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PM Tony Blair Press Conference 13 January

PM Press Conference 13 January


Prime Minister Tony Blair has held his monthly press conference in the State Dining Room at Downing Street. These press conferences allow journalists to ask the Prime Minister questions on any aspect of government policy. Mr Blair answered questions on several issues, in particular on Iraq.


PRIME MINISTER:

Good Afternoon everyone. Happy New Year and welcome to the first press conference of 2003. I am confident that the government has both the long term plans and the guiding principles to see Britain through the difficult period that lies ahead, whether on Iraq, Europe, public service reform or investment, we will do what we believe to be right to provide real security and real opportunity for British people.

On the issue of Iraq, I know and I understand the concerns that people have. The threat seems to some people to be remote, but I passionately believe that we must disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, we must uphold the authority of the United Nations, we must show rogue states and terrorist organisations that when we say we intend to deal with the issue of weapons of mass destruction we mean it.

The UN has given Saddam a chance for this to be done peacefully so even now Saddam should take the peaceful route and disarm. If he does not, however, he will be disarmed by force.

We will stick also to the course that we have set out on the economy where the first term reforms laid the platform for record low inflation and interest rates, and record levels of employment. Now in our second term we must make the changes needed to develop the UK as a real knowledge economy based on the skills and ability of our people. We will hold firm to our plans for tax rises in April. Tax rises are never popular. Of course we understand that. But at the election we made and won the case for sustained long-term investment to our public services. I believe that is the right thing to do. For all the problems, if you go to any constituency in the country at the present time, you can see too the benefits of that long term investment, in schools, in hospitals, in primary care services. All that has to be paid for. And if we want quality public services we must be prepared to make the commitment necessary to get them and we must realise also that if we don't put that investment into our public services from government, from the state, then people will be required to pay more out of their own pocket for the public services they desperately depend on for opportunity and for social justice.

However, we have also made it clear that investment is not enough. Alongside the investment programme comes the reform programme, we will push ahead on that reform programme as far and as fast as we can in every field. Money is a necessary but insufficient condition to putting our public services in the position they need to be. We also need the changes, whether in schools or in hospitals or in the rest of our public services that we have set out.

On crime, as you know overall crime is down but it doesn't feel like that. Violent crime and the fear of crime are real problems and cause real concern to people. It is for that very reason that as a result of the work that we have been doing over the past few years, we will have this legislative session dominated by two big Bills on crime, one on reform of the Criminal Justice System, the other on anti-social behaviour. I simply hope and believe that those people who are most anxious for something to be done about this issue of crime, actually support the measures in the Criminal Justice Bill and in the Anti-social Behaviour Bill that are the measures necessary to deal with them.

Finally in relation to the fire strike, we believe that strike action is totally wrong, dangerous and unjustified and the government's position remains as it is, we support the Bain reforms, we will hold firm to those reforms and we believe that is the only justifiable basis upon which to settle the dispute.

QUESTION:

Prime Minister, on Iraq, do you believe that you have United Nations' authority for the use of force, whether or not there is a further resolution?

PRIME MINISTER:

We have made it clear throughout that we want to take the UN route, that is why we went to the UN, that is why the UN passed this resolution calling upon Saddam to disarm. We then also said that if there is a breach there will be a further discussion in the UN. But I want to make it quite clear, and I believe this to be the position of all the main Security Council members, if there is a breach we would expect the United Nations to honour the undertakings that were given and to make sure that the will of the UN is upheld, and I have no doubt at all that they will do so. And so when people say to us, are we clear that we have a justifiable basis for action, if there is a breach of the existing UN resolution I have no doubt at all that the right thing to do in those circumstances is to disarm Saddam by force.

QUESTION:

Perhaps understandably there has been a certain amount of ambiguity on your position on Iraq, on the one hand saying you don't want to go to war, on the other hand saying you must prepare for war, and that has confused people. So can I ask you, you say if there is a breach, can we assume from that that you do not believe that already there has been a breach, as some in the United States have said? Secondly, you said Saddam Hussein has got to disarm, what has he got to disarm himself of and how long has he got to disarm himself?

PRIME MINISTER:

First of all, I think a similar thing actually happened over the summer where when people are having a break there is all sorts of speculation about what people are thinking and are the positions changing, and are people warming up or cooling down. The position is exactly as it has been throughout. I think I made it clear at the press conference in the summer that the UN had to be a way of dealing with this issue, and we have got a UN process that is now under way where the inspectors are in there, they have just started their work. I have no doubt at all they will do a proper job, and you have got the declaration that Saddam has made of 8 December which I think everybody recognises, including the inspectors, is an inadequate and probably false document. So the position remains as has always been, Saddam is under a duty to co-operate, that means being honest and open and transparent about the weapons of mass destruction that he has, it means co-operating fully with the inspectors. If he is in breach then action will follow. Now as far as I am aware that has been the position that I have set out constantly over the past few months, that remains the position. Of course no-one wants conflict, everyone would prefer this to be resolved peacefully. But as I think I have said on numerous occasions, and let me repeat to you, it is not conflict that is inevitable, but disarmament is inevitable and what Saddam has to do is co-operate fully with the weapons inspectors in saying what weapons he has, in co-operating with them in destroying those weapons.

QUESTION:

Is it your view that he is not doing that currently?

PRIME MINISTER:

My view is that the 8 December declaration, as we said at the time, is a false declaration because we believe he has these weapons of mass destruction and he is saying that he doesn't. But the inspectors are in there in order to find out the truth and what they find is then put before the United Nations Security Council and all I am saying is that if what they find amounts to a breach of the UN mandate then Saddam will be disarmed by force.

QUESTION:

So it depends upon them finding something?

PRIME MINISTER:

It has always, everything that we have said right throughout this has said the weapons inspectors go in, they do their task and there is then a further discussion in the UN Security Council. That remains the case. But don't be under any doubt whatever, if there is a breach of the UN mandate, if there is a breach of the UN resolution that we have passed, then action will follow because Saddam has got the chance to disarm peacefully, he knows exactly what he has to do. And I would put it back to you in a different way. Are people seriously saying that when the UN has taken a stand on the issue of weapons of mass destruction, where they have said to Iraq you have to disarm yourself of these weapons, these chemical, biological, nuclear weapons, are people really saying that if there is a breach of that UN resolution then no action should follow? If we did that we would send a message to the outside world that would be in my view absolutely disastrous for the security of our world.

QUESTION:

Let me put the question in a way I suspect late at night you have to address it. How would you say, what would you say to a mother who has waved her son off on the Ark Royal and knows that it is at least possible that he will not return because you in the end conclude that it is right to fight Iraq? And what would you say given an ITV poll that shows today overwhelming doubts in the British population about the case you have made for confronting Saddam Hussein?

PRIME MINISTER:

I will tell you exactly what I would say. I would never as British Prime Minister send British troops to war unless I thought it was necessary. But there is a direct threat to British national security in the trade in chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. And I tell you honestly what my fear is, my fear is that we wake up one day and we find either that one of these dictatorial states has used weapons of mass destruction - and Iraq has done so in the past - and we get sucked into a conflict, with all the devastation that would cause; or alternatively these weapons, which are being traded right round the world at the moment, fall into the hands of these terrorist groups, these fanatics who will stop at absolutely nothing to cause death and destruction on a mass scale. Now that is what I have to worry about. And I understand of course why people think it is a very remote threat and it is far away and why does it bother us. I tell you every single day I am faced as British Prime Minister with information about how these weapons are proliferating, how states are trying to acquire nuclear capability - states you would not want to have that capability - how chemical and biological weapons are being freely traded by groups and individuals right across the world. Now I simply say to you, it is a matter of time unless we act and take a stand before terrorism and weapons of mass destruction come together, and I regard them as two sides of the same coin. And the reason why Iraq is important is Iraq is the issue around which this has come to have focus. The UN might have chosen a different discussion, but it hasn't, it has chosen, in my view rightly because Saddam has actually used these weapons before, because we know that he has these weapons, it has chosen the issue of Iraq. So there is the focal point. Now what we have said as a country is that we should do this through the United Nations. We will do it through the United Nations, but the United Nations has to be the way of resolving this and sending a signal to the whole of the world that this trade will not be tolerated, that people who have these weapons in breach of UN resolutions, will be forced to disarm. And it does not stop at Iraq. When people say to me well isn't North Korea a big threat, I agree it is a threat, and that is why the UN is going to have to discuss what we do about North Korea too. And it is also why the international community, in my view, has got to take this a lot more seriously in relation to the way that these issues are dealt with and the way that weapons are traded. And I simply say this to you, because I know also that people say well isn't this all because America has made this an issue and that is why you are raising it. I raised this issue at the first meeting I had with George Bush back in February 2001. Four days after 11 September I raised it again in the House of Commons, and if George Bush and America were not raising this issue, I would be urging them to raise it because it is important. And anyone who believes in today's world that you can have these groups and these weapons proliferating and Britain not be involved, is I think naïve and misguided.

QUESTION:

Isn't there though an inconsistency, possibly even an hypocrisy, when you come to compare Iraq and North Korea. Iraq, you have 14 years of British and American military surveillance, extremely effective policing which seems to have prevented Iraq from doing anything to anybody outside Iraq, whatever it has done inside. You then come to Korea, proven to have exported technology to Pakistan, enabled them to build a nuclear weapon, a dangerous power that has the nuclear capacity to deliver an assault on anybody within 1500 miles of it. Yet the language you use of the two incidents are completely different, one we have some containment, the other we have none, and yet the one which we have some containment of you want to go to war with, not the other one.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well hang on, let's just separate those things out because I think it is a perfectly reasonable point. Why are we taking North Korea more seriously? The answer is we should take North Korea seriously. In the last few weeks, as you know, there has been a series of announcements out of North Korea that are deeply worrying and that is why the UN Security Council will be discussing this issue. How we deal with it, well we have to look and see how we deal with it. But the difference with Saddam is there are outstanding United Nations resolutions going back over 10 years requiring Saddam to disarm, and we now have a fresh UN resolution just passed a few weeks ago demanding that he disarm. And therefore the signal we would send, not just to Iraq but actually to North Korea as well if we do not enforce that resolution would in my view be dire. But there is another point too. You say for years we have been containing Saddam, well that is true, up to a point we have, but let's be quite clear where this discussion began. This discussion began against the background of sanctions eroding, of us being unable to be sure that we really were preventing Saddam acquiring these weapons and of intelligence to the British Security Services. Now people can have their own view of the British intelligence services but I happen to believe they do a good job and I don't think they would be advising me this if they weren't doing it honestly and properly. There is no doubt at all in our mind that Saddam has been trying to rebuild that arsenal of chemical, biological and potentially nuclear capability, and he is someone who has actually used it, used it in respect of his own people. He is somebody who has created conflict four times with different countries in his region. He is somebody who in the course of those conflicts has caused the death of thousands and thousands of people. Now I agree you could say we should be dealing right across the piece with weapons of mass destruction, that is exactly what I am saying, but the fact is it has come to an absolute key focal point over Iraq. And the question actually is not really for me, do you agree that the UN process should be upheld, because I agree it should be upheld. That is why we are not acting unilaterally, both ourselves and the Americans are going through the United Nations. The question, with respect, is for everybody else. If the UN does find that there is a breach, is the UN going to stand aside or is it going to enforce its will? I happen to believe actually that it will enforce its will.

QUESTION:

In light of recent events Londoners and New Yorkers are quite frightened of a possible terrorist attack. Would you say that London is prepared for this event?

PRIME MINISTER:

I believe we are as well prepared as we can be, but as both New York and London know, when you are dealing with fanatical groups of people who are prepared to do anything to cause destruction, it is difficult to be prepared against every possible eventuality. But we are doing our level best to make sure that we are properly prepared. But the best preparation is actually to make sure that we are taking the measures necessary to make it clear to these groups and these people that they won't be able to operate in this way.

QUESTION:

Going back to what you were saying about the UN, you seem to be saying that you don't regard a second resolution as absolutely necessary within the scope of the UN, if you like the first resolution. But politically don't you have to get another resolution? And just taking you on one point, could you really commit British troops into action when you have got a majority of public opinion against you and at the very least a large minority of Labour MPs against you?

PRIME MINISTER:

First of all, I think what is quite interesting if you read beneath some of the polls, I think what actually most of the polls are saying is that if the UN does authorise action people will be with us, not against us. So I would go back to what I said to you before Christmas, so what I am saying to you is not new. Our preference is of course to go back, have the discussion in the UN Security Council and have a fresh resolution. And we believe that what was effectively agreed at the time of the first resolution was this, that we agreed if you like, those people really pressing on this issue, that we would do the UN route; but on the other side people agree if there is a breach found then the will of the UN has to be enforced. The only qualification we have added, which is a qualification we have added throughout, and you will see that I have added this throughout, is if you did have a breach, went back to the UN but someone put an unreasonable or unilateral block down on action, now in those circumstances we have said we can't be in a position where we are confined in that way. However, I don't believe as a matter of fact that that is what will happen. My own judgement, and I have spoken to the key players involved in this, my own judgement is that if there is a breach then action will be authorised.

QUESTION:

Do you accept you are going to have terrible problems with the Labour Party if you try to get that through?

PRIME MINISTER:

No I don't. I think that the vast majority of people would say that if the UN resolution that we have passed is breached by Saddam then action has got to follow. And I also think you are greatly under-estimating the force of this argument in the circumstances where there is a breach. A lot of the questions that people are having put to them at the moment are questions that are very hypothetical. But if you take the instance of where there is a breach of the UN resolution and we go back to people and say this is what has happened, then I think they will support it. And in any event, as I say, my own view is that if there is a breach the United Nations will agree to another resolution and in those circumstances I think your own polls show that people would support it. But polls or not polls, my job in a situation like this is sometimes to say the things that people don't want to hear, and I have said to people I believe that this issue is a real active threat to British national security, for the reasons I have given.

QUESTION:

We have seen the United States go for a much bigger deployment of its forces. I know you can't get into logistical details of the British forces, but what does that really mean for Britain in terms of us being able to be a significant partner in terms of any possible military action?

PRIME MINISTER:

I don't want to comment on the precise scope of any action that we might take, and of course it is important that we prepare for such action now, it is important in case such action should become necessary, it is important also to let Saddam know we are serious. I have always said to people the best way of averting conflict is to give Saddam an absolutely unmixed message - if you don't disarm voluntarily you will be disarmed by force. In any military undertaking I have no doubt at all that British support would be invaluable and necessary, I am not commenting on the specific nature of any support that there might be, but you will know that on many occasions British troops have played an extremely important part in conflicts such as this.

QUESTION:

Could I turn to the domestic agenda? You specified in your opening statement that the government would, I think your words were, hold to its plans for tax rises in the spring. Now over the last few weeks and months the property market has maybe begun to turn, the outlook for the economy, as you yourself has said, is gloomier than it has been, can you allay people's fears, partly middle England as some people call it, about the way tax rises may impact on them right now and on the economy?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the specific tax rises, which is 1% on national insurance, is to pay for extra spending in public services. And the point that we will be making, since this is now the clearest possible political divide, the Conservatives are calling for a 20% across the board cut in public spending, we are saying no we need to increase public spending. The reason why we think that the tax rises are necessary, and I know they are never popular, is that the alternative to tax rises are not no tax rises, they are an alternative form of taxation. They are either people being forced to take out private medical insurance, or social insurance schemes which if you talk to anybody in France or Germany are fantastically expensive and will add significantly to the wage costs that people have to bear, employers and employees. So in the end that is why we think it is important. And it is interesting, just earlier today I was having a detailed set of meetings on public service delivery, if you look for example at what is happening in coronary care or cancer care at the moment in this country, there are real changes and improvements happening, but they are only happening because we are getting in more staff, buying more equipment, expanding the capacity of the Health Service. Now that is the simple truth in the end. If we are not prepared to pay for them this way, the alternative is not that people don't pay for them, it is just that they will have to pay for them another way and I think a less efficient and less equitable way.

QUESTION:

But following on from that question, do you seriously believe personally that the only way to deal with problems in the Health Service is to retain it as a monopoly provider?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, which is why we are opening it up now. Look, the new diagnostic and treatment centres.

QUESTION:

Inaudible.

PRIME MINISTER:

No, they are not monopoly providers at all. Under the new diagnostic and treatment centres they will come in from various forms, some from the public sector, some from the private sector, some partnerships between the two, some from overseas. If what you are saying to me is the old one-size fits all public service has to change, absolutely right, it has to change, and that is why whether it is in relation to foundation hospitals, whether it is in relation to specialist schools, whether it is in relation to the new diagnostic and treatment centres that can open up this provision in the healthcare system, we have to open up our public services, we have to have diversity of supply, choice, contestability, that whole agenda has got to come along with the extra money. And what is interesting is, again for example on heart disease where as you probably know we have been giving people just over the past six months or so a choice, if they have been waiting a certain amount of time they have then got a choice to take to go elsewhere in the Health Service or even outside the National Health Service in order to get the treatment. It has proved fantastically popular. I think I am right in saying that over half the people have actually exercised that choice. So the two things have got to go together, the money and the reform, and we will do both.

QUESTION:

On the military front, people said last time that we couldn't fight in the snows of Afghanistan, and they were wrong. Is it correct when people say we wouldn't be able to exercise an option to fight in the summer heat of Afghanistan? And on the diplomatic front, it is reported this morning that a deal is trying to be cut in Zimbabwe which might allow Robert Mugabe to step down in return for immunity from prosecution. Is that an option you would want to see considered with regard to Saddam Hussein, or would you prefer him to be treated, like Mr Milosevic, indicted, humiliated in front of his own people, as some of your colleagues suggest. And if so, why aren't we doing it, because I understand the Americans can't do it under their own law but that we could if we wished to, we could indict him for treatment of British citizens in the past?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think arresting him might be quite difficult at the moment.

QUESTION:

Indicting, Mr Milosevic was indicted before he was arrested.

PRIME MINISTER:

Exactly.

QUESTION:

In power.

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes, but Milosevic I don't think actually in the end was brought to justice until he was out of power. But look, the issue of an indictment is something that is kept under consideration, as you know it is a decision ultimately for the Attorney General. And you know that the perfectly, in my view, reasonable arguments that are made by people like Anne Clwyd over it, but we have to weigh up a number of different considerations as to whether it is worth such a prosecution. But I don't think that should divert us from the main issue frankly, which is going to be whether it is necessary to change the regime in Iraq in order to disarm them of weapons of mass destruction. On troops, we will not ask our troops to do anything they cannot do, of course that is so, but I don't want to get into speculation as to when military action might be.

QUESTION:

Are you making any contingency plans for emergency legislation or injunctions to prevent the fire service from going on strike at a time when you are now on the verge of committing substantial numbers of troops to go to the Gulf possibly for a war?

PRIME MINISTER:

I have said what I said on the strike earlier. I think as Nick Raynsford and John Prescott have said, we keep every option under review. But the question of an injunction obviously is a matter for the Attorney General.

QUESTION:

Yesterday the Washington Post quoted a senior Administration official, whom some people believe to be Donald Rumsfeld, saying that 27 January is a very big day and was, I can't remember the exact words, but the beginning of the end of the campaign against Saddam or something. Now that seems to me to be slightly different from the British position, your position, which as I understand it is that if the UN inspectors have not come up with clear and tangible proof of a material breach by 27 January then they should, I think in your words, have the time and space to carry on really until they do.

PRIME MINISTER:

27 January of course is an important day, it will be the first full report back from the inspectors. And remember the inspectors are just starting their work, really the last week was the first week that they have been carrying out their work with their full complement of people. But you know none of us is putting speculative or arbitrary time frames on this. And the fact is the inspectors are in there to do their work, I believe that the inspection process is the right process, that is what the UN resolution laid down, and the fact is of course there is a sense of concern right round the world. Let me maybe put it to you in this way, and it may seem an odd way of putting it but I think it is basically true. I think there is a lot of hesitation round the world, let's put it like this, as to whether we should have conflict or not in Iraq. On the other hand I think that most people believe that Saddam is almost certainly not telling the truth in the 8 December declaration. And there is therefore a completely understandable worry when people consider that he is not telling the truth in his declaration as to whether we will be able to prove that to people's satisfaction. Well we let the inspectors do their task, I don't think there is any point, as I say, putting an arbitrary timescale on it, but of course 27 January is an important day because it is the first report back from the inspectors. But I think you will find throughout that when all the nuances are stripped away and when some of the speculation that frankly has just been nonsense that has gone on in the last few days here, for example I am supposed to have been told by the Cabinet that we have lost the party on Iraq and everyone is against it, it is complete nonsense. People basically are still in exactly the same place, they want this thing dealt with through the UN but they want the UN to deal with it, it is not going to be a way of avoiding dealing with it. And I don't think we have been in any different position frankly for 6 months.

QUESTION:

You have said that there are no speculative timetables for anything as far as the whole process is concerned, but is it not the fact that there is effectively a timetable which is military action? Is it possible to have a credible military threat to Saddam Hussein even if we are going into April, May, June, into the summer months, or do you think it is possible to launch an attack at that time?

PRIME MINISTER:

Look, I think the best thing is to let's just see over these coming weeks. As I say, last week was the first week that the inspectors were in there with their full complement. And let's just, some of these questions you put to me again in a few weeks time. I think there is a very, very clear message to give Saddam actually, which is this, that I don't believe his 8 December declaration, I don't think that anybody does. I am quite sure, I think most people are, that he has these weapons and that the people and the documentation exist to show that. Now he has got a very simple choice he can either tell the truth, be open, transparent, co-operate with the inspectors and do so clearly and now; or if the inspectors are in and they do their work and there are facts that are found that indicate that 8 December declaration is false, then he is going to face military action. If he is under any doubt about the will of the world to deal with this, I think he is making a mistake.

QUESTION:

Just to go back to the security situation. How concerned are you at a time of heightened security when we are all supposed to be on alert and vigilant, that a number of protestors were able to get into the middle of the Sizewell nuclear station this morning? Admittedly to prove a point rather than to do damage, but there is nothing stopping them technically having carried in rocket launchers or whatever.

PRIME MINISTER:

I haven't had a full report back on any breaches of security there, but obviously I am sure those in charge of security there will look at the situation carefully and review any lessons to be learnt. But of course there is an ongoing continuing threat and that is the very reason why this is so important to deal with.

QUESTION:

You talk about what will happen if there is a breach, if no smoking gun is found for a while and some in the American Administration grow impatient and want to go, would you support them even though it wasn't going down the full UN route?

PRIME MINISTER:

As I have just said to somebody, I think the most important thing is to let this process do what it is supposed to do and I think there is no point in speculating about what happens in the future, and I simply say to people, you read all sorts of stuff coming from every side about this about what people are supposed to be thinking and saying. Let me tell you, and I am quite sure that I speak for the Americans as well in relation to this, this decision to go down the UN route was a deliberate decision that we would work with the international community, but it is on this basis that working with the international community is a way of dealing with this issue and disarming Saddam. So whatever happens, Saddam will be disarmed, and it is his choice as to which route is taken. It can be the peaceful route, because he can co-operate with the inspectors, or it can be through conflict.

QUESTION:

At a time of public unease over sentencing policy, what do you say to the family of 6 year old Rebecca Sawyer who was killed in a hit and run accident in Ashington by a 27 year old driver, Ian Carr, with 89 previous convictions, including 2 separate lifetime bans from driving, and at the time of the incident had been released early from a 6 year prison term for burglary? Do you think the Sawyer family have been well served by the Criminal Justice System?

PRIME MINISTER:

First of all I send my condolences and sympathy to the family, of course I do, and it is an appalling and wicked tragedy that has taken place. The second thing is to say to you that in the end of course any decisions on sentencing are for the court. And the third thing is to say that in any term of imprisonment there will be people who will be released early for one reason or another. There are very strict safeguards as to when that takes place and I am sure that in respect of this individual case people will want to learn the lessons from it. That is all I would like to say at this time because I know the sentencing still has to take effect.

QUESTION:

It seems to me that you have just told us already that these inspections are a waste of time because as far as you are concerned Saddam Hussein is lying on 8 December, he has weapons of mass destruction, shouldn't people simply conclude that war is coming whether the United Nations agrees to it, because you believe he has them and we assume the Americans believe he has them too?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes but I think we have said that before, we said that at the time of his declaration on 8 December. But of course the inspections aren't a waste of time because there is a process in which the inspectors take their findings back to the UN, and we are entitled to our view. I can hardly have published a dossier that I published a few weeks before the UN resolution and say on the basis of that I don't believe he has weapons of mass destruction. The whole purpose of the dossier was to say we do believe that he has weapons of mass destruction. But in the end we have chosen the UN process which means the inspectors have to go in and inspect to make their findings.

QUESTION:

You have spoken about your concern that many states, undesirable states, may have the capability perhaps to harness in the future. Does this mean we go after them all? Surely it is going to be a difficult year, you have said that, but is it going to be a very difficult decade of war and terrorism as well as far as you see it?

PRIME MINISTER:

I do believe this is the new threat that we face. But just let me put two points to you. If I had said to you in August 2001 that we needed to deal with the al-Qaida terrorist network and we needed if necessary to invade Afghanistan in order to do so, I bet you wouldn't have got 15% support for that anywhere, you wouldn't have got 10% support for it, and yet you got support for it in October 2001. That is the first point. You have got to think ahead as to these threats. And the second thing is this. What happened on the streets of America on 11 September 2001? What happened was that terrorism reached an entirely different level and pitch. These are people who are prepared to kill any number of people. They killed over 3,000, if they could have killed over 30,000 they would have killed over 30,000. Now all I am saying to you is this material, and we talk about it glibly, sometimes I think the very term weapons of mass destruction, it almost sounds like some sort of scientific term that denudes it of any sense of the destruction that can be caused, these are chemical, biological, nuclear weapons, they are weapons that can cause destruction on a mass scale. Those weapons, I know, are being traded around the world at the moment. I also have no doubt at all that terrorist groups, if they could get hold of them, would get hold of them. And who could have any doubt after 11 September that if they can get hold of them they would use them. So that is why it is important. And yes it is not going to be finished this year, or the next year, and the reason why I have said to people throughout again, Iraq is where this issue comes to a focal point, but it isn't the only issue of weapons of mass destruction which was why I agreed with one of your colleagues earlier talking about North Korea, we have got then systematically to go through the countries where this is a problem, and you will have different strategies for different countries, but make sure we deal with this. Because if we don't deal with it, I simply tell you, one day we will wake up and one of these countries will have this material and use it, which is one risk; and another risk is that some of it will leach out to these terrorist groups who are complete fanatics, who have no care for human life and will use those weapons if they could possibly get their hands on them. And that is why I keep saying to people, these two issues are not separate, they are linked issues.

QUESTION:

We know that Russia and France have got massive commercial interests in the survival of Saddam Hussein and the lifting of all sanctions against him. If we are going to the United Nations Security Council, in effect we mean that nothing should be done, that Saddam Hussein should be left in place. And yet some of your own Ministers are urging you to do exactly this. This is highly irresponsible in my opinion and is there any wonder that the country feels uncertain what to think when your own Ministers let you down?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I don't think anyone is saying anything different, which is that we want the UN process to work but we have made it absolutely clear it has to work in disarming Saddam. And I think a lot of people were sceptical that we would ever get the first resolution in the UN, but we got it. But don't be under any doubt at all, we have complete and total determination to do this. And if Saddam is under doubt or illusion then he is making a huge miscalculation. And the fact of the matter is that of course if you had a different regime in Iraq that was in obedience with the UN position, then everything could be resolved, including sanctions, which is exactly why for the Iraqi people the best thing that could possibly happen is to see the back of Saddam.

QUESTION:

A few moments ago you said on several occasions that we should wait and see what happens over the coming weeks, ask me these questions again in a few weeks time, talking about Iraq. Does that mean after you having made the point that the inspectors have only just got their full complement in, that you expect them in a matter of weeks after 27 January, if not before, to actually find that smoking gun? You are saying wait a few weeks, wait a few weeks, do you think it is only a matter of a few weeks before they find that smoking gun?

PRIME MINISTER:

The trouble is with a situation like this is that if you start to speculate on what might or might not happen, you find people either interpret it one way or another way. All I have said to you is the inspectors have just begun their work. Now I happen to be confident that this inspection process will be thorough, I believe that, but let us simply wait and see on it. But don't be under any doubt whatever, this UN route, I think I said this when we had our September press conference up in my constituency, the UN route has got to be the way of resolving this. And of course someone mentioned a bit earlier whether there was frustration, of course people will be worried because if you do believe, as we believe, that Saddam has these weapons, people of course are going to be concerned as to whether the inspection process will see us through or not, but I think it is sensible that we wait and see on that.

QUESTION:

Today and yesterday the UN inspectors said they want 6 months to a year to carry out their work. Is Britain prepared to give them 6 months to a year, and do you think that the US is prepared to do so? And can we keep our troops stationed out there, if we send them now, for 6 months to a year?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I think again we should wait and see what the inspectors find, and 27 January is the first time they will make a full report and then I think things will be a little clearer.

QUESTION:

There are many people who hold the view that a war in Iraq could actually undercut an international effort or war on terrorism, that in many ways you could have a situation where US policy is perceived for a double standard by invading Iraq, that there is some sense that this is anti-Muslim, that this is a war in Iraq without taking care of the peace process in the Middle East. There are many different ways that I think the Arab world and the Muslim world come at this point to arrive at that conclusion, but there is inarguably a sense that we will need the Arab and the Muslim world to effectively fight a war on terrorism. How do you answer those who feel a war in Iraq would undercut a war on terrorism?

PRIME MINISTER:

I don't believe that it will, but I, as you know, think that we should deal with these issues across the piece. I think we should be dealing with weapons of mass destruction, I think we should deal with international terrorism because I think they are linked issues, I think we should push on with the Middle East peace process, which is why I think the conference taking place in London shortly is important. I think we have got to deal with the issues of global poverty and development. And in the end the best way of dealing with the concern in the Arab and Muslim world is to show that we are serious about tackling issues of security and of justice, whichever part of the world they originate in, and that is the best way to deal with this. And as I have said to the Arab and Muslim leaders that I have met, no-one seriously believes that we are after Saddam because he is a Muslim, it is because he has weapons of mass destruction. When we fought Kosovo we were fighting against a dictator that was a Christian dictator to protect Kosovo-Albanian Muslims. So I think in the end these arguments can be got across to people, but I have always said, and I believe, we are in a stronger position if we have an agenda that is comprehensive.

QUESTION:

... Sharon who has refused to allow a delegation to come from Israel to attend the peace conference here in London at your own initiative and at your own invitation?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think the position of the Israeli government is up to them, but what is important is to try and create the circumstances in which we can get lasting peace in the Middle East. And the reason why I think it is important to discuss political reform with the Palestinians is that there has been a sense in Israel and outside that unless we get the right political mechanisms in place then it is difficult to make progress on the Middle East. So ours is an attempt to try and secure that, to try and push that forward. But as I say, every government has got to make up its own mind about it.

QUESTION:

Given Cabinet collective responsibility, what latitude do your Ministers and Cabinet Ministers have in expressing their misgivings?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think that people are saying exactly what I have just said to you, which is that we want the UN process to succeed. And I read carefully what people do say obviously, but I can't really see that anyone is saying anything different.

QUESTION:

You say that you don't want to put a time frame on things, but given the amount of men and armaments that the United States and you are sending to the Gulf already, doesn't that create an irresistible urge to use those troops? And you say that you would rather have a second resolution from the United Nations, are you going to get a second resolution without new evidence being uncovered by the inspectors? And if so, those inspectors you have said should be given time and space, are you prepared to wait until the autumn if that is how long it takes for them to find the new evidence which would give you the UN resolution that you want?

PRIME MINISTER:

First of all Robin I don't want to repeat what I have already said but in relation to the troops and the deployment of troops down there, it is necessary to do that, because we are not in a position where we can enforce the will of the UN unless we have got the troops in place. Now as I say, I am not getting drawn into timescales about the inspectors, and I repeat again, and I think people should reflect on what I am saying, last week they began for the first time really properly their work. They have got the report back on 27 January and I think that all the way through the position that we have set out is the position that we will maintain. If there is a breach of the UN resolution then we stand ready to take action.

QUESTION:

There has been a rather pessimistic assessment in a report to the Department of Culture, Media and Sport on London's chances of success if it were to bid to host the 2012 Olympic Games. Given that, what is your own view on whether London is in good shape to host those games, would you like to see London host those Olympic Games, and is the government going to support a bid?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I can't give you the outcome of government deliberations until we have completed them. But look, I think everybody is in the position of saying it would be great to have an Olympic bid, but the tests that have been set out, the four tests of whether it is affordable and so forth, I think the most important of those is are we going to have a realistic chance and prospect of winning, you can't guarantee these things but are we going to have a realistic prospect of winning? Now that is, along with the other things, what we are looking at at the moment. So we have to make sure of that before we OK a bid and as I say that is exactly what we are undertaking at the moment. So I think it would be a very odd person who said look if we can get the Olympics in London should you take it. Of course. The question is will we be able to do that? Is it likely that we will succeed? And that is the consideration that we are giving at the moment because you have got to see of course whether it is affordable, but also whether you have got a good chance of winning or not.

QUESTION:

... vaccines in the US and that there are now hundreds of lawsuits alleging that the mercury led to autism. Why are we still using mercury in our child vaccines in the UK, and shouldn't parents at least be told about the risks?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we follow the advice given by the Immunisation and Vaccination Committee and they advise us as to what is safe and what is unsafe and we follow their advice strictly. And what I have learnt about all these issues over time is that you are best to have an objective body that gives proper advice. I am not a scientist or a medical expert, with respect neither are you or the newspaper, we are as well to go along with the advice that they give us and we follow that advice and have followed it in this case.

QUESTION:

... want the US to listen back". Shouldn't we take those words as evidence of mounting frustration on your part at the lack of mutuality in the Alliance? And can you give 4 or 5 subjects on which you think the US should be listening better and what advice you would be giving them?

PRIME MINISTER:

No. I think it is what I have always said. You know I have just been talking about some of the issues that I think are part of the international agenda and I think it is important we deal with all those issues from global poverty and development, the Middle East peace process and so on. These are all important questions. And the other thing that I think is important, we were talking about the Arab and Muslim world earlier, I think we have really got a job of work to do in how we engage, and this isn't to do with America simply, it is to do with all of us, because there are large numbers of people, let's be clear, who truly believe that the reason why we might go after Saddam Hussein is because of his religion. Now we know, I don't suppose there is anybody in this room who seriously believes that that is the case, and we know that that is not the case, but I think how we engage with the Arabs and Muslims on these issues particularly at this time is really important. And that is why it is important that we, as part of what we are doing, I think it is justified in its own right in any event. For example focus on the Middle East peace process and see what we can do to help. Now to be fair, the American Administration are trying to do this in the work that they are carrying out, in the speech that President Bush made about the two state solution to the Israeli Palestinian problem, but I think we can always be looking at ways we can step this up, that is all I am saying.

QUESTION:

Inaudible.

PRIME MINISTER:

I am not going to make claims that America has got to do this, that or the next thing. What I have said is set out in the speech. But I think what I would say is, to give you an example of where if you like the relationship worked at its best. I think the US took a bold and a correct decision to go down the UN route over Iraq. Now I think that it is a two-way process, the US having said OK we will go down the UN route, it also behoves the other countries who wanted the US to take that decision to step up to the mark and say well if there is a breach however then we are prepared to have the UN authorise action. So I think there are all sorts of examples that you can give. But really what I am saying is, and this is a bigger topic than for just an answer at a press conference, but if we want the agenda of freedom and democracy and liberty to work, it is an agenda best pursued with justice also, and that means justice right across the piece.

QUESTION:

You just mentioned that changing the regime of Saddam Hussein, the fear in the Arab world nowadays, especially in the Arab street I just came from in the Middle East, that the changing of such a regime in Iraq, it is the starter of a changing of other regimes in the Middle East. Is this the scenario?

PRIME MINISTER:

No, there is a specific demand that we made on Saddam and Saddam has got a choice, he either abides by the UN's will or Saddam himself will be removed because that is the only way of carrying out the mandate of ridding Iraq of weapons of mass destruction. If he stands in the way of that then he has to pay the price of that. But he could opt to agree to the weapons inspectors doing their work properly, he could agree to ensure that he makes an honest declaration of what he has and have it destroyed, and that would be the way of avoiding it. But no, there are all sorts of conspiracy theories that come out on this in the next few months, this is about Iraq and it is about the regime of Saddam Hussein.

QUESTION:

You coined the phrase tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime. In the wake of last week's gun statistics and the appalling murder of two young women in Birmingham over New Year, are you satisfied your government has done enough to tackle the causes of crime, in particular the hopelessness, alienation and sense of exclusion from the prosperous society that cause so many young men to pick up guns. You have told us what you are going to do to be tough on crime, could you tell us what you are going to do to be tough on the causes of crime?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well of course we have a lot more to do, haven't we, that is plain and obvious. But don't let's forget what we are doing. We have the largest unemployment programme that this country has ever seen, which has halved youth unemployment, reduced long term youth unemployment by 80%. We have the lowest unemployment rate today of any major industrialised country in the world. Sure-Start programmes to deal with families having children, and especially poorer families with children, are right round the country. I honestly say to any of you, if you want a cause for optimism about such programmes, go and visit one because they are remarkable. We have record rises in child benefit. We have Working Families Tax Credit, we have Inner City Regeneration finance. Yes we have got a lot more to do but we are doing key things to tackle the causes of crime. And what I would say on crime itself is, look you know and I know, actually over the past 5 years crime has fallen, not risen, recorded crime and the British Crime Survey, but it doesn't feel like that if you are out there and you are suffering from the effects of gun crime or violent crime or other types of crime that cause so much distress to people. But we have been working on this for a considerable period of time, these two pieces of legislation - the Criminal Justice Bill and the Anti-Social Behaviour Bill - are coming up and I simply say to people, because at the moment the Conservatives for example are opposed, and the Liberal Democrats, are opposed to significant bits of both legislation. Now if people really want these issues tackled then they have got to support the legislation that we are putting forward because I think it is the only way of doing it. But on the causes of crime, I think we have got a record we can be proud of, at the same time as accepting there is an awful lot more we have still got to do.

QUESTION:

Are those programmes going to the guys who are carrying the guns? You talk about child poverty, but these are youths aren't they?

PRIME MINISTER:

In the end of course people have got to take personal responsibility, but in those communities, if you go into those communities every single young person that is unemployed is offered skills or job training and the possibility of a job, every single one today. There is not a single young unemployed person that isn't offered that help and it is tip-top help. No-one talks, you remember in the old days when everyone used to talk about skivvy schemes and Tory schemes and all the rest of it, no-one talks about the New Deal like that. Now in the end it is a balance, it is social responsibility to provide these programmes to help people, but it is also personal responsibility too, and it is to do also with neighbourhoods that have grown up in a particular way and families that frankly have been dysfunctional and where kids are brought up in appalling circumstances and no proper role models, that is what programmes like Sure-Start are designed to address. Now these are long term problems. Violent crime and gun crime hasn't suddenly arisen, it has been building up over a long period of time, and I still believe the very best thing we can do is to have tough criminal justice measures alongside social action programmes in the local communities. And of course we can always do more, we will try and do more, but I think again if you went into local communities you could see evidence that such programmes are in existence. We have just got to carry on working on it and make sure that we hold to the position that we set out.

QUESTION:

What is your reaction to ... Dorset in the ricin inquiry, and what do you say to people who live in the area tonight who are obviously feeling a bit alarmed?

PRIME MINISTER:

It shows the absolute importance of making sure that we are vigilant, that the security services, the police, are allowed to get on and do their work, it shows the threat these people pose, but it also shows that we are making sure that that threat is dealt with. And I totally understand, people in Dorset, who would have thought down in Dorset that arrests would be made. Now I can't say anything about the case that may be brought for very obvious reasons, but I think what it does show is that it underlines once again the very real threat this issue poses to people in our country, no matter what part of our country, and why it is necessary we take the measures to deal with it. And again, I would just mention this point because when we introduced emergency legislation that allows us to deal with these types of issues and make some of these arrests, when we introduced that emergency legislation it was strongly opposed by many, many people on civil liberties grounds, and I think people have to understand if we want to deal with this new menace we have to take the measures necessary to deal with it properly.

QUESTION:

We know rather a lot about your sartorial choices at your dinner with Gerhard Schroeder, but it would be quite nice to know something about the substance of your discussions. Are you and he now more in tune on Iraq? And also did you give him any advice about dealing with the British press?

PRIME MINISTER:

It is always a mistake to take these questions late on in a press conference. The discussion on the British press was brief and to the point. In relation to Iraq, well Germany has its position that it has set out and I shouldn't answer for Chancellor Schroeder on that. And I think there is an understanding, even though our positions are different on the issue, on why we think the way we do, but it was actually a very, very good discussion, particularly on issues to do with Europe, with economic reform in Europe, and also, because I think it is worth pointing this out, on international terrorism where Germany is playing a key role and where in relation to Afghanistan they have got the leadership of the international security force and are doing a superb job on it. So there are many different parts that people can play.

QUESTION:

Do you intend to go ahead with the Assembly elections in Northern Ireland and would you allow them to go ahead even if devolution had not been restored by May?

PRIME MINISTER:

As Paul Murphy has made clear on many occasions, the date is set for those elections. We will have intensive discussions with people over the next few weeks, we have begun that process now to see if we can put the thing back together, but it can only be done on a very, very clear understanding, that all remaining aspects of the Good Friday Agreement are properly implemented totally, and that means that people have to have the complete confidence that the British government honours their commitments, that there is a proper sense of stability in the institutions and also, because this is a vital part of that stability, that any group wanting to sit in government that is associated with a paramilitary group, has completely and totally ceased the activities of violence, not just doing it but preparing for it, and I think that is the only basis upon which we are going to get this thing properly back off the ground again and done.


ENDS

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