Courtesy CQ Transcripts Wire
Thursday, June 8, 2006 8:48 AM
SPEAKER: TONY BLAIR, PRIME MINISTER OF THE UNITED KINGDOM
BLAIR: Welcome to the monthly press conference. I was going to start by giving you a detailed exposition of the National Health Service reforms, but for obvious reasons...
I think for obvious reasons two important things have happened. First of all, the death of Zarqawi, and also the Iraqi prime minister's decision to nominate his defense and interior ministers and so complete his government, the first ever fully elected government of Iraq.
I would like to start by paying tribute to the new Iraqi government and to its prime minister, to the U.S., U.K. and other allied forces, including those of Iraq, and to the intelligence services that are working so hard to allow the Iraqi people what they clearly want and have voted for: democracy and the chance to prosper in the future, to escape both from the past legacy of Saddam and the present evil of terrorism.
Every day, we hear of the death toll through the fomenting of civil strife, a campaign of murder and kidnapping and brutality, all of it designed to stifle Iraqi democracy at birth. And Zarqawi was its most vicious prosecutor.
The death of al-Zarqawi is a strike against Al Qaida in Iraq, and therefore a strike against Al Qaida everywhere. But we should have no illusions. We know that they will continue to kill. We know there are many, many obstacles to overcome.
But they also know that our determination to defeat them is total. Their methods, their ideas, their extremism that seeks to infect the overwhelming desire of the overwhelming majority of people, whatever their religion and whatever their nation, to live together in peace and harmony.
BLAIR: So I do not minimize the enormous challenges that remain in Iraq and elsewhere, but the election of the new government and its full formation today shows a new spirit to succeed. And our task, obviously, is to turn that spirit, that willingness and desire to succeed into effective action.
If we are able to do so, then we will have accomplished something that goes far beyond the borders of Iraq.
I've long argued, as you know, that whatever the debate over the original decision to remove Saddam, for the past three years since his removal a struggle of a different nature has taken shape.
In Iraq and in Afghanistan, Al Qaida has taken a stand. They know that if progress and democracy take root in those two previously failed and terrorized states, then their values of violence and hatred against those who disagree with them will in turn be uprooted. That's why they fought and why they will continue to fight very hard.
BLAIR: But it's also why we should fight back and do so as a unified international community, putting behind us the divisions of the past and uniting under the U.N. mandates in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
For three years, Al Qaida have sought to murder innocent people, promote sectarian killing and wreck the democratic process in Iraq. But this terrorism is a global movement. Their attack in Iraq has only ever been part of a wider attack that they've carried into conflicts and countries the world over. Indeed, there's barely a major nation in the world that has not felt the outreach of their evil.
So defeat them in Iraq, and we will defeat them everywhere.
We need to do so armed, of course, with weapons, but also with one simple idea: that where people want to live in freedom and be governed by democracy, they should be able to do so and the world should stand united behind them. In Iraq today that idea has shown its worth.
No, if you don't mind, I will also just say a few words about the domestic agenda. First of all, on the health service, the acting chief executive of the NHS, Sir Ian Carruthers, laid out his report yesterday. I just wanted to draw attention to two things that he said.
First of all, he said, contrary to what our critics claim, reform is not the reason for the overspend or the job losses, it is the solution. The reforms are introducing greater financial transparency, in some cases uncovering problems hidden for years.
BLAIR: I think it's important that we realize that this process of reform in the health service is vast, it is effectively a revolution in the National Health Service. It's been going on for some time and will continue for some more. But it's absolutely necessary.
He then went on to say it's essential that we continue to press ahead with the reforms, but he made this important point as well: that at the same time as the reforms are being introduced, we will continue to deliver improved outcomes.
As he said, waiting times are shorter than ever. Most people who need surgery are in hospital within nine weeks. Four out of five people get a first out-patient appointment within eight weeks. And almost everyone going to accident emergency is seen within four hours.
Meanwhile, we're seeing lives beings saved through reductions in deaths from cancer, circulatory disease, coronary heart disease and suicide. Investment has made a big difference to stroke services, diabetes, mental health and the care of the elderly.
So the picture, I think, of the National Health Service is there is a tremendous challenge in the year ahead to make sure that the reforms are seen through, but the outcome will be better health care and better health care delivered according to the values of the National Health Service, i.e., free at the point of use, irrespective of wealth.
In addition, of course, we have to turn the (inaudible) white paper into a reality and put the framework in legislation (inaudible) to get a critical mass of (inaudible) trust schools and city academies. And, of course, as we know from the past couple of months in relation to the Home Office, to make sure that it is indeed both the criminal justice system, the immigration department fit the challenges of the 21st century. And then there is welfare reform, energy and the environment. So there is a lot to be getting on with.
OK, that's enough by me. I think (inaudible) by way of opening.
QUESTION: A staggering 1,200 people a month are dying in Baghdad alone. Do you really believe that the death of one man today will change that?
BLAIR: This isn't going to change with the death of al-Zarqawi. We shouldn't have any illusions about this.
However, the reason people have been dying in Iraq is because of the activities of Al Qaida and other people who...
QUESTION: ... Saddam, constitutions, referendums, governments -- they come and go, and each time the killing goes on unchanged.
BLAIR: Yes, but each time the progress is also there. Because in every single stage of this, you've got a country whose people are showing by their voting that they want to live in a democracy. And, of course, when those who are opposed to democracy and liberty fight us, we've got to fight back.
And what I've always said about this is whatever people think about the original decision to remove Saddam -- I mean, that happened now three years ago -- our forces, American forces, other forces have been there with a full U.N. mandate, with the consent of the Iraqi government to do one thing, and that is stand with the Iraqi people in their desire for democracy.
That desire is beyond dispute. This is a country that wants to live governed by democracy. And our task is to stick with them.
And, you know, yes, of course, there have been many times in the past when we have looked upon these events and hoped that they will secure the future. And we've got to stick with, though, the very basic thing that has happened in Iraq over these past few years, which is the decision of the people to have a democracy (inaudible) election now and the formation of the first ever democratically elected government, and let's stand behind them.
QUESTION: Could you just tell us, if you can, a little bit more about how he was captured? There's a suggestion that Jordanian intelligence was involved (inaudible) I know this is a sensitive subject, but is there any more you can tell us?
And secondly, can you give us some idea of how important you think he was to the insurgency, how much central leadership was there, how much of what we see day by day in Iraq was down to him and his leadership?
BLAIR: In respect to the first, I don't think there's anything more I can say at this stage. I mean, I hope some more details will be given later. But I wouldn't (inaudible) I haven't heard either of those two particular things you just mentioned there.
But there has been very close cooperation, of course, between everyone -- I mean, the Iraqis, the coalition intelligence services and so on.
Well, the fact is al-Zarqawi was the leader of Al Qaida in Iraq. And Al Qaida in Iraq have been the people who have been most prominent in some of the most vicious brutality, the kidnapping (inaudible) of the leader is important (inaudible) but there will be others that will continue to fight.
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