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EDITIONS
 Thursday, 5 December, 2002, 08:00 GMT
You asked Tony Blair

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    UK Prime Minister Tony Blair tells BBC News Online that Iraq will build links with global terrorists if Saddam Hussein's regime is not dealt with.

    A direct link between international terrorists and "unstable" countries like Iraq will develop unless dictators such as Saddam Hussein are tackled, UK Prime Minister Tony Blair has warned.

    Mr Blair was answering questions from BBC News Online users and BBC World Service listeners in a special interactive edition of the phone-in programme Talking Point.

    The programme is part of the celebrations to mark the 70th anniversary of the BBC World Service.



    Transcript


    Robin Lustig:

    Welcome to this special edition of Talking Point which comes to you from No. 10 Downing Street here in London. I'm Robin Lustig, we're broadcasting on the BBC World Service on radio and on BBC News Interactive online and on television.

    Our guest is the British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Who is here to answer your questions and your e-mails as part of a series of special programmes to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the BBC World Service. Prime Minister welcome to Talking Point. We have had thousands of callers and e-mails from people who would like a chance to talk to you. Let's go straight ahead.


    Robin Lustig:

    Our first caller is on the line, Nabil Osta who is in Washington, DC. Nabil, your question.


    Nabil Osta:

    Good afternoon. Mr Blair, your government has just come out with a dossier detailing torture in Iraq. If your government is really concerned about human rights issues why has this dossier just surfaced and do we expect similar dossiers against countries like Israel and Saudi Arabia, for example?


    Tony Blair:

    Well it's not that we've just surfaced the allegations in respect of Iraq, actually when we published a dossier on Iraq and weapons of mass destruction a short time ago we also gave details of the torture and human rights abuses there, which I think are unique really in their scale and in their intensity and when I was speaking to Iraqi women yesterday who told me about their experiences, the death of members of their family, the abuse that they have suffered, the death threats they still suffer, I think it brings home to us what an appalling regime, the regime of Saddam Hussein, is. I have no doubt there are lots of allegations about different countries as well. But I don't think anything like what is happening in Iraq today is happening in those other countries that you have mentioned.


    Robin Lustig:

    But it has been happening, Prime Minister, for a very long time in Iraq, hasn't it? Saddam Hussein has been in power now for more than 20 years, why only now?


    Tony Blair:

    Because the issue of weapons of mass destruction is there and that is the basis on which the international community is acting. Now, as I say to people often, quite apart from the issue of weapons of mass destruction, this regime is a particularly obnoxious and unpleasant regime.


    Robin Lustig:

    Nabil?


    Nabil Osta:

    I would like to see some reaction from your government with countries that are not abiding by UN resolutions. A prime example is Israel of ignoring countless UN resolutions with the blanket support of countries like the US and its allies.


    Tony Blair:

    The resolutions in respect of the middle east are not resolutions just on Israel. There are also resolutions in respect of other Arab countries, there are also resolutions in respect of the Palestinians, too. And all of those resolutions need to come together and to be obeyed. That is absolutely true. But the problem is that you've got a situation where Israel is facing acts of terrorism of the most appalling and barbaric nature. We don't have a peace process underway in order to make sure that all those resolutions of the UN can come together and be fulfilled. And one of the reasons why I believe so passionately we need to get a peace process back underway again in Israel is precisely so that we can get some change in circumstances and some hope for the future. But I think it's dangerous if I can say so respectfully to align UN resolutions in respect of Israel where, as I say in fact they are resolutions on all the parties to do with the Middle East peace process, with the resolutions against Iraq which are very specific on the issues of weapons of mass destruction, and where Iraq is in breach of those resolutions without any justification whatever.


    Robin Lustig:

    But you must recognise, Prime Minister, mustn't you that throughout the Arab world there are a great number of people who think there are double standards at work here. That we are applying one standard to Iraq and one standard to everybody else.


    Tony Blair:

    I entirely accept that is the charge that is made. My justification, my defence to it is to say the only way of making sure that all the resolutions in respect of Israel, the Palestinians, the rest of the Arab world, all those issues, the only way of making sure that those resolutions are adhered to is a proper peace process. Now I have worked very hard for that, I will continue to work hard for it. I think it is an appalling situation which casts a shadow over the entire relationship between the Arab and the Muslim world and the Western world. But I don't think that should detract us from also dealing with the issue of Saddam Hussein and weapons of mass destruction.


    Robin Lustig:

    Let me read you an e-mail that's come from Japan. This comes from Fumitaka Nakamura, who says, how do you distinguish between oppressive regimes? For example, in Iraq and in North Korea.


    Tony Blair:

    Well, again I think that's a good point. I think the difference in relation to Iraq is that there are specific UN resolutions in respect of Iraq and weapons of mass destruction which we have to make sure are implemented. But I agree I think North Korea is a threat too. There's a different process in place there where we want to offer North Korea the chance of change. But I agree they do pose a threat. But there are different ways of dealing with these threats. And really, you know the difference perhaps between my position and the position of some other world leaders or countries is to say in my view what you need to do is to deal with all these issues together, they are all important.


    Robin Lustig:

    Let's take another call. Sharaf Uddeen is on the line from Muscat in Oman. Sharaf.


    Sharaf Uddeen:

    Good afternoon. My question is if UN weapons inspectors in Iraq cannot find any weapons of mass destruction what will be your next action?


    Tony Blair:

    The inspectors go in there in order to discover whether what the Iraqis say in the declaration they've got to issue on the 8th December, whether what they say is correct or not. And that's for the inspectors to do their job and it's been made clear throughout the purpose is to make sure that any weapons of mass destruction Iraq has they are disarmed of. If they find no weapons that is another matter. But I think it's quite clear according to our information that those weapons exist.


    Robin Lustig:

    The problem is that even if they don't find them, it doesn't necessarily mean they are not there. It's impossible to prove a negative, isn't it?


    Tony Blair:

    The process is that the UN inspectors go in to do their business, because that is what the UN has decided. And when they went in before, indeed they did find clear evidence of weapons of mass destruction. But it's for them to go and perform their task now and I think it was the right decision for us to take to say the whole of the international community should come together on the basis that the UN inspectors go back in there. If they find the weapons they destroy them. If Saddam refuses to cooperate in any way at all then he must be disarmed by force.


    Robin Lustig:

    There's an e-mail that's just come in from Madrid in Spain. Steve has written to say, can you promise that the UK will not act outside international law in its approach to the war on Iraq?


    Tony Blair:

    Yes I certainly can. I believe that in the last few years when we have taken military action, we've always acted within international law and shall continue to do so.


    Robin Lustig:

    Let's take another call, then, this is from Naha Qoubt who is in Jerusalem in Israel. Naha, hello.


    Naha Qoubt:

    Hello, good evening to everyone, good evening Mr Blair. I am a Palestinian from Jerusulem, a Palestine that you call Israel. Palestine that Britain granted some day to Israel. Why have you denied our rights as human beings since that time? When we were dismissed as refugees out of our land by force despite that, no kind of justice can forgive or respect this crime. Mr Blair, don't you have children that you love and care for? The Palestinians have their beloved children too - the same as Iraqi people. So why are you blessing and supporting the Israeli occupation who is the origin of terrorism? To kill our Palestinian children and our relatives and to kill our freedom, to violate our dignity, our land, our humanity and our right in living? And you too, with the USA kill and still kill millions of innocent Iraqi children since a long time without any mercy and it seems that you can never - it seems that you have never felt satisfied from that┐.?


    Robin Lustig:

    Stop there for one second because I want to get the Prime Minister's response, but I also want to read you an e-mail that's come from our Arab language service at BBCArabic.com. This is from Adhem Sarhan who is in Syria. Why do you demand an implementation of UN resolutions in Iraq only and forget Israel? These double standards are undermining your credibility in the region.


    Tony Blair:

    Let me just deal with that point on the e-mail. The whole point I am making is that all the resolutions, in my Conference speech recently, I said all resolutions in relation to the Middle East, those in relation to Iraq, those in relation to Israel and on the Palestinians and on the rest of the Arab world should be implemented. But the fact that you have disputes still which we have to resolve in relation to the Middle East peace process does not mean to say that we do not deal with the issue of Iraq. So when we people say, well, you're not interested in dealing with the resolutions in respect of Israel, only those in respect of Iraq. That is not true. What we want to do is to deal with all the resolutions, but those resolutions in respect of Israel depend also on the adherence to resolutions by the rest of the Arab world and by the Palestinians. So you've got to deal with all this together.

    If I can deal with the point that Naha in Jerusalem was making. Let me just say two things to you. The first thing is, the only way that we are going to get a resolution of the issue between Israel and the Palestinians is on the basis of a two-state solution. An Israel allowed to exist, recognised by the Arab world, confident of its own security and a viable state of Palestine. That is what we are working towards. And we will do everything we possibly can to help in relation to that. And don't forget that countries like Britain and the rest of the countries in Europe are putting an enormous amount of money into the Palestinian territories precisely in order to try and bring about that situation. And we will work for it in any way we can. But we've got to have willing partners for that.

    The second thing I wanted to say to you, is that terrorism is not a way of achieving those aims. All terrorism does is play into the hands of the hard-liners who don't want any peace at all, on either side. And I've just been up, I've come, literally, when I'm speaking now, I've come from a meeting with people to do with Northern Ireland where we've had a peace process that that we've worked on hard as a government for the last five years to get off the ground. With some success, and some difficulty, but nonetheless we are making progress. And the only way of making progress is not to let the extremists stop that progress.

    And incidentally, just to make the point on Iraq, we are not killing innocent Iraqi women or children. That is simply a piece of Iraqi propaganda that is simply false. The fact is the Iraqis have as much money as they want through the oil for food and medicine programme. They could put as much as they wanted into treating their people and healing their people, but they choose not to do so. And instead what happens is Saddam filters off large sums of that money for his personal use.


    Robin Lustig:

    But if there is a war in Iraq, if there is military action in Iraq, innocent Iraqi women and innocent Iraqi children will die.


    Tony Blair:

    Well let us wait and see what actually happens. As Iraqi women were saying to me yesterday, Muslim women, Iraqi women, who were saying to me yesterday, there are people dying now in Iraq through Saddam. People who are tortured, killed, women beheaded, appalling human rights abuses. And the fact is that Saddam has been responsible for killing many more Iraqis than any country from the Western world.


    Robin Lustig:

    There are strong views of course on all sides in the Middle East. This e-mail has come to us from Florida in the USA, from Marcel. Who says, will you stop selling out Israel as a way of appeasing the Islamic world? Are you afraid to stand side by side with Israel because of intimidation and threats from Arab countries?


    Tony Blair:

    No, I do stand side by side with Israel's right to exist confident of its own security. But I also stand for a just and fair settlement for the Palestinians. And in the end those two things have got to be brought together. And the only way through this, there is no future for either the Israelis or the Palestinians except a future where they live side by side with each other, on the two-state solution. And that two-state solution is not selling Israel out, it's actually the best guarantee of Israel's security in the future, in my judgement.


    Robin Lustig:

    Let's take another call, now, Graham Young is in Johannesburg in South Africa. Graham, hello.


    Graham Young:

    Hello. My question is concerning the war on terror. Now that we are standing as a country, Britain, side by side with America, how do you Mr Blair plan to protect British citizens at home and abroad as we are now targets for terrorist groups around the world?


    Robin Lustig:

    Do you feel yourself to be a target Graham?


    Graham Young:

    I think when you are abroad definitely. You do get negative feelings from people, definitely.


    Robin Lustig:

    OK, prime minister.


    Tony Blair:

    Well first of all Graham, the last two major terrorist incidents, one took place in Kenya, the other took place in Indonesia. Indonesia is the largest Muslim country in the world. And Kenya has not taken a particularly high profile in respect of international terrorism, though their government has been very supportive of the measures taken. There is no hiding place for us. If we are not side by side with the United States of America these terrorists are not going to leave us alone. And what we have to do is to take the measures of protection at home and abroad that we can whilst recognising there's a limit to what any government can do in respect of these terrorists.

    And in my view the only way of defeating them is to take every possible measure we can in relation to security, and military action where necessary, as we did in Afghanistan. Police action where necessary, as we are doing here in Britain now with the arrests of people involved in terrorism. But the other thing we've got to do frankly is to engage fundamentally with the Arab and Muslim world and to try and bring people together so that we are dealing with some of the issues that are exploited by these extremists and fanatics for the purposes of terrorism. And I think both of those things need to come together.


    Robin Lustig:

    You must accept though that Britons abroad are more likely to be targets because they and this country are identified as being on the same side as the Americans.


    Tony Blair:

    We are completely na´ve if we think that these terrorists aren't perfectly prepared to kill any number of people. I mean they killed Indonesians and Kenyans. These weren't people who were taking a high profile on terrorism. When the 11th September attack took place in America there were people of every religious denomination killed, there were people of all nationalities killed.

    These terrorists are not - they are oblivious to whether you are on this side or that side. And some of them actually hate Muslims who are moderate more than they hate so-called Western or Christian countries. In any event I happen to believe that the war against terrorism is important. I think that the British people by and large know when an issue like this arises where their place is. And their place is actually not hiding behind other people but up front saying this is wrong, we are going to defeat it. As we've done many times in our history before.


    Robin Lustig:

    You mentioned Indonesia, we've had an e-mail from there from a Briton, Ryan Lee who's in Surabaya. Who says, as an expatriate working in Indonesias second largest city, I am worried about a war breaking out in Iraq. What would happen to Westerners working in the largest Muslim country? Somebody else who feels at risk.


    Tony Blair:

    I think the most important thing is to explain to people the fact that Saddam, when he's used weapons of mass destruction, has killed Muslims with weapons of mass destruction. He killed them in the war against Iran, he killed them when he gassed thousands of innocent Kurdish people in Northern Iraq.


    Robin Lustig:

    Weren't we backing Iraq at that time?


    Tony Blair:

    In relation to the war on Iran, it is true that the West at a certain point did. However, when he used chemical weapons, this is very important to realise, the West came out with a very strong statement against that. And actually that was the beginning if you like of the move away. That was before my time in office and so on. But in relation to what has happened to the Kurds, we protested very, very strongly about that. But the point that I am making is this, any action in respect of Iraq has nothing to do with the fact that Iraq is a Muslim country. When I was involved in the biggest military action so far that I have been involved in, which is to do with Kosovo a few years ago, we were taking action on behalf of innocent Muslims who were being persecuted by Slobodan Milosevic, who is an orthodox Christian. So I think this is an argument where we mustn't fall for the propaganda that when we try and deal with the threat that Saddam poses, or the nature of his regime, which is horrendous, that somehow we are doing this because Iraq is a Muslim country or he is a Muslim. His religion is irrelevant. It is his acts that are important.


    Robin Lustig:

    Our next caller is Mark Ford, who is in Denmark. Yes, Mark.


    Mark Ford:

    Hello, good afternoon to you all. I have a statement to qualify my question. I know there is a lot more to the situation in Iraq than meets the eye. You don't really see what's going on for every country with a questionable leader. I'm all for world peace and I'll be very proud if the UK and Europe were part of the first step to help bring together the people of the Middle East. So my question is should we follow our American allies determined to go to war with Iraq or think that with terror attacks occurring seemingly at random in the most unlikely places, like Bali, like Kenya, how do we go about prioritising these targets? And is it likely that al-Qaeda is in some way working with perhaps Palestinian organisations, so should the focus then be on bringing peace to the Israeli and Palestinian people before a lengthy and costly war?


    Tony Blair:

    Well, Mark, I think there are many points there which people make to me often. Let me just try and deal with them. First of all, the reason why we are going after the regime of Saddam Hussein and saying he's got to abide by the United Nations resolutions is precisely because the international community has determined its position in relation to this and if we don't know follow it through and deal with it then effectively we are saying the United Nations - the will of the United Nations can be flouted, its authority flouted, and so on. And I do actually believe this is a uniquely horrible regime that has used weapons of mass destruction and still has them. And we must disarm them of them.

    Secondly, I know people tend to look at these two issues as different. International terrorism on the one hand, weapons of mass destruction on the other. I don't happen to believe that. I think they are linked. They are linked because they have the capability of crossing national boundaries. They are linked because they are both, if you like, issues to do with fanatical or extreme political positions that can wreak enormous havoc and danger in the world, and I also believe that at some point they will be linked in a very direct way. I've got absolutely no doubt at all that the issue of weapons of mass destruction in the hands of unstable, dangerous rogue states, if that issue is not dealt with, then at some point we will find those weapons in the hands of international terrorists and then the destruction will be truly awful. And so I think we have to deal with both of them together.


    Robin Lustig:

    But as you know there are a lot of people who feel that the priority on Iraq is the wrong priority. And that the war on terror is what leaders such as yourself should be concentrating on. This e-mail, for example, from Budapest, in Hungary, from Eoin Young. Following the bombings in Bali and Mombasa, is it not now abundantly clear that the current focus on Iraq is completely misguided, or has the focus of the war on terror been shifted to prioritise opportunity rather than threat?


    Tony Blair:

    No, because I think both are threats. And so if you've got threats from two different quarters you don't focus on one to the exclusion of the other. You focus on both. I think people have got, I say this respectfully because I understand this is an argument that a lot of people make, and really what they are saying is, look, come one, this weapons of mass destruction, it's not really such a big issue, it doesn't really much matter. You know, get after the terrorists.

    Believe me, weapons of mass destruction are a real threat. You've got countries proliferating them. You've got a regime like Saddam Hussein, if they're given the green light and if we don't enforce the UN will, that is a green light, if he then develops those weapons, then you tell me, in a region like the Middle East where you've got a state that is totally unstable, dictatorial, oppressive, with weapons that can cause mass destruction, a regime that's actually used those weapons before - that is a threat as well. And we have to deal with both threats. As I say, I happen to believe that they will be at some stage directly linked if we don't deal with them. But in any event both are threats, both are dangerous. So it's not a question of saying, we were focused on Afghanistan and terrorism, now we've switched focus. We are focused on both and we should be focused on both.


    Robin Lustig:

    Mark, do you want to come back?


    Mark Ford:

    The point with the war that I was trying to make was going back to a phrase of when two elephants fight, the grass is trodden down and the most damaged. The people of Iraq and the people in the Middle East, surely they don't deserve to be squashed, so to speak in this way.


    Tony Blair:

    Let me just deal with the point that Mark makes. Conflict is not inevitable, it depends on what Saddam Hussein does. If he abides the UN resolutions then that's an end of it. But there's a lot of evidence from his past conduct that he is unlikely to do so. Now if we have to then make sure that he abides by those UN resolutions by force, I'll just tell you one thing. The Iraqi people will be the most immediate beneficiaries of removal of Saddam Hussein.


    Robin Lustig:

    But you can't say, can you, Prime Minister, that even if there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, even if there were no Saddam Hussein in power in Iraq, there would then be no terrorist threat?


    Tony Blair:

    No, I certainly don't say that. But I do say that they are two threats that need to be dealt with. And the fact that you deal with one doesn't mean to say that you've dealt with the other. That's the only point that I am making. In addition I am making the point, because I think this is important, that I do believe they will come together at a certain point.

    I see this stuff as Prime Minister, coming across my desk the whole time and I have been agitating about this issue for a long time. It's interesting just go back, the very first meeting I had with George Bush which was back in February 2001 - February or March 2001 - shortly after his election, I raised the issue of weapons of mass destruction then. That was before September 11th - before any of these issues had come to prominence. I have been worried about this for a long time. There are countries proliferating these weapons, the ballistic missile technology along with it, and it is dangerous and it needs to be stopped. And the first test case, if you like, of our seriousness as an international community, is making sure these resolutions in respect of Iraq are implemented.

    And it would be no comfort for anyone if we deal with international terrorism and then we turn around in a few years' time someone has accumulated these weapons of mass destruction and used them, and then the world turns around and says well why weren't you dealing with that a few years ago when you had the chance?


    Robin Lustig:

    And that, I take it, would be your response to this e-mail from Nepal, from Pravesh Saria, who says the war against terror was declared against al-Qaeda after September 11th. The goals have still not been achieved. Osama bin Laden is largely believed to be still alive. So why open a new front without accomplishing the required goals?


    Tony Blair:

    There isn't, for exactly the reason I have given. When you've got two threats you deal with both. And we haven't closed the other front. We are redoubling our efforts now against al-Qaeda, not just here but right round the world. We've got to carry on doing that. It's extremely important. If the Osama threat is there we can't not deal with it. You can't simply say, oh, I'm sorry we can only focus on one issue at a time.


    Robin Lustig:

    Let's move on now, away from the Middle East, away from Iraq, there are many other problems around the world, a lot of other people want to get in. Washington Bgoni on the line from Zimbabwe.


    Washington Bgoni:

    Hello, Prime Minister. First, I must apologise for the verbal abuse coming from Zimbabwean leaders. The second issue is that I am talking on behalf of million of people who are starving, suffering from HIV/Aids, collapse of the health system, economic meltdown, and there has been a lot of talk, talk, talk, but what concrete action are you doing to normalise the situation in Zimbabwe to bring democracy and the rule of law, involving the US, the EU and the other southern Africa countries?


    Tony Blair:

    Well, the answer is we are doing what we can realistically. And that is to try and raise the issue of the oppression and abuses in Zimbabwe with everyone we can to point out to people that Zimbabwe is potentially a wealthy country and yet has been made poor by the disastrous policies of Mr Mugabe and his people in government in Zimbabwe. And we are trying to do everything we possibly can whether it's, not just with the US and the EU, but also in the Commonwealth and with your African neighbours. But it is vital people realise the seriousness of the situation because, particularly in relation to the issues of food and grain, there is an appalling situation developing in Zimbabwe, it's developing largely I'm afraid because of the way the Zimbabwean government is running the situation there. Well, what can I say, we are doing what we can.


    Robin Lustig:

    Washington, is any of that making any difference? Are any of the actions that overseas nations like Britain are taking making any difference to the way in which the government of Robert Mugabe is acting?


    Washington Bgoni:

    No, I don't think you can do a lot of changes without involving the big brother, that is South Africa and Thabo Mbeki. I think the Prime Minister must apply pressure on Thabo to make things happen in this country.


    Robin Lustig:

    Mr Blair?


    Tony Blair:

    Well we obviously do discuss the whole time and the reasons why Zimbabwe was suspended from the Commonwealth in the way that it was, was precisely because of the discussions that we were having with President Mbeki and others. I hope very much that we do get the concerted attempts by countries in southern Africa to say what is happening in Zimbabwe is wrong, which it is. And tragic actually for the people in Zimbabwe.

    Again as I say to people when, you were kind enough to say that I should pay no attention to the abuse that gets levelled at me by Mr Mugabe from time to time, I mean I don't really care about that, you get used to that in politics. I think the shame of it is when people end up thinking that this is an issue that somehow Britain cares about for selfish British reasons. The people that suffer most under Mr Mugabe are not only the people that I represent here in Britain - they're people in Zimbabwe.


    Robin Lustig:

    But there are a lot of people in Africa, a lot of them have e-mailed us who wonder why it is that you pay so much attention to Iraq, to the Gulf, to the Middle East, and so little attention to them. Let me read you this e-mail from Monrovia in Liberia. Prince Nippay wrote to say why is your government not paying serious attention to the millions of Africans that are starving at the hands of Mugabe instead focusing on the Gulf. Is starvation not another form of terrorism?


    Tony Blair:

    Well, I agree what is happening is appalling. And incidentally we are the second largest bilateral donor in southern Africa after the United States of America. Let me just make one thing clear, under my government we have increased our aid to Africa, we've doubled it, it's now going up to a billion pounds a year over the next few years. We have led the way on Partnership for Africa, which is an attempt to try and put together a series of agreements on issues to do with Africa, things like conflict resolution, debt relief, trade, and so on, on the other hand, better governments.

    But frankly there is a limit to what we can do to influence the government of Zimbabwe itself. I mean, you know the abuse that they heap on us every time we raise these things and say it's all to do with colonialism, when actually it's to do with basic human rights. So it is a deeply frustrating situation. But people shouldn't think we are not doing what we can, because what we can do through international pressure on the one hand and through, probably the most rapidly increasing aid and development programme of any Western country, on the other, is doing what we can. That is realistically what we can do to help.


    Robin Lustig:

    Chris Daley in Sydney in Australia reminded us, and you, indeed, by e-mail, of what you said at the Labour Party Conference last year "we will heal Africa". Can you convince Africans now, he asks, that this is Britain's intention and what mould-breaking initiatives will Britain undertake to achieve this extraordinary ambition?


    Tony Blair:

    Well I said that Africa was a scar on the conscience of the world and it is because millions of people there die needlessly. What we are trying to do is two things. As a country we are, as I've just said a moment or two ago, we are increasing dramatically the proportion of money that we are giving to Africa and the aid and development programmes there. And I think most people would say on things like Third World debt, and in terms of aid and development, we are pretty much leading the way in the rest of the world at the moment.

    But the second thing is that the concept which I've put together with Thabo Mbeki and other people of this Partnership for Africa where we try and deal comprehensively with the issues to do with Africa. You see the problem for Africa is not just debt, it's not just aid and development. It's conflict resolution. These appalling conflicts in the Congo and elsewhere which have just eaten up resources, laid waste countries that are basically wealthy.

    There's issues to do with trade, where again we are trying to get the developed world to take a lead in the World Trade Organisation, open up our markets to the produce of African countries in the developing world. And it's to do also with issues like governance, because in the end unless African countries actually have the ability to implement these programmes and have proper systems of governments free from corruption and so on, then they are not going to succeed. It's also to do with issues like health, I had a meeting just the other day about HIV/Aids in Africa and what we can do to help to get the pharmaceutical companies to get drugs at low prices into Africa. It's about education programmes. We are doing absolutely everything we can but there's a limit to what we can do on our own.


    Robin Lustig:

    There's a brutal political reality though isn't there, and that is that one of the reasons why leaders like you target Saddam Hussein in Iraq and al-Qaeda is that your assessment is that they are a threat to Britain's interest? President Mugabe is not a direct threat to Britain's interest, that's why you pay so much attention to Iraq, to al-Qaeda and less to President Mugabe.


    Tony Blair:

    But I would say you've got to do different things in different ways. Unless people are seriously suggesting you mount an invasion force. I give as much focus to the issues of Africa and the developing world and Third World poverty and debt as I do to virtually any other foreign policy issue in government. That is a huge commitment that my government has made to this issue. Again, as I say, what I've been trying to do and I did this in my Conference speech this year, but more particularly last year, is say put these things together.

    What I find frustrating about this and it comes through in many of the questions that are asked, is that people tend to say you deal with this or you deal with that. And what I'm saying to people is look, you deal with both. You deal with the security threat, you deal with weapons of mass destruction, but you also deal with the Middle East peace process, poverty in Africa, climate change, the big international issues that are to do with the long-term as well as the short-term questions of security and protection against terrorism. I actually think that's where most people are, but what happens is very often on traditional political lines, people divide into one camp or the other. So if someone says to you, you've got to deal with weapons of mass destruction, and someone else says to you, deal with the Middle East peace process, but very few people say to you deal with both together.


    Robin Lustig:

    Time for another caller, Matthew Alexander on the line from Brooklyn in New York. Matthew, hello.


    Matthew Alexander:

    Hello. As a Briton residing in the United States I'd like to stress my strong support for the foreign policy that the Prime Minister and his government have adopted in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on 9/11 and I think a special relationship does exist between the United States and Great Britain and I congratulate him for recognising it and consistently maintaining strong ties with the US administration at a time when I feel that other European governments have been much less inclined to do so. I think the American people are truly grateful for his support. However, here's my question to the Prime Minister. As a result of this stance I think you've often, rather unfairly I believe, been caricatured by some members of the British press as Mr Bush's poodle and I'd be very interested to know what the Prime Minister himself thinks of these charges.


    Tony Blair:

    Thank you for your kind words. I just think it comes with the job. I think it's very important we do stand with the US, particularly after the 11th September, and also try to make sure that we act with the United States on as broad a basis as possible and one of the reasons why I wanted to make sure that we dealt with Iraq through the United Nations is to try and bring everyone onto the same ground.

    This is a bigger topic than we've got time for but I have an absolutely passionate belief that the United States and Europe should come together as much as possible on these issues and I think when they divide up from each other the world becomes a more dangerous place. And I think for us, as I say, our task is to say, look, the agenda of weapons of mass destruction, terrorism matter, and these other things matter, too. And I think that if we can get people onto that broad agenda then we've got a chance of uniting people and also dealing with some of the, what are obviously very heartfelt thoughts from different parts of the world, that we are only interested in getting after Saddam Hussein but aren't actually interested, for example, in the suffering of the Palestinians. I think our task is to broaden that agenda the whole time.


    Robin Lustig:

    But people do make a contrast, don't they, between the relationship that exists between Britain and the United States and the relationship that exists between other European countries and the United States. For example, an e-mail from Jordan, from Bahaa Abu Jazer, why does Britain work so hard to link its foreign policy decisions to those of the US in contrast to France, for example?


    Tony Blair:

    Well each country decides its own foreign policy and on issues for example - climate change is one - where we disagree with the US, we disagree with them. But I happen to agree with them in respect of international terrorism. I agree with them on the weapons of mass destruction threat. As I say, I was raising it before September 11th even occurred, so you do what you think is right.

    What is interesting however, from different perspectives is that in the recent UN process on Iraq, France and Britain - eventually - came into the same position with each other and I think that's important for the future.


    Robin Lustig:

    Another e-mail on a similar issue, Hani Anashma in Qatar in the Gulf. Any observer of the British government's foreign policies would notice that they are identical to those of the US. Does this mean that Great Britain has lost her independence when it comes to foreign policy?


    Tony Blair:

    No, it means if we agree, we agree, and it means if we disagree, we disagree. I've just given an example on climate change, on the Kyoto protocol where we happen to have a disagreement with the US.


    Robin Lustig:

    If the US were to do something in regards to the Iraqi issue with which you did generally disagree, would you say so?


    Tony Blair:

    Of course. Look, one of the reasons why I thought it was so important that we went through the United Nations is because I think it is important to bring the international community together on this issue. It's what we've done. I mean we've put it through the UN and I think President Bush was absolutely right to do that and I think as a result of that you've got all the countries in the Security Council in the same position.

    But the reason why I think it is important to be an ally of the US on these issues is that I happen to think they are right. And I would be arguing for this even if the US were in a different position. I happen to think after the 11th September it was essential that we took action against the al-Qaeda terrorist network. I think if we'd failed to do that then, OK, we've got problems with al-Qaeda now, think what those problems would have been like if we'd, after the 11th September, simply shrugged our shoulders as a world community and walked away from it.

    Now I believe for the reasons I've given, I don't want to repeat what I've said earlier, weapons of mass destruction is a real, real issue. I think it's one of these issues that is there and people don't really get the full measure of it because it's not come to our notice through some terrible event, but it is there and it has the potential to become a terrible event so when the US says these things matter, I'm not saying I agree because I feel I have to agree with the United States, I do agree. It may be worse than some people think. I actually believe in it. My point the whole time, however, to the US and to any other allies we have is - these things matter, but those things matter too. Which is why I say to you as well as dealing with Iraq we should also be concentrating on the Middle East and getting that peace process started again.


    Robin Lustig:

    Let's take another call. This one comes from Zagreb in Croatia. Hrvoje Jezic is there, Hrvoye hello.


    Hrvoye Jezic:

    Yes, good evening, Prime Minister. I would like to ask you one question in connection with EU enlargement. What is your viewpoint on the future process of EU enlargement especially on countries such as Croatia? Will Britain and in which way support those enlargements and what do you think about changes of Croatia and some other countries to get on the list for the next round of membership?


    Tony Blair:

    Well I wish you well. I think there are changes in Croatia and elsewhere in the region that have been remarkable. We've got ten countries that will come into the European Union in the next period of time and I think that's a fantastic change in Europe. And, as you know, Britain's been a champion of European Union enlargement and will continue to be so. I mean everyone's got to meet the criteria to come in. But if people can meet the criteria then that's what happens. And I think it's a very exciting development for countries like Croatia to have, even if it's some distance off, to have the prospect of joining the European Union because I think it helps you make the very difficult changes you need to make and overcome the legacy of the past.


    Robin Lustig:

    We've had an e-mail that links together the EU and what you've just been saying about Britain's relationships with the US. It comes from Shelly Karlin in Albuquerque in New Mexico. "If EU opposition to US unilateral military action is strong, will the UK still side with the US if the time for action comes?"


    Tony Blair:

    Well the very reason we've gone through the UN is to go the multilateral route but that route has got to work and that's my other point. I mean I said right at the very beginning I want this dealt with by the United Nations but the United Nations has got to be the way of dealing with it not the way of avoiding dealing with it. And so if you like the agreement that the international community has come to is to say right we're not going to have unilateral action here, we'll go through the UN, the UN puts the weapons inspectors back in but if there is a breach by Saddam then the world recognises action will have to follow.

    And, as I say, I think President Bush is to be commended for doing that, it took some political courage to do that and I think it was the right decision. So I think it's possible to get people into the same place but it's only possible if people recognise that multilateralism is not a way of just leaving the issue to fester but is a way of actually dealing with it.


    Robin Lustig:

    There are a huge number of issues obviously that you deal with as a Prime Minister, a huge number of issues which our listeners and viewers are interested in right around the world. This e-mail from Angela here in London asks: "I appreciate it is important to strike a balance between the two but which is more important - the present geopolitical or the domestic situation?" - To you as a prime minister.


    Tony Blair:

    Well in the end - look I never forget that the reasons why I get elected or don't get elected here are to do with the issues of immediate concern to the British people - economy and jobs and industry and schools and hospitals and crime and so on. But I think having said that I think we're living in a situation where the foreign and domestic policy have never been more intertwined. I mean after the 11th September all economies in the world suffered. If international terrorism is not defeated all the world economies will face the backlash from that.

    International terrorism is an issue that we know we can't insulate ourselves from it no matter what part of the world we're in. If the Middle East peace process were to prosper that would have a benefit right round that region and right round the rest of the world. So I think curiously I think we're in a situation where of course - I mean I never forget I stand for election in Britain I don't stand for election anywhere else and those bread and butter issues are the key issues. But I actually think we're at a moment in time when there has never been a closer connection between what happens in the outside world and what happens in our own country and you can feel the effects, as I say, of those things economically almost immediately.


    Robin Lustig:

    Anna Oei in Singapore sent us an e-mail with a personal question for you. "What is your most memorable moment as Prime Minister?"


    Tony Blair:

    I think for me the one moment I think would have been the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in the Northern Ireland peace process. I mean there are many things that I've done that I hope will have a lasting and I hope beneficial impact, but I think if I were to single out one specific event it would probably be that because, like many British people, I have Irish blood in me, as well as British blood in me and if we can bring a lasting peace there I think it's not just important for Britain, for Northern Ireland, for the whole of the island of Ireland but also for the rest of the world. And as one - if I have to just single out event as an event it would probably be that.


    Robin Lustig:

    I want to ask you one question about the BBC because as you know we're celebrating the BBC World Service's 70th birthday. How do you see the BBC's World Service role in coming years?


    Tony Blair:

    Well one of the reasons I wanted to participate in the 70th celebrations is because I think the role's absolutely crucial. I mean how many languages? Forty three languages, millions of listeners - it's a very, very, very important service and it reaches people in different parts of the world, it sometimes reaches people who otherwise don't get the chance to hear people directly. And actually it's fascinating with the questions that have been put to me this evening - these are the type of questions that people would ask anywhere and at least - I mean lots of people may have listened to me and not agreed with me but at least they can understand why I'm saying what I'm saying.


    Robin Lustig:

    We've only had time for a fraction obviously of the number of people who would have liked to have talked to you but that is all we have time for today. So my thanks, of course, to the British Prime Minister - to Tony Blair. My thanks to everybody who's taken part in this programme. A reminder that you can go to our website at bbcnews.com/talkingpoint where you can either listen to or see this programme at any time.


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