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Last Updated: Sunday, 11 September 2005, 11:27 GMT 12:27 UK
Aftermath of Hurricane Katrina
On Sunday 11 September 2005 Andrew Marr interviewed American Ambassador to London, Robert Tuttle

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

Robert Tuttle
American Ambassador to London, Robert Tuttle


Today of course is of course the fourth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and there will be ceremonies to mark the occasion in New York and in Washington.

And no doubt many Americans will be thinking of the thousands who've died or lost loved ones in the more recent calamity of hurricane Katrina in its aftermath. With me in the studio is the new United States Ambassador to London, Robert Tuttle.

But first our correspondent Alastair Leithead is the only British TV journalist who has been in New Orleans since before the hurricane hit, all the way through, and we asked him to reflect on the last fortnight, the original hopes and fears as the hurricane approached and what happened next.

ALASTAIR LEITHEAD: This is a convention centre in New Orleans where, in a couple of days after the hurricane struck, thousands of people came expecting help and to be evacuated from the city.

They might be clearing up the rubbish now, but America isn't going to forget what happened here. To me this was the most stark example of just how the authorities let their people down. Those thousands came here expecting food and water but they were left to live rough and fend for themselves - the authorities gave them nothing.

I first arrived in the city when everyone else was leaving, Saturday night about 36 hours before the storm hit. They all knew it was coming, they'd seen Katrina strengthening in the Gulf of Mexico and heading right for the city that lies below sea level. Even the president knew it was serious.

PRESIDENT BUSH We can not stress enough the danger that this hurricane poses to Gulf Coast communities. I urge all citizens to put their own safety and the safety of their families first by moving to safe ground.

ALASTAIR The next day everyone was told they had to leave - difficult for those without a car. It wasn't looking good as I reported at the time. When hurricane Katrina comes it seems likely that the city's flood defences would be breached and this whole area could be under water. The first effects were felt overnight. Gradually the wind picked up, but the worst came on Monday morning.

This was the view from my hotel room window, it was terrifying. It was confusing at first, plenty of wind damage but no flooding. We felt the city may have got off lightly. But just a few blocks away, the true extent of the disaster became clear. Street after street was under water. The search and rescue operation was slow to start. Thousands needed help as the levee broke and the flood water rose. And the city descended into chaos.

I felt law and order stripping away from the police. But there was no excuse here at the Convention Centre for the appalling way thousands of American citizens were being treated. (survivor of hurricane speaking). When the food and water finally came it was thrown at the people, racism was the accusation. And dignity was questioned in death too - we visited the sodden streets and saw the bodies floating - a week later many are still there. Well this is the east end of the city - you can pretty much make out where the water had come to.

And just a week ago there were people milling around here hoping they wouldn't have to be evacuated from the city. What is bizarre is this line of cars, you see them here, it's like people have come visiting but there's absolutely nobody here, it's totally deserted. It's really quite an eerie place to be. You've got to ask the question, will this city ever be the same again? And what is it that's left for those people to come back to.

ANDREW MARR: Alastair reporting there. Ambassador Tuttle, welcome. We're into the blame game in America at the moment. But something awful went wrong, didn't it.

ROBERT TUTTLE: Andrew, if I can first say thank you for having me on your inaugural show and how you have a great, great successful show. If I may paraphrase one of your pundits, he said something like "it was the perfect storm" but I would add to that was it the perfect response - certainly not - on a federal level, on a state level, on a local level.

But what we've seen in the last week is really a coming together. But remember, 90,000 square miles devastated, the largest hurricane in our history. We have a million displaced persons, now over a quarter of a million people are living in shelters. But I think the relief effort is coming together and I think that you're really starting to see progress being made on all fronts in the last, certainly in the last ten days.

ANDREW MARR: President Bush has taken quite a hit on this in the opinion polls and so on. Do you think that he can recover from that?

ROBERT TUTTLE: Certainly I do. I think, Andrew, that he has assumed the leadership as throughout the government and there's been some changes here and there. But the president is a resilient, strong, and as I've said earlier, a visionary leader and I certainly think he'll come out stronger than ever before although, just never forget what a devastating storm this was.

ANDREW MARR: One of the things that I think struck all of us about it was the name - Katrina with a K. Because by this stage in the hurricane season I'm told we should still be in the Bs and Cs. There are more hurricanes coming and they're stronger. Any connection with global warming, do you think?

ROBERT TUTTLE: I think, Andrew, that it's too early to tell on that, now obviously there'll be lots of studies and I think there's something that I'd just like to emphasise, I'm glad you gave me that opportunity. We've spent more on this administration - $20 billion on research and development on global warming. In this fiscal year we will spend almost $6 billion. So there's a real concern and a real interest in global warming in the United States and at the highest levels of the administration.

ANDREW MARR: I mean you were one of the great car men, car salesmen, automobile salesmen I should say, of the West Coast. And you've sold a lot of cars in your time. Clearly America is the ultimate car economy, or the automobile economy. How much of that research is about getting much cleaner cars moving over to non-gas guzzling, non-emission cars, and is that possible do you think?

ROBERT TUTTLE: I can't give you exact statistics, but one of our dealerships is a Ford dealership and just prior to my coming to the United Kingdom, Ford introduced the new Escape hybrid and there was tremendous interest. We could have sold a lot more and I think you'll just see a tremendous interest in the number of these hybrid cars and good gas mileage cars being sold throughout the United States, throughout the world. This is a global issue.

ANDREW MARR: Now, I read that you describe yourself as an optimist. I also read that President Bush has asked you to go out there and sell the administration, sell America, much more aggressively perhaps than some of your predecessors have done. Are you really going to be going around the country talking to the Women's Institute here and a Chamber of Commerce there?

ROBERT TUTTLE: Of course, certainly. As you may be aware, my firs trip was to Belfast. I've been two days in Belfast, I've been to Edinburgh, I went to Cambridge on Friday night, I've been to Oxford. We're planning a number of trips. Yes, I want to get out, I love the United Kingdom, I first came here when I was 19 years old and I've been here probably 20 or 30 times. I've bought some of your art, some of your antique furniture and I love the country and the people have been so hospitable to me in the six weeks I've been here.

ANDREW MARR: I'm very glad they've been hospitable. But they're less hospitable, certainly in their emotions to President Bush at the moment, the opinion polls again today show him very, very unpopular in the papers. He's constantly mocked in the British media. It's a heck of a selling job you've got isn't it?

ROBERT TUTTLE: You know, Andrew, I think that maybe is more of a media issue. The people I talk to are supportive of America, they're supportive of the President, they like his visionary leadership. I have yet to see that, I've seen some of it in the media but so far my response, the response from the British people has been overwhelming.

ANDREW MARR: What is the single message, if there is a single message, that you most want to get across to people as the new Ambassador?

ROBERT TUTTLE: A couple of messages, one, that how important this relationship that you are our best friend, you're our strongest ally, and then part of me, it's very important and I've said this before even though my daughters might disagree - I want to listen to what the British people have to say. And I want to convey that back to our government.

ANDREW MARR: Now of course Tony Blair has had a very, very close relationship with President Bush. The time will come when Tony Blair's no longer there. What happens to the relationship when he goes? Do you think Gordon Brown is going to have as good a relationship with the administration, whoever it may be at that stage?

ROBERT TUTTLE: You know, if you think back over the last 50 years, we've had Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, then Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan....

ANDREW MARR: Of course you worked for Ronald Reagan...

ROBERT TUTTLE: Yes, I worked for Ronald Reagan for six years and it was great - and the Prime Minister had a good relationship with President Clinton, and then continued that. So I believe that this relationship will transcend any leaderships and I think that that's what's really important here. And I've seen that relationship, not only at top levels, but at lower levels down in the government. It's very strong.

ANDREW MARR: The other thing, I suppose, that we share as countries is that we're both in trouble in Iraq. This is a long-running, very, very difficult situation, both Britain and America are still losing lots of people out there. Do you think that's going to carry on as the great cloud over everything during your time in London?

ROBERT TUTTLE: You know, I might disagree with a little bit of the premise of your question there Andrew. We have an election coming up for the Constitution on October 15th. You saw millions of people go to the polls. Yet earlier in this year I read the other day some very encouraging news, hundreds of thousands of Sunnis have registered, they may be voting for or against the Constitution but they're making democratic decisions. 2,400 schools have been rehabilitated in Iraq, 33,000 teachers trained. I think there's a lot of positive news coming out of it. And I think in the long run the decision by the Prime Minister and the President to take this action, they will be vindicated. But I believe that .....

ANDREW MARR: ....that is not actually how people reading the papers at the moment see it - do you think that's going to change?

ROBERT TUTTLE: Well I think if we'd have listened to what perhaps the papers said back in the Eighties, Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, maybe it wouldn't have stood firm against the Communist threat. And look at, I think I was reading the other say, starting from the time that Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister up until now, over a billion people are living in democracies that weren't living in democracies in 1979. That's visionary leadership, that's people ready to stand up strong.

ANDREW MARR: And the Middle East can be transformed?

ROBERT TUTTLE: I believe so. Look at what's already happened. Free elections in Syria, parliamentary elections, multi-party elections in Egypt, Israel moving out of Gaza Strip, there's a lot of very good things that've been happening Andrew.

ANDREW MARR: Now I know that the other thing that you're very interested in is British art. You've got a collection of British paintings and drawings and so on which are hanging up in the Embassy. I have to say, who are your top contemporary British artists? Who would you like to have more of?

ROBERT TUTTLE: My favourite artist is Francis Bacon and I must say one of the best Bacon shows I've ever seen now, for anyone who's near Edinburgh, they should go to the Museum of Contemporary Art.

ANDREW MARR: It is astonishing, I saw it.... it was wonderful, and you have to be right up against the paintings to see how good they are...

ROBERT TUTTLE: And to see how he progressed over his life. The other painter that I'm a great fan, and privileged to know, is David Hockney. And we bought a David Hockney painting here, it's North Yorkshire, but he's a... what's interesting and maybe it's a parallel to this great shared relation we have. Here's an artist who was born here, came to the United States and maybe captured southern California in his paintings better than any artist, living or dead.

ANDREW MARR: Ambassador Tuttle, thank you very much indeed.


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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