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The Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon
The Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon
BBC BREAKFAST WITH FROST INTERVIEW: GEOFFREY HOON, Defence Secretary NOVEMBER 11TH, 2001

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

DAVID FROST: - and now speaking to us from the studio the Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon. Good morning Geoff.

GEOFF HOON: Good morning.

DAVID FROST: You heard what, obviously, Paddy was saying there and the Sunday Times headline 'Britain and the USA exuberant alliance to march on Kabul'; we hear from, overnight, from New York, that in fact the president doesn't want the Northern Alliance getting into Kabul on its own, or whatever, what exactly is our position this morning? I mean do we want the Northern Alliance to get on and get into Kabul as fast as possible? Or do we positively not want them to do that?

GEOFF HOON: Well there's no inconsistency between the two positions - we want them to march towards Kabul, to take ground to deny the Taliban regime and Osama Bin Laden space in Afghanistan - that's always been the strategy, to put pressure on the regime, on Osama Bin Laden. The Northern Alliance are an important part of that pressure and the momentum that they have now, denying the Taliban regime the opportunity of defending, is enormously important to the overall strategy - the overall military strategy - that we're engaged on.

DAVID FROST: But our military strategy has changed somewhat in terms of the nuances about the Northern Alliance. I mean we were, we are more generous towards the Northern Alliance today than we were two or three weeks ago when we were hearing 'we've got to stop them getting to Kabul till we get there first' or whatever. We've been forced by the pressure of events to come round to the fact that the Northern Alliance are going to be more important than perhaps we wanted three or four weeks ago.

GEOFF HOON: I don't really accept that. They have always been part of the pressure that we have been bringing to bear on the Taliban regime, ultimately with a view to their giving up their support for terrorism and giving up Osama Bin Laden. So they have played their part and they're continuing to play their part - bombing is another part, the use of coalition forces on the ground is a further part. It's all part of this very determined effort, right from the beginning, to put them under pressure.

DAVID FROST: And in terms of the people who say well the Northern Alliance is just, is just the Taliban under another heading, they'll be just as awful as the Taliban - that you would absolutely deny, would you?

GEOFF HOON: I don't accept that. There have been some stories told about their behaviour in the past, which actually I've had checked out and they're not nearly as bad as people have been suggesting. But certainly, looking to the situation after the Taliban are ejected from power in Afghanistan, we would certainly want to see a broad-based government reflecting the range of ethnic groupings that exist in Afghanistan.

DAVID FROST: And as we were just saying to Bulent Ecevit and to Paddy Ashdown, would you see an element of the Taliban being in that coalition government?

GEOFF HOON: Certainly we want to see the range of ethnic groups represented. I see the Taliban more as a movement, more like frankly the Nazis in the Second World War, intimidating, frightening people, even from their own ethnic background. Plenty of evidence today, actually, that many of the Pashtuns in the south are sick and tired of the Taliban and want them out. So certainly we want to see 40 per cent of the population in the Pashtun element in the south represented in any post-conflict government.

DAVID FROST: And would we like to get this coalition sorted out? If we could, if we could orchestrate war, which we can't very often, but would we like to get the shape of a coalition government established before the Northern Alliance, and maybe some of our ground troops, reach Kabul?

GEOFF HOON: Well an enormous amount of diplomatic work is already being conducted to achieve that. The Prime Minister, as everyone knows, has been unstinting in his efforts to bring together appropriate allies to look at how we can form a government, the Foreign Secretary the same - I'm off to India on Monday, again, to talk to the Indian government - tomorrow - yes - about what kind of government they see as being necessary in Afghanistan. I talked to President Musharaf on Thursday when he was in London, so very determined efforts are being made to get this right.

DAVID FROST: And the problem of course if the length of this war, isn't it? Because we've got on the one hand Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and so on, saying that they're holding their, holding their support together for this battle would be much helped if it's a short war, as short as possible and so on. Whereas at the same time we sometimes say, President Bush sometimes says, Peter Hayne sometimes says, it could last a lifetime.

GEOFF HOON: Well there is actually no inconsistency between saying we want it

DAVID FROST: That's rather different though

GEOFF HOON: - well all want it to be as short as possible. I have the responsibility, and I'm very conscious of on this day of all days -

DAVID FROST: Yes.

GEOFF HOON: - of taking a decision to deploy British forces, perhaps on the ground, knowing that the face risks. We all want those risks to be minimised, we all want this conflict to last as little time as possible but equally we have to recognise, as I think Paddy did, that this is a tough enemy, they are determined, they've been fighting for a long time, we have to recognise that there are risks involved in that process.

DAVID FROST: What is the relationshiop, in your judgement, between Bin Laden and the Taliban? Does Bin Laden effectively control the Taliban? Or vice versa?

GEOFF HOON: We certainly see them now as being two sides of the same coin. There, there might have been a suggestion at the start that somehow they were separate organisations but the more we have understood about the relationship between the Taliban and Osama Bin Laden and al-Qaeda the more we see them as an integrated part of the whole. Someone once suggested to me that actually Osama Bin Laden was a little like the defence secretary for the Taliban, a man who was in control of their military activities, certainly training many members of the regime for fighting, playing a vital part. And the fact that the Taliban regime have refused, despite consistent requests, to give him up, I think does demonstrate how vitally important he is to the Taliban.

DAVID FROST: And what about al-Qaeda, if, Bin Laden was killed, would the organisation survive?

GEOFF HOON: I certainly think it would be an enormous blow to al-Qaeda if he was killed but we are aware of the tentacles of this organisation around the world and certainly cutting off its head would make a huge difference but we would also have to go after those tentacles as well.

DAVID FROST: And we saw those headlines on the news last night from various newspapers around the world, Bin Laden says I have nukes - and maybe germ warfare as well - but I have nukes was the headline. Do we believe that?

GEOFF HOON: We're certainly aware that he has some material that could contribute to a nuclear weapon. We're not convinced at this stage that he is capable of producing a nuclear bomb but certainly we have to be very careful, this is a thoroughly dangerous man - and that's why we're having to deal with him in this way. That's why we're taking military action. Because he is a man who has no scruples, no morality, no reservations about killing civilians to achieve his perverted ends.

DAVID FROST: And in terms of the battle, the battle against Bin Laden, the story today in The Observer, the story in fact of the changes in the law that David Blunkett's going to bring in - they sound swingeing but Britain is to be placed under a state of public emergency by an unprecedented government move to allow internment without trial of suspected terrorists. This, this we've decided is essential?

GEOFF HOON: This is a temporary measure to deal with a very particular problem. If say a member of al-Qaeda from Afghanistan comes to the United Kingdom, is arrested and then there is a warrant for his extradition to say another country, it may be that it's impossible for us under our existing law to extradite him - now that's an absurd state of affairs and we really need to ensure that a suspected international terrorist can be extradited to a country where they want to deal with him properly.

DAVID FROST: And as a civil libertarian, does it worry you?

GEOFF HOON: No it doesn't because it is necessary in these very difficult times for us to recognise that we have to have effective legal action that we can take against those who are responsible for perpetrating these appalling events as we've seen on the 11th September in New York.

DAVID FROST: Is there any news on who might have been responsible for the Anthrax?

GEOFF HOON: I know that the FBI's investigation is pointing increasingly towards someone resident in the United States. I know there's been talk about it being a Unabomber type figure, inside the United States, but still the investigation continues and I think it's probably too soon to make a specific judgement.

DAVID FROST: And in fact that would be a relief in a sense, wouldn't it? Because we wouldn't have to make a decision about acting against Iraq.

GEOFF HOON: Well certainly there is no evidence linking Iraq to the Anthrax outbreak at the moment. But as I say, this investigation by the FBI is still underway.

DAVID FROST: This story today, is it true, the report in The Observer, that American helicopters have been supplying the Northern Alliance with ammunition and hay - hay for their horses?

GEOFF HOON: I think there's little doubt that we need to understand how different a kind of conflict this is in the north of Afghanistan than perhaps the ones that we've been used to in, in the Balkans, for example. This is not a high-tech conflict and certainly part of the Northern Alliance effort has been conducted on horseback. So -

DAVID FROST: So it's probably true.

GEOFF HOON: I don't want to go into specific details but I suspect that there may be some element of truth in it.

DAVID FROST: I don't think it's militarily classified. I don't think And how much, how much has it cost so far? How much has it cost us in extra expenditure so far?

GEOFF HOON: We can produce figures as far as the United Kingdom is concerned but frankly when we are confronting an enemy of this ruthlessness and this determination, the actual cost does - do - not matter. What we have to do is confront this enemy, defeat this enemy and ensure the world can be a freer and better place as a result.

DAVID FROST: And we've got to get Israel and the Palestinians back to the negotiating table.

GEOFF HOON: I think what is happening as a result of the 11th of September, and we've seen it - I'm delighted to say - in Northern Ireland, is that there is a recognition that the international community will not tolerate terrorism, international terrorists behaving in the way that they did. So we have to use that pressure in order to recognise that in the Middle East there is a determination now to deal with the situation there and to try and ensure that we can resolve the position so that people can get back to the negotiating table, talk rather than commit these appalling acts of violence.

DAVID FROST: Geoff, thank you very much for being with us this morning and in such forthright mood, we appreciate it. Thank you very much indeed.

GEOFF HOON: Thank you.


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