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Wednesday, 19 September, 2001, 13:11 GMT 14:11 UK
Tony Blair interview: full transcript
UK Prime Minister Tony Blair was interviewed on BBC's World Service's Newshour on Tuesday about the UK's role following last week's terror attacks in the US. Here is the transcript of the interview in full.

Alex Brodie: Is Osama Bin Laden your prime suspect?

Tony Blair: He is the prime suspect.

We are still assembling the evidence and we have said we will do so in a careful and measured way.

This was the worst terrorist incident in respect of British citizens... since the second world war

Tony Blair
But we've known for some time of his activities and those of his associates, that have been designed to spread terror around the world that are I believe fundamentally contrary to the basic teachings of Islam.

And in respect of this particular incident there's no doubt at all - as both ourselves and President have said - he is the prime suspect.

AB: Him alone or anybody else?

TB: Well, when we assemble the evidence finally, we will present it to people.

But as we have said he is the prime suspect.

AB: Have you seen evidence yourself?

TB: Yes of course, all the time we are going through evidence that comes to us from various sources and what is important, as I said the other day, is that when we proceed, we proceed on the basis of a hard-headed assessment of that evidence.

But I think, people are still taking in the enormity of what happened last week.

Thousands of people killed in the worst terrorist incident of all time.

This was the worst terrorist incident in respect of British citizens - incidentally 200 - 300 killed - since World War II.

When you think that Britain went through the Blitz when we were under attack - day in day out - for several years and we lost just over 20,000 of our citizens.

Osama Bin Laden
Osama Bin Laden is still in Afghanistan says Mr Blair
Here were 5,000 or more murdered, literally, in a day and I think some impression is given of just how serious this is.

Let's be quite clear as well, the thing that we have to confront and the reason why we have to take action against this apparatus of terrorism at every level, is that if these people were able to kill more people they would.

The only limits on their actions are not moral in any sense at all - they are practical or technical.

AB: Is it Osama Bin Laden who you have the evidence against that he was actively involved in planning what happened in the United States or is it just that you have evidence that he has set up a network?

TB: Well Alex, when we are in a position to put evidence before people, we will put it before them then.

What we have said so far, because people have asked us and it's right because this is where the evidence tends, that he is the prime suspect.

AB: Anybody else?

TB: There may be various other people but that is a matter that we can deal with when we come to present the evidence fully?

AB: And do you know where he is?

TB: We know that he is in Afghanistan.

We know the various places that he has been.

But it is important that other people co-operate with us in ensuring that he is brought to justice and this is a situation in which those who have been harbouring him or helping him have a very simple choice.

They either cease the protection of Bin Laden or they will be treated as people helping him.

AB: This is echoing what George Bush said isn't it about how we will go not just for the perpetrators but for those who harbour him - and you are talking about the Taleban?

TB: Well, for all those people who have been in a position where they have been helping or harbouring terrorism - the way that it operates, camps that are dedicated to training people in it.

Tony Blair
Tony Blair: We must assemble evidence in a careful and measured way
These are people trained in these camps who go out and basically wreak havoc wherever they can, killing many, many innocent people.

And although what happened last week is obviously an atrocity almost beyond our imagination, it is not an isolated incident - in that sense, there has been a history going back over several years.

Now you mention the Taleban - the Taleban have a very clear choice - the Taleban either cease to help or harbour those that are fermenting terrorism or they will be treated as part of the terrorist apparatus themselves.

Now they have that choice and they should consider very, very carefully the consequences that they face at this moment of choice.

AB: If they don't give him up, what are those consequences?

TB: Those are the consequences again that we will consider and we will announce the appropriate response when we have made up our minds.

AB: So what you are looking for the Taleban to do now, is to say - you can have him we will extradite him, we will give him up.

TB: We are looking for the Taleban to co-operate on the basis of the evidence that we present - co-operate and make sure that the person that is identified as the prime suspect and his associates are yielded up to justice.

Now that is not all however, it is also important that the whole of that network of training people for terrorist acts around the world is closed down.

Indeed, that should happen irrespective..

[interrupted by interviewer]

AB: But that network is broader than Afghanistan isn't it?

I mean we hear all the time about how there are training camps set up in something like 30 different countries.

Hasn't it gone beyond Bin Laden?

TB: Of course it certainly does not stop with Bin Laden or with what has happened in Afghanistan.

But the immediate issue, if, as seems likely, he is identified as the person responsible and those associated with them are therefore identified as responsible, that is the immediate response that we must make.

But there are always two strands to this.

Right from the very beginning I have said there will be two different parts of the agenda that the international community must take on board and act upon.

The first is the immediate response in respect of those responsible for this atrocity.

The second is then to develop an agenda at the international level in respect of international terrorism generally - how it is financed, where it operates from, how it moves its people around, how it makes use of some of the mechanisms that operate in all our countries - the bank accounts, the way that they acquire weapons - the whole panoply of that terrorist machine whose full potential to devastate and damage we have now seen - all of that we must pursue at an international level.

AB: But we knew this was happening didn't we before the terrible events in the United States?

Surely an international network along the lines of an international crime-fighting network already existed didn't it?

And if not isn't it a bit late now?

TB: Well I think you make a fair point in this sense that this has brought home to us the urgency of the situation.

Now in fact some of us have been saying for some time this is a real issue that we need to be concerned about.

And, as I said in the House of Commons a few days ago, if these could acquire chemical, biological or nuclear weapons capability, they would.

And I say, there's no limit on what they would do if they had the technical capability to do it.

The attack on it [the United States] was an attack on the civilised world and the ability of people to go about their business free from this menace of terror

Tony Blair

Now right round the world - and this is why I think that the coalition of countries coming together and they include - I mean I have spoken in the last few days, I have spoken to not just obviously the American President and our American allies, I have to the French President, the German Chancellor.

I spoke to the President of China today, I spoke to the Russian President.

I have spoken to friends in Europe, friends in Asia, friends right round the world and Arab leaders as well.

And all of them recognise the need to put together the strongest possible international coalition to fight this menace of terrorism.

And that coalition, I believe, is strengthening incidentally.

The interesting thing that is happening is that often in these situations when they first occur there is a deep sense of shock and concern and then there is sense - well people relax a little bit and the strength of feeling diminishes somewhat.

I don't think that's happened at all.

I think the strength of feeling is gathering momentum.

And I certainly notice, and again I met African leaders today, that right round the world people recognise that we have to stand in solidarity with the United States - not simply because it's the United States but because the attack on it was an attack on the civilised world and the ability of people to go about their business free from this menace of terror.

AB: You mention bringing Osama Bin Laden to justice - whose justice?

Are we looking - are you discussing something on the lines of Lockerbie?

Are you discussing something along the lines of an international court?

Taleban leaders are reported to have talked about an international court with a Muslim judge.

Is this the sort of thing that you're considering with Mr Bush?

TB: All the issues connected with this will obviously be considered and deliberated upon.

We will announce our conclusions of that at the appropriate time.

Forgive me, one the problems in doing interviews at this moment in time is that there are certain questions that we will answer at a later time when it is appropriate.

AB: You have written in the Urdu language newspaper Daily Jang.

You've made various remarks which are intended to say this is not a war - this is not a campaign against Islam.

Isn't the rhetoric giving the lie to that when we talk about war, when we talk about crusades, when we talk about the defence of civilisation.

There are many Muslims around the world who feel that they are being painted as barbarians.

TB: But they're not and I have gone out of my way - as indeed has President Bush and others - to stress that we know that the vast majority of Muslims are decent law-abiding people.

The doctrine and teachings of Islam are those of peace and harmony.

I read the Koran - the god of the Koran is merciful and forgiving.

It is a whole teaching dedicated to building peace in the world and therefore those people who've committed this atrocity, they no more represent the true spirit of Islam than does the Protestant or Catholic on the streets of Northern Ireland that murders someone of the opposite part of the Christian religion, represent the true spirit of Christianity.

AB: Indeed. But misguided though they may be, you do have to accept don't you that there are many, many people around the world - many Muslims around the world who see Osama Bin Laden as a hero.

TB: There may be those - I don't think they're very many - who do.

But it is our task, along with moderate Muslim and Arab opinion to say that is not what the teaching of Islam is about.

And what is necessary to do is to build that coalition very much with Muslim and Arab opinion with us. Because there are Muslims who will have died in that appalling attack.

AB: Indeed. But words are being thrown around like 'crusade'.

I mean if there is one word that is calculated to send the wrong message to the Muslim world it is surely crusade.

TB: Yes. But I think that people understand.

It's like when people say to you - are you at war in this situation.

With the people that have committed this atrocity - of course we are at war.

But the important thing is what we do and how we do it.

Now I also think that there is a sense in which people understand that we need to, for example, give fresh impetus to the Middle East peace process.

Now today for the first time in several weeks there were certain small glimmers of hope - small glimmers they were, yes - but they were there.

Now I think that we must use this as an opportunity to push that process forward and to recognise that yes of course there are situations where people feel deeply about injustices that they've perceived that have been done to them and we have to respond to that as well.

I think that that will allow us better then to build that strong coalition of support to go after the people that have committed an act of terrorism that I don't think that any serious, sensible, decent, moral person could possibly contemplate or justify.

AB: King Abdullah of Jordan said that if Washington had resolved the problems in the Middle East - especially the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, then these attacks would not have happened. Do you agree?

TB: I believe that these attacks were a long time in the planning, I have to say.

And I also believe that the extremists, the fanatics that carried out these attacks, frankly they're the enemies of the peace process.

I mean these people don't want peace anymore than, for example, those dissident Republicans who blew up people at Omagh, want peace in Northern Ireland.

What I find - and we have experience of the peace process here in Britain and in the United Kingdom through the Northern Ireland situation - what I find is that in fact it is fanatics on either side who want to disrupt the peace process and the important thing is always to keep that process moving forward because it's when there's a vacuum that the extremists move in with their violence and their terrorism.

AB: But it's a matter of perception isn't it?

It is a matter of how things are perceived, particularly in the Muslim world.

I mean the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is a hub of resentment that enables people like Osama Bin Laden to garnish support.

TB: Well of course they do try and exploit the sense of grievance or injustice.

But that's why it's important to say, no there is a better way of addressing the grievance of injustice and that is through a process that leads to a stable and lasting peace.

And again here I find a very great sense of community of spirit and of purpose right across the world.

AB: Now I know you don't want to talk about what comes next in terms of military - obviously one wouldn't expect you to.

But do you rule anything out?

TB: Well it is important we start with the simple objective to bring those responsible to account now.

Questions of what you rule in and rule out are simply not appropriate at this stage.

Because when we've decided finally these are the people responsible, we then decide the appropriate response and that's what we'll do.

AB: But is there ... I mean do you rule out getting involved in a military operation for instance to Afghanistan?

TB: Well, as I say, all these questions will be decided at the right time and announced at the right time.

I think it's important at the moment that people understand two things: one that we're proceeding and the United States is proceeding in a measured way.

A lot of people might have expected the United States to have lashed out - to have acted first and thought afterwards - they haven't done that and it's to the great credit of President Bush that he has proceeded in that way, that's the first thing.

But the second thing nobody should be in any doubt of is our total and complete determination to do what is necessary in order to bring to justice those who perpetrated this crime.

AB: One cannot help but notice the sheer weight of the number of contacts that you yourself have made in the last few days around the world.

Are you doing this on your own behalf or are you doing this on Mr Bush's behalf?

Or are you somehow being a bridge?

TB: I regard this as very much a situation in which we are standing side by side with the United States and with the rest of the civilised world.

So, it is not a question of doing it on America's behalf or anyone else's behalf.

It is important that we establish the most clear and strong basis of understanding right across the international community for what has happened and what we need to do in order to bring to account those responsible.

I have been both struck and heartened by the degree of consensus that exists there.

I think that people really understand this is a new phenomenon - not in the sense there haven't been fanatics in our history before - but in the sense that we live in a world today where fanatics, if they're able to, can get their technical capability to wreak the most terrible damage on wholly innocent people.

AB: Do you think that the Americans want to do this with everybody else?

Do they actually want to build a coalition or is this window dressing?

TB: No, I've not doubt at all that they want the broadest possible basis of support.

And for America, faced with a situation of which this terrible, terrible crime has been committed against them - for America, it is a moment at which they look at the rest of world - look at it and ask the question: are you standing with us at this time of trial for us or are you not?

And I think they are right to ask that question and I think - not because they're America but because of the nature of the event that has been committed against them - we the rest of the world have got to say we do stand with you - you know, we all have a common cause.

Because be in no doubt at all, if we allow this apparatus of terror to go unchecked and to grow, America was a casualty in that terrible event last week - but they could come to Britain, they could go to France, to Germany, to Arab states.

When I met the President of Tanzania this morning, he was describing to me devastation that had been caused by those acts of terrorism in his country.

So this is the situation in which we stand together, we stand together because it is the right thing to do.

And I regard part of my task, as well as fashioning the right response, to be part of building a broad coalition for action.

And I have no doubt at all that America will act because America has to defend itself in this situation.

But America will want and should have its allies standing alongside her.

AB: The intense diplomacy that you are involved in and others are involved in surrounding this, indicates the danger that everybody believes we are now in - the world is now in.

How dangerous do you think it is now?

TB: I think it is very dangerous if we do not take action and check it because..

AB: But how dangerous is the action itself?

TB: I think people will understand if that action is properly measured and directed against those responsible or those helping those responsible.

I think people will understand that.

But I think that the reason why it is dangerous is because: one, these acts of terrorism have obviously the capacity to do enormous damage and two, the damage itself can set in train consequences that are then difficult to govern and to deal with.

And if I'm right in saying that these groups would if they could get hold of chemical or biological or nuclear weapons capability, then I think we would be deeply irresponsible if we didn't take action.

And the truth is they have been allowed to operate for far too long.

I mean all of us - I mean we're looking now in Britain at the laws that we may have to alter or change and the practices we may need to shape in a different way as a result of what is happening.

We cannot have a situation where these people, with impunity, are operating out of our countries, are financing their acts of terrorism, are moving around freely - are often living, you know, off benefits provided by the state in various countries around the world and plotting these acts of terrorism.

It can't be right. And so we, in fact, strengthened our law here significantly last year with the Terrorism Act and that did make an impact.

But I think we and other countries have got to look at these things carefully.

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair
Speaks to the BBC's Alex Brodie
See also:

19 Sep 01 | South Asia
Afghan clerics debate Bin Laden
18 Sep 01 | South Asia
Profile: Mullah Mohammed Omar
19 Sep 01 | Americas
US seeks global consensus
18 Sep 01 | Asia-Pacific
Megawati flies to meet Bush
18 Sep 01 | UK Politics
Blair embarks on diplomatic offensive
19 Sep 01 | South Asia
Embassies act on Pakistan unrest
17 Sep 01 | South Asia
Afghanistan - a tough military option
18 Sep 01 | Asia-Pacific
China demands US attack evidence
18 Sep 01 | South Asia
Afghan exodus gathers pace
18 Sep 01 | South Asia
On edge: Afghanistan's neighbours
18 Sep 01 | Business
Wall Street stabilises
19 Sep 01 | Americas
New York grapples with grief
19 Sep 01 | South Asia
Kabul checkpoints stem refugee exodus
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