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Last Updated: Sunday, 18 March 2007, 11:53 GMT
US Diplomacy
On Sunday Sunday 18 March, Andrew Marr interviewed US Ambassador Robert Tuttle.

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

US Ambassador Robert Tuttle
US Ambassador Robert Tuttle

ANDREW MARR: Now, our American allies have come in for some stick over the past week over their refusal to fully cooperate at the inquest into the death of Lieutenant Corporal Matty Hull.

The British soldier was killed in Iraq when an American pilot fired on his vehicle.

The corporal's widow appealed directly to President Bush, asking that the US military should release the details of what happened.

Exactly what instructions were given to their pilots, how those involved came to attack Corporal Hull's convoy, but they declined.

Well, the American Ambassador Robert Tuttle is here. Good morning Ambassador, thank you very much indeed for coming in.

ROBERT TUTTLE: Good morning.

ANDREW MARR: We've got a lot to talk about, but let's start with this particular case. The widow of Corporal Matty Hull is somebody who has not called for the heads of the pilots, not called for them to be prosecuted, who has been remarkably forgiving people might say. And yet she feels very disappointed.

She feels that full information should have been given to her and to the inquest, and not simply transcripts where crucial phrases, crucial sentences appear to have been blacked out.

ROBERT TUTTLE: Andrew, first let me say that where any kind of combat death is a tragedy and our heart goes out to the widow and the family, and it's especially true when a friendly fire incident.

But we have, people need to understand, we have a different system in the United States - friendly fire incidents are handled through the Department of Defence. And if there's any further action to be taken that's a decision made by the Department of Defence.

So you have a different system here. In this case, however, our Department of Defence has fully cooperated with your Ministry of Defence and in addition to that because of our different systems, the Department of Defence last week sent over a team to talk to the MOD to see if in the future maybe there is something we can do to improve this situation. But people need to understand that we have a different system.

ANDREW MARR: Yes, I think people do understand that now. But it did take a long time to get this information out of the Pentagon, and there was a certain amount of distress I think caused by the fact that key parts of the transcript were blacked out. Do you know why that was?

ROBERT TUTTLE: Well, I think what you have to understand is that we fully cooperated with your Ministry of Defence, and it's up to your Ministry of Defence then to take the next step with the coroners. But some of the information is classified information, very important to both of our countries, that is deemed that we don't want out in the public venue.

So I think that's something that has to be worked on and looked at. The important thing is that if there was any, if we had deemed that there was a problem or these pilots have acted inappropriately, then we have the right in the United States to take action against them. But that was not decided upon in this case.

ANDREW MARR: But just to be clear, if our Ministry of Defence said they were happy for the full transcript to be made public, and to go to the family or go to the coroner, would that be the case as far you're concerned as well? Would the Americans allow that to happen?

ROBERT TUTTLE: We would determine that on the basis of the information where there was classified information involved. And if there was then we couldn't let that go out into the public venue.

ANDREW MARR: I see. Well let's move on to some other issues. We were hearing about the surge in Iraq earlier on. Is your sense that the administration feels this is working?

ROBERT TUTTLE: I think that there is some cautious optimism, but you have to remember only two of the brigades of the five are fully going to be, are in place now. That won't be accomplished until May. So I think it's really mid- to late summer when we'll see.

I can say this, General Petraeus on his way to Iraq stopped here to brief the Prime Minister and the Ministry of Defence and he, I had the privilege of taking him to those meetings, he is a true soldier but he is also, he's written a book on counterinsurgency, he's got a PhD in that particular area. And I think he's put together a great team. So we've seen some progress, it's a little early, but it'll really be the summer and late summer.

ANDREW MARR: OK. Let's talk about American politics a little bit, it's a fascinating moment, I know you're a friend and supporter of President Bush.

Just give us your reading of what's going on on the Republicans, we've heard an awful lot about Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama as the Democrats start to look for their candidate. But what's your reading of what's going on with the Republicans?

ROBERT TUTTLE: Well first, I think this is going to be a very exciting election, the first time since 1928 that an incumbent president or vice-president will not be running, unless vice President Gore gets in which doesn't look like it's going to happen. Secondly, a lot of the states including my home state of California, have moved their primary up early. Governor Schwarzenneger just signed a bill, so, and thirdly I think you're to see a lot more in the Internet and blogging.

I think what's interesting is that you have a Morman government, a Morman, a former governor of Massachusetts running, you have the former Mayor of New York City, not people that you think would be normally vying for the republican nomination. And then you have John McCain who is an outstanding candidate. So, I think you're going to see a really hotly contested primary battle.

ANDREW MARR: Is this partly the Iraq effect, that the administration has become very unpopular over Iraq, and that people are looking for a completely different kind of candidate this time round?

ROBERT TUTTLE: Well, I think, you know, Senator McCain was the runner-up to President Bush, and he's been very supportive of what we've done in Iraq. So we'll just have to see as the debate works itself out. But it's really going to be exciting, here we have terrific candidates.

ANDREW MARR: Everybody's looking forward to it enormously. Let me ask you about one story closer to home. I hear that after more than 200 years the American Embassy may be leaving Grosvenor Square?

ROBERT TUTTLE: Well the building we're in now was built in 1959 and it is in need of renovation. So we, and it's very, very expensive, so we thought while we look at the renovation plans, that we should look at other properties and that's what we're doing, we're keeping all our options open right now.

ANDREW MARR: Was it true that you had a thought of going to Kensington Palace?

ROBERT TUTTLE: No, no, I heard that, but, I've been over there on a few dinner parties but, no thoughts to move over there.

ANDREW MARR: But the American Embassy has been in Grosvenor Square since, almost as the first few years after American itself became an independent country, broke away from Britain, I think 1783 or something was the last...

ROBERT TUTTLE: Actually our first Ambassador who was then called a Minister, was John Adams, and he had an office on at home in Grosvenor Square.

ANDREW MARR: So it goes right the way back, so it'll be a big moment in history. But it's thoroughly possible that the American Embassy will be in a different part of central London before long?

ROBERT TUTTLE: It's possible.

ANDREW MARR: All right, Ambassador, thank you very much indeed for joining us.


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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