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Last Updated: Sunday, 21 May 2006, 10:39 GMT 11:39 UK
British foreign policy
On Sunday 21 May 2006, Andrew Marr interviewed Margaret Beckett MP, Foreign Secretary

Please note "BBC Sunday AM" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

Margaret Beckett MP
Margaret Beckett MP, Foreign Secretary

ANDREW MARR: Good morning Mrs Beckett. Thank you for joining us.


ANDREW MARR: Can I ask you, first of all, we have a new Iraqi Government at long last. Does this tell us anything at all about when British troops might start to come home?

MARGARET BECKETT: Well I think that's quite a leap. As you know, we've said for a long time the British troops will stay there and the coalition troops will stay there while there is a job that needs to be done. We are making some progress in both training and we're putting into place an Iraqi army, Iraqi police force who will gradually increasingly take over some of these responsibilities, and I would say it would be on something like a kind of case by case basis, as that progress is made and established people will then consider how we can withdraw. But I would envisage that even when responsibility is handed over to those Iraqi forces, they'll probably want some outside support for quite a while.

ANDREW MARR: So it is essentially a security matter. It's not really to do with the politics of the new government.

MARGARET BECKETT: The politics of the new government is extremely interesting. Every community represented, every community represented in the parliament, a lot of thought.. I know it's taken a while and people have been concerned about that, but a lot of thought has gone into how the government will work and into how you can make sure that every community is represented at every level in the decision making process, and when you consider that this is something which the Iraqis have no experience, that in itself is quite impressive.

ANDREW MARR: And yet outside that green zone we read day after day and we see day after day, evidence of a nightmare, whether we call it a civil war or not seems to be a matter of semantics, but it's atrocious, it's appalling. If you knew now what ... if you knew then what you know now, do you think you would have voted for this war way back?

MARGARET BECKETT: Yes, I do, because we took account of what we understood to be an extremely difficult and dangerous situation. We made those decisions, we made them collectively and we made them the best way that we could and acting in good faith and trying to act in good conscience, and.. you know..

I don't think it really benefits anybody to keep going back over: what if ... ? would you have done things differently? We made those decisions, I stand by those decisions, but what we now want to do is to make sure that the life that people have in Iraq improves. That will take time. You say quite rightly that it's a very, very difficult and dangerous situation, but the important thing is to try to get some steady progress in the right direction and yesterday was a really encouraging sign.

ANDREW MARR: You've been plunged into this new job, you're still absorbing all the briefing of course. But from what you know, do you think there is a likelihood of Iraq staying together as a country or do you think it's going to break up?

MARGARET BECKETT: Well what's been very interesting is that the new government, as I say, is a government of national unity, it includes elements of all the communities. The programme is quite a strong programme saying that their priorities are going to be tackling the security issues, obviously the very difficult issue of the militias, and the problems that they have with their economy and their services, and that's all been voted through by this parliament of national unity if you like, which again includes all the different elements and groups. So it is people from every community in Iraq who are saying these are our priorities and this is what we want. We want a peaceful and stable future. That has to be of considerable importance.

ANDREW MARR: Tony Blair and President Bush are meeting in the coming week. From what you say, it sounds as if they are not then going to come out and announce a new phase of troop withdrawal, there's going to be no instant decisions, no cutting and running.

MARGARET BECKETT: I don't think anyone has suggested that there's any question of cutting and running. What I do hope we'll see is progress towards handing over to overall Iraqi control some cities, some provinces, but that will come on a case by case basis as it's felt to be practical to do so, and then of course coalition troops will take more of a back seat. But we're talking about a process, not a sort of one off event.

ANDREW MARR: And will we get any kind of time line, do you think, when that happens? Will we be told that by the end of this year X number of British troops are likely to be back home again or will it be much, much vaguer than that?

MARGARET BECKETT: I think it's quite dangerous in this kind of situation to set artificial deadlines. I think the best thing to say is that it will ... things will go forward as it seems sensible and safe for them to do so, and that's the only judgement that is sensible to make.

ANDREW MARR: Finally still on the subject of Iraq, it's been reported by a lot of people that British troops are now using hard hats, there is a different mood on the streets of Basra, there is a sense that things are getting more dangerous again. What can you tell us about that?

MARGARET BECKETT: Well these are operational decisions, they're made at ... I think we've all seen over the weeks and of recent weeks, sometimes the mood softens and there's a change and then sometimes there seem to be particular reasons to take more precautions, and these are decisions for the people on the ground.

But what is very clear is that there's been a major attempt by people who wish violence to continue and who wish to destroy the fledgling democracy in Iraq to use the period during which the government has been formed to try to destabilise things as much as possible. Nevertheless, we have had that huge vote from the Iraqi people, we have got a parliament in which all communities are represented, we have a government in which all communities are represented. The parliament has voted through and approved that programme.

And when you consider that¿. I know, as I say, it's taken some time, there was a period first of all in which they had to check back and make sure the results of the elections were themselves accepted, but it's actually not taken much longer for the Iraqis, who have no experience at this, to put together their government of national unity than it took for example in Germany to resolve some of the difficulties they had after their election, and I think that's something of which the Iraqi people have every right to be proud.

ANDREW MARR: Yes, life is slightly safer on the streets of Düsseldorf than Basra but we take your point. Thank you very much indeed for joining us Margaret Beckett.


NB: this transcript was typed from a recording and not copied from an original script.

Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy

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