Blair & Bush

The relationship between the American President and the British Prime Minister is often singled out as a main cause of Tony Blair’s diminished popularity at home. That, and through that, the war in Iraq.

But that relationship does not seem to have had the same effect on Americans. They still respect and admire Tony Blair, even though the Iraq war is equally unpopular now in the USA. Americans do not see Blair as Bush’s “poodle”, although they might have preferred him to have had more influence on some of Bush’s foreign policies.

In April 2002, after the invasion of Afghanistan but before Iraq, the President and the Prime Minister share a political press conference (view it here)

It is interesting to note how little has changed in the approach of both leaders in the five years since then.

bushblair_6april2002_pressconference.jpg

President Bush:

Today, the bond between our peoples is stronger than ever. Our nations share more than just a common language and a common history. We also share common interests and a common perspective on the important challenges of our times.

No nation has been stronger in fighting global terrorism than Great Britain. I’m extremely grateful for the Prime Minister’s courageous leadership since September the 11th. And the world is grateful for all that Great Britain has contributed in the war against terror — everything from special forces to ground forces to naval forces to peacekeepers.

The Prime Minister and I both understand that defeating global terror requires a broad based, long-term strategy. We understand the importance of denying terrorists weapons of mass destruction. And we understand the importance of adapting NATO to meet new threats, even as NATO prepares to take on new members and forges a new relationship with Russia.

The Prime Minister and I also agree that, even as we work to make the world safer, we must also work to make the world better. Our countries will continue to work closely to bring greater hope and opportunity to developing nations.

We also had extensive conversations about the situation in the Middle East. Both our nations are strongly committed to finding a just settlement. Both of us agree on the fundamental elements that a just settlement must include. We share a vision of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and in security.

We agree that this vision will never be realized through terrorism, and that it can only be realized through a political process. We agree that the Palestinian leadership must order an immediate and effective cease-fire and crackdown on terrorist networks. And we agree that Israel should halt incursions in the Palestinian controlled areas and begin to withdraw without delay from those cities it has recently occupied.

Tony Blair:

And as you might expect, we’ve had very detailed discussions covering all the issues from the topics of the moment through to issues like trade and bilateral issues between us. Of course, much of our discussion has focused on the situation in the Middle East. And I agree entirely with what the President said just a moment or two ago, not just in relation to what must happen in the immediate term, but also as to the only basis upon which there will be and can be a viable and lasting peace there: that is a state of Israel, secure in its own borders, recognized by the entirety of the Arab world, and also a viable Palestinian state where people can live side by side with each other.

We discussed, of course, the issues of international terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. I would like to pay a particular tribute to the President for his courage and for his leadership in the aftermath of the 11th of September. And I think that it is worth reflecting that over these past few months, although very much still remains to be done, we have accomplished, nonetheless, a very great deal in Afghanistan and in the pursuit of those responsible for that terrible event on the 11th of September. And we will continue to work in any way we can in order to make sure that this scourge of international terrorism is defeated.

We also agreed and made it very clear, as well, that the issue of weapons of mass destruction cannot be ducked, it is a threat, it is a danger to our world and we must heed that threat and act to prevent it being realized.

In addition, I was grateful for the President’s kind words about the contribution Britain has made in Afghanistan. We made that willingly, because we believe it is important not just that we root out the last remnants of the al Qaeda terrorist network in Afghanistan, but also that we help that country to go from being a failed state, failing its region and its people, to a state that offers some hope of stability and prosperity for the future.

Question to the President:

Israel is moving deeper into Palestinian territories, and there are reports today that she has launched attacks on southern Lebanon. Have you failed, Mr. President, to convince Prime Minister Sharon to pull back his troops? And why did you wait so long to demand the withdrawal and only today adding the caveat, without delay?

THE PRESIDENT:

My administration’s — my words to Israel are the same today as they were a couple of days ago: withdraw without delay. I made the decision to give the speech when I did because I was concerned about the ability for those of us who were interested in a long-term solution to take hold. I was worried about the balance being tipped to the point where we weren’t able to achieve a long-lasting peace.

I gave the speech at the right time. And I expect Israel to heed my advice, and I expect for the Palestinians to reject terror in the Arab world. As Israel steps back, we expect the Arab world to step up and lead — to lead against terror, to get into an immediate cease-fire, begin the implementation of U.N. resolution 1042.

THE PRIME MINISTER:

I think that most people in Israel will realize that they don’t have two greater friends in the world than the United States of America or Britain. And we both understand, as well, the appalling nature of the acts of terrorism that they have been subject to. We understand that. But we are also trying to help secure a way out of the present impasse, so that we can get into a political process where some of these underlying issues can be resolved satisfactory for the long-term, because the bloodshed and the carnage and innocent people dying, in the end, is not a solution to this issue. So I believe that Israel will heed the words of President Bush, and will do so knowing that he speaks as a friend to Israel.

Question:

Mr. President, you have yet to build an international coalition for military action against Iraq. Has the violence in the Middle East thwarted your efforts? And Prime Minister Blair, has Bush convinced you on the need for a military action against Iraq?

THE PRESIDENT:

Adam, the Prime Minister and I, of course, talked about Iraq. We both recognize the danger of a man who’s willing to kill his own people harboring and developing weapons of mass destruction. This guy, Saddam Hussein, is a leader who gasses his own people, goes after people in his own neighborhood with weapons of — chemical weapons. He’s a man who obviously has something to hide.

He told the world that he would show us that he would not develop weapons of mass destruction and yet, over the past decade, he has refused to do so. And the Prime Minister and I both agree that he needs to prove that he isn’t developing weapons of mass destruction.

I explained to the Prime Minister that the policy of my government is the removal of Saddam and that all options are on the table.

THE PRIME MINISTER:

I can say that any sensible person looking at the position of Saddam Hussein and asking the question, would the region, the world, and not least the ordinary Iraqi people be better off without the regime of Saddam Hussein, the only answer anyone could give to that question would be, yes.

Now, how we approach this, this is a matter for discussion. This is a matter for considering all the options. But a situation where he continues to be in breach of all the United Nations resolutions, refusing to allow us to assess, as the international community have demanded, whether and how he is developing these weapons of mass destruction. Doing nothing in those circumstances is not an option, so we consider all the options available.

But the President is right to draw attention to the threat of weapons of mass destruction. That threat is real. How we deal with it, that’s a matter we discuss. But that the threat exists and we have to deal with it, that seems to me a matter of plain common sense.

Question to the PM:

Prime Minister, we’ve heard the President say what his policy is directly about Saddam Hussein, which is to remove him. That is the policy of the American administration. Can I ask you whether that is now the policy of the British government? And can I ask you both if it is now your policy to target Saddam Hussein, what has happened to the doctrine of not targeting heads of states and leaving countries to decide who their leaders should be, which is one of the principles which applied during the Gulf War?

THE PRIME MINISTER:

Well, John, you know it has always been our policy that Iraq would be a better place without Saddam Hussein. I don’t think anyone can be in any doubt about that, for all the reasons I gave earlier. And you know reasons to do with weapons of mass destruction also deal with the appalling brutality and repression of his own people. But how we now proceed in this situation, how we make sure that this threat that is posed by weapons of mass destruction is dealt with, that is a matter that is open. And when the time comes for taking those decisions, we will tell people about those decisions.

But you cannot have a situation in which he carries on being in breach of the U.N. resolutions, and refusing to allow us the capability of assessing how that weapons of mass destruction capability is being advanced, even though the international community has made it absolutely clear that he should do so.

Now, as I say, how we then proceed from there, that is a matter that is open for us.

THE PRESIDENT:

Maybe I should be a little less direct and be a little more nuanced, and say we support regime change.

Question:

That’s a change though, isn’t it, a change in policy?

THE PRESIDENT:

No, it’s really not. Regime change was the policy of my predecessor, as well.

I intend to speak with clarity when it comes to freedom, and I know Prime Minister Tony Blair does, as well. And we will hold Saddam Hussein accountable for broken promises. And that’s what a lot of our discussion over there on Prairie Chapel Ranch has been about. And, other than eating lunch, which we’re fixing to go do, we’re going to continue our discussions.

THE PRIME MINISTER:

You talked about no linkage there. There is a reason why United Nations resolutions were passed, nine of them, calling upon him to stop developing weapons of mass destruction. I mean, there is a reason why weapons inspectors went in there, and that is because we know he has been developing these weapons.

We know that those weapons constitute a threat. Three days after the 11th of September when I made my first statement to the House of Commons in Britain, I specifically said then this issue of weapons of mass destruction has got to be dealt with. And the reason for that is that what happened on the 11th of September was a call to us to make sure that we didn’t repeat the mistake of allowing groups to develop destructive capability and hope that, at some point in time, they weren’t going to use it. They develop that destructive capability for a reason.

Now, we’ve made it very clear to you how we then proceed and how we deal with this. All the options are open. And I think after the 11th of September, this President showed that he proceeds in a calm and a measured and a sensible, but in a firm way. Now, that is precisely what we need in this situation, too.

And, as I say to you, never forget he knows perfectly well what the international community has demanded of him over these past years, and he’s never done it.

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