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PRIME MINISTER BLAIR: Good afternoon everyone. Can I give a very warm welcome to Secretary of State Colin Powell and say how pleased we are to see him (inaudible) able to participate (inaudible) ceremony outside No.10 Downing Street to remember those that lost their lives in the terrible events of the 11th of September. I think its as well, now, three months on, just to remember those events for a moment -- how terrible they were, what a ghastly and evil tragedy it was for people in the United States of America; but how that reverberated right around the world, and the shock and anger and the disbelief at such a thing. Then to reflect that, since that time, the international coalition against terrorism has grown and strengthened.
Weve taken the action, as you know, in Afghanistan that has had the effect of removing the Taliban regime -- probably one of the most hateful and oppressive regimes the world has ever known -- and removing them from office, dismantling the al Qaida network of terror and giving us at least the chance and opportunity of transforming Afghanistan from a failed state reliant on terrorism and drugs to a state where its people, as I say, at least have the opportunity, the prospect, of a better future.
Now weve still got a lot of work to do there, both in a military sense but also in a political and a humanitarian sense. We strongly support the new transitional government that will be taking its place in Kabul in the not too distant future. And we strongly support, also, the World Food Program and the measures that are being taken of a humanitarian nature to make sure that were able to feed and clothe people in Afghanistan whilst this new government takes shape and is able then, in time, to run the country. We remain, in the coalition, as strong and resolute as ever in our determination to fight terrorism wherever it exists and in our determination, as well, to do so in a way that helps people in Afghanistan and elsewhere to a better future.
I would like, if I may, in the presence of Secretary Powell just to pay tribute to Americas leadership over these past few months, to their determination, to the successful prosecution of the campaign in Afghanistan and also to their outstanding courage and wisdom, I think, in the way that they have proceeded over these past few months; and that is something that has caught the admiration, not just of the people here in this country, Colin, but people right throughout the world. Once again, welcome; were delighted to see you here.
SECRETARY POWELL: Thank you very much Mr. Prime Minister. Its a pleasure to be here with you this afternoon, and let me thank you for participating in the commemoration ceremony a few moments ago -- a reminder of all the lives that were lost three months ago on the 11th of September. It was an attack not just against the United States but against the world. So many British citizens lost their lives that day and citizens of some almost 80 other countries around the world, and the entire world responded. Anyone who believes in democracy, in freedom, anyone who believes that this was a horrible, uncivilized series of actions against the civilized world has come together in this coalition and taken this campaign against terror to Afghanistan to destroy al Qaida, to destroy the Taliban, and to bring Usama bin Laden to justice, but also to participate in a broader campaign against terrorism throughout the world.
I want to applaud the leadership that Prime Minister Blair has brought to this effort. He spoke out early on behalf of the British government and the British people. His leadership is a source of great encouragement to the American people, and I thank him for that.
As the Prime Minister noted, we have had considerable success over the last three months with our campaign in Afghanistan, but there is much more to be done. We have to root out all elements of al Qaida and the Taliban. We have to help this new interim authority take over the interim administration that is coming and is a result of the Bonn Agreement. And there is much humanitarian work to be done. Even beyond humanitarian work, we have to all work together to help the people of Afghanistan find a new life, find hope, find a future for the first time in so many years. So were allying with our British friends once again, as we have been so many times in the past; and we thank them for that support, and we are pleased that, once again, we are partners in action for a noble cause. Thank you.
QUESTION (Los Angeles Times): Prime Minister Blair, will Britain lead the international security force, either for three months or for a longer period? Do you think it is vital to be deployed before December 22, when the interim government is expected to take over? And how long do you envision the force being needed in Afghanistan? Is this period short term, or do you believe it will need to be there for as long as the two years of the transition?
PRIME MINISTER BLAIR: We have made it clear throughout that, once the military campaign has achieved its main objectives -- and we are certainly in the course of doing that now, but it is vitally important that we maintain the political and the humanitarian tracks. Weve indicated, in principle, a willingness to play a leading role in any UN-mandated force to provide stability in Afghanistan, but no formal decisions have been taken yet. There are still an immense amount of details to be decided and discussions to be had, and were really not in a position to go into the details of any such mission at this stage. So we have, as I say, in principle, a willingness to play a leading role in any such mission, but there are a host of different things that have to be discussed and sorted out and bolted down before were in a position to do so.
I would simply say this to you, however, that I think it is immensely important that the military campaign succeeds, obviously, and our objectives of making sure that the al Qaida network is shut down for good in Afghanistan. In order to do that weve had to change the regime there in Afghanistan. The new provisional government offers the possibility of an Afghanistan that isnt a failed state, that is a proper and stable partner for people in the region. We are, of course willing, as people that have played a part in this throughout, to try and make that future work for people in Afghanistan; but there are many, many details to be discussed before were in a position to make any announcement on it.
QUESTION: I wonder if I could ask you about (inaudible) Afghanistan because (inaudible) next phase, two points really: whether Britain would see itself playing a role against al Qaida cells in places such as Somalia or Sudan, or possibly against Iraq, and, secondly, whether you both agree that there is an equivalent between the Palestinians carrying out suicide bombings and al Qaida as terrorists?
PRIME MINISTER BLAIR: Well, first of all, I should say to you, we made absolutely clear our total condemnation of the attacks on Israeli citizens by terrorists and secondly, in respect of Phase 2, Ive really got nothing to add to what Ive said throughout. We have concentrated on achieving our objectives in Afghanistan. Of course, the battle against international terrorism does not end there; but we will proceed, by way of deliberation and consideration, with key strategic partners and allies, and of course Britain stands willing to play its part in that.
SECRETARY POWELL: I completely agree, and the other organization taking credit for these recent attacks in Israel, Hamas, has been identified by us as a terrorist organization, so we condemn that kind of activity.
QUESTION (Charlie Wolfson, CBS): Just a follow up to an earlier question. Given the host of things that need to be worked out then, would you preclude any force going in, led by whoever it turns out to be, not being able to go in by December 22?
PRIME MINISTER BLAIR: Well, obviously any force that was going to be significant would take some time to build up; but this is an issue that has to be decided relatively quickly. I think that the best thing to tell you at the present time is that were in intense discussions with key partners as to how this might be done. Before we have taken those decisions and before we have the details sorted out, its really not wise for us to speculate further; but it is important that the UN mandated force happens. Its important that it provides the stability that people have anticipated, and that is precisely why those discussions are happening. I simply say to people: when we have made those decisions, then we will announce them in the proper way.
QUESTION: Just to pick up on that are we prepared to play a lead role? Is that what were discussing? And also, if I may ask you about the British Defense Chiefs remarks last night when he talked about differences between the United States and Britain. How would you characterize those differences?
PRIME MINISTER BLAIR: Well, I dont think there are any differences between us in terms of strategy at all. I think what he was saying is there can be different roles that different countries play in different circumstances, which is a completely different thing. I think the remarkable thing over the past few months has been not just the degree of accord and agreement between us and the Americans -- indeed, the whole of the coalition -- on how to proceed, but also, I would say, the coordination that there has been. I say this to you very frankly and openly: I have found the American Administration extremely easy to deal with at every single level, very open, very willing to discuss, very willing to bring coalition partners along with them. And, even though America has, for very obvious reasons, taken the lead in the action that has been undertaken, nonetheless I think that international coalition of support for that action, not just in Britain but round the rest of Europe and round the rest of the world, is as strong today as it was in the immediate aftermath of September 11.
QUESTION (BBC News): Secretary Powell, I wonder if you could tell us whether youve been able to discuss Phase 2 of the war against terrorism with the Prime Minister today and whether you believe that Americas allies are entitled to consultation on action in Somalia or elsewhere? And do you share the view expressed by the Chief of the Defense Staff here in Britain yesterday that al Qaida is still capable of an attack on the scale of the twin towers attack despite the progress you have made in Afghanistan?
SECRETARY POWELL: Obviously we will consult with our coalition partners as we move forward. This is a campaign that we are all allied in, and President Bush has made no decisions yet on where we will go in Phase 2 or what the nature of Phase 2 will be. Phase 1 is demanding enough to get started doing what were doing in Afghanistan, going after the financial infrastructure of terrorist organizations around the world, improving our intelligence cooperation and law enforcement cooperation, securing our borders, securing our societies, homeland defense. Were doing a lot and you can be sure that as we move forward and into a new phase, we will consult closely with our friends and allies. I have no particular comment on the Chief of Defenses comments last night. They werent what was the specific issue of them?
QUESTION: He was warning that al Qaida is still capable of an attack.
SECRETARY POWELL: We have made the point all along that al Qaida is a worldwide organization located in dozens of countries and we wont be finished with our work until every one of those cells is ripped up. Of course it has that capability. I mean there are 19 people who in an infrastructure came together and all became suicide bombers using planes; and so we have to be on guard, and that is why we cannot rest until we have ripped up al Qaida, every cell, wherever it is located throughout the world.
QUESTION: Prime Minister, you have talked about the importance of the humanitarian effort in Afghanistan to show the Western worlds concern for the plight of the civilians there. Theres another political issue (inaudible) the Middle East and that is in the Holy Land. How does that connect with Phase 2 in terms of a priority to focus a more muscular mediation effort in the Holy Land before to again send that same message to the region?
PRIME MINISTER BLAIR: Well I think that the activities of the American Administration over these past few days have shown their willingness to do what they can. I mean, of course, they have got to have willing partners out there as well. Though I think that is a separate issue from the action that we are pursuing in Afghanistan but yes, of course, we all want to see progress in the Middle East, but its got to be based on respect for human rights and an end to terrorism. I welcome very much the speech that Secretary of State Powell made, some weeks ago now, and the follow up attempts to mediate and play a role out there of the American envoy have been, in my view, absolutely right. Weve just got to hope and pray that progress is made.
The only other thing Id add just to, that leads on from your question and the question before, is this: its just worth emphasizing the amount that has been done since September 11. I mean, were three months on from what was the worst terrorist act the world has ever known; but we have effectively dismantled the al Qaida terrorist network in Afghanistan and that was the hub of it. Thats where the people were trained, (inaudible) financed out of, sent from. Yes, we still have to pursue them in different parts of the world as well. That network is not done with yet, but we have played a very, very significant role already in destroying their major center of operations.
There is a huge amount that has been done to disrupt the financing of terrorism. Each country around the world has been arresting people who are suspected of being complicit in acts of terrorism. Many, many countries around the world, including our own here, are taking action to strengthen our laws against terrorism and I think this is a point (inaudible) to emphasize a message has gone out from the civilized world to terrorists everywhere: "We are prepared to act and when we act, we will act effectively." I think that is a very, very important deterrent. So yes, it is true we still have more to do. This battle is never going to be over in just a few months. It will take significant time, but the beginning of it has been remarkably effective and has achieved a very great deal in quite a short space of time.
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