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Last Updated: Sunday, 5 February 2006, 12:37 GMT
Tory perspective
On Sunday 05 February 2006 Andrew Marr interviewed William Hague MP, Shadow Foreign Secretary

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

William Hague MP
William Hague MP, Shadow Foreign Secretary

ANDREW MARR: Now we've all been aware that that is of great interest to politicians, they're sitting there watching these issues and the Shadow Foreign Secretary, William Hague, joins us now from North Yorkshire. William Hague, welcome.

Can I ask, first of all, about the Iraqi situation - do you think that it's right now to get British, to start to pull British troops back?

WILLIAM HAGUE: Well it will only be right when the Iraqi forces are able to deal with the situation and to keep order in Iraq very much in accordance with what the general was just saying.

And there have been mistakes made, many mistakes have been made, I think, in the occupation of Iraq, in the post-invasion period in Iraq and in the way the population have been dealt with over the last couple of years.

It would, however, be a catastrophic mistake to pull out too soon, to pull the rug from under the people trying to build a democracy there. So we're not calling for any immediate withdrawal, this can only take place in a very measured way.

ANDREW MARR: Do you think, with hindsight, that glorious thing, that as an opposition you did all you should have done to scrutinise the original decision to go to war and then the post-war plan?

WILLIAM HAGUE: I think there were, there were probably more questions that should have been asked and we're asking many more questions, for instance, now over the forthcoming deployment in Afghanistan, where we are concerned about whether the troops have got the resources to do what's being asked of them, whether our allies are giving sufficient help and so on.

I don't think it would alter our basic assessment of whether the war was right, but clearly all of us, did need to ask more questions about what would happen after the invasion of Iraq and how Iraq would be rebuilt, how a government would be reconstituted and so on; and I hope we've all learnt, in all governments and all political parties, I hope we've all learnt something from that. So, yes, we should have asked certain additional questions at the time of that action.

ANDREW MARR: And just take me through what you're worried about in relation to the Afghan deployment.

WILLIAM HAGUE: Well there we have a major additional deployment of British troops - thousands of British troops in a very open-ended commitment.

We think it is the right thing to do, of course we think that we have to honour our obligations to Nato, this is a Nato deployment, and rather as in Iraq, that the worst possible thing would be to abandon the government of Afghanistan and to abandon the work that is going on to try to reduce the drugs trade and to ensure that the Taliban do not return in strength in Afghanistan - that has to be carried out. But we have asked a lot of questions of the government about the rules of engagement, about the support that we're getting from our allies, about the open-ended nature of the commitment.

The government are being very reassuring about these things and telling us that all of these things are under control but we are concerned about the scale of the operation that our troops are being asked to undertake and so we will continue to ask questions of the government about that. But the overall strategy, of ensuring that Afghanistan does not become a terrorist base again, we are absolutely one hundred per cent behind.

ANDREW MARR: All right. Let me take you a little bit closer to home. This mission that you've had recently in Brussels, on the scale of very good idea, actually on second thoughts not a very good idea, where do you place this pulling out of the European People's Party? Because you find it incredibly difficult to get allies of any respectable kind to sit alongside you if you're not going to sit alongside the people that you used to sit alongside in the European Parliament.

WILLIAM HAGUE: Well you'd better judge that over time, Andrew. These are negotiations that will take some months, as I said when I was first appointed Shadow Foreign Secretary a couple of months ago, this will take some months rather than weeks to sort out. And all of the parties have their own rules, their own elections and so on so you don't instantly create a new grouping in the European Parliament.

ANDREW MARR: But you've got -

WILLIAM HAGUE: But the idea of creating -

ANDREW MARR: If I may just interject - I mean so far you've got the Polish Peace & Justice Party, or whatever they're called, who are said to be homophobic, you've got a bunch of Calvinists from the Netherlands who don't want women to represent them in Parliament, it's hardly a kind of cuddly centrist grouping that you're beginning to assemble.

WILLIAM HAGUE: Well wait for the shape of that grouping - and, by the way, we're certainly not going to be allied with all of the parties that you were just referring to. The idea of creating a new grouping that can stand for an open, modern, flexible Europe, rather than a Europe that keeps going in the wrong direction, that tries to be more centralised with every year that passes, is a good idea and it is the right thing to do and that is where the centre ground of European politics is going to, a Europe that is more open to the rest of the world. So I'm sure that is the right thing to do, it is a difficult process and it will take some more months to carry it out.

ANDREW MARR: It is difficult, I mean certainly French and German conservatives think it's the wrong thing to do - even the UK Independence Party has said that you'd be better off staying in your current grouping. I do slightly hear the sound of a dead horse being flogged here.

WILLIAM HAGUE: No we won't be taking any lessons from the UK Independence Party - they want to pull out of the European Union altogether - because we are not advocating pulling our MEPs out of the European Parliament, we simply want to make sure that in the future they, and we, are best able to put the case for the sort of Europe that we actually believe in.

Some of the other parties in Europe, other conservative-inclined parties in Europe, are advocating reviving the European Constitution over the next 18 months, trying to overcome the no votes and the referendums in France and the Netherlands, that's the wrong direction to take Europe in - they've really got to see the writing on the wall now - and we simply want to be in the best possible position to put forward our views. There are other parties interested in doing that, in joining us in such a grouping so we're going to carry on working on that over the next few weeks and months.

ANDREW MARR: We will watch with interest. Meanwhile, what about this, the cartoon controversy, do you, do you agree with David Davis, you know what he's been saying about it?

WILLIAM HAGUE: Well let's get everything into proportion here, there have been some demonstrations and in the main those demonstrations have been peaceful in intent and exercised with responsibility and restraint and Muslims have every right to protest about something they disagree with and we should defend that right to protest.

It is very concerning that in a very small number of cases people have called for terrorist acts, have in effect done what amounts to incitement to murder - clearly that's not something we can have on a sustained basis, otherwise what would we say to people who paraded through the streets saying that Muslims ought to be killed. So we do have to be even-handed about that and I think people have to recognise that's how we have to conduct ourselves in our society. Equally, free speech has to be exercised responsibly.

And I think if we were going to die in a ditch for free speech, these cartoons are not particularly the things to fight on.

ANDREW MARR: Sure.

WILLIAM HAGUE: Newspapers have the right to publish them but they also have to recognise when they are going to cause great offence.

ANDREW MARR: Sure but you talk about we can't have these kind of demonstrations and comments on a sustained basis, an awful lot of people would say hold on a minute, these are clear incitements to murder, this is glorification of terrorism at its most extreme - people dressed up as suicide bombers - they should be collared, they should be arrested and they should be charged.

WILLIAM HAGUE: Well it - it's not acceptable, and I'm glad to see that the responsible leaders of the Muslim community have said that it's not acceptable.

The spokesman you had on your programme earlier said that it was not acceptable, and I've no doubt the police have the necessary film and records of what happened, it is up to them what to do in any individual case, but we cannot, in general, and us politicians can only frame the, the law and the way of dealing with these things in general, we cannot, in general, have people parading through the streets calling for terrorist acts in any direction - and that has to be an accepted part of our society.

ANDREW MARR: Well I'm sure we're glad to hear that. Now the last area which is clearly a crisis at the moment, in your area, is Iran. How worried are you about what's going on? I mean the level of rhetoric on both sides is rising, and particularly from Tehran, of course.

WILLIAM HAGUE: It is a very worrying situation, it's probably the single most concerning development in the world at the moment.

This is, this could turn into a crisis in the long term, which could dwarf, in its implications for the rest of the world, the Iraqi crisis of the last few years, the rest of the world has to take it seriously. The encouraging thing is the rest of the world does appear to be taking it seriously and it is very good that Russia and China have joined Britain and France and the United States in reporting this to the UN Security Council.

The test will be whether that can actually be followed up in some concrete way because since the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is now looking highly ineffective as a means of resisting nuclear proliferation in the world, if the UN Security Council turns out to be ineffective as well, then we really have no more means of policing nuclear weapons in the world. So really they have to show that they are going to follow this up with some action if Iran doesn't change direction.

ANDREW MARR: We have a lack of carrots and a lack of sticks and President Ahmadinejad is sounding extremely tough on all of this. Do you believe in your vitals that this is going to end with diplomacy?

WILLIAM HAGUE: Well I very much hope so. It's very hard to see where we take it otherwise but we have to be prepared in the very long term, to do so. Diplomacy, we - the door has to be kept open to diplomacy, the Russian offer to Iran is still on the table, although I think the Iranians are now making very negative noises about that -

ANDREW MARR: Yes.

WILLIAM HAGUE: So that door very much has to be kept open. But if Iran isn't taking the diplomatic option, then it is, as I say, important for the Security Council to come up with something concrete.

Now what that is, I don't know, but it may well involve other countries, not just Western countries, ensuring that military technology and hardware of any description does not reach Iran in the future - not just nuclear but other military technology -

ANDREW MARR: So -

WILLIAM HAGUE: - and they do have to be able to move on to something.

ANDREW MARR: Some kind of international boycott may be the next stage?

WILLIAM HAGUE: Well clearly these things will have to be considered if there is not change in the attitude of the Iranian government and the Iranian rulers. It is very worrying, this is not just another country that is going to get nuclear weapons in the way that India and Pakistan have in recent years.

We do have here a president of a country who has called for another country to be wiped off the map, denied the existence of the holocaust and so on, so this is a major threat to the peace and stability of the world over the next few years.

We all have to join in persuading Russia and China that it continues to be in their best interest to join the rest of the international community in trying to do something about this, otherwise they and all of us may regret it a few years down the road.

ANDREW MARR: Because we would then be left with nothing except military action as a final resort.

WILLIAM HAGUE: Well none of us really want to advocate that or talk about that at the moment. Military action is a far more difficult proposition against Iran than it has been in the case of Iraq.

It is a very difficult thing to contemplate. I think it can't be ruled out altogether and I think in the long term all options have to be on the table and indeed if it's ruled out altogether, of course, the negotiating position of the rest of the world is gravely weakened.

But it's not something that anybody in their right mind actually wants or is going to advocate in the near future because it would be a most formidable undertaking and would be very expensive in every way, including in human lives. That's not the way we want to go but we cannot just sit back and see Iran acquire nuclear weapons.

ANDREW MARR: William Hague from north Yorkshire, thank you very much indeed for joining us.

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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