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Tony Blair Discusses U.S. Aid to Africa and the EU Constitution

June 7, 2005 at 12:00 AM EDT


GWEN IFILL: Mr. Prime Minister, welcome. You’re here in Washington to meet with the president at the White House and to ask for an aid package for Africa, yet the White House has already announced it’s talking about $647 million for humanitarian aid only. That’s far less than we’re prepared to ask for.

PRIME MINISTER BLAIR: Well, there’s still obviously a lot of negotiation to do before we get to the summit that’s in Scotland in a month’s time.

But it’s not just about aid, incidentally. It’s very important we emphasize this. It’s a comprehensive package for Africa that deals not just with aid but with debt, with trade, with peacekeeping and peace enforcement and conflict resolution with the killer diseases, and with corruption, with bad governance, with proper systems of governance which are necessary to make any of the aid work.

So there’s a lot more to this than just discussing money.

GWEN IFILL: Does that mean that you’ve given up on your more ambitious plan to get countries like the United States to give more?

PRIME MINISTER BLAIR: We’ve always had, in the international community, this target of null point seven percent of the national income of a country every year going to aid.

But actually what’s important for the purposes of the G8 summit is to get additional commitments that allow us to fund the things that Africa urgently needs. If you take something like malaria or polio or TB or HIV/AIDS, there are literally thousands — thousands and thousands of people dying every day, preventably.

Now we need money in order to be able to get the drugs and the right health care systems to help countries that are faced with this terrible problem. But it’s not — I don’t think we should get fixated on the percentage of GDP every year that goes to aid. I think what we need is the money for the specific programs we’re requesting.

GWEN IFILL: You don’t want to get fixated on the money but we’re talking about money here. Can you achieve this ambitious goal you have for helping Africa help itself without a greater support from the United States?

PRIME MINISTER BLAIR: I think you certainly need more money from the U.S., from Europe, everywhere. But my point is, it’s best, instead of plucking a figure out of the air, to start — as we did in our commission for Africa report — to start with what does Africa need? What are the things that you could actually spend the money on that would make a difference for Africa? And then out of that you build your figure.

Now the European Union’s already agreed to double its aid over the next few years. America — to be fair, this administration has trebled its aid to Africa over the past few years and rather than, as I say, just take a figure out of the air, what I’d like to do is to sit down and work out what are the specific programs that are going to help people in Africa and make sure also that money goes to the people that really need the money, not just unconditional aid given to governments to spend how they want.

GWEN IFILL: One of the things that Africa needs, everybody seems to agree, is some measure of debt relief. Do you expect to get any help from that from President Bush?

PRIME MINISTER BLAIR: Yes. I think we’re making progress on that, and, you know, I think we’re a significant way down the line to try and get that cancellation for the most heavily-indebted countries. Now if we could achieve that by the time of the summit, in a month’s time, that would be a great advance.

GWEN IFILL: What does that mean, “significantly down the line”?

PRIME MINISTER BLAIR: Well, it means that we’re discussing whether we can do something as ambitious as actually canceling the debt. If so, how is it funded, what are the terms upon which it’s done, and so on. I mean, there are a whole set of technical details. But I think there is a — I don’t want to put words in the administration’s mouth — but I think there is a willingness to deal with these issues.

GWEN IFILL: When you talk about the G8, you’re talking about the meeting which is going to happen next month in Scotland that you’ll be leading. And one of your other goals, in addition to bringing Africa front and center, is also climate change. What kind of help do you expect from the United States on that?

PRIME MINISTER BLAIR: Well, again, I think the issue is how do we — ’cause I’ve chosen two tough issues for the G8 summit, Africa and climate change. But the issue is can we get to a sufficient international consensus on it? That it is important to take urgent action on this issue of greenhouse gas emissions and global warming and see if we can devise a way forward, that brings the international community back together again on it, because if the U.S. isn’t part of this deal overall, then it’s very difficult to tackle the problem.

GWEN IFILL: The U.S. is pretty far away from the rest of the international community on that. Wouldn’t you agree?

PRIME MINISTER BLAIR: Well, the U.S. is not prepared to sign Kyoto, we know that, which is the treaty that was about climate change. However, on the other hand, the U.S. is probably investing more money into research and development, into clean technology than any other country in the world, and recently, I think it’s been very clear, the administration, as much for reasons of energy, security and supply as climate change, are prepared to take bold action in this area.

Now the question is, can we find a way in which not just the U.S. but Europe, Japan, and then crucially, the big countries, China and India, who are already of course growing massively and are big consumers of energy — can we find a process that brings all of us together and try and find a way of growing and consuming energy in a more environmentally sustainable way?

GWEN IFILL: You may have heard that today, a group of academic scientists from the Big G8 countries, denounced the Bush administration policy on this as misguided. What would be a concession, in your mind, on this while you’re meeting with the president or even at the G8 meeting? Would he just acknowledge you, maybe that global warming is a problem?

PRIME MINISTER BLAIR: I don’t think the administration do take the view, actually, that there’s not an issue here. I think there is a disagreement about how certain the science is. But I think what is interesting is that whether people are coming at this from the climate change angle or whether they’re coming on the other hand, from the angle of energy, security and supply, and the worry that, you know, how are we going to make sure that countries like America but also countries like my own — how are we going to be able to secure our energy supplies for the future?

Whether you come at it from either of these two angles, you get to the same place, which is that we need an urgent, an assertive way forward on this, so that we’re developing the technologies and we’re making sure we are creating the circumstances in which we can move beyond this very heavy dependence on carbon emissions and greenhouse gas emissions which are going to do so much damage to not just the environment but over a long time, the whole stewardship of the planet.

GWEN IFILL: The European Union constitution. Within the last 24 hours Britain decided to delay the parliamentary ratification of the constitution. This is following what happened in France, no, what happened in the Netherlands, no. Where does that leave the state of the European Union and its constitution?

PRIME MINISTER BLAIR: Well, it leaves us with a problem obviously ’cause the constitution is the rules that we agreed that we’re going to regulate the enlarged Europe. Europe was 15 countries, it’s now twenty-five, it’s going to grow even further. So we’ve put together a new set of rules to govern this situation in the constitution for Europe.

Now you’ve had two referendums in two countries that rejected it. We can’t ignore that, so we’ve now got to sit down and work out the way forward, and I think the way forward is first of all to work out the political direction for Europe.

You know, what do we — how is Europe going to respond to the big issues to do with globalization in the economy and the different type of economy that we’re expected to have today and with all the insecurity there is in that? How do we deal with the big tides of migration across Europe and elsewhere? These are the major issues our citizens want us to deal with.

I think the problem with the constitution in a way was that they just didn’t think it dealt with those issues. It may have been a better set of rules for an enlarged Europe but it wasn’t answering those questions.

GWEN IFILL: Was it a political defeat in a Europe — throughout Europe or was it a defeat to the whole idea of unification?

PRIME MINISTER BLAIR: I don’t think so. No, I don’t think it was a defeat for the whole idea of unification. I think that in the end people do accept that enlargement’s got to happen, though you’re right — there are underlying worries and concerns.

‘Cause what’s happened is you’ve brought in countries, the ten new countries coming into Europe, by and large, have got cheaper labor. You know, they’re countries that have often emerged from the old communist regimes, and some of the countries who are the existing members of the European Union, wonder that — worry about cheap labor coming in and can we cope with this competition, and so on. So there are worries there but no, I think ultimately, it was a signal from the people of Europe that the political leadership’s got to offer better and clearer leadership on the big issues facing Europe.

GWEN IFILL: How do you get it back on track?

PRIME MINISTER BLAIR: I think getting the constitution back on track requires us really to sit down, as we will do in ten days’ time or so, and try and consider, you know, now what do we do? ‘Cause unless you get all the countries in Europe agreeing to the constitution, and two have now said no in a referendum, the thing can’t go forward. So we’re just going to have to reflect on that for the moment.

GWEN IFILL: And you don’t think it was throwing in the towel to cancel the parliamentary ratification?

PRIME MINISTER BLAIR: No, ’cause I think the trouble is, until you get a clarification of what happens, given the French and Dutch no, then it’s very difficult to see how you can, you know, other countries can make progress very easily.

Now I’m not saying, incidentally, that we don’t have to return to this issue because I think it’s important we have a proper set of rules for Europe for the future, and neither am I saying in Britain we can tell anyone else what to do. But we didn’t feel it right to proceed with our referendum whilst this uncertainty is there.

GWEN IFILL: I have to ask you about something which is finally, belatedly, getting some attention here, and got a great deal of attention in Britain and that’s the so-called “Downing Street Memo,” which surfaced as a memo that was very critical of the Iraq War.

In fact, I’ll read part of it, where it says that Bush had made up his mind to take military action even if the timing was not yet decided but the case was thin, that is, the case for war in Iraq, which of course you were one of the president’s staunchest supporters on this. What do you make of that memo? Did you know about it?

PRIME MINISTER BLAIR: Basically, the case that people are making, that somehow we’d taken the decision to invade, you know, irrespective of what Iraq did, it’s simply not correct. The whole reason we went to the United Nations back in, originally in September 2002, then with the resolution in November 2002, was precisely in order to see if there was a way of giving Iraq a last chance to come into compliance with the United Nations resolutions and avoid conflict. But they didn’t.

And so when people — you know, they take bits out here of this memo or that memo, or something someone’s supposed to have said at the time, and what people ignore is we went through a very open, obvious process through the United Nations and the issue was how did you — because the view I took, as the president did, was we had to enforce United Nations resolutions against countries that were developing and proliferating WMD, that after September the 11 the world had changed, we had to take a definitive stance.

The place to start was Iraq ’cause it was a breach of U.N. resolutions and instead of going straight to conflict, which we would have done, had this been the “done deal” everyone accuses us of, we went through the United Nations to give it a last chance. But it didn’t work, unfortunately.

GWEN IFILL: Given what you now know about the intransigence of the insurgency in Iraq and the lives which are continuing to be lost and the build-up which has never died down, do you — would you make the same decisions based on what you knew then?

PRIME MINISTER BLAIR: Yes, I would because in the end, the reason for it was the breach of the United Nations resolutions, and you’re right, it is very difficult, although I believe we —

GWEN IFILL: More so than you expected?

PRIME MINISTER BLAIR: Yes. I think it’s been more difficult than we expected because I think what has happened in Iraq is — the will of the Iraqi people is clear. Millions of them went and voted. They want a democratic government. They want a decent future for their country.

But what’s happened is that those who are opposed to us, the terrorist groups that want to start this sort of jihad between the Muslim world and the Christian world, between Arabs and the Western world, those people have gone into Iraq, linked up with some of the people who are insurgents there, and what they’re trying to do is to destabilize that democracy in order to defeat not just the Iraqi people and their will but also our ability to show the world that what we actually want is democratic freedom for people, not occupation, not making satellite states of these countries.

And so that what’s at stake is very, very big indeed, if we stabilize Iraq and deliver democracy, as I believe we will, the benefits will be felt, you know, not just in the region but right round the world. And so what is at stake here is huge for us.

GWEN IFILL: But how much longer?


GWEN IFILL: I guess I should ask how much patience do the British people have for us to stay in an open-ended conflict?

PRIME MINISTER BLAIR: Well, the British people aren’t quitters, you know. They don’t walk away from something that they have started and something they know they need to see through, and whatever people thought about the original decision to go to war, and I know there’s passionate debate about that here as in Britain.

There’s only one side to be on this struggle, ’cause we’re on the same side as the United Nations, the Iraqi people, you know, not just the countries who are in favor of the war but the countries who are against the war, who are helping us train the Iraqis, you know, build their capability for government. It’s us versus a group of people that want to subvert that democratic possibility. So, you know, what I say to people is even if you were against the war, even passionately against the war, this struggle is one in which there’s only one decent side to be on.

GWEN IFILL: And finally, Mr. Prime Minister, as you know, there is a popular notion that the United States, it owes you something in exchange for the kind of support that you gave them, and that you suffered for it politically at home by the loss of seats, the Labour Party, and that now when you come here asking for support on Africa you’re being potentially turned away, on global warming, perhaps turned away as well.

What does the United States owe you for your loyalty? Or is there anything owed?

PRIME MINISTER BLAIR: Whenever I’m asked this question, I say I don’t look at it as sort of payback. If I hadn’t thought it was right to do what we did, to stand by America after September the 11, to take the action in Afghanistan, to take the action in Iraq — if I hadn’t thought that was right for my own country and in our national interest, I wouldn’t have done it. And now I believe we will make progress, incidentally, on climate change and on Africa.

But it’s not a — there’s no point in America taking this action unless it believes in the action that it’s taking in climate change for Africa. So it’s not — this isn’t a payback, it’s not something, a favor I get in return for my support. That’s not how I look at it.

I’m proud of what we’ve done in the past few years in the world. I think eventually, it will make the world a safer and a better place, and I think what is important is to try then and add to those things that have been tough measures, the necessary action on Africa and climate change that requires a different type of politics but potentially just as much determination.

GWEN IFILL: Mr. Prime Minister, thank you very much.