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Former PM John Major: 'British don't turn tail' from terror

John Major
John Major

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- British Prime Minister Tony Blair is facing the toughest battle of his political life. The main opposition, Conservative Party, says his plans to rebuild Iraq and restore order are in shambles and that the British forces in Iraq are stretched too thin.

In an exclusive interview with CNN, anchor Wolf Blitzer spoke with Mr. Blair's predecessor, John Major, about the prime minister's situation and its impact on U.S.-British relations.

BLITZER: Mr. Major, welcome to the United States. Thanks very much for joining us.

So let's talk about U.S.-British relations right now. Are they in trouble because of Tony Blair's support for President Bush?

MAJOR: I don't think they're in trouble for that reason or, indeed, any other reason. There is a domestic argument involving the prime minister at the moment, but that isn't about the substantive case for war.

I think the majority of the British people are still sanguine about the need for war. The opinion polls still show a clear majority, that it was the right thing to do to go into Iraq.

BLITZER: What about those who say that the United States basically pressured the British government, Tony Blair's government, to come in, that despite public opinion in Britain, he went along with it and he's going to pay a political price for that?

MAJOR: Well, I don't think that says very much for the government if people actually believe that's true. The prime minister, had he chosen, had the government chosen, could have said no.

I actually think the likelihood that any British government would divorce itself from the United States, except in the extreme, is highly unlikely, highly unlikely because of the close relationship that's been for a long time, but highly unlikely for the more practical reason that almost invariably, not entirely invariably, of course, but almost invariably we tend to see international events through the same eyes. We have similar interest.

BLITZER: Did the British government inflate the threat from Iraq as the BBC, others, have suggested, sex-up the intelligence, as they reported it?

MAJOR: Well, I think there's a distinction between sexing-up the intelligence and sexing-up the presentation of the intelligence. Now, that is a matter that's being discussed and being examined by Lord Hutton at the moment. So I think we must await Lord Hutton's inquiries.

BLITZER: And he's investigating David Kelly's suicide?

MAJOR: And matters related to it.

But whatever the case may have been, it has not dented the fact that the British nation felt it was right to deal with Saddam Hussein, and the prime minister still has support.

BLITZER: Is the British public, in your opinion, prepared to stay in Iraq, together with the United States, for the long haul despite the terrorism, despite the daily -- nearly daily toll on U.S. and coalition forces?

MAJOR: The British don't runaway from terrorism. We have had 30-odd years of terrorism in our own country from the Irish Republican Army. We're used to it.

September the 11th was a huge shock in the United States. It was the first time you had been hit at home in your own territory by terrorist on this scale. Now, we have had terrorist atrocities, not on that scale, of course, but very large ones, over the last 30 years. So the British don't turn tail.

Of course, the British aren't going to walk away from Iraq. They will be there until the job's done.

BLITZER: Dr. Hans Blix was interviewed by our Paula Zahn last night, the former chief U.N. weapons inspector. He said: Look, it's been -- what? -- four or five months since the war. They've still found no banned weapons, weapons of mass destruction. Maybe the Iraqi government was telling them the truth all those months and years before the war.

MAJOR: They certainly had weapons of mass destruction some years ago, that I have not a shadow of doubt.

BLITZER: In the '80s they used them against the Kurds.

MAJOR: Well, in the '80s they used them. I'm clear in my mind they certainly had them in the '90s. Now, what has happened since I left Downing Street, I can be less clear about.

But I think we have to be clear what sort of weapons of mass destruction we're talking about. We're not talking about huge intercontinental missiles. We're talking about liquids. We're talking about powders that would be easily removed.

I've never forgotten, at the time of the first Gulf War in 1990-91, that Saddam Hussein flew a whole squadron of his best fighter aircraft to Iran and left them there. Nobody ever knew why.

Well, it's entirely possible that in the run-up to the war, when the weapons inspectors were there, that these highly mobile powders and liquids, which is what we're talking about, were hidden, destroyed or moved out of the country. But that they were there at some stage, I think the evidence is quite compelling.

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