Iraq War Debate
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KWAME HOLMAN: British Prime Minister Tony Blair has stood almost shoulder to shoulder with President Bush over recent months, as the President has tried to rally international support for tough action against Saddam Hussein. Blair’s position has not been a politically popular one with the people of Great Britain, including many within his majority Labour Party, and some within his own cabinet as well. The resignation of one, possibly two, cabinet ministers has been rumored for days.
SPOKESMAN: Order, order.
KWAME HOLMAN: It’s against that backdrop that Blair asked the House of Commons be recalled today, a month early from summer recess, so he could disclose the findings of a 50-page British intelligence dossier on Iraq’s possession of, and ability to develop, weapons of mass destruction.
TONY BLAIR: It concludes that Iraq has chemical and biological weapons; that Saddam has continued to produce them; that he has existing and active military plans for the use of chemical and biological weapons, which could be activated within 45 minutes, including against his own Shia population; and that he is actively trying to acquire nuclear weapons capability.
KWAME HOLMAN: Blair insisted Saddam Hussein has rebuilt his biological weapons facilities.
TONY BLAIR: The biological agents we eve Iraq can produce include anthrax, botulinum, toxin, aflatoxin, and ricin. All eventually result in excruciatingly painful death.
KWAME HOLMAN: And Blair outlined the steps Saddam Hussein allegedly has taken to develop nuclear weapons.
TONY BLAIR: Saddam has bought or attempted to buy specialized vacuum pumps of the design needed for the gas centrifuge cascade to enrich uranium; an entire magnet production line of the specification for use in the motors and top bearings of gas centrifuges; dual-use products such as anhydrous hydrogen fluoride and fluoride gas, which can be used both in petrochemicals, but also in gas centrifuge cascades; a filament winding machine, which can be used to manufacture carbon fiber gas centrifuge rotors; and has attempted, covertly, to acquire 60,000 or more specialized aluminum tubes, which are subject to strict controls due to their potential use in the construction of gas centrifuges. In addition, we know Saddam has been trying to buy significant quantities of uranium from Africa, though we do not know whether he has been successful.
KWAME HOLMAN: Blair encouraged members of parliament to pay special attention to that part of the dossier dealing with Saddam Hussein’s human rights record.
TONY BLAIR; I say, read also about the routine butchering of political opponents; the prison “cleansing” regimes in which thousands die; the torture chambers and hideous penalties supervised by him and his family and detailed by Amnesty International. Read it all, and again, I defy anyone to say that this cruel and sadistic dictator should be allowed any possibility of getting his hands on more chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons of mass destruction.
KWAME HOLMAN: The prime minister addressed the benefits of a regime change in Iraq, and conceded military action might be necessary.
TONY BLAIR: But our purpose is disarmament. No one wants military conflict. The whole purpose of putting this before the United Nations is to demonstrate the united determination of the international community to resolve this in the way it should have been resolved years ago: Through a proper process of disarmament under the UN. Disarmament of all weapons of mass destruction is the demand. One way or another, it must be acceded to.
KWAME HOLMAN: Support for the prime minister came from the Conservative Party, the official opposition, and its leader, Ian Duncan Smith.
IAN DUNCAN SMITH: Mr. Speaker, no one wants to see British troops or any other troops engaged in war. War should be the last resort when all other efforts have failed. But Britain should never shy away from its responsibilities in time of international crisis.
KWAME HOLMAN: But there were questions for the prime minister not addressed in the dossier.
IAN TAYLOR, Conservative Party: Can the Prime Minister reassure us that he has had big conversations with President Bush as to how we handle what will be a very uncertain situation in the Middle East even if Saddam Hussein is removed?
TONY BLAIR: There is a later time when some of these questions should Saddam not comply have to be answered, and these obviously very important questions to which we should give careful thought.
KWAME HOLMAN: Criticism was voiced by the Liberal Democrats. Its leader Charles Kennedy was concerned the prime minister already was favoring military action.
CHARLES KENNEDY, Leader, Liberal Democrats Party: For those of us who have never subscribed to British unilateralism, we are not about to sign up to American unilateralism now either.
KWAME HOLMAN: Kennedy proceeded with a litany of questions and comments that lasted more than eight minutes, testing the patience of Blair’s supporters.
CHARLES KENNEDY: And that is why the political emphasis must be on getting the inspectors back in. The worry has to be, from this side of the Atlantic, that even if that had been conceded, that has not been the primary interest to the government of the United States. Finally, Mr. Speaker.. does the prime minister..
SPOKESMEN: Here, here!
CHARLES KENNEDY: …I’m only asking questions unasked…
SPOKESMEN: Here, here!
TONY BLAIR: The one thing I am sure of is there is no topic of a proper weapons regime going back in there and doing its job unless Saddam knows that the alternative to that is he is forced to comply with the UN will.
KWAME HOLMAN: But throughout the day most of the concern came from Blair’s side of the chamber from the Labour Party.
BARRY GARDINER, Labour Party: The prime minister knows that action against Iraq that is supported by the authority of United Nations would be acceptable to the vast majority of MP’s across this House… Does he agree with me that those mps who oppose independent action must explain why some things they believe to be right and justified when undertaken by nations together becomes wrong and unjustified if we should act alone.
TONY BLAIR: What I would say to my old friend is this: That, well, what I would say is this: That is — the point that he made is exactly why the United Nations has got to be the way of resolving this issue. That is why I think it was right that President Bush made it very clear to the UN General that the United Nations itself was faced with a challenge and that’s why it’s important that challenge is met and the UN resolutions are implemented.
KWAME HOLMAN: It appears Blair still has more convincing to do. Members of his own Labour Party are leading a petition drive in the House of Commons expressing their deep unease about military action against Iraq.