Interview With British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw
Secretary Colin L. Powell Interview by James Robbins on BBC Ten O Clock News London, England November 19, 2003
QUESTION: Mr. Powell, the first full State visit by an American president to Britain. That suggests the two countries are now closer than ever before, is that right?
SECRETARY POWELL: I think that is exactly right. I think we are as close as we ve ever been, as close as we ve ever been before. And I think that really is underscored by the closeness that exists between President Bush and Prime Minister Blair. They have become exceptionally close as the result of the crises in Afghanistan and Iraq. But also because of shared values and interests that they perceive as well as the two nation perceieves. And it s a relationship that truly is special, and one we will do everything we can to enhance it.
QUESTION: Is that right, Foreign Secretary, despite all the travails that Mr. Blair has had to go through domestically?
SECRETARY STRAW: Yes, it is. It is a relationship of common values, not just between two individuals, but between two nations with a lot of shared history. But some history that is very separate, which Colin and I have often discovered, both difference in language and history. But the relationship at a personal level is based fundamentally on trust. It s not that there are never disagreements, of course there are, but it is a relationship where each side trusts the other.
QUESTION: Mr. Powell, terrible start to the visit: Undercover journalist posing as palace servant, grave threat to security, could equally have been terrorism, pretty shocking.
SECRETARY POWELL: Well, I m sure it s something that the British government will be looking into. We ve never had a concern for the security of our President or for members of the party. I m sure, as the Home Secretary has said, he ll be looking into it.
QUESTION: You re still sure the President is safe in Britain?
SECRETARY POWELL: Absolutely.
QUESTION: Mr. Straw?
SECRETARY STRAW: Yes, I am. I talked to David Blunkett about this. After all, I was the Home Secretary until the election of 2001. David and the police commissioner are dealing with this. As he announced in the House of Commons, there are going to be the most serious investigations into what happened.
QUESTION: Many in Britain clearly welcome the president. Others do not. Could this visit actually do more harm than good by pointing out divisions within your first ally, within Britain?
SECRETARY POWELL: Well I think it s going to do much more good than harm. I ve been watching the polls, as we all have, and I m so pleased that the majority of Britons are pleased to see the President of the United States here. This is the first State visit since 1918, that s a start. And we appreciate that there are those who wish to express opposition to certain of our policies. I m not sure that extends throughout the whole country. And even those who might be protesting particular policies, say for Iraq, I have a hunch if you really scratch them a little bit, talk about other aspects of U.S.-U.K. relations, you ll find they are more positively inclined. We have so much in common.
SECRETARY STRAW: And you saw the Guardian poll?
SECRETARY STRAW: Yes, it s striking results. Two-thirds of the country positively welcoming President Bush, I think 14%, one-four percent, are hostile to him. And my view is that anybody who has doubts about, not only the nature of the relationship, but the nature of the United States, would have had those doubts almost completely allayed by what they were able to see and hear in President Bush s speech at lunch time. That was it. There he was. A very fine and subtle presentation about the nature of the United States relationship with the rest of the world, sets of values, its commitment to the international community. And that in itself, along with the humor, was a total contrast to the parody that we ve seen too often of the leadership of the United States.
QUESTION: Let s talk a bit about the speech, Mr. Powell. The Bush doctrine restated. Effective multilateralism, he talked about. His critics say, effective multilateralism means we listen to people when we agree with them; when we don t agree with them we simply ignore them.
SECRETARY POWELL: I can assure you most of my working day is spent listening to people who don t necessarily agree with us and taking their views into account. Jack and I worked very closely together on a number of U.N. resolutions. 1441 last fall. Over the last couple of months we ve worked on 1483, 1500, and 1511. All of these are resolutions that sought the to bring the international community back together again.
I ve just come from Brussels where I sat with all of the EU foreign ministers -- Jack had to be in the U.K. yesterday, so he wasn t there, but all the rest of them were -- and I listened to their points of view and they listened to my points of view. But it doesn t mean that you have to achieve unanimity or total consensus in order to act. There will be occasions, as we have seen, where action is required even if you can t get everyone to agree with that action.
If you listened carefully, the President took this issue to the United Nations in September of 2002, and asked the United Nations to act. And when it was obvious to us, to the Prime Minister, and a number of other nations that the United States was not going to take the appropriate action, the President decided to do so alone with Prime Minister Blair and many other leaders. And that action was successful. A terrible dictator is gone, the people of Iraq are free. We have to get the security situation under control, but let s not overlook all the positive things that have happened in Iraq.
QUESTION: You say, your president says, that you are multilateralists, but you haven t brought any gifts to help Mr. Blair. No concession on the steel dispute, no concession on British detainees in Guantanamo Bay.
SECRETARY POWELL: The president will make the decision on the steel dispute within a short period of time. It won t be too long now.
QUESTION: Are you signaling that s going to be settled?
SECRETARY POWELL: I am signaling that the president will make a decision within a short period of time. I might add that we were very sensitive to British concerns about the steel issue and a number of exemptions were granted after the president made a decision, and I think Jack would acknowledge that.
With respect to the detainees, I can assure you the president is very sensitive to the views of the prime minister and the British people about the detainee issue, and we also expect to be resolving this in the near future.
QUESTION: Iraq. Terrible losses, a u-turn in your policy. Was Britain fully consulted before you made that decision?
SECRETARY POWELL: Jack and I talked nearly every day.
SECRETARY STRAW: Yes, yes.
SECRETARY POWELL: It s amazing. We do talk nearly every day. And there is nothing that is going on in our counsel that Jack should be aware of, that he is not aware of. And there is also the same kind of conversations at the White House and Number 10 level.
Now, I wouldn t call it a u-turn our policy. What we are still doing is moving forward to put in place a government that has legitimacy - legitimacy conferred upon it by the Iraqi people. We were hoping to do that with a full-scale constitution, but it was going to take too long to write a constitution and to get it ratified in the manner in which we were going. So we made a judgment. Working with the Iraqi people in the form of the governing council, that let s speed up the process. Let s get in place a fundamental law, as we call it, which will enshrine the rights of individuals. We saw what the governing council has said. They re going to put it in the fundamental law. And on the basis of that fundamental law, let s take it to the people in the form of an election where representatives will come in from each of the governance, as they are called, and approve that fundamental law. And on that basis, then have an election for a transitional assembly and then a transitional government- to get all that done by next summer. It speeds the political process, it turns sovereignty over earlier to the Iraqi people, but on some legitimate basis, the basic law, the fundamental law, as well as the people speaking about that fundamental law, with the kinds of elections that we are planning to have next spring.
SECRETARY STRAW: Let me just make this point about the nature of the relationship, because people are quite entitled to ask: Was there consultation about the decision which in the end was actually promulgated by the governing councils by the United States and the U.K. And behind that question is the sense that there will be moment when there will be a consultation by the U.S., by General Powell, with the U.K. It s a two way conversation, and it s something which I did not myself appreciate until I took this job over. Why? Because these conversations can only be effective if they are based on both trust and confidence and neither side grandstanding the other.
QUESTION: Mr. Powell, there must be a danger that you hand over power too quickly to the Iraqi people, draw down American forces, and that leaves the real possibility of basic democracy there being overturned and an appalling civil war.
SECRETARY POWELL: We are not going to cut and run. We are going to stay there with military forces, as well as the new Iraqi forces that are being built up right now. So, the end of the authority of the coalition provisional authority doesn t mean the coalition military forces are going to leave the country.
Some of our critics are saying to us, Why don t you turn over sovereignty right now? Why don t you do it this month, why don t you do it by the end of the year? That would be, one, unrealistic, and two, irresponsible. You have to have some responsible group of people bearing some legitimacy to turn it over to. And that s the track we are on. We re not going to be rushed into doing something reckless. We re not going to stay any longer than we have to in charge of the country. We are confident that when we get to this point next summer, where we have an assembly- an elected body- then we will enter in agreements with them as to the continuing presence of coalition troops, to make sure that the country is not sliding back down to the cellar.
QUESTION: Do you now accept that the original post-war policy was wrong?
SECRETARY POWELL: No, what I m saying is the plan that we have, the seven step plan, which would have gone for a full-blown constitution, that turned out not to be workable. So what did we do? We consulted with the Iraqi people, we consulted with all our coalition partners and we decided to speed up the process by going through a fundamental law drafting procedure. Now, once the transitional assembly and transitional government have been selected and take over sovereignty, then over the next year, year and a half, they will write the full-blown constitution, take it to the people for ratification, and then from that elect a permanent assembly, and from that permanent assembly a permanent government.
QUESTION: Finally, back to the visit. Big demonstrations are expected tomorrow, the day the demonstrators are going to be on the streets of London en masse. There must have been a time several months ago you could have seen all of this, divided Britain on the war of Iraq, before the State visit became public. There must have been a time when you two could have put your heads together and said, Let s call the whole thing off .
SECRETARY POWELL: Well, we talk every single day and that subject never came up. And my head would have been taken off if I had ever suggested it. We wanted this visit. We wanted to come here. Demonstrations are part of the democratic process. It s part of a democratically - you see the alternative is people aren t free to demonstrate. That s what we just cleared up in Baghdad, as the President said today.
[Powell and Straw aside here is inaudible]
SECRETARY STRAW: As Colin said, it s never been discussed with us. If we had been worried about it, we would have discussed it. The visit was decided upon seventeen month ago. It s been on the calendar and my judgment is it s the right time to happen. And I think that we ve already seen in the first what six hours of the visit, the value of this visit, in tangible terms, making the nature and the explanation for this relationship much clearer.
QUESTION: Foreign Secretary, Secretary of State, thank you very much.