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Last Updated: Sunday, 14 May 2006, 11:16 GMT 12:16 UK
Trans Atlantic relationships
On Sunday 14 May 2006, Andrew Marr interviewed Robert H Tuttle, US Ambassador to the UK

Please note "BBC Sunday AM" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

Robert Tuttle
Robert Tuttle, US Ambassador to UK

ANDREW MARR: There have been black clouds over the White House recently.

Even staff changes at the highest levels there haven't done much to dispel the gloom for President Bush whose approval ratings have plumbed new depths.

The lowest for any President since Richard Nixon during Watergate, not so dissimilar to Tony Blair's here.

But the biggest headache of course is Iran and her nuclear plant which led to a major row in New York this week between Condoleeza Rice and her Russian counterpart.

So how serious is it all, could there be war?

On this side of the Atlantic the man whose job it is to represent the Bush Administration is of course the American Ambassador Robert Tuttle. Ambassador welcome to the programme.


ANDREW MARR: There was clearly a difficult set-to between Secretary of State Rice and her counterpart at the United Nations. How worried is the American Administration about the attitude of the Russians when it comes to Iran?

ROBERT TUTTLE: I think that these diplomatic negotiations, Andrew, have been going on a long time. And I think that there's going to be ups and downs in any negotiation and I think that it's admirable the way the EU three Russia and China and the United States have been stepped together and been consistent and said that they want Iran to give up its nuclear enrichment programme. And I think that's what's important. There will be ups and downs but as I've said before, I'm optimistic and I think eventually I'm hopeful that there'll be a diplomatic solution to this serious problem.

ANDREW MARR: Our former Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, said on this programme that talk of going to war, attacking Iran at some stage was nuts. Do you agree with that?

ROBERT TUTTLE: What I believe is, as I said just a second ago, that there will eventually be a diplomatic solution. But no responsible leader takes all his options off the table and I think that's all the president..

ANDREW MARR: ...talked about other options being there down the line. Because the talk, the rumour, is that nothing will happen this year, but next year if there's still no advance from the point of the view of the west there could be an attack.

ROBERT TUTTLE: I think that there will be a diplomatic solution and I think that's wrong to say that there'll ever be an attack. I just, all we have said is that we will not take all of our options off the table and again, to repeat myself, that's what a responsible leader does.

ANDREW MARR: And in President Ahmadinejad you have in Iran a very, very difficult guy to deal with, don't you?

ROBERT TUTTLE: I think that's what everyone should focus on, suggesting outrageous statements that he has made, wiping Israel off the face of the earth, holocaust denial, he is a really a very, very dangerous man and has said some just incredible things. And I think that that's why we need to stick together with the EU three and Russia and China and come up with a solution to this thorny problem.

ANDREW MARR: OK. Let's turn to another thorny problem - Guantanamo. Now the Attorney General has made some remarkably tough comments calling for its closure. He did say that that was in a personal capacity, but nonetheless it's the clearest message we've had from a senior British minister so far.

ROBERT TUTTLE: As you said, it was in a personal capacity. The President has also said that he hoped, just last week, that Guantanamo Bay would be closed, that it could be closed in time. I think we need to go back to the beginning, since the liberation of Afghanistan there've been 10,000 detainees. We're now down to between, I think, 400 to 500. All of these people are allowed once a year a review of their case. And it's now been, that how that's going to be handled is before the US Supreme Court. A decision is expected in June. There have been 280 members of Congress and their staffs who visited Guantanamo, the International Red Cross has access to it, there have been over 1,000 members of the media to go to Guantanamo.

ANDREW MARR: But you know Ambassador, that it had done your country terrible propaganda damage, if you like, around the world. Lord Goldsmith said it was a symbol of injustice. Is it not now time to actually set a date, we're talking about setting dates not context. Is it not now time to set a date by which this camp which has caused so much outrage around the world, is actually closed?

ROBERT TUTTLE: I think there have been large concerns about Guantanamo, and I understand that. But we, these people are, you know, against us, they're serious criminals. Just as an example, we were very pleased last week that five... we asked countries to take them. The only country in Europe which we were very pleased, the Albanians took all five. But there's a big question of where these very, very dangerous people are going to go if Guantanamo is closed.

ANDREW MARR: Your trade is diplomacy. We're sitting right beside the headquarters of the London government. You have been engaged in the most extraordinary war of words over the congestion charge on your Embassy. The Major of London, Ken Livingstone, called you a chiselling crook which is not exactly diplomatic. Is there any way this can be resolved?

ROBERT TUTTLE: I think, you know, I'm glad you gave me a chance. And one of the reasons I have only spoken out once before on it publicly. Is that the rhetoric has been so heated. What I think people need to understand is over 50 countries are not paying this charge. And responsible, very, in many regions of the world are not paying it. Germany and Switzerland are not paying it.

When the Vienna Convention and there are several other treaties behind it were set up, is that diplomats are specifically exempted from paying municipal taxes and any form of taxes so that there would be no obstacles to doing diplomatic business, and that there won't be double taxation. Sweden, a very responsible country, has a congestion charge and they have specifically exempted diplomats. And in addition to that, Andrew, we pay our fines, we pay tolls where they're applicable. We pay our parking fines. So...

ANDREW MARR: I mean in the government's case, the British government's case, is that this is in effect, it's not tax like that, it's a toll. It's a toll as in the toll for crossing the Brooklyn Bridge which British diplomats would pay as they crossed the bridge.

ROBERT TUTTLE: But we pay our tolls, Andrew, where there are tolls here in the United Kingdom we pay them. And the one issue I agree with on the Mayor, he said early on that this was tax. It is a tax and municipal taxes, diplomats are exempted from that. And the reason this is an important issue, and why we've taken a principle stand, is that State Department lawyers have really studied this issue, and congestion around the world is a big issue. So we're talking about...hundreds of millions...

ANDREW MARR: ...huge amounts of money around the world.

ROBERT TUTTLE: ...all over the world, and that's why we need to take a principle stand here. I would like to see the issue resolved as the way it is in Sweden where diplomats are exempted.

ANDREW MARR: Ambassador, thank you very much. America stands firm on that. Thank you so much for joining us.


NB: this transcript was typed from a recording and not copied from an original script.

Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy

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