ANDREW RAWNSLEY: Senior officials and politicians
on both sides of the Atlantic believe that military action against Iraq
is increasingly inevitable. This week the Americans will add more forces
to the large number they already have in the Gulf and it's widely reported
today that Britain will very shortly begin mobilising its forces. President
Bush didn't get everything he wanted from the United Nations when the Security
Council passed its resolution on Friday. Resolution 1441 does include
tough new conditions for weapons inspections. But if Saddam frustrates
the inspectors, there's no automatic trigger for war. The French, the
Russians and the Chinese continue to insist that another resolution must
be passed before any punitive action against Iraq can be launched. The
words of the resolution are sufficiently fudged that the White House can
say that they will go to war if Saddam Hussein impedes the inspectors of
his arsenal. A war they will declare whatever the views of other members
of the UN Security Council. And if that happens, it will finally confront
our Government with the choice they've been desperate to avoid - do they
stick with UN or follow the US? The Defence Secretary, Geoff Hoon, is with
Geoff Hoon, okay you've
got this resolution from the United Nations, but what possible reason is
there to think that Saddam Hussein will co-operate with his own disarmament.
GEOFF HOON MP: Because he said that it
would. And the pressure from the International Community has been such
that a new Security Council resolution was passed, unanimously, fifteen
votes, including Syria in favour and clearly the pressure of the International
Community is getting to him.
RAWNSLEY: But you say that Saddam
Hussein says he would. I mean he's a man you've described for months now
as a man who breaks his word continually. He's always, on past form, even
if he lets the inspectors in, he will simply frustrate them, won't he?
HOON: Well that's obviously a concern
that we have. But so far, because of the pressure that has been brought
to bear through detailed discussions in New York and the United Nations,
we do see some progress. It's progress that has been backed up by the threat
of force and I make no apology for saying that because clearly that has
changed Saddam Hussein's position.
RAWNSLEY: But look, for months
now, even years, you, Tony Blair, George Bush, you've all described Saddam
Hussein as a cunning, wicked, completely untrustworthy man and suddenly
this wicked, cunning man, is going to put up his hands, say come in, here
are all my weapons, take them away. Beggars belief, I don't think you
really believe that do you?
HOON: He has a choice. He has the
last opportunity that the International Community will give him for exercising
that choice, whether he disarms voluntarily as you say, or whether he does
face the threat of the use of force. It's a matter for him. It's in his
hands, he can decide whether or not there is to be military action.
RAWNSLEY: And on all past form,
even if he lets the inspectors in, there will come a point where it's obvious
he's not showing them all his weapons, won't it.
HOON: Well that will be a matter
for the inspectors to descide.
RAWNSLEY: What's your hunch? That's
what's going to happen.
HOON: Well this is a very, very
tough detailed resolution, it sets out all manner of detail about the kind
of inspection that can take place, because having learned our lessons from
the past where the inspection regime was less tough, we have been able
to block off many of the gaps that he sought to exploit last time, presidential
palaces for example, twenty-five square miles of Iraq that the previous
inspection regime could not enter, now that's dealt with. So, we will know
very quickly, I suspect, from the inspectors whether or not they are being
RAWNSLEY: We'll now quickly. Well,
let's assume and I think this is the assumption we have to work on, I
think you and the Americans are working on it, that Saddam isn't willing
to disarm voluntarily. In those circumstances, has the United States,
now got a mandate for a war?
HOON: What the International Community
have said and everyone is agreed on this, that there would be a further
discussion. But there are a number of stages to be gone through, the inspectors,
we hope, will be allowed access freely to Iraq, they will then report on
what they find there, that report will go to the Security Council where
there will be a further discussion amongst members of the Security Council.
Everyone accepts that, the United States included, so we still have a
number of stages to go through yet.
RAWNSLEY: What does further discussion
mean? I mean many people think America hasn't got authorisation for war
on Saddam Hussein without a new fresh mandate from the Security Council,
is that your view?
HOON: I don't think that's necessarily
the case no.
RAWNSLEY: Not necessarily?
HOON: Not necessarily. What we
have to see is what happens. I.. clearly there are a number of possibilities
that could occur over the next weeks ahead, but what I think is important
is that we are all committed to this process, to the implementation of
a United Nations Security Council resolution, Kofi Annan has made it clear
that it is a matter for the United Nations to take very seriously and clearly
as I said to your earlier, it is a choice now before Saddam Hussein.
RAWNSLEY: But you see there is
a clear difference of opinion here because the way the Americans are talking,
they clearly think that's it, they have now got the mandate they need,
if they want to take war to him, other people who signed up to this vote
on Friday, don't take that view at all, the Syrian Ambassador doesn't think
it gives a right to America to take unilateral action, the Russians don't
think that, the Chinese doesn't think that, the French don't think that.
What do you think? I mean who are you with in this argument - the French
and the Russians or the Americans?
HOON: Well I've not actually seen
any evidence of the United States' position being what you say it is. The
President when he spoke the other day, said the United States was absolutely
committed to the UN process. They've spent months negotiating this, they've
set out their position very clearly.
RAWNSLEY: Right, so, if it came
to the position where war had to be declared, you and the British Government
would be urging the White House to go back and get another resolution would
HOON: Everyone is agreed, as I
said, that we will go back to the Security Council, that there will be
RAWNSLEY: For a chat, but what
about a resolution?
HOON: This is not a chat, we are
talking about very serious matters here, about whether in fact military
action is agreed upon. That's not a matter that will be done casually,
it's a matter that will be done as a result of a serious discussion in
the Security Council.
RAWNSLEY: What if the Americans
say no, we are going to have a war, we don't need another resolution, the
Russians, the French, the Chinese go bananas at this point, where will
HOON: Well, again, I think it's
important to go through the process. We've committed ourselves to this
process, we've committed ourselves after a long period of difficult negotiation.
No one pretends that this was straightforward. These are significant
members of the International Community deciding on something absolutely
fundamental to our security.
RAWNSLEY: Something pretty ambiguous,
that different people have voted for this resolution, but they can't really
agree what it amounts to.
HOON: What we need to do is to
go through this process, to go to the next stage. We hope to allow weapons
inspectors to go and look on the ground freely what Iraq is doing and that
is a carefully worked out process. I think it's wrong to belittle it in
RAWNSLEY: Ah, well I'm not. Clare
Short is very clear, your Cabinet colleague, Clare Short, she says and
I'm going to quote her "the Security Council will decide what type of action
will be taken", not the Americans alone, not America and Britain, Clare
Short says it will be the Security Council. Is she right?
HOON: It's always a matter for
individual member states as it is for the United Kingdom to determine whether
or not force will be used. It is a decision of the British Prime Minister
to commit British troops.
RAWNSLEY: So Clare Short's wrong?
HOON: What I'm saying to you is
RAWNSLEY: Well you're saying she's
wrong, but you don't want to say it in words of one syllable.
HOON: What I'm saying to you is
that before any decision is taken about military action, it will be a decision
of the British Prime Minister if British troops are involved.
RAWNSLEY: So...the impression people
have, you see.. although you'll have discussions, the Americans, the British
will have discussions with the UN Security Council because that's good
public relations, but the impression people have is that if the UN Security
Council doesn't fall into line, you'll do it anyway.
HOON: Well, Kofi Annan as I've
already said, has said that the United Nations Security Council and the
United Nations must take its responsibilities seriously and what he is
talking about is the responsibility to ensure that its own decisions are
RAWNSLEY: But your interpretation
of the UN's responsibilities is that they must licence a war by America
HOON: No, I think...
RAWNSLEY: Some other members of
the Security Council have a different interpretation of that responsibility.
HOON: Well I didn't actually say
that at all. I said that - and it will clearly depend on what happens.
Iraq has less than a week now in which to decide whether to accept this
resolution, it then has within thirty days to decide on what disclosure
it's going to make over its existing weapons of mass destruction programmes,
whether it has actually a programme on nuclear, biological and chemical
weapons. We clearly believe that it has, it's a matter for Iraq now to
decide whether it faces up to that. After that, we expect to see weapons
inspectors returning to Iraq, to be allowed access. Now, all of those
events need to take place before we have the kinds of conversations in
the Security Council that you are referring to. Clearly, those discussions
will be influenced by what happens on the ground.
RAWNSLEY: Of course, but one thing
you do in the Ministry of Defence probably more than anywhere else in Government
is a lot of war gaming. You work out what you are going to do in various
scenarios. I mean it's possible the crunch as you say could come within
seven days. Saddam Hussein may turn round and say "no weapons inspectors,
I'm not having them." When it comes to this crunch, will America and
Britain go to war against him without a fresh resolution from the Security
Council? That's the crunch question I'm trying to get you to answer, Secretary
HOON: As I have been trying to
explain, it will depend on the circumstances. How Saddam Hussein reacts...
RAWNSLEY: Oh, so, there's some
circumstances where you ignore the rest of the Security Council and others
where you may go for a mandate.
HOON: The Security Council doesn't
actually set out its position quite as clearly on what is a speculation,
as you are suggesting. There isn't a clear view that you're describing.
It will clearly depend on how the weapons inspectors are able to gain
access to Iraq, what they find, what kind of report they make to the Security
Council and, then, as everyone accepts and it's been stated quite clearly,
on the record, that there will have to be a further discussion.
RAWNSLEY: But not necessarily a
resolution? So I'm going to take that as a yes and put this to you. Don't
you think it would be terribly hazardous for the United States to launch
any sort of unilateral war against Saddam Hussein?
HOON: Well, the United States has
not done that.
HOON: The United States has been
consistently accused of wanting to do that, yet at every turn, they frustrated
their accusers. People said that about Afghanistan, that the United States
would hit out, in fact, they carefully assembled an international coalition
and proceeded very cautiously with military action. People were saying
that the United States would hit out at Iraq. In fact, the President made
a decision to go through the UN process, he's carefully negotiated and
reached a conclusion and again, there's no evidence of the United States
behaving in the way that you suggest.
RAWNSLEY: What there is, if there's
a war, there is increasing evidence that Britain will be joining the United
States in an invasion of Iraq, someone has been briefing today's newspapers
that Britain will be mobilising its forces this week. Is that correct?
HOON: It's not correct,
although I have seen this briefing, so called, on a number of occasions,
so I suppose eventually one or another of the newspapers will actually
get it right.
RAWNSLEY: None of it is coming
out of your department at all then?
HOON: Certainly not with my knowledge
and authority, absolutely not. We made clear, as the Prime Minister did
to the House of Commons in September, that we will be prepared. It's absolutely
essential that Saddam Hussein realises that the international community
is prepared to back its resolution with the use of force.
RAWNSLEY: Absolutely, to make the
threat...to make the threat of punitive action real, of course you are
going to have to have considerable forces in the Gulf. How many service
men and women in total do you think we will need to commit to the Gulf
as a country?
HOON; Well, no decisions have been
RAWNSLEY; I can't believe that,
you must be close to decisions then.
HOON; I have to say that no decisions
have been taken and the Prime Minister indicated in the House of Commons
that we would be prepared, and we are prepared.
RAWNSLEY: Can you give us a rough
ball park figure...
HOON; The issue is when that decision
is taken, clearly it is a matter that has to be reported first of all to
the House of Commons. And that is a basic constitutional principle.
RAWNSLEY: Let me put it this way
then, when do you expect to be giving a proper formal announcement about
mobilisation, the numbers involved, to the House of Commons?
HOON; Well, again, I'm not going
to announce that today. What is important is that we are prepared, that
we have appropriate contingency plans in place and we will take those decisions
when they are needed.
RAWNSLEY: You see some say there
won't be a big enough force to deal with Saddam until February next year.
Which gives him more than three months to muck about with the inspectors.
If it's necessary when will we and the United States really be in a position
to invade Iraq?
HOON; Well I'm not going to those
kinds of details on your....
RAWSLEY: Well, are those reports
correct, that we won't be ready until February?
HOON; Those reports are not correct,
RAWNSLEY: Will we be ready?
HOON; Equally, I'm not going into
RAWNSLEY: But not as late as February?
HOON; ... when we might be ready.
What I'm saying is that we're prepared, at each stage we have taken the
appropriate and necessary decisions, but what is important is that we give
this UN process time to be effective.
RAWNSLEY: You see there are doubts
at the very highest levels of the armed forces about Britain's capability
to join a war against Saddam. I want to quote the Chief of the Defence
Staff himself, Admiral Sir Michael Boyce. He says that front line troops
have been stripped out to provide would-be fire-fighters. He goes on
to say, if this runs into next year we shall have extreme difficulty.
Is he right?
HOON; I can assure you that we
will be prepared in the event of the Prime Minister deciding to commit
British troops. That is something which I discuss on a regular basis with
the Chief of the Defence Staff, and we will be ready if it does come to
that....and I want to emphasise it's a last resort.
RAWNSLEY: So you think we could
cope with having lots of forces in the Gulf and a fire-fighters dispute
at the same time?
HOON: Well, again, we will take
those decisions when they're needed. They are not yet needed.
RAWNSLEY: It wasn't a question
of taking a decision, it was knowing whether we could cope with a fire-fighters
strike and action in the Gulf simultaneously.
HOON; We will cope, we will cope.
RAWNLSEY: The Chief of the Defence
Staff,. he's got an office right next door to you, he doesn't think we
HOON: Well, I see him probably
rather more often than you.
RAWNSLEY: I'm sure you do. But
maybe you don't talk to each other.
HOON: We have regular conversations.
I spoke to him this morning in fact at the Cenotaph, and I assure you
that we will be ready, we can cope and we can deal with these eventualities.
RAWNSLEY: Did you tell him that
comment was helpful?
HOON: I have seen that comment
and I think you'll find that you're taking it out of context.
RAWNSLEY: No, it was very plain
what he said. I mean here's the quote again. "If this runs into next year
we shall have extreme difficulty" That's not out of context, that's what
HOON: He went on to explain that
we will be able to manage a number of different commitments, but it clearly
does depend on all the circumstances, and again it isn't helpful at this
stage to indulge in this kind of speculation. It is speculation. I'm
saying to you that in the event of there being a need for military action
in relation to enforcing the UN decisions in the Gulf we will be prepared
and we will be ready.
RAWNSLEY: I assume that when the
Cabinet discusses the dispute with the fire-fighters you must be one of
those voices hoping the Chancellor will come up with the money. I mean,
after all, if Saddam Hussein is the menace to humanity you've described
him as what's a few million pounds for the fire-fighters. We have to
get our priorities right. I presume that's your advice to the Chancellor
is - buy them off.
HOON: It's not my advice to the
Chancellor. The Ministry of Defence is clearly present at those discussions
because it is important that we are able to provide an alternative fire
service should there be a strike. Clearly we all hope there is not going
to be a strike. We've been very encouraged by the negotiations that have
taken place so far. Everyone wants to see those to be successful.
RAWNSLEY: It's entirely possible
that we could have large numbers of forces in the Gulf. Others may have
to be deployed on fire-fighting duties. Is there going to be anyone much
available to protect Britain itself from the sort of horrific terrorist
attacks that David Blunkett was warning about only the other day?
HOON: Yes, there is, and again
one of the consequences of the appalling events of September the Eleventh
was that I commissioned some work to be done looking at the impact of those
new threats on the consequences. And I announced the results of that very
recently, is that we have available now some at short notice, reserves
who will be able to go and assist the civil authorities in the event of
a crisis, but I do want to emphasise that it has always been the case in
the United Kingdom that the primary responsibility for managing an attack
within the jurisdiction of the UK lies with the Home Office, lies with
the civilian authorities. We assist, the Ministry of Defence will assist,
but it is assistance to the civilian power.
RAWNSLEY: Of course any military
action involving Britain in Iraq would be risky, and it's actually an unnecessary
risk isn't it. I mean the Americans with their amount of forces at their
disposal don't actually need us for this war do they?
HOON: I don't accept that for a
moment and I would invite you to look at the military action that took
place about a year ago in Afghanistan where the UK armed forces played
a vital role supplying reconnaissance, providing air to air refuelling,
a significant presence on the ground, something that the United States
looked for and welcomed from the United Kingdom.
RAWNSLEY: Given all we know about
Saddam, given how determined the Americans are to deal with him even remove
him, be honest with the British people on this Remembrance Sunday Secretary
of State. We're heading for war aren't we?
HOON: I'm consistently honest about
these matters, and particularly on Remembrance Sunday I'm not going to
take lightly a decision to deploy British forces in support of a UN Resolution.
Nevertheless, if that is necessary, it will be a decision that a British
Government will take.
RAWNSLEY: Geoff Hoon, thank you.
HOON: Thank you.