BBC On The Record - Broadcast: 28.10.01

Interview: SIR JEREMY GREENSTOCK, UK Ambassador to the United Nations.

How can the United Nations tackle terrorism when its members have different views about who are terrorists and who are freedom fighters.

JOHN HUMPHRYS: Sir Jeremy Greenstock it's unrealistic isn't it to expect a body with one hundred and eighty nine members to act effectively against terrorism, particularly given that some of those countries themselves support terrorism. SIR JEREMY GREENSTOCK: Yes, clearly we've got to get as many people as possible on line on 17..1373. We..our job in the Counter Terrorism Committee is to upgrade the legislation and the executive machinery of every state in the UN who is willing but perhaps not so capable of dealing with terrorist finance, a safe haven for terrorism and other actions against terrorism. I've been listening to the film you were showing about the definition and the background to 1373 but the Counter Terrorism Committee is there not to define terrorism but to upgrade the capability of states to deal with it when they find it. HUMPHRYS: I take that point but very difficult to wage war against something which is what this is about after all, we want to kill off terrorism, very difficult to do that unless we can define it. Let me ask you what your definition of terrorism is. GREENSTOCK: It doesn't really matter what my definition is but I would call it the indiscriminate use of violence, particularly against civilians in order to make a particular political point or to win a political argument and the General Assembly, the other part of the United Nations from the Security Council is working on that now. So the Security Council is in harness with the General Assembly to deal with both sides of the question. HUMPHRYS: Right, so on that definition organisations such a Hamas or Hezbollah are clearly terrorist and that means that countries like Syria and Iran that give them sucker and support will be required to stop supporting them and must..must I emphasise bring them to justice one way or the other. GREENSTOCK: I think it is more likely John, that we will home in on what is a terrorist act. I think David Hannay was talking about this earlier in your programme. If Hamas sends in people to kill indiscriminately then that's terrorism, then other people may have views on what they are doing if they attack a unit of the Israeli army. It's the terrorist act we must deal with and the indiscriminate use of violence out of any particular military context that we have to deal with. HUMPHRYS: And again on that basis, quite clearly, Hamas has been guilty of terrorist acts. If you send a suicide bomber into a pizza parlour and blow up women and children, who are clearly innocent people non combative in every single sense of the word, that is a terrorist action isn't it, without any doubt. GREENSTOCK: Yes from time to time that may be so...... HUMPHRYS: May be so.... GREENSTOCK: My committee is not going to get into the business of judging who is a terrorist or whether something is a terrorist act. My job is a much longer term one, to make sure that every state is capable of suppressing terrorism as a network, as a scourge on the world and to make sure that finance does not get through to terrorists. HUMPHRYS: Yeah, but we've got an enormous problem here though haven't we because if we can't define, if we're not defining terrorism and we're saying, well all right, let's take a particular act and look at that maybe, if you have a situation where a particular country harbours a group of terrorists and does not regard them as terrorists, therefore don't accept any sort of definition. I was talking just this week to the Syrian Ambassador about that bombing of the pizza parlour, he regarded that, not as an act of terrorism, but as something that could be justified. Now, if we cannot even agree that something like that obviously cannot be justified then the whole point of 1373 or anything else the United Nations might do, is completely negated isn't it, they have...if they are going to stop it happening, they have first to accept that it is wrong, if they do not accept that it is wrong, clearly they are not going to bother stop it happening. GREENSTOCK: I think we need to get this in proportion. What the committee is going to do is upgrade the capability of states to deal with the massive amount of potential terrorism there is out there. When it comes to some individual cases which are highly politically sensitive or very contentious in a particular region, then the Security Council as a whole will have to deal with that, or other aspects of international law will have to deal with that. But now that... HUMPHRYS: ...I'm sorry, I was just going to follow up that point if I may, sorry to interrupt you there, but what if they, the states themselves, do not want to deal with the perpetrators of such actions? GREENSTOCK: Then those particular cases will become isolated from the general potential of terrorist cells to grow and plan things like the eleventh of September. There are two different categories of cases. The ability of something like Al-Qaeda, to grow and plan and do something out of the blue, and the act of violence within a particular political context, like the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, which has to be dealt with directly by other means, and my committee is not going to get into the business of the latter category of acts. HUMPHRYS: So in other words, countries like Syria and Iran, and various others on the list that the United States produced at the beginning of this, seven countries, they don't have to comply? GREENSTOCK: No, that's not true. They will have to pass laws to suppress the financing of terrorism, to deny safe haven for terrorists. What you're talking about is the application of those laws, and their law enforcement agencies in particular cases, and that won't directly be for my Committee. It may come to the Security Council, it may come to other negotiating machinery, but it won't come to my Committee. HUMPHRYS: But you're surely not saying, that it's fine and dandy if they pass a law, and then utterly ignore the law. I mean they could pass a law next Thursday week and say, we don't like terrorists and we won't help them, but then they can carry on precisely the way they have been going for as long as they have been doing it, and that's all right? I mean, doesn't that bring the United Nations into the worst possible disrepute. GREENSTOCK: No of course I'm not saying it's fine and dandy. It's thoroughly reprehensible. But the machinery for dealing with it will also have to take account of the very delicate political context within which that is happening and deal with it more directly through other Security Council action. But those cases will be isolated from the growth of terrorist networks which can use indiscriminate violence to make political points or to try and change the world in other areas and we are narrowing the difficult cases down to something we'll have to deal with directly. HUMPHRYS: Well, deal with directly how? I mean, if it is as you say, you acknowledge that it is reprehensible, some people would look for a much more powerful word than that, but if it is reprehensible, what sort of sanctions, any sanctions, are any sanctions going to be taken against such countries, and by whom in this case? GREENSTOCK: I don't think sanctions are actually going to come into it from the Security Council, these cases are too serious. HUMPHRYS: ...I mean sanctions in the very broader sense, I mean, sorry, forgive me for not being more clear about that, I mean sanctions in the very broader sense, I don't mean necessarily sanctions as we understand them, but in the very broader sense, what sort of action should be taken against such countries? GREENSTOCK: Then the action that will have to be taken will be in a political and sometimes a negotiating context which will be absolutely particular to that context. We've had a lot of violence on the West Bank and Gaza in recent days, and there was a Security Council statement about that. But the business of stopping that violence has to be negotiated between the Israelis and the Palestinians, probably through the Americans and other direct negotiators who are on the ground doing exactly that. The action under thirteen seventy-three will be much broader, much longer term and much more geared to legislation, executive action, the judging of performance of particular states who perhaps are not so willing to put that legislation into action, and then coming back to sanctions against those very few states if they are not prepared to do it. HUMPHRYS: So to that extent the United Nations doesn't really, if I understand you correctly, have a role in tackling terrorism. You talk about establishing this broad framework which I understand, over a long period of time, and ultimately it might help to isolate certain countries, but in the short to medium term, the UN doesn't have a role, effectively? GREENSTOCK: John, the UN is not a law enforcement agency. It doesn't have armies, it doesn't have agencies to act against terrorism. That has to be done by governments, by member states and they act in particular circumstances. What the UN has done with thirteen-seventy-three is to raise the whole standard of counter-terrorism action and we have now got to make sure that governments enact that in a way which is much more effective than before. That's the role of the UN. HUMPHRYS: So the United Nations, the United States, could look at those countries that failed to comply with thirteen-seventy-three, and use the fact that they have not complied as justification for itself, the American government taking action, military action perhaps against them? GREENSTOCK: No, not unless that action is covered under the Charter, or by Security Council Resolution specifically authorising that action. They have to be quite careful to take action within international law, as they've done in Afghanistan under Article fifty-one of the Charter on Self-Defence... HUMPHRYS: ...which remains of course, so therefore they could, sorry to rush you a little bit here, but Article fifty-one stands clearly, so therefore they could take the America, a particular country such as Syria's refusal to do what it ought to do under this particular Resolution, thirteen-seventy-three, say they haven't complied, we will take action against them using fifty-one, using Article fifty-one? GREENSTOCK: No, because it would have to be, I mean it's possible if the act of terrorism was about to take place was clearly directed against the United States, that would be understandable. But if they were trying to clean up a terrorist cell somewhere else, and that action about to happen wasn't going to happen against the United States, they couldn't take action without specific Security Council authorisation. HUMPHRYS: Sir Jeremy Greenstock, thanks very much indeed.
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.