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Last Updated: Thursday, 20 November, 2003, 10:20 GMT
Ask the experts: George Bush's UK visit


  • Transcript


    President George Bush has been formally welcomed to the UK by the Queen at a ceremony full of colour and tradition at Buckingham Palace.

    The president's visit comes amid unprecedented security due to anti-war protests and increased terror fears.

    A major security operation is underway and anti-war demonstrators are planning large demonstrations.

    Police chiefs say there will be 14,000 officers on duty for Mr Bush's three-day state visit and hundreds of US special agents are already in the UK.

    The Stop the War Coalition is planning a protest march over the war in Iraq on Thursday and estimates tens of thousands of people will take part.

    While the visit has prompted much criticism, Tony Blair insists it is the right time for Mr Bush to visit.

    What concerns do you have about Bush's state visit? Or is Mr Blair right? Do you think Bush will be shocked at the level of protest? Could the outrage damage the "special relationship"?

    You put your questions to Glenda Jackson MP and Therese Raphael from the Wall Street Journal at noon on Wednesday 19th November.


    Transcript

    Paul Reynolds:
    Hello and welcome to this BBC News interactive forum. I'm Paul Reynolds. President George Bush has been formally welcomed to the UK by the Queen at a ceremony full of colour and tradition at Buckingham Palace. The President's visit comes amid unprecedented security, due to anti-war protests and increased fears of a terror attack. Security risks appear to be keeping the President mostly indoors on this visit. And the British government is also playing down expectations of a diplomatic breakthrough, stressing that it's part of a continuing conversation on topics as varied as the soured relations between the US and Europe or the British and other foreign detainees at Guantanamo Bay. Joining me to answer your many questions are Glenda Jackson MP and Therese Raphael, editorial page director in London for the Wall Street Journal. Let's start with a question though, a technical one from Jane Jacobs which perhaps I could answer: Why is this called a state visit?

    It's called a state visit Jane because the government has declared it to be so. There have been many other America presidents who've been here but it's really only in recent years that the protocols have been developed for what's called a state visit - all the pomp and ceremony. Ronald Reagan came to stay with the Queen at Windsor Castle in 1982. President Kennedy came to see Prime Minister Macmillan. But this is the first technically state visit.

    Let's get on to the questions anyway. First to Glenda Jackson from Phil Caldwell in the UK: Miss Jackson, why do anti-US protestors and MPs like yourself think you speak as a majority voice in this country on this issue?

    Glenda Jackson: Well I'm not anti-US, I have always been anti-Republican administrations. It has been my experience that they have rarely, if ever, left the world a better place than they found it. I just believe that this particular state visit is a miracle of bad timing. I am bemused that my own government would seemingly be so willing to allow this state visit to go ahead given the situation in Iraq, which seems to me to be bad and deteriorating along with the rest of the Middle East. And I also find it somewhat insulting that my government should be so willing to afford the opportunity to an incumbent president to use our head of state as a kind of photo op in what I regard as this being the first step in his desire to be re-elected in his own country in 2004.

    Paul Reynolds:
    Therese Raphael a question from Grace Halfpenny here in the UK: Why is Bush here?

    Therese Raphael:
    Well I think Bush's visit, which as you know was planned for some time, is a celebration of a very long history of close relations and shared values between Britain and America. It was planned, I believe, just after September 11th and some might argue the timing is very poor, it's not a public relations persons dream, if you're on the Bush or Blair side, to have the two meet now. Nevertheless I think from a public point of view it's a wonderful opportunity, it's an opportunity for Bush to listen to the British people, it's an opportunity for the British people to hear what Bush has to say. And as an American living over here I've seen so many sort of caricatures of Bush himself and of his administration in the press that I welcome a chance for people to be able to get as close to him as the security arrangements can possibly allow and let the President speak directly to the people, which is after all a big part of what democracy is all about.

    Glenda Jackson:
    When is he going to speak directly to us? I mean we're seeing an enormous amount of money being spent, thousands of policemen being drafted in to ensure that the people to whom you refer are kept as far from the President as possible. I was delighted to discover that in fact the Metropolitan Police had listened to what the organisers of tomorrow's demonstration have said and they have afforded them a route which will actually take them down Whitehall but whether the President is going to be vaguely within earshot at that time I think is debatable.

    Paul Reynolds:
    Now Therese Raphael there's a question about this actually from Richard from the UK: Why does the US go to such lengths to protect the President at home and abroad?

    Therese Raphael:
    Well I think after September 11th one can hardly ask why do you protect your president and there are clearly people who are out to kill the President. It's not that he's being sheltered from dissent or from protest, as Glenda would have it, and this world of 24 hour media and the plurality of press out there he's hardly unaware of the protestors, which of course are a minority of the British people. He'll also be aware of, for example, the Guardian ICM poll yesterday that show that the majority of Britons actually welcome the American President. But security is unfortunately a fact of modern political life and anybody who saw the Swedish foreign minister get murdered in cold blood as she was shopping a few months ago understands that, you have to protect your political leaders. And a leader like President Bush, who is doing so much to try to row back terrorism in the world and in the Middle East is obviously going to be under threat.

    Glenda Jackson:
    Well obviously the President has to be protected and as our guest he has to be protected. I wasn't aware that the majority of British people welcomed his visit - 47% do, which means 53% don't. And also I would point out that there does obviously need to be a protection around such a head of state, not least because of course one president was actually assassinated by an American and there was an attempt upon another American president's life, again by an American.

    Paul Reynolds:
    Well Glenda Jackson a question from Joel in Trinidad and Tobago in the West Indies: Do you think all these protestors know anything about politics or are they joining the fashionable bandwagon of anti-Americanism? Please give me a real answer, not a politically correct one.

    Glenda Jackson:
    Well as I've already said this is not a demonstration which is essentially anti-American in its energies, it stems most centrally from a war which was deeply, deeply opposed by more than half of the people in this country. That opposition to the war diminished during that war's process because quite rightly there was a feeling within this country that when British troops were in real and present danger it would have been inappropriate. But what we are seeing post that war, supposedly being brought to a successful conclusion, is the reasons that our country was given by our government for going to war, weapons of mass destruction that could be launched in 45 minutes, was utterly and totally erroneous. The one factor which our intelligence services presented to the Prime Minister, which he chose to ignore, namely if we went to war we would increase the potential for international terror acts around the world. And there is particular opposition to this state visit at this time because the situation in Iraq, as I've had occasion to say, seems to be worsening by the day, as does the situation in the Middle East. One of the plums which were told would be delivered post the war in Iraq was the American commitment to the road map to bring peace between Israel and Palestine. It now seems that the road map has been put back into the glove compartment. And also when you say do people know about politics? What they do know is that it is a right for British citizens to peacefully demonstrate and they are most certainly exercising that right.

    Therese Raphael:
    Well it's very hard to know which of those fallacies and points of misinformation to respond to first. I mean the situation in Iraq, and perhaps the most largely ignored story of recent weeks, is just how well things are going - electricity output is now at pre-war levels, oil production is four-fifths of that what it was in Baghdad in Iraq before the fall of Baghdad, 240 hospitals open, 24 universities. The so-called insurgency is a leaderless group without a lot of grass root support from the Iraqi people, that is concentrated north of Sunni triangle and it's amazing to me how little reporting there is of the good news in Iraq. America's there to liberate the Iraqi people, which it has done, but also to ensure that Iraq is put on the path to prosperity and self-government, which it is doing. And I think the questioner actually raises a very important point - that very few of the protestors really understand both what is happening in Iraq now, why Bush and Blair chose to complete a war that started 12 years ago.

    Paul Reynolds:
    Let's not go down ┐

    Glenda Jackson:
    Can I just point out that if that was indeed the situation - I mean I think that response ┐

    Therese Raphael:
    Those are facts.

    Glenda Jackson:
    Those aren't facts, if they are indeed facts why has it become necessary for the American military to engage in the launching of missiles to take out what you call a very small group? Why has the American Commander-in-Chief said some weeks ago that they are now engaged in a classic guerrilla? [Talking over] ┐would not receive necessarily an approval, as far as Italy is concerned, nor as far as the International Red Cross is concerned and regrettably not as far as the UN is concerned.

    Paul Reynolds:
    Let's not keep on the Iraq tack forever. John in Australia for Therese: Do you think the people in America will be shocked by a massive protest in London against their President?

    Therese Raphael:
    I think the people in America are probably less aware of British public opinion toward Iraq, the war has been more popular - or at least more supported in America than it is in Britain. There is of course dissent in America too but in both countries the fact that the protestors are a minority I think the people in America might be a little bit disappointed. They look at Britain as a very close friend and ally, as a country who sent servicemen into Iraq to die not in vain but to liberate Iraqis. So it may come as a bit of surprise and a disappointment but I don't think it will shake Americans faith in the special relationship and in Britain's value to America and in the Bush/Blair relationship which has proved quite extraordinary.

    Paul Reynolds:
    Here's a different sort of question for you, Glenda Jackson, from Aaron Hendry in the United States: Why isn't Britain doing more to fight Muslim extremism among its own population?

    Glenda Jackson:
    Well I would like evidence for that allegation. And I would also be very happy to send the gentleman in question the most recent bills which have been passed by our House of Commons in increasing our war against terror. But I think to take the easy option that all Muslims are automatically international terrorists is to do absolutely nothing in winning the battle that we must all be engaged in.

    Paul Reynolds:
    Okay, here's a question directly come in live, while we're on air, for Therese Raphael: What is the US press assessment of Tony Blair's domestic political difficulties regarding Iraq and has his US popularity been impacted?

    Therese Raphael:
    I think his US popularity has grown immensely because of his policies in Iraq and despite maybe even somewhat because of his domestic political difficulties. I mean leaders who set out to achieve little very often achieve little. Leaders who set out to do big things and to change the status quo often encounter a lot of opposition. And I think what Americans recognise in Tony Blair and let's set aside questions of his domestic policy in public services and taxes and all of those things which Americans are not aware but focusing just on his foreign policy, what they recognise in Tony Blair is something we call a leader who is willing to buck the polls, as Winston Churchill advised doing in 1941, to do what he thinks is right. And that has earned him enormous respect in America and you've seen that on his recent visit to Washington where he got a standing ovation on both sides of Congress.

    Paul Reynolds:
    Well here's a similar question for you Glenda Jackson from Cheng-hai Chong in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: Can Tony Blair benefit from Bush's visit?

    Glenda Jackson:
    Not at the moment, no. His standing, as far as the people of this country are concerned has risen since a few weeks ago when the belief in our prime minister, as far as the British electorate was concerned had plummeted, I think it was only 34% of the people of this country who believed him, that seems to have risen to 40%. But I think even - and I'm only quoting what I read in the newspapers here - that Number 10 is regarding this state visit as essentially a PR disaster and they're just hunkering down and getting through it as best they may. I was recently in San Francisco and the question that was put to me there by everyone I met was - Why on earth was Blair siding with Bush? And I understand from speaking to an American journalist yesterday that this state visit is achieving a lot of coverage in America. He said that if opposition - if the visit, for example, had been taking place in either France or Germany, if there had been public opposition, then that would simply have been shrugged off as old Europe but that Americans are interested in why their closest ally, namely us, is protesting their president's visit. And certainly for some of my American friends who have opposed the war, continue to oppose the war, have demonstrated in their own cities against the war, what they're seeing they find very encouraging.

    Paul Reynolds:
    Therese Raphael a question from Samer Kurdi in Jurdan: Why is the United States not rushing to liberate another oppressed nation in the region - the Palestinians? That's picking up Glenda Jackson's point perhaps on the Middle East road map.

    Therese Raphael:
    Well I think there are different ways of liberating countries, you don't necessarily rush in militarily, that is, as President Bush and Prime Minister Blair said, the very, very last choice. The great hope is to liberate Palestinians from the oppressive rule of Yasser Arafat. We often hear that it's Israelis oppressing Palestinians ┐

    Paul Reynolds:
    He didn't mean from the oppressive rule of Yasser Arafat, the question ┐

    Therese Raphael:
    But it is precisely from the oppressive rule of Yasser Arafat that Palestinians need liberating. The Israelis are not oppressing Palestinians, the Israelis are fighting a war of self-defence. It's Palestinian law that makes sodomy punishable by death and which forces Palestinians of that persuasion to have to flee to Israel for protection. It is Arafat's own policies, according to the BBC documentary, in providing support for Palestinian terrorists, according to an IMF report, it was Arafat that used $500 million of Israeli tax money ┐

    Paul Reynolds:
    The question is about US policy.

    Therese Raphael:
    The US policy is geared toward providing a solution in the Middle East that will give the Palestinians statehood and Bush is the first president who has come out for a two state solution and that is very largely due to both his own belief that the Palestinians ought to have their own state and also due to the influence of Prime Minister Tony Blair. But President Bush believes that you cannot have a resolution to Israel/Palestine until you tackle the war on terror, until you drain the swamp of terror at its Middle East core. And so I don't think you liberate the Palestinians until you liberate the Iraqis, if you want to put it that way.

    Paul Reynolds:
    Here's another question about Tony Blair, which has just come in from Jim Hargreaves in Hull, which is next to the Canadian capital Ottawa. Glenda Jackson one for you again: What does Tony Blair, seemingly intelligent man, have in common with George W. Bush? It is difficult to imagine the two of them having a meaningful conversation.

    Glenda Jackson:
    Well I'm not the best person to answer that question because I've never been present when there was such a conversation going on. This is a question that has bemused many of us in this country, not on the issue of how does one nation state deal with another when we are as closely allied as we are with the United States, but why our Prime Minister chose to align himself with a pre-emptive strike against Iraq. We had six different reasons why we had to go to war on Iraq.

    Therese Raphael:
    Pre-emptive? This was a war that began 12 years ago and 12 years of flouted United Nations resolutions ┐

    Glenda Jackson:
    Well 12 years ago our Prime Minister most certainly was not arguing that we should have gone to war and the plight of the Iraqi people, which was consistently raised on the floor of the House of Commons by three of my colleagues ever since we came to power in 1997, every minister of the crown said yes, yes, it's awful, if they abide by the UN resolutions everything will be fine. There was no hint, from the British government, that they were prepared to go to war on any reason against Iraq until, as I say, there was the meeting between Prime Minister Blair and President Bush and the rest is now a lamentable history.

    Therese Raphael:
    No I would think we should all be grateful that it came better late than never.

    Paul Reynolds:
    Can we just move on here for a question from Helsinki, capital of Finland Axel Shelling, perhaps one for you both: What would be the impact of this meeting on the political climate between Britain and the rest of Europe? Therese first.

    Therese Raphael:
    Well Blair has acted as much as possible as a bridge between America and Europe, I think the impact of this particular meeting I don't see to be terribly significant, I think both leaders are confirming the importance of the special relationship. What it may do is cement the support of those European countries who have been torn between France and Germany on the one hand, who have supported a Europe that acts in opposition to America, primarily France, and other European countries such as Italy and Spain and Denmark who have been much more supportive of the British position and who indeed signed the letter of eight supporting Bush on Iraq. So that may give them some succour but I don't see it changing the status quo in Europe.

    Paul Reynolds:
    Glenda Jackson do you think this will make Britain seem too close to the Americans in Europe?

    Glenda Jackson:
    Well I was just thinking the Prime Minister has always claimed for himself that he is the bridge between Europe and the United States and if that is indeed the case then his feet are soaking wet because the bridge has crumbled underneath him. And I don't see how this is going to help recreate the very necessary links between Europe, the European Union and the United States when this state visit is going ahead and yet this government has not managed to get any clear commitment on the part of the United States that, for example, they will lift the steel tariffs, which are impacting very badly against the European Union. There is no clear sight that we will get a commitment from the part of the United States that, for example, they will sign up to the Kyoto Accords, again the environment is very important in the European Union. Nor have we got a commitment that our supposedly special relationship will mean that our Prime Minster will be able to persuade President Bush, for example, to sign up to the ICC. So as far as I'm concerned the special relationship seems to be all one way and I don't see that this visit is going to do anything at all to encourage our European allies to regard our Prime Minister as actually speaking for the European Union.

    Therese Raphael:
    If I could just jump in there and say that probably the only thing Glenda and I will agree on in this 20 or 30 minutes is that Bush should repeal the steel tariffs and I don't believe it will happen on this visit, mainly because his advisors seem to be saying it won't but I have every confidence that it will happen because the steel tariffs are bad for American consumers and producers and they're bad for free trade in the world. As for the other items Kyoto, from my understanding, many European leaders are secretly thanking, not just President Bush, but President Putin, for rejecting the Kyoto Accord when Putin said - Our Russian scientists have looked at this and actually the scientific basis for this agreement is pretty shoddy. Not only that it's going to be a big drain on our economy and of course on the economies of the developed world - Russia wouldn't lose out for some time. On the ICC, it's interesting that a number of European countries have quietly negotiated bilateral opt outs as they send forces abroad. Many countries hide behind the Bush administration on these things which is the only administration willing to speak out.

    Paul Reynolds:
    Well let's move on to another question from Queensland, Australia, just come in, from H. Brewer, perhaps here's one for Glenda Jackson since you are an MP: Why has so little been mentioned of the withdrawal of Mr Bush from addressing the UK parliament, surely this is crucial if we are to see accountability in the White House?

    Glenda Jackson:
    There was never any plan, as far as I'm aware, that President Bush was going to address both Houses, which is something despite the fact that they were not here on state visits which previous American presidents have done. So I'm not clear that there was every any plan that this is something that he would do.

    Paul Reynolds:
    Do you think he should have done and would you have been there if he had been?

    Glenda Jackson:
    Oh yes, I mean most certainly, whether I would have actually stood up and yelled go home is debatable. It is a tradition but perhaps they're hiding away under the fact that this is a state visit and that's why there is going to be no address to both Houses.

    Therese Raphael:
    It's the fact that this visit went through shows that nobody is hiding, I mean they could have cancelled it had they really been afraid.

    Paul Reynolds:
    Okay, a question just in from Dundee in Scotland, Shane Keeley, to Therese Raphael: Has the US administration considered the possibility of moderating its behaviour to take account of the interests of other nations as a means of combating terrorism?

    Therese Raphael:
    I think that's a very important question. There maybe two elements to that, I mean could it change its communication style or could it change its behaviour. I think what this administration is coming to the realisation of is that it has not sufficiently communicated its vision and the reasons behind its policies and even its long-term strategy to the satisfaction of publics around the world and it has lost a lot of support from that, doesn't mean the strategy's wrong, I think it's quite right and it was very visionary, I think it's incredibly radical in the most positive sense and very risky. But the administration, which seems to be belatedly coming to the understanding it doesn't always come across very well, and not even to American sometimes, and there is a need to moderate, maybe not so much moderate but to change and tune the language and make a greater effort at public diplomacy. The behaviour and the policy, no, I don't think there will be any change in course by the Bush administration in terms of the main goal of fighting the war on terror, attacking state sponsors of terror, trying to achieve a peace in the Middle East on the basis of fighting terrorism.

    Paul Reynolds:
    Okay the final question to Glenda Jackson from India, S.R. Sivarasu, looking ahead perhaps: Will there be any change in Iraq after the Bush state visit?

    Glenda Jackson:
    I think that's highly unlikely, if by change you mean an improvement. I have always argued that post the actual conflict it is the UN that should have been put in the driving seat, that seems further and further away as a possibility now. I am amazed that so much time and energy is being spent on this particular state visit when I would have thought that both my prime minister and the president should be turning all their efforts to re-engage the international community as far as the situation in Iraq is concerned and in the broader Middle East. But we live in hopes but then I have always - well I haven't always thought - but it seems to me that the sort of panic that permeated the White House, which resulted in Mr Bremmer being recalled last week, had more to do with a fear not of losing more lives but potentially of the President losing votes.

    Paul Reynolds:
    Well we've come to the end of the programme. Thank you very much indeed to Glenda Jackson MP and Therese Raphael of the Wall Street Journal. Thank you both very much for joining us and also to you for your questions. From me Paul Reynolds and the rest of the interactive team goodbye.




  • SEE ALSO:
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