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CNN BREAKING NEWS

British Prime Minister Tony Blair Addresses House of Commons

Aired March 12, 2003 - 07:01   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Meanwhile, as we said, British Parliament is in session. Let's catch up with Christiane Amanpour for a preview of what we might hear from the prime minister -- Christiane.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Paula, he is due to take the podium, if you like, at the parliament there in the next several minutes. This is his weekly question time. And what we're being told is that he will outline apparently six benchmarks that, you know, the British have been talking about.

He is talking -- let's listen right now.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: ... reason why we should have such a resolution, as his question implies, is that for many months now, we have been waiting for Saddam Hussein to come fully into compliance with the United Nations resolution that was passed unanimously by the United Nations. It is time that he did so. If he does so even now, conflict can be averted. But the worst thing that could happen is for the will of the United Nations to be expressed so clearly, for him to defy that will, and then for no action to follow at all.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ian Duncan Smith.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can the prime minister guarantee what he said to me last week that there will be a vote in the United Nations on a second resolution?

BLAIR: Mr. Speaker, yes it is our intention to put a vote to the United Nations on a second resolution. We continue to work for that flat-out, and we will do that in a way that most upholds the authority of the U.N.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ian Duncan Smith.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If such a vote takes place, it may -- as he's already indicated, it may not be carried or it may even be vetoed. I think the House of Commons and the British people do have a right to know now therefore where the government stands in that event. Is it now the case that if there is no second resolution -- if it is now the case that there is no second resolution and the U.S. will go to war without the U.K.?

BLAIR: In respect of the latter part where he asks about the U.S. going it alone, let me just say this to him and to the House. Of course, it is true that the United States could go alone, and of course, this country should not take military action unless it is in our interests to do so. It is the British national interests that must be upheld at all times.

But the reason why I believe it is important that we hold firm to the course that we have set out is because what is at stake here is not whether the United States goes alone or not. It is whether the international community is prepared to back up the clear instruction that it gave to Saddam Hussein with the necessary action. That is why I am determined that we hold firm to the course we have set out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ian Duncan Smith.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The prime minister therefore will be aware, particularly overnight, that there is some confusion amongst our allies and also amongst various parties, including his own. To clear up this confusion, and this is an opportunity, will he confirm today that he could commit British forces to a war without the backing of a second resolution, although he still intends to go through it and we agree with him?

BLAIR: I have set out on many occasions the circumstances in which we would take action, but I think at the moment the best thing is to go flat-out for that second U.N. resolution. I am trying to do so, and it might just help if I say to the House the types of things we're discussing with other partners at the moment in the U.N.

What we are looking at is whether we can set out a very clear set of tests for Iraq to meet in order to demonstrate that it is in fully compliance, not partial compliance, but full compliance. For example, based on what the inspectors have already found, the anthrax, the thousands of liters unaccounted for, either produce it or produce the documentation showing it is destroyed.

For example, since the last resolution in November, we have not had one single interview of an Iraqi scientist outside Iraq, where they and their families can be guaranteed safety. We should make sure that Iraq is allowing those interviews to take place.

For example, the unmanned aerial vehicles, the things that can spray this chemical and biological poison, we should ensure they either produce them or produce, again, the documentation that shows they were destroyed.

Now, I believe if we set those conditions out clearly, if we back them by the will of a united United Nations, then we have a chance even now of averting conflict. But what we must show is the determination to act if Saddam will not fully comply.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I agree with the prime minister, and he has in that answer confirmed that he keeps that option about committing British troops to war with or without that second resolution. Therefore, I ask him: Does the doctrine of cabinet collective responsibility apply to this position?

BLAIR: Yes, of course, it does.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, the international development secretary said that she wouldn't -- she wouldn't support military action without a second resolution. And I remind him, she went on to say, amazingly she called him "reckless." And the prime minister, I believe, can either have cabinet collective responsibility or his international development secretary. Which is it?

BLAIR: I agree it is an embarrassment for me to find myself in agreement with (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and him in agreement with me on the issue of Iraq, but we are actually agreed. And I think rather than scoring the points -- which are perfectly acceptable, and I understand them -- actually at this point in time when we're facing quite momentous decisions to the country it's probably better that we discuss the substance.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The prime minister knows that we agree about the principles of what he has been trying to do. But I must remind him of exactly what she said; it's quite remarkable. She said, and I quote: "The current situation is deeply reckless, reckless for the world, reckless for the undermining of the U.N., reckless with our government, and reckless with his own future."

Surely if he can't convince his own cabinet, it's going to be very difficult to convince the British people. The prime minister's big tent surely is not big enough to include both the international development secretary and Donald Rumsfeld. Surely it's time for him choose. Which is it?

BLAIR: Well, one thing I've found in the last few weeks is that I have not been short of advice from anyone on this particular issue. But I do honestly say to him that I think the most important thing for us to do actually as the House, never mind as a government or the country, is particularly with our armed forces facing the potential of action to come together to work very hard in the United Nations to secure the second resolution, and to try and make sure that we send the strongest possible signal out to Saddam Hussein that he has to now disarm or face the consequences. And I say again to him, it's better to concentrate on that than the points he just made.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tony Wright (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. The whole House will want to pay tribute to the prime minister for his tireless efforts to resolve the present crisis through the United Nations.

But could I take him back -- could I take him back for a moment to January, 1998, over five years ago, and to a letter written by several members of the Republican Right of the United States, including Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz, to President Clinton, and to one sentence of that letter, where having said that American interests in the Gulf now require military action to get rid of Saddam Hussein and to produce regime change. They say this.

They say this one sentence, "American policy cannot continue to be crippled by a misguided insistence on unanimity in the U.N. Security Council," nothing about disarmament, nothing about human rights, nothing about terrorism. Isn't that the smoking gun?

BLAIR: I mean, again, one of the things that I've found is that I can't actually answer for the comments of every member of every administration around the world, including occasionally even my own, as (UNINTELLIGIBLE) pointed out.

So, what I would say to him very simply is this: That rather than debate the wealth of conspiracy theories and comments from the Republican Right or the Democrat Left or this part or that part, why don't we just work out what it is that is the right thing to do and do it? The right thing to do, whatever anyone else may say, we went through the United Nations because we believe in it. But I think I said right at the very beginning when we went down that U.N. path in September of last year, the U.N. has got to be the way of dealing with this, not the way of avoiding dealing with it.

And that is why it is important now four-and-a-bit months on when Saddam is not fully complying that we come to a crunch and take a decision. And we have tried to provide within the U.N. framework a set of conditions that allow us to test very clearly, drawn on what the U.N. inspectors have said, whether he's fully in cooperation or not. And what I urge even at this stage is for countries to get behind that and help us with that, because that is the best way, in fact, of achieving disarmament peacefully.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Charles Gibbon (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Speaker, has the attorney general advised the prime minister that a war on Iraq in the absence of a second United Nations resolution authorizing force, would that be illegal? What is the advice the attorney general has given?

BLAIR: I've said on many occasions we would not do anything as a country that did not have a proper legal basis to it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Charles Gibbon (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Given that this week the United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has said that in the absence of a second United Nations resolution we would be acting in a way which breached the U.N. charter, is Kofi Annan wrong?

BLAIR: No, Mr. Speaker. What Kofi Annan has been saying -- and I agree with him -- is that it's important that the U.N. comes together. And that's why we are trying to provide a basis, a compromise even at this stage that allows us to resolve this matter properly. Although I do say to him and to the House, it is complicated in getting that agreement to the United Nations when one nation is saying that whatever the circumstances, it will veto a resolution. Now, I hope he would accept that we cannot have such a situation, and that we have to make sure that we deal with this in the terms of the Resolution 1441 that we all agreed upon, including himself.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mark Marsonovicz (ph). UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Whilst the attention of the world is understandably focused on Iraq, the everyday crisis in Israel and Palestine continues, and gets worse particularly for millions of Palestinians, but of course for many Israeli citizens as well. Can my honorable friend tell the House what steps he is taking to keep alive what faint hope there is in the Middle East peace process? And in particular, would he call upon the new Israeli government not to take the opportunity of a focus on Iraq to further undermine the very precarious position of Palestinians and Palestinian society?

BLAIR: I agree entirely with what my honorable friend says, and I would emphasize to him that we remain firmly committed to taking forward the Middle East peace process. I welcome very much the decision to appoint Abu Mazen as prime minister to the Palestinian Authority. I think that is a good, forward, progressive move. I hope it will then get an echo back from the Israel side.

And I can only say this to him: That I believe there will be very few people in the Middle East and in the Arab world who shed tears for Saddam Hussein, but I believe there will be people everywhere in the world, not just in the Arab and Muslim world, who genuinely want to see the Middle East peace process back on its feet and going forward.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Richard Sheppard (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What was the legal basis in international law for war against Yugoslavia? And if that did not require a United Nations resolution, why does the Iraqi situation require one?

BLAIR: As the foreign secretary has pointed out...

ZAHN: For those of you just joining us here on AMERICAN MORNING, you're listening to the prime minister of Great Britain take on a bitterly divided and fired-up House of Commons on the issue of Iraq. The prime minister fiercely defending the track that Great Britain is on, saying he is fully committed to a second resolution no matter what the vote.

And we are expecting to hear him lay out a series of benchmarks that Iraq would have to meet in order to avoid war. One of the things he's mentioned so far on the issue of anthrax, he said to Saddam, you either produce it or you produce documents proving that it has been destroyed.

He also went on to say there has not been one single interview with Iraqi scientists outside of the country, and he said it is very important that families be given safe harbor in order for that to happen.

Let's quickly check in with Christiane Amanpour to give us a better context against which the backdrop of this is happening.

Christiane, you were mentioning yesterday the overwhelming majority of the British public only supports the British joining in military action against Iraq if this second resolution gets passed. What else can you tell us just about what the prime minister is up against?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Paula, that, and also now this comment from Donald Rumsfeld that has emerged from the Pentagon yesterday. Basically Downing Street is being pummeled, if you like, after Rumsfeld indicated in response to a question that the U.S. would go it alone if Blair's domestic problems were so severe that he could not commit combat troops.

Well, that has been taken here as really very, very unhelpful. It has really pummeled Blair. It's laid him open to much more criticism from the opposition, who are now saying, OK, Tony, see what we told you? The Americans say they can go it alone. You don't need to stick with them, pull back.

Well, you heard very clearly in this parliament at question time just now that he said that they would remain committed to the line that they've already taken, and that is that the British will commit combat troops if there is a war against Iraq, with or without a second resolution. He said that after repeated questioning from the opposition leader there, Ian Duncan Smith.

In terms of the conditions that we have been talking about, you know, the British have been floating this idea of benchmarks and specific tasks for Saddam Hussein as a way of trying to get a compromise, as he said, to get as many of the Security Council nations on board; that along with perhaps an extension of a war deadline. So, he laid out three today in the parliament, but we've been told there are six, and we haven't heard them yet.

So, the first one he said that Iraq has to declare the thousands of anthrax that the U.S. and other countries know that he has, or produce the documents that they have been destroyed.

He said there have been no interviews. We have to have scientists, he said, and their families come out of Iraq and be interviewed. A foreign office minister indicated that it must be 30 scientists and their families to come out.

He also talked about an unmanned aerial drone that could potentially be used to spray biological or chemical agents. That has to be produced, or the destruction documents of that item have to be produced.

So, we're still waiting to see whether there are any further benchmarks that the British want. We understand, of course, that they are in negotiations and discussions with the United States and others in how to get as broad and as sort of conciliatory language as possible on a second resolution, so that it can get the votes to put it over the top -- Paula.

ZAHN: I guess what is so abundantly clear today is how the prime minister must wage a two-front war here -- one in the Security Council and one at home.

AMANPOUR: Yes, and now, you know, trying to fend off the perhaps unintended, but nonetheless, blows from the United States itself. People here are really quite amazed that at this time when he's undergoing so much political pressure and has gone out on such a limb to support the United States that the secretary of defense would appear to articulate policy whereby the U.S. would go it alone. Of course, Britain now has said that it made quite serious -- what's the diplomatic word for it -- representations to the U.S., and they are gratified that Rumsfeld -- quote -- clarified," backtracked on those remarks. Britain says it remains clear that it will commit troops if there is a war.

Of course, some are saying that perhaps Rumsfeld was trying to give Tony Blair an out, trying to say, well, you know, if it's too difficult, well, we'll consider some other means for you. But it's really sparked quite a storm of protests from not only his allies here, but also the opposition who are taking full advantage of this so-called admission that Tony Blair doesn't need to stand with the U.S. as far as the U.S. is concerned.

ZAHN: Christiane Amanpour, thanks so much.

And just a programming note. We are going to try to dip in and out of this contentious session of the houses of parliament to give you a better idea of what Tony Blair faces, not only at the Security Council but at home as well.

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