Prime Minister Tony Blair
Statement on Britain's Role in Coalition Against Terrorism
September 25, 2001
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
Ive 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 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. Ive 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 enemys
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
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,
womens 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 Ive
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
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 and I spoke to the Secretary General a short time
ago 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
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.
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