CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
Blair Addresses Parliament
Aired September 24, 2002 - 06:25 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: And good morning. Thanks for joining us. I'm Paula Zahn along with Bill Hemmer.
Welcome, as they just said, to a special early edition of AMERICAN MORNING. In just a few minutes, British Prime Minister Tony Blair will speak to a special session of parliament outlining his case for action against Iraq.
BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: In a moment we'll be going live, live coverage in London for Mr. Blair's address. Expected to speak for about an hour's time in London. And after that, law makers will start their debate on the prime minister's plan that we will hear shortly.
ZAHN: And the prime minister called on the one day session to discuss the threat from Saddam Hussein. Earlier, he unveiled an intelligence dossier he says provides evidence Iraq is developing weapons of mass destruction and in some case, he alleges, weapons could be ready to go within 45 minutes of Saddam Hussein announcing that he wants them fired up.
HEMMER: And a bit later, Paula, we're going to get reaction to Mr. Blair's speech from Washington, from Baghdad and from London. That's where Sheila MacVicar, we find her outside parliament, awaiting this speech, as well.
Quick reaction now from what we're hearing, anyway, based on the ministers' meeting from last night -- Sheila, good afternoon to you in London.
SHEILA MACVICAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning to you, Bill and Paula.
This is the document that the British, that Prime Minister Tony Blair's office released now just a little over three hours ago. And it lays out the case that the prime minister will make before the House of Commons.
In a forward to this document authored by the prime minister, he says that he's convinced the threat posed by Iraq and Saddam Hussein is real, current and serious. He says he is convinced that Saddam Hussein is continuing to develop weapons of mass destruction, biological, chemical and nuclear, and that he must be stopped.
That's what this document attempts to do. It's based on information culled from intelligence sources. Obviously because it does come from intelligence sources, it has been, shall we say, sanitized. But it does lay out what the British government says it knows about Iraq's attempts to reconstitute its weapons of mass destruction.
The document says, amongst other things, that Iraq has military plans for the use of chemical and biological weapons, including against its own Shi'a population, and says that it could deploy and use chemical and biological weapons within 45 minutes of an order being issued by Saddam Hussein to do so.
It also says that Britain has evidence that Iraq has learned from previous U.N. inspections' missions and is already now taking steps to conceal and disperse sensitive equipment and documentation in advance of the arrival of any U.N. weapons inspectors. Obviously setting the stage there that even if U.N. inspectors were to go back, they might be unsuccessful in uncovering some of these things that the British government says have taken place -- Bill.
HEMMER: A few minutes away. We stand by here. Sheila MacVicar stand by there in London.
And for more reaction in this country, once again here is Paula on that.
ZAHN: And we go straight to John King to gauge how the White House might react to this speech.
Clearly, John, there had to have been some coordination here between the Bush administration and Tony Blair's administration. How much?
JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Paula, a great deal of cooperation. Think back to the beginning of the war against terrorism in Afghanistan. The British put out a dossier about the rule of the Taliban in Afghanistan. That all to help support the administration's case, in concert with Prime Minister Blair, for the military action now under way in Afghanistan. This another example of the very close cooperation. You will hear the White House very early this morning compliment this report and say that it makes a compelling case that the Security Council must act. And you also will hear, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is in Poland for a NATO defense ministers' briefing today. He has a number of one-on-one briefings planned with other NATO defense ministers on the subject, the same subject of this report, weapons of mass destruction.
Secretary Rumsfeld will be sharing some intelligence information, as well. All of this part of a very carefully coordinated effort in London and in Washington to sway the debate in the Security Council. U.S. and British diplomats, perhaps as early as today, certainly by tomorrow, we are told, will have the specific language of the new Security Council resolution they want adopted.
Prime Minister Blair's push today, the White House echoing him today, all part of the effort to get the Security Council to act.
ZAHN: John, you just heard Sheila report that this dossier is a sanitized version, of course. They're not going to share critical intelligence information with us today. I'm just curious if the Bush administration has given you any perspective of how much has been taken out of this report.
KING: What, most of what is taken out is the specific citations of where the information came from, although we are told there was a debate between London and Washington. And in this report you do see some specific citations as to where certain information about Iraq's weapons programs came from, an attempt to be a little more detailed.
If you recall the debate of the past several weeks, many have said, you know, President Bush or Prime Minister Blair keep making the case that Iraq has these weapons or is rebuilding these weapons, what is the specific evidence that Iraq is doing that now, not that Iraq was doing it before the Persian Gulf War.
There is a bit more evidence in the British dossier of real time intelligence, more recent intelligence data. But to protect those sources, because many of them come, of course, from inside a closed society. Many of them come from technology that the United States and Great Britain do not want Saddam Hussein to know about, if he does not already. They do protect the most secret sources.
But this report does inch out there a little bit, if you will, and provide at least a glimpse as to how this information is collected.
ZAHN: All right, John, thanks so much.
We continue to wait for Tony Blair to address the House of Commons.
In the meantime, let's check in with Sheila MacVicar.
Sheila, the prime minister is taking a really rough ride on this one politically. And I guess today after he delivers his speech, some of his critics are going to share with the public for the first time a counter document called "The Dishonest Case For the War On Iraq."
What kind of a sales job does Tony Blair have to do today?
MACVICAR: Well, some of his most vociferous critics are members of his own parliamentary party, the Labor Party. He did have a meeting last night with his cabinet. It went on for about two hours, longer than expected. There were people within the cabinet who had raised their own questions and had suggested very strongly that they were not on board with this notion of military action against Iraq now. In fact, one of them, a minister for international development, suggested that this was a price that Iraq's people should not have to pay.
From his own political party, there are those that sit on the back benches that will again raise questions. And they will put forward basically another document, which strongly suggests that although there may be some suggestion that he is doing these things, that the case needs to be made for weapons inspectors to get in in order to really discover what Iraq has been up to.
They will say that much of the, many of the things that are in the document, as published by Number 10 Downing Street today, suggest dual use, something that could have a perfectly legitimate civilian use as well as a military application.
Again, how those materials or equipment are used, you can't know until you get in and actually get a chance to look. And that's one of the things that Prime Minister Blair will be trying to counter today.
His basic argument is that the regime of President Saddam Hussein is so aggressive and so repressive that its own unique nature makes him whatever he has a threat. And that's why the prime minister will say he has to be stopped.
ZAHN: John King, let's bring you into the discussion, as we show that the British public, according to the latest poll, 86 percent of them believe their government should seek the support not only of the British parliament, but the U.N., as well.
John, if you would, share with us what you think are the highlights of this latest CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll and what the president of the United States is up against in terms of garnering public support.
KING: A clear majority in this country support the president's position that he should take a tough posture vis-a-vis Iraq. The is a split, if you will. More people support military action if it is through the United Nations or more people support military action just targeting weapons of mass destruction, not so much regime change. So there is a debate ongoing here in the United States, although I would say the U.S. president on firmer footing than the British prime minister in that political debate. And that's one of the reasons we have the political subtext of what we will see today.
President Bush has said repeatedly, said it yesterday again, very energetically, that in his view the Security Council must act. But if it does not act, the United States and its friends are prepared to act. One of those friends, the chief ally standing up today to make the very same case, Prime Minister Blair going before the parliament here to say that the world must address this threat and that if the United Nations does not take the lead, the United States and Great Britain are prepared to.
So even as we look at the line by line case against Iraq, there's a broader political subtext, as well. President Bush and Prime Minister Blair trying to send a clear message to the United Nations that they mean this, that they will do this with or without the help of the United Nations. And if the United Nations wants to influence...
ZAHN: John, we've got to cut you off.
Let's go to the prime minister of Great Britain.
(JOINED IN PROGRESS)
TONY BLAIR, PRIME MINISTER, GREAT BRITAIN: ... deal with the issue of the present leadership of Iraq and weapons of mass destruction.
Today we published a 50 page dossier detailing the history of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction program, its breach of U.N. resolutions and the current attempt to rebuild that illegal program. I placed a copy in the library of the House.
At the end of the Gulf War, the full extent of Saddam's chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs became clear. As a result, the United Nations passed a series of resolutions demanding Iraq disarm itself of such weapons and establishing a regime of weapons inspection and monitoring to do the task. They were to be given unconditional and unrestricted access to all and any Iraqi sites.
All this is accepted fact. In addition, it is fact documented by U.N. inspectors that Iraq almost immediately began to obstruct the inspections. Visits were delayed. On occasions, inspectors threatened. Material was moved. Special sites, shut to the inspectors, were unilaterally designated by Iraq.
The work of the inspectors continued, but against a background of increasing obstruction and non-compliance. Indeed, Iraq denied its biological weapons program existed until forced to acknowledge it after high ranking defectors disclosed its existence in 1995.
Eventually, in 1997, the U.N. inspectors declared that they were unable to fulfill their task. A year of negotiation and further obstruction occurred until finally, in late 1998, the U.N. team were forced to withdraw.
As the dossier sets out, we estimate on the basis of the U.N.'s work that there were up to 360 tons of bulk chemical warfare agents, including one and a half tons of DX nerve agent, up to 3,000 tons of precursor chemicals, growth media sufficient to produce 26,000 liters of anthrax spores and over 30,000 special munitions for delivery of chemical and biological agents.
All of this was missing and unaccounted for.
Military action by the U.S. and U.K. followed and a certain amount of infrastructure for Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and missile capability was destroyed, setting the Iraqi program back, but not ending it.
From late 1998 onwards, therefore, the sole inhibition on Saddam's WMD program was the sanctions regime. Iraq was forbidden to use the revenue from its oil, except for certain specified non- military purposes.
The sanctions regime, however, was also subject to illegal trading and abuse. Because of concerns about its inadequacy and the impact on the Iraqi people, we made several attempts to refine it, culminating in a new U.N. resolution in May of this year. But it was only partially effective.
Around $3 billion of money is illegally taken by Saddam every year now, double the figure for the year 2000. Self-evidently, there is no proper accounting for this money.
Because of concerns that a containment policy based on sanctions alone could not sufficiently inhabitant Saddam's weapons program, negotiations continued even after 1998 to gain readmission for the U.N. inspectors.
In 1999, a new U.N. resolution demanding their reentry was passed and ignored.
Further negotiations continued. Finally, after several months of discussion with Saddam's regime this year, Kofi Annan, the U.N. secretary general, concluded that Saddam was not serious about readmitting the inspectors and ended the negotiations. That was in July this year.
All of this is established fact. I set out the history in some detail, Mr. Speaker, because occasionally debate on this issue seems to treat it almost as if it had suddenly arisen, coming out of nowhere on a whim in the last few months of 2002. It is actually an 11 year history, a history of U.N. will flouted, lies told by Saddam about the existence of his chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs, obstruction, defiance and denial.
There is one common consistent theme, however -- the total determination of Saddam to maintain that program, to risk war, international ostracism, sanctions, the isolation of the Iraqi economy in order to keep it.
At any time he could have let the inspectors back in and put the world to proof. At any time he could have cooperated with the United Nations.
Ten days ago he made the offer unconditionally under threat of war. He could have done it at any time in the last 11 years, but he didn't. Why?
The dossier we published gives the answer. The reason is because his chemical, biological and nuclear weapons program is not an historic leftover from 1998. The inspectors aren't needed to clean up the old remains. His weapons of mass destruction program is active, detailed and growing.
The policy of containment is not working. The weapons of mass destruction program is not shut down. It is up and running now.
This dossier is based on the work of the British Joint Intelligence Committee. For over 60 years, beginning just prior to WWII, the GIC has provided intelligence assessments to British prime ministers. Normally its work, obviously, is secret. Unusually, because it is important we explain our concerns over Saddam to the British people, we have decided to disclose their assessments.
I am aware, of course, that people are going to have to take elements of this on the good faith of our intelligence services. But this is what they are telling me, the British prime minister, and my senior colleagues. The intelligence picture they paint is one accumulated over the last four years. It is extensive, detailed and authoritative. It concludes that Iraq has chemical and biological weapons, that Saddam has continued to produce them, that he has existing and active military plans for the use of chemical and biological weapons, which could be activated within 45 minutes, including against his own Shi'a population, and that he is actively trying to acquire nuclear weapons capability.
On chemical weapons, the dossier shows that Iraq continues to produce chemical agent for chemical weapons, has rebuilt previously destroyed production plants across Iraq, has bought dual use chemical facilities, has retained the key personnel formerly engaged in the chemical weapons program and has a serious, ongoing research program into weapons production, all of it well funded.
In respect to biological weapons, again, production of biological agents has continued. Facilities formerly used for biological weapons have been rebuilt. Equipment has been purchased for such a program and again Saddam has retained the personnel who worked on it prior to 1991.
In particular, the U.N. inspection regime discover that Iraq was trying to acquire mobile biological weapons facilities, which, of course, are easier to conceal. Present intelligence confirms that they have now got such facilities. The biological agents we believe Iraq can produce include anthrax, botulism, toxin, aqua toxin (ph) and ricin. All eventually result in excruciatingly painful death.
As for nuclear weapons, Saddam's previous nuclear weapons program was shut down by the inspectors following disclosure by defectors of the full but hidden nature of it. That program was based on gas centrifuge uranium enrichment. The known remaining stocks of uranium are now held under supervision by the International Atomic Energy Agency. But we now know the following.
Since the departure of the inspectors in 1998, Saddam has bought or attempted to buy specialized vacuum pumps of the design needed for the gas centrifuge cascade to enrich uranium; an entire magnet production line of the specification for use in the motors and top bearings of gas centrifuges; dual use products such as anhydrous hydrogen fluoride and fluoride gas, which can be used both in petrochemicals, but also in gas centrifuge cascades; a filament winding machine which can be used to manufacture carbon fiber gas centrifuge rotors and has attempted covertly to acquire 60,000 or more specialized aluminum tubes, which are subject to strict controls due to their potential use in the construction of gas centrifuges.
In addition, we know Saddam has been trying to buy significant quantities of uranium from Africa, though we do not know whether he has been successful.
Again, key personnel who used to work on the nuclear weapons program are back in harness.
Iraq may claim that this is for a civil nuclear power program, but I would point out it has no nuclear power plants.
So that is the position in respect of the weapons.
But, of course, the weapons require ballistic missile capability. This, again, is subject to U.N. resolutions. Iraq is supposed only to have missile capability up to 150 kilometers for conventional weaponry.
Pages 27 to 31 of the dossier detail the evidence on this issue. It is clear both that a significant number of longer range missiles were effectively concealed from the previous inspectors and remain, including up to 20 extended range SCUD missiles; that in mid-2001 there was a spec change in the program and by this year Iraq's development of weapons with a range of over 1,000 kilometers was well under way; that hundreds of key people are employed in this program; facilities are being built and equipment procured, usually clandestinely.
Sanctions and import controls have hindered this program, but they've only slowed its progress. The capability being developed, incidentally, if for multi purpose use, including with WMD warheads.
Now, that is the assessment to me of the Joint Intelligence Committee.
In addition, we have well founded intelligence to tell us that Saddam sees his WMD program as vital to his survival, as a demonstration of his power and his influence in the region.
There will be some who will dismiss all this. Intelligence is not always right. For some of this material, there may be innocent explanations. There will be others who say rightly that, for example, on present going, it could be several years before he acquires a usable nuclear weapon, though if he were able to purchase fissile material illegally, it would only be a year or two.
But let me put it at its simplest. On this 11 year history, with this man Saddam, with this accumulated, detailed intelligence available, with what we know and what we can reasonably speculate, would the world be wise to leave the present situation undisturbed, to say that despite 14 separate United Nations demands on this issue, all of which Saddam is in breach of, we should do nothing? To conclude that we should trust not to the good faith of the U.N. weapons inspectors, but to the good faith of the current Iraqi regime?
I do not believe that would be a responsible course to follow.
Our case is simply this. Not that we take military action come what may, but that the case for ensuring Iraqi disarmament, as the U.N. itself has stipulated, is overwhelming. I defy anyone on the basis of this evidence to say that it is an unreasonable demand for the international community to make when, after all, it is only the same demand that we have made for 11 years and that he has rejected.
People say but why Saddam? Mr. Speaker, I don't in the least dispute there are other causes of concern on weapons of mass destruction. I said as much in this House on the 14th of September last year. But two things about Saddam stand out. He has used these weapons in Iraq itself, thousands dying in those chemical weapons attacks. He used them in the Iran-Iraq war, started by him, in which one million people died. And his is a regime with no moderate element to appeal to.
Read the chapter on Saddam and human rights in this dossier. Read not just about the one million dead in the war with Iran, not just about the 100,000 Kurds brutally murdered in northern Iraq, not just the 200,000 Shi'a Muslims driven from the marshlands in southern Iraq, not just the attempts to subjecting and brutalize the Kuwaitis in 1990, which led to the Gulf War. I say read also about the routine butchering of political operations, the prison cleansing regimes in which thousands die, the torture chambers and hideous penalties supervised by him and his family and detailed by Amnesty International.
Read it all and, again, I defy anyone to say that this cruel and sadistic dictator should be allowed any possibility of getting his hands on chemical, biological and nuclear weapons of mass destruction.
Why now, people ask? And I agree, I cannot say that this month or next, even this year or next, that he will use his weapons. But I can say that if the international community, having made the call for disarmament, now, at this moment, at the point of decision, shrugs its shoulders and walks away, he will draw the conclusion, dictators faced with a weakening will always draw. That the international community will talk but not act, will use diplomacy but not force and we know, again, from our history, that diplomacy not backed by the threat of force has never worked with dictators and never will.
If we take this course, if we refuse to implement the will of the international community, he will carry on. His efforts will intensify, his confidence grow. And at some point in a future not too distant the threat will turn into reality.
The threat, therefore, is not imagined. The history of Saddam and weapons of mass destruction is not American or British propaganda. The history and the present threat are real. And if people say why should Britain care, I answer because there is no way that this man in this region, above all regions, could begin a conflict using such weapons and the consequences not engulf the whole world, including this country.
That, after all, is the reason the U.N. passed resolutions. That is why it is right the U.N. Security Council again makes its will and its unity clear and lays down a strong new U.N. resolution and mandate. Then Saddam will have the choice -- comply willingly or be forced to comply.
That is why, alongside the diplomacy, there must be genuine preparedness and planning to take action if diplomacy fails.
Mr. Speaker, let me be plain about our purpose. Of course, there is no doubt that Iraq, the region and the whole world will be better off without Saddam. They deserve to be led by someone who can abide by international law, not a murderous dictator; someone who can bring Iraq back into the international community, where it belongs, not languishing as a pariah; someone who can make the country rich and successful, not impoverished by Saddam's personal greed; someone who can lead a government more representative of the country as a whole while maintaining absolutely Iraq's territorial integrity.
We have no quarrel with the Iraqi people. Indeed, liberated from Saddam, they could make Iraq prosperous and a force for good in the Middle East.
So the ending of this regime would be the cause of regret for no one other than Saddam.
But our purpose is disarmament. No one wants military conflict. The whole purpose of putting this before the United Nations is to demonstrate the united determination of the international community to resolve this in the way it should have been resolved years ago -- through a proper process of disarmament under the U.N. Disarmament of all weapons of mass destruction is the demand. One way or another, it must be acceded to.
Mr. Speaker, there are two other issues with a bearing on this question which I will deal with.
First, Afghanistan is a country now free from the Taliban, but still suffering. This is a regime we changed rightly. I want to make it clear once again we are entirely committed to its reconstruction. We will not desert the Afghan people. We will stick with them until the job of reconstruction is done.
Secondly, I have no doubt the Arab world knows it would be better off without Saddam. Equally, I know there is genuine resentment at the state of the Middle East peace process, which people want to see the international community pursue with the same vigor.
Israel will defend its people against these savage acts of terrorism. But the very purpose of this terrorism is to prevent any chance for peace. Meanwhile, the Palestinians are suffering in the most appalling and unacceptable way.
We need, therefore, urgent action to build a security infrastructure that gives both Israelis and Palestinians confidence and stops the next suicide bomb closing down the prospects of progress. We need political reform for the Palestinian Authority. And we need a new conference on the Middle East peace process based on the twin principles of a secure Israel and a viable Palestinian state.
We can condemn the terrorism and the reaction to it. As I've said many times in this House, frankly, that gets us nowhere. What we need is a firm commitment to action and a massive mobilization of energy to get the peace process moving again. And we in Britain will play our part in that in any way we can.
Finally, Mr. Speaker, there are many acts of this drama still to be played out. I have always said that parliament should be kept in touch with all developments, in particular those that would lead us to military action. That remains the case. And to those who doubt it, I say look at Kosovo and Afghanistan. We proceeded with care, with full debate in this House and when we took military action, did so as a last resort.
We should act in the same way now. But I hope we can do so secure in the knowledge that should Saddam continue to defy the will of the international community, this House, as it has in our history so many times before, will not shrink from doing what is necessary and what is right.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Speaker, let me start by thanking the prime minister for...
ZAHN: You've just heard the prime minister. We'll just stay with the picture here as some members of the Labor Party and other parties either counter or support what the prime minister has just had to say. But in his strongest of the list of allegations that he made against Saddam Hussein, he said he is continuing to develop weapons of mass destruction, has the ability to deploy some of the weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes, has military plans for the use of chemical and biological weapons, has developed mobile labs for the production of biological warfare agents and has sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.
Let's quickly just check in with John King to see if any of this was a surprise to him -- good morning again, John.
JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning again to you, Paula.
No surprises in the speech, but the emphasis and the emphatic nature in which it was delivered, much as President Bush has tried in recent days, the prime minister essentially challenging the United Nations, how can you not act? How can you not adopt a tough new resolution in the face of this 11 year history? And some sub plots to that. You heard the prime minister discussing Iraq's missile capability.
That is what President Bush has cited in saying the United States would act with Britain outside of the United Nations if necessary, because he says those missiles can reach U.S. troops in the region, as well as Israel, of course. And that is also a message to the Arab nations. Prime Minister Blair and President Bush saying in private diplomatic conversations with the Arab nations, Saddam Hussein is developing longer range missiles. He has attacked an Arab country before when he invaded Kuwait. What is to say he will not do it again?
That is part of the quiet diplomacy of Arab nations who publicly are quite skeptical about a military confrontation, but who privately, we are told, and Prime Minister Blair alluded to it, would very much like the neighborhood cleaned up, if you would accept that term. They're just worried that any military operation could be messy and leave Saddam Hussein in power.
ZAHN: So, John, he was specifically talking about Saddam Hussein having retained missiles that have a capability of a 400 mile range?
KING: A 400 mile range and growing. SCUD missiles, about 20, they say in the intelligence report, about 20 medium range SCUD missiles, they believe, are still in Saddam's possession after the Gulf War, even though he was supposed to destroy all of them. And what Prime Minister Blair is saying is that the experts in those programs have been reconstituted and according, at least to the British intelligence agencies, evidence that in the past year or so, Saddam Hussein has entered a new phase in that development, trying to extend the range of those missiles to a longer range, certainly within range of Afghanistan, within range of U.S. troops and British troops in that region, and certainly within range of most of the Middle East, including Israel.
ZAHN: John, for the folks that were just joining us and missed some of your analysis at the bottom of the hour, let's once again give them an understanding of how this speech was very much a part of a coordinated effort with the White House.
KING: Prime Minister Blair and President Bush are shoulder to shoulder in this effort, first, to make the case that the United Nations should step up and adopt a new resolution putting Iraq on notice -- comply with all of your commitments to the United Nations or face military strikes.
President Bush has been making that case. Prime Minister Blair has been making that case. Many of the skepticism -- much of the skepticism is in Europe, so Prime Minister Blair getting out with a new report today detailing British intelligence on Iraq's weapons programs and this powerful speech, an effort to sway public opinion not only in Great Britain, but across Europe, as well.
So the two leaders standing side by side saying they want the United States -- the United Nations to act, excuse me. They are demanding that it act, but also making clear they are prepared to act as partners if the United Nations does not rise to the challenge.
One distinction, you did hear Prime Minister Blair at the end of his speech saying his goal is disarmament, not regime change. He said he would love to see Saddam Hussein removed from power, but that that is not his public goal, that the public goal of any military action or of diplomacy would be disarmament. This president, here in the United States, says his ultimate goal is regime change and he makes no bones about that at all -- Paula.
ZAHN: Let's talk a little bit about how the speech might play with the American public, particularly at a time when CNN/"USA Today" came out with a new poll which suggests that now 49 percent of those who are going to vote in the midterm election feel that the issue of Iraq is more important than the economy. That is a big change from just in August.
KING: It is a big change and it is a reflection of the power of the bully pulpit of the presidency. President Bush, Vice President Cheney have put a primary focus on the Iraq issue as they travel the country campaigning for Republican candidates, raising money for Republican candidates, in their speeches here in Washington, the president's visit, obviously, to the United Nations.
Prime Minister Blair also gives the president very important political cover in the sense, you heard the prime minister say to the critics who say this is a rush to some reckless military action, look at the examples of Kosovo and Afghanistan. So for anyone in the United States who perhaps might be skeptical about this and thinking President Bush is going off on his own, there is Prime Minister Blair, who has stood by previous U.S. presidents, most notably Bill Clinton, a Democrat, saying that the United States would have a partner in this adventure. That helps President Bush politically here at home.
ZAHN: Well, what is clear from this poll, also, is the majority of Americans do not support the idea of going it alone, that the numbers change drastically if you have the support of the U.N. Seventy-nine percent of those polled say they would support U.S. troops going into Iraq if the U.N. supports it.
KING: And that is a dynamic here in the United States and also overseas. Many Arab nations saying if the Security Council adopted a new resolution that put military force on the table, those countries, as members of the United Nations, would feel compelled to allow the United States and Great Britain to publicly use their military bases. That is why the president went to the United Nations, but it is also why he reserves the right to act outside of the United Nations.
The next several days will be a key test of whether the president and the prime minister, whether all this lobbying, all these speeches, all this intelligence information can sway the debate in the Security Council. U.S. and British diplomats are working on the language of a new resolution. They have been delaying its public release because they're privately lobbying France, Russia and China, three countries with veto power on the Security Council. That language, we are told, could be ready as early as today or tomorrow. The president demanding action by the Security Council.
In that speech, remember, Paula, in the United Nations, the president said the U.N.'s credibility is at stake. This president and the prime minister of Great Britain, their influence on the world stage is at stake, as well, in the sense of can they sway the United Nations and force it to step up here?
But, again, the subtext of the prime minister's remarks today and the president's speech as recently as yesterday is yes, they would like that. They would like to work in concert with the United Nations, but they make no mistake about it, that they will act outside of the United Nations if, as the president says, the United Nations fails to meet the challenge.
ZAHN: And yet, John, despite the administration's efforts to continue to move public opinion in the United States, in one of the more interesting findings in this poll, it appears that the American public believes Osama bin Laden represents a far greater threat to the United States than Saddam Hussein.
KING: And we just went through the one year anniversary of September 11. The administration is acutely aware of that criticism and it was obvious that Prime Minister Blair is, as well. As he said in the end of his speech, not only would the war on terrorism continue, but efforts to rebuild Afghanistan would continue. The president -- and look for Defense Secretary Rumsfeld to make more of this case. He's at a NATO defense ministers' meeting right now.
The president makes the case that the United States can continue the pursuit of Osama bin Laden and the pursuit of al Qaeda and perhaps now be engaged in a military confrontation with Iraq. The president says the United States military can do both jobs, very difficult jobs, at once. There's been some skepticism in the Congress. There has been skepticism by retired generals in the military, some of whom testified before the Congress yesterday. And that certainly is an urgent priority to the American people, who remember the pain of September 11 a year ago and if asked to choose, find those responsible for September 11 or pursue Saddam Hussein, a large number, a plurality, in some polls a majority, would put Osama bin Laden as the top priority.
ZAHN: John, thanks so much.
If you'd stand by. We want to remind folks who are just joining us now, five minutes after the hour, you're watching AMERICAN MORNING. And we are reacting to just about a 33 minute speech that the prime minister of Great Britain has just given in the House of Parliament.
Let's bring Sheila MacVicar into the discussion, who joins us from London.
Sheila, John just made an interesting point about the distinction the prime minister made about the issue of disarmament, not talking about regime change in the way the Bush administration has, but simply the need to disarm Saddam Hussein.
Tell us why that is so important.
MACVICAR: Well, the prime minister was very clear. He said that the demand is disarmament...
ZAHN: Sheila, we're going to have to cut you off. The prime minister has taken to the podium once again -- let's watch.
TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: ... this point that I think it is worth emphasizing that the purpose, of course, is the disarmament of Iraq, and the decision, as he has just mentioned a moment ago, is for Saddam. But I don't there should be any doubt at all -- illusion about this. The people that would enjoy it most of getting rid of Saddam are the Iraqi people.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Kennedy (ph).
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Speaker, Mr. Speaker, this important opportunity of the prime minister's statement, the publication of the accompanying dossier and the debate which will follow, after the long summer recess gives all of us a chance to reflect the very legitimate anxieties of our constituents, and indeed in particular, the many representations which many of us have received from within the Muslim community in this country.
And also, to raise legitimate questions, quite a number of which are not yet, for many of us, adequately answered, either by the statement from the prime minister or by the dossier itself.
There is general consensus, of course, that Iraq constitutes a grotesque, immoral regime, and that that must be dealt with. But I do say to the prime minister, as I questioned him in the House just before the summer recess, there are two very important considerations here as founding (ph) principles.
The first has to be the role of this House of Commons. There is not a specific proposal, of course, before the House today, but if and when there does prove to be one, then there has to be an absolute up front opportunity for this House to vote on any proposals involving the possible use of British forces.
In his statement today, the prime minister said the House would be kept fully "in touch." Does "in touch" mean a democratic division in the lobbies of this House?
And the second consideration, Mr. Speaker, has to be the overriding supremacy of the United Nations itself.
The prime minister himself, in the penultimate paragraph of his opening letter, his opening preface, to the dossier states, and I quote him: "The case I make is that the U.N. resolution demanding he stops his weapons of mass destruction program have been flouted; that since the inspectors left four years ago, he has continued with this program; that the inspectors must be allowed back in to do their job properly; and that if he refuses or makes it impossible for them to do their job, as he has done in the past, the international community will have to act."
Now, that stands, at least rhetorically, Mr. Speaker, in some contrast to some of the very recent statements this week alone that we are hearing from the American administration.
I do not believe that the prime minister has been subject to fear criticism in aspects of the intensive international effort, which he has made since the events of September the 11th, and the efforts he has also made to invest the United Nations with its proper authority.
But I would urge him to continue to resist calls, whether they come from certain within this country, or others within the United States, for precipitate action. And that in that context, he is surely right to an emphasis on the fundamental need to restart the Middle East peace process.
For those of us who have never subscribed to British unilateralism, we are not about to sign up to American unilateralism now either.
What we have to be clear about, and which the prime minister touched at some length upon, is this notion of regime change. It is ill-defined and remains so today. It would create a dangerous precedent in international affairs.
We have to be clear about the possible consequences of such regime change. What will the reaction be in the rest of the Arab world? And if Saddam's regime falls, what kind of government is envisaged as a replacement?
The prime minister -- the prime minister spoke about the need for, in his statement, that we need Iraq to be led by someone who vehemently can abide by international law, can bring Iraq back into the international community, who can make the country rich and successful, and can make the country more representative -- make the government more representative of the country.
But what the prime minister was silent on is, who or where is that person or that set of people?
In the context of Afghanistan, Mr. Speaker -- in the context of Afghanistan, the prime minister at that point quite rightly, with our support and that and others, was able to point to the mobilization of forces within Afghanistan, which could lead to an alternative, more acceptable government.
Is there a capacity of the potential for a similar mobilization to take place within Iraq? In Afghanistan, the prime minister made clear that this country and the international community...
ZAHN: For those of you just dropping in on AMERICAN MORNING, you are watching some of the give-and-take after Prime Minister Tony Blair addressed a very packed House of Commons, where he laid out pretty much his 50-page dossier on why Saddam Hussein -- he didn't say Saddam Hussein needed to go, but why Iraq needed to be disarmed.
What you are seeing now is some of the dissent coming from lawmakers in his own party, and certainly sheds some light on the reported risk there is in his own cabinet about the prospect of going to war.
There is a lot of analysis in Britain that the reason why this dossier was published in advance of the speech we just heard was in an effort to shore up domestic support for the possible military action against Iraq, with Britain potentially joining America in that effort.
Let's bring Sheila MacVicar into the picture now.
The left wing of Mr. Blair's government is saying that he shed precious new information today in his speech, and he has a lot more to do to convince the British public that it should support any U.S. effort to go into Iraq. Explain to us the challenges Mr. Blair is up against, as he is trying to move public opinion.
SHEILA MACVICAR, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: There are a number of features here. One part of it, of course, is that Mr. Blair's own party is historically divided and can be quite divisive on issues like this -- the issue here of going to war against Iraq. But the underlying issue is the question of what's the reason for going to war? We heard the prime minister this morning say that the issue here is disarmament, of putting an end to all of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction, of making sure that he complies with the more than 40 U.N. resolutions passed over the last 11 years, and which he is currently violating.
But underlying all of this, there is grave concern here about what the Bush administration wants to do. We did not hear from the prime minister this morning a call for regime change in the way that we have heard from the Bush administration.
So, there are suspicions here in Mr. Blair's own party. It has to be said that there may be lingering suspicions in the minds of his own cabinet members about what the purpose is, and what the Bush administration really seeks to do in Iraq if, indeed, it comes to conflict.
And if it's clear that, while there may be support for ensuring that Iraq is made to adhere to U.N. resolutions, and while there may be support for ensuring that Iraq and Saddam Hussein are fully disarmed, there is not the same kind of support here for regime change.
ZAHN: Sheila, as we stay with you, we are just going quickly bring our audience up-to-date, who is just joining us, some of the allegations that Tony Blair just brought forth in his speech.
He said, among other things, that Saddam Hussein is continuing to develop weapons of mass destruction. He has the ability to deploy weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes. He has military plans for the use of chemical and biological weapons.
He also went on to say that Saddam Hussein has developed mobile labs for the production of biological warfare agents and has sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.
Now, the final point that he made, Sheila, was that Saddam Hussein has illegally retained missiles with a range of about 400 miles. And John King thought that that was a very significant thing for him to continue to reinforce today.
Shed some light on that.
MACVICAR: Well, the question, of course, is, what kind of a threat does Saddam Hussein pose to his neighbors and pose to others in the region? We will remember that during the first Gulf War in 1991, he did launch SCUD missiles. Those are the missiles that they are talking about. They say that they believe he perhaps may have retained as many as 20 of them.
He did launch those SCUD missiles against targets in Saudi Arabia and Israel. If he does retain SCUD missiles, they could reach targets in Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Israel again.
In addition to that, under the U.N. Security Council resolutions, Iraq was permitted missiles with a range of only up to about 120 miles, for the purpose only of territorial defense and integrity.
What the dossier says is that there is evidence that not only is he attempting to grossly extend the range of those missiles, that he is now working on more complex missile systems that could have a range of up to, say, 800 miles, which of course, would dramatically increase his range and would dramatically increase his ability to threaten those beyond his immediate region.
They say that they have photographs of a missile engine testing site; that that testing site shows, they say, that they are -- that work is well-advanced on a more sophisticate and longer-range missile.
And they say that in addition to that, they know that Iraq has illicitly tried to obtain missile propellants through middle men and others, an elicit procurement network if you will, that continues to operate on his behalf. It continues to supply him with weapons and with other components and chemicals that he needs for some of these other programs.
And that, indeed, if in fact he is developing a longer-range missile, that would also suggest that he's got longer-range delivery systems for his chemical or biological weapons systems -- Paula.
ZAHN: Thanks, Sheila.
We are going to try cut back to a shot here in the House of Parliament, where the prime minister is trying to rebut some of the very tough questions that are being posed from the opposition.
There are people out there that suggest that the prime minister did not produce any new, convincing evidence or any "killer fact" -- quote -- that says that Saddam Hussein has to be taken out straight away.
Now, this process could go on for some time, because a number of opposition members are going to plead their case, and among those is a lawmaker who says that they are going to publish a counter-document called, "This Dishonest Case For the War on Iraq."
So, the prime minister clearly trying to play to two audiences here, trying to bring some members of his own party back into the fold, what looks like an enormous challenge, as well as trying to convince the American public how much Great Britain supports the idea of disarming Iraq.
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