PM interview with British Forces Broadcasting Service

 

Monday  March 24, 2003  0200PST

INTERVIEWER

Prime Minister, Coalition Forces have made good their advance into Iraq. They have had opposition and it seems that there have been a few tragic accidents. How do you feel about the progress of the campaign so far?

PRIME MINISTER

These things are never easy, there will be some tough times ahead, but it is going to plan, despite the tragedies that have occurred, and once again we have to thank and take pride in the professionalism, the skill and the courage of our Armed Forces who are helping to make this country and our world more secure, and also liberating the Iraqi people from one of the most brutal dictatorships of modern times.

INTERVIEWER

Now President Bush has denounced the Iraqis' apparently parading prisoners of war. What is your reaction to that?

PRIME MINISTER

Sometimes when people ask me is it really necessary to get rid of Saddam, I say look at the things that he does. Parading people in that way is contrary to the Geneva Convention, contrary to all the proper rules of combat. He has mined the oil wealth of the country, British troops have managed to prevent those mines from exploding, but otherwise the oil wealth of Iraq would have been destroyed. He tortures and murders people at will in Iraq, and I hope people have some idea of how dangerous therefore it is to leave someone like that with chemical and biological and potentially nuclear weapons capability. So I think once again what it does is it emphasises to us just the enormous importance of making sure that we do this job.

INTERVIEWER

Not so much the troops, but certainly the families are exposed to the divisions amongst the population here in the UK. Do you think it is possible, as many prominent people have said over the past few days, to be against the war yet still support the troops?

PRIME MINISTER

Obviously there has been a difference of public opinion, but I hope and believe that anyone, no matter what their view, supports the British troops, feels tremendous pride in them, sympathy for them in a difficult situation, and I think apart from some on the extremes, the country does come together at a time like this, and whatever people's views were about the Government's policy, I think people's views about the troops are very positive and very supportive.

INTERVIEWER

A lot of the families will either watch every twist and turn of the campaign, otherwise they will leave it to one side and try not to have to take it all in. As Prime Minister, the man who politically sent the troops into battle, how closely do you follow events?

PRIME MINISTER

I get briefings almost hourly on what is happening. But one of the most remarkable things about modern warfare, and modern communications and media technology, is that people actually see battle unfolding as it happens on their television screens, and so in a sense everyone follows it immensely closely, but in addition to the regular briefings I have a meeting every day with the Chief of Defence Staff and other key Ministers and officials, so that we go through and we review what is happening, and obviously in respect of any of the tragic incidents that have occurred we get a very up-to-date briefing very quickly.

INTERVIEWER

Does it worry you that everybody sees these events unfold almost literally as they happen before any proper analysis can be done as to what actually has happened?

PRIME MINISTER

It is difficult, because people really do see it almost live on their television screens and it gives a tremendous sense of reality to the grimness of warfare, but also it is important always to understand that sometimes things are happening that aren't shown on the television screens. We don't see on our television screens, and people don't take to the streets about the thousands of children that die needlessly in Iraq every year through malnutrition, the tens of thousands of political prisoners that are tortured or executed, literally hundreds of thousands of people that have died under Saddam's rule. Now these things I think it is also important for people to remember, so even if something is not always shown on our television screen, it doesn't mean to say that it doesn't exist and is nonetheless real.

INTERVIEWER

Do you have any regrets at the way the Government was almost coy about the military option to solve this problem? We weren't allowed to see British troops training for war ? live firing that sort of thing ? and then consequently we had this very sticky period when the supplies, logistics weren't quite in place, although they probably were when the start came. Does it worry you that the troops were put into a position where they didn't have the equipment, and the boots and so on in place when they should have done?

PRIME MINISTER

It is a huge logistical exercise to move tens of thousands of people out into the sand, and at the beginning of it you are bound to get problems, but in fact the British Army is not one of the finest simply, it is one of the best equipped in the world, and we have regular exercises, like the Saif Sareea Exercise in Oman in which British troops are constantly training and in a state of readiness, so I think these problems are bound to occur, they do with the Americans too, but we get them sorted out, and one of the extraordinary things about the British Armed Forces is just their ability to go into any situation and make the best of it.

INTERVIEWER

Now you have told us before about your thoughts on how military action by British Forces in places like Afghanistan, Sierra Leone, have been a force for good in the end. Now Iraq is much more complex than that, but do you hope the same thing will happen?

PRIME MINISTER

Yes. The extraordinary thing about today's world is how interdependent it is, so that the tragedy of 11 September was born in a remote part of the world in Afghanistan, thousands of miles away from New York. If we had allowed Kosovo to go wrong and we had ended up with another Balkans war, we might have ended up with the whole of Europe being destabilised. Here in Iraq, if a dictator like Saddam is able to develop these weapons, is able to continue brutalising his country and threatening his neighbourhood in the way that he has, then the conflict, even if we postponed it now, the conflict when it came would be infinitely worse, and I think what happens nowadays is that we have to act in these circumstances in order to prevent the world destabilising, and it is also important to realise that when we are acting, whether it is in Kosovo or Afghanistan, or Sierra Leone, or here in Iraq, the first beneficiaries of the action are the people that we are liberating, usually from brutal and dictatorial rule, and I hope people get some sense of that, that Iraq is potentially a wealthy country, totally brutalised and impoverished by Saddam.

INTERVIEWER

So how full a role would you like to see British troops having once the fighting is over - peace-making or peace-keeping?

PRIME MINISTER

This is obviously something we will have to discuss with our allies and with other people who may come in and assist in that process, and we have got to watch. We have got a certain limit to the capability that British troops can take on. We do a fantastic job in terms of peace-keeping. I would say British troops are probably as admired, if not the most admired, as any in the world, so you know, we have got that facility, we do it extremely well, but we have got to be careful that we don't overstretch ourselves and the exact arrangements are obviously something we are still discussing.

INTERVIEWER

I think most troops who are out there involved in the military action would say to you, we want to do the job, we want to get it done successfully, and then we want to come home. Is your Defence Secretary and the Service Chief telling you that they have enough personnel to replace the troops that have been fighting to do that peace-keeping?

PRIME MINISTER

Yes. I understand for the troops who are out there doing a really difficult fighting job and all the support troops as well, we want to try and bring them home as safe and secure as possible. Now, as we have seen from the tragedies of the last few days, unhappily in war people get hurt, people get killed. And it is a terrible, terrible thing when it happens and the most important thing we can do for those of our Armed Forces who have gone and put their lives on the line, in some cases lost their lives for their country, for the wider world, is to make sure that they are brought home as soon as possible. That's something again obviously we have to sit down and work out when that can happen, but I am well aware of our obligations to them and also to their families because for Armed Forces' families at the moment this is the most worrying and difficult time, and I understand how they must feel, and I think above all else what I want them to know is that the job that the service men and women are doing is of such vital importance for the world in which we live, and the courage that they are showing now is going to protect future generations from, not just evil dictators like Saddam, but also from what I think is the single biggest threat our world faces today which is the potential for these repressive, dictatorial states and international terrorist groups to come together and deliver catastrophe to our world. That is what we are trying to prevent happening.

INTERVIEWER

Well, the job's begun. We have a long way to go before it's complete. What would your message be tonight to the troops themselves and also to their families, both in the UK and all over the world?

PRIME MINISTER

To the Armed Forces and to their families we should give our thanks for their skill and their professionalism, we should pay tribute to their courage and they should know that the whole country takes enormous pride in them. They are doing a superb job, they are doing a necessary job for Britain and the wider world, and they are delivering safety and security for us here and for countless other nations in the world.

INTERVIEWER

Prime Minister, thank you very much indeed.

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