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This Is Not a Fight that Britain Could Stay Out of

This Is Not a Fight that Britain Could Stay Out of

Edited Transcript of an interview given by British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, for Larry King, CNN, Tuesday 6 November 2001. Source: FCO, London.

Strength of the coalition

Interviewer: Last week you visited Syria, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Israel and the Gaza Strip. Last weekend you hosted talks with European leaders from Belgium, France, Italy and the Netherlands. How is the coalition going?

Prime Minister: I think it is very strong. In fact I think it is remarkably strong and you can see from the pledge by Germany today of troops, for example, by the fact that the French President was there with President Bush in solidarity today in Washington. Certainly I have found a real understanding of the need for action against international terrorism, outrage at what happened on 11 September and the European leaders that I met in Downing Street on Sunday night, a total determination that we would stand shoulder to shoulder with the US in seeing this thing through. I think people have really got hold of the fact that the events of 11 September took place in the US, but was aimed at civilised values and the civilised world everywhere. And therefore it is a fight for all of us. And I am under no illusion about this. This is not a fight that Britain could stay out of, even if we wanted to. It involves all of us and all people who believe in the same values of freedom and tolerance and respect for other people and the peaceful way of life, for all those reasons it is important that we are involved. And I think that people understand that very clearly. Now of course in certain parts of the Arab world and the Muslim world there is a hesitation about the bombing campaign. Will we achieve our objectives. All that is natural. But I found no hesitation whatever on the essential issue of condemnation of the 11 September and the need to take action.

Support for the bombing campaign

Interviewer: Is there a decline in support in Great Britain and other parts of Europe over the continuous bombing?

Prime Minister: No, I think that what happens at certain stages of any conflict like this is that before it begins, in the aftermath of the event that has provoked the action, then there is a great deal of shock and anger, and people want us to take action. Then the action begins and then, if I can be very frank with you about it, people want very quick results, and people are obviously concerned because there is no easy way of fighting a war and taking military action. There is no way that you engage in conflict without difficult and harmful things happening and it is at this point in time that we need to steady people. We need to say look, let’s go back and go through the argument again as to why it happening, why we have to do this, why we have to see it through, and why we have to see through what is happening in Afghanistan, not just for the peace of mind of our own citizens, but to free people in Afghanistan from one of the most wretched, despised and oppressive regimes anywhere in the world.

As people in positions of leadership, I think we have got to explain patiently to people, yes, it can take time, but it is necessary to do. We don’t end it until our objectives are met in full. It requires resolve and determination and it also requires some understanding that we need to win not just the military action, but to win people’s minds as well. We need to win, in a sense, the peace afterwards too. We need to be making sure that as a result of the action we have taken the world – not just our own countries – but the world is a safer and a better place.

Bombing during Ramadan

Interviewer: Do you agree with the President’s decision to continue right on through Ramadan?

Prime Minister: Yes, I do. And one thing is for sure, the Taliban won’t stop during Ramadan, neither will bin Laden.

A Campaign on several fronts

Interviewer: Is this a conflict on kind of multiple fronts where you can win militarily and lose diplomatically? Is this a thin line?

Prime Minister: Yes, I think Larry what is important is that we understand that the military action is one part of this. We have also got to take care with the humanitarian issues there in Afghanistan at the moment which is why we are making a major effort out there despite the obstructions that the Taliban are giving rise to the entire time in the way that we are trying to get food into Afghanistan. We also need to make sure that our diplomatic coalition is strong and secure. We are helping countries like Pakistan that have taken a very brave decision and a right decision to back us during this. I think we have also got to recast our relationships with some of the Arab and Muslim world, and I think there is an increasing recognition in that world that, for example, those people who are moderates and who follow the true spirit and religion of Islam have to take on the extremists that are trying to abuse Islam for political ends, I think we have also got to address issues like the Middle East Peace Process, which is the context for the way that much of the Arab world views this conflict. So I think you are right. Obviously the military action has got to be successful. We pursue it and we make sure that it is successful. But there is a whole wider set of dimensions to this that we need to take account of as well.

Involving European countries further

Interviewer: Are you going to ask the President to get European countries involved in this?

Prime Minister: The President is already doing this really and I think you saw today, as I said earlier with the announcement of the troops that Germany is committing, that the Europeans really in a sense want to be involved. Now, there is a limit to what people can do. The bulk of it obviously is carried by the US, as it is bound to be. But I think there is a real desire on the part of other Europeans to be involved as much as possible. But it is something that I know the Americans take very seriously and of course you have got many European countries involved in all aspects of planning.

A Focused campaign

Interviewer: Mr Prime Minister, how much further do we go with this? Do we go to Iraq?

Prime Minister: As we have said constantly, the military action is focused on Afghanistan and we act throughout as we have done in Afghanistan on the basis of evidence. But it is important that we realise there are in a sense really two phases to this. One is to make sure that we shut down the Usama bin Laden Al Qu’aida network in Afghanistan and prevent the regime there sheltering and aiding them. And then we deal with international terrorism in all its forms in different ways. How it is financed, how they manage to acquire weapons, how they move across borders, how they operate and this requires again close consultation and deliberation with allies and then a proper plan to deal with it.

Bioterrorism and the nuclear threat

Interviewer: Are you concerned about (bioterrorism) in Great Britain?

Prime Minister: I think everyone is concerned. It is a very difficult issue this because from a Government perspective you have got to try and take all the measures you can to guard against it. But on the other hand you don’t want to alarm people. And one of the things that is most important in these circumstances is that as far as is possible people lead normal lives. Part of the reason why the terrorists act as they do is not just to cause devastation and death by particular terrorists acts, but to create a climate of fear in which people are worried about going about their normal business, then business itself suffers, people don’t go out, they don’t travel, then the terrorists almost quite apart from the actual terrorist act, gains some benefit for his aims as a result of those activities, or lack of activities by people. So what is important, I think, is that yes we take whatever measures we possibly can to guard against any of these threats, but that insofar as possible we lead normal lives, because every day we are going out about our normal business we are helping defeat the terrorists.

Interviewer:Your Foreign Secretary calls bin Laden paranoid and psychotic. If that is true, how do you fight someone like that?

Prime Minister: Well, you defeat them. You can’t negotiate with them. This is a situation in which you have got somebody there who as you can see from the video evidence that he puts out, his actual words, this is a man who talks about killing all Jews, about eliminating the State of Israel, about killing Christians or Americans who oppose what he stands for. He talks about effectively making Taliban States of every Arab and Muslim country. You don’t negotiate with that kind. You just defeat them. You just eradicate the whole of the network.

Interviewer: You said, Mr Prime Minister, that the Al Qu’aida will do anything. Do you fear a nuclear entrance into this? Do you think they have access?

Prime Minister: The truth is, we know perfectly well they will acquire whatever capability they have. We do not know that they have such a capability but that is one reason as some of us said right at the very outset, that we have to take action and shut the whole of that terrorist network down, eliminate it, eradicate it.

Muslim support for the campaign

Interviewer: I know that a poll in Great Britain of Muslims living in Great Britain that 70 per cent are not in support of the action. What do you say to Muslims around the world when one of their own is doing something, but they are not?

Prime Minister: It is difficult, partly because of the way sometimes this can be played in the media and partly because of the difficulties that the Muslims have experienced, but we have lived in Britain with terrorism – for example in Northern Ireland – over a long period of time. Now when these terrorists commit a terrorist act, when for example a Protestant gunman goes out and kills a Catholic, just because they are Catholic, you don’t call them Christian terrorists. They don’t represent the Christianity that I believe in and I think there is a genuine sense of revulsion amongst the vast majority of Muslims, even if they have hesitations about the bombing campaign, there is a revulsion amongst the vast majority at what bin Laden has done and at what he represents. He no more represents the true spirit and teachings of the Koran than the person who calls himself a Protestant who goes out and kills a Catholic on the streets of the Belfast. So I think what we need to do in this situation is to work with the Muslim community, explain why it is we are taking this action. We are not taking this action against bin Laden and Al Qu’aida because the people involved are Muslims, we are taking action against them because they are terrorists and I think people understand that, and get that, when we explain it to them. So all the time, I think Larry, at the same time as we are taking the action we go out, we communicate with people, we explain to them why it is we have got to do as we are doing and get rid of some of these misconceptions that bin Laden and others want to put forward.

Middle East Peace process

Interviewer: Many in the Arab world think the West is weighted too much in favour of Israel. How do you respond to that?

Prime Minister: I don’t think personally that is justified as a criticism, but I understand why the criticism is made, and what people need to know is that we are determined, if we possibly can, to move the Middle East Peace Process forward. It is a tragedy what is happening there, and as I saw myself when I was out in Israel and the Gaza Strip last week, it is a desperately serious situation, and it does overlay the whole of the relationship between the Arab world and the West. And so it is important that we deal with it in its own terms, but also for that reason too.

Response to the imminent humanitarian crisis

Interviewer: What about the mass humanitarian crisis we are going to have? Winter is coming, we have got refugees. What is the world’s responsibility?

Prime Minister: The world’s responsibility is to make sure that the money is there, which it is. We have pledged something like $700 million worth of humanitarian help, and the organisation is there to deliver that aid. The UN is putting a special effort into this. America, Britain, Europe, Japan, countries across the world are contributing to that. And we have got to make sure that we do two things. First to ensure that the refugees that are leaving Afghanistan, or are by the borders of Afghanistan, are properly fed and clothed, and then the second task, which I think in a sense is more difficult, is that we get the food and the humanitarian aid into Afghanistan. Never forget one thing, incidentally. There were four and a half million refugees on the move in Afghanistan before 11 September. The humanitarian crisis may be more acute today, but it was there before 11 September and there in part as a result of the oppression of the Taliban regime. So I think what we have got to do is to make sure we are doing everything we can to get food and aid and help inside Afghanistan to the people that need it.

No Negociation with Taliban

Interviewer: You say there is no negotiating with these people (the Taliban). Does that mean that you would not, if the Taliban offered, come and sit down with them?

Prime Minister: No, because they know what they have got to do. There is not a negotiation over it. They know perfectly well. We said right from the very beginning that Al Qu’aida and Usama bin Laden are responsible for 11 September. Now you only have to listen to what bin Laden has said since 11 September to realise that. The Taliban know that perfectly well. Indeed, our information is that effectively the Taliban regime and the Al Qu’aida network have virtually merged now. Their forces are the same and probably their military structures are virtually the same. So there is no negotiating with them. They yield up the Al Qu’aida terrorists, the network, and bin Laden. And they could do it if they wanted to do it. When people ask us about the action that we have taken, we waited weeks from 11 September. George Bush could have taken action straight away, but he didn’t. He waited to give them the chance to respond. We were going to behave in a decent and civilised way. We were going to wait and see whether they responded to the call to yield up the people responsible. And they have got no intention of doing that and that is why we are in the conflict that we are in and it is going to have to be sorted out in the way that it is being sorted out now.

Post-Taliban Afghan Government

Interviewer: After the Taliban, do you have questions about the Northern Alliance, or what kind of government is going to be there?

Prime Minister: Well, that is a good point. I think the important thing is to make sure that it is a broad-based government and that means including not merely the Northern Alliance which tends to be very much from the tribes of the North, but also includes the Pushtun element, which is the majority element in Afghanistan. Now, it is important that we make sure, therefore, that in any post-Taliban Afghan government that we are bringing together all those various groupings and that matters for all of us. It matters for stability in Afghanistan and the region, and of course it also matters because of the drugs trade. Ninety per cent of the heroin on British streets comes from Afghanistan, so it matters for all sorts of different reasons.


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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
Comité militaire : VAE Guy Labouérie (†), GAA François Mermet (2S), CF Patrice Théry (Asie).