25 September 2001
Statement at 10 Downing Street
Prime Minister Tony Blair
TONY BLAIR: I wanted to give you an update on several issues. I think two weeks on from the attacks on the United States, it is clear to me that the coalition of support for firm action against those responsible is strengthening rather than weakening.
Iíve just spoken now to the Japanese Prime Minister, who in common with all G8 leaders, is determined that his country should play its part in defeating this scourge of international terrorism. I also want to welcome specifically the latest support offered by President Putin of Russia Ė a new and better relationship is being forged with Russia and the rest of the democratic world, which I think all of us should welcome. Iíve also spoken today with President Assad of Syria and with Prime Minister Sharon of Israel, As you know, we have been urging both sides in the Middle East Peace Process to resume talks as soon as possible, so I was particularly pleased that Prime Minister Sharon called me today to say that the meeting between Yasser Arafat and Shimon Peres was going to go ahead.
And as the coalition builds, and as our preparations continue, the terrorists inside Afghanistan, and the Taliban regime that harbours them, should not doubt the unity of the alliance being built against them, or our determination to do what is necessary to bring those responsible to account. If the regime in Afghanistan refuses to do what they know they should, then our enemyís friend also becomes our enemy too. They have chosen to help the terrorists; and in choosing to help the friends of terror, they are choosing to be enemies of ours.
Our stated aim, as you know, is to bring to justice those responsible for the attacks of a fortnight ago, which killed several thousand people, including many, many British people. The Taliban regime stands in the way of that. But I also want to add this: our fight is with that regime, not with the people of Afghanistan. These people have also suffered for years: their rights abused, womenís rights non-existent, poverty and illness ignored, a regime without respect or justice for its own people. A regime founded on fear, and funded largely by drugs and crime.
Our fight is not with Islam. Our fight is with a terrorist network and a regime that sustains them in mutual support. The vast majority of Muslims, as Iíve said many times many before, condemn the attacks as unreservedly as we do. The Afghans fleeing now are fleeing in fear of their own regime every bit as much as in fear of military conflict. But military conflict there will be unless the Taliban change and respond to the ultimatum that has been so clearly delivered to them.
They care little for human life. And they care little for their own people. But we do care about the humanitarian plight of people in Afghanistan. That is why we have been discussing in the past few days, and most recently with the Prime Minister of Japan this morning, putting in place a proper response to the humanitarian crisis now developing as a result of the attack of September 11. We are looking now, both in our own account, with other countries, with the United Nations Ė and I spoke to the Secretary General a short time ago Ė to try to do what we can to get food supplies both to refugees, and to those staying inside Afghanistan. This will be particularly pressing with the winter snows due in a matter of weeks. In addition we are working on plans for the long-term.
We have already announced some extra £25 million for refugees in the region; we stand ready to do more if necessary. But this will require a concerted effort at every single level of international organisations responsible for these issues. We are going to help with the resources for the UNHCR, the Red Cross and other non-governmental organisations; and we are going to work with experts and local and international groups in order to provide much-needed food and supplies.
Finally, as all countries look to their own domestic laws, we have been looking very carefully at issues such as the financing of terrorism, extradition laws, asylum and immigration, as well as our own specific anti-terror laws. I am in no doubt of the need to strengthen our laws in the fight against terrorism and again, within the next couple of weeks, we shall be announcing the measures that we intend to take. Thank you
The Prime Minister answered questions from the press.
QUESTION: Prime Minister, could I ask about what you said about the Taliban government? Can you give us any sense of when this ultimatum runs out, how much more time - if any - they have got? And secondly, we said similar sorts of things about the Iraqi regime, and after the Gulf War we left them there. Is it your intention that if the Taliban fail to respond, we will remove the Taliban government and put an alternative government into Afghanistan?
PRIME MINISTER: The way that I would put this is, is as follows: The Taliban regime know exactly what they need to do. It's been spelt out very clearly by President Bush, by myself, by other world leaders. And they could do it perfectly easily. And they choose not to do it because they are helping bin Laden and they have helped the terror camps set up in Afghanistan for the export of terror throughout the world. Now, they could act at any point in time. They want to, and they should act. In respect to the regime itself, if they stand in the way of bringing bin Laden and those associated with him to account, then they are every bit as much our enemy as bin Laden himself. So, their choice is very clear; they either change what they have been doing, behave as they should do, and yield up the person they know perfectly well is responsible for this atrocity, or they will be treated as an enemy and their regime will be treated as an enemy.
QUESTION: Prime Minister, can I just put this to you - are you suggesting that the forces of the West have it in their power first of all to remove the Taliban regime if necessary, and is it also realistic to hope that you can track down bin Laden, either capture him, or kill him?
PRIME MINISTER: We certainly have the power to do very considerable damage to the Taliban regime, and any action that we take will be directed towards the regime, not at the ordinary people of Afghanistan who are the victims of this regime, who have been treated appallingly and abused appallingly by that regime. And, you wouldn't expect me to say a great deal about what capacity we have to track the whereabouts of bin Laden and to hunt him down, but I can assure you we will bend every single effort to that end.
QUESTION: One or two things concerning Israel for the moment, the Israeli prime minister's sources close to him have suggested that you actually apologised for what Jack Straw had said about Palestine. Is that the case? And also, could I ask in view of the fact that there does seem to be a re-evaluation has been made clear both towards the humanitarian position in Afghanistan and towards Israel and the Palestinians as a result of this bombing, wouldn't the conclusion, however depressing, be that terrorism actually works inasmuch as it re-focuses international opinion?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, there was never any issue of an apology being asked for at all. What we did do, however, was discuss both in the light of Jack Straw's visit and also because of the current situation, how we could move forward the Middle East Peace Process, and I was very pleased that the prime minister said that the meeting between Simon Peres and Yassir Arafat would go ahead. And, I think there's a - I think this is the way that I would put this to you. This crisis has been so severe, and the events so traumatic, the terrorist outrage so atrocious that what has happened is that all around the world, people are re-evaluating how they must deal with this situation, how we must come together and act, and there is a real sense that I have that the international community is coming together. And a whole series of things that you might have thought of completely impossible a few weeks ago are possible. The fact that the Foreign Secretary is in Iran, with Iran having issued its solidarity with the people of the United States of America as a result of this outrage. The fact that the Middle East peace process that seemed completely stalled now has some hope in it. The fact that I can talk to the Syrian president today and we can discuss the possibility of his coming to Britain, and discussing what we can do jointly in the action against terrorism. The fact that Russia is fully behind taking action against those responsible and offering its help and assistance to the United States of America. The fact that, as I've discussed with the Japanese prime minister this morning, that for the first time in many, many years Japan has stepped forward and said this is an international crisis, we want to play a part in it though we play no part as a result of our own position, in military action nonetheless, we will give logistical support, we will give humanitarian support, we will do what we can to assist America. So, I think what is - what is happening is that because this crisis has been, as I say, so deep, and because now there is this real sense in the international community that it has to come together, if you like, a whole lot of barriers and obstacles to people communicating with each other, trying to understand each other's point of view are coming down and are breaking up. And I, I mean, insofar as any good can come out of such evil, I think that is the good that is emerging from it.
QUESTION: Could we for a moment turn to the question of Israel and bringing down the barriers? You said that no question of an apology being asked for, but in order to smooth things over, was there any expression of regret for any misunderstanding that might have arisen?
PRIME MINISTER: The relationship between both myself and the prime minister of Israel and between Israel and Britain are very, very strong and, frankly, the most important thing is that we discuss how we get the peace process moving forward, and that's what we did.
QUESTION: Prime Minister, you say that if the Taliban gave up bin Laden that is their choice, but would it be enough for the Taliban to give up bin Laden to obviate the need for some form of military strikes or, given what the Americans particularly have said about other states who harbour terrorists, wouldn't there still be the danger that we would have to take military action against other states, or is it - is that the simple price of stopping the war, that we get bin Laden to justice?
PRIME MINISTER: No, I think it's very important that I say to you that bin Laden is, is one of the leading organisers and sponsors of terrorism in the world, but he's not the only one, and he's not the only one operating out of Afghanistan. There are scores of these terrorist camps in Afghanistan, and they have been helped and supported and given succour by the Taliban regime. So, it's not simply a question of them yielding up bin Laden, it is a question of them making sure that all those responsible for terrorism are yielded up and that those camps are closed down, and then verifiably closed down because, you know, these people have been exporting this terror right around the world. Of course what has happened on the 11th of September is an atrocity so great that it has had naturally the impact it has, but if you look back in the last ten years, there is a whole long list of terrorist acts that these people have carried out, funded from and organised from Afghanistan.
QUESTION: On the measures that you say you're going to be introducing in a couple of weeks, are you yourself convinced for the need for identity cards?
PRIME MINISTER: In respect of all these measures, both in respect of the laws of extradition and how we make sure that we are tackling the issue properly of how we prosecute people for terrorist crimes, these are all questions - and questions like is, are identity cards a good idea or not - they're questions that are under consideration, but until we've made our deliberations, I think it's as well not to speculate on them.
QUESTION: Prime Minister, could we please turn to the domestic situation; first of all what is going to happen about the recall of parliament and the party conferences; and secondly, the concerns that have been expressed by the UN and everyone else about chemical and biological weapons?
PRIME MINISTER: On the first point, we've already indicated that we will have a shortened party conference. I think other political parties have indicated the same. We are going to recall parliament, we're still in discussion exactly when the best time is, and that's something we're discussing with the other political parties who are - I think the feeling is, you know, when we have specific things in particular to announce, then that's the best time to do it. Obviously, we keep in close consultation with people of all political parties at the moment. And, in respect of the last point that you mentioned, we have to remain vigilant, and there is no doubt at all that these terrorists would use whatever means they can to bring about devastation and death to people, but there is no evidence of any specific threat that we have, and I think it's also important that we are not alarmist, but responsible in the way that we handle these things.
QUESTION: Can we talk about humanitarian aid, because obviously that's something you see as very important? Are you - we talking about getting food supplies to them within camps just over the border into Pakistan? Are we talking about putting aid actually dropping food supplies within Afghanistan? What are we trying to do?
PRIME MINISTER: I think we've got to do both. We've got to look, obviously, at how we help those people in camps outside of Afghanistan, people particularly who are fleeing over the borders and to the countries surrounding Pak - Afghanistan such as Pakistan. But, in a sense, that is an easier thing to do. I mean, that requires us to put a lot of effort and money into it, but at least we can reach the people relatively easily. What we're also looking at, however, is what help we can get to those people actually inside Afghanistan itself. Now, even in normal circumstances, and there aren't many normal circumstances in Afghanistan, but even normally, they are living in abject poverty a lot of them and dependent on aid. And what we've got to make sure is that we try and get whatever help that we can to those people who have been displaced in Afghanistan at the present time, and we will do that.
QUESTION: Have you had any news about, could I ask, from Iran? You had the conversation with present Iran a few days ago about what sort of help, in practical terms, they are prepared to give to the coalition?
PRIME MINISTER: I don't, but I will obviously speak to the Foreign Secretary later once he's had his talks.
QUESTION: Obviously you can't say anything about timing, and everyone understands that, everyone understands the need for tight security, but can we at least get some sort of feel for, if there is action taken in the short term, that that won't by any means be the end of everything that you contemplate?
PRIME MINISTER: All the way through, I've made it clear there are really two parts to this agenda. The first is action in respect to bin Laden, his associates, and the Taliban regime that is harbouring him. The second part is, then, to take action against all the other aspects of international terrorism; how it's financed, how it's controlled, what are the organisations driving it, how they cross frontiers, how they acquire their weapons, and that is something that we turn to as well. Now, we're in discussion with the Americans, with our other allies, with the United Nations as to what is the best programme of action there as well. But be under no doubt, although it is important, and in fact vital that we make the immediate response to what has happened and pursue those responsible in Afghanistan, it is also important that we take action on this longer-term agenda too. Both of those things are important if we wish to deal with this evil. Thank-you very much.