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Last Updated: Sunday, 9 April 2006, 10:56 GMT 11:56 UK
Iraqi Anniversary
On Sunday 09 April 2006, Andrew Marr interviewed the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw MP

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

Jack Straw MP
Jack Straw MP

ANDREW MARR: Foreign Secretary Jack Straw. Welcome, Mr. Straw. Can I ask you first of all about these reports.

They all emanate from the same source which is an article in the New Yorker, a detailed article, and it suggests that plans are indeed underway by the Americans, if necessary, to hit various facilities in Iran

JACK STRAW: They also suggest that there's going to be a nuclear strike in Iran. And they have the name Mr. Richard Pearl which should carry a health warning for any reporter associated with such reports...

ANDREW MARR: He is called the Prince of Darkness...

JACK STRAW: ...and a rather unreliable reporter on what happens in the Administration. The idea of a nuclear strike on Iran is completely nuts. Now, let me just deal with this issue of military action. I made clear the British government's position on this time and time again. Which is widely shared across Europe. The American Administration -Condoleezza Rice, President Bush - use slightly different language. They say that it's not on the agenda. But it isn't on the agenda.

I believe it's not on the agenda and they're very committed indeed to resolving this issue which is a complicated issue, by negotiation, and yes by diplomatic pressure. And what the Iranians have to do is to recognise that they have overplayed their hand at each stage, at each stage they calculated they split the international community, actually at each stage the international community's ended up stronger, and that's illustrated by the fact that China and Russia and the non-aligned movement have joined us in increasing pressure including the latest statement from the Security Council on Iran.

ANDREW MARR: And yet, clearly the temperature is rising at the moment, worryingly. Would you agree with George Bush that President Ahmadinejad is comparable to Adolph Hitler?

JACK STRAW: Well, it's not my language, I'm responsible for British government and my

ANDREW MARR:'s a pretty wild thing to say isn't it?

JACK STRAW: I'm not going to comment on what President Bush may or may not have said about President Ahmadinejad. President Ahmadinejad is certainly a very difficult leader to deal with, he obviously believe that Israel "should be wiped off the map of the earth" and that is a profoundly belligerent statement, and also deeply unhelpful, not only for peace and stability in the Middle East, but also for Iran and Iran's future. And it's also caused very great embarrassment, let me say, to the real power in Iran, which is the religious authorities.

ANDREW MARR: I suppose one of the reasons that people give credibility to the notion that the United States might attack Iran in the future, is that nothing else seems to be working.

JACK STRAW: Well don't connect...

ANDREW MARR: I hear what you say about the Russians and the Chinese, but at the same time they are still completely against sanctions. They are against the kind of very, very tough pressure that might conceivably, or not, have some effect. And it doesn't look like there's anything actually the outside world can do to stop the Iranian nuclear programme continuing.

JACK STRAW: Well, there are two reasons, let me say, let me put the argument on the table, which is that people are worried that Iran is going to turn into another Iraq, and that's in people's minds so we might as well open up and discuss that. Whereas Condoleezza Rice was saying last week, and President Bush, I've also heard him say, Iran is not Iraq. And, yes, I understand people's frustrations with the diplomatic process because it takes a long time and it's quite a subtle process.

It's not true, by the way, that Russia and China have been unhelpful, and let us wait and see what approach Russia and China actually take to the issue of sanctions if we have to get there. Russia has been very responsible in all this. It's a neighbour. They are the last country in the world who want a nuclear armed Iran on their doorstep. They've got very big investments in Iran and that's entirely legitimate and understandable. So I understand the frustration. But, the reason why we're opposed to military action is because it's an infinitely worse option and there's no justification for it.

ANDREW MARR: So these stories in the papers are all wrong - and - if it came to pass that the Americans said that they were going to attack Iran, we would unequivocally say we want nothing to do with this?

JACK STRAW: Yes. Look, I don't think it's going to happen in that way, first of all. I've said it's inconceivable, now people may say well what if Iran were to attack Israel. It's very ? obviously if Iran did attack Israel the whole circumstances would change and Israel would have a right under Article 51 of self-defence, or if Iran were to attack other of its neighbours, that's a very different circumstance. Or to threaten them in an imminent way, that's not the situation. I mean, let's be clear at the moment, which is why I said what I've said so clearly.

ANDREW MARR: We wouldn't accept a pre-emptive attack?

JACK STRAW: No, we wouldn't, just to sound clear. And neither, I don't feel. As certain as I can be sitting here that neither would the United States. I mean let's just understand what the evidence is. The evidence is very clear, that for 20 years Iran deceived the nuclear inspectors, that they were developing a fuel cycle on a scale quite disproportionate to the very modest nuclear electricity power programme. And, too, that they failed to satisfy the inspectors over the last three years.

There is circumstantial evidence including the fact there are manuals from nuclear weapons from Pakistan about how to make bits of nuclear weapons. Which adds up to high suspicion that Iran is developing a civil nuclear capability which in turn could be used for nuclear weapons. But, let's be clear, there is no smoking gun, there is no cassus belli. We can't be certain about Iran's intentions, and that is therefore not a basis of which anybody would gain authority to go into military action. I've been trying to be clear.

ANDREW MARR: Absolutely, and you have been. But a lot of people as you suggest yourself, would hear all of that through the prism of what we said ahead of Iraq.

JACK STRAW: Well we said very different things ahead of Iraq. But I understand the anxiety.

ANDREW MARR: There is an anxiety there. Now, you went with Condoleezza Rice to Baghdad a little while ago. You clearly have a very good relationship with her. Does that actually help, I mean are you in the situation when it comes to close calls on Iraq or Iran for that matter, of being able to pick up the phone and deal with her in a way that's kind of the cut-through the normal diplomatic chatter?

JACK STRAW: Well, I think personal relationships make a huge difference in diplomacy as they do in life, although they are not a substitute for the fact that different countries in this case may have different interests. But, and let's be clear, that there are many areas of policy where we have a difference of view from the United States as we do from members of the European Union. That's a reason for having a close relationship.

ANDREW MARR: You could have a frank conversation ...Condi you're wrong on this.

JACK STRAW: Well we had a very frank conversation. I mean, we did a television interview, I'm afraid it was on the competition. Last Sunday Jonathan Dimbleby, where we perfectly accepted in public that there was a different type of emphasis on Iraq. We're grown-ups, why not. People need to understand that. I've said what I've said about military action. So far as the United States are concerned, Condoleezza Rice, President Bush said it's not on the agenda but they don't rule out any option in theory, that's their position.

ANDREW MARR: Absolutely. President Mubarak is the latest person, I suppose, to suggest that Iraq is actually at a state of civil war, there has been another member of the Iraqi government has said something very similar over the last 24 hours and, and of course we have the former prime minister, Mr. Alawi saying the same thing on the programme. Isn't it now obvious, everybody who's on the ground looking around more or less agrees that that's what's happening. The country is breaking up?

JACK STRAW: I don't agree with that. The situation is very serious, let us be in no doubt, as in Baghdad last Sunday and Monday and it's the third visit I've made since Christmas. It's very frustrating because the leaders are taking far too long to form this government which we've elected, well the parliament was elected, on December 15th, almost four months ago.

What's happening is that Al Zakawi, the Al Qaeda terrorist, other terrorists associated with Al Qaeda, and some of the Ba'athist extremist, are trying to provoke a civil war. So far, despite huge slaughter they have not succeeded above all, because of the restraint exercised within the Shia community by the Ayatollah Sustani and by other leaders, for example, Abdul (leader of Arziz Alhakeim).

ANDREW MARR: Day after day, week after week, reports of 50 people, 100 people. I mean it is a level of slaughter which compares to the start of civil wars in history.

JACK STRAW: Actually it is a high level of slaughter, so I understand why people are saying this. I also say that most people and most of the leaders in Iraq take a different view from President Mubarak or for example from Ayad Alawi.

Can I say something else about something else that President Mubarak said because he also said that he felt that the Shia across the Arab world including in Iraq, had a greater loyalty to Iran than they do to their own countries. And I have to say I have a difference of view from him. I've spoken to many, many, many Shia leaders in Iraq and indeed elsewhere for example in the Gulf. But so far as Iraq is concerned, these people are Shia, just as you have people who are Catholics rather than Protestants.

They are Shia but they are Iraqis first. More Shia died fighting for Iraq in the Iran-Iraq war than did members of other confessional groups. And it's my belief that of course there'll be a Shia-dominated government because this is a democracy emerging in Iraq, that there will be people who will want good relations with Iran as with the other neighbours but they will be Arabs who see themselves as Iraqi and Iraqi nationalists first.

ANDREW MARR: You've spoken of your frustration. When are we going to see, do you think, a government?

JACK STRAW: I can't put an exact time on it. I was on the telephone to our people in Baghdad this morning as I was yesterday and the purpose of the visit by Secretary Rice and myself last Sunday and Monday was to push this process.

Now why, I don't deny for a second this terrible carnage. Why I'm hesitant about saying there's civil war is because what's so frustrating about this, we're on the verge of seeing the beginnings of a democratic and permanent government there which would be all party and confessional.

ANDREW MARR: But if that doesn't happen well that's it really isn't it.

JACK STRAW: No, those things are never it were it not to happen. We face the more serious situation. I think the other very wise thing President Mubarak said was to point out that it would be a disaster if the UK/US troops and other coalition troops were suddenly to withdraw no leaders actually want that.

But of course the dangers are there whether you quote civil war or anything else. And that's why we've got to push this process very hard.

ANDREW MARR: One other imminent issue on your agenda at the moment is the funding for Hamas.


ANDREW MARR: Now the Americans have made it clear they're not having anything to do with this. There were reports that the Europeans weren't going to fund Hamas either, you've got a meeting tomorrow.

JACK STRAW: We have a meeting of foreign ministers tomorrow. I mean, the European Union and the UK, one of the largest funders of the Palestinian authority, we're committed to ensuring that the ordinary Palestinians don't starve and in the UK's case half of our money bilaterally goes to non-governmental sources and always has done, to keep people alive and at school and healthy.

The problem for us, and it's something we've got to work through with the Palestinian authority is that this money comes from our taxpayers. We have to be clear that the money is not going to filter through Hamas front organisations into funding terrorism or terrorist-related activities, or for example, education of people to hate Israel and to hate the West.

ANDREW MARR: We will carry on funding people...

JACK STRAW: It depends, the quartet which includes the United States, the European Union and Russian Federation of the US, set out three conditions which Hamas leadership need to meet. Which is that they recognise the fact of Israel, not worship the flag of Israel, but recognise the fact of Israel. They respect the international agreements which have been entered into, and they maintain the ceasefire. And that's what we're pushing the Hamas leadership to achieve.

ANDREW MARR: Finally, an expert on regime change, are you alarmed or concerned about the way that Labour's war of succession has been going over the last few weeks, this endless briefing and so on?

JACK STRAW: Well the TB GB story rumbles on. I mean what is significant for me is I've been campaigning, knocking on doors, talking at street meetings for the last three days, in the West Midlands as well as my constituency. Two people have raised this with me after three days of campaigning.

One person who was a canvasser of mine who said they were disappointed in the government because of this. The woman who came up to me in the Blackburn town centre who said what is all this nonsense, we like the government, we want to carry on. I've had endless conversations.

It is an issue in the Whitehall village. Outside it is not an issue and issues like education, health, crime, are the issues. And they look at us, they look at what we're delivering, look at the Conservative Party, astonished.

ANDREW MARR: Whitehall villager, can you see it being a coronation, something that the Labour Party can deal with quickly and swiftly when the time comes?

JACK STRAW: What I'm worried about, I'm not going to get into that with great respect. What I'm worried about is winning at the local elections. Bringing out the proquity of the Conservative Party. The fact that David Cameron didn't mention crime and disorder, it's a major issue for people.

They look to us, they see what we've done but no we could do more. Or for example, what he's said on education and health spending. It's all very well him talking about education. They voted against the money that's gone into the major improvements in many constituencies and across the country.

Polling, third term, mid-term are never particularly good. What the Conservatives are trying to do, let me make this clear, they're trying massively to lower expectations, when in fact what they should be looking at, and what we expect of them, in many ways, or what the press expect of them, is that they and at mid-term, if they're going to perform as well as we were doing they should be wining some scores and scores of seats.

ANDREW MARR: Jack Straw, Foreign Secretary, thank you very much indeed 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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