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Prime Minister Blair, President Bush Defend Stance on Iraq War

May 17, 2007 at 6:10 PM EST
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JIM LEHRER: President Bush and Prime Minister Blair say farewell. Ray Suarez has our story.

RAY SUAREZ: After spending the night in the White House bedroom used by Winston Churchill, outgoing British Prime Minister Tony Blair joined President Bush for a press conference that had a whiff of nostalgia.

GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States: You know, I was sitting with Tony on the Truman balcony last night, and we were discussing a lot of issues. And it dawned on me, once again, what a clear strategic thinker he is. Somebody asked me the other day, how would you define Tony Blair and your relationship with him? I said, first of all, it’s cordial, it’s open, and I appreciate the fact that he can see beyond the horizon. And that’s the kind of leadership the world needs.

TONY BLAIR, Prime Minister of Britain: You have been a strong leader at a time when the world needed strong leadership. You’ve been unyielding and unflinching, and determined in the fight that we face together. And I thank you for that.

And I also would take this opportunity of saying that I believe that the relationship between the United States of America and Britain is a relationship that is in the interests of our two countries and in the interests of the peace and stability of the wider world.

And sometimes it’s a controversial relationship, at least over in my country. But I’ve never doubted its importance. I’ve never doubted that it’s based on principle, on shared values, and on a shared purpose, which is to make our world a better, more free, more just place in which people of all nations and all faiths can live.

So I would like to thank you for the strength, also, of that relationship over these past few years.

Britain's alliance with America

RAY SUAREZ: Prime Minister Blair spoke at length about the Iraq war, which cost him considerable political support at home.

TONY BLAIR: ... and this is the reason why it's important that Britain holds steadfast to the course of fighting alongside America in this battle against terrorism. The forces that we are fighting in Iraq -- al-Qaida on the one hand, Iranian-backed elements on the other -- are the same forces we're fighting everywhere.

And over these past few weeks, you can see in different parts of the world -- Morocco, Algeria, Pakistan, in Saudi Arabia recently -- where this extremism is rearing its head, is trying to dislodge the prospects of stability and progress in so many different countries. There is no alternative for us but to fight it wherever it exists. And that is true whether it's in our own countries, which have both suffered from terrorism, or in Iraq or Afghanistan.

And so this is not a -- it's not about us remaining true to the course that we've set out because of the alliance with America. It is about us remaining steadfast, because what we are fighting, the enemy we are fighting, is an enemy that is aiming its destruction at our way of life and anybody who wants that way of life. And in those circumstances, the harder they fight, the more determined we must be to fight back.

If what happens is, the harder they fight, the more our will diminishes, then that's a fight we're going to lose. And this is a fight we cannot afford to lose.

President Bush praises Blair

RAY SUAREZ: A British reporter then asked if Blair was driven from office because of his support for Mr. Bush on Iraq.

TONY BLAIR: You can debate that as much as you like, but I want to say one thing to you -- since it will be the last chance I get to have a press conference in the Rose Garden, standing next to President Bush -- I've admired him as a president and I regard him as a friend.

I have taken the view that Britain should stand shoulder-to-shoulder with America after September 11th. I have never deviated from that view. I do not regret that view. I am proud of the relationship we have had. I am proud of the relationship between our two countries.

And I think that sometimes in politics there are all sorts of issues where you've got to negotiate and compromise, but when it comes to the fundamental questions that affect our security and the future of the world, you should do what is right. I have tried to do that. And I believe that is what he has done, as well.

JOURNALIST: Would you do it again?

TONY BLAIR: And I would take the same position of alliance with America again; yes, I would.

JOURNALIST: And, Mr. President, if I could ask you, is this really still the right man to be talking to?

GEORGE W. BUSH: Yes. No question about it's the right man to be talking to. And, yes, we can get a lot done.

You know, it's interesting, like trying to do a tap dance on his political grave, aren't you? I mean, this -- you don't understand how effective Blair is, I guess, because when we're in a room with world leaders and he speaks, people listen. And they view his opinion as considered and his judgment as sound.

So I guess this is an appropriate question to ask -- right guy, is he still standing -- yes. This guy is a very strong, respected leader, and he's absolutely the right guy for me to be dealing with.

RAY SUAREZ: And President Bush pledged to work with the next prime minister Gordon Brown, who takes office on June 27th.

GEORGE W. BUSH: And it's -- will I miss working with Tony Blair? You bet I will. Absolutely. Can I work with the next guy? Of course.

The 'battle for values'

RAY SUAREZ: The two leaders were asked why the opposition British Conservative Party leader had not made a visit to Washington. That provoked a final impassioned statement from Blair.

TONY BLAIR: And so -- you know, yes, of course, it's like -- anybody who's sitting there advising a politician in any part of Europe today, if you want to get the easiest round of applause, get up and attack America, you can get a round of applause if you attack the president, you get a...

GEORGE W. BUSH: Standing ovation.

TONY BLAIR: Yes. And that's -- that's fine if everyone wants to do that, but when all of that is cleared away, you're left with something very, very simple, fundamental, and clear: that that battle for values is still going on.

And you can debate about the mistakes and the issues, and you can debate about Iraq, whether we should have done this or we should have done that. But, actually, what is happening in Iraq today is that our enemy is fighting us, and, therefore, if what happens when our enemy fights us is that we drift away from our friends, that we kind of make the little accommodations so that we don't escape some of the difficulty and the responsibility and occasionally opprobrium of decision-making -- if we do that, our enemy takes heart from that, they watch that. They watch what we're doing the whole time.

They ask, are these guys standing up for what they believe, or, if we carry on, is their will going to diminish and they're going to give up, because it's just too difficult, because the public opinion is too difficult, because the opinion polls tell them it's too difficult?

Now, that is the decision of leadership. And it's not just a decision for me and him; it's a decision for everybody who's engaged in politics. And people run down politics and say it's all just a series of positions, and attitudes, and sound bites, and occasionally even lies and all the rest of it. Actually, what politics is in the end, when it's done in the right way, when people stand up for what they believe, is it's about public service.

And there's nothing to be ashamed of in that. And the fact is, the decisions are difficult; of course they're difficult. And we took a decision that we thought was very difficult. I thought then, and I think now, it was the right decision. History will make a judgment at a particular time.

GEORGE W. BUSH: What I know is the world needs courage. And what I know is this good man is a courageous man. Thanks for coming.

RAY SUAREZ: Prime Minister Tony Blair and President Bush will meet again at the G-8 summit in Germany next month.