Select Committee on Liaison Minutes of Evidence

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 the month?

  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 find—if you will forgive me for a moment going back to Afghanistan—one 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 values.

  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 it.

  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 was right.

  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 sides.

  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.

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