Examination of Witnesses (Questions 440-459)|
4 JULY 2006
Q440 Sir George Young: So you want
to press for an early response?
Mr Blair: I would like a response
as soon as possible because I do not really see what more there
is to talk about.
Q441 Sir George Young: The end of
Mr Blair: As I say, I do not set
a deadline but it would be interesting if there was an indication
given at tomorrow's meeting, for example, of where the Iranians
really stood on this question.
Sir George Young: Can we move on Guantanamo
and Mohammad Sarwar.
Q442 Mr Sarwar: Prime Minister, an
FBI memo on Guantanamo Bay reported in the New York Times
recently described incidents of abuse involving strangulation,
beatings and the placing of lit cigarettes into detainees' ears.
Three detainees out of despair have committed suicide last month.
In a report last year Amnesty International called the camp "the
Gulag of our times" and for it to be shut down. Our own Attorney
General has called for Guantanamo Bay to be shut down. What is
your response and what are you doing to ensure that Guantanamo
Bay is shut down? That will probably give you the opportunity
to disagree with the American administration loud and clear and
probably give you some positive headlines for the British public!
Mr Blair: Thank you for the kind
offer. Look, I have always made it clear that I think Guantanamo
should close. The trouble is the Americans are going to have to
work out what they do with the particular individuals there, and
that has obviously been complicated by the Supreme Court ruling.
I just hope people do look back and remember how all this arose.
I findif you will forgive me for a moment going back to
Afghanistanone of the most difficult things is people forgetting
September 11 and why we are all talking about these issues today;
we tend to forget about them. However, having said that, quite
apart from anything else, I do not think it is sensible for the
US to continue this for a moment longer than it need.
Q443 Sir George Young: Prime Minister,
you described Guantanamo as an anomaly, the Attorney General has
said it was unacceptable, do you agree with him?
Mr Blair: Well, obviously I agree
with what I said myself. As for what the Attorney said, I have
just said now, and in fact I have always said, I think it is better
that it closed but there is a problem. This did arise out of the
worst terrorist act the world has ever known and 3,000 people
dying on the streets of New York.
Sir George Young: On a related theme,
can we move on to US-UK relationships, Sir Patrick Cormack.
Q444 Sir Patrick Cormack: Prime Minister,
it is reassuring to know you agree with yourself.
Mr Blair: It is not always the
case actually, but anyway.
Q445 Sir Patrick Cormack: We cannot
go into that at the moment. It is 4 July and perhaps we can look
at the United States' relations with this country. You have forged
a particularly close relationship with President Bush. As one
of those who gave you strong support over Iraq, and I do not in
any way regret that, I do feel that many things have gone perhaps
not as you or I would have wished them. At your joint press conference
on 26 May the President was really very apologetic over a number
of areas, do you endorse that line?
Mr Blair: I think he was saying,
which is his absolute right to say, that he regretted using certain
phrases. I do not think he was meaning to regret the decisions
that had been taken.
Q446 Sir Patrick Cormack: No, I am
not suggesting he was.
Mr Blair: I have a different view
from the view that many people take. I think September 11 was
an attack upon the whole Western world. I think our right place
was shoulder to shoulder with America, since then I have never
changed my view. It was my view then, it is my view now. I think
everything we have been discussing today around a whole series
of related issues comes back to a fundamental question which is
whether the West is prepared to stand up for its values that are
not values to do with one religion or one race but are universal
Q447 Sir Patrick Cormack: Prime Minister,
I hope that view will be widely echoed but because of your very
strong support for the United States you were given a singular
honour, you were given the Congressional Medal of Honour, no less,
one of very, very few non United States citizens to have this
great honour. You graciously accepted it but you have never been
to collect it, why?
Mr Blair: I am always mystified
when I am asked about this. I do feel a deep sense of honour that
I have been awarded a Congressional Medal.
Q448 Sir Patrick Cormack: You have
been to the States.
Mr Blair: Absolutely but, as I
understand it, there is a ceremony which has to be gone through
and I have got other pressing things to do, frankly.
Q449 Sir Patrick Cormack: I am sure
they could lay it on next time you go over.
Mr Blair: I am sure they can.
I do not quite know what people think, whether they think I am
not accepting it because I am embarrassed to accept it, I am very
honoured to have it. It is nonsense. It is not as if my support
of America or my belief in the transatlantic alliance is a sort
of well-kept secret. My view of this country in the early 21st
century is you have got two big relationships, one is with Europe,
the other is with America, keep both of them really strong.
Q450 Sir Patrick Cormack: Yes, we
are very pleased you have got your gong.
Mr Blair: The Congressional Medal
to me is not
Q451 Sir Patrick Cormack: It is symbolic,
Prime Minister, so perhaps you will give this Liaison Committee
a promise that next time you go over you will happily receive
Mr Blair: I do not think that
I can give you that assurance because it depends what else I am
doing. None of that should be taken as anything other than simply
that I have got a busy agenda. It is not that I am in the least
not bothered, I am clearly honoured to have it.
Q452 Sir Patrick Cormack: You are
not normally bashful, it will not take very long.
Mr Blair: I do not know.
Q453 Sir Patrick Cormack: We await
seeing you receive it with great interest. July 4 is the time
to say you will take it.
Mr Blair: No doubt I will at some
point but when that is, I do not know.
Q454 Mr Beith: When your press office
allows you to.
Mr Blair: It has got absolutely
nothing to do with that. It is to do with the fact you have to
set time aside to do that. The last time I was in the States I
was in and out pretty quickly and I had a big lecture to give
at Georgetown University and, frankly, there are lots of other
things to do.
Q455 Sir George Young: Prime Minister,
on the point Sir Patrick raised about our relationship with the
US, you have always made it clear that you have supported US policy
not because you want anything in return but because you felt it
Mr Blair: Correct.
Q456 Sir George Young: Nonetheless,
on a number of key issues, the ITAR waiver, US-UK American Airline
services, the imposition of steel tariffs, the day our marines
went into Afghanistan, you must have been disappointed at the
response from the United States to representations from yourself.
Have you got as much out of the relationship as you had expected
or hoped for?
Mr Blair: First of all, there
are trade issues which have gone on forever and a day between
the UK and America and that will continue. I think it is very
worrying. We were talking about opinion polls earlier, I think
some of the polls to do with this country's support for America
are worrying to me, and attitudes to America. I think we should
just realise that this relationship is one that we should be very
proud of and very committed to. If people just think of the substitutes
for the American relationship for a moment, I cannot see any,
and I would be grateful to hear any suggestions of what they are.
I can go and give you a list of things that I think we have managed
to achieve, certain changes in policy as a result of what happens
with America or not, but that is not the point, as you rightly
say, it should not be done on the basis of what you get back,
it should be done on the basis of what is right.
Sir George Young: Can we have a quick
question on Israel and Palestine from Mike Gapes.
Q457 Mike Gapes: Prime Minister,
the situation in Gaza is extremely serious, can you update us
on firstly what our Government is doing to try to deal with the
situation but also when the Israelis withdrew unilaterally last
year many people, and you were amongst them, said "Well,
at least this is a step in the right direction". Does the
current situation in Gaza not show the limitations of unilateralism
on all sides?
Mr Blair: You are completely right.
First of all, what we are doing is, along with other allies, trying
to calm the situation, get the particular soldier released obviously,
to make sure that what is happening to the Palestinians is also
that there is a draw back on both sides because what is happening
is ghastly and terrible. The one thing I would say, in this one
respect I think there is a real issue to do with the West and
the Muslim world. I think there is no more important issue to
sort out than this. If we do not do our best as an international
community to sort it out, and I do not think we are doing enough
at the moment, then we will pay and I think we do pay a very heavy
price in terms of our relations with the Arab and Muslim world.
Now, none of that means to say I am anything other than a committed
supporter of the existence of the state of Israel, because I am,
but I think this will not be resolved, in my view, unless from
the outside the international community and in particular the
US grip the situation. This cannot be resolved simply by the two
Sir George Young: Can we have a quick
supplementary from Mohammad Sarwar.
Q458 Mr Sarwar: Prime Minister, Israeli
air strikes against the infrastructure in Gaza, including the
bombing of the territory's only power station and demolition of
bridges, has led to the Palestinian people being deprived of power
and water supply. This collective punishment has caused immense
suffering to innocent men, women and children. Do you agree that
this is the worst example of might is right and love generally?
Mr Blair: I agree with this, that
unless we manage to get the situation into a different position
then the Israelis are going to continue to take punitive action
and the Palestinians are going to continue to have a burning sense
of injustice. Now I have learned enough about this situation over
the years to realise that going in and condemning either side
is not deeply helpful. One plea I would make in this area, we
were talking earlier about Northern Ireland, in respect of Northern
Ireland the basic problem, which is why it has been a difficult
negotiation, is that there is no agreement about the final negotiation.
One part wants to be with the united Ireland, the other part wants
to be with the United Kingdom. What frustrates me more than anything
else about the Israeli-Palestinian situation is there is agreement
about the final outcome. That is why I say the international community
has just got to focus on this with a completely different order
of magnitude because there is no reason why the Palestinians should
not have their state, they are an incredibly industrious, hard-working
people. The Diaspora of Palestinians around the world is testimony
to that. Of course Israel has to protect its security. It is a
situation where I really fear if we do not grip it as an international
community then it is going to disintegrate, and it is going to
disintegrate in circumstances where in fact there was agreement
about the ultimate negotiation.
Q459 Sir George Young: Prime Minister,
can I ask you a last question before I bring in John McFall for
a final one. Over the last nine sessions we have asked you intensively
about foreign policy. Much of it has been very controversial,
it has precipitated Cabinet resignations, some of it has split
your party, and it is a foreign policy with a very strong personal
imprint. What assurance can anyone have that it might survive
a leadership change?
Mr Blair: It depends on the person
who takes the decisions. I may be wrong in this but I think the
basic position of this country, and in particular its alliance
with America, is something that any person who does the job will
feel very strongly and very keenly. Personally I believe that
we will continue it, and if I think of any of the potential successors
I am sure that will be the case.