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Last Updated: Sunday, 30 October 2005, 11:46 GMT
Defence matters
On Sunday 30 October 2005 Andrew Marr interviewed John Reid MP, Defence Secretary

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

John Reid MP
John Reid MP, Defence Secretary

ANDREW MARR: The problem for coalition forces in Iraq, we've just been talking about, has of course been working for some time.

But now Iran seems to be shaping up to be an even more alarming problem.

The country has of course a long established history of links to extremists across the Middle East and is determined to press ahead it seems with a developing nuclear capacity too.

But it was remarks by Iran's new president that he wanted to wipe Israel off the face of the map which has really raised the temperature. Let's just remind ourselves of Tony Blair's livid and menacing sounding response.

Tony Blair: "I have never come across a situation of the president of a country saying they want to wipe out, I mean, not that they've got a problem with or an issue with, but want to wipe out another country.

This is unacceptable. If they carry on like this the question people are going to be asking us is "when are you going to do something about this". Because you imagine a state like that with an attitude like that having a nuclear weapon".

ANDREW MARR: So how much more unstable is the region today, and what options does Britain have to bring pressure to bear? Well, with me is the Defence Secretary, John Reid. Welcome Dr. Reid.

JOHN REID: Nice to see you - the least important Reid on the programme today!

ANDREW MARR: The least important - I don't believe that for a moment! Let's just start with the Iran-Iraq border issue. Do you have real hard evidence that the Iranians have been putting material over border, been involved in the, even at one remove, the attacks on British forces?

JOHN REID: I don't have evidence, conclusive evidence, that the Iranian government are so involved. But we have quite a lot of prima facie evidence that the new types of bombs that are being used against troops there and have tragically killed a few of them, are derived from Hezbollah-type technology and Hezbollah are connected to Iranian elements...

ANDREW MARR: It could have come in the other way, could it not, from the Lebanon?

JOHN REID: Anything is possible, but on the face of it, t would appear that these come from Hezbollah and from Iranian elements, though that isn't conclusively the Iranian government. However, the point you make about the international community's concern is quite simple.

You have an Iranian government which is threatening contrary to every regulation and stipulation of the United Nations, to wipe another member of the UN off the map, who have been deceiving the International Atomic Energy Commission over the plans for nuclear development, in contradiction to all of their obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and where elements of Iranian society, perhaps the revolutionary guards or others, appear to be supporting terrorism not only in Iraq but elsewhere. Now, all of those three things have got to be fixed. That's the challenge for the international community.

ANDREW MARR: But that was, that was, we heard Tony Blair addressing that as I said, in somewhat challenging terms.

JOHN REID: Yes, it's a very challenging situation.

ANDREW MARR: Absolutely. But, those words were then interpreted by some of the papers as suggesting that we could be involved in military action against Iran at some point in the future. That is presumably inconceivable?

JOHN REID: Well the first thing that I have to say is that when Tony was speaking there he wasn't speaking just as Prime Minister of this country. But you'll see from the backdrop he was speaking as President of Europe. It was followed up immediately by support from President Chirac and others.

And indeed from Koffi Annan from the United Nations. Because the position that's been taken by the Iranians is so extreme that it's been disowned, even for instance by the Palestinian leadership, quite correctly, it is in contradiction to everything that the United Nations stands for. So this is a problem and a challenge for the world community, not just for Britain or the United States.

ANDREW MARR: What can we do?

JOHN REID: Well...

ANDREW MARR: We've got nowhere by negotiation.

JOHN REID: Well, the United Nations are, even as we speak today, informing, consulting each other informally at the Security Council level. Koffi Annan in the next few weeks is going to Iran itself....

ANDREW MARR: Sorry, can I just ask you...

JOHN REID: About what? About what to do about Iran. Because it is a confrontation which Iran is pushing on the whole world.

ANDREW MARR: Including what, potential military involvement?

JOHN REID: I don't think anybody's speaking about military involvement at any level about the questions we're facing just now.

But it is certainly a challenge to the United Nations, the informal consultations start today. Koffi Annan is going to Iran in the next few weeks. The International Atomic Energy Authority on the nuclear question is meeting on the 24th November. So all of these international institutions know that they have to really face up to that.

You cannot have a member of the United Nations developing its own nuclear weapons in complete breach of all of the promises, all of its obligations, and at the same time threatening to wipe out another state in the UN. Now that is the challenge.

ANDREW MARR: You say that and it's very, very clear. What is completely unclear is what can be done about it because sanctions never work on these occasions.

They've been tried endlessly in the past in other situations that haven't worked. It does seem to a lot of people as Jack Straw said, inconceivable that there'd be any kind of military threat to Iran, so what?

JOHN REID: No, we know what Iran has to do. What Iran has to do is to change its behaviour in terms of support for terrorism, in deceit over nuclear weapons, and in terms of its relationship and threats to other members of the international community.

ANDREW MARR: But they think...

JOHN REID: Now, hold on a second. Now, that is a challenge to the whole world and to the United Nations. It is the United Nations which must face up to that, and Koffi Annan has made it plain that it intends to face up to that.

So on the occasions I've been in here you've been, some times I think wrongly, accusing me of not giving the place to the UN and rather usurping it. Let's, let's let the United Nations, the world authority, whose authority is being threatened, there's the UN under its charter, under the atomic energy authority regulations.

All of those international obligations, the Non-Proliferation Treaty, are being thrown out the window by Iran. And it's the UN and the world institutions that must deal with it.

ANDREW MARR: One of the stupid aspects of what the President of Iran said is that it gives the green light to Israel presumably, to respond at some point. As we know in the past they have not been as restrained and calm as you have been just now.

JOHN REID: Well, I don't think there's any reason to speculate that there will be irrational response from anyone, and certainly not from the authorities who should be dealing with this which are the UN. Remember that in that region next door is Iraq, and in Iraq many, many brave people are fighting to establish a democracy there.

It is, it would be quite wrong if there was any suspicion that Iran was following a twin track of apparently accepting publicly the democratic right of self-determination of the Iraqi people, and then privately elements with Iran were supporting terrorists...

ANDREW MARR: It's dangerous this isn't it, I mean, one of the things that they're presumably looking at from Tehran is the possibility of Iraq starting to fall apart and much, much greater influence from Tehran in that area. There have been a lot of reports in the papers about difficulty in recruiting into the British Army. I know you've engaged in arguments with foreign journalists about this.

There have been isolated incidents of people refusing to go out to Iran to serve, to Iraq to serve in the RAF or the Army. Are you at all concerned by the difficulty in recruiting people both into the TA and into the regular infantry?

JOHN REID: Well I am always concerned that we get the numbers in that we need and we are trying to recruit.

ANDREW MARR: But we're not at the moment are we?

JOHN REID: Well, the biggest problem we've had for some years is high employment. When you've got massive high unemployment, in my area and proclaimers were talking earlier about, you know, about the Thatcherite era. There was in my area 24 per cent male unemployment...

ANDREW MARR: Do you think it's that, it's not the worry about the Iraq war?

JOHN REID: There's no shadow of doubt in my mind at all that the biggest single difficulty in recruiting, not only incidentally to the Army, to the infantry, but to some other jobs, is the fact that there's huge high employment compared with what there used to be.

And therefore it's much more difficult to recruit. On top of that, on top of that there is no doubt either in my mind that the whole question of Deepcut and the reputation, or the accusations of bullying, which we're trying to deal with, and the controversy round Iraq...Of course the mums and dads then get worried about it.

And all I would say is that, to your viewers, is when you see 64 per cent of the Iraqi people coming out to vote, a higher percentage despite the bombs and the bullets and the threats, a higher percentage than voted here in our General Election, or indeed voted in our constitutional referendums.

That is a sign that every single effort we're putting in there is worthwhile. It removes the threat from us but it gives the opportunity to a nation which is composed of Arabs and Muslims, to have the same freedoms that we would like here.

And those people are very brave, we should listen to them rather than some of the propagandas for the terrorists.

ANDREW MARR: What about Afghanistan? What's going to have to happen there?

JOHN REID: Well let's remember why we're in Afghanistan. We're in Afghanistan because the international terrorists, the type of people who massacred others in India yesterday, and in Egypt and in Madrid and...

ANDREW MARR: We don't necessarily know it was them.

JOHN REID: No, but the type of people.

ANDREW MARR: Right.

JOHN REID: Terrorists are terrorists.

ANDREW MARR: Oh sure, but we don't yet know that they were Al Qaeda related.

JOHN REID: No, we know they were terrorists.

ANDREW MARR: Sure.

JOHN REID: Anybody who puts bombs in the street and massacres children and innocent people is a terrorist.

ANDREW MARR: If you're looking for an argument on that you won't get one.

JOHN REID: No, it's not an argument, but, I don't know why you're correcting me. People who use terrorist methods are terrorists.

ANDREW MARR: All right.

JOHN REID: You can call them insurgents in the BBC.

ANDREW MARR: I don't. Oh, come, come, come...

JOHN REID: Let's call them terrorists if they're blowing up innocent people. What happened was those terrorists used Afghanistan as a Trojan horse. The Taliban allowed them to exist there, they launched attacks. That is why we are there.

ANDREW MARR: Are we going to need to put some more troops in is what I'm really asking?

JOHN REID: Well, we're now in the north. When I say we, the international community along with the United Nations, are in the north, they're in the west. We're looking at putting more into the south because gradually to take over the country...

ANDREW MARR: And does that 'we' include Britain?

JOHN REID: In order to protect the Afghans themselves developing their own democracy.

ANDREW MARR: Sure. But does that include Britain? Will Britain put a bit more troops into the South?

JOHN REID: We will be prepared if others are, and if we can get the resources and we can get the right backup. But let me just say this, and very briefly. I do not believe nor does anyone in the government, from the Prime Minister down, believe that military means is a sufficient condition for solving these problems.

That is why he's also leading up on aid and trade, tackling poverty and exploitation...

ANDREW MARR: Reports of...

JOHN REID: ...but occasionally it is a necessary measure to use military power.

ANDREW MARR: Reports of 3,000 more troops might have to go from Britain?

JOHN REID: No reports at the moment can in any way be accurate because I have not made a final decision.

ANDREW MARR: Now. Congratulations on another subject. Champion of open government. Like most of the Cabinet in the last week we've had extraordinary real time briefings about what's been going on. You won the argument.

JOHN REID: Not by me.

ANDREW MARR: You won the argument - no but there's a very, very good memo by you in one of the papers this morning.

JOHN REID: Somebody has leaked it.

ANDREW MARR: It's a very, very fine memo. In it you say...

JOHN REID: In order to attack me. So I don't normally leak things in order to attack myself.

ANDREW MARR: One of the things it says is that, one of the arguments against a complete smoking ban is its effect on military effectiveness. Now what's that all about?

JOHN REID: Well let me just say a couple of things about this. The first thing is that having spent several years being accused, not by you Andrew, but by others, of having a dictator for a Prime Minister and a Cabinet full of clones.

ANDREW MARR: But now a Cabinet full of dictators and a clone as Prime Minister.

JOHN REID: Now that you see we're discussing things suddenly the Prime Minister goes from being a dictator to a lame duck weakling isolated and we all become fanatical and...

ANDREW MARR: No it's great, it's great, we love it. I'm not complaining in any sense at all.

JOHN REID: Well let me tell you the truth of this. On the question of smoking. On the question of incapacity benefit, on the question of whether people should be paid if they can actually work. On the question of drinking and where you can do it. These are all highly sensitive, highly controversial subjects.

But they are what people are concerned about. And this government has made absolutely plain we're going to be radical, we're going to push forward reforms on education.

ANDREW MARR: You wouldn't.

JOHN REID: Health...All of these issues

ANDREW MARR: Sure.

JOHN REID: On the balance of rights and responsibilities and because they're controversial will not stop us doing them.

ANDREW MARR: But you...

JOHN REID: We will do them and we will capture the future because we'll push forward reforms in all of these areas.

ANDREW MARR: You are not a nanny state man, and never have been. I cannot believe that you would regard the idea of banning drinking on all planes and trains and automobiles as remotely sensible.

JOHN REID: Let me give you, let me give you, this is not about banning this or that. It's about rights and responsibilities.

ANDREW MARR: Well no I'm sorry.

JOHN REID: Well let me take you through that. Let me take you...

ANDREW MARR: Well that's what it says, that you're going to ban drinking on trains and planes.

JOHN REID: It doesn't actually say that. It says it's a proposal for discussion. But let me give you the balance.

ANDREW MARR: But what I'm asking you is where would you be in that discussion?

JOHN REID: Well let me give you the balance between rights and responsibilities. It is right that people should be able to have a civilised drink at whatever time they want, but it is right also that people should be responsible about not being abusive through drink on buses and other places.

That's the balance of rights and responsibilities. It is right that people in a free country should be entitled to have a cigarette where they want over a pint. But is wrong that they should be able to damage the health of others.

They have responsibility for others and therefore that is the basis of our legislation. Let me finish - it is right, it is right that if you are incapacitated you should be supported by the state. But it is wrong that you should avoid your responsibility to work if you can work. It is right that as a parent you should have the right to education, but it is your responsibility to make your child, make sure your child doesn't truant from school.

ANDREW MARR: I understand this distinction. But what I'm asking you is when it comes to drinking, an absolute ban on drinking in every plane - you can't possibly support that?

JOHN REID: Andrew, nobody has proposed that.

ANDREW MARR: Louise Casey has proposed that.

JOHN REID: No, she has not proposed that. She has proposed that we discuss whether there should be drinking allowed on public transport. But I come back to the rights and responsibilities. It is easy for commentators who are less mature actually than the public, more or less than the public.

The public understand that the balance of rights and responsibilities can be caricatured as every time the government says you have a right they can say "oh you're a libertine government". And every time you say...

ANDREW MARR: Libertarian I hope (laughing) well libertine maybe

JOHN REID: No libertine they do say, not just libertarian, caricature, when you say you should have the right to do this they say the government is full of libertines. When you say, no, you should have the responsibility to protect others' health, they say the government is full of health fascists or it's full of people who are dictating, nannie.

ANDREW MARR: We've never accused you of being a health fascist. Dr. Reid we have to finish there.

INTERVIEW ENDS


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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