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Robin Cook MP, Foreign Secretary
Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

DAVID FROST:

And to respond to many of those points and cover much more besides but we're not going to start with that obviously, we're going to start talking with Robin Cook about Iraq and let's, let's, he's going to join us or we're going to join him, that's an interesting transitive verb thought, from Edinburgh, good morning Robin.

ROBIN COOK:

Good morning David.

DAVID FROST:

Very good to see you up there looking so healthy, let me start with the question that if, it cropped up earlier on but from one newspaper says we were urging the United States that this raid should take place and then another paper says, the Sunday Express I think, says Bush did not even phone Blair before launching the air strike on Baghdad, which of those two stories is true?

ROBIN COOK:

Oh there's been a long consultation about this David, but let's be clear our interest is in making sure that our British pilots are safe. Let's go back to remind ourselves of why they are patrolling the southern no-fly zone, they're patrolling it in order to prevent Saddam bombing the Shi'ite Muslims, they're carrying out repression from the air against the Marsh Arabs. He used helicopter gunships in the area when he was free to do so, we want to make sure he can't do that now, that's why they are patrolling the space and have been doing so for some years and to that extent they've diminished the scale of repression that would otherwise be visited by Saddam on these centres of opposition. Now the only reason that we do carry out some limited operations against his air defence mechanisms is because he keeps trying to shoot down British pilots. We cannot responsibly allow him to do that.

DAVID FROST:

Well I mean very few people in this country have very much time for Saddam Hussein, obviously, but why is it in that case that we seem to be even more isolated than ever before, almost every country, I mean I don't know whether it's fury, as the Observer said, or that's over-stated, but almost every country has condemned these raids, why is it that it's only us doing them with the United States and has been that way for years and why is it such a hostile reaction?

ROBIN COOK:

Well first of all David I do think you are rather exaggerating when you say almost every country, I've actually only seen four or five countries named in the press and the reaction, for instance, of France I thought was relatively restrained and it is said there are questions to be answered, I'm very happy to answer those questions and will do so with my French colleagues when I see him to discuss this issue. I would say though David I would appreciate it if the press, yeah and if the international community would express their fury about the way in which Saddam Hussein continues to repress the people on the ground within the southern no-fly zone, for instance it was only about 18 months ago since his people carried out an assassination of one of the senior clerical figures within the Shi'ite community, when the Shi'ite community then demonstrated against it Saddam's troops fired against that, the crowd and they killed several hundred. Now that's not me asserting that, that is laid out in the report of the United Nations special rapporter on human rights within Iraq and it is that repression by Saddam that we should exorcise us in our fury and of course if we abandoned the southern no-fly zone then Saddam once again would be free to carry out his repression from there with those helicopter gunships.

DAVID FROST:

But that comes back to the same thing, why is it, why is it just Britain and the United States who are doing this, why on, why isn't anyone else supporting this?

ROBIN COOK:

Well this goes back in, about ten years until the time when Saddam tried to make his incursion of the Kurdish area in order to repress the Kurds and you'll remember the two, three million Kurds streaming over the hillside trying to get away from Saddam's brutal military machine. That's when the no-fly zones was, were then created and it was and they were created by the United States and the United Kingdom and at the time with France supporting us, we've carried out that duty ever since and we're willing to carry out that duty and I must say that some of those who ask why do we do it will be the very people who'll be asking why we're not doing more if we would be to abandon it and Saddam was to go back to bombing his own people from the air. Remember when he was free to fly over the northern Iraqi area he used chemical weapons against the Kurds, he killed 5,000 Halabjah he'll go back to doing that again if we allowed him to.

DAVID FROST:

Do you think there's any danger that he will try and retaliate, either attack some installations here or, or in America, I mean not by long-range missiles but, or in some way fight back?

ROBIN COOK:

Well he does not have those long-range missiles┐

DAVID FROST:

That's right┐

ROBIN COOK:

Precisely because of our programme┐

DAVID FROST:

He can put something, he can put something in a suitcase and have his people take it over?

ROBIN COOK:

Well David let's be clear why he doesn't have the missiles, he doesn't have the missiles because of our long programme since the Gulf War to make sure that he cannot have a missile capacity, we forced to make sure that he dismantled some of that programme and we did actually carry out some destruction of facilities where he was trying to reassemble them during the operation three years ago. So he doesn't have long-range missiles because we prevented him having those long-range missiles, we don't currently assess there being any high or serious risk of him being able to attack us. But let me stress David, in terms of the situation in the region we remain very vigilant, Saddam will certainly express his military ambitions if he is given any chance to do so. Do remember he has never given up his claim to Kuwait, indeed only a few weeks ago he reasserted that claim to Kuwait. This is a man who could plunge the region into war again if we allowed him to acquire the military capacity to do so.

DAVID FROST:

Right.

ROBIN COOK:

That is the whole point of our strategy towards Iraq.

DAVID FROST:

And in terms of missiles though, Robin, the National Missile Defence, the great star wars 2 or whatever it's called, are you and Tony, Tony Blair moving towards, warming towards that particular project and helping the Americans with it┐and so on?

ROBIN COOK:

I had dialogue with the United States Administration when I was there two weeks ago, particularly Colin Powell the Secretary of State and I've no doubt at all that the Prime Minister will discuss it further when he meets President Bush in a week's time. We understand that there is considerable anxiety on the part of the United States that because of their prominent role in international affairs they may attract a threat from a rogue state and that is why nationally they're looking at ways in which they can protect themselves. As Tony Blair expressed it the other day there's a definite issue that is in the box marked handle with care, there are a lot of unresolved questions to be answered of which perhaps the most critical is how the United States can take this forward in terms of its own relationship with Russia, it's very important that whatever is done reduces tensions, reduces the sense of insecurity in the United States, does not increase tension with Russia and I'm sure Tony Blair will be exploring that with President Bush when he meets him.

DAVID FROST:

Right, and last week here General Sir Charles Guthrie said it's going to be an extremely expensive system for us to buy into, what would we give up?

ROBIN COOK:

Well we're not currently contemplating buying into it and of course he's quite right it would have a very big opportunity cost of other things if we spend our current defence budget on, so at the moment there is no proposal that we should, as appropo buy into it and I'm very conscious of the importance of the other priorities on our defence budget in particular making sure we develop the rapid, flexible, mobile forces which we can contribute to crisis such as Kosovo and that of course is the high priority within Europe because of the initiative we took with France in setting out a European security and defence programme and I found an understanding for that in Washington and a welcome the fact that it is going to increase the capacity of Europe for crisis management and it will also be a capability, it'll be available for Nato if Nato also decides to carry out crisis management and that's why when I was in Washington Colin Powell spoke very sympathetically, supportive and warmly about that initiative.

DAVID FROST:

Let's come back Robin, if we could, to, to Europe, obviously the statement that Tony Blair made was well received by supporters of going into the single currency, that the assessment on joining would be made within two years of a new Labour government, assuming there is one, I suppose the corollary of that, he put in an of course was that it seemed like logic, the corollary is it could also be less than two years?

ROBIN COOK:

Well I would agree with you that it does seem obvious and logical that if you say early next Parliament it will be in the first half of the next Parliament, once again it was an interesting example of quite often the headlines come from stating the obvious. And you are right David, that of course when he says within two years that could potentially mean at any point within those two years but in reality, and I have to stress this, it will necessarily take some time to carry through a considered judgement of the economic tests, it will then - if we've decided that that judgement's positive - take some time to pass the legislation for a referendum, to carry out the campaign. Therefore David I would not invite you or anybody else to try and pass down the phrase within two years, within two years means what it says and we're not going to sub-divide it in the course of this interview.

DAVID FROST:

Right and in the, in terms of the five economic tests, are they going to be judged solely by Gordon Brown, by Gordon Brown and Tony Blair or by the whole Cabinet?

ROBIN COOK:

Well it'll be a collective decision, it'll be a decision by the government in which Tony Blair will play also, obviously, a key role. I think the first step in that assessment will be within the Treasury, they are after all the Economic Ministry, one would expect the Treasury to be the people to take the lead on this and then it will be a collective decision for all of us. It is very important David, that if we are going to have a referendum that we provide a real objective hard-headed assessment of those economic tests, I believe that the British people will support a case for the Euro if they are convinced that it will lead to more jobs, more exports, more investment, but they've got to be convinced of that and that's why they've got to be convinced that these are serious tests which we took seriously and which we looked at with a very, hard, long look before recommending membership.

DAVID FROST:

That obviously would be very important but everyone seems to think that it is asking a lot to turn around a 61-32 polling situation today when you have got all the newspapers, virtually all the newspapers on the side of the 61 per cent and the general feeling here was, as you may have seen, that it was just too difficult and therefore what one's saying is that maybe there are a, there is a sixth test that also has to be passed which is, we think we can win?

ROBIN COOK:

Well as I've said David I'm confident that if the British people can be convinced that it is going to be an interest of them, their family, jobs for their children to join then they will see the case for joining. Do remember David we have not recommended joining at the present time, far less ever started campaigning on it but it is quite interesting that I understand tonight the BBC in its programme, Referendum Street, will be describing a poll which they carried out in one street in North London which showed that 60-40 opposition to joining and after a week's campaigning by independent people to government, after a week's campaigning that 60-40 against the Euro turned into almost a 60-40 in favour of the Euro when the people heard the arguments. So I would be quite confident that if we conclude that it's the right time to join, that the economic indicators point in favour of joining and we run a campaign and put the arguments to people in a way they've not been getting at the present time through the press at present, then they will see the case for joining.

DAVID FROST:

And you in fact, speaking personally, I mean you'd be a disappointed man if we go into the next election after this one not having joined the Euro by then?

ROBIN COOK:

No I am fully behind a strategy and I absolutely have always accepted that you can only join the Euro if the economic conditions are right, it is, would not be correct for Britain to take Britain in if the economic conditions were not correct and that is why early in the next Parliament we will carry out that assessment and only if that assessment is favourable, only if we then conclude that the economic indicators point to joining will we then recommend a referendum.

DAVID FROST:

Robin thank you very much for joining us this morning.

ROBIN COOK:

Thank you.

DAVID FROST:

As ever our thanks to Robin Cook and our thanks in advance now to Darren Jordan who's here with the latest news headlines.

END

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