United Kingdom
Prime Minister Tony Blair
Interview with CNN
September 16, 2001

PRESENTER: Prime Minister Tony Blair was one of the first of the US allies to come out & say categorically that United Kingdom stands shoulder to shoulder with the United States. He also said that Britain’s interests are intimately engaged, because of the high number of British casualties. Mr Prime Minister, thank you for joining us this morning. Yesterday, the President of the United States said we are at war, war has been declared on us. Are you prepared to say that war has been declared and that there is a state of war?

TONY BLAIR: Yes, whatever the technical or legal issues about the declaration of war, the fact is that we are at war with terrorism. What happened on Tuesday was an attack not just upon the United States but upon the civilised world. The thousands of people that lost their lives, included nationals of many, many countries – probably two, three hundred people from Britain will have died in that terrorist attack – makes it in fact the worst terrorist attack on British citizens that there has been since the Second World War. So this is a situation that concerns us all. Our own interests are intimately engaged, quite apart from the fact that in these times it’s important that America realises that her friends right round the world stand with her.

PRESENTER: You and other leaders have talked about a global alliance to combat this global network of terror and there are obviously very many components, including a military component. What will the United Kingdom, what will Britain do if the United States decides to go to war?

TONY BLAIR: This is something obviously we are discussing with the American President, the American administration, at the moment, what help we can give. And I’m very pleased at the way that America and the American administration has gone out of its way to consult its allies to keep us fully informed so that we are part of the deliberations that they are making. But we have to do two things, in my view. First of all, there has to be a response to bring those terrorists who committed this attack to account. And we will play our full part in that. And secondly, there has then to be an agenda that we construct at an international level that involves the whole of the international community in dismantling the machinery of international terrorism, how it’s financed, how these people move about the world, the countries that harbour them and give them help. At every single level, we have to pursue and dismantle this machinery of terror. And that is important, not just for the purpose of bringing those people to account but also in order to make sure that this does not happen again.

PRESENTER: Britain has stood with the United States in most of its military campaigns of the last 10 years, from the Gulf War on. Was it safe to say that, if there is a military response, Britain will take part militarily?

TONY BLAIR: Well, we’ve made it very clear that we stand side by side with the United States, and it’s not a question of the United States simply saying this is what we’re going to do, now, come and join us. The US is in close consultation with us and with other allies and I think there will be a very broad support for a response that allows us to pursue and bring to account those responsible for this attack, and do it as an act of justice.

PRESENTER: Do you think the evidence is out yet? Have you been presented with what you need? You talked about the need to know who did it, the need to see the evidence.

TONY BLAIR: As President Bush said yesterday it’s fairly clear where the evidence is tending. But I think it’s important that we consider the evidence in a very careful way. That it’s factually based. That we are hard-headed about it. That once we have come to a conclusion, then it is important that we hold these people responsible for this, as I say, account. And I think you’ll find, incidentally, that that is the view right around the world. I’ve spoken to Arab leaders in the past few days that have expressed their outrage at what has happened, their determination that this should be seen as something that the world of Islam is standing against – not merely countries like the America and the United Kingdom. And I think you will find there is enormous support for the idea that we must put together a broad-based coalition, to hound these people down and bring them to account, and do it, as I say, for reasons of justice. We owe it to those people that lost their lives, to their families who are grieving, and to our own defence of democracy and liberty and freedom.

PRESENTER: Which brings me to the question, you know, a lot of people are looking now at which countries can be counted on to stand with the United States and which countries stand against. In the words of the US president, you’re either with us or you’re not. We have heard you know, in the past we’ve seen in some attempts to build coalitions, there are some countries who don’t particularly go rushing in to this kind of thing. France sometimes has its own reservations, Germany has its own reservations. Do you think there will be a cohesive, Gulf War-style alliance?

TONY BLAIR: I do think that the whole of the civilised world will stand together, yes. I spoke to President Chirac myself on the phone yesterday and I can assure you, I think, that the whole of Europe will stand with America on this because people know that what happened was not just aimed at America. It was aimed at all of us. These people believe they can achieve by mass terrorism what they cannot achieve by peaceful, democratic means. And therefore, even though it is in our nature to be reasonable, to proceed very cautiously and carefully – we haven’t sought this conflict. When the conflict comes, then as we’ve learnt before from our history, we have to be prepared to face up to it. And I think that for a long period of time, the world has turned a blind eye, been somewhat indifferent to the menace of international terrorism and I think we’re all to an extent culpable in that. But what we have to got to do now is realise it exists, look at its full power and potency, realise that these people, incidentally, if they could do worse would do worse; the number of people they kill is not limited by anything other than purely technical capability. There’s no morality so far as they’re concerned. And once we understand that, then I think it is important that we not merely, as I say, pursue those people who have been directly responsible and hold them to account, but then look at the way terrorism operates, how it’s financed, where it is and how we pursue it and dismantle it.

PRESENTER: Well, today there are reports that even in England, there is a bank – at least one bank, maybe more – that’s been used to channel funds for propaganda for this group. There has been some radical voices in the Islamic community here calling for martyrdom and standing against the United States in this matter. What does a democracy such as yours, and other democracies, what can you do? Do you have to sort of encroach perhaps on some of the things that make a democratic world stand apart – some of the civil liberties, some of the protections on individual freedom of speech, freedom to act, freedom to hide under the banner of religious organisations? Will you crack down here?

TONY BLAIR: We will certainly look, as I think most countries will, at our own domestic laws and see how in a sense they measure up to the scale of the problem we now face. And I think that we can proceed in a sensible way, which is to say people are perfectly entitled to express their views – and if people want to be anti-British or anti-American, you know, we’re democrats, we believe that people have the right to express their views. But if they are engaged in organising terror or acts of terrorism then we have got to act against that and, you’re right, I think a lot of people have got to look at, for example, how terrorism is financed, how some of these people do shelter in our country, and not just our country but other countries, democratic countries around the world. And if this evil of mass terrorism is as we say it is, then we have got to exercise the power and vigilance to ensure that it’s restrained and defeated. Now, I don’t believe that is to act in contradiction of our civil liberties. I believe it is in part pursuing the basic civil liberty that people have to go about their business free form terror.

PRESENTER: Do you think here might be, I don’t know, a system of identity cards or something similar to that?

TONY BLAIR: I think there are a whole series of things that people will look at in the wake of this and I don’t .. this is the time, as it were, to set an objective and then to consider very carefully how we meet that objective.

PRESENTER: Let’s go back and talk about the alliance. How do you keep an alliance cohesive over what you’ve all described as a sustained, long and difficult campaign? It’s going to take a long time, apparently, to do what you’ve described.

TONY BLAIR: Well of course, it’s right in a sense, that when we’re merely offering words of support that is in a way, as I’ve been saying to people over the last few days, that’s the easy part, in one sense. I mean the hard part starts when you actually take the action. Not just because of people’s sense of horror and outrage at what has happened but also because of their realisation that unless we take action, then we are all at risk, and so it is right for reasons of justice but it’s also right for reasons of self-protection. I’m not saying there won’t be difficulties along the way, there always are in these situations, but certainly so far as Britain is concerned – and I really do believe that the vast bulk of the civilised world will stand with America.

PRESENTER: Have you spoken to your Russian counterpart, have you spoken to President Putin?

TONY BLAIR: Yes I have,

PRESENTER: And what are they prepared to do?

TONY BLAIR: I think obviously you have to talk to President Putin about the specific things that the Russians will do to help in this situation but I don’t think you should be in any doubt that President Putin and the Russian people were utterly horrified by this, and of course they themselves have suffered terrorist outrages in Russia, too.

PRESENTER: When we talk about the military component of any response, do you think .. Nato has obviously unprecedentedly given its full support to come to mutual defence of one of its members. Do you envision a classic Nato-style response, or how would you envision a military response?

TONY BLAIR: I think there’s a process we need to get clear here. First of all, we identify those responsible. Then we work out the correct military response and then we see the right way of putting that together. Now, I think we’re to premature at this stage to start speculating on the exact nature of either the response or the way that we will pursue it. Obviously, as I say, there’ll be these two components of the actions which we take. The more immediate action, if you like, to bring to account those responsible and then, over time, the systematic war upon the whole machinery of terrorism.

PRESENTER: Are you .. have you.. do you think that the United States would take unilateral action or do you expect there will be further consultation and gathering of the coalition?

TONY BLAIR: I think that the way President Bush has handled this is absolutely right. He has been very calm and measured in the way that he has approached it. He has been in close consultation with allies. Obviously America has got to defend itself against such an attack, and obviously we will be there in support of America in doing that, and that is important. But it has been done in a way that reflects very great credit on the administration because their determination is absolute, but their way of doing it quite rightly is to say this is where we stand, this is why we stand in this position, join us in it. And I think that will, of itself, win a great deal of support, as I say, not just amongst Western countries or countries that are traditional allies for the United States. I think they will get support for that position right across the world.

PRESENTER: The President of the United States has talked about a fight between good and evil, and a lot has been made of sort of a clash of civilisations .. or a clash of fantatics against the civilised world. How do you see this clash, if there is one?

TONY BLAIR: Well, I think those are two very separate things. The vast majority of Muslims are decent, law-abiding people who are absolutely appalled by this outrage and will be fully supportive of us taking action against international terrorism. Indeed, many Muslims are victims of international terrorism. So in no sense should this be seen as, if you like, as one part of the world against the Islamic world. It’s not like that at all and I think people understand that very clearly. But it is a war, if you like, between the civilised world and fanaticism. And whatever banner that fanaticism marches under, it’s important that we recognise these are people who will stop at nothing. And therefore, however difficult it is for us and however much we will regret that we have to take this action because of the terrible thing that has happened, nonetheless we have to do so. And this is a time for cool heads, for calm nerves, and for an absolute and fixed determination to see this thing through. And we will see it through, it will be done.


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