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Last Updated: Friday, 25 April, 2003, 13:56 GMT 14:56 UK
Talking Point Special: Jack Straw
UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw answered your questions in a special edition of our phone-in programme Talking Point.

  • Click here to read the transcript

    Mr Straw has played a key role in the Iraq crisis, and recently stressed the importance of the UN in post-war Iraq.

    Since becoming Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary in June 2001 he has also been involved in EU expansion talks, the political and humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe and the Middle East peace process.

    The programme was broadcast on World Service radio and BBC World TV on Sunday, 27 April at 1400GMT/1500BST.


    The topics discussed in this forum were:

  • Weapons of Mass Destruction
  • The New Iraq
  • Middle East region
  • New World Order
  • Relations with America
  • Relations with Europe
  • Zimbabwe

    Transcript


    Bridget Kendall:

    Hello and welcome to Talking Point. I'm Bridget Kendall and I'm joined today by the British Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, here in the Ambassador's Waiting Room in the British Foreign Office.

    With the war in Iraq over the world's attention is turning to rebuilding the country and the wider consequences for the Middle East and the rest of the world.

    Weapons of Mass Destruction

    We've had thousands of your e-mails and questions already. Welcome Foreign Secretary to this programme which is online, on radio and on television. And let's waste no time, let's go straight to our first caller who is Atef Eidaroos in Egypt. Atef what would you like to say to the Foreign Secretary?


    Atef Eidaroos:
    I would like to ask Mr Jack Straw about the result of invasion by the United States of America and Britain to Iraq - they were looking for weapons of mass destruction but they didn't find anything. And I know that this invasion killed thousands of people, made people homeless, destroyed the infrastructure of Iraq.
    And my second question to Mr Jack Straw is they know that Israel is full of weapons of mass destruction, why doesn't the United States of America and the British invade Israel for their weapons of mass destruction?


    Bridget Kendall:

    Atef, thank you there. Let's take that first question about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Actually among the thousands of e-mails we've had, this is the question that's come up again and again.

    The military action in Iraq seemed to be because of the weapons of mass destruction - we haven't found any yet.


    Jack Straw:

    Well let's be clear about this - military action was because of Iraq's failure fully to comply with the United Nations obligations going back over 12 years. And there isn't an issue about whether Iraq has had weapons of mass destruction - everybody knows that's the case.

    Asif, if I may call you that, there are thousands and thousands of victims of Saddam Hussein's chemical weapons who lie buried around Iraq and Iran. There are some people who are still dying from the gas attacks, as the President of Iran told me the last time I was in Tehran. And as far as the biological weapons programmes are concerned, we know that they existed from the information given by Saddam Hussein's son-in-law back in 1995.

    So these programmes have existed and Saddam Hussein wilfully refused to comply with the weapons inspectors. Now that tells its own story. And the military action was justified the day that we took it. What people are now trying to say is well it won't be justified unless we find the 10,000 litres of anthrax which not us but Dr Blix said was unaccounted for by the Iraqi regime at the time when we took the military action. Now we very much hope we do find a full account of this anthrax and all the other things. But whether we do depends not just on our detective capabilities but depends on the degree to which the Iraqi regime concealed these weapons and that remains to be seen.


    Bridget Kendall:

    I'd just like to read you a couple of the e-mails we've had on this to give you an idea of the scope of the questions that we've had on this. This one is from our Arabic online service, another Atef, Saudi Arabia: You said that you were going to Iraq to destroy weapons of mass of destruction, which you were sure that they were in Iraq. Now you have occupied Iraq, where are these weapons?

    Ondrej Plihal, Prague, the Czech Republic: One of the reasons for the US/UK attack on Iraq was the alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction, yet no such weapons have been found. If they haven't been found, how does that affect British policy towards the United Nations?


    Jack Straw:

    Well it doesn't directly affect it because we knew these weapons existed, I mean this was not something that was manufactured. I know there are people, not least in the Arab world but also around Europe, who think that the military action was unjustified and who have actually been convinced by Saddam Hussein that these weapons did not exist. But Saddam Hussein was saying that at the same time that he was using chemical weapons. He went on denying that there was a biological weapons programme for year after year after year. And let me say very skilled inspectors from the previous inspection regime - UNSCOM - were able to find those biological weapons. It's only as the result of a defection by Saddam Hussein's son-in-law that led us to that discovery.

    But again if people want to know what was there and what was unaccounted for, let them look in the 173 pages of the UNMOVIC - that's the United Nations weapons inspectors' report - and let them also work out why it was that Saddam Hussein was so unwilling to comply with the inspectors. Now does that not tell its own story because if he had nothing to hide, he also had nothing to fear from the inspectors. He refused to have inspectors in at all from 1999 right through until we threatened military action and then only reluctantly. Now so they had them, what we can't be certain about is what Saddam did with them and that's what we hope to find out.


    Bridget Kendall:

    We've got a caller on the line from Brasilia, Brazil. Her name is Celia Mota, and she wants to pick on this. Celia, what's your question to the Foreign Secretary?


    Celia Mota:

    My question is about weapons of mass destruction. I would like to know is - these weapons have not been found at all. How is the credibility of the Labour Government after this? What is the actual point of view of the Government about this immoral war? And how to save the face of the government.


    Bridget Kendall:

    Thank you Celia. That's a question about the credibility of the British Government about the weapons of mass destruction. I'd just like to add in here another e-mail we've had which is more specifically about Dr Hans Blix, who leads the UN weapons inspectors.

    Tony Agassori in the USA: Why can't you allow Hans Blix and the inspectors back into Iraq to continue their work to preserve the credibility of the discovery of possible weapons of mass destructions?


    Jack Straw:

    Let's deal with both those questions. First of all the lady from Brazil who's saying that our credibility will be damaged if we don't find such weapons. If I can turn the question around, of course I accept that the public justification for the military action will be made easier if we're able to say, well here were the 10,000 litres of anthrax, here they are physically, here are the VX nerve agents and so on.

    I don't however think it will be like that because of the months of warning that the Saddam regime had and their undoubted skill at hiding this material. And I'll just give one example. We had been fighting a terrorist war in Northern Ireland and the Northern Ireland terrorists, the provisional IRA, did not use small-scale weapons like chemical and biological weapons, as we know, they used guns and explosives. They hid those guns and explosives in dumps, despite having thousands of security forces in Northern Ireland a lot of intelligence even now we still do not know where those dumps are. So trying to find this material will be difficult but we're put a lot of people on to finding it.

    Now the second question which you've just raised from the e-mail was about whether Dr Blix and the UNMOVIC team should go back. Dr Blix actually told the Security Council earlier this week, when he was discussing the future of UNMOVIC, that the time was not right for UNMOVIC to go back because he accepted that there was a military situation where it would not be possible for the inspectors directly to work.


    Bridget Kendall:

    In principle do you think he should go back?


    Jack Straw:

    We haven't finally come to that point. I mean obviously again I understand the importance of external verification if possible by UNMOVIC. But there's a reality here as well Bridget which is this - given the fact that it will be American and British military who will be first on to any site it will always be possible for those who opposed this military action from the beginning to say oh well they were planted.

    Now they won't be planted, we've gone to immense care to ensure the veracity of the finds and why the devil would we plant any of this because this military action was justified on the day that we took it. We didn't justify the military action by saying - well the justification is conditional, it's only going to be justified if we find the 10,000 litres of anthrax, something like that. We said it is entirely justified within the terms of the 1441 and all the other resolutions against which the Saddam regime refused to cooperate going back 12 years. But I hope that we do find the material.

    The New Iraq


    Bridget Kendall:

    Let's go onto another subject now and this is the transition period inside Iraq. Let me read you an e-mail we've had from Reem, Baghdad, Iraq Are you going to leave alone some Iraqis who used to work with Saddam but are not listed among the 55 wanted names? Please don't, some of them are criminals and thieves.

    This is a dilemma isn't it? On the one hand there's a pack of cards of 55 wanted but what about other Iraqis who collaborated with the regime?


    Jack Straw:

    It is always a dilemma when a hated regime is removed from power. It's a dilemma in Afghanistan, it was a dilemma straight after the war where the only way in which the American, British, French and Russian occupation troops within Germany could operate at all was by working with some of the people who undoubtedly had directly accepted orders from the Nazis.

    But what you have to do in the circumstance like this is you have to on the one hand identify the key war criminals and remove them if you can, arrest and detain them. Secondly however, you've got to get the country going. And so what we and the Americans have accepted is that aside from the top layer of people who made the horrible decisions which led to that tyranny, aside from those, if you take the people who were implementing the decisions, if they're willing to work with the coalition in the short term and with a representative Iraqi government in the medium and longer term then let them work with those administrations. If meanwhile it emerges in respect of this second and third tier, there emerges evidence against them then that evidence will be followed up but I think that's the only practical way we can proceed.


    Bridget Kendall:

    We've got on the line a caller from Sweden, Mwaniki Gachuba, who is in Malmö, Sweden. What would you like to say?


    Mwaniki Gachuba:

    I have two questions for the Minister. The first question is when the coalition soldiers entered Baghdad they only secured the oil ministry, they never secured the hospitals or the private property of the people of Iraq. The question is - what's so special about oil ministry?


    Bridget Kendall:

    Let's give Mr Straw a chance to answer that question - the oil ministry - there's been a lot of discussion about this - why secure the oil ministry, what about those hospitals?


    Jack Straw:

    Well there wasn't anything particularly special about the oil ministry. I mean frankly we should have secured the hospitals better but difficult military decisions had to be taken by the American commanders on the spot. When they tried to secure one hospital and their troops got out of their tanks in order to do that physical security, one of the soldiers was shot dead when he thought he was trying to help the situation. So that created a very nervous security situation and plainly under such circumstances the military will get back into their tanks or armoured personnel carriers until they deem it safe.

    But, in retrospect, if there'd been more troops available - I mean we didn't expect Baghdad to fall so quickly, more time to plan, yes more effort would have been put in to securing the hospitals, we accept that. But I'd also have to say, although it's been a very difficult time in the two weeks since Baghdad fell, that we will see over the next weeks a new Baghdad arising and the quality of life over the next months for people in Baghdad gradually getting up to the point and then becoming very much better than ever it was under the Saddam regime.


    Bridget Kendall:

    Mwaniki, you were saying you had a second point.


    Mwaniki Gachuba:

    My second question is - from what we have seen for the last two weeks it seems the Shia Muslims they are very organised politically and if there's a democratic election in Iraq in the next two or three years they are going to win these elections because they are the majority in Iraq. So if they persist to create an Islamic state which is opposed to America, the UK and Israel what would be your response to that?


    Bridget Kendall:

    Thank you Mwaniki, on that point. We've had quite a few e-mails about this. This is one from Dr Ahmet Al-Tulah, Damascus, Syria: Considering the possibility of a Shia led Islamic regime forming the basis of a new leadership in Iraq, would you consider re-invasion to get a better result for your coalition?

    Another one from Al, Glasgow, Scotland: Having ended a brutal dictatorship, how concerned are you that the Iraqi people will elect a fundamentalist religious government?


    Jack Straw:

    Well if you have democratic systems, which I want to see in Iraq, you have to accept the result of the ballot box and it's a matter for the Iraqi people what kind of government they decide to elect and it may end up, it could end up, with candidates with the fundamentalist label, well let us see.

    The Shias, let me make this clear, yes they are reasonably well organised, they've been oppressed terribly for decades. Now there seems to be a kind of implication in some of the points that are now being made against the "Shia majority" that really it was okay to have Saddam there with his tyranny and his killings and his torture and his gassings because this was a way of keeping down the Shias.

    Now next door in Iran you have a country where the overwhelming majority of people are Shia. This is a country which is an emerging democracy, it's been through a fairly turbulent time and everybody remembers the downfall of the Shah. Although if I'm asked, as it were, as an amateur historian rather than a professional politician where the responsibility lay for what happened in the late 1970s, I would by no means place it all at the hands of the religious elements in the Shias. I think that the West and the way the Shah operated were much more culpable so far as Iran is concerned.

    Well now you have the beginnings - or more than the beginnings - the emergence of a democracy in Iran. Yes of course it's one that shows respect for Islam and for, as it were, the Sunni denomination of Islam, just as democracies in Europe are very powerfully influenced by our religion, by Christianity, and by the particular denomination. You can't understand Italy or Spain without understanding the power of the Catholic church. You cannot understand the United Kingdom without understanding the schism from the Catholic church which took place in the 16th Century and the domination of the Church of England.


    Bridget Kendall:

    But if a majority of Iraqis - a majority being Shiite - wanted an Islamic state what would you think about that, what would you do about it?


    Jack Straw:

    Well I wouldn't do anything about it personally - this is their choice. And there are other countries around the Islamic world which call themselves Islamic states - there's one next door which is called Iran, there are many others - and my question here is what's so frightening about a state which is "Islamic"?

    In this country we have a state church. When I was the interior minister I used to swear in bishops before the Queen to make sure the bishops were going to be loyal to the Queen. So we really a country with, as it were, a state religion, it doesn't mean we're not a democracy. And one of the things we have to encourage across the world is intersection between people's religions and people's concepts of democracy.


    Bridget Kendall:

    Let's go to another caller now, this time Turkey, Istabul and another Iraqi, Rashid Kittani. Rashid, what's your question?


    Rashid Kittani:

    Good morning. The Iraqi people are being made to believe that the coalition forces are going to leave soon. This is encouraging news for extremists. On the other hand these extremists are well organised and can make a quick return. On the other side you have millions of democratic-minded Iraqi people who are afraid to come out and express their views since they don't feel that it's safe enough to do so. What will the coalition do about it?


    Bridget Kendall:

    Rashid, just let's just specify here, who do you mean by extremists?


    Rashid Kittani:

    Well extremists - I could just give an example - ten days ago Mr al-Khoei, a moderate person, was assassinated.


    Jack Straw:

    Well it was absolutely tragic and appalling that Mr al-Khoei, who was a leader of the Shias and who I knew, he used to come to our Eid celebrations here, just across the road, in the House of Commons. It was terrible tragedy that he should have been killed by extremists.

    So far as the time that the coalition forces will remain in Iraq, which is the centrepiece of this question is concerned, they'll be there as long as it takes to ensure a stabilisation of the security situation and as long it is necessary to a point where we can, as it were, pass responsibility for internal security to internal security forces. But I hope that won't be long. And I'd also say that bear in mind that it's only a couple of weeks since Baghdad fell, I mean it feels like many months because so much has happened in the intervening period but it is only a relatively short period.


    Bridget Kendall:

    Rashid would you like to come back on that? Would you like to see the coalition forces doing something else?


    Rashid Kittani:

    Well I would say that they should stay as the Foreign Secretary says, just as long as it takes to establish a democratic system in Iraq. But more importantly the coalition forces should declare this openly on a daily basis to the Iraqi people, so that democratic-minded people should not be afraid of expressing their ideas and coming out in the open.


    Jack Straw:

    But can I say Rashid that there is a balance here because of course we mustn't walk away if we think the situation is going to deteriorate into any kind of anarchy or serious disorder, we've got very important political, moral and I might say legal responsibilities to ensure that that doesn't happen.

    At the same time we do have to encourage and advance the process by which the Iraqis become responsible for their own security. And if we go too slowly then people around the region particularly will say, ah well we always told you this is an army of occupation, not really interested in leaving things to the Iraqis themselves. So that's why there is a careful balance to be achieved here.


    Bridget Kendall:

    I just want to bring in an e-mail we've had from Indonesia, from Jakarta. It is from Indra Soebagjo, who is also raising this question of Islamic fundamentalism. She asks: The US led coalition is unable to match the cruel and harsh methods used by Saddam to curb Islamic fundamentalism. So now the coalition forces could be faced with the reality that Islamic fundamentalists will rise up and take power in Iraq as they did in Iran.


    Jack Straw:

    Well I don't accept that and there was a reason why you had the removal of the Shah at the end of the 1970s and as I've already explained that's hardly a story which is all one way. What you have now in Iran is an emerging democracy, you have free elections, President Khatami was elected and so were his government and there is rumbustious politics taking place.

    But I also, if I may, use the example of Indonesia because people tend to think of Islamic states as being confined to the Arab world, this is by no means the case. And you've got in Indonesia the single largest Muslim country in the world, it was a dictatorship, it's emerged from that, it is now a democracy - I visited it earlier in the year.

    And what is really interesting about Indonesia, here to a degree along with Turkey, kind of leads the Islamic world - is you can have a really serious political and theological debate within Islam about how you meld democracy and modern concepts of Islam to reinforce the creation of a democratic state but one which also has respect to the mainstream religion. And I would hope that mainstream democrats and Muslims in Iraq are willing to talk to, for example, those in Indonesia, those in Malaysia, those in Turkey - to take three democratic Muslim states - about institutional and theological models which they could apply in their own country which would help them better to develop.


    Bridget Kendall:

    But would you accept Mr Straw that what you're doing is a bit of a gamble? You can nudge the new Iraq towards the sort of country you'd like but you can't actually be sure that it'll turn out like that.


    Jack Straw:

    Well I wouldn't call it a gamble but if you're saying that democracy is uncertain, yes, it's one of the reasons why I support democracy. And the alternative to going down the uncertain democratic route in which you put confidence and faith in the Iraqi people to make up their own minds about their future is to have to go back to justify the tyranny of Saddam. Now that was how people did justify it - all sorts of people. I've had people round Europe saying to me, oh well I know Saddam's not very nice man, he kills people from time to time, but just bear in mind that Iraq would be very unstable without Saddam. Now I don't accept that those are the only alternatives and I also believe that in the long run democracy produces the most stable, not the least stable, of governments.

    Middle East region


    Bridget Kendall:

    Well this is a good point to go to our next caller who's in the United States, who I think is also interested in the issue of stability, not just in Iraq but the region as a whole. It's Kevin Eggers in New York, Kevin you're on the line what would you like to say to Mr Straw?


    Kevin Eggers:

    :It seems to me to be very simplistic what's being stated about the Middle East and how complex the issues are. I can only say from being in the United States, particularly if you take the Canadians and the Mexican governments which with the French, with the Germans and with the Chinese, are deeply concerned that this will be a Pandora's Box.

    In fact that you have opened Pandora's Box - this is not Indonesia, this is the Middle East and the probability of a fundamentalist Islamic being elected in Iraq is very high. The United States considers Iran in the axis of evil, how are you going to contain not only the fundamentalist movement but how are you going to contain your partner, the United States, who is already threatening Iran, has already threatened Syria in the region?


    Bridget Kendall:

    Thank you Kevin.


    Jack Straw:

    Well President Bush has made it clear that he's not threatening Syria or Iran, they happen to have a different view, particularly about diplomatic relations with Iran and latterly the United Kingdom and that's their decision, it's a matter for separate debate.

    But I make this point about Pandora's Box. The Saddam regime was not going to last forever, it was very much dependent on one man, it may have lasted for another 10 or 15 years of tyranny but he would have gone in the end, too late in my view, and it would have been very bloody when it went because there would have been a vacuum left by him.

    Does our caller think that that would have been a more benign environment against fundamentalism and extremism than the current one? I don't believe that is so. Iraq is actually a pretty advanced society, it's also one which is really rather wealthy and has a pretty big middle class. So I'm more optimistic about it not going down the path of extremism, as he describes it, than maybe others. And I believe that we can create a better and more benign environment.

    The other point I'd make here however, is that I've long believed that whilst there is no excuse for fundamentalist terrorism which is justified quite improperly by reference to Islam, of course the thing that tends to feed rhetoric, which is used by these nasty people, is what they see as injustice so far as the Palestinians are concerned. And I think that if we make progress on the so-called road map, we are able to get to a situation of justice for the Palestinians and enhanced security for the Israelis, then we would have removed one of the main breeding grounds for terrorism but not its justification.


    Bridget Kendall:

    Before we come onto that issue, on the question of the wider Middle East, you were talking about a benign environment. We've had this e-mail from our Arabic news online service from Islam Abdullah Zahid in Saudi Arabia saying: Following the liberation of Iraq, do you think that the Middle East is likely to witness a real change in fields of democracy and civic rights? Can we dare to hope that we will move to the era of the civic society?

    And another one, this is from Mike in Toronto, Canada on the same subject. He asks: What do you think should be done to promote human rights in places like Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Libya where there is documented evidence of atrocities to ordinary citizens?


    Jack Straw:

    Well I hope it produces this kind of benign and virtuous circle and I can't believe that it could conceivably be worse - it cannot be worse because Iraq was the worst so far as human rights and lack of a proper democracy and also sponsorship of terrorism which in turn created a very nervous situation in Israel and turned the screw against the Palestinians.

    So getting rid of the Saddam regime, encouraging the emergence of democracy could be an exemplar for the rest of the region. What do we do about it? There's an agenda already there which was that laid out by a number of Arab writers for a major and very important report published at the end of last year by the United Nations Development Programme, about a future for the Arab world because it has been held back intellectually, scientifically in terms of rights for women and in terms of democracy.

    But when I go round the region I talk particularly to the leaders of Egypt and of Saudi Arabia, they are interested in reform, they know they have quite a long way to go, these two countries are different in any case - Egypt and Saudi Arabia - but in their separate ways both recognise the need to make progress, to be more representative and over time more democratic systems.


    Bridget Kendall:

    You've just been in Saudi Arabia, did you get any new commitments, any new acknowledgements from the leadership there that they are planning changes?


    Jack Straw:

    Yes and one of the things we're discussing with them is whether we, ourselves in the United Kingdom, jointly sponsor a conference here in London about the reform programme in Saudi Arabia. So yes there is an understanding of the need for change and improvement and part of the pressure for that is actually not coming from external forces but from demography - from the emergence of a more articulate middle class. And from the fact, as is illustrated by this programme, that we live in a global village so far as the media is concerned and it's very, very difficult for rulers, even if they wanted to, these days, to stop their people finding out about life on the other side of their borders.


    Bridget Kendall:

    Now you mentioned earlier the whole question of the Palestinians, very much in the news this week with the possibility of the road map being published. Quite a lot of people who've been in touch with us are troubled by what they see as a concept of double standards and we've had this e-mail from Hany Ragy in Cairo, Egypt. He says: Mr Straw, why did your government attack Iraq for disobeying UN resolutions, yet did not apply the same standards against Israel which has disregarded more than 60 UN resolutions?


    Jack Straw:

    Well let me deal with this and there's also an associated question too, which I'd like to answer, which is, Israel's got weapons of mass destruction, it's got a nuclear programme, why aren't we dealing with that? It is hard for people who are partisan on the issue of Israel and Palestine. Yes it is true that Israel has not implemented a series of United Nations resolutions and in some respects is breaking international law, as it is with the settlements which go over into occupied territories and are illegal.

    But it is also the case that there are two other sets of parties who have obligations on them under United Nations law in respect of the Middle East, in respect of Israel and Palestine, which they have not, up until now, followed either. One on the Palestinians, not to go in for terrorism - a very clear unambiguous requirement and not to call the terrorists freedom fighters, not to go for terrorism and to stop that.

    And the second on the Arab states to recognise the state of Israel, which a few have done but many have not done. And some Arab states still say that Israel should not exist. Now that's against international law and that leads to the second issue - yes, we do want every country in the world to sign up to the non-proliferation treaties about nuclear weapons, to observe the conventions.

    But - and I don't justify programmes but I do try and explain them - if Israel is the only state in the world who's very existence very existence is denied by a number of its neighbours - it doesn't apply to this country, it doesn't apply to any country in Europe and no other country in Asia. But here you have a number of countries around Israel who say Israel should not exist. Now it's not surprising in those circumstances that Israelis will say, well hang on a second, if other countries are saying we shouldn't exist, we should be annihilated, then we'll have to take extreme measures.

    What I look forward to as a result of the process of negotiations under the road map, the peace process, is a situation where, yes Israel does fully undertake and apply its obligations under United Nations law, as your correspondent asks - so do the Palestinians, ending terrorism, cooperating with Israel, so do the Arab states and then we can have a peaceful environment there and also over time see an end to the holdings of WMD by Israel. But also I have to say, by a number of other Arab states as well.


    Bridget Kendall:

    But how do you get Israel to cooperate? We've had another suicide bombing this week. We've had this e-mail from George Frankl, who is in Ottowa in Canada, who says: How will the creation of a new Palestinian state - how will it impact Israeli safety and security if the true goal of this state is the destruction and annihilation of Israel? Such a state wouldn't be economically viable and wouldn't it provide a military base from which to terrorise Israel? How do you overcome those fears?


    Jack Straw:

    If the assumptions of the questioner were correct, that Palestine wanted to annihilate Israel and it was a base for terrorism, then the conclusion would also be correct, but I don't believe that is the case so far the overwhelming majority of Palestinians are concerned nor so far as the two-state solution of a secure state of Israel and a viable state of Palestine is concerned. All the people I know inside the Palestinian authority recognise and accept and acknowledge that they have to live in peace with Israelis. Don't forget a million of the six million Israelis are actually Arabs. But they're all, they're brothers and sisters whatever their religion. It's the only future for the Palestinians

    And they also understand, they've got to end terrorism. Indeed the good thing to have come from the arguments this week between Abu Mazen, the putative Palestinian Prime Minister, and Chairman Arafat, the Chairman of the Palestinian Authority, is that the argument is apparently, indeed was, about the personality of the new interior minister. But behind that was an issue about whether the new Palestinian cabinet really clamped down on terrorism and I believe that Abu Mazen, is correct in seeking that as an imperative for his new cabinet.

    New World Order


    Bridget Kendall:

    We've been talking so far about Iraq and the Middle East. Let's take this in a slightly wider context going to our next caller who is Dan Grotefend, in Atlanta, Georgia, USA:

    Dan, what would you like to say to the Foreign Secretary?


    Dan Grotefend:

    Good morning. Given that both the UN and Nato are largely creations of the post WWII cold war era. Have we not reached a time when these organisations need to be either replaced or reinvented? Hypothetically speaking, Foreign Secretary, assuming that there was sufficient worldwide consensus to make this effort, how could you create such an organisation in your view, so that both the third world and the more powerful wealthier nations would feel fairly represented?


    Jack Straw:

    I don't think you should replace them. I think that you can only really create organisations like the United Nations and Nato from the devastation and the despair of the Second World War. It's only possible to get at that degree of consensus in the closing stages of the Second World War and then after it had finished.

    However, what you have to do is to ensure that institutions, including international institutions, adapt to changing circumstances. That's what we've had to do with Nato and the original raison d'etre for Nato was to face down the Warsaw Pact, the Soviet Bloc. That obviously went when the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Bloc itself collapsed at the end of the 1980s.

    But now Nato has a different, if more diverse role, and I think it's important not least in binding in the United States and Europe in a common defence alliance which can then be used for example for UN operations where appropriate. Because one of the problems the United Nations has had is that although it is a very fine institution, a lot of its more assertive military operations have been as successful as they should have been.


    Bridget Kendall:

    But do you think that these institutions will survive these extraordinary times that we're living through?


    Jack Straw:

    I hope so. You can never make ultimate predictions about the survival of institutions. Institutions survive as long as they're needed.

    Now my very profound belief is that the United Nations is needed - in a sense is needed even more in a uni-polar world than it was in a bi-polar world. And when there was the Cold War on, the interesting thing about the United Nations was how often it was bypassed. Because everybody knew there was going to be no agreement. So great issues, like the Vietnam War or the invasion of Hungary, scarcely ever went near the United Nations because you were only going to get a blockage.

    Now that's changed. We had a good period of cooperation in the United Nations in the 1990s. It's been trickier over Iraq but I hope and believe that because there is a common interest, particularly amongst the permanent five members of the United Nations. If you actually look at their security, economic and political concerns, they are all pretty similar. That given that common interest we can actually strengthen the UN and the way it handles emerging challenges.

    Relations with America


    Bridget Kendall:

    You talked about a uni-polar world. We've had this e-mail from Peter Nelson, in Boston, USA who says: The United States is reviled around the world. Do you feel Britain's close relationship and cooperation with the US damages British interests or credibility?


    Jack Straw:

    No I don't. I also dispute the idea the United States is "reviled around the world". I think people are very ambiguous about the US because it is so dominant and so powerful. And on the one hand, people see it as a country they want to go to. And it's very interesting going around the world to the so-called third world, you'll hear a leader making a speech ripping in to the United States and suggesting that the United States is the source of all evil and the home of the devil. When you have a private conversation with them later, it turns out that they are sending their own children to be educated in the United States and they don't see that there's a contradiction here. Well frankly I do.

    I think what this shows us is this ambiguity, because the US is so overwhelmingly powerful - a quarter of the world's wealth and income, bigger military forces than the next 27 countries put together including countries like the United Kingdom who has very powerful defence forces. People are going to be overwhelmed by it, feeling in its shadow.

    At the same time, many of the things to which we literally owe our lives, like scientific advances, the Internet, huge advances in medical procedures and in drug therapy, come from the United States. So what I hope we can see is a more mature relationship and attitude towards the US reciprocated by the way the US responds to international institutions and to individual countries.


    Bridget Kendall:

    But this British Government has argued consistently that we have a lot to gain by working closely with the United States. But would you, as Peter Nelson suggests, agree that we also have something to lose in working so closely with them?


    Jack Straw:

    There's always upsides and downsides to things and I dare say we'd be cheered in one or two places more if we weren't working so closely with the United States. But we made our choice and overall by a long margin, we happen to think that it is worthwhile working closely with the United States. It's for historians to judge.

    You can take two rather tangible things: one is the faith which President Bush has shown in the United Nations in respect of Iraq - and people need to remember the very important speech President Bush made last September 12th in which he invested the United Nations with great faith over the Iraq issue and we then had the process leading to 1441. That may not have happened had it not been for the kind of influence and arguments which our Prime Minister, Tony Blair, has advanced.

    A similar point can be made in respect of the road map, where it is our Prime Minister who's made the case for yes, dealing with Iraq but also dealing with Israel and Palestine as well.

    Now maybe these choices would have been made in any event, but I happen to think from as it were the ringside seat that I have and sometimes in the ring, that we are able I think to make our contribution to the views of the United States as they can to us as well in return. It's a reciprocal arrangement.

    Relations with Europe


    Bridget Kendall:

    Let's go to our next caller. Who is Pascal Jacquemain in Welwyn Garden City, UK. Pascel, I believe you're French?


    Pascal Jacquemain:

    That's right yes. Good morning. You and colleagues are blamed for triggering the war against Iraq. There's been an outpouring of anti-pouring of anti-French propaganda on both sides of the Atlantic and also pretty much from your own Front Bench. This led me to resign from the British Labour Party and join the Liberal Democrats.

    We are now told the US are seeking to isolate France on the international scene to punish it because it is blamed not only for disobeying Uncle Sam but led the revolt as well. Basically who's side are you on? Are you going to simply do whatever the US say? Or are you going to fight also for the EU and France in particular?


    Jack Straw:

    As political scientists say, it's a false choice. I'm on the side of the United Kingdom and I happen to think that our interests are best served by having the strong alliances with the United States and also being a strong and important member of the European Union. And I haven't blamed France for the military action.

    I did however criticise France for, what I thought was a lack of a constructive approach to the implementation of Resolution 1441. And I do believe that if we'd been able to come together in the discussions in the Security Council in January and February of this year and had a really tough ultimatum to Saddam Hussein about full and active and immediate compliance with the weapons inspectors, or else military action would immediately follow and we got France and Russia on board for that, then I think the war may well have been avoided.


    Pascal Jacquemain:

    It's not a question of an ultimatum that could be complied with by Iraq. My belief is that the armies - the British and American - were ready at the time and were just waiting for the green light to start the action.


    Jack Straw:

    I don't accept that. By the way, I'm sorry that you have left the Labour Party and I hope very much that you come back in. Because we do happen to believe that the action we have taken is justified and fully in accordance with our policy. And you may want to follow through where the Liberal Democrats have got to on this which is a tad ambiguous.

    But the position is as I have explained it. My criticism of my colleagues in France and elsewhere in Europe - and Europe was split on this about 50 - 50 is they willed the end, which is the disarmament of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction and his compliance with the United Nations, Chapter 7 resolutions - they failed to will the means. And a consequence of that is that you then lead the United Nations down the same terrible road that the League of Nations got led down by France and by the United Kingdom by joint failure of diplomacy in the 1930s.


    Bridget Kendall:

    We have an e-mail from Glenn, Clemency, Luxembourg. He says: As a member of the EU how does Britain feel about the US decision to punish fellow EU country France for having opposed the Iraq war? I personally find this outrageous and frankly quite frightening, says Glenn, because we seem to be entering an era where the US is wielding its power in a dictatorial fashion.


    Jack Straw:

    Well, we're not into punishment. You get a lot of comment going on in the United States as you do in France.


    Bridget Kendall:

    This is the US Secretary of State, it isn't just a commentator.


    Jack Straw:

    If you read some of the newspapers on the continent, they've been pretty vitriolically critical - unnecessarily critical of the United States. On the other hand, what has to be appreciated is that decisions have consequences and some of the approaches that were taken by some of our continental colleagues were simply inexplicable to most people in the United States and I assumed they factored that in when they made their decisions. But that's that the truth and that's why you've got this kind of reaction from the other side of the Atlantic.


    Bridget Kendall:

    Let's go to the other side of the Atlantic. To Sandra McNabb, who in Dallas, Texas, who wants to ask you exactly about this question. Sandra go ahead with your question.


    Sandra McNabb:

    Thank you. My question for Mr Straw is: What changes we might expect in the United States in Britain's relationships with France and Germany as a result of their decision to the war? And just how seriously have these relationships been affected?


    Jack Straw:

    I differentiate between Germany and France. I think in Germany there is a greater degree of instinctive affection for the United States particularly because of the huge role the United States played in saving Germany from the Nazis and in them rebuilding that country and natural associations between also different companies as well. So I'm pretty optimistic about the repairing of relations between the United States and Germany.

    So far as France is concerned, it is a much, much more complicated situation. I think both sides are committed to good relations. But there is overlaying this, this sense that one sometimes sees that some French politicians exhibit that they want to set France up as, if you like, a separate pole to create a bi-polar world from what is currently a uni-polar world.

    Now you can do that when it comes to culture and music and art and things like that - and quite right to because of France's huge contribution in those fields. You cannot do that in terms of military matters or diplomacy because the power is so uneven and what you will end up with is greater instability rather than less if you do try and set up two uneven poles. That's a discussion that we have to have and I do have on a continuous basis with my French colleagues. So I think it's very, very important that we each understand the consequences of our actions.

    Zimbabwe


    Bridget Kendall:

    Mr Straw, throughout this programme, we've talking about the Iraq crisis in various ways. For our last e-mail I just wanted to bring you another subject which has also been on the minds of some of our e-mailers and callers. This is Guy Smith, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, who says: Having made the "moral case" for the invasion of Iraq, should the British government not flex its moral muscles elsewhere? Zimbabwe for one is surely high on all our lists for desired regime change? Why, in this case, is the job being left to opposition groups?


    Jack Straw:

    Well it's not being left to opposition groups but it cannot follow that because in a very, very extreme circumstance military action was taken in respect of Iraq and Iraq was unique, the only country to have this huge number of what are called Chapter 7 mandatory UN resolutions against it. That because you take military action there, therefore you should take military action everywhere else. Of course you shouldn't.

    What we're trying to do with Zimbabwe is resolve that situation by a combination of diplomatic pressure, by sanctions aimed at the regime and not at the people, by aid and by negotiation - I hope we succeed.


    Bridget Kendall:

    So we're not seeing a new world order, Mr Straw, where the United States, Britain and other countries willing to join a coalition will be prepared to see regime change imposed on other countries?


    Jack Straw:

    Look from our point of view, the purpose of the actions, originally diplomatic and then military, which we took against Iraq, was not regime change. In the end that had to be what we were focused on because we decided to take military action. But where this all started - to go back a year to the debates - we were focused on the Iraqis' flagrant violation of the United Nation's resolutions and what it had failed to own up to so far as its weapons of mass destruction.

    Now will there be a change to the new world order? That's for historians to judge in 50 years' time. Does it mark a major shift in the world? Yes, it does. Might the Iraqi action mean that in future similar tyrants think twice before they continue to defy world institutions like the United Nations? I hope so.


    Bridget Kendall:

    Mr Straw thank you very much because that's all we've got time for today. My thanks to the Foreign Secretary for taking part and to all of you who sent us e-mails and question, apologies to those who we didn't manage to get to.

    Don't forget that you can still keep sending us your e-mails. To talkingpoint@bbc.co.uk and you can visit our website at www.bbcnews.com\talkingpoint where you can listen to and watch this programme. But for now from me Bridget Kendall, here in the British Foreign Office, goodbye.

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