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Iraqi ballistic missile report is 'very serious'

PM: Iraqi ballistic missile report is 'very serious'

Prime Minister Tony Blair has said that if reports of Iraq breaching UN guidelines on ballistic missiles is correct it is ' very serious because it would be not just a failure to declare and disclose information but a breach of Resolution 1441'.

Mr Blair was speaking at a joint press conference following talks with Australian Prime Minister John Howard. Read a transcript below.

ENDS

PRIME MINISTER:

Good morning everyone. First of all can I say how delighted I am to welcome Prime Minister Howard here to Downing Street and to thank him for his courtesy in coming here and very diplomatically agreeing only to discuss the sport of rugby. And secondly can I say that we have had absolutely excellent discussions between us, and I would like to thank both the Prime Minister and Australia for their very solid support and stand at this difficult time. Obviously our discussions have been dominated by the issue of Iraq. We have agreed on the need for Iraq to disarm itself completely of weapons of mass destruction, chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. We have agreed that the Resolution 1441 passed by the United Nations Security Council has got to be upheld in all its particulars, and that Saddam Hussein has got to co-operate fully with the UN Inspectors, and of course we await the report of the UN Inspectors tomorrow.

In addition to that, as you might expect, we discussed the issue of Zimbabwe and also that of North Korea, and of course the state of relations between our two countries which, as you would expect and know, is extremely strong.

So, once again, John welcome here and many thanks for your support and your leadership at this time.

MR HOWARD:

Thank you very much Tony. Can I say how delighted I am to be in Downing Street to have had the opportunity to talk to the British Prime Minister about, principally, Iraq, but also the problem of North Korea and the problem of Zimbabwe.

Can I say to the British Prime Minister that I think the stance that he has taken on this very difficult issue for the world has been both strong and principled and he has shown very strong and effective leadership in his own country and in Europe and internationally on what is the challenge of our age. We do live in a new dispensation, and that new dispensation is that the world has to confront the possibility that weapons of mass destruction in the hands of rogue states, that that threat, which is a threat in itself, that that threat is joined with an even more horrifying threat that those weapons of mass destruction might get into the hands of international terrorists, and the more they proliferate, the greater the likelihood that they will get into the hands of international terrorists and the world cannot walk away from this problem. It has to be faced, and I believe very strongly that if the whole world, speaking through the United Nations Security Council, said with one clear voice to Iraq that it had to disarm, then that would more than anything else be likely to bring forth the faint hope of a peaceful solution. I think in particular it would mobilise the Arab states, which I believe are important to this issue, so can I say, Prime Minister, that it is good to have had this opportunity, and I think the stance you have taken on this has been very strong and principled.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thanks very much John. Right we will have two questions from each lot.

QUESTION:

Can I ask you in the light of this morning's disclosures about Iraq clearly being in breach of UN guidelines on ballistic missiles and the distance they can travel, could I ask you both, separately if I may, whether you believe this is a smoking gun and whether you believe there is now any case for more time to be given to the weapons inspectors or indeed for more weapons inspectors to go into Iraq.

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, if these reports are correct, and obviously the Inspectors should give evidence of what they know about that, and I am sure they will tomorrow, if these reports are correct it is very serious because it would be not just a failure to declare and disclose information but a breach of Resolution 1441 and the whole point about time is this. If the Inspectors were being given the full co-operation by Iraq, honest, truthful declarations of what they have and where it is, then of course they could have as much time as they would want and need, but if they are not getting that full co-operation then the judgement on timing is a judgement on how much time do you need to come to the realisation that Saddam is not co-operating fully because this can only happen if there is full co-operation by Iraq, and the way the weapons inspection regime is supposed to work is that the Inspectors go in there with the country in which they are operating giving full co-operation, and in those circumstances of course the Inspectors' job would be relatively easy. What they are not is some detective agency that goes in there without the co-operation of the receiving country and tries to find whatever they can. And therefore any evidence that comes to light of a failure to declare honestly and any evidence of a breach of Resolution 1441 is extremely important because it indicates the futility of simply going on with more and more and more time, when it is perfectly obvious they are not co-operating.

MR HOWARD:

Could I just say that I agree completely with the assessment of the latest development. Clearly the detail of it has got to be determined by the Inspectors, but if it is the case that is just further evidence of a long pattern of deceit and evasion and trickery. The problem is not time, it is attitude. If the attitude changed, you could have unlimited time. If you had total co-operation it wouldn't be a problem, and I would have no problem. In a statement I made in the Australian Parliament last week, I made this point that what we need from Iraq is co-operation. Not a few morsels of additional information produced in the face of a military presence. All the rocks that get thrown at those that have deployed, particularly the Americans, the people who throw those rocks forget if that military presence was not there, you would not have got anything. You wouldn't have had the Inspectors in Iraq, let alone these few morsels of additional information and so forth that have come out in the last few days.

QUESTION:

What is your message to your Labour counterparts in Australia who don't share your attitude on Iraq.

PRIME MINISTER:

I think if you will forgive me, I know it's early in the morning, but even so I'm not going to get drawn into a discussion on other political parties' policies. I think I have set out my policy very, very clearly.

MR HOWARD:

I'll deliver the messages.

QUESTION:

Why are we experiencing the biggest ever security operation on our streets here in peace-time.

PRIME MINISTER:

It's important people realise that we face, as indeed as the Prime Minister was just saying a short time ago, that the threat that preoccupies not just this country, but Australia, and other countries right throughout the world, is the threat of disorder and chaos as a result of terrorist groups or rogue unstable states with chemical, biological and potentially nuclear weapons capability.

And the threat the world faces today is disorder and chaos that comes from these types of groups operating throughout the world. Now what we have got to do is take every measure we possibly can to protect ourselves against that both in terms of security, in terms of trying to weed out these groups wherever they are operating, not just here but throughout the rest of the world, and that's what we do. And on each occasion we make a judgement, based on the advice from our Security Services, from our Police Service, as to what the appropriate action is to take.

You will understand why we cannot, and shouldn't start disclosing details of everything we know and may know, but it is important we take every precaution we can in order to keep people safe. But in the end the only way that we can be fully safe is not just taking the security measures necessary to protect ourselves on any particular day, in any particular set of circumstances, but also making sure along with other countries in the world we do absolutely everything we can to root these terrorist groups out.

QUESTION:

Could I say that although the apparent missile breach is very serious, do you think it is a material breach of the obligations. Is it enough in itself to justify military action? Could I also in the discussions on North Korea, doesn't the news overnight that North Korea's threat that

it can hit US targets anywhere in the world present a more urgent and larger threat to international stability?

PRIME MINISTER:

We were discussing this a moment or two ago and first of all in relation to the point on Iraq. Yes of course if the news is true that is a significant breach of 1441, but the overall issue in relation to 1441 is, has Saddam complied with what that Resolution said was a final opportunity to offer full and complete co-operation with the Inspectors. Now that's a judgement that has to be made in the round, and all these bits of evidence go to form that judgement, and we will obviously await what the Inspectors say tomorrow.

But the point you make on North Korea I think is very important. The Prime Minister was making this point to me just a moment or two ago. North Korea is an issue. As I said in our Parliament here just a few days ago, there is no doubt that we have to confront the issue of North Korea. But let nobody be in any doubt, if North Korea is an issue, and we need to confront it, and we need to find the best way of doing that, then weakness at this point over Iraq, where the United Nations has a clear, declared position, weakness is going to inhibit our ability to confront the dangers from North Korea, so the important thing to realise is that we have, as I say, these twin threats of international terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, that I believe are linked. Maybe linked very specifically, but are also linked in the general sense that they are threats to our way of life, to the order and stability the world needs, and when we are faced with the situation, as we are with Iraq, where the whole of the international community has laid down a clear instruction that they have to disarm, if we do not then enforce that instruction, then when we come to discuss North Korea where we may employ different means in order to confront that threat, we are going to be tremendously weakened and undermined in our ability to confront them if we have shown weakness and uncertainty over Iraq. That's the key issue for us.

MR HOWARD:

Could I just add something? I don't know if you were present, no you wouldn't have been, but I think you may have been, at a Conference I had a few weeks ago in Canberra when I made the observation that if the world doesn't deal with Iraq effectively, what price controlling North Korea.

And there is a clear link, and this idea that you have sort of got to deal with one and not deal with the other, or put them in a different priority, misses the point. They are at different stages. They are both serious issues, they both have to be addressed, but the clear message in relation to Iraq is that if we go weak and somehow or other walk away from that and think the problem will solve itself, that will further embolden the North Koreans and I believe very strongly that one of the reasons why North Korea has behaved as she has is that she has watched the disarray of the world in dealing with Iraq, and if that continues, and this goes back to the point I made in my introduction that if the world community gets its act together effectively by getting behind a new Resolution, then you are sending a signal not only to Iraq, but you are also sending a signal to North Korea that the world does have the capacity to act. Now this is very important to our country obviously. It's important to the whole world. But the two are linked in that sense, so it serves no purpose of containing North Korea to go soft on Iraq.

QUESTION:

A material breach, Prime Minister?

MR HOWARD:

Look, on the question of the latest discovery, we have both said we want to get the Inspectors to speak on that, there's plenty of material breach around already. Although we may have our differences on some issues, the Leader of the Opposition in Australia has said emphatically that he believes that Iraq is in material breach already, and this was before this latest discovery.

I think though that if it is verified, and I'll leave it to the Inspectors to speak with authority on it, it is just another example of Iraq's refusal to abide by the decisions of the Security Council, and once again the ball is in the court of the Security Council. This is a big test for the Security Council.

Those who believe in the authority of the Security Council will I know be hoping that the community of nations comes together and speaks with one voice not only because that will provide that slim hope of a peaceful solution, but it will also strengthen the Security Council, because if the Security Council fails this test it will have a crippling impact on its authority for years into the future, and it could fundamentally alter the view the world has, and this has an impact on those who wield authority and power within the Security Council.


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