|We Are Together in the Same Boat |
We Are Together in the Same Boat
Edited Transcript of a doorstep interview with British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, and the Austrian Chancellor, Wolfgang Schuessel, 10 Downing Street, Thursday November 15, 2001. Source: FCO, London.
Prime Minister: Good afternoon everyone. First of all can I give a very warm welcome to the Austrian Chancellor, Wolfgang Schuessel, and say how delighted I am to see him here and to thank him very much for all the leadership and strength that he has given to the international coalition against terrorism at this time.
We have obviously had a very broad-ranging discussion. We have discussed European issues as well as the Barcelona Summit on Economic Reform which is very important; and also the forthcoming Summit on the future of Europe. But obviously our discussions have focused also on the international crisis and the present situation and the progress we can make on the military side. I would simply emphasise yet again that this is not a conflict that is yet over. We still have to achieve our objectives, and we are obviously far better placed to achieve them now. But those objectives remain as they have always been. To make sure that Afghanistan can no longer be used as a haven for terrorist activities that are exported to the rest of the world with the devastating consequences that we know of.
Secondly, on the humanitarian front, I think there is rather better news to report there, partly as a result, indeed very largely as a result, of the actions on the ground and the military success, that humanitarian aid can go in. It is now going in at a far greater rate than ever before. We believe at the present time, at any rate, although we have to keep this closely under review, we are managing to get the food and the aid to where it is required in Afghanistan as well as making sure that those in refugee camps on the borders of Afghanistan are properly looked after.
And then diplomatically, of course the United Nations Security Council Resolution is very important in this regard, that assists us in the process that now must happen which is trying to make sure that in the post-Taliban Afghan government it is a broad-based government, it represents all the different people there, including of course the Pashtun element because that is the best basis for stability and security in the future. And we have had interesting discussions particularly arising out of Chancellor Schuessel’s discussions with President Khatami of Iran, and I think those discussions are actually an important part of showing how, in this changing international situation since 11 September, there are opportunities for countries to develop a different relationship with each other and with the West, and I hope very much that those discussions can be built upon.
So Wolfgang, thank you very much indeed for coming here and thanks once again for the part you have played in the last couple of months and the very difficult tasks that we have to do, but I know that what you have managed to achieve has been immensely important in sustaining this international coalition against terrorism, and the fact that that coalition is so broad has, I think, been something of enormous comfort to the international community, so thank you for that.
Chancellor Schuessel: Thank you Prime Minister and ladies and gentlemen. We had very good consultations today, Austria and the UK, and I think in a fast moving situation it is of paramount interest and necessity to have a kind of networking, a very good and fast information network. It is essential to keep in close contact and exchange of information is absolutely useful. Every one of the 15 Member States of the European Union has specific contributions to make, and I appreciate very much what Tony Blair did during the building up of the global coalition. He has had a very impressive impact on the world scene, on the global scene, and we in Austria appreciate it very much. On the other side we think that Europe is strong when we speak together and if we are together in the same boat, and in fact we are, everybody could be a target, and everybody has to act together to be effective and to make the European role visible. So we can pool our experience and our expertise and our political way we should develop a specific EU profile in conflicts like this. Our contribution to the future of Afghanistan is essential. I think we are very active together to form a broad-based coalition, as Tony Blair said it, an open country integrated in the normal civilised world with no exports of drugs or terror in the future. This is very important and this is why the actions against the Taliban and Usama bin Laden started.
I think we should now concentrate, besides the political discussions, on humanitarian aid. And especially helping the children in Afghanistan and the women in Afghanistan. I think these are also the hope for the future of Afghanistan, not those who fought in the civil wars during the last decades.
We should also encourage the European Commission to come forward with specific initiatives. One is humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan. The second is a specific concept for Central Asian countries and states, this is the next spot, the next region, where Europe should be involved. We should focus programmes in the fight against poverty and to train and educate young people.
We talked also about European matters, the future of Europe debate, the need for economic reconstruction and recovery. According to the growth figures available today, we have to do more to strengthen our economy.
We spoke on some bilateral issues and I am quite happy that I found common ground in understanding the specific Austrian problems with transport, or concerns for nuclear safety. I thank you for the understanding and thank you for the invitation.
Question: Prime Minister, what can you do to prevent what is going on in Afghanistan turning into a bloodbath?
Prime Minister: First of all, let’s be very wary of accepting any reports about so-called atrocities at the moment. We simply don’t know. There are reports, but we simply don’t know. What we do know is that what many people feared, which was an immediate bloodbath if for example the Northern Alliance went into Kabul, has not happened. And of course there will still be fighting. That is why I say the military conflict is not over yet. But the fact is we are in an infinitely better position: one to make sure that that Taliban resistance is broken; two to make sure that we get a better, more stable, broad-based Afghan government; and three to make sure that the humanitarian aid goes in. So in a situation of conflict and war there are going to be very, very difficult situations. That is obvious, but we should be careful in speculating. Let us base our assessment on the facts, and let us recognise that we are in a far better position than we were a few days ago to make sure that the objectives, not just for the international coalition but actually for the people of Afghanistan are met and achieved.
Question: Prime Minister on the situation in Mazar-e-Sharif specifically you said that we should be wary of reports of atrocities, killings, carried out by the Northern Alliance, but there is a correspondent in that town who has seen the rubble and seen the bodies at the school where these 500 fighters were killed. How does that square with your assertion that the Northern Alliance are being fairly restrained?
Prime Minister: We know from your reporter what he has seen, but the question is whether this has been something that is as a result of a fight. I am afraid in a war that is what happens, people fight. Or whether these people were defenceless and killed. If they were killed as defenceless people, then that was obviously wrong and we have made it quite clear what our position is on these things. But I think you should be careful of speculating, and I think we should also recognise that in any situation of conflict these things will happen. They shouldn’t, but they may happen, and we are in an infinitely better position, as I said a moment or two ago, both on the military front, on the humanitarian front and in respect of the political and diplomatic initiatives than we were a few days ago. So let us just wait and see. There will be explanations, I think, that have already been given by the Northern Alliance. We just need to investigate it before we draw conclusions, but the fact that there are people who are fighters that are killed, may be consistent with either explanation, so before we rush to judgement, let us get the facts straight.
Question: You surprised some people in the House of Commons yesterday when you said it was propaganda that the Taliban were making a tactical retreat. The Pentagon last night seemed to suggest that they thought it was quite possible that the Taliban were making a tactical retreat. What makes you so certain, that in your phrase, the Taliban have collapsed?
Prime Minister: Well, I think you can see very clearly what has happened in the last few days where they have first lost Mazar-e-Sharif, and then the surrounding towns, and then Kabul has fallen and then you will know of the reports all over the south of Afghanistan now, of different people either defecting to the Alliance or submitting in effect to the process that is being undertaken by the United Nations. So I think it is pretty obvious that the Northern Alliance are in a different position and the Taliban are in a different position from a few days ago. Does that mean that the conflict is over? Absolutely not. It doesn’t, because that resistance still has to be broken down in certain areas, we have to make sure that the objectives are still achieved. And those objectives remain. The reason why we are in Afghanistan is to close down the terrorist network there and make Afghanistan a stable and secure place which is not exporting terror to the rest of the world. Now that objective remains. But I think it would be curious, to say the least, not to recognise that the military situation has somewhat changed in the last few days. And however you define the position of the Taliban, the fact is that they are effectively collapsing.