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United Kingdom
Prime Minister Tony Blair
Briefing en route to New York City
September 20, 2001

PRIME MINISTER:
You have probably got a read-out of what I was saying this morning with President Chirac. I think the coalition is growing in strength and support. He has made it very clear that France will support action, including military action, in order to ensure that those responsible are brought to account. We obviously had an opportunity to discuss his meeting with President Bush. He was full of praise for the way that President Bush had dealt with the situation, analysed it properly and was considering the right action to take.

I have just put down the phone to President Khatami of Iran, and that in itself was a remarkable conversation in the sense that not merely did he give his full solidarity in terms of his outrage at what had happened in the USA and his strong condemnation of terrorism, but also how important it was that we build a new relationship between our two countries as well. I think you can see that the coalition of support is indeed significant, considerable and growing, and that is important.

QUESTION:
How surprised are you that Iran is going to give you that kind of support?

PRIME MINISTER:
Well, it is worth pointing out, of course, that there have been many Iranians who have been murdered by those who have trained in the terrorist camps in Afghanistan, and also there is a very strong sense in which the world of Islam is wanting to joint with us in common cause against terrorism, because it recognises that people of all faiths are the victims of terrorism.

QUESTION:
Where do you see Iraq in all this? Are they in or are they out? There seemed to be some question of the Foreign Minister yesterday saying that it was nothing to do with them, and that previously there was support expressed .....

PRIME MINISTER:
We have made it clear all the way throughout that we proceed on the basis of evidence. We have identified who the prime suspect is. What we now need to do, having collected the evidence, we present it to the people and then we will describe the action that will be taken.

QUESTION:
What is the situation if, as we hear reported, the Taliban say we have asked bin Laden to leave, but it is then difficult to find him or to get him out. Doesn't that give the coalition a serious problem.

PRIME MINISTER:
No, I think that at the present juncture the most sensible thing to say to you is that when we present the evidence as to who we believe was responsible for this and we present evidence as well in respect of those who harbour and help the people that have carried out this attack, then you will see very clearly what the justification will be for any action we will take.

QUESTION:
That's not what we expected. Are you now saying that you are going to be in a position where you actually present the evidence in some way, and then say what you are going to do as a result? Is that what you are saying?

PRIME MINISTER:
Well, we have always said that. What we have said is that we will proceed in a careful, measured way, but with total determination to bring those responsible to justice.

QUESTION:
Are you able to say how close you are to the stage where you can present the evidence.

PRIME MINISTER:
At the present time I won't comment on that, or indeed on the nature of the military response.

QUESTION:
In what form might the evidence be presented? Are you going to publish a dossier, or are you just going to give a summary leaving out the details?

PRIME MINISTER:
Let us wait and see what is the right and appropriate way to do that, but as I said in my statement in the House of Commons, what people have seen in the days since the attack is that neither the Americans nor ourselves nor any other people in that coalition of support, have lashed out. What we have done is to consider very carefully both the evidence which as I say we will present to people, and then the action we will take.

QUESTION:
Did you use the conversation you have just had to present any evidence to the Iranians?

PRIME MINISTER:
No, we were discussing the issues that arose out of the attack, and also of course the fact of the support of Iran for the condemnation of the attack on the United States, and I think it was in itself a remarkable conversation. It was a conversation I could not have imagined having some weeks ago, and we made it very clear at the end of the conversation that this is a relationship that we now want to build upon.

QUESTION:
On the evidence you have seen, do you believe other states have played some role in harbouring those responsible, and you talked of military action, but other action too against terrorism. Should we be looking for military action in states ....

PRIME MINISTER:
We have identified who we believe is the prime suspect. I wouldn't jump to any other conclusions. In respect of the other action against terrorism, that again is something that we actively consider at the moment, but it should be in order to again have a clear notion of how the terrorist groups that are perpetrating these kind of acts are operating, how they are financed, where they are located, and the precise nature of the action that we take is a matter we will consider and will state at the appropriate time.

QUESTION:
Could you say a bit more about how you will present the evidence? You have talked several times today about presenting the evidence. How will you do that?

PRIME MINISTER:
We will consider that in consultation.

QUESTION:
Between yourself and President Bush?

PRIME MINISTER:
There is no point in pressing me any further on that.

QUESTION:
We may have the wrong end of the stick. I felt what you were saying is, in some way before anything happens next, what you are going to say to the world is, here is what we now know.

PRIME MINISTER:
Let me repeat to you what I said in the House of Commons ....

QUESTION:
Bin Laden has said this morning that he is ready for trial if and when he sees the evidence according to reports from the AIB.

PRIME MINISTER:
I haven't seen or studied those comments.

QUESTION:
This could be put on the Internet. Everybody and the Taliban has a computer.

QUESTION:
Are you saying that there will not be any action until you and the US have published the evidence?

PRIME MINISTER:
I am simply saying what I said in the House of Commons last week. One thing I should say to you, because you were wondering about some things I said with President Chirac, obviously don't over-interpret, and don't jump to conclusions. This is a situation in which we are reviewing, considering with the US, with our allies. We have identified who we believe the prime suspect is. We have stated that the decisions that we take will be based on a hard-headed assessment of the evidence. We will consider what the appropriate military response is. We have described the agenda for the action we need to take in respect of international terrorism. These are things that are under active consideration. When we have some news to tell you, we will tell you, but be careful of jumping to conclusions.

QUESTION:
Do you have a plan in mind when you meet President Bush later today?

PRIME MINISTER:
I think the best way of answering that is to say that from the very outset there has been very, very close co-operation between ourselves and the US in every aspect of this, whether it is military, diplomatic, or political, so we have been working very carefully together on it.

QUESTION:
Is there any sense at all that you are going to speak to Bush in some way to tell him we can't have any rash military action here. Whatever we do must be balanced. Are you sort of representing the rest of Europe on that issue?

PRIME MINISTER:
No. I think this is a very important point to make. There has been the closest possible co-operation throughout, and so this is not a question of encouraging or restraining. This has been the work of allies from the very beginning, united in these two objectives that we have really set out right from the outset. Firstly to find and bring to account those responsible for the particular terrorist atrocity in the United States and secondly to devise the right agenda for action at an international level, and that is something I should say to you literally from the very first set of exchanges between ourselves and the Americans, and I know from the conversation I have had with President Chirac, between other allies and the Americans, that right from the outset there has been the closest possible co-operation, sharing of information, and it has been genuinely a partnership. So you can speculate about restraining and encouraging and all the rest of it, but I don't think that is the right way to look at it.

QUESTION:
On the national level do you have any reflections about what this means for the open society? Some of the things we have become accustomed to in Britain, and also about the behaviour and the statements of some of the more extreme groups, particularly in London who have been quoted so much recently.

PRIME MINISTER:
Just on the latter point, as the Council of British Muslims has made clear, it is important that we do not take the words of a few extremists as representative of the feelings of the Moslem community in Britain, or indeed elsewhere in the world, because that is not true. There has been united condemnation from every serious and responsible part of Moslem opinion, as I say not merely in Britain but elsewhere as well. As for the measures that we take, yes we certainly do have to consider what further measures we need to take as a country in respect of fighting terrorism, and as I said in my statement to the House of Commons in respect of the financing of terrorism, in respect of laws of extradition, and making sure we are able to co-operate and deal with any potential terrorist threat, not just to ourselves but also to any other countries from people who are abusing their position in Britain. So again, as I said in my statement, there is an agenda there that has to be developed and that is what we are obviously working on now. But I don't think there is any doubt, as well as measures at an international level, we will be looking at, in Britain, and so will other countries, the measures that we take at a national level too.

QUESTION:
Aside from the military response and all the rest of it, you are going to a Church service this afternoon with families of people who are missing. What are your feelings today?

PRIME MINISTER:
As I have said before this was not just an atrocity in which thousands of Americans lost their lives. It was on any basis the worst terrorist atrocity since the War perpetrated against British citizens and our sympathy, condolences and prayers are with them. The memorial service today is just one means of demonstrating our support and sympathy for them, and I think they have been immensely touched as well by the strength of common feeling there has been between the people of New York and the families and relatives of those who are missing.

QUESTION:
How do you feel again now being on the brink of sending British forces into military action? You talked about this in Kosovo, how you found it difficult to sleep. Are you going through the same experiences as before.

PRIME MINISTER:
It is a huge and heavy responsibility but what has heartened me is the understanding that I have found in every other leader I have spoken to, of the necessity of not flinching from action here. What has been brought home to people is that this form of terrorism knows no boundaries, but it also knows no limits except those limits that are imposed on them by lack of technical capability. Therefore, particularly in a world where technical capability to cause damage is being developed the whole time, if these people could, then they almost certainly would, get access to chemical, biological or nuclear capability. We have no option but to act. Of course it is a huge and eavy responsibility and it is why we deliberate carefully before doing it, which is what we are doing.

END


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Crown copyright material reproduced with the permission of the Controller of HMSO.