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Tuesday, 10 September, 2002, 09:58 GMT 10:58 UK
Fighting the diplomatic war
UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw
Mr Straw spoke of involvement in the military planning
UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has described his diplomatic race to get the Islamic world's backing for the war on terror.

In the wake of the 11 September terror attacks, Mr Straw brought forward a trip to Iran which he had been intending to make later in the year.

He said it was vital "to help ensure that the Iranians were on-side for the consequences of the decision taken in the UN to fight this terrorism, and to fight it until we were able to stop it."

But he said he always knew it was no easy task amid widespread fears that military strikes on Afghanistan could destabilise the entire region and worsen what was already a refugee crisis.

Iranian President Mohammad Khatami
Iran was concerned about action in Afghanistan
He said: "We had to ratchet the diplomacy up. It was necessary to ratchet up the way we explained what was going on in Afghanistan in terms of the military campaign particularly with the Islamic world."

He described the negotiations with Iran as requiring "a lot of activity diplomatically, as well as some pretty strong nerves."

Another Vietnam?

In an interview for BBC Radio 4's With Us Or Against Us Mr Straw also acknowledged widespread concerns that any war in Afghanistan could turn into "another Vietnam".

America had been at war with Vietnam for almost a decade before conceding a humiliating defeat and withdrawing troops in 1975.

I had foreign ministers...almost pleading with me...to ensure their military were able to take part

UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw
He said: "Although it seems pretty simple now, it's worth remembering that between the time when the decision was taken at the end of September to begin the military campaign and...when Kabul fell, no-one was quite sure how long the campaign would go on.

"There were a lot of people in very respectable positions...raising questions as to whether this wasn't going to be another Vietnam."

Mr Straw went on to say there was much anxiety that military action against Afghanistan was going too far, and was not even supported by the Afghan population.

Iran's 'constructive role'

Afghan refugees in Iran
Iran is home to two million Afghan refugees
However, the foreign secretary said negotiations with the Iranians were very positive saying: "they were taking a very constructive role in respect of 11 September."

He also pointed out that Iran, as a neighbouring country, had over two million Afghans refugees flood over the Afghan-Iranian border and already had hostile relations with the Taleban.

Mr Straw vigorously denied any suggestion of a coalition "wobble" in the lead up to military action in Afghanistan. In fact he claimed the reverse to be true saying: "I had foreign ministers on the phone...almost pleading with me...to ensure their military were able to take part."

When asked to name the countries involved Mr Straw declined to do so: "I could do, but I'm not going to."


With Us or Against Us: Into Action was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on Tuesday 10 September 2002.

The programme will also be broadcast on the BBC World Service under the title The Diplomatic Jigsaw on Friday 20 September 2002 at 0930 GMT/1030 BST.

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