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UK PM: Progress down to threat of force

PM: Progress down to threat of force

Prime Minister Tony Blair has held talks with the Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Manuel Durao Barroso at Downing Street today. Both leaders discussed the situation in Iraq and the UN plus European economic reform.

In a joint press conference with the Portuguese PM, Mr Blair said:

"What we are trying to do is to work very hard to unify people around a common position which is based on the Resolution 1441 that we passed, which is to try to disarm Iraq peacefully, but be prepared to take action if it becomes impossible to disarm them peacefully."

On the threat of force the Prime Minister added:

"...let us not be under any illusion, there is no way that Iraq will make any concession or cooperate in any way without the threat of force being there. The only reason we made any progress at all in the past few weeks has been because of the threat of force."

"And my concern is that if countries talk about using a veto in all sets of circumstances, the message that sends to Saddam is you are off the hook, and I think that would be very unfortunate."

Read a full transcript of the press conference below.

PRIME MINISTER:

Good Morning everyone. First of all can I say how delighted I am to see the Portuguese Prime Minister here with me this morning in Downing Street, and can I thank him particularly for his courage and his leadership at a difficult moment in world affairs. And of course we have discussed the situation in relation to Iraq and the United Nations, but we also had a discussion about specifically European matters. We have submitted a joint paper ourselves on issues to do with economic reform.

We have got an important summit coming up in Europe in the next few days which will be about economic reform and how we make sure that the European economy is becoming more competitive and more able to exist in the global markets of the world. And I would also like to say just one other word which is the strength of the bilateral relations between Britain and Portugal now. We work very closely together in Europe and on a bilateral basis and for that and for much else I thank the Prime Minister. So welcome here and many thanks for having what have been extremely useful and constructive discussions.

MR BARROSO:

Thank you very much. I would like to thank the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, for this opportunity. It is very important to discuss with him those important issues, namely the Iraq crisis since Great Britain is taking a leading role in this problem, being a Permanent Member of the Security Council, and for the very useful conversation I thank you very much Tony for your comments and your views about this issue and the way you portend to give a contribution to the solving of this very, very critical problem. I indeed want to congratulate Tony Blair. I think he has done a great job trying what is almost impossible, is to reconcile different views, to try to put together all the European Union and the United States. I think it is important at this juncture to remember how vital it is for us in Europe for the Atlantic relationship, how we should behave between allies, that we have some responsibilities as allies sharing basically the same values.

So thank you very much for what you have been doing in this area. Of course we shared all sorts of views about the other important issues in the European agenda, namely the Lisbon Agenda, the Lisbon strategy, the reform of the labour markets, and we hope to have a successful European Council in Brussels in the near future.

QUESTION:

We are seeing this competing lobbying between different countries in Europe, Britain on one side, Germany and France on the other side, towards the second resolution, but at the same time we are seeing this split in Europe, a real split in Europe. How are you going to mend this split, thinking about the other European policies you have been discussing?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I don't think there is any point in pretending that there isn't a division of opinion. What we are trying to do is to work very hard to unify people around a common position which is based on the Resolution 1441 that we passed, which is to try to disarm Iraq peacefully, but be prepared to take action if it becomes impossible to disarm them peacefully. And I agree very much with what the Prime Minister was saying a moment or two ago, the transatlantic alliance is important for us and I believe passionately that if we end up with Europe and America dividing apart, that would be very damaging for both of us and for the rest of the world. So I think we have got to work very, very hard over these next few days to see if we can't come to a common position, and as I hope Britain has been showing in the Security Council, you know we are prepared to try and find that common ground, but we need others to be equally willing to do so.

QUESTION:

Given the opposition of Russia and France now seemingly, following on from that, is there any realistic hope? And secondly, on the second resolution front, if you are seeking common ground, what more can you give to find that common ground?

PRIME MINISTER:

First of all, if France or any other country is simply going to say we will veto, no matter what, that is obviously a very difficult position, because when we passed Resolution 1441 and called upon Iraq to disarm and to cooperate fully with the inspectors, and everybody, including France and Russia, accepts there is not full cooperation, if we agreed that position then we have to follow it through. So I hope we won't talk about vetoes in any set of circumstances or in all sets of circumstances, but rather we will try and find the common ground that allows us a way through here. And what we are trying to do in the Security Council now is to offer very, very clear ideas as to what Iraq has to do in order to demonstrate it is prepared to disarm voluntarily.

But let us not be under any illusion, there is no way that Iraq will make any concession or cooperate in any way without the threat of force being there. The only reason we made any progress at all in the past few weeks has been because of the threat of force. And my concern is that if countries talk about using a veto in all sets of circumstances, the message that sends to Saddam is you are off the hook, and I think that would be very unfortunate.

QUESTION:

Mr Barroso, in view of what the Portuguese President recently said, any bilateral link, no matter how old and strong it may be, cannot replace the EU partnership. And now you mention that you would support the Alliance position on the Security Council, what would you say that by doing so you will be contributing to the EU's worst ever crisis and perhaps to the whole world as well?

MR BARROSO:

I think the European Union is very, very important. I am a committed pro-European, I will say that there is no Head of Government in Europe that is more pro-European than what I am really, I have been fighting for Portuguese integration in the European Union so I believe in European values. I think that what is now at stake is the European Union, but also NATO and also the United Nations. All those multilateral organisations are very, very important. So I believe in the European Union that it is built, not against our main partner in terms of defence, the United States, and that is our position and I think that is the position of most European Union members now and in the future, really, I think that is the position. So we are not dividing, on the contrary, we are trying to unite and I welcome Prime Minister Blair's efforts to join and to try until the very, very last moment in the Security Council to try to join positions. Of course it is a sad situation if you have four very important European Union countries voting in different ways in the Security Council, it is a very sad situation, so that is why I think we should until the very last moment try to get them united. That is the message I am conveying and conveyed today to Tony Blair, yesterday to other colleagues, and I have been in touch also with other Heads of Government. So that is a very important moment, but let me be very clear about it, it is a mistake of grave consequences if we think we can build the European Union's future against our main partner in terms of security, the United States.

PRIME MINISTER:

I totally agree with that. And I think it is actually a very, very important statement that the Prime Minister has just made. Look from my perspective I am criticised bitterly by many people here because I am in favour of Europe, in favour of Britain's membership of the European Union, in favour in principle of Britain becoming members of the European single currency. So we have taken Britain from a position of hostility and isolation in Europe, to a position where we are working with other countries in Europe. But just as we have our strong bilateral ties, and those are fully consistent with our European ties, it is also important to remember that the transatlantic alliance is a vital part of our security and our political and strategic capability in the world. And you know that is why what is at stake here now is very, very important, which is the reason why we are trying all we can to find a measure of agreement, because if you end up in a world where Europe decides it is on a different side from America, now it may get you a round of applause and there will be people who would cheer and people who will say oh well that is a great thing, someone standing up to America, I understand all of that, but when we really think about it, dividing Europe from America, an alliance that has served us well for over half a century, I think would be a very, very dangerous thing to do. And that is why we have got to find that common ground that brings us back together again. And I will work, and am working, night and day in order to achieve that for the very reason that I believe it is important if we possibly can to let the free democratic world stand together.

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