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EDITIONS
 Tuesday, 21 January, 2003, 12:15 GMT
Blair grilling: Key extracts
Tony Blair at Scrutiny Committee
Iraq dominated the session before senior MPs
Prime Minister Tony Blair has been questioned for more than two hours by senior MPs, a session dominated by possible action against Iraq. Here are the key extracts of his comments.
Al-Qaeda and Iraq

"I think it's inevitable that (al-Qaeda) will try in some form or other (to attack the UK) and I think we can see evidence from the recent arrests that the terrorist network is here, as it is around the rest of the world.

It wouldn't be correct to say there is no evidence whatever of linkages between al-Qaeda and Iraq

"And I think it's important we do everything we can to show people the link between weapons of mass destruction and these terrorist groups who are doing anything they possibly can to disrupt the lives of ordinary people."

Mr Blair was asked about links between al-Qaeda and Iraq.

"There is some intelligence evidence about linkages between members of al-Qaeda and people in Iraq. It doesn't go further than that.

"I'm not using it as a justification for anything we are doing. But it wouldn't be correct to say there is no evidence whatever of linkages between al-Qaeda and Iraq.

"What is true to say (is) that I know of nothing linking Iraq to the September 11 attack and I know of nothing either that directly links al-Qaeda and Iraq to recent events in the UK."


Containing Saddam

"The policy of containment only worked up to a point and was beginning to fracture very badly.

"Secondly, Saddam has already used weapons of mass destruction and that puts him in a unique category, and thirdly, this has come to a focal point around Iraq."


Saddam in exile?

"The world, the region, Iraq would be a better place without Saddam.

"There is no doubt at all that it is Saddam and his immediate entourage who are insistent on keeping the weapons of mass destruction, because they believe that is one of the ways in which they can repress their local population and retain power in the region.

"Of course you wouldn't instinctively oppose it (Saddam going into exile).

"But having said all that, I don't know that that is what is going to happen."


Pressure paying off?

"The one thing that is very obvious is that as a result of the military build-up and as a result of the determination to see this thing through, the regime in Iraq and Saddam are weakening.

"They are rattled, they are weakening, we are getting a massive amount of intelligence out of there now as to what is happening in Iraq, and that is why we have to keep up the pressure every inch of the way."


Public opinion on Iraq

"I understand what the difficulties of public opinion are and it's my job to explain to people why it's necessary.

I think it is important if we get into the circumstances of conflict that we share as much as possible with people

"It's also the case that we are not in conflict yet, so we haven't reached the circumstances where I say to the British people we are in conflict with Iraq.

"When and if that time came, people would find the reasons acceptable and satisfactory because there is no other route available to us."

Mr Blair acknowledged that more intelligence about Saddam's activities may have to be shared with the public.

"I think it is important if we get into the circumstances of conflict that we share as much as possible with people."


Saddam's intentions

"We know perfectly well, I think most of us, that what he said in his declaration of December 8 is not true.

"What we are sure of is chemical and biological weapons, what we believe they are doing is trying to reconstitute their nuclear programme.

"How far along the path they have got on that we can't be sure."


North Korea

Mr Blair was asked why Iraq had been made such a high priority when there are concerns over North Korea.

He said: "I agree that what has happened in respect of North Korea recently is extremely worrying, which is why we need to get a proper strategy in the international community for dealing with it.

"But I don't think it follows that we don't also deal with the key question of Iraq, which has actually used weapons of mass destruction.

"This is a serious issue. If we don't deal with it now, and take a stand on it now, and it has come to a focal point around Iraq, then is North Korea going to believe us if we say this is what you must do to come into line with the international community?

"Are any of these other countries who are trying to acquire this weaponry going to believe us if, when we come to the point of decision on Iraq, we face the challenge and then we duck it?"


UN weapons inspections

"There will be a point in time - and this is what (chief weapons inspector) Hans Blix has been saying over the past few days - when you have to come to a judgment about whether they are co-operating or not.

It isn't a game of hide and seek

"It isn't a game of hide and seek. It is not a game where the inspectors are supposed to go in and if they find the stuff they win, and if Saddam conceals the stuff he wins. "


The UN route

"We have gone down the UN route ... let's stick with it and get the job done, but the UN has got to be the way of dealing with this issue, not a way of avoiding it."

Mr Blair was asked how possible breaches of UN resolution 1441 would be judged.

"There is a set of circumstances in which you find the conclusive proof, and there is a set of circumstances in which a pattern of behaviour develops of non-cooperation.

"The first is easy to describe as a category. The second requires a more considered judgment.

"We are trying to put maximum pressure on them, and if I am sometimes coy about speculating what happens on January 27 (when inspectors report back to the UN) or if the inspectors say this or that, it is because I don't want to do anything that weakens that enormous pressure coming to bear on the regime either to co-operate or, frankly, to crumble."


Unilateral action?

"The preference is for a UN resolution. It is easier in every respect if there is one.

We can't have a situation in which there is a material breach recognised by everybody and yet action is unreasonably blocked

"But what I also say is we can't have a situation in which there is a material breach recognised by everybody and yet action is unreasonably blocked.

"I don't think that will happen, but nonetheless, we have got to have that qualification.

"Otherwise the discussion we have in the Security Council is not going to be as productive as it should be."


The UK role

"If we end up in a situation where there is a potential nuclear conflict every country in the world is going to be drawn into that in some way.

We are going to be in the front line of this whatever happens

"That is why I think there is no point in us thinking, and I don't think it is actually particularly in the British character, to think well let's go to the back of the queue and hide away.

"We are going to be in the front line of this whatever happens."


Threat from terrorism

"I think the most frightening thing about these people is the possible coming together of fanaticism and the technology capable of delivering mass destruction, mass death.

"What they did on September 11 is an indication of what they can do ... supposing they were able to kill instead of 3,000 people, 30,000 people. Does anyone doubt that they would do it?"


UK relationship with the US

"I know there are a lot of criticisms of the relationship with the US, but I will defend that relationship absolutely and solidly, because I believe it is important for us and for the wider world."

America, for all its faults, is a force for good in the world

Mr Blair said suggestions that the US would "go it alone" in terms of Iraq were "entirely alien to the conversations I have with George Bush".

On the wider relationship, he said policy disagreements were always possible.

"But I think the transatlantic relationship has served America and the world well through the 20th century and I think we have to maintain it.

"America, for all its faults, is a force for good in the world."


Missile defence

"I think it's important that if we do play a part in missile defence that this country gets some benefit from it.

"The threat to US or European security is unlikely today to come from Russia or China, but there is a threat to our security from unstable states acquiring nuclear weapons.

"If you can develop a defensive system that could give us some protection against that I don't think that's necessarily wrong thing to do; on the contrary there is merit in it.

"The questions I would have would be to do with the technology and so forth, and whether any upgrade in any facilities here would enhance our own security."

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  The BBC's Norman Smith
"It is unprecedented"

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07 Jan 03 | UK
16 Jul 02 | Politics
26 Apr 02 | Politics
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