Iraq Inquiry Special Morning Session: Tony Blair

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    3rd February, 2010

    [Catching up time. Thanks to Julie for this and the next post on the evidence of the former prime minister last Friday.]

    Iraq Inquiry Special Morning Session: Tony Blair

    By Julie

    These are the most significant quotes from the session of the Iraq Inquiry with former Prime Minister Tony Blair.

    You can read the full transcript of the session here

    And you can watch the video here

    —————————————————

    [Afternoon session to be added soon]

    29th  of January 2010: Morning  session: Evidence

    • Rt  Hon Tony Blair

    OPENING STATEMENT CHILCOT

    The Inquiry is not a trial. The committee before you is independent and nonpolitical.

    We come to our work with no preconceptions and we are committed to doing a thorough job based on the evidence.

    ————————————-

    Blair:

    “It is absolutely essential to realise this: if September 11 hadn’t happened, our assessment of the risk of allowing Saddam any possibility of him reconstituting his programmes would not have been the same. But after September 11 and if you would like me to now, I will explain what a difference that made to the thinking after September 11, our view, the American view, changed, and changed dramatically.”

    “Here is what changed for me the whole calculus of risk. It was my view then, it remains my view now. The point about this terrorist act was that over 3,000 people had been killed on the streets of New York, an absolutely horrific event, but this is what really changed my perception of risk, the calculus of risk for me: if those people, inspired by this religious fanaticism could have killed 30,000, they would have. For those of us who dealt with terrorism from the IRA, and, incidentally, I don’t want to minimise the impact of that terrorism; each act of terrorism is wicked and wrong and to be deplored. But the terrorism that an organisation like the IRA were engaged in was terrorism directed towards a political purpose, maybe unjustified, but it was within a certain framework that you could understand. The point about this act in New York was that, had they been able to kill even more people than those 3,000, they would have, and so, after that time, my view was you could not take risks with this issue at all, and one dimension of it, because we were advised, obviously, that these people would use chemical or biological weapons or a nuclear device, if they could get hold of them that completely changed our assessment of where the risks for security lay, and just so that we make this absolutely clear, this was not an American position, this was my position and the British position, very, very clearly, and so, from September 11 onwards we obviously had to deal with Afghanistan, but from that moment, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Iraq, the machinery, as you know, of AQ Khan, who was the former Pakistani nuclear scientist and who had been engaged in illicit activities and in distributing this material, all of this had to be brought to an end.”

    “I just want to draw attention to one, because the whole issue about the previous sanctions eroding had been Saddam’s ability to get stuff in through the borders of the surrounding countries, and, therefore, one very important part of this new sanctions framework was for border monitoring, a limited number of border crossings into Iraq from Jordan, Syria, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Iran. So the idea was, in this new sanctions arrangement, to make sure that you sealed off the borders around Iraq so that it was more effective. The important thing to realise is that, when we then came, post September 11 and finally adopted this United Nations Resolution and I think it is United Nations Resolution 1409 the tightening of the borders had been dropped. We couldn’t get the Russians on board unless we dropped it. So the very thing that, even back then, people were warning me, even with this tightening of the borders, it might work, it might not, that tightening restriction had been dropped by the time you get to May 2002. Therefore, you can still argue, I guess, that this sanctions framework would have been successful, but I think I would say it is as least as persuasive an argument that it wouldn’t have been.”

    “The primary consideration for me was to send an absolutely powerful, clear and unremitting message that, after September 11, if you were a regime engaged in WMD, you had to stop.”


    “In the Chicago speech, in 1999, what I was doing was setting out very clearly what I thought the consequences were of an interdependent world, and what I was really saying was this: that whereas in the past people might have thought that a security problem in one part of the world can be divorced from its impact on another part, in the world that was developing, we were no longer able to do that, not financially, not in terms of security, not in terms, actually, of the cultural issues. In other words, as a result of an interdependent world, it then became in our self-interest, not as part simply of some moral cause, but in our self-interest to regard ourselves as affected by what was happening in a different part of the world.”

    “From now on, in the new world that is developing, we should realise that it is in our national interest to understand that the problem in a different part of the world can come back and hit us in ours. The reason why I was so strongly in favour of action in Kosovo, action, incidentally, to rescue an essentially Muslim population from persecution by a country that was a Christian country, was not simply that I felt affronted, as I think people should and did do, about the prospect of ethnic cleansing, but also because I was convinced that the consequences of allowing such an action to go unchecked would never stay at the borders of the Balkans. So that’s the basis of it.”

    (On the Fern Britton interview)

    “I did not use the words “regime change” in that interview, and I did not in any sense mean to change the basis. Obviously, all I was saying was you couldn’t describe the nature of the threat in the same way, if you knew then what you know now, because some of the intelligence about WMD was shown to be wrong. It was in no sense a change of the position, and I just simply say to you, the position was that it was the breach of the United Nations Resolutions on WMD. That was the cause. It was then, and it remains.”

    “After September 11, that changed, and that change, incidentally, I still believe is important for us today because it is the reason today, as I say, I do take such a strong line on Iran or any other nation that tries to develop WMD. We cannot afford, in my view look, other people may have different views, but in my view, we cannot afford the possibility that nations, particularly nations that are brutal, rogue states, states that take an attitude that is wholly contrary to our way of life, you cannot afford such states to be allowed to develop or proliferate WMD.”

    “Just to say really, because I may not get another chance to say it, about the reactions of Arab leaders in the region: most of them were glad to see the back of Saddam. Now, what they worried about was the consequences of doing so, but there was no great support. In fact, when, as he is now, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, when he was then the Crown Prince, had launched the Arab peace initiative in 2002, I think Saddam was the one leader to come out and denounce him. He paid monies to the families of the Palestinian suicide bombers. I mean, he was a menace on the Middle East peace process too.”

    “It was always relevant to me, because I think that it gives it gives a different sense of the threat of the nature of Saddam’s regime. The fact that there were, on some accounts, a million casualties in the Iran/Iraq war, 100,000 Kurds that had been killed, 100,000 killed by political killing, we had had the Kuwait situation where, again, tens of thousands died. The actual use of chemical weapons against his own people. So I think it is always important to remember from my perspective the nature of the regime did make a difference to the nature of the WMD threat.”

    “When you actually read the descriptions of what happened when Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons in the Halabja village, and by some accounts as many as 5,000 people died through chemical weapons, there are people in Iraq today still suffering the consequence of that, to me that indicated a mindset that was horrific. It is horrific whether or not he then uses weapons of mass destruction, but if there is any possibility of him ever acquiring them or using them, it is a mindset that indicates this is a profoundly wicked I would say almost psychopathic man. We were obviously worried that, after him, his two sons seemed to be as bad, if not worse.”

    “But it is one of the things that is most difficult sometimes, because people look at this in the light of what we know now. Saddam and weapons of mass destruction was not a counterintuitive notion. You know, he had used them, he definitely had them. He was in breach of, I think, ten United Nations Resolutions on them, and so, in a sense, it would have required quite strong evidence the other way to have been doubting the fact that he had this programme.”

    “When I look at the way that Iran today links up with terror groups and this is a different topic for a different day, but I would say that a large part of the destabilisation in the Middle East at the present time comes from Iran. The link between Iran, having nuclear weapons capability, and those types of terrorist organisations, it is the combination of that that makes them particularly dangerous. So you are absolutely right, Sir Martin. We were in a position back then where we were actually saying to the Americans, “Look, Saddam and AlQaeda are two separate things”, but I always worried that at some point these things would come together. Not Saddam and AlQaeda simply, but the notion of states proliferating WMD and terrorist groups. I still think that is a major risk today.“

    “I don’t think it was us that were successful in establishing that point of view. I think you would have been hard pushed to have found virtually anybody who doubted he had WMD and a WMD capability and programme, because we had been through this whole saga, ten years of military action. As I say, I took the first military action in respect of Baghdad with President Clinton in 1998.”

    “It is hard to come to any other conclusion than that this person has a continuing WMD programme, and I mean, we will come at a later point in this to the issue of what the truth was about Saddam, because the Iraq Survey Group, which is, in my view, an extremely important document, has actually resolved the conundrum and the riddle of what Saddam was up to, and we therefore can see what happened. But if you go back to that time, if you read the executive summary and the information that follows, I can’t see how anyone could come to a different conclusion.”

    “I was looking back over the debates that we had on the publication of the dossier and just recognising that of course, everyone now has a different perception of this, but at the time there were people saying to me, “I don’t want military action under any set of circumstances“. There were also people saying, “You are wasting time. You are not acting fast enough”. For example, in the statement on the dossier of 24 September 2002, William Hague says: “Does the Prime Minister recollect that in a half century of various states acquiring nuclear capabilities, in almost every case their ability to do so has been greatly underestimated and understated by intelligence sources.”

    (On UNSCR 1441)

    “Just to emphasise the point, it was a very strong resolution. It declared Iraq was in material breach, it said that it had fully and unconditionally and immediately to cooperate and cooperate with the inspectors and so on. It was a strong resolution. It specifically mentioned the previous resolutions, 678, 687 and so on.”

    “My view very strongly was that, if he was in breach of 1441, we should mean what we have said. It was a final opportunity to comply, he wasn’t complying.”


    “The reason for constructing the resolution was to try and get us into the situation of having more time. The problem, however, was this: we could have got the resolution together. I was having discussions late into the night every evening with I think it was the Chileans and the Mexicans and I was speaking to the French. We were speaking to everybody. We were trying desperately to get this last route out, and there were other things that were being talked about at the time. I had I won’t go into the details of it, but there was a group of Arab countries that came to us and they were quite keen, I think, on actually, if we got a fresh resolution, pushing Saddam out. So there were ways, even then, when we could have tried to resolve this the problem was it became very clear that, whatever their position had been in November 2002, the position, particularly of France and Russia, really changed. They had decided they weren’t going to agree any new resolution that had in it any authority for action if Saddam didn’t comply.”


    Important exchanges

    (On the private meeting with President Bush at Crawford)

    PRASHAR: During the course of these discussions, do you think you gave many commitments?

    BLAIR: The only commitment I gave, and I gave this very openly, at the meeting was a commitment to deal with Saddam.

    PRASHAR: So you were at one that you had to deal with

    BLAIR: Absolutely, and that wasn’t a private commitment, that was a public one.

    (…)

    PRASHAR: But there is so many people believed that you entered into a firm commitment because some undertakings were given that you would be with him no matter what, whatever the circumstances. I mean, I think it is important, because these discussions were taking place without anybody being present, to understand what commitments did you make to him and why is there a feeling that this was quite a critical meeting?

    BLAIR: I can’t explain why people have come to a view that there was some different commitment given, because I read from time to time people saying things that this was what was agreed at this meeting. What was agreed was actually set out in a very private note from David Manning afterwards, and what I was saying to President Bush and I wasn’t saying this privately, incidentally, I was saying it publicly was: we are going to be with you in confronting and dealing with this threat. There was no the one thing I was not doing was dissembling in that position.

    FREEDMAN: The 45minute claim is very specific and very controversial. Is it fair to say that the intelligence referred to chemical, possibly biological, munitions for short-range battlefield use, but that specificity was lost in the document?

    BLAIR: It is absolutely right that that was what it was to do with. In respect of the 45 minutes, as you know and it is just worth pointing out. This was a headline I think in the Evening Standard newspaper the next day.

    FREEDMAN: And the Sun and the Express.

    BLAIR: I have said on many occasions, not least to the Butler Inquiry, it would have been better to have corrected it in the light of the significance it later took on, but can I just point one thing out, Sir Lawrence: she did an analysis between the publication of the dossier on 24 September 2002 and the BBC broadcast at the end of May 2003, which alleged that we, Downing Street, had inserted this into the dossier, probably knowing it was wrong. Then, of course, obviously that then kicked off a huge controversy that goes on to this day. Between September 2002 and the end of May 2003 there were 40,000 written Parliamentary questions on Iraq; it was mentioned twice. There were 5,000 oral questions; it was not mentioned at all. In the 18 March nobody mentions it.


    (Talking about the September 2002 dossier)

    BLAIR: You know, the thing that strikes me most now, when you go back and look at the dossier and how it was received, it was actually received as somewhat dull and cautious at the time.

    FREEDMAN: Yes, we have been told.

    BLAIR: It really assumed a vastly greater importance at a later time, precisely because of the allegation, which was an extraordinarily serious one that we, Downing Street, had deliberately falsified the intelligence, which of course we hadn’t.

    FREEDMAN: “This is important we get to the foreword. You said in the foreword that: “The assessed intelligence has established beyond doubt that Iraq has continued to produce chemical and biological weapons.” Now, you have already mentioned the JIC reports about “patchy”, “sporadic”, “limited”, et cetera. Given that, was it wise to say that intelligence is ever beyond doubt? Wasn’t this setting yourself up for a higher standard of proof than it might be possible to sustain?

    BLAIR: I think what I said in the foreword was that I believed it was beyond doubt. What: “What I believe the assessed intelligence has established beyond doubt is that Saddam has continued to produce chemical and biological weapons.” I did believe it. I think that was the and I did believe it, frankly, beyond doubt.

    FREEDMAN: Beyond your doubt, but beyond anybody’s doubt?

    BLAIR: If you if I had taken, for example, the words out of even the 9 March 2002 or the March 2002 JIC assessment, it said, “It was clear that …” Now, if I said, “It was clear that” in the foreword, rather than “I believe, beyond doubt”, it would have had the same impact.


    LYNE: Could I just make a couple of quick requests to try to help us understand the, “Why Iraq? Why now?” questions? Obviously we, like you, have read through the assessments of the JIC. Was the intelligence telling that you the WMD threat from Iraq was growing?

    BLAIR: Yes, it was telling me that in two respects, because I know you have asked other witnesses about this and I just want to make this clear as to why I believed it was growing. First of all, there were the September JIC assessments that talked of continuing production of chemical weapons. In other words, this was a continuing process. But secondly and this did have an impact on me at the time, although this particular piece of intelligence turned out later to be wrong, but at the time, obviously, we didn’t know that on12 September, in other words, after the 9 September JIC assessment but before we did the dossier, I was told and specifically briefed about these mobile production facilities for biological weapons. So this was an additional and new factor and this was very much linked to whether and how Saddam might conceal his activities.

    LYNE: It is these “ifs”, isn’t it? When Sir Martin Gilbert asked you about threat to the United Kingdom, you said that if Saddam, freed from sanctions, were to have been able to pursue WMD programmes, you were pretty sure that the United Kingdom would have been involved, in which obviously you are right. But hadn’t, at the time we are talking about, Saddam he hadn’t been freed from sanctions or from a pretty effective arms embargo or from all the other apparatus of deterrence, and other countries, which were just as opposed to the idea of Saddam having WMD as us, and many of which were much closer to Iraq, clearly didn’t agree that military action was needed or justified by the level of threat at that time. So they didn’t accept the “Why Iraq? Why now?” questions, or at least they didn’t give two yes’s to that. I’m trying to work out why you did and they didn’t.

    BLAIR: There is a judgment you have to make, and you are right in saying, “If this and if that”, but you see, for me, because of the change after September 11, I wasn’t prepared to run that risk. I really wasn’t prepared to take the risk.

    LYNE: They were.

    BLAIR: That’s up to them, but my view, the view of the US, I think the view of many other countries after all, when the Iraq action took place, half of the members of the European Union were also with America, Japan was with America, South Korea was with America, but I think there is an interesting point, I think you are absolutely right to raise the judgment. In the end, this is what it is. As I sometimes say to people, this isn’t about a lie or a conspiracy or a deceit or a deception, it is a decision, and the decision I had to take was, given Saddam’s history, given his use of chemical weapons, given the over 1 million people whose deaths he had causes, given ten years of breaking UN Resolutions, could we take the risk of this man reconstituting his weapons programmes, or is that a risk it would be irresponsible to take? I formed the judgment, and it is a judgment in the end. It is a decision. I had to take the decision, and I believed, and in the end so did the Cabinet, so did Parliament incidentally, that we were right not to run that risk, but you are completely right, in the end, what this is all about are the risks.

    BLAIR: If you look at Iraq Survey Group report now, this report we will get to the detail of it a bit later, but this report is very, very important indeed, because what it is effectively is what Hans Blix could have produced, had Saddam cooperated with him. What that report shows is actually the extent to which Saddam retained his nuclear, and, indeed, chemical warfare intent and intellectual knowhow. Now, what Saddam could have done perfectly easily is to have provided the proper documentation and he could have cooperated fully in the interviews of the scientists.

    FREEDMAN: If you look at the report, one of the problems that the Iraqis had got themselves into is when they had dismantled a lot of this stuff, they had not maintained proper documentation. So you are almost in an audit trail problem here. Indeed, Jack Straw raised this when he was talking about why he thought there was stuff there, and it goes back to the 1998 documents. Actually, it would have been quite hard in the circumstances and beliefs of the time for a convincing case to be made. I don’t want to belabour this point, but

    BLAIR: But it is a very important point, if you don’t mind me saying so.

    FREEDMAN: It is. I’m happy for you to respond.

    BLAIR: Because, actually, if you look, both at the Blix reports and we can come to the detail of that and the Iraq Survey Group, he was deliberately concealing documentation, and what is more, he was deliberately not allowing people to be interviewed properly. Indeed, in December 2002 this is after Resolution 1441 we received information, and this information remains valid, that Saddam called together his key people and said that anybody who agreed to an interview outside of Iraq was to be treated as a spy. Now, the reason for that is very simple, and it emerges from the Iraq Survey Group report. He retained full intent to restart his programme, and, therefore, it was very important for him that the interviews did not take place, because the interviews with senior regime members were precisely what would have indicated the concealment and the intent.

    BLAIR: Exactly, Sir Lawrence, but let me tell you this is a really important point here. He wasn’t enthusiastic. I used to have these conversations with Hans Blix, where Hans would say to me, “I agree we should interview these people, but you don’t understand, they may be killed, or their relatives may be killed”, and I would say to him, “Well, what does that tell us about the nature of the person we are dealing with and the nature of his compliance?” Yes, he was he kept saying to me, “I feel deeply personally responsible if I ask for these interviews to be conducted outside of Iraq because I believe these people may be killed”, but that, to me, was not

    FREEDMAN: It was an illustration of the problems of dealing with Saddam Hussein.

    BLAIR: Correct.

    .

    FREEDMAN: But that’s an inherent problem with this regime, because of the reasons you have given, and we knew that beforehand.

    BLAIR: Yes, but it is precisely the reason, therefore, why, even if Dr Blix had continued, the fact is he would never have got the truth out of Saddam and the leading people in the regime. The people who did get the truth out of them were the Iraq Survey Group, and what they found was that Saddam retained the intent

    FREEDMAN: I think we have got

    BLAIR: I know, but it is incredibly important.

    FREEDMAN: I think we have got the idea that the intent was there 1

    BLAIR: And the knowhow.

    FREEDMAN: and the knowhow, and this isn’t an issue of disagreement.

    CHAIRMAN: Mr Blair, did you want to make more of that, in fairness to you? I think we have taken the point. It is not in contention.

    BLAIR: It is just sometimes I will do this very briefly, but sometimes what is important is not to ask the March 2003 question, but to ask the 2010 question. Supposing we had backed off this military action, supposing we had left Saddam and his sons, who were going to follow him, in charge of Iraq, people who used chemical weapons, caused the death of over 1 million people, what we now know is that he retained absolutely the intent and the intellectual knowhow to restart a nuclear and a chemical weapons programme when the inspectors were out and the sanctions changed, which they were going to be. I think it is at least arguable that he was a threat and that, had we taken that decision to leave him there with the intent, with an oil price, not of $25, but of $100 a barrel, he would have had the intent, he would have had the financial means and we would have lost our nerve.


    FREEDMAN: But if he had been given the chance and failed again, wouldn’t you then have had more of a chance of having the Security Council behind you, which had been one of your objectives going back to 2002?

    BLAIR: I’m not really sure about that, Sir Lawrence. By then, we had been four months with Saddam and, you know, you can take different views and of the Blix reports, and Hans Blix obviously takes a certain view now. I have to say in my conversations with him then it was a little different. But you have to make a judgment: is this person really seriously cooperating with the international community or not? As we now know, incidentally, he wasn’t. I do emphasise also the fact that he and there is also evidence in the Iraq Survey Group, which is actually quite important, about what Iraqi scientists were being told by the Vice President of Iraq. He gathered them all together as the inspectors went in and, as you know, the inspectors were supposed to be given all the information, any materials they had. What he was saying was, “If you have any materials in your possession, you had better not have”.




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    One Response to “Iraq Inquiry Special Morning Session: Tony Blair”

    1. Iraq Inquiry Special Afternoon Session: Tony Blair « Tony Blair Says:

      […] Tony Blair « Iraq Inquiry Special Morning Session: Tony Blair […]

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