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Jack Straw MP, Foreign Secretary
Jack Straw MP, Foreign Secretary
BBC BREAKFAST WITH FROST INTERVIEW: JACK STRAW MP FOREIGN SECRETARY OCTOBER 28TH, 2001

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

DAVID FROST:
As we were saying just now the military operation in Afghanistan has of course intensified. This weekend saw some of the heaviest fighting yet as allied forces bombed Taliban targets in and around Kabul. But there were mistakes too, the Red Cross compound was hit by accident again, all this as British Marines get set to join American troops on the ground. And here to talk about that subject is the man with so many of the responsibilities, the Foreign Secretary Jack Straw. Good morning Jack.

JACK STRAW:
Good morning.

DAVID FROST:
What did you think first of all about those two headlines that we showed earlier on in the, in the programme that, where the Prime Minister rallies Britain as war nerves fray and over here the same sort of thing, Blair let's hold our nerve on war, do you think in fact there is some fraying of nerves at the moment?

JACK STRAW:
Well what I think is this David, and I think the Prime Minister's quite right to say that, what we, what we're dealing with here is a reporting culture, media culture which is very, very short-term and 24-hour media is a fact of life but there are two aspects to it, one is it constantly wants to change the story forward, the other thing is it, that it lacks memory backwards. So three weeks into the war you're almost, it's almost as if the press have lost the connection, the media have lost the connection with why we're involved in this, so we have constantly to remind people about this constantly to say what General Wes Clark has just very wisely said from his huge experience. This kind of military action may last indefinitely now with, this is not a, something we're saying now three weeks in, it's something we said right at the beginning but the Prime Minister's right to say this but what we have to do is this, is to remind people why we're taking this action, why are we taking this action? Well first of all because thousands and thousands of people died in that atrocity on the 11th of September, they're being remembered this afternoon, there's a ceremony¿

DAVID FROST:
In New York.

JACK STRAW:
In New York on Ground Zero but that will probably get rather less coverage than it ought to when relatives of the dead go there to receive caskets of what may be the remains of some of our loved ones there. That's one reason why we're taking this action but the second reason why we're having to take this action is to prevent it happening again and what we know is that unless we do take action of this kind, deeply regrettable as it is, this kind of atrocity will go on and the scale of it will mount and I'm not just saying that, it's because if you think about what bin Laden's done in the past and it's astonishing, when I talk to people in my constituency, again how short the memories are because they're not reminded of this, UBL and the Al Kaida organisation tried to blow up the World Trade Centre in 1993, they, they parked a huge lorry bomb there, they didn't succeed because it was in the wrong place but they almost succeeded, they did other things, they then killed well over 300 people in Tanzania and Uganda when they blew up the US Embassies there. When that happened the United Nations took sanctions against them and against the Taliban but that still didn't stop them carrying on so that's why we're having to take this action.

DAVID FROST:
But how long, the point Wes Clark we were discussing with too, what is, in answer when you said how long this would all go on, how long, I mean we had Admiral Sir Michael Boyce talking about four years on the Afghanistan side and 50 years on the fight against terrorism what, what is your scale on that?

JACK STRAW:
Well what I say, I defer to Wes Clark said, interestingly when you said to him isn't this more like Vietnam than Kosovo he said no, no, it's actually like Kosovo.

DAVID FROST:
Yes.

JACK STRAW:
Yes, he's the man with the experience and he said look this military action war, can go on indefinitely, we don't know. What we do know however is, and we know this for certain, is that three weeks into the military action in Kosovo we had exactly the same headlines, this is why the press in a sense have almost no humility and no memory and many of the commentators who are now saying this is a mistake were saying Kosovo was a mistake, there were saying it was futile, irrelevant, all sorts of things like that. As it happened after 78 days of bombing Milosevic and it was said by these very wise "commentators" that Milosevic would stay, the bombing would strengthen it, just as it is now being said that the bombing is going to strengthen the Taliban. Well after 78 days of military action in Kosovo Milosevic did collapse and Milosevic is now only standing trial as a result of that military action¿ So in answer to your question.

DAVID FROST:
The problem here is that, that you're talking over possibly much, much longer time span, four years on Afghanistan but possibly¿

JACK STRAW:
But as Wes Clark says you were talking there of a possibly, possibly much longer time scale, the answer is that when you're dealing with military action, with the complexities you had in Kosovo, and you have in Afghanistan, you cannot say for certain how long it's going to take. But what we've been very anxious to do, President Bush, Prime Minister Blair, Colin Powell, myself, many others have done right from the start of this is to spell out to people that we are there for the long haul but also again picking up those very wise words of Wes Clarke to point out that the military action is part of an overall strategy. What are we doing it for? We're doing it because demands are made for UBL, Usama bin Laden and the Al Kaida organisation for him to be brought to justice. Now there has been relative success so far, we have broken up the terrorist camps, people tend to forget about that, they are inoperable, it doesn't mean that he won't try terrorism again for the moment, it does mean that one of the objectives we set has happened. Alongside this just to make these two points David, a huge amount of work is going on humanitarian effort and diplomatic effort and that's why the Prime Minister who's been on these relentless journeys, it's why I was in Washington last week, why I'm going to Poland and to Moscow this coming week as part of this diplomatic effort to put together arrangements for a new Afghanistan.

DAVID FROST:
Yes, so what in fact is the, in fact there's a nuance of change there, isn't there, I mean if for instance our special forces were, were really successful and they either, they got bin Laden and he either was captured or killed I suppose it would be better for us if he was killed rather than captured wouldn't it?

JACK STRAW:
I think the crucial thing is that he should be taken out of action, if he is captured that's fine, why should anyone¿

DAVID FROST:
If he was captured by our team or by an American team and so on, would that be the end of our mission in Afghanistan, the answer to that is no, now a part of our mission in Afghanistan is to rid Afghanistan of the Taliban government¿isn't it?

JACK STRAW:
No, hang on, the military aims have been set up pretty clearly, the military aims which, which are follow-on from the demands made by President Bush on the 20th of September are for bin Laden and his key associates to be handed over, brought to justice or I mean otherwise removed from the scene. For the terrorist training camps and the whole of his apparatus to be broken up and for those harbouring them to be prevented from doing so in the future. It's not an explicit military aim that we should remove the Taliban, we've made that clear from the start but it's likely to be a consequence of the action. What we are now doing is putting together very extensive diplomatic efforts, the Prime Minister's pointed people, two leading internal diplomatics, Robert Cooper and Paul Byrne to take part in this, British diplomats alongside Lakhdar Brahimi the United Nations international diplomat. We're putting together the diplomatic effort to look at ways in which Afghanistan can be provided with a better future, a much more secure future and ensuring that all the countries around about like typically Iran and Pakistan and the other key countries, are involved in those discussions as long, along with countries like Russia and India.

DAVID FROST:
Right so we will if we, even if we capture bin Laden we'll carry on in Afghanistan?

JACK STRAW:
Well it depends on the circumstances in which he is captured, if he is captured and we can be satisfied his organisation is broken up, that the, those who are protecting him have also ceased to protect him that is one thing, I'm not going to get into the realm of speculation here with great respect David. All of us really know why we're there, we're there because of the atrocities on the 11th of September, because of the deaths and destructions which occurred there and because of the continuing threat from terrorism that the Al Kaida organisation pose. That's why we're there and it is to stop this kind of atrocity and the terrible fear that follows it that we have to take this military action but it is proportionate and it's targeted.

DAVID FROST:
Proportionate with the possible exception of the cluster bombs and people who¿

JACK STRAW:
I was just going to say this, I mean it grieves everybody, it really does, when there are civilian casualties but I also just want, and it's dreadful and if mistakes take place of course we understand that a) innocent people get killed and b) it, it causes people to worry severely about the action, but we are throughout this have been aiming to minimise civilian casualties, the Taliban who are one of the most brutal regimes which we've ever seen, their aim is to maximise civilian casualties and so there's no moral equivalent between the two whatsoever.

DAVID FROST:
What about the, the short-term or medium-term future Jack, I mean will there be, there are a number of people in Washington who want there to be military action other than in Afghanistan, arguing vigorously whether it's Iraq, Syria or whatever, and here in this country the implication has been that the pressure on other countries in the war against terrorism may only be economic, may only be sanctions. Do we in fact have provision that we might have military action in a second country?

JACK STRAW:
I was asked that on Thursday, I think it was, in Wednesday or Thursday last week in Washington at a press conference with Colin Powell and the answer I gave then is the one I'm going to give now which is¿

DAVID FROST:
¿consistency¿

JACK STRAW:
And we've been giving all the way through, and so have the Americans. The only military action on the agenda at the moment is in Afghanistan as everybody knows, you only take military action anywhere in the world where there is the clearest possible evidence requiring it and there are no other alternatives and there are no other countries where both those conditions are fulfilled at the moment.

DAVID FROST:
So at the moment that is a clear statement.

JACK STRAW:
Yes.

DAVID FROST:
Of the position, and in addition to our 200 Marines how many more are standing by, I saw one quote about overall 4,200 men but only another 400 Marines, how many more people are we going to be pumping in?

JACK STRAW:
That will be announced as and when we get there, what we do have however is a major military contribution to make and some of the details were spelt out by Adam Ingram the Armed Forces Minister in the House of Commons on Friday. But we tend not to announce specific deployments David, until they've been made but what is important however is that not only the world community but also the Taliban should understand that there is a real determination by the United States, by the United Kingdom, but also by the many, many other countries who have been extremely anxious to provide military support to the coalition that we are putting in plans not just for air strikes which have been going on now for getting on for three weeks but through other action as well.

DAVID FROST:
And what is your attitude to the requests of some people and Colin Powell has not said no to this but your reply to the people who say that around November the 17th with Ramadan we should have a bombing halt for the period of Ramadan?

JACK STRAW:
Well that is being considered, I have to say that if you look at the history of warfare in Islamic countries in the past Iran-Iraq war for example, Afghanistan itself, there have not been pauses during Ramadan so we are thinking about this carefully, there was a very brief pause on the first Friday, Holy Day of the week of the bombing campaign, we're thinking about it carefully but we're also looking at the experience in Islamic countries themselves.

DAVID FROST:
But it's under serious consideration?

JACK STRAW:
Well as I say we're looking at it.

DAVID FROST:
We're looking at it, alright. Well we'll just take a break there to go and get the latest news from the headlines from Sian and then we'll be back here again.

[BREAK FOR NEWS]

DAVID FROST:
We're almost at the end of our time, back here in the UK, Jack, cannabis downgraded to a Category C drug, what, Lady Runson had proposed to you and you quite publicly said wasn't a good idea, what's changed?

JACK STRAW:
Well what's changed is the way in which it's been looked at, I always said we would look at the science here, some of the experiments have been advanced and David Blunkett, I think quite rightly, decided to put it down to Class C. But if I may say David¿

DAVID FROST:
Quite rightly, you agree with him?

JACK STRAW:
Yeah, yeah, of course I do, of course I do, and he talked about it to me beforehand, if I may say I think the really important news of last week wasn't so much that but was the publication by David Blunkett of the crime figures for the year 2000 which showed on the very best and most accurate measure of all, 12 per cent reduction in crime in one year which meant during the period between 1997 and 2001 there was almost a quarter of a reduction in crimes of all kinds which is a huge testament to the work of the police during that period and to the kind of crime reduction programmes which we got going during that time.

DAVID FROST:
But you said that relaxing the laws on marijuana would send out the wrong signals, why are they sending out the right signals?

JACK STRAW:
Well hang on a second what I always said was that we'd be led by the science and people sort of listen to one bit and not another bit and that was why I had authorised personally licences for experimentation into medical uses of cannabis. They were now nearing their completion, as David was telling me last weekend and that was why he decided to go ahead in this way.

DAVID FROST:
Jack thank you very much for being with us, our thanks to Jack Straw and to all of our, all of our guests our varied guests this morning, and thanks to you of course for watching, for now top of the morning and good morning.

END


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