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Breakfast with Frost
Geoff Hoon MP, defence secretary
Geoff Hoon MP, defence secretary

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

DAVID FROST: And we're now going to talk to Geoff Hoon, the secretary of state for defence. He's in our Nottingham studio where I fear we cannot offer the same musical accompaniment that we so enjoyed during that last interview. Geoff, good morning.

GEOFF HOON: Good morning.

DAVID FROST: Is war nearly inevitable now?

GEOFF HOON: There's still an opportunity for Saddam Hussein to accept the unanimous will of the Security Council of the international community and to cooperate with the weapons inspectors but obviously his record to date cannot encourage us that he's going to do that. But we will welcome any meeting, any chance of him showing that he's willing to cooperate.

DAVID FROST: And would you just clarify policy here. You said that Saddam can be absolutely confident that in the right conditions we would be willing to use nuclear weapons. Clare Short this week said "I can't see any scenarios where contemplating the use of nuclear weapons would be of any use whatever." Which of those two people was speaking government policy?

GEOFF HOON: We've always made it clear that we would reserve the right to use our nuclear weapons in conditions of extreme national self defence and that remains our position and that is the position that has been set out consistently by government ministers.

DAVID FROST: So Clare Short is wrong there?

GEOFF HOON: I'm not saying that at all. Conditions of extreme self defence are extraordinarily difficult to contemplate but we must reserve the right to use our nuclear weapons in those circumstances, otherwise clearly they cannot act as the deterrent that they are.

DAVID FROST: Six weeks - we hear - six weeks. If it, if there was action in say two months' time, how much, how much would we be at full strength? Or, I mean, when will we have everybody there that we need?

GEOFF HOON: Well I'm not going to go into any timetables for military action - indeed, can I emphasise that there are no fixed timetables. There are a number of important events that still have to take place at the United Nations Security Council, not least the speech by Colin Powell on Wednesday, a further discussion, if there is a material breach declared as a result of the terms of resolution fourteen forty-one so there's still a good deal of detail to be resolved before there could be any military action.

DAVID FROST: And in terms of the military, Geoff, we've had very full details of the army and navy deployment but what exactly will be the RAF deployment? That doesn't seem to have been detailed yet, although the other two have, and obviously an air war is very much what this will be.

GEOFF HOON: Well, it's in the nature of deploying the Royal Air Force that they can get to where they need to get rather more quickly than either the Royal Navy or the Army. I will set out those details in due course, once they are finalised, to the House of Commons so forgive me if today I don't go into detail but there will, in due course, be a statement about the contribution that the Royal Air Force might make if it proves necessary.

DAVID FROST: Do you think in terms of the kind of war that it is that it will be mainly an air war, that - do you think, as we've discussed with Colin Powell do you think that Iraq, militarily, is stronger than it was at the time of the Gulf War, or weaker?

GEOFF HOON: Again, I don't want to go into detailed military judgements, although clearly we will have a range of military equipment available. I've said in successive statements to the House of Commons that we will have sufficient military capability to take on a range of tasks, whatever they are, whatever we judge at the time, the strength or otherwise, of Iraq's forces to be. But as those terrible events yesterday have demonstrated, we should never take for granted the courage of members of the armed forces, who perhaps are required to undertake some very difficult operations in order to enforce the international community's will.

DAVID FROST: We've heard from people who have been talking to some of our soldiers that they are somewhat confused about the exact objectives of this military mission. It was simple about Kuwait, that was clear. Kosovo was clear. But they don't seem to be clear about whether this is a mission of disarmament or a mission of regime change. Which is it?

GEOFF HOON: It is absolutely clear that we must remove the weapons of mass destruction from control by Saddam Hussein - that is our primary purpose. Those weapons of mass destruction present a real threat, not only as we've seen in appalling circumstances to the people of Iraq and surrounding regions used in Iraq's invasion of Iran, but also to the safety and security of the world. As the Prime Minister has said, we know that Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction, we equally know that if he goes on with their possession they could easily fall into the hands of terrorists and be a direct threat on the streets of London, anywhere in the United Kingdom.

DAVID FROST: Now certainly President Bush feels that a material breach - a phrase he used early on - has already occurred, that he has, and therefore we have the right, if we wished, to attack now because the material breach is already in existence. Do you believe that?

GEOFF HOON: The material breach, as Jack Straw the foreign secretary, has made clear to the House of Commons, concerns Saddam Hussein's complete failure to cooperate with the weapons inspectors, his failure to cooperate with the terms of the Security Council's resolution and therefore there is a material breach in that sense. But as the resolution requires, there should be a further discussion in the Security Council before any further action is taken. There remains an opportunity, therefore, for Saddam Hussein to cooperate. But as I said earlier, we're not optimistic, on the basis of his track record, that he will do that.

DAVID FROST: Will we go with America if there is no second resolution, we will go into action with them?

GEOFF HOON: Well as the Prime Minister said when he came back from the United States, we're confident that there will be a second resolution, we will be working for that second resolution and indeed George Bush said that he would welcome such a resolution. So I do anticipate that there will be a very determined effort to secure that further resolution. But, let me make it plain, Saddam Hussein has had years in which to cooperate, he undertook at the end of the Gulf War in 1991 to rid Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction. He's failed in that over many years. He was given a last chance by the Security Council with resolution fourteen forty-one. That last chance required him to cooperate. He's now not cooperating, as Dr Blix made clear, in his recent report to the United Nations Security Council. So the clock is ticking. There must be action by Iraq to comply with the will of the international community.

DAVID FROST: How much is this costing us per day?

GEOFF HOON: The cost of military operations is always significant but nevertheless it is important not to look at the cost in the context of what is right, and what is right is that we should play our part, as a responsible member of the international community, to ensure that the will of the international community, particularly in terms of an appalling threat posed by Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, is dealt with. So the cost is second to taking the right action.

DAVID FROST: Do you think - in fact when you made your budgeting and so on - do you have to allow, presumably you do, that if we indeed went to war and won this war and our troops got to Baghdad and so on, that you have to budget for the possibility of our troops staying to do nation building in Iraq for many years to come?

GEOFF HOON: I think it does follow, as we've seen in Afghanistan, that if there has to be military action, if there has to be conflict, that there is an obligation on the international community to ensure that thereafter there is an attempt to both preserve security and then rebuild the country in order that it can take its rightful place in the international community. That's the considerable task that we've set ourselves in Afghanistan and I'm sure if it did come to military operations in Iraq that the same would be the case there as well, yes.

DAVID FROST: Do you anticipate any help, either in terms of over-flying or actual troops, do you anticipate any help at all from Germany or France?

GEOFF HOON: Yes we do. Both countries have strongly supported the United Nations Security Council resolution. They've made clear that they want to see Iraq disarmed of its weapons of mass destruction. I'm confident that we will be able to work together in ensuring that the will of the international community prevails.

DAVID FROST: What about the command structure? People worry about that - basically, Americans will be ordering our boys into battle, won't they?

GEOFF HOON: Can I make it absolutely clear that the decision about who orders British forces into battle is always a decision of a British prime minister, and that will remain the case. Obviously, in any conflict there are arrangements between different units as to who is ultimately responsible for taking the decision in the heat of the battle, but can I make it absolutely clear, it will be for the British prime minister to decide whether British troops go into battle in the first place.

DAVID FROST: And are you confident that you can carry on there at the Ministry of Defence with fire-fighting on the one hand and a potential war on the other - can you do that? Can you do that for as long as it takes? For an unlimited period, or not?

GEOFF HOON: We've been aware, obviously, of the two demands for some time now and we have organised our forces to be able to provide a very significant force heading to the Gulf as well as 19,000 members of the armed forces - right across all three services, can I emphasise - who are there dealing with the fire strike and providing safety cover for the population of the United Kingdom. That can go on for quite some time. We have organised our affairs to be able to allow for that.

DAVID FROST: Geoff Hoon, thank you very much for joining us.


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