BBC On The Record - Broadcast: 10.03.02

Interview: Bernard Jenkin, Shadow Defence Secretary,

re-affirms Conservative support for United States action against countries like Iraq that have acquired weapons of mass destruction and countenanced the possible use of nuclear weapons against them.

JOHN HUMPHRYS: The American Vice President Dick Cheney arrives here this weekend. He's meeting Tony Blair tomorrow and then he's off to the Middle East, trying to whip up support for America's next stage in the so-called war against terrorism - an attempt to overthrow Saddam Hussein. He's got a job on his hands. There is great unease at the prospect of an attack on Iraq, not least in the Labour Party's own ranks. Nearly seventy backbench MPs have signed a motion effectively warning Tony Blair to tread cautiously. What about the Conservative Party? Bernard Jenkin is the Shadow Defence Secretary. Mr Jenkin, you've been....your party has been standing as it were, to use a phrase 'shoulder to shoulder' with the government until now in the war against terrorism. Is there in your view enough evidence, as it stands, to take military action, justify taking military action against Iraq? JENKIN: Well, we're a very long way from making a decision about military action, either the British or the Americans. There's a huge amount of diplomatic effort and political effort backed by perhaps the threat of military action which must be brought to bear, but the issues are not just the direct involvement of Saddam Hussein in promoting international terrorism, and I've reason to believe that there will be increasing evidence that he is involved. For example, I understand that Abu Nidal, the guy who organised the hijacking of the Achille Lauro is not only being given shelter in Baghdad, but is actually being made use of by Saddam Hussein. HUMPHRYS: But you've not yet seen any evidence that proves that he has been involved in any way supporting the September 11th.? JENKIN: Well, the al-Qaeda terrorists, there is evidence to suggest that he is sheltering some al-Qaeda terrorists. HUMPHRYS: Have you seen that evidence yourself? JENKIN: I've not personally seen that evidence, but I think we would need to produce that, but there is a more important point such as ... HUMPHRYS: Just before we leave that. Would that itself be enough. I mean is the evidence that you believe to be there, would that be enough to justify an attack. JENKIN: There's a more important point here, if I may move the conversation on, which is that in the United States they have made the link very quickly between what happened on the September 11th and the development of weapons of mass destruction by dictatorships like Iraq. HUMPHRYS: Have they? JENKIN: Yes, they have. Well the real message of September 11th is that we live in a much less predictable, more dangerous world than many of us hoped and one of the major sources of that instability and danger are countries developing weapons of mass destruction who we know have connections with all kinds of terrorism, and therefore to contain and preferably remove these threats is now a prime element of American and British policy. HUMPHRYS: But, would you agree with your colleague.... JENKIN: That's why the Prime Minister said in Australia that he completely backed what Bush was saying about weapons of mass destruction and Iraq in particular. HUMPHRYS: But what about your own colleague, Alan Duncan who was on television this morning saying that there has to be clear evidence, clear evidence, note he said it twice, that Saddam has this capability and might use it, and Blair should come to the House to explain his policy. JENKIN: Well, exactly, I think that clear evidence will be forthcoming, and I was in Washington a few weeks ago, I was given a very extensive briefing by the Missile Defence Agency about the information that they're gathering and I've no doubt that there will be very clear evidence, and in fact - many people have been writing about this for some time and Iain Duncan Smith produced a pamphlet during the last Parliament, and in fact was speaking about it in the 1992 Parliament, that these countries are developing serious missile capability and possibly nuclear, certain chemical and biological weapons. They will have the capacity to threaten European and even American cities within the next few years, so therefore we've got to deal with that. HUMPHRYS: Some people would agree with that, others, some of whom know a great deal about the situation and have spent many years there, like Scott Ritter of the United Nations, one of the senior inspectors who was head of their intelligence and he spent a long time in Iraq as you will know, and he said that by the end of 1998 Iraq had been de-militarised in a greater way than any other country in history, and in June of last year he said Iraq today represents a threat to nobody. Well, you know, Mr Ritter, former American Marine knows a thing or two, spent a lot of time in Iraq. JENKIN: If you speak to other people in the UNSCOM inspection team first of all you've got to ask yourself why did Saddam Hussein chuck them out. All those palaces he was building, they've all got weapons development facilities. If it's as simple as that no doubt he will let us in, he will give the UN inspectors full rein and I'm certain that the issue of UN inspection is going to have a big bearing on how Saddam Hussein is treated by the international community. HUMPHRYS If he were to allow inspectors back in again would that mean as far as your party is concerned there is absolutely no question of an attack? JENKIN: Well, I keep saying we're a very long way from... HUMPHRYS: Indeed, but I'm trying to gauge.... JENKIN: But it depends how the UN inspection team is treated. I think the difficulty that we're going to be faced with is that Saddam Hussein has pretty well decided that for his personal survival as ruler of Iraq he requires weapons of mass destruction and a missile programme, and that is on collision course with the United Nations which says that he should dismantle these weapons. HUMPHRYS: Do you agree that...Charles Clarke said this to me yesterday, that whatever is done, there must be international agreement before it is done and we have to be very, very cautious indeed and Charles Clarke of course is the Chairman of the Labour Party. JENKIN: Well I think that's why Dick Cheney's coming over to Europe and Asia over the next, and the Middle East, over the next few days. It's why President Bush has been travelling abroad, it's why Colin Powell is pursuing a very, very extensive initiative. It's because there has to be an international coalition against these countries to be effective, America cannot - it will be very much harder for America to act on its own and achieve its objectives. HUMPHRYS: But as things stand, you seem not to need very much persuading yourself. You seem to believe there are grounds... JENKIN: ...well persuading of what? That we need to confront countries with a dictator... HUMPHRYS: That we need specifically to confront Saddam Hussein and replace him in office, kick him out and put somebody else in. JENKIN: Well both the Prime Minister and Colin Powell, Colin Powell was the first person to talk about regime change, and he's not regarded as a natural hawk. And the Prime Minister has confirmed the need to seek a regime change, unless things change dramatically, unless Saddam Hussein changes character, it seems difficult to believe, that we're going to be able to stabilise the Middle East and reduce the threat, the ultimate threat to European cities from a country like Iraq, unless there is a change of regime. HUMPHRYS: And what about the potential use, I emphasise potential obviously, of nuclear weapons, and I raise this because of having read something that your present leader, Iain Duncan Smith, said a few years ago: We would contemplate the use of nuclear, would we con......he asked this question, 'would we contemplate the use of nuclear weapons as the United States seems prepared to do, the possession of such weapons is of no use unless we have the will to use them. We must make it clear that we are prepared to use them'. JENKIN: Well that's exactly right, otherwise it's not a deterrent and you hear the left complaining about, about the west's attitude towards Iraq, and say, well if it's just say sabre-rattling that's alright. Well, if it's just sabre-rattling, and the dictators know it's just sabre-rattling and there is no resolve behind that sabre-rattling, then you might as well not bother to all. HUMPHRYS: Just a final quick thought on what help we could give the United States, we learn this morning that they'd like us to send twenty-five-thousand troops if it comes to a big invasion. Where would we get them from? JENKIN: Well that's a very good question. I mean, this last couple of months have been characterised by a whole lot of unexpected cuts in capability, the latest one being the scrapping of Invincible, the scrapping of the Harriers...the joint force Harriers, the Sea Harriers, the scrapping of the Fighter Squadron at Coningsby. These, if we going to get involved in a big military operation, let's not forget that it was Geoff Hoon that wanted to cancel the ...Syria desert operation earlier last year, we're gonna have to, I think the government's going to have to put some money where its mouth is, otherwise that shoulder-to-shoulder with the United States might mean rather less than it should do. HUMPHRYS: Bernard Jenkin 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.