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PM: Genuine prospect of progress in Middle East


PM: Genuine prospect of progress in Middle East

The reconstruction of Iraq will be an indispensable part of bringing about a new settlement in the whole of the Middle East, Prime Minister Tony Blair has said in a press conference with President Bush.

The Prime Minister went on to praise President Bush's leadership in the Middle East and rekindling the Middle East peace process.

"Many people doubted whether the commitment was there, to fairness for Palestinian people, as well as to the State of Israel. And yet the President has stated very clearly the goal of the two state solution, and now we actually have the first steps, albeit tentative, towards achieving that."

Read a transcript of the press conference in full below:

PRESIDENT BUSH:

It is once again a pleasure to welcome the Prime Minister, and Cherie Blair, to the White House. And Mr Prime Minister - a fabulous speech. Congratulations. And in his address to Congress this afternoon, Prime Minister Blair once again showed the qualities that have marked his entire career. Tony Blair is a leader of conviction, of passion, of moral clarity and eloquence. He is a true friend of the American people. The United Kingdom has produced some of the world's distinguished statesmen, and I am proud to be standing with one of them today.

The close partnership between the United States and Great Britain has been, and remains essential, to the peace and security of all nations. For more than 40 years of the Cold War we stood together to ensure that the conflicts of Europe did not once again destroy the peace of the world. The duties we accepted were demanding, as we found during the Berlin blockade, and other crises. And yet British and American leaders held firm, and our cause prevailed.

Now we are engaged in another great and difficult mission. On September 11 2001, America, Britain and all free nations saw how the ideologies of hatred, and terror, in a distant part of the world, could bring violence and grief to our own citizens. We resolved to fight these threats actively, wherever they gather, before they reach our shores, and we resolved to oppose these threats by promoting freedom, and democracy. In the Middle East - a region that has known so much bitterness and resentment, from the outset, the Prime Minister and I have understood that we are allies in this war, a war requiring great effort, and patience and fortitude. The British and American peoples will hold firm once again, and we will prevail.

The United States and Great Britain have conducted a steady offensive against terrorist networks, and terror regimes. We are dismantling the al Qu'eda network, leader by leader, and we are hunting down the terrorist killers, one by one.

In Afghanistan we removed the cruel and oppressive regime that turned that country into a training camp for al Qu'eda, and now we are helping the Afghan people to restore their nation, and regain self-government.

In Iraq, the United States, Britain and other nations, confronted a violent regime that aimed to threaten the peace, that cultivated ties to terror, and defied the clear demands of the United Nations Security Council. Saddam Hussein produced, and possessed, chemical and biological weapons, and was trying to reconstitute his nuclear weapons programme. He used chemical weapons in acts of murder against his own people - the UN Security Council, acting on information it had acquired over many years, passed more than a dozen resolutions, demanding that the dictator reveal and destroy all of its prohibited weapons. A final Security Council Resolution promised serious consequences if he continued his defiance. The former dictator of Iraq showed his course of action, and for the sake of peace and security we chose ours.

The Prime Minister and I have no greater responsibility than to protect the lives and security of the people we serve. The regime of Saddam Hussein was a grave and growing threat. Given Saddam's history of violence and aggression, it would have been reckless to place our trust in his sanity, or his restraint. As long as I hold this office, I will never risk the lives of American citizens by assuming the goodwill of dangerous enemies.

Acting together, the United States, Great Britain and our coalition partners enforced the demands of the world. We ended the threat from Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. We rid the Middle East of an aggressive, destabilising regime. We liberated nearly 25 million people from decades of oppression. And we are now helping the Iraqi people to build a free nation. In Iraq, as elsewhere, freedom and self-government, are hated and opposed by a radical and ruthless few. American, British and other forces are facing remnants of a fallen regime, and other extremists. Their attacks follow a pattern. They target progress and success. They strike at Iraqi police officers, who have been trained to enforce order. They sabotage power grids that we are rebuilding. They are the enemies of the Iraqi people. Defeating these terrorists is an essential commitment on the war on terror. This is the duty we accept. This is a fight we will win.

We are being tested in Iraq. Our enemies are looking for signs of hesitation, they are looking for weakness. They will find none. Instead our forces in Iraq are finding these killers, and bringing them to justice. And we will finish the task of helping Iraqis make the challenging transition to democracy.

Iraq's governing council is now meeting regularly. Soon the Council will nominate Ministers and propose a budget. After decades of tyranny, the institutions of democracy will take time to create. America and Britain will help the Iraqi people as long as is necessary. Prime Minster Blair and I have the same goal - the government and the future of Iraq will be in the hands of the people of Iraq. The creation of a strong and stable Iraqi democracy is not easy, but it is an essential part in the war against terror. A free Iraq will be an example to the entire Middle East. And the advance of liberty in the Middle East will undermine the ideologies of terror, and hatred, and will help strengthen the security of America and Britain, and many other nations. By helping to build and secure a free Iraq, by accepting the risks and sacrifice, our men and women in uniform are protecting our own countries, and they are giving essential service on the war on terror. This is the work history has given us, and we will complete it.

We are seeing movement towards reform and freedom in other parts of the Middle East. The leadership and courage of Prime Minister Abbas and Prime Minister Sharon are giving their peoples new hope for progress.

Other nations can add to the momentum of peace by fighting terror in all its forms. The Palestinian State will be built upon hope and reform, not built upon violence. Terrorists are the chief enemies of Palestinian aspirations. The sooner terrorism is rooted out by all the governments in the region, the sooner the Palestinian flag will rise over a peaceful Palestinian state.

The spread of liberty in Afghanistan, and Iraq, and across the Middle East will mark a hopeful turn in the history of our time.

Great Britain and America will achieve this goal together. One of the reasons I am confident in our success, is because of the character and the leadership of Prime Minster Tony Blair. Mr Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you Mr President. First of all, as I did a short time ago, I would like to pay tribute to your leadership in these difficult times. Because ever since September 11, the task of leadership has been an arduous one, and I believe that you have fulfilled it with tremendous conviction, determination and courage.

And I think it is as well that we understand how this has all come about. It came about because we realised that there was a new source of threat and insecurity in our world that we had to counter. And as I was saying in my speech to Congress, this threat is sometimes hard for people to understand, because it is of such a different nature than the threats that we have faced before. But 11 September was real. And when you lead countries - as we both do - and you see the potential for the threat of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction to come together, I really don't believe that any responsible leader could ignore the evidence that we see, and the threat that we face. And that is why we have taken the action that we have - first in Afghanistan, and now in Iraq.

In Afghanistan, we acted to remove the Taliban, and we still pursue the al-Qu'eda terrorist network there and in other parts of the world. But there is no doubt at all, that but for that action, al Qu'eda would have retained its central place of command and control, which now is denied to it.

And in respect of Iraq, we should not forget Resolution 1441 - it was passed in the United Nations, in which the entire international community accepts as a threat that Iraq constituted.

I think it is worth pointing out that in these last few days, Iraq has had a governing council established, with the help of the United Nations representative - Sergio de Mello. And that in the last two weeks, the United Nations has spoken about the numbers of missing people and mass graves, and that number, just on the present count, is around about 300,000 people. So let us be clear. We have been dealing with a situation in which the threat was very clear, and the person - Saddam Hussein - wielding that threat, someone of total brutality and ruthlessness, who had no compunction about killing his own people, or those of another nation.

And of course it is difficult to reconstruct Iraq. It is going to be a hard task. We never expected otherwise. But as the President has said to you a moment or two ago, the benefit of that reconstruction will be held far beyond the territory of Iraq. It is, as I said earlier today, an indispensable part of bringing about a new settlement in the whole of the Middle East.

And I would also pay tribute to the President's leadership in the Middle East, and in rekindling the prospect of the Middle East peace process. If I can remind people. I think many people were cynical as to whether this could ever be rekindled. Many people doubted whether the commitment was there, to fairness for Palestinian people, as well as to the State of Israel. And yet the President has stated very clearly the goal of the two state solution, and now we actually have the first steps, albeit tentative, towards achieving that. And when I met Prime Minister Sharon in London a few nights ago, I was more than ever convinced that if we can provide the right framework within which these tentative steps are made, then we do genuinely have the prospect of making progress there.

And then again, as I was saying earlier, the commitment that America has now given, that the President has given, in respect of Africa in tackling some of the poorest parts of our world, is again a sign of hope. And all these things are changing our world, and however difficult the change may be, I genuinely believe it has changed for the better.

So I am honoured once again to be in the White House with you, Mr President. As I said earlier, we are allies and we are friends, and I believe that the work we are embarked upon is difficult, but is essential, and so far as we are concerned, we shall hold to it right the way through.

QUESTION:

Mr President, others in your administration have said your words on Iraq, Africa, did not belong in your State of the Union Address. Will you take personal responsibility for those words? And to both of you, how is it that two major world leaders such as yourselves have had such a hard time persuading other major powers to help stabilise Iraq?

PRESIDENT BUSH:

First, I take responsibility for putting our troops into action, and I made that decision because Saddam Hussein was a threat to our security, and was a threat to the security of other nations. I take responsibility for making the decision, the tough decision, to put together a coalition to remove Saddam Hussein. Because the intelligence - not only our intelligence, but the intelligence of this great country - made a clear and compelling case that Saddam Hussein was a threat to security and peace. I say that because he possessed chemical weapons, and biological weapons. I strongly believe he was trying to reconstitute his nuclear weapons programme. And I will remind the sceptics that in 1991 it became clear that Saddam Hussein was much closer to developing a nuclear weapon than anybody ever imagined. He was a threat. I take responsibility for dealing with that threat. We are in a war against terror, and we will continue to fight that war against terror. We are after al Qu'eda, as the Prime Minister accurately noted, and we are dismantling al Qu'eda. The removal of Saddam Hussein is an integral part of winning the war against terror. A free Iraq will make it much less likely that we will find violence in that immediate neighbourhood. A free Iraq will make it more likely we will get a Middle Eastern peace. A free Iraq will have an incredible influence on the states that could potentially unleash terrorist activities on us. And I take responsibility for making the decisions I made.

PRIME MINISTER:

First of all, before I answer the question about other countries helping us, let me just say this on the issue to do with Africa and uranium. The British intelligence that we had, we believe is genuine. We stand by that intelligence. And one interesting fact I think people don't generally know, in case people should think that the whole idea of the link between Iraq and Niger was some invention, in the 1980s we know for sure that Iraq purchased around about 270 tonnes of uranium from Niger. So I think we should just factor that into our thinking there. As for other countries, actually other countries are coming in. We have with us now round about 9 other countries who will be contributing, or are contributing, literally thousands of troops. I think I am right in saying the Poles in their sector have somewhere in the region of 20 different countries offering support. And I have got no doubt at all we will have international support in this. Indeed to be fair, even to those countries that opposed the action, I think they recognise the huge importance of the reconstruction in Iraq. And it is an interesting thing, I was at a European meeting just a couple of weeks ago, where as you know there were big differences between people over the issue of Iraq, and yet I was struck by the absolutely unanimous view that whatever people felt about the conflict, it was obviously good that Saddam was out, and most people now recognise that the important thing is that we all work together to reconstruct for the better, so that is a free and stable country.

QUESTION:

I wonder if I could ask you both about one aspect of Iraq and freedom of justice, which as you know is causing a great deal of concern in Britain and the British Parliament. That is what happens now in Guantanamo Bay to the people detained there, particularly whether there is any chance that the President will return the British citizens to face British justice, as John Walker Lindt faced regular American justice. And just on a quick point, could the Prime Minister react to the decision of the Foreign Affairs Committee tonight, that the BBC reporter - Andrew Gilligan - is an "unsatisfactory witness"

PRIME MINISTER:

Can I just say to you on the first point, obviously this is an issue that we will discuss when we begin our talks tonight, and we will put out a statement on that tomorrow for you.

PRESIDENT BUSH:

We will work with the Blair government on this issue. And after we have finished answering your questions, we are going to go upstairs and discuss the issue.

QUESTION:

Inaudible.

PRESIDENT BUSH:

The only thing I know for certain is that these are bad people, and we look forward to working closely with the Blair government to deal with the issue.

PRIME MINISTER:

On your other point, Adam, the issue here is very, very simple. The whole debate for weeks revolved around a claim that either I, or a member of my staff, had effectively inserted intelligence into the dossier we put before the British people, against the wishes of the intelligence services. Now that is a serious charge. It never was true. Everybody now knows that that charge is untrue. And all we are saying is that those who made that charge should simply accept that it is untrue. It is as simple as that.

QUESTION:

Mr President, in his speech to Congress, the Prime Minister opened the door to the possibility that you may be proved wrong about the threat from Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. Do you agree, and does it matter whether or not you find those weapons?

PRESIDENT BUSH:

You might ask the Prime Minister, we won't be proven wrong.

PRIME MINISTER:

No.

PRESIDENT BUSH:

I believe that we will find the truth, and the truth is he was developing a programme for weapons of mass destruction. Now you say why didn't it happen all of a sudden. Well there was a lot of chaos in the country - one. Two, Saddam Hussein has spent over a decade hiding weapons and hiding materials. Three, we are just beginning to get some cooperation from some of the high level officials in that administration, or that regime. But we will bring the weapons, and of course we will bring the information forward on the weapons when they find them. And that will end all this speculation. I understand there has been a lot of speculation over in Great Britain, we have got a little bit of it here, about whether or not the actions were based upon valid information. We can debate that all day long until the truth shows up - and that is what is going to happen. We based our decisions on good sound intelligence and our people are going to find out the truth, and the truth will say that this intelligence was good intelligence. There is no doubt in my mind.

PRIME MINISTER:

And if I can just correct you on one thing. I certainly did not say that I would be proved wrong. On the contrary, I said that with every fibre of instinct of conviction I believed that we were right. And let me just say this one other thing to you, because sometimes again, and in the debate in the last few weeks, it is as if prior to the early part of this year, the issue of Saddam Hussein and weapons of mass destruction was some sort of unknown quantity, and on the basis of some speculative intelligence we go off and take action. The history of Saddam Hussein and weapons of mass destruction is a 12 year history, and is a history of him using the weapons, and developing the weapons, and concealing the weapons, and not complying with the United Nations inspectors who were trying to shut down his programmes. And I simply say - which is why I totally agree with the President - it is important we wait for the Iraq Survey Group to complete their work, because the proposition that actually he was not developing such weapons and such programmes, rests on this rather extraordinary proposition, that having for years obstructed the United Nations inspectors and concealed his programmes, having finally effectively got rid of them in December 1998, he then took all the problems, and sanctions, and action upon himself, voluntarily destroyed them, but just didn't tell anyone. Now I don't think that is very likely as a proposition, I really don't.

QUESTION:

Mr President, do you realise that many people here in the USA, that we know these are bad people in Guantanamo Bay, will merely fuel their doubts that the United States regards them as innocent until proven guilty, and are due a fair, free and open trial?

PRESIDENT BUSH:

Let me just say that these were illegal combatants. They were picked off the battlefield, aiding and abetting the Taliban. I am not trying them in front of your cameras or in your newspapers, but we will talk about this issue. He has asked, prior to his arrival, he has said I want to talk about this in a serious way. Can we work with you? And the answer is absolutely. I understand the issue, and we will, we will have a very good discussion about it, right after he finishes answering this aspect of your question.

PRIME MINISTER:

I just think you should realise, of course as I said a moment or two ago, we will discuss this together and we will put out a statement for you tomorrow. But I think again it is important just to realise the context in which all this arises, without saying anything about any specific case at all. The context of the situation in which the al Qu'eda and the Taliban were operating together in Afghanistan, against American and British forces, so as I say, we will discuss this issue, we will come back to it, and you will have a statement tomorrow. But I want to say just in concluding once again, that the conviction that this threat of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction is the security threat our world faces has never left me. It is with me now, and I believe it to be the threat that we have to take on and defeat. I really do.


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