At the Liaison Committee meeting at Westminster, Sir George led the questioning of the Prime Minister on Iran.
Blair answering questions from the Liaison Committee
Q278 Sir George Young: Can we move on to Iran? This is what you have said about Iran: “There has been a long time in which I have been answering questions on Iran, with everyone saying to me: ‘Tell us you are not going to do anything about Iran’. If they carry on like this”, you said, “the question people are going to be asking us is: When are you going to do something about this? Because you imagine a state like that, with an attitude like that, having a nuclear weapon.” You said that three months ago, since when they have “carried on like that”. So to answer your own question, when is something going to be done?
Mr Blair: The first step is the reporting to the Security Council. Then there is the fact that the Atomic Energy Board agreed, I think with 27 votes and 3 abstentions, to make that report is an important first step. We have got to discuss with allies how we proceed. The answers are not easy, incidentally, but I think we are in a situation where at least some parts of public opinion are indeed asking: “What are you going to do, rather than give us an assurance you will not do anything?”
Q279 Sir George Young: Would you agree with Senator John McCain, who said over the weekend: “Every option must remain on the table. There is only one thing worse than military action; that is a nuclear-armed Iran”?
Mr Blair: It is a statement of fact in respect of American policy that all options remain on the table.
Q280 Sir George Young: Does that also remain the position for the UK?
Mr Blair: You can never say “never” in any of these situations, but at the same time I have made it clear that we are trying to pursue this by peaceful and diplomatic means. That is our intention and that is our desire. I just think you can get into a sort of argument where people start speculating that people are drawing up plans for military action where they are not. On the other hand, there is a real concern about Iran, at the moment – there has got to be. Not just on the nuclear weapons front, incidentally, but in respect of their support for terrorists.
Q281 Sir George Young: Is there not a risk that the regime in Iran will come to a view that there is no appetite in America or the UK for military action and, therefore, they will just carry on? They will take the view, perhaps, that after Iraq a lot of military and political capital has been expended and there is not the appetite for another confrontation and, therefore, they will just call the bluff and carry on with their programme?
Mr Blair: It would be very unwise to do that. However, I entirely understand why you say that, and I think the President of Iran the other day referred to the Western world as “the mangy old lions who were not up to it any more”, or some such. I think they would make a very grave mistake if they did that. However, we shall proceed very carefully. As I say, the report to the Security Council is the first step in that. Iran is not Iraq, although my own belief is that if Iraq becomes a proper stable democracy, as its people want, that will have a huge impact on Iran as well, which is obviously why Iran is not too happy about that prospect.
Q282 Sir George Young: Iran is not Iraq, but if you stood back and looked at the relative threat to stability in the Middle East from Iran and Iraq, you could make the case that actually the threat from Iran was the greater one in terms of proximity to weapons of mass destruction and declared threats of hostility to near neighbours. Is there not a risk that, having exhausted a lot of capital on the one, you have not got the resources to tackle, potentially, the bigger one?
Mr Blair: I do not agree with that. Just think of the Middle East at the moment, with what is happening in Iran, Syria, Lebanon and Palestine, and think if you also had Saddam still in power. It would not be a great prospect; it would not be a prospect that would encourage anyone to think that the situation was going to become more stable. The UN resolutions you had to start somewhere, and Iraq was the place to start. I do not think Iran is Iraq. I think you have got a civic society in Iran and a people in Iran who desperately want to have change, and in any event the nature of the Iranian regime is different. However, you are right in saying it is an increasing concern for all international policy makers, which is why, no doubt, Senator McCain is speaking, and so are others. I think that this can be dealt with through peaceful and diplomatic means, and that is what we are looking to do, but it is interesting that over the past few months I think there has been a change of mood in Europe as well as in the United States, and you have the situation where there is certainly a greater degree of concern and unity in Europe.
Q283 Sir George Young: So was the Foreign Secretary right to say, on January 16: “In the real world the truth is that military action is not on anyone’s agenda”?
Mr Blair: It is not on our agenda.
Q284 Sir George Young: Have you not then weakened your negotiating position, if you have ruled it out?
Mr Blair: No, I think the position of the Americans is very clear. You know what the difficulty is, George. If you are not careful, you put a word out of place and people think you are about to go and invade Iran. Then people try and pin you down into saying no matter what happens you are never going to do anything. We all know what that particular game is and it is difficult. The fact is, however, we are pursuing what we are pursuing by peaceful and diplomatic means. However, Iran, I think (and I have said this before), would make a very, very serious mistake if it thinks the international community is going to allow it to develop nuclear weapons capability. There is an additional problem which I think Iran should be aware of, which is that when its President makes statements, such as the ones made about the State of Israel, that then enhances people’s concern about the fact of their having nuclear weapons capability. When they are then, in addition, trying to export and support terrorism round the whole of that region, it is a problem. When they are trying to meddle in Iraq, it is a problem. These problems, when they combine together, then give the international community even more concern about whether they can be trusted in respect of the programme that they say is merely a nuclear energy programme.