Tony Blair And Colin Powell Press Conference
Blair - 'We remain in the coalition as strong and resolute as ever.'
Full transcript of a Press Conference with the Prime Minister Tony Blair and the US Secretary of State Colin Powell.
Below is the full transcript of the press conference.
Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. Can I give a very warm welcome to Secretary of State Colin Powell, and say how pleased we are to see him here. I was very pleased that we were able too to participate in a short, but moving ceremony outside No 10 Downing Street to remember those that lost their lives in the terrible events of 11 September. And I think it as well now, three months on, just to remember those events for a moment. How terrible they were. What a ghastly and evil tragedy it was for people in the United States of America, but how that reverberated right round the world, and the shock and the anger and the disbelief at such a thing, and then to reflect that since that time, the international coalition against terrorism has grown and strengthened.
We have taken the action as you know in Afghanistan that has had the effect of removing the Taliban regime, probably one of the most hateful and repressive regimes the world has ever known, removing them from office, dismantling the Al-Qu'eda network of terror, and giving us at least the chance and opportunity of transforming Afghanistan from a failed state, reliant on terrorism and drugs, to a state where its people, as I say at least have the opportunity, the prospect, of a better future. Now we have still got a lot of work to do there both in a military sense, but also in a political and humanitarian sense. We strongly support the new transitional government that will be taking its place in Kabul in the not too distant future. And we strongly support also the World Food Programme and the measures that have been taken of a humanitarian nature to make sure that we are able to feed and clothe people in Afghanistan whilst this new government takes shape and is able then in time to run the country.
And we remain in the coalition as strong and resolute as ever in our determination to fight terrorism wherever it exists, and in our determination as well to do so in a way that helps people in Afghanistan and elsewhere to a better future. And I would like if I may in the presence of Secretary of State Powell just to pay tribute to America's leadership over these past few months, to their determination, to the successful prosecution of the campaign in Afghanistan, and also to their outstanding courage and wisdom I think in the way that they have proceeded over these few months, and that is something that has caught the admiration not just of people here in this country, Colin, but people right throughout the world.
And once again, welcome, we are delighted to see you hear.
Thank you very much, Mr Prime Minister, it is a pleasure to be here with you this afternoon, and let me thank you for participating in the commemoration ceremony a few moments ago, a reminder of all the lives that were lost three months ago on 11 September. It was an attack, not just against the United States, but against the world. So many British citizens lost their lives that day, and citizens in almost 80 other countries round the world. And the entire world responded. Anyone who believes in democracy and freedom, anyone who believes that this was a horrible, uncivilised series of actions against the civilised world, has come together in this coalition and taken this campaign against terror to Afghanistan to destroy Al-Qu'eda, to destroy the Taliban, and to bring Osama bin Laden to justice. But also to participate in the broader campaign against terrorism throughout the world. And I want to applaud the leadership that Prime Minister Blair has brought to this effort. He spoke out early on behalf of the British Government and the British people, and his leadership was a source of great encouragement to the American people, and I thank him for that.
As the Prime Minister noted, we have had considerable success over the last three months with our campaign in Afghanistan, but there is much more to be done. We have to weed out all elements of Al-Qu'eda, and the Taliban. We have to help this new interim authority take over the interim administration that is coming as a result of the Bonn Agreement, and there is much humanitarian work to be done. And even beyond the humanitarian work we have to all work together to help the people of Afghanistan find a new life, find hope, find a future for the first time in so many years.
And so we are relying with our British friends once again, as we have been so many times in the past, and we thank them for that support and we are pleased that once again we are partners in action for a noble cause. Thank you.
Prime Minister Blair, will Britain lead the international security force either for three months, or for a longer period. Do you think it is vital to be deployed before 22 December when the interim government is expected to take over? And how long do you envision the force being needed in Afghanistan? Is the period short-term, or do you believe that it will need to be there for as long as the two years of the transition?
We have made it clear throughout that once the military campaign has achieved its main objectives and we are certainly in the course of doing that now, that it is vitally important that we maintain the political and the humanitarian tracks. And we have indicated, in principle, a willingness to play a leading role in any UN mandated force to provide stability in Afghanistan. But no formal decisions have been taken yet. There is still an immense amount of detail to be decided and discussions to be had, and we are really not in a position to go into the details of any such mission at this stage. So we have, as I say, and in principle willingness to play a leading role in any such mission, but there are a host of different things that have to be discussed and sorted out and bolted down before we are in a position to do so.
I would simply say this to you however that I think it is immensely important that the military campaign succeeds obviously in our objectives of making sure that the Al-Qu'eda network is shut down for good in Afghanistan. In order to do that we have had to change the regime there in Afghanistan. The new provisional government offers the possibility of an Afghanistan that isn't a failed state, that is a proper and stable partner for people in the region, and we are of course willing, as people that have played a part in this throughout, to try and make that future work for people in Afghanistan. But there are many, many details to be discussed before we are in a position to make any announcement on it.
I wonder if I could ask you about wider than Afghanistan, because that appears to be the next phase. Two points really. Whether Britain would see itself playing a role against Al-Qu'eda cells in places such as Somalia or Sudan or possibly against Iraq. And secondly, whether you both agree that there is an equivalence between the Palestinians carrying out suicide bombings, and Al-Qu'eda as terrorists.
Well, first of all, I should say to you that we have made it absolutely clear our total condemnation of the attacks on Israeli citizens by terrorists and secondly, in respect of Phase 2, I have really got nothing to add to what I have said throughout. We have concentrated on achieving our objectives in Afghanistan. Of course, the battle against international terrorism does not end there, but we will proceed by way of deliberation and consideration with key strategic partners and allies and of course Britain stands willing to play its part in that.
I completely agree and the organisation taking credit for these recent attacks in Israel, Hamas, has been identified by us as a terrorist organisation, so we condemn that kind of activity.
Just to follow up on an earlier question, given the host of things that need to be worked out, then would you preclude any force going in led by - whoever it turns out to be - not being able to go in by 22 December?
Well honestly any force that was going to be significant would take some time to build up but this is an issue that has to be decided relatively quickly. I think the best thing to tell you at the present time is that we are in intense discussions with key partners as to how this might be done, but before we have taken those decisions, and before we have the details sorted out, it is really not wise for us to speculate further. But it is important that the UN mandated force happens. It is important that it provides the stability that people have anticipated, and that is precisely why those discussions are happening. And I simply say to people, when we have made those decisions, then we will announce them in the proper way.
Just to pick you up on that precisely. Are we prepared to play a lead role, is that what we are discussing? And also, if I may, ask you about the British Defence Chief's remarks last night when he talked about differences between the United States and Britain. How would you characterise those differences?
Well, I don't think there are any differences between us in terms of strategy at all. I think what he was saying is that there can be different roles that different countries play in different circumstances, which is a completely different thing. I think that the remarkable thing over the past few months has been not just the degree of accord and agreement between us and the Americans, indeed the whole of the coalition, on how to proceed, but also I would say the co-ordination that there has been and I say this to you very frankly and openly, I have found the American Administration extremely easy to deal with at every single level. Very open, very willing to discuss, very willing to bring coalition partners along with them, and even though America has, for very obvious reasons, taken the lead in the action that has been undertaken, nonetheless I think that international coalition of support for that action, not just in Britain, but round the rest of Europe, and round the rest of the world, is as strong today as it was in the immediate aftermath of 11 September.
Secretary Powell, I wonder if you could tell us whether you have been able to discuss Phase 2 of the war against terrorism with the Prime Minister today, and whether you believe that America's allies are entitled to consultation on action in Somalia or elsewhere. And do you share the view expressed by the Chief of the Defence Staff here in Britain yesterday that al-Qu'eda is still capable of an attack on the scale of the Twin Towers attack despite the progress you have made in Afghanistan.
Obviously we will consult with our coalition partners as we move forward. This is a campaign that we are all allied in and President Bush has made no decisions yet on where we will go in Phase 2 or what the nature of Phase 2 will be, frankly. Phase 1 is demanding enough to get started, doing what we are doing in Afghanistan, going after the financial infrastructure of terrorist organisations around the world, improving our intelligence co-operation and law enforcement co-operation, securing our borders, securing our societies, homeland defence.
We are doing a lot. And you can be sure that as we move forward into a new phase we will consult closely with our friends and allies. I have no particular comment on the Chief of Defence Staff's comments last night. What was the specific issue on it?
He was warning that Al-Qu'eda is still capable of an attack on the scale of the attack on the Twin Towers.
We have made the point all along that Al-Qu'eda is a worldwide organisation, located in dozens of countries, and we won't be finished with our work until every one of those cells in ripped up. Of course it has that capability. With just 19 people who in an infrastructure came together and all became suicide bombers, using planes, and so we have to be on guard, and that is why we cannot rest until we have ripped up Al-Qu'eda, every cell, wherever it is located throughout the world.
Prime Minister, you have talked about the importance of the humanitarian effort in Afghanistan to show the western world's concern for the plight of the civilians there. There is another political issue in the Middle East, and that is in the Holy Land. How does that connect with Phase 2 in terms of a priority to focus a more muscular mediation effort in the Holy Land to again send that same message to the region.
Well, I think that the activities of the American Administration over these past few days have shown their willingness to do what they can. Of course, they have got to have willing partners out there as well. No, I think that is a separate issue from the action that we are pursuing in Afghanistan, but yes of course, we all want to see progress in the Middle East, but it has got to be based on respect for human rights, and an end to terrorism. And I welcome very much the speech that Secretary of State Powell made some weeks ago now, and the follow-up attempts to mediate and play a role out there of the American envoy has been in my view absolutely right. We have just to hope and pray that progress is made.
The only other thing I would add, just to lead on from your question, and the question before, is this. It is just worth emphasising the amount that has been done since 11 September. We are three months on from what was the worst terrorist act the world has ever known, but we have effectively dismantled the Al-Qu'eda terrorist network in Afghanistan, and that was the hub of it. That's where the people were trained, they were often financed out of, and sent from. Yes, we still have to pursue them in different parts of the world as well. That network is not done with yet. But we have played a very significant role already in destroying their major centre of operations. There is a huge amount that has been done to disrupt the financing of terrorism. Each country around the world has been arresting people who are suspected of being complicit in acts of terrorism. Many, many countries around the world, including our own here, are taking action to strengthen our laws against terrorism and, I think this is a point which is fantastically important to emphasise, a message has gone out from the civilised world to terrorists everywhere, we are prepared to act, and when we act we will act effectively. And I think that is a very, very important deterrent. And so yes, it is true, we still have more to do, this battle is never going to be over in just a few months. It will take significant time, but the beginning of it has been remarkably effective, and has achieved a very great deal in quite a short space of time.
(END OF TRANSCRIPT)