Richard B. Cheney photo

The Vice President's News Conference with British Prime Minister Tony Blair in London

March 11, 2002

CHENEY: Thank you, Prime Minister.

I'm delighted to be here today in London and have the opportunity to meet with the prime minister and his associates. This is the first stop on an important trip to the Middle East. And the president wanted to make sure I checked in first with the prime minister before I went down to a part of the world that he knows so well and where we've worked together so effectively I think over the years.

Of course, this is six months to the day since we were attacked in New York and at the Pentagon, and I think, more than ever, the Americans appreciate the depth of the relationship with our British allies. Many Brits died along side thousands of Americans on September 11. We have mourned our losses together. And at this hour, we engage the enemy together.

The bonds between our two countries are more important and lasting than they've ever been. Soon after the attacks, of course, the prime minister assured President Bush and the American people, we were with you at the first and we will stay with you to the last.

And Mr. Prime Minister, for your clarity and conviction in this time of testing, President Bush and I are grateful and so are the people of the United States.

The British military has made a significant contribution to the coalition forces operating in Afghanistan. The United Kingdom has taken additional important steps in the war, including the freezing of millions of pounds of terrorist assets, as well as passing new legislation to make it possible to confront the ongoing danger of terror.

This morning, the prime minister and I discussed the progress that's been made and the challenges that await our continuing efforts.

Today, in Washington President Bush will welcome to the White House representatives of the United Kingdom and more than 100 other countries that have joined the global effort to defeat terror. For their commitment and for their sacrifices, we will give thanks -- thanks to the American people -- and we will express the continuing resolve of our coalition for a long campaign to deny terrorists sanctuary anywhere in the world.

Tomorrow, I head to Jordan, the first of 11 middle eastern countries on this trip, and with the governments of that region I will be discussing the current actions of the coalition. We will confer as well about the threat of weapons of mass destruction and the important choices that await us in the days ahead. In these matters, America is not announcing decisions. I'll be there to conduct frank discussions and to solicit the views of important friends and allies.

In all that lies ahead, my country will continue to consult with Britain and the other members of the coalition. On September 20, President Bush said to the United States Congress, "America has no truer friend than Great Britain." And once again, we are joined together in a great cause. Both our countries are very ably led.

I thank Prime Minister Blair once again for his leadership and for his hospitality this morning.

QUESTION: Could I ask both leaders about the second phase of the war against terrorism and the weapons of mass destruction issue?

What evidence can you lay before the world that Saddam Hussein does have or shortly will have the capability to threaten not only his own people, but countries in Western Europe and, indeed, the United States itself?

BLAIR: If I can answer first of all.

Let's be under no doubt whatever, Saddam Hussein has acquired weapons of mass destruction over a long period of time. He's the only leader in the world that's actually used chemical weapons against his own people. He's in breach of at least nine U.N. Security Council resolutions about weapons of mass destruction. He has not allowed weapons inspectors to do the job that the U.N. wanted them to do in order to make sure that he can't develop them.

BLAIR: Now, we have said right from the very outset -- you'll have heard me say on many, many occasions -- no decisions have been taken on how we deal with this threat, but that there is a threat from Saddam Hussein and the weapons of mass destruction that he has acquired is not in doubt at all.

So what is important, obviously, is that we reflect and consider and deliberate, as we have done throughout all the various aspects of this campaign since the 11th of September.

CHENEY: I would embrace and endorse what the prime minister said, would add one additional factor to consider, and that is we know, from the work we've been able to do in Afghanistan, the training camps and the caves where Al Qaeda was holed up, that they were aggressively seeking to acquire the same capability, nuclear weapons, biological or chemical weapons.

How far they got, we don't know. But we know they clearly, given their past track record, would use such weapons were they able to acquire them, and we have to be concerned about the potential marriage, if you will, between a terrorist organization like Al Qaeda and those who hold or are proliferating knowledge about weapons of mass destruction.

So the concern is very real. It's very great. And we need to find ways as we go forward to make certain that terrorists never acquire that capability and that it can never be used against the United States or the United Kingdom or our allies.

QUESTION: Mr. Vice President and Mr. Prime Minister, there were reports over the weekend that the Pentagon has told Congress that it is reexamining its nuclear targeting procedure and is looking into the possibility of using nuclear weapons in places, perhaps, like Iran. As you set off on this trip, does this undermine your attempt in any way to get support from the Arab countries on taking a tougher stance against Iraq?

And England, how does this play, Mr. Prime Minister, in terms of keeping support high in England for the U.S. led effort?

CHENEY: The report you add references to has to do -- it's called the Nuclear Posture Review. We're required to submit it periodically to the Congress. It talks about broad questions of nuclear strategy.

There are some noteworthy developments in this year's review.

CHENEY: Among other things, for example, the fact that we're going to reduce our operationally deployed strategic warheads by about two-thirds, from roughly 6,000 where we are today down to somewhere 1,700 to 2,200 over 10 years -- the policy the president announced unilaterally last fall and that the Russians have now agreed to.

We also, in that study, direct that the Pentagon take note of and consider the possible threats to the United States from those nations that are seeking to acquire weapons of mass destruction. And the report specifically cited, as the press has reported, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya, North Korea. The question of targeting, though, isn't really addressed in the Nuclear Posture Review.

Right now, today, the United States, on a day-to-day basis, does not target nuclear weapons on any nation. We do have, and we maintain and continually update, something called a single integrated operating plan or the SIOP -- that's classified -- that's what actually deals with the selection of targets and how nuclear weapons might be applied.

But I would look on the nuclear planning/Nuclear Posture Review statement as just that. It's a regular report to the Congress on the overall state of our capabilities and gives some idea of the directions we'd like to move in in the future.

But the notion that I've seen reported in the press that somehow this means we are preparing preemptive nuclear strikes against seven countries -- I believe was the way it was reported -- I'd say that's a bit over the top.

QUESTION: Mr. Cheney, what would you say to British -- many people in the British public who are reluctant really to see British troops possibly deployed against Iraq in support of the United States, when they feel that they can't trust the United States after the unilateral action taken last week over steel?

CHENEY: Well, I think it's important, first of all, to recognize there are enormous differences under those circumstances. I would suggest that were the United States to undertake further military action of any kind that involved our British allies that it would be done only in the closest possible consultation-coordination. And that Britain certainly retains the right to decide whether or not to participate in any particular action.

But to draw a parallel between that and the decision the president made with respect to steel, I think is inappropriate. There is no comparison. The decision he made on steel was one he thought long and hard about. We recognize it's not without controversy. Our view is is that it was done within the confines of what's consistent with WTO provisions.

CHENEY: Obviously, it's going to be challenged. Obviously, there are different points of view. The prime minister has made it clear that his government holds a different view than does mine, but we'll move forward working with these kinds of issues, just as we always have.

QUESTION: To both the vice president and the prime minister, is the U.S. position that it is Iraq, which constitutes the greatest threat to stability in the region undercut by what the vice president did not mention, the conflict now between the Palestinians and the Israelis?

BLAIR: Well, of course, we want to see a resolution of the Middle East peace process; that is vitally important. It's important not just in terms of the stability of the region, it's important in terms of sheer humanity when we see what his happening there with the carnage and the death and the terror. Of course, we will do everything we possibly can to assist the U.S. and the efforts to bring about some relaunching of that process there. I think it's tremendously important.

I think it is absolutely clear that the only basis upon which we're going to get lasting peace in the Middle East is through people accepting, first of all, that Israel has the right to exist, secure in its own borders and that being accepted by the entirety of the Arab world and secondly, that their will, as the outcome of this process, be a viable Palestinian state. And I think if we start from those two principles we can make progress.

But I think the issue of the threat that Saddam Hussein poses is an issue in its own right, because the reason why the U.N. Security Council passed these resolutions was precisely because we know the threat that there is from the weapons of mass destruction that he has. So, of course, we want to see progress in the Middle East.

CHENEY: I think it would be inappropriate -- I certainly agree with the prime minister -- to assume these two are linked. I'm sure they're linked in some minds, but the fact of the matter is, we need effective policies to deal with both situations, both the need to find some way to establish peace between Israel and the Palestinians, as well the need to find and pursue policies that limit the threat to the United States and the United Kingdom from weapons of mass destruction. We have an obligation to deal with both simultaneously.

BLAIR: Time for one more from each. Thanks.

QUESTION: Mr. Vice President, if the inspectors are allowed into Iraq will that negate the need to take military action against Baghdad? If you do have to take military action against Baghdad, what will be the legal basis of that action? And if you can't build a coalition that many support, will go ahead anyway?

CHENEY: They do the same thing here they do in the states, that's ask these long complex questions.

Well, let me -- I'll try to be brief. I never speculate about perspective military actions.

CHENEY: Let me address the issue of inspectors. The question is whether or not Saddam is compliance with Resolution 687, under which he pledged to get rid of all weapons of mass destruction.

The inspectors were there as a device to be able to assure the world that he in fact complied with the resolution. He's not complied with the resolution. He's now kicked the inspectors out. There's a lot of evidence that he does, in fact, have and is continuing to develop weapons of mass destruction.

So if the issue of inspectors is to be addressed, we feel very strongly as a government that it needs to be the kind of inspection regime that has no limitations on it, that is a go-anywhere, any time kind of regime so that in fact the outside world can have confidence that he's not hiding material that he's promised to give up.

BLAIR: I think, I'm afraid we're going to have to leave it there.

Thanks very much.

Richard B. Cheney, The Vice President's News Conference with British Prime Minister Tony Blair in London Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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