Edited Transcript of the Final Press Conference
by Prime Minister Tony Blair
Sea Island, June 10, 2004
Good Evening everyone. First of all can I begin by thanking President Bush for hosting this G8 Summit and thank the people of Sea Island as well for putting up with us here over these past few days.
Obviously as we went into the G8 we had the news of the UN resolution endorsing the new Iraqi government and looking forward to a transition to a stable, democratic, federal and pluralist Iraq, and that obviously has been a very important milestone for the development of Iraq. The G8, originally conceived of to talk about the world economy, and that certainly formed part of our discussion, actually centred perhaps the main body of its discussion really on two issues.
First of all, the proposals to bring greater democracy, freedom, stability to the whole of the Middle East and Northern Africa, and that also included a discussion on the Middle East peace process where I think there is a recognition in every quarter of the importance of trying to make sure that we reinvigorate that process. And I would just say to you that the statement on that makes a couple of things very clear: We need to get back into the road map, and that is still the basis for progress in the Middle East, and that the two state solution and the way of getting there as set out in the road map is still the way that the whole of the G8 wants to go. And also specifically that there will be a meeting of the Quartet before the end of this month where they have been tasked by us with coming up with a specific set of actions in order to be able to get back into the road map process properly.
So it is not merely a statement of principle, but a statement also of what we can do of the process that should lead to this being pushed forward again. The Israeli-Palestinian issue formed a significant part of the conversation I had with President Bush, and I think certainly for those leaders from the region here, there is a recognition, not just of its importance, but also of the importance of seeing that as part of a whole series of changes in the Middle East to bring about greater democracy and stability.
And then secondly today we concentrated on the issue of Africa where we hosted several of the African leaders, and agreed there further action on HIV-Aids, but also, and most importantly, a commitment to ensure that up to 75,000 peacekeeping troops were trained and ready to be deployed in peacekeeping operations in Africa by 2010. Now this builds on something that for a long time we have been pushing through the United Nations process, but is basically to ensure that where there is conflict in Africa we have the peacekeeping ability, on the back of a political settlement, to make sure that the political settlement has a chance to work, and I think it is a very important step forward. But it also helps lay the foundation for the UK Presidency of the G8 next year, which as I think you probably know we will host in Scotland in Gleneagles, and a major part of the agenda for that G8 will be the work of the Africa Commission that we have established, and a report back from that, and then hopefully a series of actions agreed by the G8 in order to make progress there.
So I think you can see that as well as discussing the very obvious issues to do with the world economy, particularly at the present time and with the worry over oil prices and so on. There was a real focus on what the G8 can do as a group of developed successful nations to help those who are in greater difficulty, and to help them because we realise that it is in our own enlightened self-interest to make sure that we are bringing progress, and democracy, and prosperity not merely to our own countries but to every part of the world. So that is a brief resume of what we discussed at the G8. I look forward to hosting the G8 next year, in Scotland as I say, and taking forward the agenda that we have set out there.
As you say, you started the week with unanimity at the UN on Iraq, but since then there has been the disagreement with France over the use of NATO, there has been a disagreement over wiping out Iraq's debt. How serious are these divisions, and is not the message that is sent out to the world that on Iraq there are still large parts of the world community who are either unwilling or unable to help out?
First of all I think it would be misguided to understate the importance of the UN resolution, or to say that because there may be disagreement on for example what the precise contribution that NATO might make to the future of Iraq that somehow that overshadows the basic agreement on a government in a way forward. I don't think it does. Look, you are never going to get people who are against removing Saddam and against the Iraq war to change their mind, people have got their positions on that, that is the way it is. But the fact you have now got a UN-blessed political process, and also a strategy for developing the Iraqi capability, and this was spoken of very strongly by the President of Iraq when he was here at the G8, that capability for the Iraqis themselves to do their own security work, the fact you have got agreement there I think far outweighs any residual disagreement there might be. And I actually think in respect of NATO, our desire is not to have a large number of NATO troops there, I don't think that is practical, our desire is, on the basis that the Iraqi government of course want it, but I believe they will, to have NATO help with the training, in other words the building up of the Iraqi capability. And I am not quite sure where this disagreement has surfaced, but I think the disagreement will be overcome.
I am not sure that everyone would agree with your view that G8 summits leave the world perhaps a happier and safer place. The security bill here alone is around £25 million, which is probably enough to service at least one small country's debt, huge disruption. One observer called it the rich white men's club. And half the proposals from Evian haven't actually been implemented. I know of course you are keen to host next year's in Gleneagles, but after that do you think there is any room for a rethink on the amount of money this costs and the disruption it causes, whatever good you feel that it does?
The issue in the end with these summits is really about security, that is what costs money. But I am afraid that costs money because there are people who are prepared to bomb and kill and engage in terrorist acts to stop world leaders meeting, and we need to meet, and the preparation that we do for this then results in initiatives being taken. Look, I believe we would have got an Iraqi resolution in any event, but I think it helps the fact that we all come here together to bring the world and unify around that. And the things that we have been agreeing in the past 2 years in relation to Africa for example have made a real difference; I mean $60 billion of debt has been written off in Africa. The Americans have pledged something in the region of $15 billion in respect of HIV-Aids, others of us major programmes. I am not saying all these happen because of the G8, but it helps to bring people together. And there is an argument about any summit, is it worthwhile, well I don't know, but it is not that I say the world ends up being a happier place, but I think my judgment is that it is sensible for us to have this forum where we can come together and discuss these issues. And I am afraid the security problem is a problem, it is why increasingly we have these not in cities, because it is difficult to have them in a city, but you know if we started cancelling the summits because of the security, we would have handed those people who are opposed to our way of life a victory.
I wanted to ask about this broader Middle East initiative, which as you said was a major part of the summit. We have Egypt and Saudi Arabia at the moment not taking part, and I assume Syria and Iran are not in the equation at the moment because the US designates them as countries supporting terrorism. I think in much of the Arab world the US reputation is somewhat tarnished, so wouldn't it be better to leave the Arab world, which has a will to change from within, to do that and not try to impose things from the outside?
Well that is a good question. Let me try and answer it for you. First of all in respect of Egypt and Saudi Arabia, I think you would be wrong in thinking they don't support the broader concept of this Middle East initiative. They do. They are not here, but obviously Egypt has been closely involved in the discussion on this, and Saudi Arabia likewise. But the point you make I think is right at the crux of what we are trying to do here. We are not saying to the Middle East, you have to be like us. What we are saying is we know you want to reform, we know you want to make changes, we will help you do that. And one of the most interesting things for me was to sit at the lunch where you had people like the President of Iraq, but also President Karzai from Afghanistan, other leaders in the region, in the Middle East, who were saying we want to move our countries towards a democratic system where we have proper respect for human rights and civil liberties. And the point that we were making is these aren't American values, or European values, or British values, these are human values everywhere. And if those countries want to move in that direction and see their own future in that direction, we should help them do that. That is what we are saying. And I think it was a constructive meeting and I think you will find this getting followed up in the time to come.
Could you comment on the reports, which have emerged today that Colonel Gaddafi was plotting the assassination of Prince Abdullah. And also you have got a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party next Monday, after this week what will you be telling the PLP when you meet them on Monday night?
Obviously it could not be acceptable in any shape or form for there to be any state sponsored terrorism by Libya or any other country, but I am not in a position to say whether those allegations are correct or not. Secondly, I will be saying, I think my basic message is the same, I think it is important that we see through the difficult decisions necessary to make our country stronger and to make the world a safer and more secure place, and we will do that. And this is a time to stick to our convictions and beliefs and make sure we do the right thing for our country and for the wider world. And I can just tell you, when you listen to the President of Iraq, blessed now by the United Nations, the whole of the world community, sit round that table and say thank you for the liberation of his country from Saddam, thank you for the sacrifice of American and British and coalition troops in achieving that, and hear his determination and his belief that the Iraqi people, given the chance, want a stable and democratic country, when you hear that being said in that way then you realise why it is necessary to take difficult decisions sometimes and see them through.
Do you think it is time to enlarge the G8 to China and India given that you have a global warming objective next year, and make this a Permanent G10?
I think there is certainly a case for trying to involve countries that are self-evidently important as China and India in discussions on these issues. There is a continuing debate about changing the formal structure of the G8. I think at some point in time it probably should change, but obviously that has got to be done with the agreement of everyone and it is sometimes a bit like the UN Security Council, everyone agrees in principle it should be reformed, but when you come to agreeing which countries and on what basis it gets more difficult. But certainly I think we have already begun the process in the G8 of outreach as it were to other countries and I am sure that will continue.
Going back to the issue of NATO, you said that you think the disagreement will be overcome, does that mean that you think President Chirac will come round and back NATO involvement on the issue of training troops there? And are you disappointed that NATO got on to the agenda here at the G8 and exposed those divisions? And if the troops aren't going to come from NATO, where are the extra troops going to come from?
I just wouldn't exaggerate the difference here. As I understand it, the issue is whether NATO supports the development of the Iraqi capability on security for their own troops and so on. And my view is that if the Iraqi government, if there will be a sovereign government after 30 June asks for that help, I would be really surprised if NATO didn't agree it. Now that is what is being talked about. It has never been the anticipation that NATO troops are going to go in there, you know in the same way that the coalition troops have been in. But what is needed is to improve and increase the level of support that we give to the Iraqi army in the training of that army and in developing the capability. Because you see the problem in Iraq, as the President was explaining to us around the table, it is not a complex problem; it is a simple problem - security. As he said, what you have got to understand about these insurgents is that they don't represent many people in Iraq, but they are very well armed and they are determined to kill anybody who wants to make the country better. So that makes them a force to be reckoned with, not because they have support, but because they like any terrorist group if they are well armed, they can cause a lot of damage. And what they have decided to do, and he actually said this in a very passionate statement, he said let me tell you, people who go and blow up the Iraqi oil supply, or blow up the water pipeline, stop Iraqi people getting the power that they need, and the clean water that they need. These are not patriots, he said, these are enemies of Iraq. Now I think what he was really saying to us was look if you give us the tools to do this job, we can do it. And therefore I think where NATO comes into this is really NATO as a support, giving them the training in order that the job can be done. As I say, I have not really read the media on this, but I understand it has been pointed up as a big dispute. I personally think it will be resolved on the basis I have just described, but we will wait and see.
Source: Foreign and Commonwealth Office