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UK PM answers questions at MTV Forum

PM answers questions at MTV Forum

Prime Minister Tony Blair has taken part in a question and answer session on MTV. Mr Blair answered questions on Iraq from a studio audience consisting of 40 youngsters from Europe, the Middle East and the US.

Read a full transcript of the Q&A below.

MTV Forum - Is War the Answer? (6 March 2003)

Trevor Nelson

Tonight on MTV we're proud to have a world exclusive with the lead singer of a band called Ugly Rumours. For those of you who you don't know ... Our guest tonight is not here to talk about music, he's here to talk about politics and the possibility of a war on Iraq because he is the Prime Minister of Britain. Please welcome Mr Tony Blair.

[Applause]

We have got a studio audience of 40 from 24 different countries to pose a question, 'Is war the answer?', but before we get started let's have a quick recap on the story so far and how the world has come to be on brink of war with Iraq.

Voice over

The United Nations claims Iraq has chemical and biological weapons and wants them destroyed. Weapons inspectors went into Iraq to make sure it happened but following years of Iraqi non co-operation they left in 1998. In 1999 Iraq rejected a new inspection scheme. In 2002 UN resolution 1441 gave Iraq a final opportunity to comply with all previous resolutions or suffer serious consequences. Hans Blix led a new weapons inspector team and has said Iraq is not cooperating fully. At the end of last year the United States started moving troops to the Gulf in preparation for war. On the UN Security Council, the USA, United Kingdom, Spain and Bulgaria are in favour of imminent action if Iraq does not comply, whilst France Germany, Russia and China are against. Angola, Cameroon, Chile, Guinea, Mexico, Syria and Pakistan remain undecided. Tony Blair became UK Prime Minister in 1997 and he's now in his second term in office. He is President Bush's strongest European ally and pledged early support for a war if Saddam fails to disarm. Mr Blair is a committed Christian and recently had a private audience with the Pope who has publicly declared his opposition to war, and despite the fact that opinion polls say a majority of UK voters have serious doubts about military action, he is standing firm insisting Iraq must disarm or face war.

Trevor Nelson

Just before we kick off with our first question let's have a look at a survey we've done of visitors to our MTV websites across Europe. It's not a scientific poll but 80,000 people have given us their views and here's what they said. We ask, "Do you think that the weapon inspectors need more time to complete their task?" 76% said yes. And 24% said no, they do not need more time. So, let's go straight to our first question which comes from Olof Sommell.

Olof Somell, Swedish, aged 23

Prime Minister Blair has repeatedly been said time is running out for Saddam Hussein. It seems to me it's in fact yourself and President Bush that would set the date of an actual attack. In that case, what is the rush?

Prime Minister Tony Blair

There is no rush, after all we've been waiting 12 years for Saddam to disarm himself of chemical and biological and potentially nuclear weapons. We passed the UN resolution 4 months ago now which said there was a failed opportunity to disarm. He is supposed to comply and co-operate with the UN inspectors fully and unconditionally and he's not doing that. So we think it's right that the UN now moves a further stage and makes it clear that if he's not prepared to disarm peacefully, then he'll have to be disarmed by force, otherwise we've said, as the UN, you've got to disarm, then we've done nothing about it when that doesn't happen.

Olof Somell

Okay. In that case, why not simply let it be up to Mr Blix and his inspectors to decide when the inspections are done?

Prime Minister Tony Blair

Well, if Saddam co-operates fully the inspectors should be there as long as they want, then time is not an issue. This is one of the confusions about this. If Saddam was actually co-operating - look, you've got Iraq; it's the size, twice the landmass of the UK. There is no way the inspectors can go in there without the Iraqi co-operation and find the stuff. They're not a detective agency. So, what the Iraqis have to do is co-operate fully, otherwise you can't shut the system down and can't destroy these biological and chemical weapons. If they aren't prepared to co-operate fully, frankly they shouldn't take weeks, months - they can take years. South Africa had its nuclear weapons programme shut down after the end of Apartheid by 9 inspectors. So what, it took 3 years; it doesn't matter. If they don't co-operate fully they could be in there as they had been for years upon years and manage to do it.

Trevor Nelson

Anybody else with a question on the subject of why the rush to war?

Jonathan Lee, British, aged 23

If the argument to disarm Saddam is so strong, then why recently did you have to rely on a 10-year old plagiarised postgraduate essay as a main piece of evidence against the current regime?

Prime Minister Tony Blair

Well, I didn't actually, the particular document, despite all the great controversy there was. There were 3 parts to the document. One part was intelligence. The second part was a list of the intelligence agencies of Saddam and it was taken from a reference book, but it was entirely accurate, nobody has disputed its accuracy. The main part of the document dealt with intelligence and that was nothing to do with a 10-year old thesis or even an one-year old thesis. It was intelligence we put forward and the one thing that's important to realise is nobody disputes - nobody disputes that Saddam is a threat if he's not disarmed of these weapons. So that isn't the controversial thing. I think what people really ask, which is what I understand is, is war the only or the right way to do it? And my answer to that is, it isn't the first resort. The first resort is to do it peacefully, voluntarily, and he knows exactly what he has to do and he's had 12 years in which to do it.

Trevor Nelson

This gentleman here.

Niklas Ergardt, Swedish, aged 25

So there is no imminent danger then from him, imminent as in now?

Prime Minister Tony Blair

Well, we have 300,000 troops down there now sitting on his doorstep. You've got the UN inspectors in. It's unlikely at this very moment in time as we speak that Saddam is going to do anything; that's true. But what happened before when he was first given the opportunity to disarm completely was in April 1991 and he was given 15 days then to come forward with an honest declaration of what he had. The inspectors went in. At that point, because all the troops then left, Saddam began the game of not, you know, co-operating properly. Finally, in 1998, they had to leave. So, if we don't act now - we can't keep those people down there forever. We can't wait forever. If we don't act now, then we will go back to what has happened before and then of course the whole thing begins again and he carries on developing these weapons and these are dangerous weapons, particularly if they fall into the hands of terrorists who we know want to use these weapons if they can get them.

Niklas Ergardt

Still, obviously you are a person of a very great intelligence as well as Bush and you do not acknowledge imminent danger, so why attack?

Prime Minister Tony Blair

You're saying not this very moment when we're sitting on them now, but I've absolutely no doubt at all that if we don't deal with this issue of weapons of mass destruction, certainly he's a threat. He's a threat to his own region. Twice before he's invaded other countries in the region and he's a threat because these weapons - chemical and biological weapons - these are dangerous things. When we call them weapons of mass destruction, I sometimes think it deludes the language of any real meaning.

Niklas Ergardt

With all due respect, Mr Blair, I'm able to produce an anthrax in my bathtub obviously because I studied up on it. I have anthrax in my spinach in my summer cottage. I could do anthrax as well. Why don't you bomb Sweden?

Prime Minister Tony Blair

Has Sweden ever killed 5,000 people in one village with a chemical weapon?

Niklas Ergardt

No, but you're saying obviously Saddam is not an imminent threat.

Prime Minister Tony Blair

What I'm saying is he certainly is a threat. He's not a threat at this very moment with all those troops down there, but you take all that away and you leave the inspectors back doing what they were doing for the 7 or 8 years they were there in the 1990s-

Niklas Ergardt

Why not give military support to Hans Blix then?

Prime Minister Tony Blair

We've said we'll give whatever support they need but they can't do their job unless they get Iraqi co-operation. Look, they've got to go into Iraq and if the Iraqis aren't telling them and they normally find this out in weapons' inspection programmes, what they do is interview the scientists, experts, who worked on the programme, that's how you shut most of these programmes down. Doctor Blix has been conducting interviews. The Iraqis have refused 34 of the requests for interviews. The nine people who've been interviewed have been interviewed in circumstances

Niklas Ergardt

It's not very realistic to expect you'd get a closed interview with a man in Iraq that is obviously having a dictator, Saddam, as a threat against himself. He has families left in Iraq, even if you bring them into Jordan. He's got friends there as well and they'd obviously be killed.

Prime Minister Tony Blair

I agree with you, but what does that show about the nature of the regime we're dealing with? Is a regime you accept is so wicked it would kill the family of someone who talks to a UN inspector under a UN mandate - are you saying it's right to leave somebody-

Niklas Ergardt

No, I'm not, but we do have regimes and Africa is doing that as well-

Trevor Nelson

I have to stop you because I think you've made your point. Has anyone else got a point to make?

Mohammed Al-Hilli, Iraqi/British, aged 24

I'm an Iraqi who like all other Iraqis has suffered enormously under Saddam's regime. Two million people have been killed. You mention war is the only option. Iraqi people have suffered so much under the past 30 years and we don't want bombing of Iraqi people that would kill more Iraqis. Can we not look at other options such as exile Saddam, supporting revolution in Iraq and assassinating Saddam to limit the casualties? Because, at the end of the day, there will be casualties of war.

Prime Minister Tony Blair

I think that's a very good point and incidentally I'm not saying war is the only answer. There are 2 other answers. One is voluntary disarmament by Saddam which, in any event, would change greatly the nature of his regime because he uses these weapons of mass destruction to police his own people. The second point you make about exile and that, I think, is interesting because I would be prepared to accept a situation where Saddam and his immediate entourage went into exile and if that was the way of avoiding conflict, then, personally, even though I regard Saddam as a barbarous and evil man, I would be prepared to accept that as a way of avoiding conflict, and I think there are a lot of people, particularly in the Arab world, who'd agree with that as the right way through.

Mohammed Al-Hilli, Iraqi/British, aged 24

You mention the first point and that is disarmament, but disarmament is not the solution for Iraqi people. They've suffered. Human rights should be the first point. If Saddam disarms, how is that helping the suffering of Iraqi people killed by Saddam? No one is helping them then. It has to be human rights. That has to top of the agenda. If Saddam disarms his weapons of mass destruction, that doesn't solve anything for the Iraqis.

Prime Minister Tony Blair

That's a very good point and let me answer it. I personally think there are reasons to get rid of Saddam which aren't just to do with weapons of mass destruction, that thousands of people die every year in Iraq needlessly as a result of him. We've talked a lot about the UN and we have to work within the UN mandate and it is disarmament. If we have to remove Saddam to get disarmament, both those things happen. One of the reasons I've said to people constantly - I have a very clear conscience about doing this and we need to do this - is getting rid of Saddam would be an act of humanity.

Trevor Nelson

We're going to come back to the humanitarian subject later on. That's all we have time for in this part of the programme, but stay tuned. We've got more in the debate coming up in part 2 when Tony Blair will be answering your questions.

[End of part 1]

Trevor Nelson

Welcome back. We're with British Prime Minister Tony Blair and the subject of discussion is the conflict with Iraq, 'Is War the Answer?' One of the reasons being put forward to justify military action is it will help with the war on terror and stop Saddam Hussein giving weapons of mass destruction to the likes of Osama bin Laden and his network of Al Qaida terrorists, but some say any war in Iraq will play into the hands of any terrorists we're trying to stop. Take a look at this.

Voice over

On September 11 2001 over 3,000 people died when Al Qaida terrorists destroyed New York's World Trade Centre. America declared a war on terror and led a UN war against Afghanistan which gave refuge to the Al Qaida terrorists. Some critics say the US foreign policy provoked the attacks arguing America does not understand Muslim anger at military and economic support for Israel. The Palestinians should be given a nation state.

Trevor Nelson

Let's go straight to the next question which comes from Dave Gibson from the United Kingdom.

Dave Gibson, British, aged 23

Mr Blair, the absolute disdain that you've shown the Iraqi people continuously over the past few years breeds anti-West sentiment in the Middle East. That's a fact. It's a fact. And I'm sure you won't argue that. Can you not see that by waging war in Iraq now and killing thousands of innocent people, you will not be reducing the threat of terrorist activity in the United Kingdom in Europe like you say you will? You will only be increasing it. Can you not see that?

Prime Minister Tony Blair

First of all, I don't agree with you, I'm afraid, at all, that we've shown disdain for the Iraqi people. And I also would say to you that the person who's shown most disdain for the Iraqi people is Saddam Hussein. It's not me who's killed thousands of Iraqis every year; it's him. Secondly, I think that the issue to do with terrorism - there are many reasons for the terrorism, but nothing can ever justify the terrorism, and we just had September 11th mentioned there a moment or two ago. America didn't attack Al Qaida . Al Qaida attacked America. Let's get this the right way round. And I don't believe, frankly, with these terrorist groups, that it matters what we do. They will still attack us because they detest everything we have and stand for and the freedoms we have. Where I would actually say to you is the real issue, however, for where people have some, in my view, misguided sympathy for terrorists - I think the single thing that is a real issue is the issue to do with the Middle East peace process and the Israeli/ Palestinian issue, and one of the things that I believe passionately is that, irrespective of what happens in Iraq, we have to find a way of restarting that peace process, and, if you want to know, I think that is the cause of more concern in the Arab and Muslim world than a liking for Saddam Hussein because I don't believe there is such.

Trevor Nelson

I think he's opened up a good argument here. Everyone has an opinion. I'll go to this gentleman at the back here.

Sharif Dawoud, British Palestinian, aged 18

As a Palestinian, I'd just pick up on a point you said. In terms of Iraq and wiping out terrorism within Iraq, Ariel Sharon last week, his Minister said they'd do several attacks in Hizbullah in South Lebanon to settle told scores. I'm sure you will agree that will make any terrorist situation worse in the Middle East.

Prime Minister Tony Blair

The whole situation makes everything worse. It's wrong also that you still have innocent Israeli citizens blown up in cafes, restaurants, discotheques. The whole situation is terrible. I spent the early part of this week into the early hours of Wednesday morning on the Northern Ireland peace process. 5 years ago, the Northern Ireland peace process was in a worse shape than the Middle East peace process and what I'm saying to you is we can argue about the actions taken by the Israelis, we can argue about terrorism. In the end, the only way of getting this peace process back on track again is to re-start negotiations based on recognition by the Arab world of Israel and a viable Palestinian state so that the Palestinians have their own state, and, honestly, we can all have our own positions on this and condemn Israel or condemn the Palestinians or Hizbullah or whatever it is. You will never get a peaceful situation there until you get a final negotiated settlement.

Sharif Dawoud, British Palestinian, aged 18

Should it be through the United Nations, the negotiated settlement?

Prime Minister Tony Blair

I think at the end as both sides accept they've got to do the deal with, but anyway, if the UN European Union or American can help, they should.

Sharif Dawoud, British Palestinian, aged 18

If Israel has never complied with one of the United Nations resolutions, why would they ever comply with any of the Palestinians' resolutions?

Trevor Nelson

Can I stop you there? I want to find out some other opinions on the Arab/Israeli situation. Have you got an opinion?

Akouavi Assogba, French, aged 22

Yes I'm from France. And I want to know your mind about confusion between terrorists or from one country and terrorism round the world because we have a new situation where terrorism can be in the UK, can be in France, can be in the United States.

Trevor Nelson

I'll allow that even though it isn't the Arab Israeli situation completely. Go ahead.

Prime Minister Tony Blair

Well, the danger that I see - I mean, look, let me try and explain to you why I think this is such a big issue and terrorism and the states with weapons of mass destruction come together. This is my reasoning. You're absolutely right. All round Europe, all round the world, these terrorist cells are operating and this is a terrorism that will cause literally as much death as it can. If these people could have killed 30,000 people on September 11th, not 3,000, they would have killed 30,000. These states that are developing or proliferating or trading in these weapons of mass destruction are - at some point - these things are coming together. This is why this is so important and the reason why you have to take a stand as an international community through the UN, because that's how I think it should be dealt with. If you don't take a stand now, the states will grow in power and what you'll find is the terrorist cells at some point manage to get hold of the ability to cause death on a massive scale and, frankly, then, it's not a matter whether they're in France, in the UK, or in Spain, or Bali, Indonesia, these terrorists will kill where ever they can kill and that's why we have to deal with this issue.

Trevor Nelson

Can I open up this Arab/Israeli conflict again please?

Oz Shtrosberg, Israeli, aged 19

Mr Blair, as an Israeli, I feel it is crucial, as we've seen in this debate even, that the public understands the difference, the totally clear difference, between the Iraqi conflict and the Israeli/Palestinian peace process. Those two are two separate tracks; even though they have influenced one another, they're not connected at all. I would say, personally, calling or even comparing Saddam Hussein's regime and the Israeli government is both factually incorrect and morally distressful. I'd like to hear your comments and your possible clarification of this issue.

Prime Minister Tony Blair

I agree, obviously, and let's not forget Israel is a democracy. We may not agree with everything the Israeli Government does, but it's elected. It's also important to point out there are UN resolutions in respect of Israel, but also in respect of Palestinians and in respect of the Arab world. The reason I feel so strongly about this issue is because of my experience through Northern Ireland, which is different, but there are many similarities where you get two groups of people, in fact, who've got to live side by side who end up, as a result of terrorism, hating, detesting - because what the terrorists do is they do a terrorist act, which is a terrible act, they cause terrible damage; the state then retaliates because it has to. You know, I keep saying to people when they criticise Israel in these circumstances, any government anywhere in the Western world whose people were being blown up in a cafe, discotheque or restaurant would be out after the people doing it. In the end, however, that's not an answer. The only answer is to work out a peaceful solution and the one advantage we have at the present situation with this Arab/Israeli/Palestinian business is there is now universal acceptance of the two-state solution and I hope in Israel too, incidentally, because I think that's important, and, if there is, the rest is negotiation, so what we need is a way of ensuring that we get the proper security measures in place so that the Palestinians can actually prevent - genuinely prevent - this terrorism arising, then we need to get back to the negotiating table on the basis of the two-state solution. All I can say is I will work and do as much as I can to achieve that.

Trevor Nelson

We've got to move on. We've got loads to get through and I'd like to introduce a new subject by showing you some more results from our survey. We asked visitors to our website if they believe US and UK claims that oil is not a motivating factor in the war in Iraq. Only 17 % believe oil has nothing to do with the war, whilst 83% said they didn't believe the US and UK Government's claims and thought oil was a motivating factor. So that gives you a flavour of just how much faith our viewers do have in the words of politicians. But that's true. That's a survey. It also sets up the next question, which comes from Manuel Zani who is from Italy.

Manuel Zani, Italian, aged 22

Mr Blair, I think the purpose of this war is to get control over Iraqi oil. If you don't agree, please provide us with the evidence.

Prime Minister Tony Blair

Let me provide you with two bits of evidence or argument here. The first is, let me say, for the UK, we're an exporter of oil. So, we don't need Iraqi's oil. We export oil. Secondly, there is a very simple way of dealing with this issue because whatever happens - what happens in a situation like this, there is always a conspiracy theory. It's not to do with the reasons they say: it's some terrible conspiracy machination, we want to seize the Iraqi oil.

A simple way out of this: we should make sure, if there is a conflict, in any post-conflict Iraq there is a proper UN mandate for Iraq and that oil goes into a trust fund and we don't touch it, the Americans don't touch it without UN authority. Now, we can't say fairer than that. And the idea that this is about oil, I understand why people think it because they're told it the whole time. We may be right, we may be wrong, but it's nothing to do with oil - not for us, not for the UK, not for the US - and the best way of testing that is let the thing be done under a proper UN mandate so no one touches the Iraqi oil except where it's needed for the Iraqi people because it's their oil, not ours.

Carolina Ramos Garcia, Spanish, aged 21

Carolina from Spain. Hello, Mr Blair. In Russia and in France have very big interest with Saddam about oil. You think if they don't have this interest as you think so with Saddam, would they support Spain, UK and USA and carry in this? Will they help you? Will they support this thing?

Prime Minister Tony Blair

This is where I put my diplomatic hat on, okay, but, I mean, that's a question that they have to answer. I mean, look, I genuinely believe - I believe there are people who oppose war for perfectly good reasons. Indeed, I oppose war unless it's the last resort. But, we don't have any oil interest there. I mean, you're right in saying that.

Carolina Ramos Garcia

Not you, about France and Russia. Do they have interests with Saddam?

Prime Minister Tony Blair

I know what you're asking me.

Carolina Ramos Garcia

I don't know it. I'm not political.

Prime Minister Tony Blair

I think there are outstanding debts and contracts in respect of France and Russia and Iraq, but I'm not saying that's the reason they're taking the position they're taking.

Trevor Nelson

Can I say Prime Minister that makes oil a factor in the possibility of war because if those countries have an interest in oil, isn't that a problem with you getting support from those countries to go to war with Iraq?

Prime Minister Tony Blair

That's up to them. I'm not going to sit here and answer for - you can answer for France.

Trevor Nelson

Henry Hughes, where are you? You've got something to say on oil.

Henry Hughes, British, aged 24

No, my question is more in relation to the Kurdish/Turkish conflict, which is you were mentioning the Israel/Palestinian conflict. The other major barrier I see to the Middle East accepting the humanitarian motives of the West is the Turkish persecution of the Kurds. Given that there have been three military intrusions by the Turkish army to the Kurdish areas protected by the No Fly Zone, do you think you can provide any guarantee to the Kurdish people that they won't be occupied by the Turkish army in any invasion of Iraq?

Prime Minister Tony Blair

Yes, I think we can provide that and you're right in saying our No Fly Zones protected people in that Northern Iraq, which is one reason incidentally why there is some autonomy there from Saddam and the conditions of people there are a lot better there than Central and Southern Iraq. And one thing I want to make absolutely clear, if there is conflict we will make it quite explicit that the territorial integrity of Iraq should not be interfered with, not by us, not by anybody else.

Trevor Nelson

Can I get back on oil because I'm a bit obsessed with oil; because if we're an exporter of oil, I wonder why our oil prices are so high? Has anyone else got a viewpoint on oil? It's got to be on oil for me. Anyone got something strong to say on oil?

Jenny Vagan, Norwegian, aged 26

I come from Norway which is the third biggest oil producing country and I recently read that two-thirds of the oil reserves of oil are in the Middle East, so we know in Norway we're a very rich country right now, but we know in maybe 30 years there is not going to be very much oil left, so I'm thinking there must be an interest of conflict in the Middle East and I want to here an opinion on that.

Prime Minister Tony Blair

All I can say is what I've said before. Yes, it's true there are a lot of oil reserves in the Middle East. There are a lot of oil and gas reserves elsewhere. But, you know, there are all sorts of different countries that can produce oil and, as I said to somebody once, if oil was the reason, if we wanted more Iraqi oil to be produced, I don't doubt if we went to Saddam tomorrow and said, "Produce more Iraqi oil," he'd produce it for us.

Jenny Vagan, Norwegian, aged 26

It's not only that; it's about the Middle East. You have the Palestinian conflict with Israel and Palestinians and it seems to me the West is kind of like imperialism. You want to control the Middle East. Is that correct?

Prime Minister Tony Blair

No, I don't think it is. There are two separate things. There is the issue of oil, but the reason why people are anxious to get a solution on the Israeli/Palestinian issue is because of its consequences in instability in the region, and therefore of the world, are so great.

Jenny Vagan, Norwegian, aged 26

You call that consequences, but it's like if you look at the conflict you have the American that supports Israel with weapons and you have the Palestinian people with rocks and stone. It's not a fair conflict. Like you call them terrorists, but they don't have any weapons, they don't have any money, they don't have any support.

Prime Minister Tony Blair

I don't call Palestinians terrorists by any means at all, but there are terrorist acts that take place against Israel. What I'm saying is you've got to stop both things.

Jenny Vagan, Norwegian, aged 26

Do you think America is a decent peace negotiator in that conflict?

Prime Minister Tony Blair

All I can you tell is one thing I had a discussion with President Bush about a couple of weeks ago and I believe he does want to move this process forward. We, in Britain, have held a conference here to try and get some political reform on the Palestinian side so they can have a better chance of negotiating. And it's fair to say that this American President who is the first American President to commit himself to two states, and the reason I think there is a chance of having peace in the Palestinian issue is for the first time I think the Arab world is prepared - it hasn't yet, but I think it is prepared to recognise Israel explicitly, so that the issue which affects Israelis, which is the idea they're surrounded by countries who want to destroy them, that issue is taken away. And the other thing is everybody now accepts there should be a viable Palestinian state. I think there is a chance there if we're prepared to take them. What I'd like to see is as much energy and commitment going to get this peace process started as we're showing confronting Saddam over weapons of mass destruction.

Trevor Nelson

Thank you, Prime Minister. There is a lot of energy and commitment being shown. We've got to stop there, but we'll be back right after the break with more questions for Tony Blair.

[End of part 2]

Trevor Nelson

Welcome back. British Prime Minister Tony Blair has been answering questions from our international studio audience from 24 different countries and I think it's fair to say most of them are against the idea of war, but let's stop for a moment to look at the case for military action on humanitarian grounds. There is no disputing Saddam Hussein has a terrible human rights record. Take a look at this-

Voice over

Saddam Hussein is a cold-blooded killer who murdered his way to power in Iraq. He has used chemical weapons against his own people in 1988. His massive chemical attack on the Kurds killed 5,000 and injured 10,000 more. He regularly uses the following methods of torture: rape by broken bottle; electric shock to the genitals; eye gouging; pulling out of fingernails and beatings; acid baths. He's even murdered members of his own family to maintain power. After the invasion of Kuwait he used foreign nationals in Iraq as human shields against attack. Up to 4 million people have fled Iraq rather than live under Saddam Hussein. Iraqis are now the second largest group of refugees in the world.

Trevor Nelson

That's pretty shocking stuff. Let's hear a question now from Joan Alice, an Iraqi living in the UK.

Juan Allos, Iraqi/British, aged 23

Mr Blair, I was in Iraq during the Gulf war and so I know what it's like to be at the receiving end of military strikes you're about to unleash on Iraq. My question for you is this. Even though overall I agree with your objective of regime change, I don't agree with the price you're willing to pay for it, and my question for you is: by making a moral case for war, you are insinuating that the ends justify the means and so how do you judge the number of lives that are worth sacrificing to achieve your end objective?

Prime Minister Tony Blair

That's a very good question. I don't believe the ends justify the means, which is why what I wanted to do was to have this resolved peacefully. I mean, the title of the programme is, 'Is War the Answer?' I would answer that no, it's not the answer - certainly not the first answer. The first answer is voluntary disarmament. We're left in a situation where if he doesn't disarm we have to do it by force, if he's not prepared to leave voluntarily which is also a way of avoiding war. All I can say to you is we will try to do this with the minimum of civilian casualties and do it with the maximum protection for the Iraqi people. Now, war is war, which is why it should only ever be the last resort because innocent people die as well as guilty people in wars, so I agree with you, but the alternative is to leave them there with these weapons in charge of Iraq.

Juan Allos, Iraqi/British, aged 23

You say that we'll try and keep casualties to a minimum and I appreciate that, but if you look at UN figures they estimate half a million dead Iraqis. That's a fact. That's their estimates. It's not even Iraqi propaganda. That's UN figures.

Prime Minister Tony Blair

If I thought we were going to kill half a million Iraqis, I would be calling-

Juan Allos, Iraqi/British, aged 23

That's the UN report that came out last week.

Prime Minister Tony Blair

I have to say I've never seen that report and I really don't believe the casualties in a war would be anything remotely approaching that figure.

Trevor Nelson

Can I open it up to other people? I know you're Iraqi.

Ammar Hassan, Iraqi/British, aged 23

I am Iraqi and I was born in Baghdad, Mr Tony Blair, and I would like for you to remove Saddam Hussein from his evil regime. The world has taken notice about the Iraq situation, but they've never talked about Saddam the evil dictator who has systematically killed innocent people. People are dying as we speak. We're having this debate. People are dying in Iraq. There is Iraq is under fire and I want you to stop the flame and that is Saddam Hussein. Can you guarantee me that this is going to happen and that the liberation of Iraq will be for the good of human kind? And it's a civilised and a moral issue and no international world has addressed this issue, that they need to look at Saddam Hussein.

Trevor Nelson

Think you've made your point.

Prime Minister Tony Blair

You have made your point and, if we take military action to remove the regime, we'll remove it, and I think what's important then is we then have to make sure that we are determined to have any post-conflict situation in Iraq done for the betterment of the conditions of the Iraqi people.

Ammar Hassan, Iraqi/British, aged 23

I applaud your courage and your leadership because you are the first British Prime Minister to tackle Saddam head on and not hide behind other people and I am hoping that once and for all that Iraqi people will have peace and they will have their dignity and they will have the right to live in a free, democratic state.

Trevor Nelson

I think we all want that for the Iraqi people. Got something to say?

Osman Anwar, British Palestinian, aged 23

We all understand, Tony Blair, that Saddam Hussein is a wicked man and his regime is pretty bad, but it gives hypocrisy a bad name when throughout the eighties and nineties we have armed him during the Iran/Iraq war. The CIA brought the Baath Party into power, helped them, then go round to say because he has these weapons we need to disarm him. Would it not be easier and better to stop the arms trade, pass a resolution through the United Nations to curtail such an industry to solve the problem?

Trevor Nelson

We get your question - can you be as brief as possible?

Prime Minister Tony Blair

Very briefly, first of all, I've never supplied Saddam Hussein or his regime with anything.

Osman Anwar, British Palestinian, aged 23

Previous British governments have. Not saying you particularly.

Prime Minister Tony Blair

I say to you a lot of the stories about this and even American supplies of arms are hugely exaggerated. Apart from that, I agree we should have rules applied to the arms trade and the European Union does have rules applied to the arms trade and that's important, but I simply say to you there is no way by simply passing resolutions are we going to prevent Saddam doing what he's doing because we've been passing them for 12 years.

Trevor Nelson

We are running out of time and I'd like to move on to the last of our results from the online survey, which is about the need for a second UN resolution to authorise any war on Iraq. We asked visitors to MTV websites across Europe would they agree with an attack on Iraq without a second UN resolution? Only 17 % of people said they would. When asked if they would back a war with a new resolution, the number rises to 44 per cent. Still a minority, but none the less getting a second UN resolution would at least persuade some people of the need for war. Let's go to our next question which comes from Janina Herhoffer.

Janina Herhoffer, German, aged 24

This is one of my questions to you, Mr Blair. Would you go ahead, because you never spoke about that opposite to Mr Bush, without a second UN resolution?

Prime Minister Tony Blair

What I've said about that is if there was a veto applied by one of the countries with a veto or by countries that I thought were applying the veto unreasonably, in those circumstances we would, but we're fighting very hard to get a second resolution through and, as we speak now, I still believe we will get that second resolution, and the reason why I was so insistent last year that this matter was dealt with through the United Nations is I think the way to deal with these issues is through the UN, so I don't want to go outside of the UN, but I just point out to you last November we did pass that resolution saying Saddam had to disarm. So, having passed that, it's important we implement it.

Trevor Nelson

Is Bart about?

Bart Woord, Dutch, aged 19

You are so busy with convincing like members of the Security Council; start convincing people in the street. We saw in the poll the majority of the people - ordinary people - won't agree with the war as a result of the second resolution.

Prime Minister Tony Blair

I'm here and you're not members of the Security Council. I'm trying to have a dialogue all the time with people and I'm very happy to do that.

Bart Woord, Dutch, aged 19

It's not really working, is it?

Prime Minister Tony Blair

You say it's not really working. The vast majority of people in my country certainly, I think, would support action with a UN resolution and that's what I'm working for. And, I also don't quite agree either that people don't consider Saddam a threat. I think, in fact I tell you where I think opinion is, although it's important to lead opinion as well as to support it - I think opinion does believe Saddam is a bad man does, believe he's a threat. The question people are asking is, is this the only way of dealing with it? That's more where people's minds are and their worries are, and part of what I'm saying is, no, it's not the only way of dealing with it, but we do need him to decide he's going to disarm voluntarily, otherwise we're left with not doing it at all.

Trevor Nelson

I'd like to open up for any questions at all from the floor. I know you've been very eager. Any questions on any topic to do with the war?

Reem Elmanan, Swedish, aged 23

Throughout history countries have been entering wars to benefit their economies. This is the US and other countries during World War Two because of the Great Depression. Can you convince us that this isn't the case?

Prime Minister Tony Blair

I think it's always been a mixture of motives. My father fought for my country in World War Two against fascism and against the Nazis. I think that there is a link. I think the great thing about today's world which is shown by the audience here is it is interdependent and that's one of the reasons why you need strong international institutions today because, in fact, I can't think of a situation where you could have a serious conflict in one part of the world that doesn't affect the whole of the world, but the motivation for this is not economic. Frankly, there are worries in the economy in the markets because of the prospect of conflict, so we're doing it because we think that the security of our people will be put at risk unless we take a stand against this issue now.

Trevor Nelson

Some quick fire ones. Yes?

Yasser Alaskary, Iraqi/British, aged 22

As an Iraqi, like most Iraqis inside Iraq, our concern isn't a war. We want military action to remove Saddam. Our concern is what replaces this regime. Will you make a clear commitment that in the case of war and the regime being removed will Britain work towards establishing a genuine democracy which is proportionately representative of the population?

Prime Minister Tony Blair

I tell you what we'll work towards because we've got to be careful we don't set ourselves a task in a timeframe that's unrealistic, but we'll work towards making sure that Iraq has a genuinely representative government and make sure that we try to, with the United Nations, construct a path for Iraq to travel along where there are greater human rights for people, greater liberties, and greater democracy. I can't sit here and determine exactly how that's going to happen. We need to discuss that with people in Iraq as well. I've got no doubt at all we must not undertake this action unless we're going to achieve by it something better in terms of the rule in Iraq for Iraqi people. Exactly the form of that is a matter of discussion.

Trevor Nelson

I think that's fine. The last question - I was going to talk about Afghanistan there but ran out of time. Last question today. Someone who hasn't asked a question? Gentleman at the back?

Zarko Panic, Serbian, aged 20

I'm wondering, if you do go to war, would you rather see Hussein eliminated or maybe in a tribunal like President Milosovic's?

Prime Minister Tony Blair

I think there is a very good case for making sure that Saddam faces trial, but I think the most important thing is to remove the regime from power and then I think we've got to consider the ways after that. And I do acknowledge that one difficulty with saying he should be allowed to go into exile is that in a sense that lets him off some of the crimes that he's committed, but in the interests of avoiding war I'd be prepared to do that. I think your example in Serbia is a very good example because a lot of people told us at the time of Kosovo when we were fighting to help Muslims in Kosovo - a lot of people told us we'd make the situation in Serbia worse, and today Serbia is a democracy and Milosovic has gone. In Afghanistan, for all the difficulties, it's still better in Afghanistan today than it was when the Taliban were in charge.

Trevor Nelson

I've got to stop you there. That's all we have time for. I'd like to thank the Prime Minister for joining us and sharing his thoughts and thanks to our studio audience, particularly those of you who flew in from around the world. That is it. Once again, thank you very much Prime Minister.

[applause]

[Close]

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