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UK PM Blair Thanks British Armed Forces


Blair thanks armed forces

Prime Minister Tony Blair has thanked the armed forces on behalf of the whole country in an interview with the British Forces Broadcasting Service.

Mr Blair said British troops have become a by-word for professionalism, commitment and excellence and praised their ability to win wars and for keeping the peace.

"That is perhaps what makes them virtually unique in all the forces of the world, they have got this very special capability."

He said that the Government would not be cutting personnel in the armed forces following the publication of the Defence White Paper.

"Different types of weapons and technology, these are things that we need to be spending money on, but it shouldn't be at the expense of the personnel, on the contrary obviously you need the personnel to work them."

Read the transcript of the interview below.

INTERVIEWER:

Prime Minister, a momentous weekend with the discovery of Saddam Hussein. Obviously there must be many forces around the world wondering whether this is likely to change their role in any way in Iraq?

PRIME MINISTER:

I hope that we use it as a chance to hasten the moment when we can say to the Iraqi people, the old days are over, there is a new Iraq emerging, we have got to reach out and make sure that we reconcile the Sunni population to the new Iraq that is developing. And of course for all the people and the families that have suffered for so long under Saddam it is obviously fantastic news and it is a great day when they finally understand the country has been liberated from Saddam. Now the hard task of then rebuilding it still remains and our troops are obviously doing a fantastic job in ensuring we can do that down in the south.

INTERVIEWER:

But does it necessarily mean that Iraq is a safer place?

PRIME MINISTER:

In the short term these terrorists, foreign terrorists and Saddam sympathisers will carry on, but I think it is a lot harder for them to have some point or person around which they can coalesce, and therefore it is a very big moment for us, yes.

INTERVIEWER:

What about the future of the forces? The White Paper came out last week and was very big on technology, but not quite so big on people. We have proved around the world that we are the champions when it comes to keeping peace, I am thinking of Sierra Leone, I am thinking of Kosovo, Bosnia, Northern Ireland, now Iraq, are you really going to cut personnel in order to improve technology and go about things in the way that perhaps the Americans are?

PRIME MINISTER:

I don't think we will be cutting personnel, on the contrary, we have still got a requirement for people to come into the Armed Forces. And the great thing about our Armed Forces is they can fight and win wars and they can also then win the peace, and that is perhaps what makes them virtually unique in all the forces of the world, they have got this very special capability. But it is totally sensible, I hope people understand this, to look at the types of situation we are likely to find ourselves in. The fact is that in the 21st century, let us hope it is unlikely we are going to be defending our own territory here in Britain, but it is very likely we will be involved in all sorts of different operations with other forces around the world, and obviously things like strategic lift capability, different types of weapons and technology, these are things that we need to be spending money on, but it shouldn't be at the expense of the personnel, on the contrary obviously you need the personnel to work them.

INTERVIEWER:

I am sure I speak on behalf of the families and indeed the Servicemen when they say they never stop, they are hardly ever together these days and they are constantly touring the world for you as it were in many ways?

PRIME MINISTER:

I know, and I feel very much the responsibility of that, and I am sorry we have had to ask them to do so much. But on the other hand, what they are doing is important for our country and actually for the wider world.

INTERVIEWER:

You are very much a family man and this was seen on your two Christmas cards that came out today, which were widely publicised, very much afamily man. When you actually send people into war and you get theseterrible disasters that happen to our Royal Military Policemen, with the deaths of these guys, how do you feel? Do you feel you have to riseabove this sort of thing, can you just put it behind you? How do you feel?

PRIME MINISTER:

You certainly don't put it behind you. The important thing is to make sure you never take a decision to go to war unless you feel this is absolutely necessary, and in the armed conflicts that I have authorised as Prime Minister I have believed it is necessary. It is little consolation I suppose to the families who have lost their loved ones, but the responsibility is there and the admiration for the bravery and commitment and courage of the people who go and put their lives at riskis enormous. In the end as the Prime Minister you have got to try and do the right thing for the country as a whole, and sometimes that will mean taking armed action.

INTERVIEWER:

Now that you have found Saddam Hussein, do you believe in any way that it might lead you to possible weapons of mass destruction?

PRIME MINISTER:

There is obviously that possibility there, but I think in any event we have got to carry on the work that we are doing, because contrary to some of the things that appear, the Iraq Survey Group has already found massive evidence of a huge system of clandestine laboratories, workings by scientists, plans to develop long range ballistic missiles. Now frankly these things weren't being developed unless they were developed for a purpose, and I think it will take us time, but I just say to people continually, when a country with a ruler like Saddam tries to hide what it is doing, in a large country like Iraq it is relatively easy to hide it, but we have got to carry on until we find it. Because frankly until we find it, obviously all sorts of issues about justification for war, but it is also important to find it for reasons of making sure that we secure the peace.

INTERVIEWER:

What is your opinion on how Saddam Hussein should be tried? His family this morning were asking for him to be tried internationally. Many people feel that he should be tried in Iraq. What is your opinion?

PRIME MINISTER:

That should be left to the Iraqis themselves to decide, and provided they have a proper, and fair, and independent judicial system, which of course they never had under Saddam, then I think it is for them to decide that. And it is important to emphasise to people, we only try people internationally if there isn't the capability within a country of trying people for the crimes they have committed against the citizens of that country. When you think there are something like I think the remains of 400,000 human beings that have been found in mass graves already, obviously there is a very strong feeling in Iraq, and I think we should be sensitive to this, that he should be tried in Iraq. It is important that the judicial process of course is fair, but I don't think we should be saying as the international community, look we are telling you what to do.

INTERVIEWER:

But of course a judiciary system has not really been in place for all these 30-odd years. Will he necessarily get a fair trial?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it is important that there is a proper judicial process in place, and that is why I said you know this is all predicated on the basis that there is such a proper judicial process, but if there is it should be left to the Iraqis I think to decide what to do.

INTERVIEWER:

Any special Christmas message for the forces? Presumably you will be at home; many of the forces won't be. You are broadcasting on BFBS - British Forces Radio - an opportunity perhaps to say hello.

PRIME MINISTER:

This year, more than any other, to give thanks to them, not just on my behalf but on behalf I think of the whole country. Incidentally, whatever people thought of the decision to go to war in Iraq, everybody in this country supports our troops, thinks that they have done a fantastic job, and is enormously thankful, not just for what they did in winning the war in Iraq, but also for what they are doing in now keeping the peace and rebuilding the country, and not just for the forces frankly that are there in Iraq, but right round the world where British troops have become a by-word for professionalism, commitment and excellence.

INTERVIEWER:

President Bush made a last minute secret trip to the American forces in the north of the country. I suppose it would be unfair to ask if you were planning to do the same?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well it wouldn't be a secret if I told you.

INTERVIEWER:

Is it likely perhaps?

PRIME MINISTER:

We will have to wait and see.

INTERVIEWER:

And finally, I am going to pause here because I have been asked to bring this up, the fact of our 60th anniversary and your views on communicating to the troops via radio and television, if I could just ask you that.

PRIME MINISTER:

I would like to say Happy Birthday to you in the British Forces Broadcasting Service, 60 years, which is a remarkable feat. But I think it is worth just pointing out, because I talk obviously to a lot of Servicemen and women, they get enormous, not just news but comfort and joy actually out of the ability to hear the broadcasting service for the British Forces, and you do a fantastic job. You should be well pleased with yourselves.

INTERVIEWER:

Happy Christmas and a Very Happy New Year to you, and a peaceful one too Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you.


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