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Transcript of Louis Susman interview

PLEASE NOTE "THE ANDREW MARR SHOW" MUST BE CREDITED IF ANY PART OF THIS TRANSCRIPT IS USED

On Sunday 20th February Andrew Marr interviewed US Ambassador to Britain Louis Susman.

ANDREW MARR:

The wave of demonstrations across North Africa and the Middle East may yet prove as significant as the Eastern European uprisings of 1989. Mubarak of Egypt's gone and everybody is wondering who's next. Well today, as we've heard, the focus has moved to Libya as well as Bahrain. Events in the tiny Gulf kingdom once again pose a profound dilemma for the US administration, which has huge strategic interests at stake there - it's home of its fifth fleet - and it seems as if Washington may have had its hand in the King's decision to pull back from what had been becoming a bloody confrontation. Well I'm joined now by the United States Ambassador in London, Louis Susman. Ambassador, welcome.

AMBASSADOR SUSMAN:

Good morning, Andrew.

ANDREW MARR:

Good morning. We're going to talk a little bit later about President Obama's forthcoming visit to this country, but let's start off, if we may, talking about the Middle East. Bahrain's a very good example of the dilemma the West has had, which is that your country and indeed this country's had close links with the King in Bahrain, and yet we have seen some pretty dreadful scenes of shootings and so on of demonstrators. Has the Obama administration intervened to calm things down?

AMBASSADOR SUSMAN:

We did intervene in Bahrain. The President, as you know, spoke to the King, told him that we do not favour violence and strong repression. Our position is very clear, Andrew: we're for democracy, we're for freedom of assembly, for non-violence, and people have a right to have their voice heard on what the reforms are. And that's a clear policy that both President Obama and Secretary Clinton have put forward.

ANDREW MARR:

And after that phone call, the troops were withdrawn, so presumably you feel there was a connection between the states?

AMBASSADOR SUSMAN:

We think that the call was one that was helpful.

ANDREW MARR:

Right. Terrible reports - we can't verify them in detail at the moment - coming out from Libya at the moment as well. Now a very, very different situation, of course. Colonel Gaddafi is not in the position of the King of Bahrain as far as the US administration's concerned. But what can the US do in that sort of position?

AMBASSADOR SUSMAN:

Well we're not going to be able to call him. Let's put it that way.

ANDREW MARR:

Yeah, sure.

AMBASSADOR SUSMAN:

But we can hope that the international community, whatever pressure they can put on him. We must remember the difference between a monarchy and a dictatorship. And in Libya it's a dictatorship and it's one that has to try and keep in power, and I'm afraid that what they're doing is so horrendous to the populous.

ANDREW MARR:

Yeah. Well do you think that the behaviour of the British government towards Libya has been perhaps ill-advised? There's been a lot of tensions of course over the al-Megrahi case and so on over the years and BP.

AMBASSADOR SUSMAN:

Well I can't say, and nor would I say what the British government should do or shouldn't do. I would suggest to you that to deal with him, to give him greater stature, greater ability on the world front to look like he's a good citizen is a mistake, it's a mistake. I would hope that the whole concept of how people deal with Gaddafi will be under review.

ANDREW MARR:

Right across the region, there is clearly a big question for the West. On the one hand, there are democratic uprisings which, as you've suggested, Western governments would naturally be in favour of; and yet behind that there's the fear of religious extremism, there's the fear of what might happen to Israel under a remodelled Middle East. So what overall would you say is the position of the Americans?

AMBASSADOR SUSMAN:

The Americans' position is clear: we promote democracy. And I don't really believe this has turned into a religious revolution. This is a revolution where people are saying I want freedom, they're saying I want a job, they're saying I want my life to be better for my children. That's what it's all about. And the United States, as Britain, but the United States has always stood behind the security of Israel, and I really believe that it's not going to be a problem on how the revolution deals with Israel at this point. The Egyptian government has already said they're going to honour the treaty that's been in effect for many years.

ANDREW MARR:

I suppose the problem is once a democratic revolution starts to spread around the region, there's no telling where it'll stop - including Saudi Arabia, another very, very important ally of the United States.

AMBASSADOR SUSMAN:

Well I would hope that our relationships with these countries as allies, no matter what government would eventually come forth - if it does - would continue. We have mutual interests. We have to do that. But I don't think in any way it's conflicting to say that we're worried about how one country will react to us versus having a wave of democracy. I don't think it's conflicting at all.

ANDREW MARR:

President Obama and his wife are coming for a state visit - the full works and so on and it'll be grand occasions and banquets and lots of speeches and so on. Is it also going to be a busy working visit? Does it actually change anything?

AMBASSADOR SUSMAN:

Well I don't know if it changes anything, but it will be a working visit as well. Besides President and Mrs Obama staying at Buckingham Palace and there's a state dinner and a return state dinner, there will be working sessions with the Prime Minister, various workout sessions with the various cabinet ministers. And the whole point of all of this is to reinforce the incredible closeness we are as allies. We don't have a better ally than the United Kingdom.

ANDREW MARR:

I'm sure that the two leaders will be talking about Afghanistan and what's happening there, which remains an extremely difficult problem. Is there anxiety from your side, the American side about British defence cuts?

AMBASSADOR SUSMAN:

Not at this point.

ANDREW MARR:

No, no. And as to Afghanistan, do you think we're moving closer to a sort of joint agreement about when troops in large numbers will start to come home?

AMBASSADOR SUSMAN:

Well I think both President and Prime Minister are hoping that by 2014/15 the troops can be either removed or substantially removed. That's going to depend on the conditions on the ground and how reconciliation and reintegration moves forward with governance. So I think you have to look at Afghanistan quite frankly on a constant basis to see how the progress is being made, but remember we are there, the British government is there to stop terrorism. That is our main goal and that will be a predominant issue in front of all of us.

ANDREW MARR:

Another security issue, I suppose, is the case of Mr Assange. We're going to be hearing this week as to whether he goes to Sweden or not. You have a new piece of legislation - SHIELD, so-called - to crack down on people who leak American secrets. Would you like to see him on American soil standing trial for what he's done?

AMBASSADOR SUSMAN:

Well that's an interesting question because I have a personal view and I'm sure we have a governmental view.

ANDREW MARR:

Give us your personal view then on that.

AMBASSADOR SUSMAN:

My personal view is that we have someone who has received stolen material, has used it in a way that could be detrimental to our country, and you balance that with the freedom of press and freedom of transparency. I know that we have this proposed legislation - it's not been enacted - and we'll have to see how that comes out. But at this point in time, we have brought no action against Mr Assange and we'll have to see how it plays out in the British courts.

ANDREW MARR:

Alright. Ambassador, thank you very much indeed for joining us.

AMBASSADOR SUSMAN:

It's always a pleasure.

INTERVIEW ENDS




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