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History and Tour

Saturday 8 February 2003

Press Conference - PM and Vice President Dick Cheney [11/3/2002]

Prime Minister:

I am very pleased indeed to welcome Vice President Cheney to London this morning, his first overseas trip as Vice President, and today is a significant day. It is six months to the day since the worst terrorist outrage in history and it is as well that we just recognise what has been achieved since that day. Inside Afghanistan the Taliban have gone, the al Qu’eda terrorist network is being dismantled. Thanks to the International Security Assistance Force something approaching normality is starting to return to Afghanistan, although there is still a very great deal more to do, and as you know we are talking to coalition partners about who then takes on the role of ISAF, though the UK will remain committed to the Security Force for its duration.

And the international community has also mobilised a massive reconstruction effort to help build a better future for Afghanistan. We are not going to turn our backs on Afghanistan, we will not let it become a failed state again. It is also worth remembering too that in the aftermath of 11 September there were real concerns for the state of the world economy, the effect on economic confidence was immediate and dramatic and that too has been significantly restored as a result of the decisive action that was taken.

In the discussions with Vice President Cheney we obviously discussed Afghanistan, we looked too at the situation in the Middle East which of course remains a cause of enormous concern and I welcome the important visits that he will be making in the coming days to the region and I wish him well on that. It is in our view essential that we do everything that we possibly can to restart a proper process that can lead to lasting peace in that region.

Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, I know has spoken to Colin Powell, to Shimon Peres and Javier Solana and other key figures over the weekend and the European Union Foreign Ministers are going to discuss the situation in Brussels. I welcome very much the President’s decision to send his Special Envoy, Anthony Zinni, back to the region and we will of course give him every assistance that we can.

In addition of course we took stock of the situation in the wider campaign against terrorism. I would like once again to pay tribute to the leadership that President Bush has given to this campaign right from the outset. The coalition that we have assembled has acted in a calm and a measured way and this will continue.

We have also said, again right from the outset, that the threat of weapons of mass destruction will have to be addressed. In the House of Commons statement I made just a few days after 11 September I said that these issues had to be addressed because of course al Qu’eda would use chemical or biological or even nuclear weapons of mass destruction if they could, and I also said that there were some groups and some states who trade the technology and capability for such weapons.

I said at that time that it was right that this trade was disposed, disrupted and stamped out and that remains our position. No decisions of course have been taken yet on how we proceed, but this is a time when we discuss how important it is that the issue of weapons of mass destruction is properly dealt with. I look forward of course to discussing these issues further with President Bush when I visit the United States of America in April.

Finally I would like to say that relations between our two countries are very, very strong. The United States, indeed the entire world, suffered a huge blow on 11 September and I am proud of the role that Britain has played in responding to that. We will continue to work closely with the United States of America in facing up to all these threats and challenges that we face.

Mr Cheney:

Thank you Prime Minister. I am delighted to be here today in London and have the opportunity to meet with the Prime Minister and his associates. This is the first stop on an important trip to the Middle East and the President wanted to make sure I checked in first with the Prime Minister before I went down to a part of the world that he knows so well and where we have worked together so effectively I think over the years.

Of course this is six months to the day since we were attacked in New York and at the Pentagon and I think more than ever the Americans appreciate the depth of the relationship with our British allies. Many Brits died alongside thousands of Americans on 11 September and we have mourned our losses together and at this hour we engage the enemy together. The bonds between our two countries are more important and lasting than they have ever been. Soon after the attacks of course the Prime Minister assured President Bush and the American people, we were with you at the first and we will stay with you to the last, and Mr Prime Minister, for your clarity and conviction in this time of testing, President Bush and I are grateful and so are the people of the United States.

The British military has made a significant contribution to the coalition forces operating in Afghanistan. The United Kingdom has taken additional important steps in the war, including the freezing of millions of pounds of terrorist assets, as well as passing new legislation to make it possible to confront the on-going danger of terror. This morning the Prime Minister and I discussed the progress that has been made and the challenges that await our continuing efforts.

Today in Washington President Bush will welcome to the White House representatives of the United Kingdom and more than 100 other countries that have joined the global effort to defeat terror. For their commitment and for their sacrifices we will give thanks, the thanks of the American people, and we will express the continuing resolve of our coalition for a long campaign to deny terrorists sanctuary anywhere in the world.

Tomorrow I head to Jordan, the first of 11 Middle Eastern countries on this trip, and with the governments of that region I will be discussing the current actions of the coalition. We will confer as well about the threat of weapons of mass destruction and the important choices that await us in the days ahead. In these matters America is not announcing decisions, I will be there to conduct frank discussions and to solicit the views of important friends and allies. In all that lies ahead my country will continue to consult with Britain and the other members of the coalition. On 20 September President Bush said at the United States Congress, America has no truer friend than Great Britain and once again we are joined together in a great cause. Both our countries are very ably led.

I thank the Prime Minister once again for his leadership and for his hospitality this morning.

Question:

Could I ask both leaders about the second phase of the war against terrorism and the weapons of mass destruction issue. What evidence can you lay before the world that Saddam Hussein does have, or shortly will have, the capability to threaten not only his own people but countries in western Europe and indeed the United States itself?

Prime Minister:

If I can answer first of all. Let’s be under no doubt whatever, Saddam Hussein has acquired weapons of mass destruction over a long period of time. He is the only leader in the world that has actually used chemical weapons against his own people. He is in breach of at least 9 UN Security Council Resolutions about weapons of mass destruction. He has not allowed weapons inspectors to do the job that the UN wanted them to do in order to make sure that he can’t develop them. Now we have said right from the very outset, you will have heard me say on many, many occasions, no decisions have been taken on how we deal with this threat, but that there is a threat from Saddam Hussein and the weapons of mass destruction that he has acquired is not in doubt at all.

So what is important obviously is that we reflect and consider and deliberate, as we have done throughout all the various aspects of this campaign since 11 September.

Mr Cheney:

I would embrace and endorse what the Prime Minister said, but add one additional factor to consider and that is we know from the work we have been able to do in Afghanistan, the training camps and the caves where al Qu’eda was holed out, that they were aggressively seeking to acquire the same capability, nuclear weapons, biological or chemical weapons. How far they got, we don’t know, but we know they clearly, given their past track record, would use such weapons were they able to acquire them and we have to be concerned about the potential marriage if you will between the terrorist organisation like al Qu’eda and those who hold or are proliferating knowledge about weapons of mass destruction. So the concern is very real, it is very great and we need to find ways as we go forward to make certain that the terrorist never acquires that capability and that it can never be used against the United States or the United Kingdom or our allies.

Question:

There were reports over the weekend that the Pentagon has told Congress that it is re-examining its nuclear targeting procedure, or is looking at the possibility of using nuclear weapons in places perhaps like Iran. As you set off on this trip, does this undermine your attempt in any way to get support from the Arab countries on taking a tougher stance on Iraq? And in England, how does this play, Mr Prime Minister, in terms of keeping support high in England for the US-led effort?

Mr Cheney:

The report you had reference to, Tom, is called the Nuclear Posture Review, we are required to submit it periodically to theCongress, it talks about broad questions of nuclear strategy. There are some noteworthy developments in this year’s review, among other things for example the fact that we are going to reduce our operationally deployed strategic warheads by about two-thirds, from roughly 6,000 where we are today down to somewhere between 1,700 and 2,200 over 10 years, a policy the President announced unilaterally in the last Fall and that the Russians have now agreed to. We also in that study direct that the Pentagon take note of and consider the possible threats to the United States from those nations that are seeking to acquire weapons of mass destruction and the report specifically cited, as the press has reported, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya, North Korea. The question of targeting though isn’t really addressed in the Nuclear Posture Review.

Right now today the United States on a day to day basis does not target nuclear weapons on any nation. We do have and we maintain and continually update something called the Single Integrated Operating Plan, or the SIOP, that is classified, that is what actually deals with the selection of targets and how nuclear weapons might be applied. But I would look on the Nuclear Posture Review statement as just that, it is a regular report to the Congress on the overall state of our capabilities and gives some idea of the directions we would like to move in in the future. But the notion that I have seen reported in the press that somehow this means we are preparing pre-emptive nuclear strikes against 7 countries I believe was the way it was reported, I would say that is a bit over the top.

Prime Minister:

I agree with that.

Question:

Mr Cheney, what would you say to many people in the British public who are reluctant really to see British troops possibly deployed against Iraq in support of the United States when they feel that they can’t trust the United States after the unilateral action taken last week over steel?

Mr Cheney:

I think it is important first of all to recognise there are enormous differences under those circumstances. I would suggest that were the United States to undertake further military action of any kind that involved our British allies, that it would be done only in the closest possible consultation and co-ordination and that Britain certainly retains the right to decide whether or not to participate in any particular action. But to draw a parallel between that and the decision the President made with respect to steel I think is inappropriate, there is no comparison. The decision he made on steel was one he thought long and hard about and we recognise that it is not without controversy. Our view is that it was done within the confines of what is consistent with WTO provisions, obviously it is going to be challenged, obviously there are different points of view. The Prime Minister has made it clear that forward working with these kinds of issues, just as we always have.

Question:

Does the US position that it is Iraq which constitutes the greatest threat to stability in the region undercut by what the Vice President did not mention, the conflict now between the Palestinians and the Israelis?

Prime Minister:

Of course we want to see a resolution of the Middle East peace process, that is vitally important, it is important not just in terms of the stability of the region, it is important in terms of sheer humanity when we see what is happening there with the carnage and the death and the terror. And of course we will do everything we possibly can to assist the US in the efforts to bring about some relaunching of that process there. I think it is tremendously important, I think it is absolutely clear that the only basis upon which we are going to get lasting peace in the Middle East is through people accepting first of all that Israel has the right to exist, secure in its own borders and that being accepted by the entirety of the Arab world, and secondly that there will as the outcome of this process be a viable Palestinian state. Now I think if we start from those two principles we can make progress. But I think the issue of the threat that Saddam Hussein poses is an issue in its own right because the reason why the UN Security Council passed these resolutions was precisely because we know the threat that there is from the weapons of mass destruction that he has. So of course we want to see progress in the Middle East.

Mr Cheney:

I think it would be inappropriate, and I certainly agree with the Prime Minister, to assume these two are linked, I am sure they are linked in some minds but the fact of the matter is we need effective policies to deal with both situations, both the need to find some way to establish peace between Israel and the Palestinians as well as the need to find and pursue policies that limit the threat to the United States and the United Kingdom from weapons of mass destruction. We have an obligation to deal with both simultaneously.

Question:

Mr Vice President, if the inspectors are allowed into Iraq, will that negate the need to take military action against Baghdad? If you do have to take military action against Baghdad, what will be the legal basis of that action? And if you can’t build a coalition of any support will you go ahead anyway?

Vice President Cheney:

They do the same thing here that they do in the States, they ask these long complex questions. I will try to be brief. I never speculate about prospective military actions. Let me address the issue of inspectors. The question is whether or not Saddam is in compliance with Resolution 687 under which he pledged to get rid of all weapons of mass destruction. The inspectors were there as a device to be able to assure the world that he in fact complied with the resolution, he has not complied with the resolution, he has now kicked the inspectors out, there is a lot of evidence that he does in fact have, and is continuing to develop weapons of mass destruction. So if the issue of inspectors is to be addressed, we feel very strongly as a government that it needs to be the kind of inspection regime that has no limitations on it, that is a go anywhere any time kind of regime so that in fact the outside world can have confidence that he is not hiding material that he has promised to give up.

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