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Tony Blair Iraq Press Conference - Full Transcript

Prime Minister's Press Conference


The Prime Minister has held a press conference in Sedgefield where he answered questions from journalists.

OPENING STATEMENT:

PRIME MINISTER:

I am very pleased to welcome everyone here to Sedgefield for one of the regular press conferences. I would like to thank the school and community college very much for allowing us to have it here. 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. Of course there are real problems and challenges in the region, but those of you who were with me this morning 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 has been a tremendous amount of change 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 pupils 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. The original purpose actually of having the press conference here in Sedgefield was to try to 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 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, 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.


QUESTION:

Prime Minister, during the course of August public opinion has apparently moved even further against the idea of a strike on Iraq, and that is partly because people feel there hasn't been much evidence. We have heard again and again that there is a dossier of evidence about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction, why haven't we got it up to now and when are we going to see it?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think that is a good point. The fact is whatever time lines we have been working on as leaders if you like, it is clear that the debate has moved now. Originally I had the intention that we wouldn't get round to publishing the dossier until we had actually taken the key decisions. I think probably it is a better idea to bring that forward. A lot of the work has already been done, there needs to be some more work and some more checking done, but I think probably the best thing to do is to publish that within the next few weeks. And I think when that happens that people will see that there is no doubt at all, the United Nations resolutions that Saddam is in breach of, are there for a purpose. He is without any question still trying to develop that chemical, biological, potentially nuclear capability and to allow him to do so without any let or hindrance, just to say we can carry on and do it, I think would be irresponsible. Now as I say, then how you deal with it is another matter. But I think people will see very clearly both the nature of the regime and with an addition to the evidence already there from previous weapons inspections, which didn't account of course for all of the chemical and biological stocks, there is a real and existing threat that we have to deal with.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, is it wise to deal with the question of terror and the Saddam Hussein regime while the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is still the concern of the majority of the Arab people? And are you concerned at all by this negative media campaign led by certain circles here in the UK and the USA against Saudi Arabia?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well you know that Saudi Arabia has been a key partner of the UK and will continue to be so and I guess we all suffer from a bit of negative media reaction from time to time, but that relationship is very strong between Britain and Saudi Arabia, between the US and Saudi Arabia, and I believe it will continue so. The other point that you make I think is a very sensible point. Look, they are different issues in the sense that it is important that we deal with the threat posed by weapons of mass destruction and the breach by Saddam Hussein of the United Nations resolutions. It is important that we deal with that and that is a separate issue from the issue of the Palestinians.

On the other hand, I do totally understand the feelings within the Arab world that the issue of the Middle East peace process, the relationship between the Israelis and the Palestinians is a key issue. That is why I have constantly said that we should make every effort to put a proper peace process together and get it moving forward and I hope very much that we will do that. Because although as I say I don't think they are connected directly, it is certainly true that many people in the Arab world feel that we must address this issue.

I think there are many people in Israel and many parts of Jewish opinion who also want the issue dealt with. This is a situation that is tragic for both sides. So I certainly believe that we should try and push forward as much as we possibly can on the Middle East, that is my constant plea and we will do whatever we can in order to ensure that. Because I think the two things are perfectly consistent, there should be a just solution in the Middle East and we should deal with the weapons of mass destruction.

QUESTION:

One of the concerns that unites this very wide coalition concerned about the war is the thought that you should go to the UN to seek some sort of mandate before conflict of any sort takes place. Why can't you give that commitment?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, the most important thing is that whatever we do we do with the broadest possible basis of support, that is clear, that is what we did in Kosovo, that is what we did in Afghanistan, we had the international community with us and obviously it is better to have the international community with us again. The important thing, however, because this is a problem for the world, is that the United Nations has to be the route to deal with this problem, not a way of people avoiding dealing with this problem. After all it is the United Nations resolutions that Saddam is in breach of. So it makes perfect sense to say that this is an issue for the international community and should be dealt with in that way. All I am saying is it has to be dealt with because we cannot have a situation where people simply turn a blind eye to a situation in which Iraq continues to develop these weapons. I will say a bit more about that later, but you know it is worth at some point just going through for people the history of the last 10 years and then I think we answer the other point that I think people make perfectly reasonably,which is why now is this a really important question.

QUESTION:

You spoke in your opening remarks about what comes after Saddam Hussein, does that mean that regime change, the removal of Saddam Hussein is now a British foreign policy aim? And just specifically on the question of the United Nations, do you believe that as things stand now, without further provocation, that Britain would be justified in taking part in a military attack under international law on Iraq?

PRIME MINISTER:

We haven't got to the decisions yet on precisely how we deal with this, as I said a moment or two ago, but be under no doubt at all that we do have to deal with it. As I said just a moment ago, the best way of dealing with this is with the fullest support of the international community. The United Nations makes sense for us to deal with it in that way, but only if it is the way of dealing with it, only if we can make sure that the international community as a whole is prepared to face up to the consequences of the continued breach of its own resolutions, the United Nations resolutions, and the insistence that Iraq comes into compliance.

Now in relation to all these other issues, in relation to regime change, look the key objective for us is to deal with the threat. What is the threat? The threat is an Iraq that carries on building up chemical, biological, nuclear weapons capability. And some of the talk about this in the past few weeks, I have to say has astonished me. Let's just be clear about the nature of the regime that we are dealing with. You would think from some of the discussion that we were dealing with some benign liberal democracy out in Iraq.

We are dealing with a regime that routinely tortures and executes its political opponents, that probably was responsible for up to 100,000 Kurdish people dying in a brutal campaign in order to enforce Iraqi rule, we are talking about a regime that was responsible for a million people dying in the Iran-Iraq war, the annexation of Kuwait and that we know, because this is why the resolutions are there, was trying to develop these appalling weapons and indeed actually used these weapons against their own people. Now the issue is making sure it is not a threat and either the regime starts to function in an entirely different way, and there hasn't been much sign of that, or the regime has to change. That is the choice, very simply.

QUESTION:

We know that Saddam Hussein has an established record for developing weapons of chemical and biological potential, will we see in the dossier any evidence that you have gleaned in the last 4 years that he has moved any further down the route to nuclear weapons? And will you be moving in the near future to meet President Bush to discuss this?

PRIME MINISTER:

On the latter point, we are in constant discussion and have been throughout. I don't want to comment on any possible meetings and when they might take place. In respect of the first, obviously we will produce what evidence we have. The important thing to realise is that there is no doubt that at some point the Iraqi regime were trying to develop nuclear weapons capability, that is why the actual nuclear weapons inspectors went in there and shut down parts of their programme, and I believe that there is evidence that they will acquire nuclear weapons capability if they possibly can.

Now we will provide what support we can for that, although of course the absence of inspectors being in there means there is necessarily a limit. But I don't think we should be in any doubt about the nature of this regime, they will acquire whatever weapons they possibly can. And people sometimes say, well why is Saddam uniquely a threat in relation to weapons of mass destruction? Well one reason is that he has actually used these weapons, he killed thousands of people in a chemical weapons attack on his own people, and certainly they were trying to obtain a nuclear weapons capability. I think there is some evidence that they continue to do so, but I will return to that at a later stage.

QUESTION:

Iran is a country in the midst of change. A recent Interior Ministry poll done inside Iran indicated that over 90% of the population is dissatisfied with the system, including the current government. What are your views and do you have a special message for those young Iranians who are simply going out into the streets in support of freedom and democracy?

PRIME MINISTER:

I feel very deeply for people who are in the situation of being deprived of their basic rights. I think there are elements in Iran who want change and I think those elements that want change it is important for us to support, and I hope very much that the bulk, I am sure the majority of Iranian people want to live in peace and security and in a democracy are able at some point to secure that. As I say, we ourselves have had links with the Iranian regime over the past couple of years where we have tried to say why we think it is important that the elements that are engaged in a process of change are encouraged.

I can't really say more than that to you. Perhaps in relation to what we] were discussing a moment or two ago though we should just reflect that as a result of the dictatorship in Iraq the Iran-Iraq war cost many, many hundreds of thousands of lives of totally innocent people and as it transpired, for absolutely nothing, and I feel very sorry for people in that predicament.

QUESTION:

Do you understand the worries of the people in this country who hear you talking about the development of weapons of mass destruction and fear that just because we are such a loyal ally of America that if there were to be an attack and we were to support it, that we would then become a target?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, I would never support anything I thought was wrong out of some blind loyalty to the US. But I want to say this about our relationship with the United States. Again some of what I read, let's not beat - I was going to say beat around the bush - let's not beat around the bush about it, a lot of it is just straightforward anti-Americanism, and the reason why I supported the United States of America after 11 September was because it was the right thing to do. International terrorism executed its worst atrocity on the streets of America, but that was an attack on the whole of the free and civilised world. And America should not have to face these problems alone, the whole of the international community has a responsibility to deal with it. And here we have a situation again, you would think with the debate going on in the past few weeks it was somehow us who were in breach of the United Nations resolutions and Saddam who was wanting compliance.

For a long period of time we have done our best to contain that threat, though it is increasingly difficult to do it without inspectors being back in there with a proper regime on the ground that alters the way the regime behaves. The Americans in raising this issue are not wrong, they are right. And the reason why our place is beside them in addressing this issue is not because of some misplaced allegiance or because of blind loyalty, it is because it is the right thing to do. And if 11 September teaches us anything, it teaches us the importance of not waiting for the threat to materialise but when we can see the signs of that threat in front of us dealing with it, and how we deal with it, as I say, is an open question, but that we have to deal with it isn't. And I don't think, again there is all this talk about Britain and America and whether we are too loyal towards America, to me that is a concept from people who aren't thinking the thing through. These issues are being raised rightly by the United States, they are raised by us too. We posed the question - was 11 September a threat to British national security or not? My answer to that is yes, it wasn't just a threat to America, they could perfectly easily have done it in London, or Berlin, or Paris or anywhere. And therefore it is right that we respond to it together and when people attack America and say why do they act unilaterally and all the rest of it, I actually haven't found on these issues of security they do that at all, for reasons again I am happy to explain in a moment.

But America shouldn't be left to face these issues alone, the rest of the world has a responsibility, not just America, to deal with this. And if Britain and if Europe want to be taken seriously as people facing up to these issues too, then our place is facing them with America, in partnership but with America.

QUESTION:

We recently did a poll of 1,000 people in your constituency, or nearly 1,000 people, and 64% thought you would be wrong to support an attack on Iraq, just 17 thought you would be correct. How do you reconcile what local people are saying with the increasingly bellicose noises out of America?

PRIME MINISTER:

I reconcile it in this way, that when we actually get to the point of proposing a specific mission then that is the time I think that people will really make up their minds. And as I say at the moment I would divide opposition to this into two quite separate groups. There is one group of people who are the people who opposed what we did in Kosovo, who opposed what we did in Afghanistan, some of them opposed the previous military action against Saddam Hussein when he annexed Kuwait.

Now those people are never going to be in favour of it. There is then a separate group of people, people like Donald Anderson who is the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, Gerald Kaufman and others, who are asking perfectly reasonable questions. They are saying you have got to get the context right and the circumstances right and you have got to provide the evidence and so on, well these are entirely reasonable questions and those are the questions that we obviously have to answer before we embark on any action. But at the moment the first question of principle that has to be decided is this, is the fact that he is in breach of these United Nations resolutions, is the fact that he continues to develop weapons of mass destruction, chemical, biological, potentially nuclear capability, is that something that we have to act on? Now once that question is answered yes then we get lots of debate about the ways of doing it. What we can't have is people burying their heads in the sand and saying we don't have to act on it at all.

QUESTION:

GMTV this week commissioned a poll and in fact 71% of the British public said they would be against British involvement in any attack on Iraq. Would you be prepared to send British troops into the region without full public support?

PRIME MINISTER:

Of course it is important that before we take any action that we make the case to the public. All I say to you is that we are not at the stage of taking that decision at the moment. So what is happening in a way, that is why I was saying to people earlier, and what has happened totally understandably incidentally is that the time lines are different. Everyone is debating this as if all the decisions were taken and then you know they are having the debate, but actually we are not in that position yet. The decision that has been taken is that Saddam should not be allowed to carry on in breach of these resolutions. And what would be interesting is if you went back to your viewers and polled them on whether he should be allowed to continue to be in breach of resolutions on chemical, biological and nuclear weapons capability, whether they would reply yes or no to that, because I suspect they would say no we have to deal with this thing. And all that is happening is that people are then asking as I say perfectly sensible questions about making sure that any action we do take is effective.

QUESTION:

Could I just clarify what our goal is in this situation. Are we trying to get the weapons inspectors back in and is that sufficient, because as you know Dick Cheney has been making some different remarks in America, particularly saying the return of weapons inspectors would provide no reassurance whatsoever. Can you clarify what we are at here? And secondly, what you have been saying so far about the UN seems to imply we will go to the UN if we think we will get this through, but if there is the likelihood of a veto we will go ahead without the support of the UN, is that correct?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, what we are simply saying is this, that this is a problem for all the international community and we have to deal with it as an international community and it is him that is in breach of the United Nations resolutions and what the UN has got to be is a way of dealing with it, not a way of avoiding dealing with it. On the first point, however, back in March in Crawford in Texas I made it clear that the weapons inspectors had to go back in unconditionally, any time, any place, anywhere, and incidentally that is precisely what the United Nations resolutions say, they say there should be unrestricted unconditional access for weapons inspectors. The point that Dick Cheney and others are making, again perfectly reasonably, is because of the way he has messed about with these weapons inspections over a long period of time, we have to be sure that if you put back in some regime it is going to be effective, because this is perhaps where it is right for me to deal with the thing that I mentioned just a moment or two ago.

I think one of the things that really troubles people here is they say look, Saddam Hussein, it was 10 years ago the Gulf War, why now, why is this a problem now? And the answer to that is it is not that for 10 years he has not been a problem, he has been a problem throughout the last 10 years. Now we got weapons inspectors back in for a time, some of the nuclear weapons facilities were shut down, but the reason why eventually we came to the point in 1998 if you remember when we took military action was because the inspectors couldn't do their work any more, they weren't being allowed access to certain facilities, there were certain sites that we were being told they were off-limits to, they weren't being given unrestricted access, they couldn't do their job. That is why we took military action then in order to destroy some of the facilities that were there and degrade the weapons of mass destruction capability.

Since then, again this hasn't hit the headlines, but there has been continual negotiation about new United Nations resolutions, it was I think in May this year that we got a new sanctions list together on Iraq. But containment of Saddam has worked up to a point, but there is a point beyond which it hasn't worked because the inspectors aren't in there, we don't really know what is happening now, there are huge amounts of stocks of chemical, biological weapons unaccounted for, and we know that the amount of money that he is illicitly, outside of the UN sanctions regime, getting his hands on is growing the whole time.

Indeed I can have these figures checked up for you, but I think I am] right in saying that a couple of years ago we reckoned there was somewhere in the region of $1.8 billion of illicit money coming to the Iraqi regime, we think that is probably $3 billion illicitly now. So it is not that this problem has as it were gone away for 10 years and now suddenly we have decided to invent it and it has come back again, this is a problem that has been going for a long period of time. What has changed is one, that the policy of containment isn't any longer working, certainly without a massive change in the way that the regime is monitored and inspected; and secondly, we know from 11 September that it is sensible to deal with these problems before, not after. And as we are coming up to the anniversary of that perhaps it is something to bear even more in mind.

QUESTION:

Are there details hitherto unpublished in the dossier that you are releasing about Saddam Hussein's accrual of weapons of mass destruction and can you give us some indication of what might be in there? And if that is the case and he has continued on that process there must be a question of time that you have left to allow the present situation to continue. Are you attracted to the idea of imposing some kind of deadline?

PRIME MINISTER:

It is a good question. There are obviously issues of time in relation to it but we haven't got to the stage of taking decisions on how you would approach this and what the right form to do that is. But again perhaps in advance of whatever we put out to people, I suggest people go back and look at the published material. On the chemical and biological side, as I say we can't be quite sure what is happening on the nuclear side for the reasons that I gave earlier, but on the biological and chemical weapons side there is no doubt about it, there are vast stocks of these weapons unaccounted for by the previous weapons inspectors.

And in addition there is real concern that there is ballistic missile technology that they are trying to acquire. And again what I say to people is that if this was a regime that was trying to acquire these weapons of mass destruction but had a record of peaceful co-existence with its neighbours, well you might take a slightly different view, but it is not, it is a regime that every time it is allowed out of its box basically starts a war of aggression.

QUESTION:

Is it not the case that you are waiting for a somewhat divided US administration to make up its mind about whether a fresh UN resolution is needed before you actually come out and express your own personal opinion that one is needed. You have said several times in this press conference that we should only go down the road of a fresh UN resolution if it is not going to prove an obstacle, but can you name any country in the UN Security Council which really does pose any kind of obstacle to a fresh and workable UN resolution on Iraq being passed?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well let's wait and see, James, let's wait and see what happens on that front. I think we are entitled to perhaps some trust as a result of what has happened before. There have been two major pieces of military action that I have been involved in, one has been Kosovo, the other has been Afghanistan, and on both occasions not merely did we have the fullest possible debate in all the forums that you would expect that debate to take place, we acted with broad international support. Now I believe it is possible to get that broad international support again.

But of course we do have to make sure that that support is there for doing what the international community has already declared should be done, and it is not that anyone is waiting for anyone to make up their mind, the principle is basically clear, of course it is better to do this with the broadest possible basis of international support, that is true, but it does have to be done and we have to make sure that there aren't people who are simply going to turn a blind eye to this because that would be wrong and dangerous and I believe it would be dangerous for this country. And I also think one of the things that recent experience teaches us is that there is no such thing now, with the possible exception of some of those terrible conflicts in Africa that we are trying to sort out, there is no such thing as a regional conflict that stays regional. If you think of the issue between India and Pakistan, there was a reason why earlier this year I spent a long period of time trying to sort that out. It affects us. If you get a serious conflagration in the Gulf it will affect us. The Israel-Palestine situation affects us now, that is one of the reasons why we in my view have got to redouble our efforts in order to get the thing put in a different place. That is why this country's interests are engaged here. The reason why I support America raising this issue is because I think America is right, the reason why I supported America after 11 September is because I think it was in our country's, the British national interest to do so, and I think it is in our British national interest to confront this issue now.

QUESTION:

I was wondering, you were talking about the coalition that was built last year after 11 September, do you think that coalition is still valid, talking about the Permanent Members of the Security Council for example, how many of them would actually go along with supporting US, UK intervention? And secondly if I may add, don't you think a number of European countries think that there is a US political agenda into going to a conflict just after the Congressional elections in America?

PRIME MINISTER:

There may be people who think that but I totally discount it and no-one should think that. I think actually the vast majority of people, when they go through the steps logically, will agree. One, there is a real threat, that is why the UN resolutions are there; two, we have to deal with that threat; three, as I say and I said this back in March, weapons inspectors should go back in unconditionally, any time, any place, anywhere under a weapons inspection regime that really makes a difference; four, if the Iraqis refuse that then we have to find a different way of dealing with it. But I don't think you will find many people when they really sit down and think about it that will say it is not an issue, we don't have to worry about it, because we do have to worry about it.

QUESTION:

Wouldn't the west claim the high moral ground if they were to allow the weapons inspectors back into Iraq, after all Iraq have expressed just recently their willingness to accept them and the European Union, even the Secretary of State, Colin Powell, has hinted recently to something like that. And secondly, most of the leaders of the Arab countries, including Hosni Mubarak, have just recently warned against any military action against Iraq and he said that the situation in the region would be worse if such an action would take place. What assurances do you give those leaders and those countries in particular?

PRIME MINISTER:

In relation to that latter point, I think the real concern there is amongst many Arab countries is to do with the Israel-Palestine situation and their worry about that, and I think the best way of dealing with that is we try and put that on a just and fair footing for the future.

But in relation to the first point, the Iraqi regime know perfectly well what they have to do. There is no negotiation about this. They have a complete and total obligation to let the weapons inspectors back in any time, any place, anywhere. They have had that obligation for 10 years, it is there in the United Nations resolutions, it doesn't need to be negotiated now. And the very worry that people have is that what the Iraqi regime will do is they will prevaricate, they will try and negotiate, they will try and conceal, they will do what they have been doing basically for 10 years. Now nobody should be in any doubt at all that if we go down this route and try to secure the broadest international support, there is not going to be a negotiation about the existing UN resolutions, they are going to have to be complied with fully under a regime that actually works. And when I hear comments from the Iraqis saying yes well we are prepared to consider this, we will have a look at it, it is not a question of being prepared to consider it and have a look at it, they know what they have to do. Anyone would think, again reading some of their public comments, that somehow they were mystified by what the international community was demanding of them. They are not mystified, it is there. There are 9 resolutions, there are 27 demands, they haven't met 23 of them, and each of those demands is based on fact. You see again in 1995 I think it was when the Iraqis started to admit the full extent of their nuclear, biological, chemical weapons, why did they do it? Because someone defected and started to spill the beans on exactly what they were up to. Now we haven't had weapons inspectors in there for 4 years, in breach of the United Nations resolutions they have not been in there for 4 years.

With this regime that is a situation that cannot continue. I appreciate all the difficulties, and again I would say that looking back on the past few years, the thing that any leader hesitates more than any other decision you take, is if you ever commit people to military action, so it is something you take as the last resort when it is impossible to see any other way out. But you also know that where you are faced with a threat and a menace you have to deal with it. Now as I say, there is an open discussion now about how that threat is dealt with, but it does have to be dealt with.

QUESTION:

A series of opinion polls over the summer have showed that opinion against British involvement in any military action against Iraq has hardened considerably. You say you will publish a dossier within the next few weeks, you at the same time appear to be saying there is actually not going to be much new in that dossier. Can you here today offer one piece of evidence, just one single piece of evidence, that might help convince the 71% of people polled by GMTV and the Daily Mirror earlier this week that action is necessary?

PRIME MINISTER:

The one piece of evidence is that they are in breach of 23 of the demands that the UN has made in respect of their weapons, chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. The second piece of evidence is that we know that vast amounts of chemical and biological weapons stocks are unaccounted for. The third piece of evidence is that every time they haven't been contained they have gone out and attacked people. The fourth piece of evidence is that they are the only regime I know of anywhere in the world that has actually used these weapons in order to kill thousands of innocent people. And a further piece of evidence to my mind which is pretty important is that you might think faced with the threat from America and Britain and elsewhere, you might think there could just be a reason why they are not letting the inspection take place, and it might just be that the reason they are not letting the inspection take place is that the last time the inspectors were in there, they uncovered so much that the Iraqi regime was deeply embarrassed. So with the greatest respect, as I say, you quote me the opinion polls, I think that if you went back and started asking people, maybe once the evidence is there before people, go back and start asking people again and I think people will say look if there is any other way of dealing with this, let's deal with it in another way. But I think you will find most people are sensible enough to realise that this is an issue that you can't just say well we are not bothering with it.

QUESTION:

You have talked about the lack of support for a war in Iraq, but were you surprised by your own agent's comments this morning that there was a lack of support in your constituency?

PRIME MINISTER:

I am never surprised by anything John says. No, what John was doing was saying quite sensibly that there are people with lots of concerns, that is why I tell you we haven't made the decisions yet. Just to go back to what we were saying a moment or two ago, there are some people who are completely opposed irrespective of the circumstances, those who opposed Afghanistan, Kosovo, anything. But the other people, the people who John was talking about, are asking perfectly sensible questions.

How? What comes after Saddam? What about the Middle East peace process? What about the UN? What about opinion in the Arab world? These are sensible questions and that is why I say we have not taken the decisions yet, except this key decision which is the first decision of principle you have to take, and that is a decision against inaction, against doing nothing. And I believe that actually most people will say well no you can't do nothing about this, and then once you are over that hurdle then you are in a different type of debate.

QUESTION:

... a question Adam Boulton asked earlier on, as to whether in international law it would be permissible for action against Iraq without fresh sanction from the United Nations. Your answer was this decision has not been taken yet, but it is not a question of decision, is it, it is a question of whether in principle it is actually right.

You must have been examining this and I wonder if you have an answer. And secondly, briefly, do you accept that in the last few weeks, for whatever reason, the tide of public opinion has rather gone against what you have been saying. Is publishing the evidence earlier than planned one way of putting that right?

PRIME MINISTER:

In relation to the first, it depends on the circumstances, that is all I am saying, but whatever we do we will do in line with international law. In respect of the second point, that is exactly what I am saying to you and that is why I think it is probably sensible to bring the evidence forward so that people can have a look at it, because as I said to you, I think the time lines that we were working on and the time lines that the debate have been conducted on have been different. Well that happens in politics sometimes. But I think that people will listen to an argument about this, I don't think people's minds are made up, they are simply saying look if you take as big a decision as this we need to know what is behind it, how it is justified, what are all the various considerations. And all I am saying to you is well that is entirely sensible and before we take any action we will provide the answers to that. But at the moment we are at the stage of saying let's be clear, this is a problem for the international community and it has to be dealt with.

QUESTION:

The last few months we have seen international financial markets shares] down, oil up, how much of that do you think is due to fears over both international terrorism and a possible attack on Iraq? And as you calculate and think about a possible attack on Iraq, how much worse could that get do you think, what would that mean for the world economy if it happened?

PRIME MINISTER:

I don't know how much of the difficulties are attributable to worries about international stability. There are obviously economic factors at play as well. But I think there is a good point behind your question which is the terrorism of 11 September had a big economic impact, that is why as I say these questions may seem far away from our domestic national interest, but actually they are intimately connected with it. If you get a situation where there is an international crisis and that starts affecting the economy, well that affects our ability to build new school playing fields like this, or the new community hospital, it affects everything. That is why I think we have got a responsibility to deal with it, and yes if you deal with it in the wrong way that has a negative impact, but on the other hand if we allow a serious problem to develop unchecked that will have a negative economic impact, so it works both ways.

QUESTION:

Inaudible.

PRIME MINISTER:

One of the things I have found most bizarre about the last few weeks is the sight of very decent liberal minded people lining up and saying effectively that we shouldn't do anything about the regime of Saddam Hussein. This is a regime that suppresses its people in the most appalling and brutal way, that has been responsible for thousands of them dying, and I have absolutely no doubt at all that the vast majority of Iraqi people would love to get rid of Saddam Hussein, because what I have found in all these situations is that most people want the same things whatever part of the world they are in.

And I also hope incidentally in part of the debate that develops, it would be good to hear from some of the people who have lived in Iraq under Saddam Hussein, there are plenty of them, there are scores, thousands actually of refugees flooding across Europe from the Iraqi regime, go and ask a few of them what it is like living under a regime where you are not allowed to say anything against the government, where people are routinely tortured and murdered and executed, where if you are from certain tribes or certain people who might be opposed to the regime you are subject to a brutal form of execution and cleansing, I think we should get a bit of that out too.

As I say, I totally understand the fact that this is an appalling brutal dictatorial viscious regime doesn't mean to say that you have to remove it, but it certainly makes me, I find it very odd that people can get into the situation of not understanding that the people who would be most delighted if Saddam Hussein went would be the Iraqi people.

QUESTION:

You have painted today a very grave and convincing scenario for the free world of the threat posed by Saddam Hussein. How can you therefore explain the degree of complacency in many capitals across the world, particularly in capitals across Europe of experienced major nations as to that threat, and do you think Europe is in danger of not bearing, what you talked about, its share of the burden of standing up for civilised values?

PRIME MINISTER:

I hope Europe will. I think it is in part because people fear that some action will be taken of a pre-emptory nature, without any proper discussion and without considering the consequences, that is what people fear. And what I say to people, and I say this particularly incidentally in some of the, I described it as anti-Americanism earlier, I think there is a lot of that around and I think it is wrong, misguided and dangerous. I also think that some of the criticism of George Bush is just a parody of the George Bush that I know and work with.

The person that I know and work with operates on these security issues in a calm and sensible and measured way and the best proof of that is after 11 September. He waited weeks in order to make sure that the action that would be taken was right, he built up international support, he was firm and determined to deal with the issue but dealt with it in the right way. And I think a lot of the worry in opposition is that people think well haven't they thought of this or are they just going to rush in and do that. We are not going to do any of those things but we are going to deal with it and we will deal with it as democracies should deal with it, with firmness but with the proper debate about the issues concerned.

QUESTION:

If I read you correctly vis a vis the question of fresh UN resolutions, you are saying they either deal with the question and the problem or it is time for a coalition of the willing to act, this coalition as far as I can see would include the United States, Great Britain and Kuwait and I don't see many others. Diametrically opposed to this is your friend the German Chancellor, and even his challengers, who say even with a new UN resolution Germany will not be part of any military action. So my question to you is first do I read you right; second, what do you have to say to both German politicians?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think if you will allow me to stay out of German politics just for a moment, it is an interesting enough situation as it is without my intervention. But in relation to the first point, no I am simply saying to you this. Let us wait and see how this develops. It is of course best to do it with the broadest possible basis of international support, but I think that people do actually understand the issue has to be dealt with, now I can't say more than that at this stage.


QUESTION:

I am going to risk a question on the domestic agenda. Last month at your press conference you went through lots of statistics showing us how you believed you were delivering on public services, and I looked closely at those and found out that they were English and Welsh statistics for the Health Service. If you separate the Welsh statistics for the Health Service from those you will see that it isn't performing as well. Why isn't devolution working after 3 years and will you make sure that the Health Service in Wales has the same rigorous and auditing procedure as in England?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it is up obviously in terms of the auditing procedure, it is up to the Welsh Assembly and the Welsh Executive to determine that. I think there is a lot of change happening in the Welsh Health Service too, but different people have different priorities. We have put a lot of focus on waiting lists and waiting times, the Welsh Executive has a slightly different focus on that, but on the other hand there is no doubt at all if you look at the investment that is going in, the changes that are happening, that it is making a difference. And overall there is a reason why at Prime Minister's Questions nowadays I don't get asked by the Leader of the Opposition about waiting list indicators, that is because virtually every single one of them is moving in a positive direction.

And all I say to people on public services, this will be my constant plea over the next few months, is let's have a balanced discussion. There are big challenges but I don't think that you could look at this constituency or virtually any other constituency in the country and say nothing has changed. Those of you who have been around this morning will see that there is true and visible change going on but there is still a massive amount to do.

QUESTION:

Whilst we are on the domestic agenda, the Fire Brigade Union has thrown back the idea of having an independent review body to look at their pay and conditions. Where does it go from here? Are we going to end up with a fire brigade strike?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I hope not. Look, the fire fighters do a very, very good job, we can be proud of the job they do, but no government, no government, could agree a 40% wage claim. The first thing that would happen is the Bank of England would start putting people's mortgage rates up, and there are the fire fighters, but there are also teachers and nurses and other local government workers. It would be lovely to be able to pay everybody as much as they wanted, but we can't do that.

Now what we have done in an effort to be reasonable is to say well look why don't we have an independent inquiry, because after all the fire fighters have got their own pay formula that has worked very well and they have admitted it has worked very well over many years, precisely to avoid disputes like this, we have said look let's have an independent review of it to see that it is working properly. And I think if we offer that, I can't really think it would be justified to take industrial action because I don't think there is anybody really who could believe that we could give a 40% wage claim without terrible damage to the rest of the economy.

QUESTION:

Can I take you back to what you were saying at the beginning about the north east. Last week there were hundreds of job losses announced at the Siemens Parsons factory in Newcastle, the latest in a long line of manufacturing losses. Has the government given up on manufacturing industry in the north east and if not, what exactly is being done about it?

PRIME MINISTER:

No of course not, but I think what we have got to realise is that in today's economy, particularly in the European economy, jobs are going to go, they are going to change countries, this is part I am afraid of just the world in which we live. But on the other hand there will also be many jobs created and overall in the north east the number of jobs has gone up, not down. Now the best thing we can provide for manufacturing industry in the end is stability, that is the most important thing, low interest rates, a stable economy, high levels of skills, but there is no way we can insulate ourselves in the north east or anywhere else, from multinational companies' decisions to relocate, problems within the market where demands for certain goods go down.

This is not just unique to Britain, this is happening right across the western world and beyond, and what we have got to do is make sure our economy is strong enough so that if people do lose their jobs they are able to get a new one. And you will know what happened at Fujitsu when it closed and Siemens opened up in Newcastle, as a result of the strength of the economy we were able to bring jobs back.

QUESTION:

Do you think that your opponent, the Tory leader, is being hypocritical

for accusing you of dithering over the process of removing Saddam, when

in fact the previous Tory government helped to arm the dictator? And a

second question, if I may, in the dossier you are going to publish in a

couple of weeks of evidence against Saddam and so on, will you be naming

those companies which provided Saddam with chemical components,

allegedly among which there are some British companies?

PRIME MINISTER:

In relation to the latter point, we will publish evidence really about the regime. I am not sure what other evidence we have in relation to that. In relation to your first point, it sounds to me quite a strong point, you should go and make it at his press conference I think.

QUESTION:

This goes back to Charles Reiss's point. Don't you accept that whatever action you take, military or otherwise, you need a majority of public and parliamentary support and given the polls you have got a mountain to climb?

PRIME MINISTER:

Let's wait and see, shall we, because my experience of these things is that people think about it differently once they see the evidence, see what we are actually proposing. As I said to you, it is perfectly understandable why people have taken this view, for the reason I gave a moment or two ago, they think we are going to rush in with pre-emptory action without thinking it through, but we won't, we didn't in Kosovo, we didn't in Afghanistan, we won't do it this time.

QUESTION:

You keep saying that you are trying to build the broadest international support on Iraq. Yesterday in Johannesburg, you met the French President there, the Chinese Prime Minister, did you talk for instance to them about Iraq? And since we are talking about Johannesburg, are you happy with your trip to South Africa?

PRIME MINISTER:

In respect of the first point, of course we are in constant discussion with all the allies and what I would say to you about the stated positions of both the French and the Chinese government is that they both say that the United Nations resolutions in respect of weapons inspections, weapons of mass destruction, have to be abided by, and they are not being. We are not at the stage of then deciding what it is we do about that, but I think there is a very clear understanding that the Iraqi regime are in breach of those resolutions and we can't let that pass.

As for the summit, well I don't know which aspect, do you mean the Mugabe aspect or generally speaking. Generally speaking - it is the kind of questions we like - in respect of the summit, I think the summit made significant progress, it won't have done everything we want but I think some of the criticism is over-played. The important thing is we are moving in a direction, the direction is towards a new form of development, which is a partnership, and the direction is towards combating climate change. Now I think we have got to go further in both respects.

I think what is interesting, and that is one of the reasons why there are certain African leaders who are attacking the African partnership now, because Mugabe is one of those who attacked the African partnership, and that is precisely because it is the right type of development, it is development on the basis that we will help regimes that have proper governance, proper systems of working, but we are not going to be shelling out money to regimes that are corrupt or treat their people badly. And that is why I think that we have got to really push that forward. And on climate change, as I said in my speech in Mozambique, I think the key issue, the coming issue on this is science and technology.

What we have got to do is come back into those arguments in a far bigger way and say look if we really want to make a difference, because all Kyoto does is slow the rate of climate change, if we want to start stabilising and reducing it we have got to go for far more radical solutions and I think the key to that lies in science and technology.

QUESTION:

It wouldn't be one of our press conferences without a euro question.

George Foulkes at the weekend predicted October next year as the referendum date, is he correct?

PRIME MINISTER:

He has obviously got a better crystal ball than me since the decisions on that really haven't been taken and the tests of course haven't been assessed yet, so we will have to wait on that one.

QUESTION:

If there is a referendum in Sweden on the euro before Britain, will it have any impact, the outcome, on the British referendum do you think?

PRIME MINISTER:

I really don't know, but I think the question is Sweden will decide its future in this and we will decide ours.

QUESTION:

Inaudible.

PRIME MINISTER:

Lots of things I should think.

QUESTION:

There is a perception in Saudi Arabia and many of the Arab countries that it is a coincidence that the war on terrorism and the renewed impetus to regime change in Iraq have come at the same time. And there is also a common perception that this is really a war on Islam, now how true that is debatable, but that is the perception from the Middle East and in Saudi Arabia in particular. What can you say to reassure the Arab world in general and the Saudi religious public in particular that this is not the case?

PRIME MINISTER:

The idea that by taking action against terrorists or by trying to deal with rogue states developing nuclear, chemical, biological weapons capability, the idea that this is somehow an act against Islam is a lie, it is simply not true. The people that are oppressed most in Iraq, just as in Afghanistan, are Muslims, they are Muslim people, and the vast majority of Muslim people are decent and law abiding people who abhor terrorism, and the terrorists of course kill many Muslims. So I hope people really do not believe that.

And the reason why we are concerned to take action, yes in one sense it is true that the issue to do with weapons of mass destruction and 11 September are linked, it is true in this sense that we knew for years that the al Qu'eda terrorist network was in existence, it carried out many terrorist acts, it just didn't carry out a terrorist act as gross and as huge as the one that took place on 11 September, but looking back on it now, if we could turn the clock back 2 or 3 years, I think most of us would say well maybe we should deal with this terrorist network and close it down now. But we didn't, we left it to fester. And so in that sense I think people do understand that you have got to deal with these issues.

But that is why I said at the beginning and I say it again, I honestly believe the thing that troubles most people in the Arab world, and I understand this, is the Palestinian issue, they feel strongly about it, they think that the west is not taking it seriously enough. I think it is important that we demonstrate that we are, because it is a terrible situation there where there are terrorist acts against Israeli citizens and where Palestinians are living in misery. And just as we have a responsibility as an international community to confront these issues of terrorism, we have a responsibility also to deal with that situation.

QUESTION:

Can I ask you what is wrong with the principle of deterrence? This country has faced often countries it regards as a threat who are armed with weapons of mass destruction, and previous Prime Ministers have believed in the principle of deterrence, that providing they know that they will be struck equally if they attack that that is enough. And another principle that many previous Prime Ministers have stuck with is the idea that if a country does not attack its neighbour or use military force, no other country is entitled to attack it, however loathsome we consider the regime. What has changed that makes you think that those two principles are out of date?

PRIME MINISTER:

I agree that the fact that it is an absolutely despicable and loathsome regime that routinely represses and murders its citizens is not of itself sufficient reason. But that is not all it has done. The fact is there have been two major wars of aggression in that region in the past 20 years and they have been responsible for both of them - the Iran-Iraq war and then the annexation of Kuwait. So that is the reason. And we are not dealing, as I said a moment or two ago, we are not dealing with a regime without a record, we are dealing with a regime with a very clear record, unhindered it threatens its neighbours with aggression and of course that is one thing that always happens with a regime that is an appalling and brutal and dictatorial regime, that they need constant external focuses of attention in order to distract from what they are actually doing within their own country.

QUESTION:

... has already in effect been cleared, but because they attacked other countries in the past you say that that means they have already crossed the line, we can use military force against them?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, it simply means this, it means that you don't approach them in the same way as you would a country that might have weapons of mass destruction but had never used them or never threatened its neighbours.

QUESTION:

On the euro, was Jack Straw correct when he said that when people voted Labour they were endorsing the principle that the euro benefits Britain?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think what he was saying is that people were certainly endorsing the principle that if the economic tests are passed it is right to have a referendum, because that is what we said, it endorses no more than what is in the manifesto.

QUESTION:

Can you say how far you extend the doctrine that you put forward today.

Are you saying that any country which poses a threat to global security, say North Korea, that pre-emptive action against them is justified?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I don't think I am enunciating any new doctrine, I am simply saying, because you have been asking me about Iraq, this is the reason why we think it is serious. I do believe, however, that this issue of weapons of mass destruction and the proliferation, particularly of nuclear technology, is a problem. I said that straight after 11 September, I do keep going back to that so that people don't think this is suddenly something you know we just thought about it now, and it is something I will go back to at a later time I think in more detail, but there may be different strategies that you adopt in relation to different states, but to allow states of a highly unstable or dictatorial nature to acquire nuclear weapons technology I think is dangerous to do.

Now how you deal with that again as I say is an open question. And again if you look at the North Korean regime, there are some signs that it might want to change but my goodness what a tragedy that country is, where it has a massive nuclear weapons programme and there are people without proper food to eat. So how you deal with this, as I say I am not enunciating any doctrine in relation to the world in general, I am simply saying in relation to Iraq it is different for the reasons that I have given, that yes I do think the issue of weapons of mass destruction in respect of other countries is also an issue, but that is maybe for a different time.

QUESTION:

Just going back to the north east, recent government reports confirm that the gap in GDP per head between the north east and the south east is continuing to grow. I would like to know what your government is doing to redress regional economic disparities and also how you respond to claims that as a north east MP you are not actually doing enough for your home region?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I would say that in respect of the first, let's be clear the same government reports also showed that living standards in the north east have risen significantly, and the reason why we are trying to bridge the gap is through policies like the Regional Development Agency, Scotland and Wales used to have one, the north east didn't, it has got one now, it plays a big part in it, programmes like the New Deal and Sure Start and other programmes that combat poverty obviously have a particular relevance in areas like this. And I think the answer to the claim about myself in relation to this is well if you go to this constituency and see the things that people have seen today, I think you can see the change happening.

QUESTION:

Are you saying that the world should do more to identify failing states before they actually fail, they should anticipate that they are failing or rogue states that require treatment? And could I ask you briefly about Zimbabwe, Clare Short was identifying with the real humanitarian problem unfolding there, but given the response yesterday by Mr Mugabe at the conference, it doesn't sound as though he is willing to accept international assistance. What are we going to do in future about the unfolding problem there?

PRIME MINISTER:

In relation to the first, I am not saying that any state that is failing you adopt a particular form of action, least of all military action, but I am saying that where states fail and they fail in circumstances where there are considerable problems caused for their neighbours, it is as well the world spends a bit of time focusing on it. And you will know that my basic belief is that inter-dependence today is ..., that is the problem we have to deal with, and therefore it is very, very rare that you will get a problem that is located in one region that doesn't spread.

Now the second thing I would say to you in relation to Africa and Mugabe, firstly I think it is a shame, it really is a shame, I understand why people have done it this morning, but it is a shame if people think Mugabe speaks for Africa. He doesn't. The vast majority of African leaders would have totally dissociated themselves with what he said yesterday. And this rubbish about neo-colonialism, that is merely a cloak, a cover for what is a corrupt ruinous regime that is damaging most of all poor black people in Zimbabwe and we should be thinking as an international community what we can do about it, but the trouble is the number of levers we have in our hands are limited. But there is no doubt at all, Clare is absolutely right, there is a potential humanitarian disaster there. And when I was in Mozambique I saw grain being offloaded from the ship in Mozambique for transport to Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe is potentially one of the richest grain nations in the world, and yet because of the way he has ruined the country it is having to import grain for its people. It is a terrible, terrible tragedy.

And one other thing that should be said very, very clearly, this nonsense about somehow we have held up land reform, the money is there for land reform, he could get that money and use it for land reform, because land reform is necessary, at any point in time he wanted. The only demand that has been made is the demand that it is done through the United Nations programme in order to make sure that the money goes to the poor people that actually need it, not into the pockets of him and his henchmen and the other people running the show. And I don't have any difficulty about this and I think it is a real shame.

It reminds me when I heard some of those comments yesterday, and they were minority comments, please believe me, the vast bulk of African leaders do not agree with that rubbish, but it reminded me of when people on the left, with some sort of misguided nostalgia, used to defend Ceaucescu and people like that. It is exactly the same thing, people get themselves into the mindset where they think that because there was something there at some point that was worth something, that it means you have got to defend the indefensible, and you don't, it is a terrible thing that is happening.

QUESTION:

You said on Iraq that any decision you take will be in British interests

and an independent decision. Can you name any circumstances in which

you could say that you would not support American action on Iraq?

PRIME MINISTER:

I don't think there is any point in getting into hypotheticals. I wouldn't support anything I thought was wrong, which is why as I say the idea that we are acting out of simple blind loyalty is simply not the case, we are acting and discussing it with America because it is the right thing to do, and I am sure we will do it in the same measured way that we have done other things with the United States. But it is very important in this situation that America doesn't feel that it has to confront these issues alone, it won't, not whilst we are there to confront these issues with America in a sensible way.

QUESTION:

Firstly, just to bring Kyoto and Iraq into one kind of question, what is going to happen to areas of the country like Teeside that rely on oil and CO2 emissions for the heavy industry and for their jobs, places like Teeside are going to need some kind of support, what is going to happen with that? Secondly, when we last went into Iraq in the Gulf War there were problems with injections that soldiers from this area received, Gulf War Syndrome, and in Afghanistan they had problems with boots melting, that kind of thing, are we prepared enough to go in?

PRIME MINISTER:

You really want to treat with a lot of scepticism some of the stories about the equipment. The British military is amongst the finest in the world, if not the finest, and I can assure you they don't go into any situation unless they are properly equipped. And what you always find with these stories is when you actually look into them, a lot of them are somewhat exaggerated. In relation to the first point, well that is a serious point and that is why I say that science and technology is very important.

Again, we need to find a way, I had an interesting discussion with the Chinese Prime Minister on this yesterday, we need to find a way in which we can grow sustainably and you can't just say you know I have this grand declaration and then put people out of work, so you need to make sure that what we are doing is developing different and better ways of energy production and use, and where there is some displacement of jobs giving people alternative work, and that has got to form part of the debate as well, which is one of the things that I said in my speech in Mozambique.

QUESTION:

Have you taken any steps to identify the source of this illicit $3 billion that is going into Iraq, and is it part of your strategy?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we know it is done through various deals from the sale of oil. The truth is that Iraq is an oil rich country, as you know. Beyond that I don't think I would comment at the moment.

QUESTION:

Can I ask you a question on the recent Elsenor (phon) Summit of this weekend. How do you reconcile your support for the international Criminal Court with a possible bilateral agreement to grant the Americans immunity from that court?

PRIME MINISTER:

We are simply trying to find a way through. We have got 11 months now to do it. I personally don't believe that America has anything to fear from the International Criminal Court but they have concerns that are legitimate concerns, I don't really want to say any more about it at the moment other than we should find a way of dealing with it. But the International Criminal Court in the end, properly constructed and properly done, will be of assistance to nations like the US in my view.

QUESTION:

As the parent of four children and a Christian, how do you cope morally with the prospect of making decisions that could lead to the deaths of hundreds, if not thousands, of people, often perhaps in the most horrific ways?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well you have to decide what the greatest risk is and what the morally right thing to do is, and as I say I have faced this twice before in Kosovo and Afghanistan. And I hate war, anybody of any sense hates war, hates military action, hates having to do it, but there are certain circumstances in which it is the right thing to do. Now I am not saying we have reached that point incidentally in relation to Iraq, I am simply saying that in relation to Kosovo and Afghanistan we took military action because I thought it was the right thing to do. Because you could not allow in the case of Kosovo ethnic cleansing and genocide to happen right on the doorstep of Europe and do nothing about it; because in the case of Afghanistan you couldn't allow a failed state to export terrorism around the world.

But the terrible thing about conflict and war is that innocent people die as well as guilty ones, that is the tragedy of it, it happened in the Second World War, it happens in any war that ever takes place, which is why you should only do it conscious of the responsibility, but I only do it in those circumstances. But I tell you, I would also feel, if I was not to confront this issue now and let us say that Iraq obtained either a nuclear weapons capability or developed ballistic missile technology with chemical and biological weapons, and they did that and then they used those weapons and I thought back and could have done something about it, then that would be something on my conscience too. So I am afraid these decisions are not very easy and you have got to do in the end what you think to be right. But I wouldn't commit people to military action unless I thought it was the right thing to do.

QUESTION:

No other EU leader seems to be as willing as you are to consider military action against Iraq. Does it worry you that you seem to be out on a limb? And secondly, do you share President Bush's view that Iran as well as Iraq is part of this axis of evil?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I think there are real issues in relation to Iran, as I was saying in respect of the question earlier, but you can adopt different strategies to the different countries. But you can't ever take decisions like this unless you do do what you think is right. And I think, I just want to say this, I want to say it gently but I want to say it firmly, there is a tendency for the world to say to America the big problems of the world are yours, you go and sort them out, and then to worry when America wants to sort them out. And I think it is better that we confront these issues together as partners of America, and I think that is so for Britain, I think that is so for the rest of Europe too, and you should just analyse it.

And as I say, the question that should be put right round the world at the moment is, can you afford to allow Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi regime, knowing what we know of them, knowing how many hundreds of thousands of people they have killed, can you allow them to carry on developing biological, chemical, potentially nuclear capability. If the answer to that is no, then let's have a debate about the right way forward, but let's answer that question first. Because what I say to you is the policy of containment as it exists now can't continue indefinitely, it simply can't. And the absence of any proper regime of inspection or monitoring means that the regime is effectively allowed to develop these weapons without any let or hindrance at all, apart from what we can do through a sanctions regime that as I said to you is not fully watertight by any means.

QUESTION:

I am glad you have asked me because I want to pass on a question from William Sumners, one of the listeners of Five Live, I don't know if it portrays anything about your intentions towards Iraq, but if you could choose any person in modern history to put in your government, without offending anyone who is currently there, who would that person be?

PRIME MINISTER:

I don't know, it depends what position it was for. So I am sorry about that, I will need to think about it. These are all the types of questions that you answer and then you spend most of your time afterwards regretting your answer.

QUESTION:

Do you wish that Saddam Hussein had been dealt with earlier, and do you express any regret that he was ... by other western countries, including Britain?

PRIME MINISTER:

You can always go back and revisit decisions that were taken at the time, I am sure they were taken for good reasons actually, and I know there was a lot of pressure on people at the time, but I am not sure how productive it is. It certainly was a mistake for the west ever to back Saddam, but it is easy to say that in retrospect.

QUESTION:

On the question of weapons inspectors and the deadline, our friend from ABC asked you this question and you seemed to duck it, yet it is the Foreign Secretary who has flouted this idea himself in recent weeks as being a way through, a breakthrough. Is it still in serious consideration as far as this government is concerned, setting a clear deadline?

PRIME MINISTER:

It wasn't so much a question of ducking it, it was simply saying we haven't decided it. Obviously these are the questions that we do have to decide. The issue is whether we want to go for the broadest possible basis of international support, the issue is getting a proper inspection regime back in that Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi regime can't play about with, and yes time is pressing, but beyond that I can't go at the moment.

QUESTION:

Maybe you have commented on these issues before but I haven't heard you. I would like to ask you to comment on three points. Will you stop trading with Israel, the military trade between Britain and Israel, in light of the current situation? Will you bring the debate on the death penalty after the tragic murder of ...? And recently there was an important official visit by a British Minister to Tripoli, is ... now the good boy of ...?

PRIME MINISTER:

Dealing with them very quickly, there is no change in our policy in respect of Israel at all and whatever military help we give is within very well defined limits. In relation to the death penalty my view hasn't changed. In relation to Libya I think it is right that in the wake of the progress that has been made in sorting out the aftermath of Lockerbie that we begin relations with Libya. I hope very much that Libya comes into the full community of international relations, I hope that that is the case. And again as I would say, there are concerns that we have as a result of the past but I am perfectly prepared to extend the hand of partnership on terms that people recognise and have got to be fully compliant with being a responsible member of the international community and that is why I authorised the visit by the Minister there.

QUESTION:

There is one ambiguity in what you have been saying about Iraq which seems to go absolutely to the heart of a lot of international concern. On the one hand there are those people who say let the inspectors get back in, put the pressure on the Iraqis to do that, and that can sort of settle this; and on the other hand, particularly from America, there is a very strong view that this regime is so vile, so evil and so unstable that really so long as it is there it is never quite settled. Now what you have been saying today you seem to me to tilt more towards that second view, that really you are very sceptical about letting the inspectors back in and then saying fine, we have sorted out Iraq, that this is not that kind of situation?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think that is a good point, but the way I would reconcile those two positions is to say this, that my statement back in March was the inspectors go back in any time, any place, anywhere, that remains the case. That is not inconsistent with saying, however, we have to make sure that that inspection regime actually does take place in that way.

QUESTION:

Inaudible.

PRIME MINISTER:

If you were able to be sure that the problem, which is weapons of mass destruction, was going to be dealt with through this UN inspectors route, then that is another issue and that is what we have said right the way through, which is why when people have said to me well if they do let the inspectors back in any time, any place, anywhere, does that make a difference. Of course, but you have to be sure and this is the point that Americans are making, perfectly rightly, in the light of the past record of Saddam Hussein mucking about with weapons inspectors, hindering them, restricting them, not letting them in unconditionally, it has got to be a pretty good regime that you need to be sure is then implemented. And it is not enough to pass the resolution, you also have to follow it through, so that is the point.

And I think that the real issue is whether we can secure sufficiently strong international support, that you can make sure that anything that happens in Iraq is going to deliver what has to be delivered, which is a reduction of the threat of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons from a state that has had no hesitation in using weapons of mass destruction in the past.

Now that is the issue for us and that is why I think the right way of proceeding, as I have said to people right from the very beginning, ask the first question, is there a threat that we can simply turn a blind eye to, despite the breach of all the United Nations resolutions. If the answer to that is no, we have to deal with it, then let's work out the right way of dealing with it. But it is perfectly understandable if in the light of previous experience that people will look with a very sceptical eye as to whether any regime could be successful, but that is not to dismiss it.


ENDS

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