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Q&A: UK defence minister

Geoff Hoon
UK Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon  


LONDON, England (CNN) -- Britain is gearing up to provide help in the global war on terrorism declared by the United States. CNN's European Political Editor Robin Oakley spoke to the UK Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon for details of Britain's involvement.

OAKLEY: Britain's Prime Minister, Tony Blair, has said that like the United States, Britain is at war with terrorism. What is this going to mean in practice?

HOON: What is means at this stage is that we are in close consultation with every level of the Pentagon, and making sure that as the thinking and planning develops, we are part of that process.

OAKLEY: Are we likely to see British crack troops -- the SAS for example -- going in first with forces from the United States forces?

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HOON: Well obviously we are developing a range of different military options -- I'm not going to indicate which of those is likely to result, and when, but certainly there is a range of options that we are considering.

OAKLEY: Does it seem likely that this will be a full-scale NATO operation, after NATO has said it interprets the attack on the United States as an attack on all its members, or are we going to see this boil down in the end to the two traditional allies -- the U.S. and the UK -- going for the military action and others just giving moral support?

HOON: Well, in the first place it is obviously right and proper for the United States to determine when and where it responds, because ultimately it is the United States that has suffered the most as a result of these appalling incidents. On the other hand, as the prime minister has made clear, a large number of UK citizens have lost lives, and many, many other countries are affected. It's is important in that longer term response to international terrorism that we build the widest possible coalition, and that is what we are trying to do.

OAKLEY: Prime Minister Blair has said that firm evidence is needed before targeted action is taken. Do you have independent evidence from Britain's intelligence services that Osama bin Laden is the prime suspect?

HOON: Certainly all the evidence that is flowing in now tends to point in that direction, but I assure you that the very careful examination of the evidence both in the United States and the UK continues, in order that we can satisfy the very demanding test that the prime minister has set out.

OAKLEY: Do you know exactly where Osama bin Laden and his group are situated at the moment?

HOON: I do not want to go into that, if you don't mind.

OAKLEY: Britain has got forces on the way to a joint exercise with Oman -- the biggest naval exercises, I understand, since the Falklands War. Are those forces that could be diverted and used in any anti-terrorist operation launched by the United States now?

HOON: Well certainly we have a range of forces available should military planning and political decision making decide that any particular option should go forward. But as I indicated to parliament on Friday, it is very important that the exercises in and around Oman should go ahead as a very strong signal to those that try to destroy our relationship with countries like Oman that we are determined not to be intimidated by terrorism.






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