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Interview with Rt Hon Jack Straw MP, Foreign Secretary on Sunday 01 June 2003.
Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used
DAVID FROST: Tony Blair has been talking about the subject of weapons of mass destruction, he's prepared, he says, to publish some more details, though he has said that before, before the September dossier as well.
But the former Cabinet minister Clare Short has accused him, as we heard earlier, of trying to dupe the public, claiming that Mr Blair used political spin to create a sense of urgency to ensure that Britain launched an attack.
Well does he have the facts or not? We don't know about that at this moment but we're joined by the man who is right in centre of all this, as he will have seen himself, he was featured right across the page of the Guardian yesterday morning, good morning Jack.
JACK STRAW: Good morning.
DAVID FROST: May I start with that front page in the Guardian, Jack? The Guardian reported that in early February you met your American counterpart, Colin Powell, at the Waldorf in New York, and shared your serious doubts about the claims that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, hoping that the facts when they came out wouldn't explode in your faces or backfire in some way. Is that true?
JACK STRAW: No. It's a very interesting story, it had only one defect, which was it was completely untrue. On the day in question, the fourth of February, I was in a different continent, different hotel, talking to a different foreign minister. Rather than being in New York at the Waldorf Astoria, I was in Le Touquet in France, talking to Dominque de Villepin and I think it's an indication of the kind of fevered atmosphere in which we're all living that this kind of story was given such prominence by the Guardian, even though we issued a straight denial and the Guardian well knew that I wasn't in New York on that day. Can I just move on, however -
DAVID FROST: Well no just, just one second on that Jack - I'm sorry it's always difficult to break in when you're down the line like this - but just to summarise that point that you're saying it's a hundred per cent, if one takes away some of the details that they had in that story, is there any truth to this: that did you in January or February have any conversation with the Secretary of State where you shared your doubts about the strength or provability of the evidence for the claims you were both making about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction? Did you have any such conversation?
JACK STRAW: Well I, I'll come on to that but I'm interested that we have a categorical story from the Guardian which is palpably untrue, that I had this meeting and they had transcripts, and then we move on to ask about this. Now, let me deal with that. No I didn't about the quality of the evidence. What is the case is that I've always been very anxious to test the evidence and so I know was Secretary Powell and President Bush and our prime minister Tony Blair were, and test and test the evidence against Iraq and in favour of the action that we took. And the point I was going to make on this issue of dossier is I've brought with me here, not only got the dossier that the British Government published on the 24th of September of last year, which has caused a certain amount of controversy I think quite unjustifiable, but if people are worried about the evidence that was before us which led to the decisions which we the British Government and many other governments made to support military action, then they can do no worse than to look into the dossier which I put before the House of Commons back in February and March a very thick document which contained, apart from speeches which I had made to the Security Council, leave those aside, but page after page of the inspectorate's reports, the United Nations inspectorates reports, about the weapon systems which Iraq had had and about the unresolved disarmament questions as well as all the United Nations Security Council resolutions. And what they build up is a pretty deadly picture of Iraq's capability in respect of chemical and biological weapons, its continued deceit and defiance in the face of the United Nations and even after 14.41 had been passed, its continual failure to comply. And I just take one example, in the 24th of September dossier - the now famous dossier - we said that had intelligence about the development by Iraq of illegal, unauthorised missile systems. Very dangerous. Iraq gave only a partial disclosure, and knowing that we'd got intelligence about this anyway, when they made their disclosure at the beginning of December, and then subsequently, it turns out, that they disclosed I think about 200 missile engines, they had 380, and Unmovic themselves said that these missiles systems all had been imported illegally, the whole lot, and what's more they were all illegal in terms of the range of the missile. Now people, these days, are trying to dismiss this kind of evidence, but it was very, very powerful evidence, it's just one example of many in the United Nations weapons reports, which led us to conclude that Iraq was playing games with the international system and couldn't be trusted to cooperate fully in the disarmament process.
DAVID FROST: Just briefly on that dossier, though as you said it's becoming the famous dossier, Jack, I mean all the papers are full of the fact that that mystery information about the fact that Iraq could launch a chemical or biological attack within 45 minutes, that that was hyped up from its original version to its final version as it appeared, and we've got various papers quoting exact bits that were taken out or put in. That was hyped up under political pressure, from what was originally stated by the intelligence community. That's what, that's what the charge is.
JACK STRAW: Well, yeah, I mean I'm aware of what the charge is but nothing in this document was hyped up, and what I suggest people do is actually to read the document, and what it said, so far as the 45 minutes is concerned. And it says this, and the document discloses that Saddam's military planning allows for some of the weapons of mass destruction to be ready within 45 minutes of an order to use them. There's nothing that seems to me to be spectacular about a statement like that. The same is true for a good deal of artillery. And if you then look at all the other evidence, particularly the 173 pages of unresolved disarmament issues which Dr Blix laid out before the Security Council on the 7th of March, what you see is a story of a regime in Iraq which first of all had not only had chemical weapons but had used them, we're discovering more mass graves where probably some of the people killed in those mass graves had been the subject of chemical weapons. But A) they'd had the chemical weapon programme, B) they denied that they had a nuclear or biological weapon programme - and carried on denying it and there are plenty of people ... around today saying oh well they keep denying it, there's no evidence so they've not got it - yet with four years -
DAVID FROST: Yes but -
JACK STRAW: No, allow me to finish, because it's really important this.
DAVID FROST: All right but it's ...
JACK STRAW: With four years of inspections, four years of inspections, and only finally did the truth about this weapons programme come out when an individual defected. Now, then Saddam kicked out the weapons inspectors, at the end of 1998, and in the meanwhile why did he kick them out? Kick them out, because he had a great deal to hide. And over the following four years, we believe, on the basis of good evidence corroborated, that he had built up his capability
DAVID FROST: I must - sorry I must come in there Jack - we must move on but on this thing, the 45 minute business, one of the other strong charges was that it was one source, by a dodgy source, and not double-sourced like the other things. That was one of the other things. But let me just move on to this more important point, do you think you will ever find weapons of mass destruction, or do you buy the Rumsfeld line that maybe Saddam had destroyed them? Though why anyone would destroy the weapons just before a war, when they're going to need them, God knows. But do you think we will ever find them or, like Lt. Gen. James Conway, the top marine US general in Iraq, he says our intelligence was simply wrong?
JACK STRAW: Well first of all, the intelligence certainly wasn't wrong, the evidence is there, it's published, they had these weapon systems and they had been building them up. Why else had they developed, for example, this illegal, unlawful missile system? A very expensive missile system which they had failed to disclose and imported illegally in breach of sanctions. And so far as the decision to take military action is concerned, all the evidence was there. We didn't take the military action on the basis of some contingency as to what we might find later on. We took it on the basis of fully declared and disclosed evidence, for example before the House of Commons as well the full international forum. Now will we go on to find further evidence? Yes, I believe that we will but on your other question about did Saddam destroy some of this evidence, yes he almost certainly did do. And my own opinion about this is that he unquestionably had these weapons systems but that he'd also asserted and lied to the international community that he hadn't got them and I believe that there was therefore a pretty substantial effort being put in, in the run up to military action, to disperse, to hide a lot of this stuff and to deceive the international community even after military action was over. So will the search reveal things? Yes I think it will. Will the search be difficult? Also yes.
DAVID FROST: What is your response to Clare Short today, Jack, who says that the prime minister duped us all?
JACK STRAW: Well I'm sorry that Clare's come to that conclusion but I happen to think she is wrong. And, again, if she looks at the evidence that was before the Cabinet, before the House of Commons, contained in these reports to which I just referred, page after page after page of devastating evidence against the Saddam regime - and I obviously appreciate why Clare should now be trying to argue that the original position which she took was a justified one, not the subsequent position that she took when she supported military action - but there was never a question, in Cabinet or outside, where we said well we would recommend military action on the basis of what we might find if and when military action has taken place. The reason we made those decisions was because we had come to the view that the Iraqi regime was in clear and open defiance of a whole succession of United Nation Security Council resolutions and, putting all that together, Iraq posed a threat to international peace and security. Now that was the conclusion, by the way, which the international community came to. The Security Council, 15 zero evidence -
DAVID FROST: Right - right let me just - let me just quote the Financial Times to you, this is their conclusion, on May 30th.
JACK STRAW: Yes.
DAVID FROST: "So did the US and UK intelligence services get it wrong, or were their political masters lying? It seems a bit of both. UN and intelligence assessments were mainly a series of questions based on known or suspected stocks or inputs, but in the mouths of US and British politicians questions turned into assertions embroidered with assumptions."
JACK STRAW: Well, I don't accept that. And, I mean I've already given you illustrations of the missile systems, let us take, for example, take the issue of anthrax. No question at all that the Iraqi regime was developing an anthrax programme. It looks as though, and Unmovic has said this and I have always repeated this accurately, that they had about ten thousand litres - a huge amount - of anthrax, which remained unaccounted for. And Unmovic told the Security Council on the 7th of March that their strong presumption was that this material still existed. Now ten thousand litres of anthrax unaccounted for is a small amount in terms of its physical size to search for but a devastating amount in terms of the damage that can be done. And that was just one example of 29 separate, what were called clusters of evidence, specified not by us or by our intelligence community but by the United Nations weapons inspectors -
DAVID FROST: (OVERLAPPING) Well we haven't got - you mention the word - I'm sorry to leap in there, we're right at the end of our time - you mention clusters, of course we never got round to that subject to cluster bombing and so on, but we thank you very much for joining us this morning, we're right up to the end of the programme, Jack, thank you. Jack Straw there, arguing the case for the government against almost all of the newspapers lying around here.
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