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Tony Blair Warns World Over Iraqi WMD Plans

Prime Minister's Press Conference

The Prime Minister held a third press conference in Sedgefield today (3 September) where he answered questions from journalists.

Mr Blair began by briefing journalists on the situation regarding Iraq, saying:

"The position is this. There is constant dialogue and discussion. We ourselves at every level of government have been and remain in close dialogue with the United States of America about this issue, and where we are in absolute agreement is that Iraq poses a real and a unique threat to the security of the region and the rest of the world."

"But Saddam Hussein is continuing in his efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction, that means a biological, chemical, nuclear weapons capability, that he is in breach of United Nations resolutions and that confronted with this reality we have to face up to it and to deal with it."

"How we deal with it, as I have said to you on many occasions, is under discussion, but that we have to do it is not in doubt. We have to face up to it, we have to deal with it and we will."

Mr Blair added that if the situation developed on Iraq then the 'fullest possible debate will take place, not just in the country but obviously in Parliament and elsewhere'.

The Prime Minister reiterated that Iraq was not just an issue for the United States but an issue for Britain and for the wider world:

"America shouldn't have to face this issue alone, we should face it together."

To read the Prime Minister's opening statement at today's Press Conference please read below. A full transcript of Mr Blair's Press Conference will be available soon.


************

PRIME MINISTER:

I am very pleased to welcome everyone here to Sedgefield for one of the regular press conferences and I would like to thank the school and community college very much for allowing us to have it here. And in particular I am pleased that so many of you have been able to see what is happening in the constituency at the moment and see some of the changes that are being made.

There are a few stereotypes occasionally that people have about the north east and the northern region and I think any of you who have been around it and seen what is actually happening here, those stereotypes are fairly easy to knock down.

I was thrilled to see, for example, the Newcastle-Gateshead double-act named by the Newsweek Magazine as one of the eight most creative cities in the world, and of course there are real problems and challenges in the region, but if those of you who were with me this morning and saw both the combination of technology and new policing in the local constituency, the new community hospital in place of the old one, this school here where you can see all the new playing facilities, it is now a specialist sports college, there is the big investment going into the school, as a result of which the school of course is improving the whole time. And my agent, who used to be the PE Instructor here at the school, I think would be the first to tell you of the changes that have gone on.

So really all I am saying is that there have been a tremendous amount of changes although there are still also great challenges ahead. Just to give you some of the facts about the north east. In the north east unemployment is down by a third since 1997.

The New Deal has cut long term youth unemployment by 70%. There has been somewhere in the region of almost £900 million of inward investment which is helping to create or safeguard 8,000 jobs. We have got thousands more nurses and hundreds more doctors and teachers in this region. Funding for the pupil in the north-east is up by over £650 since 1997, class sizes are down, school standards are rising. We have invested almost half a billion pounds in improving local transport.

And according to the British Crime Survey, the north east is felt to be one of the safest regions in the country and although some crimes have risen in the last year, overall crime is down somewhere in the region of 15 - 20% since 1997.

So we are proud of what we are achieving here. And the original purpose actually of having the press conference here in Sedgefield was to try and say to people yes there are tremendous challenges in our public services, there is a lot more to do, but there are real changes taking place and those changes are taking place as a result of new ways of working, like the private finance initiative, funding the new hospital and a government committed to investment in the public services.

Secondly I would like to take this opportunity on my return from the Sustainable Development Summit in Johannesburg to thank the organisers of the summit and the British team of Ministers and officials who worked frankly flat out around the clock, often right throughout the night, with real dedication and commitment to get to the issues and make sure that we reached an agreement. And as I said there yesterday, and let me just repeat this to you today, the role of summits like this shouldn't be over-stated, but they shouldn't be dismissed either.

I know there has been some comment, well what do these summits really mean, what follows through from it, but without the Rio Summit there wouldn't have been the action on climate change that means for example this country is reducing our greenhouse gas emissions substantially; without the Monterey Summit in Mexico in March of this year there wouldn't have been the massive additional commitment to development aid; without the summit in Canada for the New Partnership for Africa, there wouldn't have been the additional commitment of funds for Africa, the cancellation of debt, and one of the most exciting things that has happened recently, there has been a whole series of conflicts, whether in Angola or the Democratic Republic of Congo, or to an extent in the Sudan, where progress has been made. Now all of that arose out of summits where agreements were concluded.

So I think that what now needs to happen is that we keep the agenda moving forward and push these decisions through and make sure that the principles if you like, the things that we determine in principle at the summit, are actually translated into genuine change on the ground.

Now I also know, I think I would be right in saying, that many of your questions will be on Iraq, so I will just say a few brief words by way of introduction there. I sense that some of you believe we have taken all the key decisions but just haven't got round to telling you. That isn't the case. The position is this. There is constant dialogue and discussion. We ourselves at every level of government have been and remain in close dialogue with the United States of America about this issue, and where we are in absolute agreement is that Iraq poses a real and a unique threat to the security of the region and the rest of the world.

But Saddam Hussein is continuing in his efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction, that means a biological, chemical, nuclear weapons capability, that he is in breach of United Nations resolutions and that confronted with this reality we have to face up to it and to deal with it. How we deal with it, as I have said to you on many occasions, is under discussion, but that we have to do it is not in doubt. We have to face up to it, we have to deal with it and we will.

The issue is then what is the best way of proceeding. Now I can't promise to answer all your questions in detail at this stage because, as I say, key decisions are yet to be taken, but I can and do promise that as the situation develops the fullest possible debate will take place, not just in the country but obviously in Parliament and elsewhere.

Finally I would just remind you by way of opening remarks that I did draw attention to the issue of rogue states and weapons of mass destruction literally in the first statement I made to Parliament following 11 September last year, pointing out that it was becoming a challenge for the international community. I do believe that the threat posed by the current Iraqi regime is real, I believe that it is in the United Kingdom's national interest that the issue is addressed, just as dealing with the terrorists after 11 September was in our national interest, even though the actual terrorist act took place thousands of miles away on the streets of New York, not in London.

But there are a host of perfectly reasonable questions that people are asking about this. How could the regime be changed? What comes after Saddam? The role of the UN. The fate of the Middle East peace process. Relations with the Arab world. Some of these questions can be answered now, but I repeat at present we are at this stage, we are saying clearly that the regime of Saddam Hussein is a threat because it is in breach of the United Nations resolutions on the development of weapons of mass destruction, and that those resolutions are there for a purpose and the regime and Saddam Hussein in particular can't be allowed to get away with that, can't be allowed to continue in breach of them. If we do allow them to continue to be in breach of these resolutions then they will pose a threat not just to the region but to the wider world.

And very, very finally, I would simply say this. This isn't just an issue for the United States, it is an issue for Britain, it is an issue for the wider world. America shouldn't have to face this issue alone, we should face it together.


ENDS

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