You took a train back to London and in fairly short order called a meeting
of the Cobra [the Cabinet's emergency committee] to discuss the immediate
problems. At what stage did you actually formulate an attitude to this -- what
this would mean, what this was about? I believe one of your prime concerns was
that this was not a war against Islam, in general, when it came to be a war.
Obviously, when we had the Cobra meeting, all of the main ministries were
focused to a significant extent on our own security, because people thought,
"What else was going to happen?" So we obviously had to make sure that London
was going to be properly protected, that British defenses were in proper order.
But also I could see right at the outset -- I remember having a conversation
actually on the way back from Brighton on the train, where I could see that
what the terrorists would want was not merely to cause carnage by the original
terrorist act, but to then set in train a series of events, including setting
parts of the Muslim world against America.
It was very important right from the outset to make sure that we took that
argument on and destroyed the myth that this had anything to do with the true
voice of Islam.
In the evening, you spoke in either order to President Chirac and then
Chancellor Schroeder. Can you recall for us [those] conversations?
The conversations I had with Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schroeder were just
very simple and plain. This is a terrible event; we have to stand with America;
there should be no gaps in the world coalition at this point. They were in
These were short conversations?
Yes, people were in no doubt at all. Jacques Chirac said without any hesitation
at all [that] we have to be 100 percent supportive of America in this
situation. This is an outrage, a terrible act against humanity, not just
against America. Gerhard Schroeder was exactly of the same view. Both were
totally on board, on side, right from the very outset. ...
It wasn't until the next day ... that you spoke to the President Bush. Can
you remember the salient moments of that conversation?
President Bush was obviously shocked and outraged by what had happened. But I
remember he was very calm in the conversation. He said immediately, "There is
no point in some instant response that means nothing. We are not interested in
simply pounding sand for the sake of demonstrating we are going to do
something." He said, "We have got to think this thing through, and make sure
that we go after these people in a way that is going to be effective and that
is going to eradicate them." I obviously agreed with that, and we had the first
initial discussions about how we were going to approach this from the point of
view of strategy.
But from the beginning, he had a very clear view, in a sense, in part because
of the enormity of what had happened. This was not something to be dealt with
as an issue of perception that we were acting quickly, that things were
happening. It was nothing to do with that; it was a reality that had to be
I remember saying -- again, from our perspective -- that I thought the
international community would hold firm on this, and that we had to make sure
that we dealt with this evil in all its aspects. ... The Al Qaeda terrorist
network may be responsible for this act, but we had to make sure that it was
eradicated -- not simply those people who had actually perpetrated this act,
but those people who were financing the Al Qaeda, those people that were giving
them help and succor and support.
I don't think you mentioned it in that phone call, but on the 12th, you drew
up a five-page memo. ... Can you talk about how this idea arose and how you
suggested it to your people and how that then went to Washington?
I gather a summary of this has appeared in The Washington Post and there
is no point in denying that I prepared the note but the notes are obviously
What I wanted to do, and President Bush was totally on side for this, was to
make sure that we dealt with every dimension of this because we had to be aware
that first of all there was an obvious issue: you have to work out who is
responsible. You have to prove to the bar of public opinion who is responsible.
But we also then had to recognize that in respect of Afghanistan, the Taliban
either had to yield these people up or be complicit in the terrorism, and that
it didn't stop at Afghanistan because Al Qaeda were effective and operating in
many different parts of the world.
Then, in addition to that, in order to act against Al Qaeda and possibly
against the Taliban, as well on the assumption that they didn't yield to the
ultimatum that was given to them, we had to make sure that the surrounding
countries were prepared to back action. And that meant Pakistan in particular,
who had had links up to then with the Taliban. And also I was very conscious of
the fact -- President Bush had said to me in our very first conversation -- that
this is a mission for a presidency. This isn't going to be over in a few days
or a few weeks. And we were both very conscious of the fact that it didn't stop
at Al Qaeda either; other organizations that sponsored or supported this type
of terrorism we had to act against. And so really the purpose of the note was
simply to say well, look, here are all the different strategic considerations
that we need to build into the plan of action that we now put forward.
You made a call to President Musharraf [of Pakistan] on Monday, [Sept.]
17, I believe. By then he had actually indicated to the president and to the
secretary of state in America that he was on board. Had you had any previous
conversations? What was your conversation with him?
President Musharraf had no difficulty at all, and said in his conversation with
me, that there was no question of Pakistan doing anything other than totally
condemning the act of terrorism that had taken place.
But he also said to me, "Look, there is a problem convincing Muslim opinion in
general -- and in particular, parts of it here in Pakistan -- that the Al Qaeda
terrorist network is responsible and that the Taliban is backing them up." So
in principle, his support was there. But he was alerting us to the fact that
there were real issues of political reality that he had to deal with. It was in
the course of that conversation in particular that I became convinced of the
need to be upfront, to try and present as much evidence as we possibly could of
the guilt of Al Qaeda and the fact that the Taliban were complicit in it.
Were you able to say, "We are behind you?" Here is a man who was not far off
[from] being a military dictator, after all, a day or two before.
Of course. I said that if Pakistan were prepared to support us properly in
this, then we would obviously back Pakistan in the problems that it had, the
series of different problems that it was confronting. Although we still support
very strongly, and do support, the road map to democracy, nonetheless this was
a brave act by President Musharraf. There is no doubt about that at all.
Do you recall the salient points of your conversation on Sept. 11 with
I remember Vladimir Putin saying to me very clearly that he of course totally
condemned what had happened and supported America. He also pointed out that
Russia had felt itself victim of extremist religious fundamentalist attacks,
terrorist attacks -- not just in Chechnya, but also in Moscow. So he had a very
clear sympathy for America's position right from the very beginning, based on
the Russian experience.
Did either of you see, or mention an opportunity for recasting geopolitics,
international relations? Or was this too early?
It was too early, really. Vladimir Putin realized -- as others did as well, I
think including myself -- that this was an event of such importance that
suddenly everything was going to move around and take new shape.
In that first conversation, there was no equivocation. He wasn't speaking to me
as maybe 10, 15 years ago Russian presidents would have spoken to a British
prime minister or to an American president, in the sense that it would be read
from a script of very carefully chosen words in a very deliberative way. It was
straight from the heart. He was outraged by it. He supported America. He
understood from the experience that they had had in Moscow, in Chechnya,
exactly what we were dealing with. He had no doubt at all that we had to get
out there together and stand with America, get after this menace and deal with
You go to Bonn and you meet Chancellor Schroeder on Sept. 19. You had more
time to discuss the ins and outs, who would do what, what Chancellor
Schroeder's own problems were with his Green Party Alliance and perhaps what
some of your problems were. What do you remember from that evening?
I remember when we had dinner actually in the chancellery in Berlin, Gerhard
Schroeder was totally committed in support of the United States. But he also
impressed upon me that this was a very big decision for Germany to take if it
was going to get involved in action itself. We discussed this. I said I totally
understood because, for Britain, the idea of becoming involved in such military
action was reasonably easy to contemplate, as a matter of principle, but for
Germany, doing this was a very big step. But he told me that he had no doubt it
was the right thing to do, and that he was going to do it.
You are moving around pretty fast. The next morning, it is coffee and
croissants with Jacques Chirac again, a week or more after the event, a week or
so since your first conversation. What more had developed by this time? You are
on the way to America, but Chirac had just come back from seeing Bush a day or
Jacques Chirac was still totally supportive of what America was doing. I
remember he literally came into the Elysee straight off the plane. So we sat
down and had breakfast together. Obviously, we exchanged notes about the
conversations that I had had and the conversations that he had with other
leaders. We agreed that the important thing was for everyone to keep on the
same tack -- that we had to show total solidarity with America, and we had to
back this up with action. There, for the first time, we had at that point a
conversation about what military help we could both give. We both agreed that
whatever help was necessary, we should try and give. ...
You now take off for America, to New York initially. On the way, somebody
has this brainwave, or perhaps it was planned before, of putting a call through
to the president of Iran. How did that happen, and what was it like sitting in
I wanted to secure the largest possible coalition, not just internationally,
but in the theater where it was likely we were going to be taking military
action. Pakistan was one key element of that. There were the various strands as
well that were extremely important. Then, of course, there was Iran itself.
Now, Iran had no love for the Taliban. But on the other hand, relations between
the West and Iran were very poor. So I decided, "Well, we can't leave Iran out
of this. We have got to consult them about it. They have got a legitimate
interest in the area." Although I think there was a lot of hesitation in
certain quarters about doing this, I decided we would put the call through to
the president of Iran and I would speak to him.
So I actually spoke to him on the plane. It was a strange thing to have happen.
The line was in fact extremely good, despite the fact that it was on the plane.
He expressed his outrage at what had happened and his sense of solidarity in
dealing with it. He gave no specific commitments of any sort -- as you wouldn't
expect him to do -- but I guess it was a conversation that was more cordial and
frank than anything that could have been contemplated a few months before.
I understand when you did meet President Bush, you told him that you had
just spoken to [President] Khatami of Iran, and he was not a little
I remember saying over a drink before dinner that I had just spoken to the
president of Iran. George was certainly a little surprised at that. But he was
also extremely interested in what he had to say, because the American
relationship obviously with Iran had been very, very poor, for perfectly
obvious and understandable reasons. I just felt all the way through that, once
we had set our objective, nothing should have got in the way of that objective,
and that included even talking to people you wouldn't normally talk to.
You have a tête-à-tête with the president [before he
gives his address to Congress]. To the extent that you can tell us, of course,
can you recreate for us what was said?
This was obviously a very important meeting. It was also on a very important
day, because the president was about to make the most important political
speech of his life later that evening. We had some discussion over a drink
before dinner, and then we had dinner, where we went through the main issues
with our key staff. Then we went up and had a private talk upstairs in the
White House flat.
The two things that really came out of it for me were, first of all, the total
determination that we had that nothing should stand in the way of getting this
thing done. We were going to get it done. We would proceed in a measured and
calm and serious way, but we were going to get it done.
His sense of mission at that moment in time was palpable and very real. The
second thing was that he was immensely calm. I remember when we were going up
in the lift together, saying to him, "You must be really nervous before this
big speech," and he said, "Well, actually I am not that nervous about it,
because I know what I want to say, and I know what I am saying is right."
I think that is, in a sense, all the way through this period. The odd thing is,
when you are actually involved in these decisions, if you are following what
you really believe in -- your instinct and your conviction -- in fact the
decisions may seem extremely hard. In a sense of being weighty and having
massive implications with them -- they are. But at another level, in one sense,
they are almost easy, because the answer seems obvious.
You two were so much on a wavelength together, was there a cigarette paper
you could put between you? If so, what was it?
No. We had a very, very frank conversation: How are we going to do this? What
are going to be the mechanics of it? What do we think the rest of opinion will
be? How will it react? Which countries do we need to really work on to get on
side? In particular, we were both very concerned about this issue that it must
not be seen as some fight against Islam, because it was nothing to do with
that. The people who died in the twin towers were of whatever religion. So all
those things were very clear.
I know that, in a way, it sounds rather too diplomatic to be true to say it,
but it happens to be true. There really wasn't any difference of approach or
Then you went to hear his speech before the joint houses of Congress. That
must have been quite a moment.
It was a very moving occasion, because it was a brilliant speech actually, and
it catches the spirit of America at that time -- the dominant feeling was
really resolution. They had got over the shock and the outrage, but they were
resolved. This was about their way of life -- and I believe about the free
world's way of life, not just about a terrorist incident -- and he captured
The feeling in the hall was very dramatic, because the emotion was very clear.
But it had this steely quality that I thought was both impressive and
admirable. It obviously carried people with him -- it went down a storm. I
remember saying to the president afterwards that I wish I could get as many
standing ovations as that during the course of any speech that you would make.
But it was a moving and unifying moment. There are very few speeches that you
can call truly historic, but I think that was. ...
[You visited Islamabad on Oct. 5.] President Musharraf was about to ask for
the resignation, shall we say, of General Mahmood, the head of the ISI
[Pakistan's intelligence agency.] He also had a few other problems, India might
jump at this opportunity for Pakistan being knocked off its course, etc. Can
you recall for us key moments of that meeting?
The conversation with President Musharraf I think was very important. At the
beginning of the conversation we had put everyone else out of the room and just
talked, the two of us. And that was important because I wanted to say to him
that I had spoken to President Bush, I was speaking for both of us in the
conversation that I was having, and really I wanted to say two things:
firstly, that if Pakistan really helped in this, as I thought it should because
it really should have nothing to do with these types of extremists or the
Taliban regime, if Pakistan helped then we would help Pakistan because we know
this is a serious and difficult problem for President Musharraf. We know there
are conflicting pressures within his own country, but this was a turning point
for Pakistan if they were prepared to take the right turning and we would help
And the second thing was to say that we understood the tremendous pressure that
they felt under and we would certainly say to the Indian government, as indeed
I did say to them, that it was important that this was not used by them in any
way, and the Indian government, to be fair to them, made it absolutely clear
that they did not intend to do anything other than be totally supportive of the
effort in Afghanistan. ...
Let's talk about your Gulf trip to Oman. You went there. You didn't go to
Saudi Arabia, although you did later. Do you want to talk about a reason why
you didn't go to Saudi Arabia? Oman obviously was a key member in terms of what
they were producing for the coalition.
Contrary to speculation at the time, the reason I didn't go to Saudi was I
could only go for a very, very short space of time, and it just wasn't terribly
convenient. But I was always going to go there at a later point.
What we had to do was to get across very strongly, so far as we were concerned
-- America, Britain, other European countries -- that this was not about taking
on Islam. On the contrary, every sane and sound voice within Islam would be on
the side of those people rooting out the terrorists; and secondly, to make sure
that the Arab nations and the Muslim world felt again some sense of ownership
of this situation, because they had themselves been victims of terrorism.
So it was important that they felt that they were part of this effort and were
supportive of it, and that we understood that this issue of terrorism was
something that concerned them as well as us. That was very, very important for
them to feel that this was not us simply launching a campaign and targeting a
particular country, but this was part of a concerted effort to deal with all
the problems of international terrorism, including the problems that they had
to deal with.
I also wanted to discuss -- and I did with the Omanis, later with the Saudis --
about how we captured back some of the ground from the extremists that said
they were talking on behalf of Islam, when no sensible Islamic scholar or
cleric could possibly support such an interpretation of Islam permitting
something such as the attack in New York. So what I wanted to do when I was
having those meetings in the Arab world was, in a sense, not just to talk
politics, but also to talk about religion -- about how we could help and
understand in connection with the problems that they were facing within their
You went on the Concorde on a one-day trip to America on Nov. 7, partly to
report to the president on this Middle East trip. What did you have to say to
the president on that and how receptive was he?
When I went over on the 7th, again it was a very good full meeting. I was
obviously reporting back on the discussions that I had had. We were talking
about how we got the international coalition to remain strong. We were talking
also a lot at that particular meeting about the military action itself, because
at the time there were people having doubts about it, was it going to be
successful or was it not, and I believed very strongly, and continue to
believe, that we had to make sure that we were targeting the troops of Al
Qaeda, rather than simply pummeling the infrastructure of Afghanistan. We had
a conversation there again about the full range of the issues that we had to
deal with and agreed that we would step up the attacks against the troops
themselves because it was Al Qaeda troops that were causing the problem.
And indeed you were right because within two days Mazar fell; three or four
more Kabul fell, and you got a call from a somewhat concerned President
All the way through, obviously what was important for Pakistan and the
surrounding countries was that, having been brought into this coalition, that
they were not suddenly left out of it at the point when the Taliban fell.
President Musharraf called me and said, "Look, I totally support what is
happening. We have been very bold in giving it support, but we need to make
sure that whatever regime takes over in Kabul is broad-based." I assured him in
that conversation that we were determined that the successor regime should
indeed be broad-based, that it should include all the various ethnic groupings
and that it should not be simply confined to one particular grouping. ...
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