Examination of Witnesses (Questions 280-299)|
7 FEBRUARY 2006
Q280 Sir George Young: Does that also
remain the position for the UK?
Mr Blair: You can never say "never"
in any of these situations, but at the same time I have made it
clear that we are trying to pursue this by peaceful and diplomatic
means. That is our intention and that is our desire. I just think
you can get into a sort of argument where people start speculating
that people are drawing up plans for military action where they
are not. On the other hand, there is a real concern about Iran,
at the momentthere has got to be. Not just on the nuclear
weapons front, incidentally, but in respect of their support for
Q281 Sir George Young: Is there not a
risk that the regime in Iran will come to a view that there is
no appetite in America or the UK for military action and, therefore,
they will just carry on? They will take the view, perhaps, that
after Iraq a lot of military and political capital has been expended
and there is not the appetite for another confrontation and, therefore,
they will just call the bluff and carry on with their programme?
Mr Blair: It would be very unwise
to do that. However, I entirely understand why you say that, and
I think the President of Iran the other day referred to the Western
world as "the mangy old lions who were not up to it any more",
or some such. I think they would make a very grave mistake if
they did that. However, we shall proceed very carefully. As I
say, the report to the Security Council is the first step in that.
Iran is not Iraq, although my own belief is that if Iraq becomes
a proper stable democracy, as its people want, that will have
a huge impact on Iran as well, which is obviously why Iran is
not too happy about that prospect.
Q282 Sir George Young: Iran is not Iraq,
but if you stood back and looked at the relative threat to stability
in the Middle East from Iran and Iraq, you could make the case
that actually the threat from Iran was the greater one in terms
of proximity to weapons of mass destruction and declared threats
of hostility to near neighbours. Is there not a risk that, having
exhausted a lot of capital on the one, you have not got the resources
to tackle, potentially, the bigger one?
Mr Blair: I do not agree with
that. Just think of the Middle East at the moment, with what is
happening in Iran, Syria, Lebanon and Palestine, and think if
you also had Saddam still in power. It would not be a great prospect;
it would not be a prospect that would encourage anyone to think
that the situation was going to become more stable. The UN resolutions
you had to start somewhere, and Iraq was the place to start. I
do not think Iran is Iraq. I think you have got a civic society
in Iran and a people in Iran who desperately want to have change,
and in any event the nature of the Iranian regime is different.
However, you are right in saying it is an increasing concern for
all international policy makers, which is why, no doubt, Senator
McCain is speaking, and so are others. I think that this can be
dealt with through peaceful and diplomatic means, and that is
what we are looking to do, but it is interesting that over the
past few months I think there has been a change of mood in Europe
as well as in the United States, and you have the situation where
there is certainly a greater degree of concern and unity in Europe.
Q283 Sir George Young: So was the Foreign
Secretary right to say, on January 16: "In the real world
the truth is that military action is not on anyone's agenda"?
Mr Blair: It is not on our agenda.
Q284 Sir George Young: Have you not then
weakened your negotiating position, if you have ruled it out?
Mr Blair: No, I think the position
of the Americans is very clear. You know what the difficulty is,
George. If you are not careful, you put a word out of place and
people think you are about to go and invade Iran. Then people
try and pin you down into saying no matter what happens you are
never going to do anything. We all know what that particular game
is and it is difficult. The fact is, however, we are pursuing
what we are pursuing by peaceful and diplomatic means. However,
Iran, I think (and I have said this before), would make a very,
very serious mistake if it thinks the international community
is going to allow it to develop nuclear weapons capability. There
is an additional problem which I think Iran should be aware of,
which is that when its President makes statements, such as the
ones made about the State of Israel, that then enhances people's
concern about the fact of their having nuclear weapons capability.
When they are then, in addition, trying to export and support
terrorism round the whole of that region, it is a problem. When
they are trying to meddle in Iraq, it is a problem. These problems,
when they combine together, then give the international community
even more concern about whether they can be trusted in respect
of the programme that they say is merely a nuclear energy programme.
Sir George Young: I think Mike Gapes
wants to pursue this line of argument.
Q285 Mike Gapes: Prime Minister, the
Iranians for 18 years were secretly cheating on their undertakings.
The Iranian President has made very clearhe talks about
"fake super powers"that the Iranian Government
is determined to go ahead with this programme. What, in practice,
can we do? Can we actually prevent Iran from developing nuclear
Mr Blair: If we can bring Iran
into compliance with its Atomic Energy Authority obligations then,
yes, we can, and that is the right and proper way to do it. Iran
says it will comply, but it has done things over the past few
months that give people serious cause for concern, which is why
the report to the Security Council has happened.
Q286 Mike Gapes: They also got information
from the AQ Khan network and they also appear to have a very demagogic
nationalistic approach, whereby they argue: "India has nuclear
weapons, Pakistan has nuclear weapons, Israel has nuclear weapons,
the rest of world has not done anything about that, so why shouldn't
we, as Iranians, have nuclear weapons?"
Mr Blair: That is exactly what
they do say, which is why people have increasing concern about
them. The question is then: "What do you do?" I think
the proper step is, first of all, as I say, the report to the
Security Council. However, it is difficult to see exactly what
the purpose of the Iranian President's rhetoric, which is extremely
inflammatory, is. It is very difficult for us to see. My view
of this, again, is that I think there is an increasing recognition
of the fact that there is a virus of extremism and fanaticism
that comes out of the cocktail of religious fanaticism and political
repression in the Middle East that has now been exported to different
parts of the world, and we can see the impact even here in this
country. The recognition, increasingly, I believe, is that we
will only secure our own future if we are dealing with every single
aspect of that problem out there. That is why I think, in the
end, when people look back on it, they will realise that we needed
to do Iraq. We do need to ensure that Iran comes into compliance
with its obligations; we need to resolve the Middle East peace
process and we need to help those countries like Lebanon and other
Arab countries that want to move towards democracy to do so. I
have a very clear view now which is that our future security depends
on sorting out the stability of that region.
Q287 Mike Gapes: Can I put it to you
that if the Iranian regime refuses the Russian proposal to have
reprocessing carried out on Russian territory, or if it does so
under terms whereby they are still allowed to do some nuclear
conversion which could still give them a route to a nuclear weapon,
even though they were perhaps allegedly complying with international
requirements, we could be facing a very clear situation within
a relatively short time where this regime, with its rhetoric,
with the statements about Israel and so on, has got nuclear weapons?
Mr Blair: That is the risk.
Q288 Mike Gapes: So, in those circumstances,
when would it be necessary to take pre-emptive military action?
Mr Blair: As I say, that is not
a debate that is being had at the moment, and for all sorts of
reasons it is not very sensible to have it. You are right in drawing
attention. This is the problem, in the end. I think, as I say,
for the first time, people are saying: "Well, what are you
going to do about it?" All I am saying, at the moment, is
you move to the Security Council, and I think it is important
that this is done in a way that does not raise what would be false
fears of some military invasion. That is not on anyone's agenda.
However, it is nonetheless true that the concern about Iran is
growing very, very substantially, and the more that the President
of Iran carries on using this type of language, saying what he
says about the State of Israel, the more people get worried that
the timeline between political change in Iran and their development
of nuclear weapons capability gets out of kilter.
Q289 Mike Gapes: Does that mean, then,
we are just left with sanctions?
Mr Blair: It means that you take
this a step at a time.
Sir George Young: On sanctions, I think
Frank Doran wants to pursue that line of argument.
Q290 Mr Doran: Before I get to that,
my prepared question was to ask what the UK is trying to do in
the present process, but in the answers to Sir George Young and
Mike Gapes you seem to have expanded a little beyond Iraq to the
whole situation in the Middle East. What is the end game?
Mr Blair: My political view starts
from the world being interdependent. I think it is very, very
obvious now that the nature of the global threat we face arises
out of the combination of circumstances that you have had in the
Middle East, and we need a very clear vision and strategy for
that region that is about the encouragement of democracy and stability
and human rights in every part of it. That is why we are sitting
down with states in the Gulf region and working out how we help
them towards democracy; it is why it is important to protect Lebanon
from Syrian interference in Lebanon's democracy; it is why Iraq
stabilising as a democracy is a huge prize, if we can achieve
it, and it is why, in respect of Iran, we have to make clear what
is acceptable and what it is unacceptable. In respect of the Palestinian
issue, we have to be able to take forward this process because,
in my view, that is the one issue that has the capability of uniting
moderate and extreme opinion on the Middle East in a way that,
if we are not careful, is deeply unhelpful to what we are trying
to achieve. Therefore, I think it is extremely important within
the confines of the two-state solution that we make progress on
it. I just think the more you look at what is happeningeven
if you look at what is happening in Afghanistan, what is happening
in Afghanistan is that it is an export, effectively, from that
region. If you look at what is happening here or all over Europe
at the momentI do not mean the legitimate and perfectly
fair-minded protests but I mean with the small numbers of extremistsit
is a virus in the system. We have to confront it from both within
Islam and outside it. That is, in a nutshell, the view that I
have of how we deal with this. In a sense, what I think is very
obvious is the Iranians have a poor strategy. It is not a coincidence
that the moment this latest issue has arisen over the cartoons,
and all the rest of it, the Iranians have leapt straight into
the struggle, trying to be, frankly, as unhelpful as possible
about it. It is no surprise to me they have the opposite view;
they have the view that it is important that democracy does not
get a foothold in that region, because they believe if there is
a proper democracy in Iran they would not be in government.
Q291 Mr Doran: It sounds almost like
a modern domino theory you are presenting to us. Is it your view
that if we resolve the problems in Iran then we can go some way
to resolving the other problems in the Middle East?
Mr Blair: I think if you work
towards a clear strategic vision in the company of the modernisers
that there are within that region then, yes, I think we are well
on the way to sorting out our own long-term security, if you believe,
as I believe, that it is this religious fanaticism based on a
perversion of the proper faith of Islam that is driving this.
Q292 Mr Doran: We move on to the question
of sanctions. Most commentators think that it is unlikely that
you will get a unanimous decision in the Security Council for
sanctions because of the vested interests of the Chinese and,
perhaps, the Russians as well. That leads to the possibilityyou
are not ruling out military action and I understand why you do
not want to talk about it at the momentthat we will appear
fairly powerless in front of the Iranians. Is there any prospect
that the UK, if there is no UN decision in favour of sanctions,
will side, for example, with the Americans who are already imposing
sanctions, and try to get a coalition to effect economic sanctions
Mr Blair: Again, as I say, one
of the benefits of this process has been that the Germans, the
French and the British are working very closely together and with
the Americans. I think we want, as far as possible, to stick together,
and that is what we will try to do. As I say, I cannot predict
what might happen further down the line, but I certainly think,
for the moment, we are working on a path where we keep everyone
together. I think one of the interesting things about this is
that there is a greater degree of transatlantic co-operation on
this than I have noticed for some time. Indeed, I think it is
somewhat bringing in a different relationship on a whole series
of issues as a result of that.
Q293 Mr Doran: Just one final question:
on the question of sanctions it is very difficult to see what
economic pressure we can put on Iran that does not harm us as
much as it harms them, particularly on the oil front. Have you
made any assessments of the impactthe economic impact,
in particular on the oil priceif there were to be economic
sanctions against Iran?
Mr Blair: It is a factor we take
into account, obviously, but it is not so much a specific assessment
because we have not got to the stage of assessing what action
we might take but I suppose what that does, again, is indicate
why it is so important that in respect of energy policy Europe
has a more concerted view. I think one of the things that is happening
round the world today is that energy is being used as a political
lever in a far more pointed way than I can remember for several
Q294 Mr Doran: Do you accept there would
be a serious consequence?
Mr Blair: It depends on whatever
we might propose and it depends on what the Iranian response is.
Obviously, they have a certain position within the energy market
but that should not, in my view, deter us from taking action if
that is where we get to. The reason I am being somewhat coy here
is we made this report to the Security Council but we are not
at the stage yet of agreeing what we are going to do and I do
not want, obviously, when there are discussions going on as to
what we might or might not do, to start committing myself and
getting everyone in trouble.
Sir George Young: Thank you. Can I bring
in Andrew Miller?
Q295 Andrew Miller: Can I take a step
back to some of Mike Gapes' questions and then pose them to you
in the context of some of the issues around technology transfer
in the energy industry, and particularly in respect of nuclear
power, and then some of that spills over into nuclear weapons,
obviously. It is a rather important issue in my neck of the woods,
with Capenhurst just down the road from us. Just put the debate
into perspective. What is your estimate of how long it would take
Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon with their current technologies?
Mr Blair: I do not know, Andrew.
Q296 Andrew Miller: We are assuming they
have started enrichment processes.
Mr Blair: I am not an expert on
this and you would have to ask the Atomic Energy Authority. The
trouble is that no one quite knows what stage they are at. Someone
mentioned earlier AQ Khan, and that network, fortunately, has
now been shut down. Obviously, there is a worry, too, about the
capability of buying expertise from outside. People always assume
this is something countries develop within their own country,
but, as the AQ Kahn network showed, there is an export market
in this, and we have to be careful of that as well.
Q297 Andrew Miller: Does the proposed
or speculated Russian intervention prevent any further technology
transfer to Iran?
Mr Blair: No. I think people are
willing to have a close look at what the Russians were offering,
but I think, as the Russians themselves have now said, they are
worried about what the Iranian intentions really are. One of the
worries, as Mike was quite rightly saying earlier, is if they
then start refusing what appear to be perfectly reasonable offers
in order to give reassurance to people, then you wonder why they
are refusing them. So that then increases people's anxiety.
Q298 Andrew Miller: There is obviously
a huge risk, as we share technologies around the world to help
in the energy debate, that there will be some disadvantages spilling
out from it. Of course, URENCO's work, from where the leak occurred
(fortunately, not our part of URENCO but in Holland where the
AQ Khan network was focused) under the Treaty of Almalo is focused
upon power, it is not focused upon nuclear weapons. Are you confident
that there has been a complete close-down of risks like that within
the international community?
Mr Blair: I do not think we can
be fully confident at all, not when you have still got countries
like North Korea operating in the way that they are. I think the
AQ Khan network we can be relatively sure of. Libya has, as we
are clear about, given up its nuclear/chemical weapons ambitions.
Other countries who have potential in this area have been dealt
with and, obviously, Iraq. No, there is a market in this internationally.
The one thing I would say is that post-September 11 the counter-proliferation
initiative has had some success in trying to deal with those networks,
but you have got to watch this the whole time. The trouble is,
if you get a highly unstable regime whose leaders use the type
of rhetoric that Iran has used about Israel in the past few months,
which, after all, is a pretty extraordinary thing to say about
another statethat you, literally, want to wipe them off
the face of the map. This is my point, really: in the end I have
come to the conclusion that your only long-term stability is when
you are dealing with a regime that is properly accountable to
its people who, I have no doubt, want to get on with their lives
and live in peace. But it is a worry when you have got a country
saying these things, and prepared to operate in this way. That
is why we are having the debate we are having.
Sir George Young: We may want to come
back, if we have a moment later on, about the role of Parliament
and public opinion in this country on where we go next on Iran.
Can we just have a session on Hamas and the elections in Palestine?
Q299 Mr Sarwar: Was the Prime Minister
surprised by the resounding victory of Hamas in the recent elections?
Can the Prime Minister outline what kind of diplomatic contacts
the UK Government will have with a Hamas-led government?
Mr Blair: Well, as the election
went on I think we were increasingly less surprised by the result.
Democracy is democracy. That is what people have said in Palestine
and we should understand, maybe, some of the reasons why they
have said that. We have said we will not be able to have contact
with an Hamas-led government unless it is clear that they are
prepared to forswear that part of their constitution that says
they want rid of the State of Israel and that they are prepared
to embrace democratic and not violent means of achieving an independent,
viable Palestinian statewhich we want to achieve, incidentally.
It is important that we get it, but if they do not make those
changes that will stand in the way of us being able to help.