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Last Updated: Sunday, 15 July 2007, 09:49 GMT 10:49 UK
Labour Foreign policy
On Sunday 15 July Andrew Marr interviewed David Miliband MP, Foreign Secretary

Please note "The Andrew Marr Show" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

David Miliband MP
David Miliband MP, Foreign Secretary

ANDREW MARR: Forty two years old today. David Miliband now has one of the most high profile roles in the government.

Fellow ministers have already signalled changes in the foreign policy.

But it's time to hear from the man who is in charge.

David Miliband. Welcome. Happy birthday.

DAVID MILIBAND: Good morning. Thank you very much.

ANDREW MARR: You've been in the job two weeks. Have you learned anything?

DAVID MILIBAND: I think I've learned quite a lot. I've had obviously seventeen days of pretty intense briefing.

And I've learnt that there are real dangers that face the UK around the world. But I've learnt something else. And I think that's the most important thing.

That we have real strength in this country. The strength of a new leader, the strength of a very strong economy, the strength of global alliances that I think can make us a real force for good in the world.

And I think we can be a force for stability, a force to reduce inequality, and a force for prosperity. And that is what's going to motivate me in doing this job.

ANDREW MARR: Let's talk about our relations with the United States because it's confused a few people.

Do you ascent to the kind of things that have been said, for instance by Lord Malloch Brown over the past few days that he's proud and happy to be the enemy of the neo-cons for instance?

DAVID MILIBAND: This isn't about being enemies. We have a very clear view in the government. It's been the case for many years.

That our bilateral relationship with the United States is the most important bilateral relationship we have.

Why? Because it's the richest country in the world obviously. It's the most powerful country in the world. But for a deeper reason. We have a, not just a shared history, but shared values with the United States. And that's why it is our single most important bilateral relationship.

And if we want to do good in the world which I said was going to motivate my work at the Foreign Office, we're far better off doing it with the United States than against them.

ANDREW MARR: But are you talking about the United States generally or are you talking about President Bush.

And is there any change whatever in attitude to the Bush administration? Because if there isn't I don't understand why people like Lord Malloch Brown and indeed Douglas Alexander have been saying the things they have.

DAVID MILIBAND: Well it's very straightforward. And our commitment to work with American government in general and the Bush administration in particular is resolute. Because we want to be serious players who make a difference in the world. You do that with the United States not against them.

ANDREW MARR: I understand that. But is there any change whatever of tone, of anything?

DAVID MILIBAND: No.

ANDREW MARR: Because ..

DAVID MILIBAND: Straight answer to a straight question.

ANDREW MARR: No change?

DAVID MILIBAND: Gordon Brown has been very, very clear about this. I believe our ministers have been clear about this as well. We are not into the game of hints. If we want to say something we will say it and we will say it in plain terms and you will hear it from the prime minister and you will hear it from myself.

ANDREW MARR: So when Lord Malloch Brown says "My hope is that foreign policy will become much more impartial" what does he mean?

DAVID MILIBAND: I think that Mark Malloch Brown was talking about the past. He was reflecting the past. He's been brought into the government with a very specific and important job to do and he, and ..

ANDREW MARR: Well he was talking about the past and hoping that the future would be different.

DAVID MILIBAND: No but hang on, he was actually saying that we face a different set of challenges than we did ten years ago and we've got to address that. And that's obviously true ...

ANDREW MARR: And, and on that, and that the relationship between Blair and Bush, joined at the hip, you know, gone through the fire together, was inevitably going to be different from the relationship between Blair and Brown. And that is common sense. That's obvious isn't it?

DAVID MILIBAND: Well it's a statement of fact that we are now at a different stage. That's obviously the case.

But I know that the prime minister has been, has spoken to President Bush, not just while he's been prime minister but in advance of that as well. We have a strong, new leader in the United Kingdom. He is going to be a valued partner with the United States. He's going to work very closely with President Bush. That's the right thing to do. Because it is the single most important bilateral relationship. We are members of the European Union. We should be leading members.

We're members of the Security Council and so work with China and Russia. We should be arguing and we do, for India and Japan to come onto the Security Council. We have the Commonwealth which is an important and perhaps underused aspect of our foreign policy. All those alliances are important. And the prime minister will lead the government in building on them.

ANDREW MARR: I mean the reason I've been making a bit of a meal of this is that a lot of people will have picked up what Douglas Alexander said and perhaps particularly what Lord Malloch Brown said about the problem with the neo-cons, about being hostile to the neo-cons and they will have said great, at last, the British government is somewhat changing tack, is standing up for British interests against a group of people in America, and Washington in particular who've caused terrible problems around the world, hooray. And you're saying no.

DAVID MILIBAND: Well I utterly reject this idea that you've got a choice between a quote, unquote independent British foreign policy on the one hand and a strong alliance, the most important bilateral relationship on the other. That seems to me is a false choice.

ANDREW MARR: But you have the power ..

DAVID MILIBAND: If ..

ANDREW MARR: .. you have the power of direct, a little bit of power of direction.

DAVID MILIBAND: We have a choice about it of course. But our choice is that the British national interest is best served by a strong relationship with the United States. Think about the issues that bring people out onto the streets over climate change, over global inequality, over terrorism. If we want to make a difference on those big issues we do it with the United States.

And times have moved on. It's significant that under Gordon Brown's leadership the British government will be participating on an issue like climate change in American conferences, led by the American government to find a global solution to that problem. Two or three years ago that wasn't the situation. There were still arguments about the science. So times have moved on.

ANDREW MARR: So when Lord Malloch Brown describes himself as the wise eminence behind the young Foreign Secretary you're pleased by that are you?

DAVID MILIBAND: I'm a year older than I was yesterday I think is the ..

ANDREW MARR: You're a year older ... diplomatic answer.

DAVID MILIBAND: Well the, the, I think that Mark Malloch Brown is going to be an asset for British foreign policy.

ANDREW MARR: You're sure about that?

DAVID MILIBAND: He brings twenty five years of experience, longer, thirty years of experience to the job. And he's been given a very specific job to do by Gordon Brown. He's been asked to work on Africa, on Asia and on UN reform. Very, very important tasks for British foreign policy.

ANDREW MARR: But when you say specific you mean he's not been asked to work on Iraq policy or bilateral relations with Washington?

DAVID MILIBAND: Well obviously all ministers have things that they're meant to be doing. And the prime minister - I think this is important for people.

The prime minister has a very clear view of how foreign policy can help build a better Britain. And it's my job to lead that foreign policy and deliver those changes around the world that can help us at home.

ANDREW MARR: When is Gordon Brown going to Washington then? Are you going to go with him?

DAVID MILIBAND: I'm, I agreed with Condoleezza Rice a couple of weeks ago to go at the end of the month. The prime minister's still working on the exact dates. We'll see ...

ANDREW MARR: Will you be there first do you think?

DAVID MILIBAND: That hasn't yet been decided.

ANDREW MARR: All right. Okay. You are I think going soon to Iraq and Afghanistan. If you arrive in Iraq and you ascent to the conclusions broadly that Paddy Ashdown and his group came to which is that the security situation is not getting better, that in many respects it's getting worse, will you be straight with us and tell us that?

Because this is meant to be a government of great honesty. And yet a lot of what comes out of Iraq at official level still seems to be it's all getting much better, it's all getting much better. You know we're on the glide path to success. And yet everything on the ground suggests that's absolutely not true.

DAVID MILIBAND: I don't recognise that description of people coming into this studio and saying it's all, it's all a bed of roses there. It's a very difficult and very dangerous situation.

And I hope I'll always be straight with you about that. I haven't read the whole of Paddy Ashdown's report or the report of his commission, but just watching on your interview I thought he spoke in a very sober and serious way about the issues and that's the way we'll try and address it. We've obviously got our primary focus on the position of our troops in the south. They are doing a magnificent job I think by all accounts. There are plans in place to build up Iraqi capacity which as Paddy Ashdown's

ANDREW MARR: He was talking about, yeah.

DAVID MILIBAND: ... says is absolutely essential. And we've got real progress as Paddy Ashdown himself said. We've got to build the stability that he talked about. He said we should, we needed to guarantee the territorial integrity. I mean I've looked into this and two United Nations security resolutions have been absolutely clear about the territorial integrity of Iraq. And it's also important to say, he's right to say there are regional questions here.

ANDREW MARR: Yeah.

DAVID MILIBAND: And we ..

ANDREW MARR: So a more federal Iraq is not ruled out? I mean this is a possible?

DAVID MILIBAND: Well that's part of the constitution that exists today. The devolution, the reason you don't hear much about Northern Iraq is that it's being run in a very decentralised way. Just to make the point though about the regional significance and the regional players. The Sharm El Sheikh meeting last month brought together all the regional players and obviously we've got to build on that. So I think there are things

ANDREW MARR: Okay.

DAVID MILIBAND: ... in the report and I will I hope take it in the sober way that it requires.

ANDREW MARR: I thought the most, most interesting, possibly the most controversial assertion in the report was that if we wait for there to be an end to violence and life to be normal we'll be there forever.

And that therefore we have to pull back to a more realistic assessment of what can be achieved which will be about finishing the training for the army and then handing over before we get out. Is that the kind of thing that you ...

DAVID MILIBAND: That's a bit like saying you should only, you'll always have police on the streets of our cities until there's no crime. Well that's obviously the case. I mean we have to build stability there, institutional capacity there and real ability and commitment to find reconciliation across the divides in Iraq.

ANDREW MARR: And if we're there in five or ten years time would you be surprised by that?

DAVID MILIBAND: I think that the plans that have already been set out to bring us down to five thousand troops are there for a reason because we think that Iraqis can step in, step in there.

I don't want to get into the prediction game. I mean I - this might happen several times that I come on this programme and you can say "Well predict me this. Predict me that". I say let's think about what we're going to do and how we're going to move forward.

ANDREW MARR: Okay. Let me ask about Afghanistan where you're going as well because there've been some quite alarming reports coming out through the voluntary organisations and charities that actually the war is not confined now to the south. That it has spread across Afghanistan. Are you concerned about that?

DAVID MILIBAND: Well that isn't my reading of it, although I take very seriously what aid workers and others say. I think the first thing I'd like to say is that I hope we can move to a situation where we don't have Iraq and Afghanistan in the same breath. And to be fair to you you have divided them. But they are different conflicts with different dynamics. I think the situation in Afghanistan is a central aspect of national security. If you think about 9/11.

If you think about the dangers that exist under the Taliban, not just for people in Afghanistan but outside, we've got to work to build up that government to be a force for stability and that country to be a stable country. I think we can do that. But it's a mixture of military might yes but we've got diplomats there. We've got aid workers there.

We've got a country where ninety per cent of people have no electricity. So we have got a very basic development task that needs to be done and it's very, very important that we achieve it.

ANDREW MARR: We may well be in another unwinnable war.

DAVID MILIBAND: I think that is the fatalism that I have to guard against. I think that most people would say yes it's right that we try to make a difference in Afghanistan. Let me make this point. I think it's really important this. The danger for foreign policy is that we retreat into fatalism.

That we think it's all too complicated, it's all too difficult. Let's get out. I don't think Britain can be a country that retreats from the world. We've got the strength, the political strength

ANDREW MARR: Okay.

DAVID MILIBAND: ... the institutional strength, the alliances, to make a difference. And progressive foreign policy is about making a difference, not just abroad but for us at home.

ANDREW MARR: Well let me ask you about one other very difficult area at the moment which is our relations with Russia having refused to extradite the alleged killer. And furthermore put on ice very, very important arms treaty. It's hard to think of a time over the last ten years when relations with the Soviet Union, ex Soviet Union, have been as bad as they are now.

DAVID MILIBAND: Well there's a paradox because actually our economic relations have never been stronger. But you're right that a very serious crime was committed in the streets of London. We have a judicial process that must be seen through. And I don't want to say anything more about that at the moment other than that we're considering seriously all of our options.

ANDREW MARR: Well I'm going to press you a little bit further. When you say we're considering seriously all of our options that would include the full range of diplomatic responses that a country can make in this case?

DAVID MILIBAND: I'm just not going to get into it. It wouldn't be right. We've got a judicial process with integrity, with independence and we will defend that.

ANDREW MARR: We've had expulsions in the past.

DAVID MILIBAND: I'm not going to get into it.

ANDREW MARR: Okay.

DAVID MILIBAND: You can ..

ANDREW MARR: All right.

DAVID MILIBAND: .. however charming you are, it's important ..

ANDREW MARR: I'm doing my very best, but okay. You're going, but we'll be hearing more about that in the course of the coming week ...

DAVID MILIBAND: In due course.

ANDREW MARR: In due course. All right. It's been said about you that you are a keener European than some of the other holders of your post over the last few years.

Do you buy at all the argument that although there's been lots of changes made at the margins to what was the constitution, there is still something there which is big enough that it would require a referendum of the British people if it's going to be put through.

DAVID MILIBAND: In short, no. The first clause of the mandate that was agreed by twenty seven heads of government last month says the constitution has been abandoned. Not reformed. Not ameliorated. Abandoned.

We're not going to have a new constitution for Europe. We're amending the way Europe works to make it work better. And frankly we can get away from the institutional arguments and onto delivering what really matters about the environment, about climate change, about crime, about the economy.

That's what's going to matter. And I think that Europe has suffered more from a delivery deficit than a democratic deficit. And it's the delivery deficit that we have to rectify. And it's Europe making a difference for people in areas that are genuinely international that I think really, really is the focus of European policy.

ANDREW MARR: You sat through the Blair Cabinet. You're sitting in the Brown Cabinet. Is it different?

DAVID MILIBAND: Yeah, it is different. It's, it's a different group of people obviously. But it's a different time. And I've been coming on this programme and other programmes over the last year saying I believe the Labour Party can have a refreshing, energising transition to Gordon Brown. And you and others have said oh yeah, pull the other one. Actually it's happened.

We've got a leader who's established himself in a very strong way with a very clear vision for the future of the country. We've got clear policy priorities that address the modern challenges, domestic and international. And as a result British politics has been turned on its head. So it's the government setting the agenda and the Tories looking ridiculous frankly.

ANDREW MARR: And is it true that there is more of a discussion going on in Cabinet?

DAVID MILIBAND: I think it, to be fair to the former prime minister, it's not true that we walked in there and he said "Good morning everyone. This is what I'm going to do. Now buzz off". That's just not, that's an unfair caricature.

But I think that Gordon has made it his business to ensure that every single member of the Cabinet isn't just responsible for their department but is responsible for

ANDREW MARR: .... talk around the content.

DAVID MILIBAND: ... the whole government. And we all have a collective responsibility and that I think is very important.

ANDREW MARR: All right. David Miliband thank you very much indeed for the moment.

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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