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Streets Of London: Talking Nukes And Iraq With JC

From The Streets Of London With Malcolm Aitken

Blair Expected To Follow Bush’s Iraq Folly
Scoop Consults The Sharp End Of UK Politics


British MP Jeremy Corbyn belongs to a coterie of left wing Labour politicians and activists spearheading UK opposition to an attack on Iraq. Mr Corbyn spoke with Scoop recently.

It appears the UK anti-war movement is encouraged, energized and somewhat galvanised by the low support among Brits for an attack on Iraq and for George W Bush: an anti-war demonstration scheduled for 28 September in London is being promoted as Britain’s biggest ever.

However, protest leaders are mobilizing opposition to a course of action it appears increasingly likely Tony Blair will follow regardless. British journalists have speculated that if an attack is put to a vote in the House of Commons, the government will face a huge backbench rebellion.

An early day motion on Iraq (motions are normally used by MPs to draw attention to issues but not voted on) has been signed by 160 MPs concerned about Mr Blair’s approach to the issue. Yet a vote doesn’t appear likely and Mr Blair clearly wants to avoid further discussion.

The PM is sending out mixed messages amid divided public opinion domestically and major parliamentary antagonism. Moreover there’s considerable disagreement across Europe about how to deal with Saddam Hussein.

Recent polls in Germany, for instance, showed between 80 and 90 percent of respondents opposing an attack. The one thing Mr Blair has been persistent with, critics claim, is stifling debate. All indications, though, are serious arguments will erupt at the Labour Party annual conference next month and the government won’t be able to suppress dissent.

Last week US national security advisor Condoleezza Rice talked of a moral case for attacking Iraq and warned that hesitance increased the danger of Saddam constructing weapons of mass destruction.

This was consistent with the new White House line: arms inspections aren’t enough for the US. America wants regime change. Bush maintains this stance despite Russian opposition to war (a $150 billion-plus Iraq-Russian trade deal is in the pipeline) and a reported insistence by UN chief arms officer Hans Blix on Monday that Washington and London were - by banging the war drums so loudly - jeopardizing any possible compromise on Saddam’s part regarding weapons inspections.

Adding to the pressure on Tony Blair in more ways than one, former Nato allied supreme commander Wesley Clark reportedly said yesterday that British support for US action against Saddam was taken for granted.

The MP for Islington North, London, Mr Corbyn is also a well-known peace campaigner and opposed to nuclear weapons. Mr Corbyn says he’s been in CND since he was a teenager. He’s long supported the legal and political settlement of conflicts via the enhancement of democracy at the United Nations.

A nuclear weapons accord signed by Mr Bush and Russian president Vladimir Putin in May will, if jointly ratified, over 10 years cut US and Russian stockpiles to between 1700 and 2200 deployed strategic nuclear warheads, down from current levels of about 6000 each: a two-thirds cut in their respective nuclear arsenals. However, detractors point to the high number of nukes left post-cuts, and the absence of a drive to reduce (smaller) tactical nuclear weapon stocks. When using the word “smaller” it is worth bearing in mind that some of these “small” weapons still have high enough yields to destroy large cities.

Scoop spoke with Mr Corbyn about Iraq and nukes…

Scoop: It’s 57 years since Hiroshima and Nagasaki and nuclear weapons are more prolific than ever. Governments have the power to annihilate hundreds of millions of civilians within hours, that’s the sort of technology we’re talking about. This is what the peace movement and anti-nuclear people are really up against. What can the UK government do to make a realistic contribution to reducing the proliferation of nuclear weapons at this stage?

Jeremy Corbyn: First of all to say that we’re not prepared to use nuclear weapons under any circumstances. Secondly, to actively support the non-proliferation talks taking place around the world and thirdly to say to the United States that we are opposed to them using nuclear weapons and will not provide facilities in support of it, such as Menwith Hill and Fylingdales [US intelligence-gathering bases in England].

Scoop: How defensible is the US first strike policy, given that it’s only really supposedly something they would do in very extenuating circumstances?

JC: I think it’s an extremely dangerous policy, because in reality the US isn’t under threat from any sort of major military attack. The threat to the US as to anybody else comes down to sort of individual acts of terror such as September 11 last year and I think the US and the West as a whole needs to examine the motives behind those groups. If one doesn’t deal with the historic problems of poverty and injustice throughout the Middle East region then we are going to face this for a long time to come. They might catch Bin Laden and al-Qaida but the very acts of bombardment of poor peoples in poor countries will just spawn many more.

Scoop: Should any attack on Iraq or any other perceived rogue state be backed by a UN resolution?

JC: At the very minimum. It should be handled by the UN, not by George Bush.

Scoop: Yes, but the problem, or potential shortcoming with that is the lack of agreement on the UN security council. Saddam Hussein could potentially be much more dangerous than we’d like to imagine but Russia will defend him for its own interests.

JC: Well I think we should also first of all condemn Russia for their activities in Chechnya. It was kind of an unholy deal between Bush and Putin to say nothing about Chechnya in return for his [Putin’s] support. I am not a supporter of Saddam Hussein or his regime in any way, but I do think an attack on Iraq will probably just replace him with another dictator and result in a very large number of civilian casualties. He has offered inspection facilities to the US congress, they should be taken up.

Scoop: They’re not unconditional though are they and they would be Iraqi-led as it were.


JC: Well, they’re not completely unconditional but then neither are inspection facilities for UN weapons inspections of the United States, Britain, or indeed any other country. I think they should be taken up for what they are, see what happens when you’re there and at least try to engage. Kofi Annan managed to head off the last threat by his engagement and preparedness to visit Iraq. Perhaps we should look to him to try to defuse the present crisis.

- Malcolm Aitken is a freelance journalist based in London, England. He can be contacted at MTFAitken@aol.com


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