BBC On The Record - Broadcast: 07.10.01

Film: FILM ON INTERNATIONAL TERRORISM. Are the aims of the war against terrorism becoming more modest than they seemed to be in the immediate aftermath of the attacks in America?

IAIN WATSON: In the month after the attacks in the United States, Defence Department officials have been drawing up the military response. There was an expectation of swift retribution for the killing of a hundred-and-twenty-four Pentagon staff and a further five thousand people in New York; while initial presidential pronouncements were robust, the timing of any action has been more restrained. Gathering intelligence and deploying troops can't be rushed; but the apparent ambition of an all-out war on terrorism appears to be receding. LORD DOUGLAS HURD: I think that the early rhetoric of the first days which implied the US Marines would be enforcing all these kinds of measures against anyone who had a bank account or harboured or allowed to, people who were called terrorists, to live in their lands, I think that's faded away, we're talking about something which will take longer, we'll have to be equally energetic, but we'll have to be good bit more subtle if it's to be successful. SENATOR THAD COCHRAN: Appropriate action will be taken, and that can be not just military action. We've already seen an effort to shut down the flow of money to those who are responsible for this terrorism network's operations and activities. I think you can continue to see diplomatic efforts used, persuasion. WATSON: Memories of September 11th remain as vivid as the desire for justice; in Washington, there may be concerns over how to wage a wider war on terrorism, but when it comes to Afghanistan, diplomatic efforts are about to be transformed into military action. But a former British minister is echoing the call of international aid agencies for the US to delay any activity for humanitarian reasons. CHRIS MULLINS MP: The immediate priority in my view is to save as many as possible of the very large number of Afghans who face starvation this winter and nothing will undermine the international coalition more than the sight of thousands of starving, perhaps millions of starving people, that could easily damage the coalition, it may destabilise Pakistan and one or two other places that we don't want to destabilise. So, given it's only six weeks to go until the winter sets in, in Afghanistan, that in my view ought to be the priority for the international community and Osama Bin Laden ought to be left to stew for a while. WATSON: The Pentagon strategists are preparing their military plans but for the moment these can't be put into action. Both the American Defence Secretary and our own Prime Minister have both been indulging in last minute shuttle diplomacy to keep the international coalition against terrorism together. But has this diplomatic push worked both ways? As well as stiffening the backbones of moderate Muslim states over any action in Afghanistan, has it also made it much more difficult for the US to launch a wider war against terrorism? An effigy of President Bush burns in the streets of Pakistan - and the country's military leadership has no desire to share its fate. So their support for the US came at a price - namely, the lifting of sanctions. Such is their desire to build an anti bin-Laden alliance, America's transforming former pariahs into partners. So, when the UN voted to end sanctions on Sudan, a state officially listed by the US as a sponsor of terrorism, the Americans abstained. This has been welcomed by the organisation representing most Islamic states. AMBASSADOR MOKHTAR LAMANI: We do believe that the system of sanctions, it's a system that make a lot of harm to the people themselves and this is something that has to be seen again how to deal with it. LORD HURD: Up to now I do not think, I don't know of any deals or compromises which have been made which I would personally think are damaging. But we have to watch it, we have to watch it, we, we shouldn't go starry-eyed into this tent of our new colleagues, collaborators, because some of them have their own agendas, and some of them will be hoping and asking for things which it's not in our interest to give. WATSON: This is where coalition building gets tricky. Two weeks ago, Jack Straw became the first British Foreign Secretary to visit Iran since the Islamic revolution of 1979. Despite Iran's continuing place on the US list of state sponsors of terrorism, Britain has been keen to encourage its more moderate leadership to continue down the road of re-engagement with the western world, and has been calling for the US to follow suit. DOUG HENDERSON MP: Well our advice for some years now has been that America needs to have a new approach to Iran, to look at how you can build a relationship with Iran to make it a more positive contributor to the international community. Now is the time where that's got to happen and I hope that the Americans will recognise that if the number one priority is a war on terrorism then they've got to build Allies with those who they need support to carry through that task. Iran is one of those countries and therefore I think that the United States will have to try and rebuild its relationship, relax sanctions, try to help the Iranian government. WATSON: This wider coalition building is causing controversy within the Bush administration. While the secretary of state Colin Powell, the veteran Gulf War commander, wants as many countries on board to fight bin Laden, a hawkish pentagon adviser warns the US not to take too much advice from Britain. RICHARD PERLE: I think the British policy is profoundly mistaken in this regard. There is, unquestionably, a division within Iran between those Iranian leaders who support terror and those who support it less. I haven't seen anyone denounce it. WATSON: Iraq may also be, at least a temporary, beneficiary of coalition building. The Jordanians suggested that they'd been given assurances, to quell a restless populace, that there'd be no military action aimed at Saddam Hussein's regime. But, sooner or later, the US administration will want to take action. But there's a disagreement between those who believe that non -military means will be the key to bringing rogue nations to heel; and those who say that 'might' is more effective PERLE: I mean, what sort of war on terrorism is that, where we know support for terrorism is present in a number of Arab states, if, if they are immune from attack? They'll go on supporting terrorists. Now I don't think we have to attack them all. I think that once it becomes clear that the price you pay if you support terrorism is that you yourself are vulnerable to attack, a number of countries will get out of the terrorism business. SENATOR GEORGE MITCHELL: This may be a conflict - people use the word a new war rather loosely, but in fact in this effort military action, while the most visible and most publicized, may not be the most significant area of activity. Economic, diplomatic, legal, financial and others will play a significant role. WATSON: Just over a week ago, in just three minutes flat, the UN Security Council agreed its most far-reaching and apparently hard-hitting anti-terrorist resolution ever. Member nations were given just 90 days to report back on what they're doing to weed out terrorism in their own countries. That may sound tough, but in practice, any member of the Security Council - and that includes Russia and China - could veto any military action against unco-operative states. So there are those who argue that this whole process shouldn't negate America's right to self-defence. COCHRAN: The United States has been attacked. We know who did it. We're now beginning to take action against them to keep these things from being repeated. We have a right to disrupt and defeat those efforts. The United Nations doesn't have to give us permission to do that. HURD: I don't believe it's necessary in international law to get UN endorsement, any more than it was for Desert Storm. We were advised then and I think clearly ministers here are advised now, that Article 51 of the charter which provides for self defence, cover this situation, just as they covered what we did to free Kuwait. WATSON: America has seven rogue nations in its sights. But some say tackling the unedifying symptoms of terrorism isn't enough; the virulent causes must also be removed. Some influential voices are arguing that, in the Middle East, this means a lasting solution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. There's been a change of tone recently from President Bush - he's talked explicitly about a Palestinian state. But any shift from rhetoric to reality could cause the toughest tensions yet within the US administration. The latest Palestinian uprising -or Intifada - has just entered its second year. When the group representing fifty-seven Islamic states, the OIC, convenes this week they will not just condemn terrorism but demand a clear definition of the term - one which would include Bin Laden but exclude people such as the Palestinians who are fighting for their own homeland. LAMANI: We have to make a distinction between terrorism that everybody is condemning, and as you know some of our member states were the first victims of terrorism and they are still fighting a lot of terrorist acts and when it comes to struggling for ending the occupation if there is an occupation and I think this is legitimate when people are fighting for - against the occupation of their land. WATSON: Any move in that direction by Washington would upset Israel which has already accused the US of travelling down the road to appeasement. And President Bush could find this spat between two allies is a mere foretaste of a much larger argument at the very heart of American politics. PERLE: It would be a great mistake, a profound error, now, in the aftermath of an attack on civilians in this country, to alter, in any way, our policy toward the Arab-Israeli dispute, because that would reward terror. What it would say to the terrorists is, if you wish to gain the support of the United States in applying pressure to Israel, don't attack Israel, attack the United States. MITCHELL: Even if this terrible tragedy of September 11th had not occurred, it makes sense for the United States to be actively involved in trying to achieve a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. So that's an independent, valid basis in and of itself and secondly, it's quite clear that the administration believes that will be helpful in building a coalition among those Arab nations which are favourably disposed to the United States. And I believe that's a legitimate basis as well. WATSON: On this side of the Atlantic, some politicians are saying that Britain should bolster those in the US administration who want to see a settlement in the Middle East, even at the expense of irritating Israel. MULLIN: Certainly if America wants to win friends and influence people in the Arab world - and indeed hold its head up in the wider world - they have to start using their considerable influence with Israel, to persuade the Israelis to negotiate seriously. And negotiating seriously means withdrawal from some of the settlements on the West Bank and the end to the colonisation of the West Bank. WATSON: The Prime Minister returned home last night after a frantic round of diplomacy during which the occupant of number Ten had been described as the chief ambassador - for the United States. But those with government experience, on both sides of the Atlantic, believe our influence with America over how to fight terrorism, or to tackle its underlying causes, will be strictly limited. HENDERSON: Ultimately America makes its own mind up. Sometimes Britain can influence the degree with which the argument is put or the timing of the action but I think when it comes to the decision America will make that itself and hope that it can persuade others including Britain to back it. PERLE: We work closely with our friends, but we cannot yield the most fundamental of governmental responsibilities, the protection of our citizens, to any other authority. So we listen carefully to what everyone has to say, but at the end of the day, we have to act in our own defence. WATSON: Although military action in Afghanistan seems to be getting closer, Washington appears far less settled on how to wage a wider war on terrorism. It may be some months before it's clear whether the US really does favour arm-twisting over armed intervention.
NB. This transcript was typed from a transcription unit recording and not copied from an original script. Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy.