing to see what Saddam is up to, to see the cracks developing in the regime? We are doing it precisely because we are sending troops down there, he knows that the threat is real unless he co-operates, so we are trying to put maximum pressure on him and if I am sometimes coy about speculating what happens after 27 January or if the inspectors say this or say that, it is because I do not want to do anything that weakens that enormous pressure coming to bear on the regime either to co-operate or, frankly, to crumble.
(Mr Blair) I do not anticipate it will, frankly, because I think that the spirit of the original Resolution is very clear. If the inspectors make findings of fact which amount to a breach then the Security Council will authorise action. I think that is what will happen. When I say the preference is for a UN Resolution, it is easier in every respect if there is one. All I say, also, however, is we cannot have a situation in which there is a material breach recognised by everybody and yet action is unreasonably blocked. I do not think that will happen but nonetheless I think you have to have that qualification otherwise the discussion that we have in the Security Council is not likely to be as productive as it should be.
(Mr Blair) It is very important to us. I think it is important, also, for the US and I think it is important for us to engage the US with that international process. I have to tell you, however, I never had any doubt that President Bush would opt for the UN route because I think he understands the importance of trying to take international opinion with us. I know there are a lot of criticisms of the relationship we have with the US but I will defend that relationship absolutely and solidly because I think it is important for us and for the wider world. I do not think it is right - and I have said this before - that the US is made to face these issues alone. They are important issues and the world community has a responsibility to meet them. Now, my role and task, if you like, is trying to make sure that we establish the broadest possible international consensus. I think we have a consensus at the moment around the original UN Resolution. It is going to be tough because Saddam will be inclined to play this every way he possibly can in order to weaken that international coalition but we have to try and keep it together. In doing that, as I say, I am having it put to me frequently that there are elements of the administration saying this or that or they are about to do it tomorrow without any recourse to international opinion or the US does not care about international opinion. All I can say is that is entirely alien to the conversations I have with George Bush which are about how we make sure that we disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction and do it with the maximum international support.
(Mr Blair) I think you have just given one actually, which is to say that obviously it would be highly desirable to have one.
(Mr Blair) Of course it is more difficult but, on the other hand, David, just posit the circumstances that I am positing and all I am doing is just being open with people because I do not think these circumstances will arise. Supposing the inspectors said "Yes, we agree, he is not co-operating, we are not able to do our job properly" or they make a finding that there are weapons of mass destruction that they have discovered in Iraq, supposing we take that before the Security Council, in the circumstances where the whole of the previous discussion in front of the UN was that in those circumstances we would authorise action and somebody puts down a veto, now of course it would be better if they did not, that is why I say it would be highly desirable if they did not put down a veto, but if they did in those circumstances then I think it would be wrong if we said "Right, well there is nothing we can do, he can carry on and develop these weapons.". Of course it is better that we go down the UN route, and that is what we want to do, that is what I have been striving for all the way through. We must not give a signal to Saddam that there is a way out of this. There is no way for Saddam out of this issue other than disarming Iraq of weapons of mass destruction. Just think about achieving that, just think of the signal that it sends out then when we do turn round to North Korea with a different strategy in place for them and say "It is unacceptable that you have withdrawn from the Non Proliferation Treaty, it is unacceptable that you are carrying on exporting ballistic missile technology which can be used for weapons of mass destruction, in particular nuclear weapons", and we are going to sit down and work out a strategy to deal with them. That is the situation we need to get to and, of course, it is best done with the maximum international support but it will not be done at all if Saddam thinks there is any weakness in it.
(Mr Blair) I think some do support what we are doing actually. It is not true to say that every European country is in a different place from Britain, if you have seen some of the comments which have come from Spain or Italy recently, for example. I think that there is a hesitation in the international community for the reasons that have been expressed around this table, and what Donald was saying earlier, people say "Look, is it really necessary to do this? Is he such a threat? Do we really have to bother with it? Are there other things that we can turn our mind to?". I think at points in time that is a perfectly understandable feeling, that there is a very, very clear answer you have got to give. Although I think it is different, I remember at the time of Kosovo there were a lot of voices raised saying "Oh, for goodness sake, do not let us go down this path, it is going to be ruinous for the Balkans if we do this". There were even people - and this was about as clear a case as you could have - who said that military action in Afghanistan would be a mistake. Now, I think in the end this is a tougher one because there is not an immediate act that Saddam has taken to provoke America, ourselves or other countries but I think when you sit down and analyse this issue of weapons of mass destruction, and as I say the link that is inevitably going to be there with international terrorism, it is right that the world takes a stand. I think some people think, you know, I am going down this path because Britain is a strong ally of America and I do not want to divide off from America. It is worse than that, it is that I genuinely believe it. If America was not doing it I would be saying to them "You should be doing it".
(Mr Blair) Yes.
(Mr Blair) I do think it is very important that the US is engaged with the international community and obviously it should act in accordance with international law, as we all should. I think the best way of dealing with that is the way that I have described which is to make sure that when they are raising issues that it is right to raise that we try and engage with them and get those issues dealt with on the basis of the broadest possible support and make sure that American support is there for other issues which are important also. In the speech I gave to the Foreign Office diplomats a couple of weeks ago I said we had to continue to work with America in broadening that agenda, that is what I think the key thing is. I have got no doubt there are voices inside the US which may want the US to go down a unilateralist route but I do not believe that is where President Bush is and I think it is our job to try and make sure that we gain the broadest possible international co-operation. I think the worst thing that could happen - I really believe this - is that the world divides up into the pro American and the anti American forces.
Sir Nicholas Winterton
(Mr Blair) It is a fair point. We should make that point continually because there is no doubt at all, I think, there was a list of all the various nerve agents and chemicals and so on at the end of the inspections in 1998 and, you are right, those are unaccounted for. I think Hans Blix was making a point the other day that Saddam's declaration that was supposed to be an honest account of what he had made no mention of much of the material that we know was left over from before. I think that is a fair point.
(Mr Blair) It is a strong relationship, obviously, and it is a strong partnership. We work with them as allies. Despite what people may think, if we disagree with them we say so but on these international security issues I happen to be in agreement with them.
(Mr Blair) Yes.
(Mr Blair) Because I think that it is a very, very powerful force for the values that we believe in. That is not to say that there cannot be disagreements with America over aspects of policy but I think the transatlantic relationship has served America and Europe and the world well through the twentieth century, I think we have to maintain it. Again, I will be frank with you, I find some aspects of some of the public discourse about America just anti-American and I think it is wrong and misguided. America for all its faults - and all nations have them - is a force for good in the world, I believe.
(Mr Blair) Absolutely, it is, yes, a strong matter of principle. One of the things that I try and advocate is a good relationship between Europe and America too because I think if Europe and America split off then every other country in the world can play games with that situation, and it is very dangerous.
(Mr Blair) We were talking earlier about Iraq and going down the UN route, and I think we have worked well, both of us. I believe that was the position that George Bush would have come to in any event, I may say, but I believe we worked well to do that. I think one of the least noticed but most important developments in international relations in the past few years has been the new relationship between NATO and Russia which has hugely taken the sting and the difficulty out of both missile defence and NATO enlargement. I think that was in part because of the co-operation between ourselves and the Americans. Now there will be issues like trade issues and so on where you are competing for contracts against America in which each country will fight their own interest very, very strongly. There are issues like Kyoto where we have a disagreement. We believe that the Kyoto Treaty should be ratified, the Americans do not but, by and large, on these big international security issues we stick together, and rightly I think.
(Mr Blair) I think that if they can reach a renegotiation on the right terms that is fine. I think that the discussions that they have had with Russia have been pretty fruitful on that basis.
(Mr Blair) The issues to do with missile defence were always going to be there. I think it is far better that they try and deal with that in a co-operative way and, as I say, a lot of the heat has gone out of that issue as a result of the new relationship between NATO and Russia.
(Mr Blair) I do not accept that actually. I have an open mind as to what missile defence can deliver us. I think it is important that if we do play our part in the missile defence system that we make sure this country gets some benefit out of it. That is the position that Geoff Hoon laid down in the House of Commons a couple of weeks ago. If we just take this issue of missile defence, because again instinctively a lot of people over this side of the water and in Europe will say "What is the purpose of this? Does it really enhance our security?", I think the Americans are right in this sense, are they not, that the threat to US or, indeed, to European security is unlikely today to come from Russia or China but there is a threat to our security from unstable states acquiring nuclear weapons. If you can develop a defensive system - and this is a defensive system - which can give us some protection against that, I do not think that is necessarily the wrong thing to do; on the contrary I think there is merit in it. The questions I would have would be to do with the technology, whether it can really be developed in that way and so forth, and in respect of Britain - because it is our own national interest that has got to come first - whether any upgrade in any of the facilities here which might be used for the purposes of missile defence is going to enhance our own security. That is the discussion we will have with them.
(Mr Blair) It is, yes.
(Mr Blair) I think both with this administration and, indeed, the previous administration American opinion is very, very firm on it. The one thing that we are doing is we are looking with America and, indeed, with other countries at what potential there is in technology for trying to deal with some of these issues. Without digressing into Kyoto unless you want me to, I think the problem with the Kyoto Treaty is very simple. All Kyoto means is that we stabilise greenhouse gas emissions or I think it is a one per cent reduction. Actually what we need, according to all the scientific evidence, is a 60 per cent cut in emissions by the year 2050. There is no way on current policy we are going to get that. There is an issue to do with the US and their attitude towards climate change but there is a bigger issue which is whether we can make the right investment in the technologies that are going to deliver that quantum leap in cutting emissions, and that is something we are working with the Americans on. Yes, I agree, there is a disagreement over Kyoto.
(Mr Blair) Yes, absolutely.
(Mr Blair) Let us wait and see what deal is come out with there. I think it is important not to exaggerate. It is not that American policy is only run if Britain gives its say so, that would be an absurd caricature of the situation. If you look back on these issues, the way that Afghanistan was dealt with, for example, I think Britain's influence has been important but it is a relationship and it is a partnership. That does not mean to say that you will not get into certain situations, and trade is a very obvious one running through many administrations, in which you will have disagreements.
(Mr Blair) On the issue of Israel, I would just point out that President Bush is the first US President to come out for a two state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian issue, and I support that very strongly. You know, of course, that I want to push it on as hard as I possibly can. It is not a question of disagreeing with them over it but I do think myself that in its own terms, quite apart from what is happening in the rest of the world, it is essential that we make progress. I think what is happening at the moment is very, very tragic indeed.
(Mr Blair) I do not think there is a fundamental difference in values between America and Europe and I think it is very dangerous sometimes when we think there is. You mentioned protectionism, Europe has not exactly got a world beating record on that either to be absolutely frank, so there is a long way we can all go on that. Actually if you take the big picture items between America and Europe, basically we stand for the same values: liberty, tolerance, democracy. In the fight against international terrorism we are all on the same side. Even in relation to tricky issues and difficult issues like Iraq I think people accept that weapons of mass destruction have to be dealt with and I think America has accepted that it is best dealt with through the UN. Yes, there are going to be disagreements over things to do with climate change. There are disagreements with other countries over climate change as well. I do not think that means, however, that the whole relationship is set at nought. I do just make this point about America and Europe because there are a lot of voices in Europe, and I hear them the whole time, who think that the role of Europe is to become America's rival. I disagree with that fundamentally, the role of Europe should be America's partner. Now a partnership is a two-way process, and that is why I said in my recent speech the Americans should listen back. However, it is important that Europe and America realise that what unites them is far, far more important than what divides them. These issues like trade and even to do with climate change, we can deal with that, but if we start falling out on these major questions of international security I think it would be absolutely disastrous.
Chairman: Before we move on completely from missile defence, David Curry wants a quick follow up question.
(Mr Blair) Yes.
(Mr Blair) This is precisely why we are trying to deal with these countries who are developing nuclear capability. I do not think the alternative to missile defence should be a first nuclear strike.
(Mr Blair) No. Let us be clear ---
(Mr Blair) I think there are a number of different ways we have to deal with these issues. I think the other thing, incidentally, I would say on weapons of mass destruction, which is important, is to try and deal with some of the trade in the material that is done by individuals and companies around the world as well as countries incidentally. One of the things I want to discuss with President Bush when I see him at the end of this month is how we get a far more concerted grip on the way that this stuff is proliferated and traded, not just between countries but with the involvement of individuals, front companies and so on. It is a big issue. All I am saying on missile defence is it is possible to conceive of circumstances in which you could be subject to a threat not from the traditional threat that for years and years and years governed us through the Cold War and so on, ie from Russia, but a threat from an unstable state. Now missile defence, if it is able to be developed properly, can provide us with some defensive protection but there is a lot of work that has to be done on it before we are clear about that.
(Mr Blair) No, I am certainly not saying that. Indeed, I think I am saying the opposite. For the very reasons that are implicit in your question I do not believe they will do that, no.
(Mr Blair) My view is the one that I have expressed. I agree with you entirely. It is unthinkable in my view in circumstances where we have agreed effectively - this is the spirit of the earlier resolution, is it not - that if there are findings by the inspectors which amount to a breach then we authorise action. I do not believe myself - which is what I have said - I think every time I have put in my caveat I say at the same time however I do not believe that will happen. I think it is important, however, and it is particularly important in order to make sure there is no room for any doubt and none of the pressure is lessened on Saddam in particular, that you do say if there was, however, an unreasonable use of the veto.
(Mr Blair) All right.
(Mr Blair) Of course I accept it is going to be more difficult without a UN Resolution. That is the point I have accepted throughout, that is why I say it is highly desirable to have one. However, I do believe that if the inspectors find the information that allows the Security Council to judge there is a breach people will accept it in those circumstances: otherwise the will of the UN is absolutely set at nought. If the UN comes together and says it is vital for international security that Saddam disarms himself of weapons of mass destruction, and he does not do so and the Security Council then says "We are not going to do anything about it", it would be disastrous. I do not think in fact in those circumstances people would split down the middle because they would see it as justified. I repeat: part of the trouble with this - and I think we have skirted around this sometimes this morning - is that I am faced continually with the what if question, what if the inspectors say this, what if someone says that, what if, if you are not careful you are trying to deal with every hypothesis. I have thought it important however to deal with one hypothesis which is in circumstances where there is an unreasonable use of the veto but I repeat, Edward, as I said to you earlier, I do not think that will happen.
(Mr Blair) I think that is a good point. I think there will be people who will oppose it in any event, to be honest. Let us put it like this. I think if there is a second UN Resolution in those circumstances the case must be pretty conclusive. I do come back to the point which is that Saddam can avoid it at any point in time that he wants. Who really believes that the 12,000 pages, which as was rightly pointed out earlier did not even deal with the weapons left over from 1998, is a truthful account? Who really believes it? Nobody believes it. If I can be absolutely blunt with you, we are in this slightly strange situation where the world is very reluctant to go to war but the world does not actually believe Saddam is telling the truth. What is the way of compromise in those two seemingly contradictory positions? In a sense, it is to let the inspectors do their work and if they make the findings that make it clear that Saddam is not co-operating and not telling the truth then people accept there should be action, and I think that must be right.
(Mr Blair) No, but it does mean to say if there is a UN Resolution which is about the disarming of a country with weapons of mass destruction which is breached then we should enforce it. I say this to you, Richard, with very great respect, I think it is important when we talk about Israel and UN Resolutions, I believe in implementing those UN Resolutions too but those UN Resolutions do not just apply to Israel they apply, also, to the surrounding Arab countries and to the Palestinians as well. I think it is important that we do not make what may seem superficially attractive comparisons and say "Well, why are we not taking military action to enforce all the resolutions in respect of Israel and Palestine" when they are not really warranted. Iraq is a special case for the reasons that we have given.
(Mr Blair) I think all countries will want to look after their own interests properly, obviously, and I think it depends on what circumstances you are talking about. The other thing to remember about the United States is that understandably they are scarred by the experience of 11 September and so if they believe that they are going to come under threat from a country, they will want to act on it. I think you can get into quite a theological debate about the doctrine of pre-emptive action. I think that you are right also in saying, incidentally, that in respect of the case of Iraq the reason why we support the position that we do is because of the UN Resolution.
(Mr Blair) It is a judgment obviously as to whether Iraq constitutes a threat, but there is a reason why we have had a sanctions regime in place for ten years, why thousands of British troops have been down in the Gulf, why British pilots have been risking their lives virtually every day in the no-fly zones, and that is because people recognise that Iraq, if it were out to rebuild these weapons, would constitute a threat. There is no way if Iraq embarked on another adventure in that region, and remember their attempts to embark on several before, that we would not be sucked into that. For all those reasons, I think it is right that we deal with this but we chose a particular way of dealing with it which is the United Nations and we did that precisely because we recognise this was not a situation where we could say there is an immediate threat to Britain of a nuclear strike from Iraq. I have never made that case, I have never said that is the case. What I have said is there is an issue about weapons of mass destruction, the Iraqis have to disarm, and the best way of doing that is through the United Nations process, and we have given that process the time to work. What I would do is put it back and say if you end up in a situation where there is a fresh UN Resolution authorising action, surely that must be the circumstances in which it is right for the international community to act?
(Mr Blair) Certainly not. That is not my understanding.
(Mr Blair) No.
(Mr Blair) The Americans are developing the system and we will obviously have a discussion with them about if we were to upgrade our facilities in order to play a part in that system as to type of coverage that the UK would have, but I have never heard a figure of billions of pounds mentioned in relation to it.
(Mr Blair) They are developing the system in any event. Our role is upgrading our systems. I think it is worth pointing out as well another point, that has not been raised but is slightly implicit in some of the questions I have had, which is that by our relationship with the United States do we not make ourselves a target as a country, are we not enhanced as a target? What I would say to that is look a round the world today and see what is happening, for example the arrests of terrorist groups are taking place all over Europe and all over the world, there are something like 3,000 suspected terrors who have been arrested just in the last year or so. Who would have guessed that Bali would be the place where these terrorists would strike? If we end up in a situation where there is a potential nuclear conflict, every country in the world is going to be drawn into that in some way and that is why I think there is no point in us thinking - and I do not think it is particularly in the British character - "Let's go to the back of the queue and hide away." We are going to be in the front-line of this whatever happens.
(Mr Blair) The position of ourselves and America is exactly the same, that there must be findings that constitute a breach. That is the case throughout. I simply point out that at the moment that is not what the inspectors are saying. The inspectors are saying that the Iraqis have not been co-operating properly but let us wait and see and get their full report on 27 January. Let me return to this point because I think it is very, very important in terms of timescales, and I have avoided giving arbitrary timescales in what the inspectors do and I think that is important because otherwise you just get into completely pointless speculation. The obligation that Saddam has is to co-operate with the inspectors. Now, there are two different strands underneath that duty. One is obviously to co-operate with allowing them access and making sure that the inspectors are able to move freely around Iraq and so on. The second part is to be honest about the weapons that he has, and the reason why I describe the duty to co-operate in that way is to return to a point I made earlier, it is not a game of hide-and-seek, it is not a game where the inspectors are supposed to go in and if they find the stuff they win and if Saddam conceals the stuff he wins. That is not what it is supposed to be at all. They are not a detective agency. They may have to behave like that at the moment because we are not satisfied he is co-operating but that is not the way it is supposed to happen. The way it is supposed to happen is the way it did when he was forced to admit the existence of one of his earlier biological and nuclear programmes where he said, "This is the stuff I have got", and the inspectors go and destroy it or store the material. That is what is supposed to happen. So the judgment that you need to make, and it is a matter of judgment itself as to the time at which you need to make this, is, is he co-operating?
(Mr Blair) That is a very fair point, Martin, which is why I said it is an important date but it is not the end ---
(Mr Blair) It depends what the inspectors report, that is important too, but it is not necessarily the final date, no.
(Mr Blair) We do need to make the link, that is right, and I think you are right in saying this is the argument: "Let's go after international terrorism but not bother about weapons of mass destruction" - not not bother about it but deal with it differently. That is why I keep emphasising the point that they are linked. Look at recent discoveries here in this country, issues to do with Ricin and all the rest of it. Do we really doubt that if these extreme terrorist groups could get hold of weapons of mass destruction they would use them? I do not think there is any doubt about that at all. I think the most frightening thing about these people is the possible coming together of fanaticism and the technology capable of delivering mass destruction, mass death. What they did on 11 September is an indication of what they can do in a way that no-one foresaw at all. Supposing they were able to kill instead of 3,000 people 30,000 people, does anyone doubt that they would do it? That is why I think it is important that we deal with these issues and why they are linked. I understand why it is difficult for people to make the linkage sometimes but I think it is my responsibility to try and point it out and say why I think we need to try and deal with both issues.
(Mr Blair) The two most important are is it right and is it do-able? Is it the right thing to do and can it be done? In relation to Kosovo and Afghanistan, both those criteria, in my view, were satisfied, and those are the two principal criteria. All the rest of the things are obviously important considerations. It is a terrible responsibility ever to commit troops to action, but I believe we were right to do it in both Kosovo and Afghanistan. When I say is it right and is it do-able, is it do-able militarily but also is the aftermath something that you can handle as well, because I think that is important, too.
(Mr Blair) Yes, and I would never dream of committing British forces unless I thought they were properly and adequately equipped. I think you get these stories every time a conflict is about to happen.
(Mr Blair) Yes indeed, Bruce, and it is precisely for that reason that you have exercises like we had in Oman. What it is is an exercise where you are hoping to learn certain things about the equipment and so on. I think it is also possible to exaggerate these things tremendously. The British forces are not just a very, very fine fighting force but they are also properly equipped and will be for any action they need to take.
(Mr Blair) Well, they are.
(Mr Blair) Yes, I have and, again, I know there are discussions continuing the whole time about this, particularly in relation to the National Health Service. Obviously it is important that this is done in a disciplined and careful way but I believe and understand it will be.
(Mr Blair) The procedure we follow now is the procedure we followed before and obviously once you are committing your troops to action, if it comes to that, of course you have got to make sure the financing is there.
(Mr Blair) This is an issue, and perhaps without giving any detail of discussions, for obvious reasons it would not be wise to do so, I can assure you that is a dimension that we are aware of and that we plan for ---
(Mr Blair) If you will allow me, it is best to say that we are aware of the potential of that threat, and we would deal with it in any way that we thought necessary, but I do not think it is very wise for me to get into speculating as to exactly what we are doing about it.
(Mr Blair) Of course we would have input into any such process, exactly the same as we did in Kosovo or, indeed, in relation to Afghanistan. I also think it is important to emphasise that questions about military action are obviously important, but so are questions to do with whatever humanitarian situation may develop, and that is something we are working on very closely with the Americans as well. None of that is to prejudge what actually happens since we have not actually got to the stage of conflict yet.
(Mr Blair) To be absolutely frank with you, no, I do not know why they have said that to you, but I will find out. There may be very good reasons of which, as I speak to you, I am unaware. You need another couple of weeks, do you, to do the report?
Mr George: Just another couple of weeks. We began an inquiry into missile defence a year ago and then other things intervened. We recommenced when the formal request had been given --- a slip of the tongue there, when the formal request had been made by the United States. We are galloping through as quickly as we can, visiting Fylingdales, we have had a couple of sessions of evidence, but we would want to talk to the people who do not agree with the policy and that, I am afraid, will be impossible if we are obliged to adhere to producing a report or not producing a report by the end of the month. I do not know the reason why. All I can think of, being slightly sceptical, is you are going to the United States around that time. If you are able to postpone any decision, and we are all in suspense as to what that decision ultimately will be on Fylingdales, if it is possible, Prime Minister, I think it would be very helpful to us if that report, which I think will be important in informing the public, could be sent to Parliament in the middle of next month.
(Mr Blair) Thank you. I felt you were the cavalry coming to my rescue!
(Mr Blair) I will come back to you on it, Bruce. I do not know the reason for it but I will find out.
(Mr Blair) Obviously it is for other countries to answer for themselves. I think that if there is broad international coalition I would expect other countries to be involved, yes.
(Mr Blair) I think I am best to let them answer themselves, to be fair.
(Mr Blair) I think there are other countries considering how they might assist and, as I say, there is not merely any potential military action, there is also the follow-on afterwards and the humanitarian work that needs to be done by military forces as well. Can I put it to you in this way, Michael: I know that there are other countries considering what contribution they could make but I think it is best they announce their contribution rather than I do.
(Mr Blair) I think that is a very good point. We are looking at everything we can do for combat identification. I think the procedures are far better now than those that were in place at the time of the Gulf War. I have asked for discussions on this very issue so we make sure we are doing everything we possibly and conceivably can. From previous conflicts we know it is a risk and we have got to do everything we can to provide against it. I know there has been a lot of work done on this and there have been joint operations carried out in order to test the effectiveness of it. Obviously it is something we have to carry on looking at carefully.
(Mr Blair) It is but we are working with them on it and on the proper communications systems that would assist this. Without going into the technical details, which I would not be competent to do, my understanding is that there has been a lot of work done on this recently and it is in a significantly better shape than it was back at the Gulf War ten years ago. The very reason I have asked to be kept closely informed as to what is happening on it is because this is one of the things we need make sure of.
(Mr Blair) As you say, there is a lot of research going into it. The trouble is unless we know what it is that is causing any problems or if there is something causing problems, it is difficult to guard against it. The previous government looked at this very carefully, we have looked at it again and then again in order to try and discover what there is in it, but it has been difficult to get any precise research that has allowed us to identify this properly.
(Mr Blair) I think probably the technology is better than it was ten years ago but we are doing everything we can to guard against any threat we know about and can identify. The problem with Gulf War Syndrome is that it has never been clear exactly what it amounts to. If we were able to do that it would be much easier. This is an area where the only way we can do this properly is to go on the basis of the evidence and the evidence, as you know, has always been unclear.
(Mr Blair) Yes, I am confident that we will do everything we reasonably can.
(Mr Blair) We are able to and will devote --- of course as the Chief of Defence Staff said if you have 19,000 soldiers on fire-fighting duties then they cannot be available for a potential military conflict, but we have obviously had to factor this into our planning right from the very beginning because we did not know whether these strikes would be going on or called off. We are confident that we can deal with both issues.
(Mr Blair) I think that whatever action we take in respect of Iraq can be done on its own terms, but I do think that the inability to make progress on the Middle East peace process is a shadow hanging over relations between the Arab and Muslim world and the West. I do believe that, which is why I think it is not just important in its own terms, it is important for all those other reasons that we make progress on it. I think that if we put the right energy and activity into it it is possible to make progress on the Middle East because one advantage you have is that everyone now agrees on the two state solution. What was interesting when we had that conference the other day on political reform in the Palestinian authority is that every single country round the table, including the United States obviously and including the Arab countries, agreed on the two state solution. That is why I find it so frustrating that we cannot push this process forward. I agree it is a shadow hanging over our relations. It does not mean to say that we should not do what is necessary in respect of Iraq but, in my view, quite irrespective of anything we do in the Gulf we should be trying to make progress there. I think in relation to Kashmir that is a different situation, again, although of course it has its ramifications in respect of any situation in which you have got a strong Muslim presence. I hope there that India and Pakistan can come to a set of agreements together which allow them to make progress on that issue too, which I think is possible with the right imagination.
(Mr Blair) I believe President Bush does want to see this move forward, incidentally, but I also entirely agree that the charge that is made against us is one of double standards and it is important that we deal with that. I would also say this, however, that al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups are only using the Palestinian issue. Theirs is not a sincere desire to help the Palestinian problem at all. Indeed, terrorism is one of the things that is holding back a resolution to the Palestinian issue. We have the up-coming Israeli elections and obviously it is difficult to make progress when that is happening, but I hope very much that once we have the new Israeli Government in place we go back to this. We have the road map that is there that the Quartet has put together and I hope we can have that published and move forward because, as I say, I think this is vital in its own terms and, also, in relation to the Arab and Muslim world and the West. What can I say? I think it is a priority and it is something we should do. I also think that this is something that can be sorted.
(Mr Blair) That is why we have got to make sure that those dangers are guarded against. My concept of this is that at the end of the Cold War there has come about a new threat, and that threat is instability; instability, chaos and disorder, either from terrorist groups or from what you might call "rogue" or unstable states. I see two parts to dealing with this: one is that we try and get a consensus internationally that is based on certain key values, and that is the reason why that consensus, in my view, has got to deal not just with the security issues but, also, with issues like the Middle East peace process and global poverty and development. I think you need to get the world around a consensus that allows it to deal with these issues and that stands for order instead of disorder. The second thing that you need to do is to really hit these security and weapons of mass destruction threats hard, but you hit them hard not just by security and military means, you also hit them hard by attacking the ideas and by attacking the breeding ground in which these ideas develop. That is why I think a sensible agenda for the international community is to say: yes, you deal with international terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, but you do not stop the agenda there; you then broaden it into these other issues that give people a sense that the world is coming together around orderly progress and a sense of justice. That is the best way, in the end, of dealing with all these questions to do with terrorism and with weapons of mass destruction because those two security threats are of the same ilk; they are threats that are extreme in nature, where the people or the states concerned can do things that are wholly predictable and very, very dangerous and they are also things where the reason why the terrorists do what they do is not just to cause disruption but, also, to set in train a series of consequences which puts nations against each other or religions against each other or parts of the world against each other. That is why, as I say, what I see as Britain's role in this is to try and get people together and to try and unify people round that type of international consensus; so that we are saying the Americans are not wrong to raise these issues, they are right to raise them, but these are not the only issues we need to tackle. That is where, I think, you can get people coming together. In the end, the only way of dealing with the terrorist is to have the best security that you can, to be prepared to take military action where you need to, but in the end you will only defeat them on the level of ideas as well as the military and intelligence activity.
(Mr Blair) I think we have got to be fair here. President Bush is, as I say, the first President to set out the two state solution. America has co-operated very well in drawing up the road map for the Quartet, and, as I say, I would like to see that published. When we came together, for example, in the Mexico conference on global poverty and development there was a huge commitment from America too. We have got to keep pushing at that the whole time. I think, particularly once the Israeli elections are out of the way, you will find that America tries to push this process forward. Obviously, we should give them every support in trying to do that. In the end I can only set out the position that I set out and think it is important for us to argue. I think, for example, if there were progress on the Middle East there would probably be a more sympathetic hearing for some of the things that have been said on these other issues. I happen to believe they are important in their own right, but in the mind of the broader world what a lot of people say (I think someone said to me a moment or two ago about the double standards) is "Why are you dealing with this and not with that?" My point is you should deal with both. I think if we were to push the international agenda in that way we would find far more ready support for some of the action that I think really is necessary to tackle terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.
(Mr Blair) Well, John, that is exactly what people say but my answer to them is to say no, emphatically, it will not if what people see is an Iraq disarmed of weapons of mass destruction and a regime that has killed more Muslims than any other regime in the world put out of office.
(Mr Blair) No, I do not think it is inevitable at all. I remember people said exactly the same about Afghanistan and it was not. I actually remember having discussions with people who said to me "You do not understand the Afghans and their culture. They will never have British troops on the streets of Kabul; that would be an affront to their culture and their religion, etc." We could not get the British troops off the streets of Kabul. They were coming to us and saying "For goodness sake let the British stay". I am not suggesting that you are engaged in this, but there is a form almost of political and cultural snobbery sometimes that we engage in where we think that these people who are oppressed by these appalling regimes, it is really all in their blood, it is the way they work - it is rubbish! Every time you ever give people the chance of freedom they take it. In Serbia they took it, in Afghanistan they took it. The problems arise when we do not then also try and help them with the aftermath. That I would agree with. I think what is important is if we do end up having to change the regime in Iraq as the only way of disarming Iraq of weapons of mass destruction it is important we then co-operate and help the Iraqi people in the long-term. It would be wrong, I think, if we did not do that. No, I think that people do understand why we are doing this.
(Mr Blair) But, John, is it not time we actually confronted this?
(Mr Blair) You confront it by saying to people "It is absurd to say that we are tackling Saddam Hussain because he is a Muslim".
(Mr Blair) I think, on the contrary, that if Iraq sees the back of Saddam Hussain the people who will rejoice most are the Iraqi people, who are Muslims. There are two separate questions, really, that you are putting to me: one is how do we establish - the question we were talking about earlier - the link between international terrorism and weapons of mass destruction? I have given what I think the link is. I think, in the end, if you allow weapons of mass destruction to proliferate it is only a matter of time before these terrorist groups get hold of them.
(Mr Blair) I said there is no evidence linking al-Qaeda and Iraq, certainly, to the attack on September 11. That is correct. However, that is not the case that I make; the case that I make is that if you allow weapons of mass destruction ----
(Mr Blair) It is not just theoretical. I think the fact is we know that these terrorists would acquire whatever weapons they can. If you do not take a stand on weapons of mass destruction - and it has come to a head around Iraq - then these weapons will be developed ----
(Mr Blair) Of course not, and that comes back to the issue "Why Iraq?" My answer to that is to say because the United Nations has passed resolutions in respect of their holding weapons of mass destruction, and they have used weapons of mass destruction both against another country and against their own people. To come back to the point that you are making - how do we persuade people in the Arab and Muslim world that any attack on Iraq is not to do with the fact that Iraq is a Muslim country - the answer is by going out and explaining to people how absurd this is.
(Mr Blair) Is this really true, that the Arab world regards Saddam Hussain as a hero and a brother? I do not think so.
(Mr Blair) I am not even sure that the Arab street would. I think if you were to speak to the Arab street, what the Arab street would say is "We do not hold any brief for Saddam Hussain but why are you not dealing with the Middle East peace process?" That is what I think they would say, actually.
(Mr Blair) I think it will be a big mistake if we thought that the Arab world was sitting there thinking "We have got to ----
(Mr Blair) He is not; you make your presence felt on all three.
(Mr Blair) We are attacking international terrorism too, I hope. The reason for dealing with Saddam is because of the threat that is posed, is because of the weapons of mass destruction that he is developing and is because of the United Nations' resolution. All I say to you is that the same points have been made to me in respect of every conflict I have ever been involved in. I remember people used to say "Serbia - you just do not understand it. They are attached to Milosevic". It was nonsense, they were not attached to Milosevic at all, and when they got the chance to get rid of him they got rid of him. Iraq is potentially a rich country, its people are an enterprising and entrepreneurial people and they are completely and totally suppressed by a wicked dictatorial regime with no feeling for human life or human rights at all. I am not saying that it is not complicated because you have got people out there saying "Oh well, the only reason they are after Iraq is because of the oil or it is a Muslim country"; of course, that propaganda comes out but our response to that propaganda should be to go out and make our arguments, not to say "Well, all right, as a result of them alleging that we will not bother with it".
(Mr Blair) David, I found from the conversations I had with people at the conference that they are far more focused on the Palestinian issues and disarmament issues. There is discussion, which I read about, about what impact the Iraq conflict would have. They believe it is perfectly possible, irrespective of what happens in Iraq, to make progress on the Middle East if the right energy and activity were there.
(Mr Blair) There are reports to that effect, but I think that the most important thing is that we push the thing on. All I can say is what our Government's policy is, which is that we will push it on as strongly as we can.
(Mr Blair) I think it is more likely. What has actually happened, for example, in relation to Afghanistan is that after the military action there was a reduced flow out; indeed, there has been a flow in. Of course, there are many Iraqis in exile now. As we speak, we simply cannot tell what is going to happen in the next few weeks. The one thing that is very obvious is that as a result of the military build-up and as a result of the determination that we have shown to see this thing through, the regime in Iraq and Saddam are weakening. They are rattled, they are weakening; we are getting a massive amount of intelligence out of there now as to what is happening in Iraq, and I think that is why we have to keep up the pressure every inch of the way. If we let it up at this point in time it will be totally counter-productive and we will find, even if we get to conflict, there is a worse conflict if we show weakness at this stage. That is why I think it is so important that we keep the pressure up. These humanitarian issues are also a very, very important part of what we need to deal with.
(Mr Blair) That is correct.
(Mr Blair) Absolutely, and that is part of the discussion that we have with allies. We have to look at the humanitarian consequences very, very carefully indeed. The only point I would make is there are a lot of Iraqis fleeing Iraq now. I met some of the women who are Iraqi exiles a few weeks ago, and their tales are tales of the most tragic abuse and appalling conditions to which they have been subject. We have got a problem now, frankly, but I agree, obviously, that in the context of conflict it is important to look at the potential humanitarian consequences, and we are doing that with allies.
(Mr Blair) That is a very serious point. That is precisely why part of any preparations is to make it clear, firstly, that the territorial integrity of Iraq is sacrosanct - there must be no changing of that, whatever; secondly, we are in detailed discussion with allies, like Turkey, about these very issues and, thirdly, why we must make sure that we try and do everything we can to follow through. That is why I say military conflict, if it comes to that, is not the end of this issue; there are humanitarian questions, there are questions of what type of government, and all these things have got to be looked at very carefully. We are obviously in detailed discussion with people about them. You are right, there is a whole set of issues that arise in the north and in the south that need to be addressed, but we believe that they can be.
(Mr Blair) Obviously, as I was just saying a moment or two ago, it is very, very important that we maintain territorial integrity. As to the precise nature of any change of government, that is something that we are discussing now.
(Mr Blair) I think it is important that we try to make sure that any potential successor government has the requisite stability but, also, has as broad a representation as possible. However, this is, again, something that we are discussing now. One of the things I am wary about at this point in time is saying "Look, this is exactly what we believe should happen" in circumstances where we have not actually got to the point of saying we should have a conflict.
(Mr Blair) I think it really does depend on the circumstances. What I would say, however, is that you cannot engage in military conflict and ignore the aftermath. In other words, if we get to the stage of military conflict we have also got to have a very proper, worked-out plan as to what happens afterwards and how the international community supports that as well.
(Mr Blair) There are all these issues that have to be addressed. We obviously faced a lot of them in Afghanistan as well - and, indeed, faced them in Kosovo. You were mentioning Northern Ireland rightly, but in Kosovo we went in originally to protect the Kosovo Albanians, who were Muslims, but we then also had to make sure that we protected afterwards the Serbian population in Kosovo too. So these are all things that we will debate and discuss. I think it is important that if we do get to the stage of military conflict we are very clear with people in Iraq about exactly how we see the future of Iraq. That is something for the international community, incidentally, not simply the United States or the United Kingdom.
(Mr Blair) Our position is that it would be a great thing if Saddam went. If I am cautious at all about speculating on it, it is because I do not know that that is possible. Obviously the region, Iraq, will be a better place without Saddam, and there is no doubt at all that it is Saddam and his immediate entourage who are insistent on keeping the weapons of mass destruction, because they believe that is one of the ways in which they can repress their local population and retain power in the region.
(Mr Blair) No, of course you would not instinctively oppose it. Having said all that, I do not know that that is what is going to happen. There needs to be a whole series of issues that will be looked at in that connection. You also need to be sure, frankly, that whatever happens afterwards, the issue of weapons of mass destruction is properly dealt with. I do not think there is any doubt at all that if Saddam were to leave there would be general rejoicing everywhere, not least amongst the Iraqi people.
Sir George Young
(Mr Blair) We have got to be clear about that, that is absolutely right. You do not engage in military conflict that may produce regime change unless you are prepared to follow through and work in the aftermath of that regime change to ensure the country is stable and the people are properly looked after.
(Mr Blair) By stage one you mean the military side. Obviously we know, as the military conflict unfolds, if we get to that point, that the test of success does not end with the military conflict. I agree entirely with that.
(Mr Blair) I think that if stage one is successful, then you will find that the international community wants to come behind that and make sure that the Iraqi people are given the chance to develop free from the repression of Saddam. I expect that there will be considerable international support for that, and it is important that we do it. I was always saying in relation to Afghanistan, I think it is incidentally extremely important that we do not take our eye off Afghanistan and what is happening there. Getting rid of the Taliban was not the end, for me. The end is Afghanistan reconstituted as a country that has got its own internal system working properly and does not threaten the outside world. In exactly the same way in Iraq, if we come to changing the regime, if we come to removing Saddam as the only way of dealing with the issue of weapons of mass destruction, then I think it is extremely important that we make the most detailed preparations and work within the international community as to what happens afterwards.
(Mr Blair) Except that you can then withdraw over time. For example, we have reduced our troop deployments in Bosnia significantly. Obviously we do far less in Afghanistan than we were when we were heading up the security force. So I think in terms of our capability, we can do it, but, you know, you choose what you do very carefully, and we try to.
(Mr Blair) Yes, the Commons has not taken a vote in the context of military action.
(Mr Blair) I have got absolutely no doubt at all that in the event of us having military action there will be a vote in the House of Commons. What I am not promising is that you can necessarily do that in all sets of circumstances before the action is taken, for the reasons again that we have gone through a thousand times. But, you know, again in the conflicts we have been involved in in Kosovo and Afghanistan, Parliament has been consulted at every opportunity, and we will continue to do that. It is unthinkable that ----- I mean, no government could engage in a conflict if Parliament was against it, as the Leader of the House was saying a couple of months ago. That is why of course there will be ample opportunity for the House to make its view clear. But I believe that if we take action in the circumstances that I have outlined, we will have support.
(Mr Blair) Do not tie me down to an absolute, specific time, but I have got no doubt that as soon as possible it is right that Parliament expresses its view. As I say, I have never had any difficulty at all with Parliament either being consulted and informed or expressing its view. The only reason I put in a caveat on this in relation to when exactly is that if you had a situation where you had to take action fairly quickly for any reason, the security of the troops obviously comes first, but I think that is accepted by people.
(Mr Blair) I think we are about to get to one of these areas where we may have a disagreement with the United States. I think we have different systems, and I do not really see any reason to change the present system.
(Mr Blair) Well, as I said to you a moment or two ago, I cannot think of a set of circumstances in which a Government can go to war without the support of Parliament, so I do not think it is real. I think you can get into a great constitutional argument about this, but the reality is that Governments are in the end accountable to Parliament, and they are, and they are accountable for any war that they engage in, as they are for anything else.
(Mr Blair) Yes, and there is a right to vote. The question is, do you take that one step further and get rid of the Royal Prerogative? I do not see any reason to change it, but I do really think that in the end it is more theoretical than real, this issue, because the truth is, if Parliament were to say to any Government ----- Supposing in relation to any conflict Parliament voted down the Government over the conflict, as I say, it is just not thinkable that the Government would then continue the conflict. That has been the case all the way through. So I think that even though it may be strictly true to say that the Royal Prerogative means you do it and in strict theory Parliament is not the authority, in the end Parliament is the authority for any Government, and I cannot ----- I mean, can you honestly imagine a set of circumstances in which the Government is defeated by Parliament over a conflict and says, "Well, I'm just ignoring that"?
(Mr Blair) There always are constant votes. I hear what you are saying, Tony, but I do not really have very much to add to what I have said.
Sir Nicholas Winterton
(Mr Blair) I think it is in reality. First of all, there is the issue, do you have to have, or should you have to have - let us leave aside what the constitutional position is, but should you have to have - a vote before troops go into action. What I have said - and I think that this is in line with what other Prime Ministers have said since time immemorial - is that there may be circumstances in which, for the safety and security of your troops, you have to act immediately, you do not go to Parliament. But certainly any Government that has been involved in a conflict has always come to Parliament as soon as is possible and said, "This is why we've taken this action", and then a motion goes down. Of course, once you start the conflict you are in a new situation, and I do not believe realistically that a Government is going to commit troops unless it is pretty sure it has got Parliament with it.
(Mr Blair) I cannot think of an instance in which in a conflict a Government has ever done that. I say that with hesitation, since there are a lot of constitutional experts around the table, but I cannot think of a situation in which they ever have. I think this is a perfectly interesting debate, and obviously we will hear carefully how your Procedure Committee is going to deal with this specific issue.
(Mr Blair) Obviously I will study carefully what is said. All I am saying is, I am just giving my honest assessment. I cannot think of a set of circumstances in which a Government is going to do this without going to Parliament.
(Mr Blair) There will be no change to that position at all. It is a succinct answer.
(Mr Blair) There is no way that will alter.
Sir Archy Kirkwood: Prime Minister, can I bring you back to the slightly calmer waters so far of the changing European scene?
Chairman: Gerald, you indicated you wanted to add something on the Royal Prerogative.
(Mr Blair) I agree with that and only wish I had said it myself. So take that. Score under the record all previous answers and adopt that one.
(Mr Blair) First of all, the NAO report also said there had been significant improvements made. But yes, as a result of what that report said, and in any event as a result of the continuing work, we are looking to see how we can improve the NHS cover.
(Mr Blair) If you will forgive me, I do not think I will get into a scale of one to ten as to how one should assess their ability. I believe they are as equipped as we can be against the risks that we can foresee. I would just like to make this point to you. We are spending hundreds of millions of pounds on trying to prepare ourselves adequately for any potential threat, in relation to vaccines, in relation to protective clothing, in relation to new procedures and so on, but I want to say this to you very, very bluntly. We could spend billions of pounds doing it, we could spend tens of billions of pounds doing it, and we could still not identify where the attack actually is going to come from. So what we need to do is to make every preparation that we realistically can, but there are no limits to the potential threat that you could imagine, and that is why I think that the other part of this, which I think is in the end going to give us a better guarantee of success, to be frank, is that we make every aspect of our security and intelligence information service work as effectively as possible, and I am pleased to say that I think they are doing that.
(Mr Blair) Of course.
(Mr Blair) Of course, and I entirely accept that. That is the reason why, for example, we are employing regional coordinators in each of the regions, to try to make sure that whatever we are doing at the centre is properly explained and worked with throughout the regions as well; why the Civil Contingencies Committee and the two sub-committees that meet under it are the whole time reassessing the measures that we are taking. All I am saying to you in the end is that there is a limit to what you can do to prepare yourself, but we have to do everything we possibly can and reasonably can, and we will do. When these reports come out, we then immediately act on the findings of those reports and take them very seriously.
Mr Leigh: Good, you are going to act on the report. Thank you.
(Mr Blair) I just think that they fit into two different categories. I think what you need is certain national decisions based on expert advise and evidence as to what is necessary throughout different parts of the country, and then you need the regional capability to deliver that. That is why we have been looking at how you have emergency planning groups actually in the regions, the coordinators I mentioned just a moment or two ago, to try to make sure that this is done. I guess you have just got to accept that there are certain things that have got to be at least centrally decided and locally implemented.
(Mr Blair) I think that because the PCTs are still bedding down it is right to give them the chance to work. I have got an open mind on whatever lessons we learn, but I think there will be a time to evaluate that properly on the basis of the PCTs being given some time to work and having a track record upon which we can make a judgement. But I'd be keen to have the PCTs focus on public health as well. For example, I was talking to a group of GPs the other day who, through the collaborative that they have had, which has tried to spread best practice, as a result of certain of the practices going out into their communities and educating people about coronary heart disease, calling in potential suspects for coronary heart disease and actually trying to make sure that they are given the right drugs and treatment, have reduced really significantly the incidence of severe heart attacks in their area. So I think there is a big public health function that they can carry out. Whether that is the best way to carry out all public health functions I think is an open matter for the future.
(Mr Blair) What David Omand does is he coordinates this on behalf of the Civil Service and he brings them all together. Really there are two functions of this. There is first of all to look at what the security threat is and where are we getting intelligence from about potential threats. You can see, even after the terrible tragedy in Manchester a few days ago, that the security services and the police are working together in order to try to deal with that. But then also the other part of it is, on the basis of whatever assessments we have, to try to take any preventive action. That is where you then decide, "Look, it's worth investing in this," whether it is vaccines, or protective clothing or exercises that are being undertaken.
(Mr Blair) No, we should make whatever investment is necessary on the basis of the advice we have, and there is nothing we have been advised to do that we are saying, "Oh, we can't afford that." All I am pointing out, though, is that it is very, very difficult. I think September 11 is quite an interesting example of this, because there has been a lot of discussion about what intelligence was received about September 11, but the truth of the matter is this. Even with the benefit of hindsight, when you piece all the intelligence together, yes, you might have thought something big was going to happen around that time, yes, it was against American interests - and that is with the benefit of hindsight, incidentally, that you would piece all that together - but it was by no means clear, in fact probably you would not have thought it was going to happen in America, but against American interests elsewhere, and what is more, you would have had absolutely no idea as to the nature of the threat and the attack. That is why I say that the first line of defence is the security and intelligence. For the rest we do what we reasonably can and we try and do it as well without alarming people. If you say, "Well it's sensible to look at the Tube and what might happen", people end up saying, "Ah well, they know something's about to happen on the Tube" when it simply is not so.
(Mr Blair) I think the answer really is that ----- I mean, the legislation is important, but we see the actual coordination and provision as the central thing we should concentrate on. However, having said that, we promised that we would bring forward the Civil Contingencies Bill, and we will, but I think that when you look in detail at the issues that could arise there, there are, I think, important structural issues and so on, but the absolute essence and what we put our priority on is trying to identify the exact nature of any attack that might happen and how we best coordinate the response to it.
(Mr Blair) I take what you are saying entirely, Bruce, and will look at it again, and maybe I should write to you and tell you what our plans are as to when it may be introduced. All I say to you is that if there are any inadequacies, we should be dealing with them operationally, but not waiting for legislation in any event. So the legislation may give us something that is a different structure, but any shortcomings or gaps there are in our capability should be remedied without legislation but as a matter of operational efficiency.
Mr George: Our Chairman has speeded me up, Prime Minister. I hope you succeed in speeding up the Civil Service. Thank you very much.
Chairman: I think this will be the last question.
(Mr Blair) No is the answer to the latter point, and I have to point out that actually, as a result of the action in Afghanistan, we are able to return people to Afghanistan in a way that we were not able to do before. On the other point that you make, I think what it does is it underlines the necessity of having had the emergency legislation after September 11. It is only as a result of that legislation that we are able to pick up suspected terrorists and detain them, even without trial. In respect of identity cards, of course all asylum seekers now are fingerprinted and have proper identification. I think there is a long-term question about identity cards that is still under discussion. I think the question is, will it be really effective, and there are issues to do with cost.
(Mr Blair) I think perhaps I had better wait for the Government collectively to come to a view before I launch my own views on it. I think what I would just say is this. I do not think there is any reason in principle against it. I discount the civil liberties argument against it. I think there are no civil liberties objections to having identity cards, but I think there are issues to do with cost and effectiveness that need to be looked at, and those are the issues that we are looking at. I think this is an argument that has gone on for many, many years, but it is important to recognise that in relation to the issue of asylum there is a process of identification now in place.
Chairman: Thank you very much, Prime Minister. It has been very wide ranging. You have been very open in your replies. I apologise to those members of the Committee who did not get in. I let it run. We did have another subject we were going to look at, but I felt the interests and the matters were so important that I should let the Committee try to exhaust its questions, which we still did not do. I thank you again.