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BBC BREAKFAST WITH FROST INTERVIEW: DR JOHN REID, LABOUR PARTY CHAIRMAN FEBRUARY 16th, 2003
Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used
DAVID FROST: And I wonder now as we turn to talk to Dr John Reid, you've been listening to this John, haven't you?
DR JOHN REID: Yes I have David.
DAVID FROST: Do you think in fact that what we've just been hearing from Jesse Jackson is wishful thinking?
DR JOHN REID: Well I don't doubt for one moment Jesse's sincerity but I, I do think it is a bit of wishful thinking. He seemed to be saying, literally, that we should use the threat of force for Saddam to back up diplomacy, because that will move him, but declare in advance to Saddam and the world that we will never use that in the last instance. That just seems to me completely unrealistic. The reality is that this is a man who, both inside and outside of Iraq, has never done anything unless he thinks that people are prepared to stand up to him. That is the only reason the inspectors are back there in the first place. It is the only reason that the United Nations has any authority or legitimacy in moving him anyway. And that legitimacy and authority will be completely undermined if we wave in advance a white flag that says but we will never stand up to you. And yesterday there was a lot of good people like Jesse and hundreds of thousands of others giving voice on the march and we have to listen to that. But we have to also listen to the other voices, the unanimous voice of the United Nations that said we will stand up to Saddam if he does not get rid of these chemical and biological weapons that threaten the whole world - including people here in Britain. And, you know, there's one other group of people, David. Who speaks for the one million people in Iraq who have been murdered by Saddam Hussein? Who speaks for the tens of thousands who are languishing in his jails? For the children that are dying of poverty because of the way he's implementing the sanctions? Who speaks for the four million Iraqi exiles? They've got voices as well and in the great moral choice that is being put before us by people on the march yesterday, let's face that moral choice. It is not a choice between peace and war, it is a choice between doing something and not doing anything. And if you take the view that we should not do anything, you too have a moral responsibility, which is to sustain your, by doing that, sustaining the status quo under which there are people being murdered, tortured and dying and starving. The children you want to protect are already starving under Saddam Hussein, as well as the threat to Britain and the rest of the world. That's a moral choice as well. It is, in order for evil to thrive, as somebody once said, it is only sufficient that good men and women do nothing. And there were many good men and women out there on that march yesterday but they have to confront that moral choice as well. By doing nothing -
DAVID FROST: Yes but now -
DR JOHN REID: - they are effectively allowing that evil to ...
DAVID FROST: John - John I must come in - I must come in now - there was a situation to do with the second resolution and so on and it was clear on Friday that we wouldn't even have got the nine votes much less avoided vetoes if there'd been a vote on Friday. Now when the Prime Minister was here three or four weeks ago and he amplified this later on Newsnight, when I said would we like a second resolution, he said of course we want a second resolution, there's only one set of - only one set of circumstances in which I've said that we would move without one. Only one, I said. He said yes, only one. And that is the circumstances where the UN inspectors say that Saddam is not cooperating and he's in breach of the resolution that was passed in November but the UN, because someone say unreasonably exercises their veto and blocks a new resolution. Now that scenario is not going to happen on the basis of Friday, is it? On the basis of his words, if those words are still operational, would mean we will not join the United States because that one circumstance wouldn't have applied. There wouldn't have been an overall vote. So does, am I right in saying that that position still stands and as things are today we would not be joining the US in a military venture?
DR JOHN REID: Well the position still stands - you've described it accurately. The Prime Minister has made his point of view, we haven't changed that, and we're not being asked to make that final decision today. Hans Blix will be reporting back again - I think the next time is roughly the 28th of February, that was scheduled - and I've been hearing since last July people saying but if there was a declaration of war tomorrow. Look, the position is, it's quite simple David, and that is under resolution 1441 the United Nations unanimously decided under paragraph one that Saddam Hussein had no presumption of innocence, he was guilty of continual breaches of the United Nations resolutions; under paragraph two, that he would be given one final opportunity - if you like a guilty man who would be given an amnesty -
DAVID FROST: Yes, no but John - could you answer - John, sorry to interrupt you, but answer my point.
DR JOHN REID: - ... is yes.
DAVID FROST: What would we do in the circumstance where we don't get a vote from the Security Council?
DR JOHN REID: But David I answered what was a very long question in, in ten seconds. It is exactly the same as what the Prime Minister said previously. You've described it accurately. Our position has not changed.
DAVID FROST: Well in that case though, wouldn't that - John - wouldn't that in that situation we would therefore have a situation decoupling from the United States, which seems almost impossible.
DR JOHN REID: No it doesn't David. It doesn't because the second part of your question was what happens if we have to decide today. And we don't have to decide today because I pointed out Hans Blix still has to report from that. And I was then going to tell you the basis on which the decision will be made, when it's made, and that is that that final opportunity, in the explicit words of the United Nations, will only be given to Saddam Hussein, the UN themselves said unanimously, if he unconditionally completely and immediately cooperates. Now it is up to this Security Council to decide whether he's met that condition; they will do so in the case of Hans Blix reporting back, but the Prime Minister's position and our position has not changed. And it is exactly as the position was, you'll remember in Kosovo, where there was an overwhelming moral case, a legitimate case and legal case in the framework of the UN to take action to protect hundreds of thousands of Muslims in Kosovo itself but one country, in that case Russia, was prepared to use its veto to thwart the will of the United Nations and on the grounds of legality and the will of the UN and morality Tony Blair led a coalition to go into Kosovo to protect the Muslims. Now that is exactly the situation he's described as the one caveat, the one exception to the general rule. You've described it accurately, our position hasn't changed and all Tony was doing yesterday was saying that quite apart from the UN position, which is to counter the threat to the world and to Britain, of the weapons that Saddam has, there is also a moral case that has to be addressed because the protestors yesterday were raising this moral case. And the simple moral case is, if you are arguing not to take the steps against Saddam Hussein, you are not arguing, and you must therefore accept responsibility -
DAVID FROST: Okay, yes -
DR JOHN REID: - you are not arguing that there will be peace and security for the people of Iraq because they are already being tortured and starved and jailed -
DAVID FROST: Yes, we've done - we did this bit - we did that bit earlier. Tell me how does it feel, John, to have this situation where you've got loyal members of your party like Mo Mowlam and Glenda Jackson and MPs putting down early day motions and you're getting more support from the Tories than you are from your own backbenchers? That must feel slightly uncomfortable.
DR JOHN REID: Well the second point isn't true. I mean it's not the first time that Glenda or Mo have had differences, as you will know with the leadership of the party. And I can tell you as someone who's spoken to both party members and far more party members in the past fortnight than any of your commentators, that the party are engaged and they are listening. They regard this as very, very serious - no one would take decisions on military conflict without the most grave anxiety and consideration. But as you saw yesterday, all of the declarations and predictions that there would be a massive walkout, heckling, protests, abuse, embarrassment for Tony Blair, it is not true because as we go through this argument, the party recognises that these choices have to be made. And the choice is not actually between war and peace, it is between doing something to protect the world and protect the children and people of Iraq or not doing anything. And the people who argue do not do anything, or the people who argue like Jesse who was on the programme, yes threaten to use military force at the end of the day because it's the only thing Saddam will actually be moved by, but tell him in advance that you won't actually move it, are themselves going to have to take part in that dialogue, to go through it, we will listen to their arguments and their voices, but we also have to listen to the United Nations unanimous voice and we also have to take -
DAVID FROST: But - but
DR JOHN REID: - into account those whose voices cannot be heard because of Saddam's repression.
DAVID FROST: Yes but the United Nations doesn't have a unanimous voice any more. We saw that with four, four out of 15 maximum support. That's the, that's the problem you're talking - and the MPs, the majority of MPs are against this policy - it could well be the right policy, one can see the moral reasons for doing it but at the moment you've lost the country and you've lost a large portion of your party, and you know that.
DR JOHN REID: David, if you won't take my word for the United Nations position, take Kofi Annan's. Presumably you don't think he's in any way biased. As late as yesterday, Kofi Annan said "no one should be under any doubt, although there may be differences of timing, there may be differences and nuances of how far we go when, there is unanimity in the United Nations," he said yesterday, as these marches were taking place. "Unanimity in the United Nations," A) that Saddam Hussein is a threat to the world with these weapons, and B) that he must be disarmed. There is unanimity on that. So I disagree entirely for those who say well let's look at the nuances and it's four against five or it's six. In, you know, I heard last week that we were isolated in Nato. There are three countries who then last week were taking a reserved view as regards Turkey. They've since, apparently, decided to speak about it. There were 16 countries - not three - who took our view. I've heard that we are isolated in Europe, they say Britain stands alone. They seem to forget about Portugal and Italy -
DAVID FROST: No, no, I didn't say that, I was just -
DR JOHN REID: - no but some commentators do give that impression.
DAVID FROST: - yes but also I do feel, as I said earlier, that the, you know, that the position about Saddam's record and so on needs to be further ventilated as it was in the speech yesterday.
DR JOHN REID: Indeed.
DAVID FROST: But anyway, we're right at the end of our time. John, thank you very much for joining us this morning.
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