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January 26, 2007 11:58 am
Thursday, January 25
• Up early for the first of a series of meetings - ‘”bilaterals” as diplomats insist on calling them. My first was with the prime minister of Pakistan. We covered a number of subjects which became the leitmotifs of the day – from co-operation in the fight against terrorism, to our efforts to bring stability in Afghanistan, to the threat of a nuclear armed Iran. The prime minister had robust views on the importance of integrating all British Muslims into mainstream British society.
• Then on to a panel discussion – also with the Pakistani PM, plus the US homeland security secretary Michael Chertoff and the EU counter-terrorism co-ordinator Guy de Vries. We touched on aspects of this formidably important issue which have become the staple of such discussions at home in the UK - from the motivation of modern day terrorists to how to strike the right balance between tough security measures and a tough defence of liberty. The debate raging in the UK about whether the Home Office featured too, as did the experience of the US in organising itself bureaucratically. Secretary Chertoff was clear that endless changes to the machinery for fighting terrorism hampered rather than helped that fight.
• A fascinating meeting with Mohamed El Baradei, the impressive director general of the International Atomic Energy Authority. We discussed North Korea, and the opportunities that had been missed to prevent it acquiring nuclear weapons. It was all the more important that the same mistakes were not made with Iran. It’s clear that Iran is in a cocky mood. It thinks it’s in a strong position – fomenting violence from Iraq to Afghanistan.
These are dangerous times in the Middle East. We need to handle the Iranian issue with particular skill: bringing all our diplomatic leverage to bear, and make clear that Iran faces a fork in the road – either it can become a fully-fledged member of the international community, or it can opt for increasing isolation and penalty. We have to be clear with Iran that a deal on civilian nuclear power is on the cards – if accompanied by suitably tough safeguards and a rigorous inspection regime. But a nuclear armed Iran is totally unacceptable. The effort to achieve a resolution lies fairly and squarely in the diplomatic arena. As newspaper reports of my press conference in Davos make clear, in my view it’s not prudent to rule out any option, including military action, in advance. However, I find it hard to envisage circumstances in which military action in this case would be the right way forward.
• Had a good political talk at lunchtime with the Premier of Quebec, Jean Charest. This was encouraging in two respects: first, he is the former leader of the Conservative Party in Canada – he became their leader when the party suffered a drubbing at the polls which left them with just two seats, one of which was his. This puts the troubles the Conservative Party in Britain had in context: things never got that bad! What’s more, the Canadian Conservative Party is now not only back in the political mainstream, but back in Government. Even better, they defeated an impatient Finance Minister who had waited for many years to take over, and who went on to lose the subsequent election.
• Picking my way through the Davos snow back to my hotel, I heard a voice calling me from a balcony across the street and demanding to know how many votes I expected to find in Davos. It turned out to be Peter Mandelson, standing on the BBC interview set. I told him I had always assumed I could at least count on his support in a run off with Gordon Brown. ‘It’s a no brainer’ came the cheery reply. I wonder what he meant by that?
• A feisty media briefing in the afternoon, with 25 journalists from across the world, as well as the UK. Lots of questions about climate change, Iran, Doha and much more.
• The evening concluded with meetings with the Egyptian Prime Minister and the French Budget Minister – and a chance to compare notes on the situation in the Middle East and hear latest from the French election campaign. I’d been hoping to see Senator McCain this afternoon too – but his plane is now not arriving until tomorrow, so we shall miss each other. I am returning to London this morning – Friday – to give a big speech on public services. Snow at Zurich
Wednesday, January 24
• Stayed in the House of Commons after Prime Minister’s Questions for the opening speeches in the Iraq debate – unlike the prime minister, who slipped out quietly just as the debate began. Strange how he was always so keen to lead debates in the run up to the war, but these days has more important things to do than account to Parliament for its aftermath. The idea that any other prime minister – Churchill, Attlee, Thatcher – would have refused to take part in a debate of such importance is pretty hard to imagine.
• Left as planned for Davos after William Hague finished his speech. But snow at Zurich airport complicated the plan. My flight from City airport was cancelled. Turns out it’s not only the British transport system that seizes up with snow. The only way to get to Heathrow in time for the next flight was by taxi motorbike – so a hair-raising ride followed on a Virgin Limo-bike, the wind whistling past my head as the rider plugged me over the intercom for my views on how to sort out Iraq. It is fair to say he didn’t have my total concentration.
• Made it to Davos just in time to speak at a dinner on the security implications of climate change (see my article on this in the FT) alongside Sir Nicholas Stern, until recently the government’s adviser, and the author of the impressive report on the economic implications of climate change. It’s really encouraging how climate change has moved up the agenda in the last year – not just in the UK, but here at the World Economic Forum in Davos too, where alongside the fight against terrorism and the Doha Round, it’s topping the bill. And it’s clear, as I argued in my article, that with its impact on global poverty and potential to spark new conflicts, climate change isn’t just a green issue – it’s an important security issue too.
• Lots of people wonder whether Davos is really worthwhile – or just an expensive talk-fest dispensing hot air on an industrial scale. I have never been before, and an invitation for an opposition leader is apparently quite a rare commodity. I guess – given the presence of so many politicians in one place – a fair amount of hot air is inevitable. But Davos is a useful place for politicians and business people from right across the world to meet and talk about the issues that matter. And for an opposition leader like me preparing carefully for government, it’s especially valuable. It’s possible to make a wide range of contacts which will prove extremely useful in government later – and it provides an opportunity to learn.
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