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http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/today/listenagain/ram/today4_blair3_20040929.ram
 
Today Programme interview.  Tony Blair and John Humphrys  Sept 29 2004
 
JH: The time is ten past eight. The audience here in Brighton applauded yesterday when Tony Blair apologised over Iraq, but that doesn't mean that Iraq,  the deepest fault line in British politics for many years, has been closed.  Because his apology was a limited one. "I can apologise for the information that  turned out to be wrong."  That was it.  So, although he acknowledged that Iraq had divided the nation, he did not acknowledge that he had been wrong to take us to war.
 
I have been talking to Mr Blair here in his hotel in Brighton.  I talked first about that apology.  If he now accepted that there were no weapons of mass destruction, why did he not accept that we had been taken to war on a false prospectus?
 
 
TB: Well, the difficulty I have with saying that is this.  That I can apologise for the information that we gave that has turned out subsequently to be wrong although I maintain very strongly it was given in good faith and it was shared by most other people, but the trouble is I can't apologise for saying we got rid of Saddam Hussein or that the basis upon which we went to war was wrong because we took the action as a result of Saddam's failure to comply with UN resolutions and that non-compliance still stands.
 
JH: But we did not go to war, or we were not told we were going to war, to get rid of Saddam Hussein
 
TB  No that's absolutely right.  Regime change was not the cause for it, the cause for it was that... (pause)  What I did was take the view after September 11th that we had to take a totally new approach and what that meant is that in respect of regimes developing WMD  instead of taking a reactive approach we had to take an active approach and that therefore the place to start was Iraq because there was a string of UN resolutions, a long history of  UN inspections not working and so we went back to the UN, got a fresh resolution which said he had to comply fully with the UN inspection regime.  Now in the end he didn't so that was the legal basis for the war.  Um  The regime, as I think I said , actually even before the war began, the regime was not irrelevant because obviously the possibility of WMD in the hands of a malign regime is different from that if they are in the hands of a benign regime...
 
JH:..but you were very clear when you said "I have never put the justification for action as regime change"  You were very clear about that..
 
TB:..yes absolutely yeah absolutely..
 
JH: But yet in the end that's what happened
 
TB:  Well it's..well I mean what happened was in the end we got rid of the regime because that was the only way of...
 
JH: ...the regime that was not threatening us...
 
TB:  Well I don't accept that, you see.  I don't accept that they weren't a threat because, I think the issue was, were they in compliance with UN resolutions?
 
JH:  Was that the issue or was it that they were a threat?  Because when you told us  you wanted to go to war against Iraq you told us you wanted to do so because they were a threat to us.  That  surely can be the only reason why a Prime Minister takes a country to war?
 
TB:  Of course, but the nature of the threat was, because of the UN resolutions, that had been passed in respect of Iraq which then we then got renewed in the resolution in November 2002, that resolution said that Saddam Hussein had to comply fully and unconditionally with the UN Inspectors.  He wasn't doing so.  So in the end we were faced with a situation - and let's be clear, the only reason the UN inspectors were back in Iraq at all was because we had 200,000 American and British troops down there.  Now we couldn't leave them there for , for ever so we had to come to a point.  We did so in November 2002.  The resolution was passed saying he had to comply fully and unconditionally and completely - and he didn't
 
JH:  But it wasn't the resolution, according to the Secretary General of the United Nations and the Security Council,  that justified war. In the view of the Secretary General the war was not legal.  He made that very clear last month
 
TB Well, I mean, that is his view.  It is not our view
 
JH:  It's the view of the man who runs the only legal international organisation that we have of its kind  to which we subscribe.
 
TB:  Well I'm afraid, you know, that we took the view, er, we took it at the time and we take it now, that the war was justified legally, because he remained in breach of the UN resolutions.  Now the issue actually, I think , I mean, I haven't actually studied in detail the actual words that Kofi used, but I think the issue that he was talking about was whether the resolution 1441 - you know, we can go back into the details of it -  was such that it actually would justify action if there was a breach of it.  I don't think he or anybody else is disputing that there was indeed a breach of resolution 1441.
 
JH  "I have made it clear that it was not in conformity with the decision to go to war with the Security Council, with the UN Charter.  It was illegal.  Yes it was illegal."  That's what he said.
 
TB  I totally understand that but I'm not disputing that I am simply saying that we don't accept that.  We believe it was,  and the reason we believe it was is that we believe that if there was a breach of the resolution 1441 then we were justified in taking the military action.
 
JH:  But what you said yesterday was that you apologised for the information, the intelligence information you had being wrong.  What puzzles many people about that is that you seem to have accepted that information in a very naive, in fact gullible, way and the reason for that, people like Robin Cook suggest this don't they, is that you had already decided with President Bush that you would go to war, so you were not looking for information that would prove the case for war, you were looking for information that would justify a decision you had already reached.
 
TB: Well, I entirely agree that that's what people say.  Now let me deal with two aspects of it.  The first is that um somehow this information really wasn't of any importance at all.  The fact is, as I indicated when I spoke to the House of Commons, and I actually went through, not the so-called dossier, but went through the intelligence itself, there was no doubt in respect of the intelligence about Saddam and weapons of mass destruction.  That was absolutely clear.  And so it wasn't a question of being naive or gullible.  The intelligence that we had was intelligence which I believe any sensible, reasonable Prime Minister would say, well that's clear evidence there is a WMD threat here. 
Now, in respect to the second part it simply is not correct.  Let me just tell you something.  When we first had the discussions about this, myself and President Bush, in the course of 2002, our case was, this is an issue that we have to deal with post September 11th.  Of course, it never was the case that Saddam was about to launch an attack on Britain or the United States, but we had to go back and start enforcing the, um, UN resolutions in respect of WMD and take a completely different stand.  Why?  Because of our fear that if terrorists ever got hold of these weapons, the destruction they would wreak would be massive and devastating in the consequences of them.  Now, when we then decided to go back to the UN, had Saddam complied fully with the UN resolution, there wouldn't have been a conflict.  It may well be a good idea and it is a good idea that Saddam is out of power but the fact is that at the time, we accepted fully the justification which was failure to comply with the UN resolutions.  Now we believe, and I believe now, I think it's the reason why  it has passed virtually without comment,  a couple of weeks ago Libya finally wound up its WMD programme.  America's  lifted sanctions  We've got a better chance of getting Iran and North Korea into compliance than we've ever had.  I thought and I still think that it was absolutely essential that we took that stand.
 
JH  Let me come back to that.  You say there was no doubt about that evidence.  There was doubt.  There was considerable doubt about it.  I spoke myself, and others did too, to very senior figures in Intelligence, who said, and I quote that in one particular, er, the basis of one conversation,    not any Cartesian analysis, "Iraq does not emerge as the priority." There were other priorities.  Syria and Iran perhaps.  There were questions about the 45 minute warning..
 
TB:  You know John,  can I just interrupt you a minute there?  You see, I think it's very important to realise why it is we went in respect of Iraq first.  The reason was, I'm not saying there aren't WMD issues about Iran or North Korea, for example.  There certainly are.  But the reason we went to Iraq, the reason I thought it was right to start with Iraq in respect of this issue, was the long history, and the long history of a country that had actually used WMD, that had then...you know,  for four years in the early 1990s, you had  the inspectors in Iraq not finding WMD....
 
JH:  Yes, but, they weren't regarded as a threat is the point I'm making...the 45 minute threat in particular which you appear to be unaware of.  That is to say, you were confused as to whether it was battlefield or longer range nuclear weapons, that baffled many people, why didn't you ask the questions?  Unless you were so keen, so enthusiastic about going to war, because George Bush wanted you to go to war, why did you not ask the sorts of questions that would have revealed the information that you needed to say, "Hang on a minute.  Maybe this isn't the right thing to do."?
 
TB First of all, the information that he was still intent on developing WMD and had actually actual readily deployable weapons was nothing to do with the 45 minutes.  There was a mass of evidence to that effect, a mass of intelligence.  The intelligence about the strategic...
 
JH...not accepted by Russia, not accepted by Germany,  not accepted by France.  You say accepted by everybody.  Not accepted by everybody.
 
TB  Sorry John, that isn't right. The resolution that was passed in the UN Security Council was a resolution that accepted he was a WMD threat.  The issue with France and Germany and Russia was that they thought there was a different way of dealing with it....
 
JH...No it wasn't that.  "Russia does not have in its possession any trustworthy data that would support the existence if nuclear weapons or any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq"  President Putin.
 
TB:  Yes, but the WMD issue which was dealt with in resolution 1441, the whole of the international community accepted this threat existed.  That's why they called upon him to comply fully with the inspectors.   Now let me just go back to this issue of George Bush...
 
JH:  I wanted to  move on actually
 
TB:  OK but I just think it is important because it's part of the..Look. - in the end with this thing,  I totally understand why people have a very strong view on it and, you know,  you're entitled to have a view and everyone is entitled to have a view.  Just understand why I took this decision.  I took the decision - I, you know, as I said yesterday - I'm as fallible as anybody else, I may be wrong in it, but I don't believe I'm wrong...
 
JH ..but if your judgement is wrong on this, if it really is wrong on this, let me put this very bluntly: you wouldn't be fit to be Prime Minister, would you, because this is profoundly important, the most important thing a Prime Minister can say...
 
TB..of course it's important, exactly, but in the end, all you can do as Prime Minister, is to say, this is why I've taken this judgement.  Now, my judgement, post September 11,  is that we face a completely new security threat, I really believe this, I believe it passionately and if  -no,  just hang on a minute - if we don't deal with this threat, then at some point in time, in the future, it is going to engulf us.  There are different aspects of that.  One aspect of that was, dealing with regimes developing WMD that have fallen into the hands of these terrorists.  That is why we dealt with the issue of Iraq in United Nations resolutions.  Now, we could have dealt with it in a different way. We could have, for example, had Saddam complied, we could have dealt with that in a different way in respect to Iraq.  We are dealing in a different way with Iran, Libya with North Korea...
 
JH  ..let me put this to you.  What you did yesterday in your speech was set up two false opposites.  You said there are two kinds of people, there are only two approaches.  One approach is to say "We try not to provoke them"  There are people who believe there are just isolated individuals, extremists engaged in essentially isolated acts of terrorism, they say don't provoke them, hope in time they will wither.  That is one group.  I confess I haven't met that group - but you say there is that group.  All right.  The other group...the other alternative - and there is no third way, you said - is remove it root and branch.  But the point is there was and is still - and always is in these things, isn't there, a third way, and in the case of Iraq the third way was to carry on doing what we were doing, which was containment.  What we've done instead, in your own words, is we have turned Iraq into a crucible of world terror.  And you say the world is a safe place.  Colin Powell himself tells us, the world is not a safer place, there is more terrorism, not less.
 
 
TB  Right, now, Ok, let's deal with this argument as well, which is, look you've been containing Saddam on and off for years, why not just...
 
JH..I'm trying to move it forward now actually, but....
 
TB..all right but it's an important argument because, as I say, you know,  it's, it's important that people hear from me why I don't think this argument is correct.  I agree that there was some success for the policy of containment in respect of Iraq ..
 
JH..there were no WMDs....
 
TB..well hang on,  The fact of the matter is, we took a bombing action actually at the end of 1998  when Robin was Foreign Secretary
 
JH..all of those things..
 
TB  Well precisely, we had 2000 British troops down there the whole time, a no-fly zone, sanctions...
 
JH...and it was working...
 
TB ...well, was it working?
 
JH Yes.  We know it was. There were no WMDs.
 
TB Well, I don't know that we know that actually, because...
 
JH..I thought that's what you apologised for yesterday
 
TB  Yes.  No.  Because the issue is, was he prepared to comply with UN resolutions?  That's what I keep saying to you.  The issue is, it's not really in respect of...
 
JH  The issues is whether he was a threat to us, surely?  That was the issue.
 
TB  Yes and the question of whether he's a threat is the question of whether he retained the capability and the intent to develop WMD  I agree also there's the issue of whether he had actual ready deployable weapons.  But the point that  I am making to you is that I don't accept the containment in respect of Saddam was working and, more than that, because I have taken this view, that after September 11th we have got to take a wholly different and more active approach to these issues, then containment,  of some sort or other, is not sufficient to deal with this.  We have got to go out and deal with it properly. And as for the fact that Iraq is difficult today - of course it's difficult, but these people who are there in Iraq trying to kill anybody, whether they are aid workers, um, Iraqi civilians, Iraqi people who want to join the police...
 
JH: (quietly)  British soldiers
 
TB:..exactly, British soldiers.  Why are they doing it?  They're doing it because...
 
JH: ....Because we gave them an excuse
 
TB:  ...Well, that's the question.  As I say to you, there are those two views.  What you say is,  these people if we hadn't given them the excuse, if we simply left them alone, there wouldn't be a problem.  I don't agree with you.  I profoundly disagree with you.
 
JH:  If it happens again - and this gets right down to the question of trust - and you acknowledge that you have lost trust as a result of this.  You said yesterday that the nation was divided over it, which clearly it is.  If another situation like this arises - God forbid - and you have to go to the House of Commons and say, "There is this country that is threatening us and it is developing weapons of mass destruction"  isn't the truth that people would laugh at you.  You simply couldn't do it.
 
TB:  Well it depends what the evidence is. And I think that....
 
JH:  Does it? Or would they say that "Hang on.  We heard this before.  He had to tell us that he got it wrong.  That the intelligence was wrong. That he apologised for it."
 
TB: Let's just, let's just, I mean there's no point in hypothesizing the situation
 
JH:  But it gets to the heart of what a Prime Minister's responsibilities...
 
TB:  It does.  It absolutely does, I agree.  But let's just get to the heart of the ..  Look.  I've taken this decision and, I mean, on the basis that I am not naive about politics.  It's a decision that  in terms of - and lets say popular support has not done me a great deal of good, I think we'd both accept that.  And sometimes when people talk about this issue of trust, the time to trust a politician most is actually when they're courting popularity least because then they're doing something that whatever the political price they're going to pay for it they actually believe in and the reason -   look,  I keep saying to people, look I don't disrespect people who take another point of view.  There is another point of view...
 
JH: Yes but that's not - let's not go down that road
 
TB: Yes, but what I'm saying about the relationship of trust you see because what this comes down to in the end is, am I doing this because I believe in it...
 
JH: NO!  It doesn't
 
TB: Well I think it does, you see..
 
JH:  No, what you believe in doesn't much matter, with great respect. In this sense that what matters is whether the people of this country would trust you to take them to war again.  And if they would not trust you to take them to war again, you can't be Prime Minister, can you?
 
TB:  Well, I'm afraid I don't accept that people won't trust a judgement that is made, provided the evidence is given to them.  Um, and of course, um, it's absolutely right that the evidence given to them
 
JH  But last time the evidence was completely wrong
 
TB Yes, but you've got to ...there's no point in hypothesizing about what any future situation may bring and of course if it's a question to do with a country and WMD, never mind the rest of the country, I am going to make sure that every single piece of evidence that we assemble is right - but there is no point in hypothesizing ...
 
JH: You should have done that  last time
 
TB:  We did!  The intelligence we got was very clear.  Now, and the intelligence we got moreover was in respect of a country that had actually used WMD, so it's not as if, when I went to the House of Commons, back in 2002, we were talking about a country that had no history of WMD....
 
JH:  No, no I fully understand that, but
 
TB: The inspectors went in there actually with the wool pulled over their eyes and unable to progress
 
JH:  But given what we know now and given what we knew then, you could actually see yourself standing in the House of Commons saying I have...
 
TB Well there's no point in hypothesizing about this
 
JH:..a dossier which proves x,y and z - because the response to that would be that people would be dismissive of you, wouldn't they?
 
TB:  Well.  We don't have such a situation and..
 
JH:  But we might.  And it is a Prime Minister's most grave responsibility...
 
TB: But..John...hang on...We don't have such a situation but the circumstances of it   - of course the circumstances of it are such that in the light of what has happened people would want to know that any evidence that is given is very soundly based  - but that's not the case at the moment is it? We're not in front of the country saying that.
 
JH:  All right. Let me ask you whether you're still going to be Prime Minister in five year's time. It's not going to be a "Vote Tony, Get Gordon" election, is it.  Or is it?
 
TB: No. It never has been.  And I've always - look, I've answered these questions a sort of  a thousand times, to be honest...
 
JH:  So that's it. No absolutely no give on that. The reason I ask, as you are obviously aware is that you gave that job to Alan Milburn and Gordon Brown's people said, "Hang on, what's going on here?"
 
TB:  Well, I don't know. One of the things you get used to in this job is  round the place  doesn't change in any shape or form what Gordon will be doing in any election campaign
 
JH: But he's doing things that Mr Brown did last time and won't be doing this time.
 
TB:  No he's not, actually. Look this becomes probably...
 
JH:  Alan Milburn told me he was in charge!  So he's not in charge is he?
 
TB:  In charge of what exactly?
 
JH:  The election campaign.
 
TB:  No.  Exactly.  He is doing the election planning which is what used to be done by the previous Minister of State at the Cabinet Office, and the position that Gordon occupied in the last election and the first election campaign I have no doubt at all he'll carry on doing.
 
JH:  Final very quick thought about domestic politics.  Mr Milburn said yesterday that it doesn't matter who provides treatment on the NHS.  Because this really gets to the heart of whether you are going to be - in the  jargon - a modernising government  or traditional in the way, we are told, Gordon Brown wants to be. And he said, "It doesn't matter who provides treatment in the end.  That is what Tony said today."  Now is that what you actually said? It doesn't matter who provides treatment on the NHS?
 
TB: Well, first of all, Gordon has been not merely supportive of public service...
 
JH:  But what I'm asking you is...
 
TB:..Yes I know.  But I just want to point this out.  Otherwise people say, well you know, you want one thing, Gordon's wanting another, therefore what are you getting?  There is complete agreement on the programme that was set out on the Health Service - and yes we believe it is important that you bring in different types of suppliers in the Health Service but they're all Health Service suppliers in the end.  So, for example, you've got these diagnostic treatment centres, some of them run by the Private Sector, providing NHS care, and they're bringing waiting lists down dramatically.  And we actually are reaching a situation in Health and Education and elsewhere where you can see real improvement.
 
JH:  Final thought.  Looking forward to the next five years?
 
TB: (laughs)  I am always looking forward to life.
 
JH:  Tony Blair.  Many thanks.
 
ends