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Breakfast with Frost
Robin Cook MP, former foreign secretary
Robin Cook MP, former foreign secretary
BBC BREAKFAST WITH FROST INTERVIEW: ROBIN COOK FORMER FOREIGN SECRETARY MARCH 23rd, 2003

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

DAVID FROST: And now an update of the coverage on the war in Iraq on BBC1 today. Directly after this programme there is a news special here on BBC1 presented by Dermot Murnighan and Maxine Mawhinney. At 12 noon the politics show has a news bulletin at the top of the programme, the early evening news is at 5.40, there'll be a BBC1 news special at 9 o'clock. Panorama is at 9.15 on the position of the Prime Minister and what effect the war will have on his political standing. Then the main evening news will be at 10 o'clock. Right now we're joined by Robin Cook, of course one of the most senior figures in the Labour Party for so long, he's been a front bench spokesman for nearly 20 years. In opposition he held a range of portfolios and when Tony Blair swept into Downing Street Robin Cook was installed as Labour's Foreign Secretary, promising a new ethical foreign policy. Leader of the Commons since the election, his concerns about the war have been widely reported and on Monday he told the Prime Minister that he could no longer continue as a member of the Government, making a powerful resignation speech before voting against the motion that effectively committed Britain to war. Robin Cook is here. Robin, good morning.

ROBIN COOK: Morning. It's good to see you again.

DAVID FROST: And vice versa in these new circumstances. When was the moment, perhaps with a sinking heart, that you realised you were going to have to resign?

ROBIN COOK: Well, I'd made up my mind some time in the past. There was a mid-term break for the Commons in February and I spent three days with my wife Gaynor, walking in Norfolk and I decided then that if we ended up without international agreement, and going to war, I could not stay. But obviously I wanted those efforts from the United Nations to succeed, to give more support, and kept my own counsel private whilst that was going on because I didn't want to do anything to undermine them. And I would say I think Tony Blair and Jack Straw tried very hard, nobody could have worked better to try and get agreement in the international community. But you know, we can't then pretend at the end that it doesn't matter we didn't get that agreement. It was precisely because we put so much effort into it, we underlined how important it was to get that agreement.

DAVID FROST: But if we think back to the words that we mentioned just there, your famous phrase about an ethical foreign policy. You've praised the two guys in question for their great efforts. But would you say we are today following an ethical foreign policy.

ROBIN COOK: Well today I think, what we all want to see is the war over quickly and all our troops that are inside Iraq at the present time come back safe and come back soon. It's very important having started the war that you then do defeat Saddam Hussein. But that doesn't mean to say that those of us who were asked at the beginning whether it was right to start the war, can retreat from any way from what we said. War should always be a last resort, David. Now my own view was that we had not exhausted the process of the UN inspections and I was very interested to see last week Hans Blick saying that impatience took over and he was elbowed aside. I think it would have been far better if we had let those inspections continue, so much better, we would have been able to disarm Saddam and achieve what we wanted without having the risk we now see to our own troops, tragically in some cases fatal risks.

DAVID FROST: Has what's happened in the sense that the targeting of these bombs more successfully than 10 or 12 years ago. Has so far it not been as bad as you feared?

ROBIN COOK: I think that the targeting success does appear to have been impressive. There have been a number of casualties, David, as we can see in the Sunday papers. Reports from Baghdad of those who've been injured and of course we should never lose sight of the fact that half the population of Baghdad are under 14, they are young children and they're being exposed to this risk. So far, though, the success of the targeting has been good. I just enter the one reserve which I made in the article which you were referring to earlier in today's Sunday Mirror, and that is that we can be easily seduced by the technical accuracy of the weapons and forget that they're programmed by fallible humans. In my time I've had to go on radio and television and explain why we've just put a cruise missile through the Chinese Embassy, that was a human error and I hope we don't see anything like that in this campaign.

DAVID FROST: At this moment the danger facing the world - do you think the danger facing the world is most of all the heightened level of unrest in the Arab world, or is it the idea of pre-emptive strikes becoming a new form of warfare, or what?

ROBIN COOK: I'm a bit worried about the idea of pre-emptive strikes because if that doctrine catches on it may not just be ourselves and the United States that use it in the future, but other countries could find it a very useful doctrine with which to attack their neighbours and I think that it's a very dangerous doctrine for us to create a precedent for. I think it's very important that we should always have some form of international agreement before we actually go to war. But you do make a very interesting point about the problems that we're going to have within the Arab world and the Middle East, and the real difficulty there is that of course the Arab world sees a double standard. They don't see us being in the same way engaged, and pressurising Israel to take forward the peace process with the Palestinian people, and many of the Arab world will say well, there's one rule for the US's allies and another for the US's enemies. And I think it's very important now that President Bush does deliver on that road map which he promised and which is still not published.

DAVID FROST: And there were obviously marches yesterday. A tenth as big, we read, as a few weeks ago. Were you tempted to go on that march yesterday?

ROBIN COOK: No, and I think that I can understand why so many of those who protested in the million-strong march of a month ago did not do it this time. They wanted the war not to happen. The war has started and I think many of those who still feel this is an unnecessary war, a war we could have avoided, are of the view well, it's begun, we can't stop it now but it's so important that it's finished quickly with minimum casualties. So important also we address some of the very big questions of the aftermath. We were promised a democratic Iraq and I think we'll want to see the United States move quickly to make sure there is a transition to a democratic regime in Iraq.

DAVID FROST: I think they do want that, don't they?

ROBIN COOK: Oh I think we want to make sure that that does happen and it will be a difficult situation because of the very many different ethnic tensions within Iraq and we will all want to make sure that the Kurds also have the effective autonomy that they've achieved is respected, because if that's not respected there will be real difficulty for the future.

DAVID FROST: Did you discuss this whole question of resignation with Clare Short, in fact?

ROBIN COOK: No, I have not discussed it with Clare. I did discuss it on two or three occasions with the Prime Minister. We had very friendly exchanges because we go back a long way and I made it perfectly plain to him that this was not in any way meant to be an attack on him or his leadership. As I said in my resignation speech, I have no sympathy with and would give no comfort to those who want to use this crisis to attack him.

DAVID FROST: You made it clear in the tone of those friendly letters between you, that you, the thing that people have said, is this going to be a rallying point for opposition to Tony Blair and New Labour and so on, and you've made that pretty clear that you're not going to do that. Does that also mean that you won't in fact attack, you will support everything that New Labour does?

ROBIN COOK: I'm not going to go away, David, and one slight reservation I have of part of your introduction was it sounded a little like an obituary at the first beginning. There is still a future, I am a Commons man, I'm going to carry on being in the Commons and I hope play a part as a senior figure in the Commons. There's a lot of issues that I would wish to address there and also in the international scene where I retain my position as the president of the party that brings together all the left of centre parties in Europe. So I will have a position both in the Commons and Europe to comment on how policies develop and I want to make sure that we continue to develop a radical progressive agenda.

DAVID FROST: And what was your reaction on hearing about the news this morning, the friendly fire?

ROBIN COOK: Deep sympathy for those who were involved in that and I think one thing we've all got to be conscious of, David, this morning, is that there will be many families watching this who are not yet sure that it was not their husbands or their men who was out there. And I think we've got to have great admiration for those who show the professionalism and courage to out there, and I very much hope that if it does turn out to have been friendly fire that immediate reaction will be taken to learn the lessons and make sure this cannot be repeated.

DAVID FROST: Robin, thank you very much.

ROBIN COOK: Thank you David.

DAVID FROST: Today was dominated by Iraq of course. We will look forward to looking across the wider scene in the weeks ahead.

ROBIN COOK: I'm not going away.

DAVID FROST: He's not going away. That's a firm promise, Robin Cook's not going away.

END OF INTERVIEW


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