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Northern Ireland Secretary Dr John Reid
Northern Ireland Secretary Dr John Reid
BBC BREAKFAST WITH FROST INTERVIEW: JOHN REID MP NORTHERN IRELAND SECRETARY SEPTEMBER 23RD, 2001

Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used

DAVID FROST: Here in Britain of course preparations for President Bush's war on terrorism are well under way, John Reid the Northern Ireland Secretary's here, with all of his experience and in terms of defence as well and we'll talk in a moment about Northern Ireland but first we must begin with the, the main subject, although they're linked, I might explain how in a minute, but where do we stand at this moment in time, were the stories true about the SAS already being in Afghanistan, those front pages?

JOHN REID: Well we never comment on any specific item David, but just let me say that terrorism is abhorrent and the particular type of terrorism that we've tried to tackle is a many headed hydra, it therefore has to be tackled both in terms of length of time, I think we should not under-estimate that we are in for the long-haul, the battle against terrorism will not be won in months perhaps not even in years.

DAVID FROST: And from what President Bush said we have to face up to the likelihood of casualties, it won't be like Kosovo?

JOHN REID: I think people cannot expect to tackle, good God we've had now thousands of casualties already because of the awful and evil acts that have been, have taken place so I think that we have to expect that and we have to be prepared to tolerate that. But it hasn't been just preparations at the level of the military, as Ruud Lubbers was saying, because it has to be tackled in a diplomatic, a political, a legal, an economic, as well as a military one and if you look at what Tony Blair's been doing, Jack Straw's been doing, it is to be building a consensus and it's very hard decisions for some people and very brave of Pakistan to be making the decision they've made, but that coalition is building, so it's the long haul and it's a breadth of approach but we will be in this battle for a long, long time.

DAVID FROST: And we don't seek any more UN Resolutions do we, I mean I think the President made that clear, we're not expecting any further blessings other than that one, that one sympathetic vote on the day of the tragedy...

JOHN REID: Well...

DAVID FROST: We're not going back to the UN for any permissions?

JOHN REID: Well you can be sure this is going to go on for a long, long time and you can be sure that anything that we do will be done under international law. Of course at the moment there is Article 51 whereby the Americans are entitled to defend themselves and to form allies so to do, but as the original Resolution from the United Nations but this is not something that's going to be over in days, months or perhaps even years.

DAVID FROST: Are you, are you expecting other countries in Europe to actually provide troops and military aid in addition to the US and the UK, we said we would, we're shoulder-to-shoulder, do you expect France, Germany to contribute to the fighting?

JOHN REID: Well I think everyone will give, everyone who's, has pledged their support and pledged their support towards an effort that will involve not only military but intelligence, political pressure, economics and so on, and everyone will contribute in their own way. As far as we're concerned, we will be prepared to contribute militarily but obviously Tony Blair is obviously playing a central role in the diplomatic front, David Blunkett of course has been over with the EU ministers looking at legally what we need to do in terms of defending democracy, Gordon Brown in terms of the economic side, so we will contribute, as many others will, in a whole range of ways.

DAVID FROST: I thought Colin Powell said fairly clearly this week that nuclear weapons would not be used, is that your understanding?

JOHN REID: Well I don't think anyone's counselling nuclear weapons in this but we shouldn't avoid the, the proposition that there will be danger to us, we're America's biggest ally, that it may involve sacrifices, not only here at home, inconvenience, possible danger, but obviously also in standing up to terrorism there is the danger of sacrifices of lives because to do anything other is to say that we will avoid the, the difficulties and the chances of sacrifice and essentially capitulate to terrorism and I don't believe we can do that. But we have to, and it's important thing, we have to also accompany it with political and diplomatic moves and that is why the Middle East is so important, to seek solutions to problems by political means wherever that is possible, but where it is not possible to be prepared to use the only means left to us which is military against people like Bin Laden.

DAVID FROST: And what about the headline today in the Sunday Telegraph and reported in other papers, that you are planning to bring in some more stringent rules in this country which may offend the Human Rights Declaration, but that to capture terrorists in this country and that the Prime Minister's going to be talking to the two other leaders to discuss them further and that these, these measures will be rushed through the House of Commons, possibly three of them, is that right?

JOHN REID: Well of course we have to look at what may be necessary to defend democracy, you can be sure incidentally that anything we do will take full account of the European Convention on Human Rights, but only this week with our European colleagues, David Blunkett with the Home Office Ministers and Justice Ministers, were looking at what measures may be necessary in order to protect ourselves against the sort of terrorism that we saw taking place in the United States. I don't think there is ever anything that will enable us to say we're guaranteed safety, we aren't, you know the terrorists only need to, to get through once, we need to defeat every single occasion where they may attempt it so that does mean that we have to get that balance between democracy and, and defence of democracy between being liberal in their approach to life but taking the necessary steps to, to defend their liberal life. That isn't easy but it, you can be sure that anything we do will take full account of the European Convention of Human Rights and indeed will be, probably be reflected across Europe by our allies and friends.

DAVID FROST: Now the link with Northern Ireland is obviously that there's been a change of temperature about all over the world about terrorism and that perhaps has spread to Northern Ireland, that the IRA seem to be making more encouraging noises, are you, are you encouraged by that?

JOHN REID: Well I'm encouraged by what's happened in Northern Ireland, terrorism of any type is abhorrent and it has to be fought, as I said, by all the means possible, for 30 years in Northern Ireland it was purely military, military forms of terrorism and military forms of defence against it. A few years ago we had the unique opportunity where those involved in terrorism said we believe we may be able to solve our problems through politics and we have a peace process which I think has been of enormous benefit to people in Northern Ireland but it isn't easy, it means that the people who were involved in terrorism has, have to continually come away from it and at present we have got a position whereby not yet having put any guns beyond use we've got an impasse. Now what I did was, yesterday was to extend the time during which we may have another breathing space and I would hope that no one in or outside Northern Ireland will under-estimate the serious position we are now in. A window of opportunity comes along every so often, as it did in the Middle East a couple of years ago, if you miss that window of opportunity it can sometimes be put back years.

DAVID FROST: And in fact in this situation we've got the Ulster Unionists who have just at this moment of opportunity, coming up with their plan to try and expel the Sinn Fein from the Assembly and so on...

JOHN REID: From the government...

DAVID FROST: From the government...

JOHN REID: From the government...

DAVID FROST: And, and in that situation you must feel this is just the last thing I needed when there's a glimmer of hope?

JOHN REID: Well this has being going on, that's probably what Lord Cornwall felt in 1801 in Northern Ireland, around 1800, this is a long-term problem but there's a fundamental one at the moment and it, it can be put simply and that is that if the Republican movement who face a terribly difficult decision inside the IRA, this would be a huge step putting weapons beyond, in terms of the theology and the background and the history of the IRA it would be the, next to the ultimate step to start this process. But they have shown in the past that they can take these difficult steps, that they can participate in politics through the Republican movement and if they can do that then they have to recognise that the Unionists have terrible problems as well. It is a difficult decision for them to go into government with a movement who have not only been their enemies but been involved in terrorism and for a number of years now they've been prepared to do that. So what we need is to break the impasse and hopefully it will come soon, is for the IRA to take that step they said they were prepared to take, if they do I believe we can get a new dynamic, if they don't then I think we have a very serious problem.

DAVID FROST: John thank you very much indeed.

JOHN REID: Thank you David.

DAVID FROST: John Reid.

END


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