Full Interview: British PM Gordon Brown

katie couric interview gordon brown prime minister
Gordon Brown is the leader of one of America's most important allies, and Katie Couric talked with him exclusively about troops in Iraq and the struggling economy. He shared his opinions about the presidential candidates and what's on his iPod.

KATIE COURIC: Mr. Prime Minister, let me start asking you about your upcoming trip to the U.S. You're travelling to the United States this week, reportedly part of your message will be urging the U.S. to reengage in the world. How so?

GORDON BROWN: I think the United States is more engaged than it was two or three years ago. If you look at Iran and what we're trying to do together on that, if you look at President Bush's intervention at the NATO summit, wanting more European countries to join, if you look at what the different candidates for the presidency are saying about the environmental debate for the future. What I'm staying is if we're going to build a world that meets the needs of America, Britain and other countries, we have to find the shared values we hold in common and then build new institutions for the future to meet the climate change challenge, deal with early warnings of the financial crisis like the last few months, deal with conflict and reconstruction and stability. In 1945, great American visionaries built the institutions we know together, like the United Nations, the IMF. We need to build a new message in 2008, 2009, 2010. There is a chance now with good European leadership, American leadership and then other countries like China and India being brought into this, there's a chance with new global rules and institutions in building a better world.

COURIC: Do you think the U.S. will be receptive to your message?

BROWN: I'm absolutely sure that when people look at, for example, Rwanda and what happened there, which was a terrible tragedy in Africa a few years ago and what should have been done and could be done now, if there's a conflict and a need for reconstruction, the world should work together. European leadership did not support President Bush in Iraq other than Britain and one or two other countries, but we want a better relationship with America and I feel I can bring Europe and America closer together for the future. That will be to the advantage of all of us, to deal with economic problems, climate change and help make for a more peaceful world in the future. I see huge opportunities in the next few years for Europe and America to work more closely together.

COURIC: You talk about it Rwanda, but what about Darfur?

BROWN: It's one of the great tragedies of our time. There are hundreds of thousands of people displaced and hundreds of thousands of refugees and many people have died.

COURIC: Why does the world community seem so helpless?

BROWN: What we have got to do is to get the people who are the rebels and the government to the negotiating table to talk. I helped persuade the United Nations to bring in a better force, an African Union/United Nations force. I am in favor of far tougher sanctions on Darfur and we've been pressing for that, but at the end of the day we have to get people to the negotiating table. One of the great ironies was when we persuaded the government to the negotiating table, two of the rebel groups didn't turn up. I have offered to hold talks here in London if people wish, but they have to come together. We can play our part in threats like sanctions and I'm grateful for the rest of the international community including America being part of that. Yes, it's very difficult, for example, to have a no-fly zone in Darfur, which would have been one of the options, but if we don't get the groups to the table, we won't get a settlement.

COURIC: Are you concerned that trust in the United States and the United States' reputation worldwide has been so damaged and trust has been eroded that some countries won't want to reengage?

BROWN: No, because what unites us is shared values. The belief in liberty and freedom, the sense we can together work for justice is common to the people of the United States of America and the peoples of Europe and many other parts of the world. I think even if you have disagreements on individual issues, as Germany and France would not support America on Iraq, although we have and rightly so, even if there are disagreements, if you go back to fundamentally what can bind you together, make you work together in the future, there is so much common to the values we believe are crucial to building a better world for the future. America believes in liberty and opportunity, a belief in justice, and these are the values that underpin what all countries would like to see as the basis of a new world order.

COURIC: Is anti-American sentiment still so strong and pervasive throughout the world?

BROWN: I think when you look at the values that unites the American people with the rest of the world there, may be disagreements, there have been disagreements, we can't ignore that, principally on Iraq. If you take Afghanistan, I have been in meetings where 40 countries are supporting Afghanistan, so there's not the disagreement on Afghanistan, but when you look at the values that are going to influence the development of our institutions in the future, Americans believe in liberty and justice, these will be the important values. There is far more in common between what we hold important than what divides us.

COURIC: Do you believe more engagement with the United States on a variety of issues will help dissipate some of the anti-American sentiment that still exists?

BROWN: I think at a number of different levels Britain should engage more with America, not just at the level of governments but at the level of people. We're in an Internet age now, people can debate with each other across the Atlantic by chatting on the Internet, sending emails, making contact with each other, and I think if we could build stronger cultural co-operation with universities, young people, organisations, scientific research, research into cancer, if we can build these links for the future, I think the relationship also be stronger and that will underpin the development of political co-operation in the years to come. I'm an optimist because I believe that the values we hold in common are far greater than anything that is in the past dividing us.

COURIC: Tony Blair stood solidly with President Bush on Iraq and Afghanistan. Are you as supportive of this war, particularly in Iraq, as your predecessor?

BROWN: Yes. We're moving to a position in Afghanistan where, as I say, more than 40 countries are now involved. When it comes to Iraq, it has been a more disputed issue because some of our European colleagues have not come down the same road as we've gone, but I think we're moving to a position in Iraq where-to-the areas where British troops are playing a big role, Basra and the south, where we can move from combat to what we call "overwatch," training the Iraqi troops for the future. We've seen a great deal of progress in the past few months, we've trained 40,000 police and soldiers for the Iraqis, we plan to train another 15,000, and then we look to provincial elections, Iraqis taking more of an interest in their affairs.

COURIC: There were 20,000 British troops at the time of the invasion, now there are only 2,000. You had planned to reduce that number but earlier this month you decided to put that on hold. Why?

BROWN: We put it on hold because there was tension in Basra itself. President Maliki had brought his own troops in, asserted power against the militias. We wanted to make sure the situation was stable again before we reduced our troops. Our plan is to reduce the numbers, as we've announced, over a period of time, but the role we're playing is already quite different. We're already training the Iraqi forces, training the police and the armed forces and we're putting a huge amount of effort into economic reconstruction so the Iraqis have a greater stake in their future. If we can move to local elections and persuade people who thought the militias was important for determining the future that actually the future is democracy and government, we're achieving the aims we set out to achieve, to build a Democracy in Iraq, economic reconstruction, Iraqis to be in control of their own affairs, their own army and police forces to be in charge. We will not reduce our troop numbers until we're satisfied we're moving down that road in a stable way.

COURIC: Were you disappointed with the performance of the Iraqi military during the recent conflict in Basra where your troops had to offer support?

BROWN: I think it's inevitable that the Iraqi army is building itself up over a period of time, it's right it should take more control over its own destiny, over the destiny of Iraq. We're supportive of what Mr. Maliki is trying to do. We gave air support, as did the Americans, to the Iraqi forces. Over time you'll see the Iraqis are in a position to take more control. In the next few months, I think you'll see them taking more military control, more policing and moving towards government. Iraqis have voted for democracy, millions of people came out to vote for it. To embed it as a local effort could be a great achievement.

COURIC: Do you have a timetable?

BROWN: No, because I don't think so it's right to do so. A lot depends on the military decisions on the ground, the advice we get from the commanders and how they see the situation. Our path is cleared that we want the Iraqis to take more control. As Gen. Petraeus has pushed out al Qaeda, so what we want to see in Basra is local people taking democratic control over their own affairs and pushing out the militias.

COURIC: The argument against pulling out too quickly all coalition troops is that the country will dissolve into a bloody civil war and Iran will happily fill a power vacuum. Is that a legitimate concern?

BROWN: No. There are huge difficulties first because you have al Qaeda operating in Iraq and you have influence over the border from Iran, and whether it's private arming of militias or other means, there's clearly a problem. But gradually we're seeing the Iraqis asserting more control over their own affairs and the positive thing about what's happening, certainly in the south in Basra where we're the lead player of the allied and coalition forces, the positive thing is that we have 40,000 armed and police forces trained. We'll have another 15,000 trained in the next few months. We'll have more people involved in economic reconstruction. We've putting in huge sums of money. I have a conference for investors in Basra held in London in the next few weeks. The combination of local control, local government itself and economic reconstruction, I think that is Iraqis and not Iranians, taking control of their own affairs. That's what we want to see.

COURIC: You talk about al Qaeda in Iraq. Many argue they wouldn't be there if the United States hadn't invaded. Having said that, what do you think is the most powerful lesson you have learned as a result of the Iraq war?

BROWN: I think there's a thirst for a Democracy amongst the people of Iraq. We have recognized that people want to be part of a democratic solution to their own problems and challenges. I think the lesson we've
learned from Iraq is one I think we have to apply whenever we're called upon to do things, whether it's in Africa or Afghanistan, that the reconstruction effort has to begin on day one. I think there is again a thirst in Iraq for people to be involved in their own economic destiny, to develop the oil resources and the other resources of Iraq. We haven't quickly enough, in my view, got people into jobs, so there's too much unemployment. We're trying to do a lot more now and we're having some success, but perhaps we should have started that earlier.

COURIC: Do you think invading Iraq was in fact the right thing to do?

BROWN: Yes, because Saddam Hussein had persistently and definitely ignored every resolution of the world community. The international community stood as one and demanded action from Saddam Hussein, he continuously thwarted the will of the international community. We have to look back to the events when all of the international community was united, before there was a division of opinion as to whether there should be action. He was refusing to go with the promises he'd already made from the past, and I think the democracy that's been created in Iraq is far better than the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein.

COURIC: I don't want to get into a big debate on the wisdom of the invasion, but when the international community was behind this military action, it's because they believed that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction and there was a feeling that he was involved with 9/11 or could be responsible for a second 9/11.

BROWN: From my point of view, and I think from the British government's point of view, the issue was always this, that he had made promises to the international community after his invasion of Kuwait, he had persistently defied the international community for years. Every effort we had made to change his mind, he had thwarted. That was the original basis for action. I know there's a subsequent debate about what happened and weapons and everything else, but the original complaint, and rightly so, is he had defied the will of the international community and that included the whole international community who believed that he had not performed as he had promised in changing his ways after his invasion of Kuwait.

COURIC: Let's move on to the next president. I know while you are in the United States you'll be meeting privately with each presidential candidate. You already know John McCain and Hillary Clinton, at least you have met them. What's your impression of John McCain?

BROWN: He's of course a great hero of his time for the courage he showed in Vietnam and subsequently. My discussions with John McCain have been about security and about the international institutions and how they can better deal with the issue of security. I've talked to him about the environment and his proposals on climate change, and of course he's a very experienced senator. It's been good to have these conversations with him.

COURIC: What about Hillary Clinton?

BROWN: Hillary Clinton of course I've known for a longer period of time. I actually knew Bill Clinton before he was president of America because we'd met at conferences previously. Clearly Hillary Clinton is putting forward, I think, a very strong argument about what action has to be taken to deal with the downturn in America and what has to be done to deal with particularly the problem of people who are losing their mortgages or people in danger of not being able to afford to pay their bills. It's clear that when you look at America at the moment, there are the issues, as in this country, that are domestic issues about the future of the economy and there are security issues also about the future of America's relationships to the rest of the world.

COURIC: You have yet to meet Barack Obama.

BROWN: Although I know many friends of his, and he kindly sent me a copy of his book when it was published. The reasons we haven't met before are an accident. Obviously I'm looking forward to meeting him. There's no doubt he has engaged a group of people in political action and consultation in America that previously had not been engaged and I think there are lessons for all of us in Europe and else were around the world.

COURIC: What are you hoping to hear from each of the candidates, what kind of assurances, what kind of direction?

BROWN: I think from my point of view to meet people who, whatever position they may hold next year, as individuals are all senior American political figures known throughout the world with enormous prestige and status already throughout the world. It's very important, so whatever jobs people are going to hold in the future, it's important as I have always done since I have been going to America for 25 years, meeting senators and people like Alan Greenspan, other people involved in the economy, it's very important that this dialogue between people across the Atlantic is not only maintained but strengthened. I do believe that the future of the next few years is stronger relationships between America and Europe. To build up that relationship with your senior people is incredibly important for Britain as it is for Germany, for France, for a new government in Italy. All these politicians and states, men and women, will benefit from that relationship. I think we have a lot to learn from new experiences, but I think the dialogue between the two continents can make a huge and important difference in the future.

COURIC: You're an outspoken advocate of free trade and yet on the campaign trail, particularly between the Democrats, there has been a great deal of protectionist rhetoric. Do you find that troubling?

BROWN: I can understand that as change is so fast and so far reaching in this new global economy, and let's say America and Europe have lost a million manufacturing jobs over the last year, that people will respond to the change that's taking place and say, "Look, can we not shelter our industries, protect ourselves against the loss of too many jobs overseas? After all, our workers are doing a good job making cars or steel or whatever; why is this change happening so quickly? Can we not do something about it?" My instinct is to understand people's worries about a global economy particularly in a period of global financial turbulence, but at the same time I think we have to look in the longer term at the benefits we get from an open economy. America can trade with any country in the world and should be able to, and so should Britain. The last world trade agreement brought huge prosperity to each continent as a result of us being able to trade with each other. There's no country in the world that has escaped poverty in Africa and Asia without being involved in trading with the rest of the world. The longer term issue is that can we persuade people that although it's difficult when you're facing a huge amount of change and jobs have been restructured and there's a great deal of off-shoring happening and people feel, although they're beneficiaries of global change, they're also victims …

COURIC: Jobs have been lost, not just restructured.

BROWN: That's right, but jobs are also being created all the time. America has this huge capacity, which I admire so much. Its entrepreneurial flare, ability to innovate, means that millions of jobs are being created as you're losing jobs in manufacturing or services. The benefits of free trade are not just for America but for the rest of the world. A world trade agreement in my view is essential to give confidence to the world that we can actually solve problems together. But of course you've got to deal with the problems that people face if have you to get a new skill, if you have to find a new job, if you have to move to a different area. In Britain, we would want to help people do that and we'll have mechanisms in place to give people extra support to train for a new job or extra support if the next job they get is not as well paying as the last one.

COURIC: Right now the United States and the UK have a lot in common economically: massive debt, a housing slump, a banking crisis. I know you'll be visiting Wall Street this week. What is your objective there?