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Breakfast with Frost
Jack Straw MP
Jack Straw MP, foreign secretary

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

DAVID FROST: And we can go now to Chevening in Kent, where the Foreign Secretary, you saw him earlier and he's waiting to talk to us now, good morning Jack again.

JACK STRAW: Good morning David.

DAVID FROST: What are your reactions to the reports that we've heard today, I mean if, if in fact this document does say no weapons of mass destruction, we have, we have evidence of them working on them in the past, we don't seem to have any present evidence, will we wait, will we wait for the inspectors to check that out and last week Mr El-Baradei was here and he said to check things out properly would take a year, would we give these inspectors a year before we decide whether to attack?

JACK STRAW: Well I'm not going to put a specific time limit on it David but the United Nations Security Council Resolution that all the 15 members voted for including the United States and the United Kingdom sets out a very clear set of procedures. Saddam Hussein has complied with the first requirement which was to say he, that he was going to abide by the resolution, I mean there was pages and pages of abuse of the US and the UK but he has said that he will abide by it. He has now delivered this 11,000 pages of disclosure and that is now going to the inspectors to Dr El-Baradei who runs the atomic energy inspectors and to Dr Blix who runs the chemical and biological weapons inspectors. And they're going to examine it, it will then be a report to the security council so it will take some time but I also want to emphasise that the whole of the international community want the Iraq crisis resolved peacefully and if the overall result of this process set by Resolution 40 and 41 is the peaceful disarmament of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction then no one will be more delighted that it's happened peacefully than me.

DAVID FROST: And who will make the decision as to whether the report is adequate or true, will that, will that decision come from Hans Blix and Mohamed El-Baradei, Kofi Annan the Security Council, Tony Blair, President Bush, who will decide whether this is a fair report or a material breach?

JACK STRAW: Well the initial reflections on the disclosure have to come from the inspectors and that's made clear by the resolution. Whether there has been a material breach is ultimately a matter for members of the Security Council and indeed because the Security Council Resolution is silent on this, international community at large. But there's a very clear procedure set out in the Resolution 40/41 that if either members of the Security Council or the inspectors believe that there has been some failure of Iraq's obligations then they have to make a report to the Security Council and the Security Council has to convene to consider the matter. That's what will happen and I'm quite sure that Dr El-Baradei and Dr Blix will themselves be making an initial report to the Security Council about their own initial findings with respect to the disclosure pretty shortly.

DAVID FROST: And in terms of, in terms of them looking at this whole particular situation, we get reports here that the Americans in fact want them to lift their game, to get more intrusive, to get more aggressive, that they're not performing satisfactorily, Dr Blix and Mohamed El-Baradei and not, not performing satisfactorily, say the Americans, do we share that view?

JACK STRAW: Well I've not had that view from any member of the United States Administration, I mean both in Washington and in London you get all sorts of things written in the newspapers, excuse me, so both in Washington and in London all sorts of things get written in the newspapers.


JACK STRAW: But it was the international community, US, UK who drafted this resolution and everybody signed up to it, we have every confidence in Dr Blix and Dr El-Baradei and their colleagues. Of course there's an issue about the resources available to the inspectors and that's why I'm very pleased that the number of inspectors is now being augmented and I think their equipment as well.

DAVID FROST: And in terms of the inspectors, we do, it is true to say isn't it at the moment, we don't have any current hard evidence about weapons of mass destruction, we have historic things we can go back to Halabjan in 1988 and all of those things, but we need the inspectors to give us the proof which we don't have?

JACK STRAW: Well there's a lot of intelligence about the holdings of Saddam's weapons of mass destruction, I'm not going to speculate publicly about that, but let's be clear about this, that Saddam Hussein has been consistent about one thing only and that's his, his telling of lies. He's made a number of disclosures in the past and what he says he has or hasn't got, normally what he hasn't got, and the only consistent thing about those is that none of these has been accurate or full disclosure normally they've been a pack of lies. Now it remains to be seen whether this 11,000 page disclosure is consistent with his past behaviour or it means that he at long last has got the message that the international community's patience is about to run out. But what we also know David is that the last final inspection report of the previous inspectors UNSCOM after they were effectively kicked out of Iraq which they submitted to the Security Council in February of 1999 detailed all sorts of chemical and biological components and for example munitions which could be used for chemical and biological weapons which the UNSCOM inspectors said were unaccounted for. And the first thing therefore that the Iraqi government has to do, query whether they have done in this document, is to account for those, actually thousands of tons of material which everybody knew was available in Iraq for putting together chemical and biological weapons.

DAVID FROST: At the same time obviously it is very difficult if we are, we are dedicated to disarmament and regime change aren't we, like the Americans?

JACK STRAW: The decision of the Security Council in 40 and 41 was about disarmament of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction and it didn't mention regime change from any of its pages, it was a very long resolution but I don't think there's a single person in the whole of the civilised world who would not like to see the back of Saddam Hussein. But the objective of this resolution of what the work of the inspectors and the objective of the international community is to disarm Saddam Hussein of his weapons of mass destruction and then if I may make this point which has also been made by members of the US Administration, including President Bush in a speech in Cincinnati, if Saddam Hussein is effectively, properly disarmed of his weapons of mass destruction then that in itself will lead to a profound change in the nature of the regime.

DAVID FROST: And so in that case we could get rid of Saddam by that means

JACK STRAW: Well listen I've made it clear that "getting rid" of Saddam is not an objective of this resolution, of course it is...

DAVID FROST: It is, it is of many members of the Administration though isn't it?

JACK STRAW: Well the full objective of the United States Administration for regime change for Saddam Hussein goes back actually to President Clinton and that follows the decision by Saddam Hussein effectively to kick out the weapons inspectors in late 1998. So there's nothing new about the fact that the US government as a whole has been committed to regime change in a formal way that is different from the position of the United Kingdom government. But that's one thing, the second issue is what is appropriate for international action, the decisions of the Security Council backed by a credible threat of force and what's appropriate for that as an objective is the disarmament of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction and that's the focus of 40, 41 of the work of the inspectors.

DAVID FROST: And in, Charles Kennedy today says this morning there's a general level of anxiety among back benchers from his party and yours that we're heading for war and he also said there was insufficient emphasis on the heart of the problem, working to promote a comprehensive peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians. Is that an important ingredient to getting a Middle East that is peaceful?

JACK STRAW: Well let's deal with those two issues, first of all with all respect to Charles a rather better judge of levels of anxiety on our back benches, that is he, we had a big debate on a substantive resolution just a week ago in the House of, sorry two weeks ago, in the House of Commons about the Iraq situation. What I invited my colleagues and the parliamentary party to do was to endorse the strategy set out in 40 and 41 but I made it clear to everybody that in doing so we had to back this act of diplomacy with a credible threat of force. The Liberals took a different view from that, it went to a vote and only 32 Labour MPs voted for the Liberal resolution and that was down from 54 who voted against the government in September. So of course there is anxiety about war, I'm anxious about the idea of war because none of us inside the Labour Party, I hope inside this country, should ever go for war unless it is absolutely necessary and it really is the last resort. But in terms of support for the strategy set out by this government, there is overwhelming support for that inside the parliamentary party and virtually every colleague knows that we would only be at this point with the possibility of disarming Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction as a result of the strategy that our Prime Minister Tony Blair and President Bush had set out for the world community in which they've now followed. Now in respect of the Middle East, yes but the fact that there is a continuing conflict between Israel and people living in the occupied territories is of course of huge concern across the Islamic and Arab world but it should also be of huge concern that terrorists continue to do their terrible work inside Israel and the occupied territories and if you want to identify one thing which has so disabled the peace process in, between Israel and the occupied territories, it is the fact of the suicide bombers and the fact the Palestinian authority up to now, whatever their intentions, have enabled bombers to control them.

DAVID FROST: But also the aggression of Israel too?

JACK STRAW: Well with...

DAVID FROST: You wouldn't call Mr Sharon a man of peace would you?

JACK STRAW: Well sorry what, let me just finish, we do not support occasions where the Israeli defence force acts disproportionately and never have done and we protest about that where they do act disproportionately. Nor do we support the building of illegal settlements as they are, have done and are doing. But what I was going to say was the slightly better news in this desperate situation is that over the last year we have had what's called a quartet formed between European Union, the United States, United Nations and Russian Federation, we have got a unanimous Security Council Resolution, including backed by the US and the UK in favour of a separate and viable State of Palestine, never happened before. And we've got some quite active if discrete conversations going on with both sides to see whether we can get the progress going again because the one thing that I know and everybody else has got to know, that includes an Israel and in Palestine is this: There are six million Israelis including a million Arab Israelis, there are three and a half million Palestinians, they can only live together if they live in peace and this continuing conflict with terror on one side and reprisals on the other is no way for them to live and we've got to find a way through and the way through is by implementing United Nations Security Council Resolution down the years which is to ensure that Israel is able to live in peace and security. That places obligations on the Palestinians and on the other Arab states and then equally there is a viable separate and secure State of Palestine established within the boundaries broadly delineated by previous Security Council resolutions.

DAVID FROST: And in terms of just summing up on the subject of Saddam, you would have to say, you would have to concede I suppose that he is a very canny, a master strategist, the way that he acceded to the UN Resolution to delay matters, the way in which he's apologised to Kuwait and so on, I mean he's playing quite a clever game, isn't he?

JACK STRAW: I wouldn't concede that he's a master strategist at all, he's one of the most deceitful and tyrannical leaders the world has seen in the last century, that doesn't make him a master strategist and the reason why once you strip away the terror under which people live that most people, Iraqis, cannot stand Saddam Hussein is because of the way he has so impoverished his own nation and turned it into a pariah state, a nation which has got huge natural resources and even greater intellectual resources in the people of Iraq. So if he were a master strategist what he should have done when he took power all those years ago is put Iraq on the path of peace but that's exactly what he hasn't done and he's ruled only by tyranny and not by consent. As for the so called apology to Kuwait, I have to say that I've rarely seen something as cynical as that. David after the Kuwait invasion the Red Cross, International Red Cross identified 605 Kuwaitis who were missing in action, the Iraqis were placed under obligation 12 years ago to say what had happened to those people and a proper procedure was established. They have messed about in the 12 years since then and do you know how many they've identified in those 12 years, just three, so they have reduced the numbers from 605 to 602 and treated the Kuwaitis and their relatives and their loved ones with complete contempt, that's the nature of this man called Saddam Hussein, the master strategist. A very myopic tyrant.

DAVID FROST: And summing up you would say from what you said early on that whatever the Americans may be feeling about Mr El-Baradei and Hans Blix these two head inspectors of the UN have your total confidence?

JACK STRAW: They do have our total confidence and I'd also point out to you that there are getting on for 300 million Americans so let's not talk about them directly, just talk about the American Administration. President Bush in his radio address last night pointed out that he accepted too that this process was going to be a deliberate one and would take some time and that's exactly the British governments position.

DAVID FROST: Jack thank you very much for joining us this morning.

JACK STRAW: Thank you very much indeed.

DAVID FROST: We appreciate it. Jack Straw there.


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