John Humphrys Does the end justify the means? Governments face that question all the time, and the answer is often yes, certainly if national security is threatened in any way. We do deals, we have relationships, with countries and leaders whose behaviour we deplore, especially if there seems to be no alternative. What about engaging in shady activities in the interests of creating jobs in this country? Well, that is the specific question that has been raised again this week with the revelation of the Saudia Arabian arms deal and the allegations that BAe paid massive kickbacks to a Saudi prince to get the contract. Well, Sir Andrew Green knows Saudi Arabia well, he was our Ambassador there for some years, and he’s on the line. Craig Murray is with me, he was our Ambassador to the Central Asian Republic of Uzbekistan. What’s your view of the deals that have been disclosed this week, they’ll have come as no surprise to you I imagine Sir Andrew?
Sir Andrew Green No, they don’t come as a huge surprise. I wasn’t aware of the detail of course, as these things are regarded as commercially confidential.
Humphrys Does it surprise you, before we move on from that, does it surprise you that Prince Bandar got so much, I mean more than a million [error – billion] pounds apparently in what are being called kickbacks.
Green I think that the allegation is more than that, but no, it doesn’t surprise me, any arms deal in the Middle East has payments for commission, or whatever you like to call it, associated with it. I don’t think there’s any news in that. I think the scale of it is surprising, yes. But, as you say, it’s a case of balancing our national interest against other factors and that’s very much one for the Prime Minister to take.
Humphrys But you, now that you’re no longer a diplomat you’re allowed to say this, what’s your view of it?
Green Well, it’s a matter of judgement, isn’t it. As you know, I’ve dealt with the Middle East for about forty years, and frankly I agree with the Prime Minister on this particular point. He said that our relationship with Saudi Arabia is vitally important to our country, and if you just look at the outlook for the country, if you look at Iraq collapsing into chaos, a confrontation with Iran developing at American behest, anarchy in Palestine, genocide in Sudan, instability in Lebanon, I mean it just seems to me plain commonsense not to have a bust-up with a very influential ally in the heart of the region.
Humphrys Do you agree with that, Craig Murray?
Craig Murray No, I don’t. I certainly regard our relationship with Saudi Arabia as very important, but the idea that you can’t maintain good relationships with a country without paying hundreds of millions of pounds in bribes is a very poor one.
Green That’s not quite the issue though, is it? I mean the issue is whether we should do something that would be extremely embarassing for the ruling family in Saudi Arabia. I mean, the contract having been in place for some twenty years or so, so that the decision before us now is whether to allow that investigation to go forward, or to stop it, which is what the Prime Minister has done.
Murray Well, I spent most of my career in Africa and working on Africa. In Africa very poor people have their lives ruined by the fact that their governments are extremely corrupt, and that hundreds of millions, billions of dollars of aid money, donor money and commercial money are kicked back to the rulers by Western companies. How can we deplore corruption in Africa when we are actively participating in it in Saudi Arabia? And how can we say the rule of law applies to everybody in the land, if the Attorney General can say, as he did, that in this case the national interest outbalances the rule of law. The national interest can’t outbalance the rule of law in this country, nothing can outbalance the rule of law, not even the Crown.
Humphrys Isn’t this the point Sir Andrew, aren’t we saying “Don’t do as we do, do as we tell you to do.”
Green Well, first of all I don’t think you can draw a comparison between the countries of Africa and those of the Middle East.
Humphrys Really, why?
Green Well, first of all, there are very many countries in Africa and the situations are different in each. I think the key to taking a view on a particular country is actually to know about it, and the Middle East is quite different. There are very few people in Saudi Arabia who are actually in poverty. It’s not a question of the people suffering, they’re all quite reasonably well off.
Humphrys It’s the principle that we’re talking about here.
Green Well, the other principle is that you have to take the World as you find it, and you can only operate within the situation that you find within a particular country and a particular region.
Humphrys Is that the case when you have a Prime Minister who says that he’s a liberal interventionist and he wants to change the World?
Green Well, you would have to put that one to the Prime Minister. What I am saying is that on this issue, where he decided the balance of interest was not to proceed, I think he’s right in terms of our national interest, I think he’s right in terms of the counter-terrorism point that they have made quite a lot of, and they are not wrong to do so, and people often forget that Saudi Arabia itself is the first target of Al Qaida, the same organisation which threatens us so seriously. And we need hard information on those people involved, on their networks, on their movements, and the Saudis are interested to help. And that…
Humphrys That’s an important point surely, Craig Murray. If we are threatened in any way then we have to take help where we can get it, however distasteful it may be.
Murray I think there have to be limits, at the end of the day, to what you do.
Humphrys What, even if national security is at stake?
Murray Yes, because our security in the long term isn’t helped by promoting injustice, and the regime in Saudi Arabia is not a democratic one and is a tyrannical one which uses torture very freely and has even tortured British subjects in the past: that can’t be in our long term interest to assist.
Humphrys I am afraind, sorry Sir Andrew, we have to stop it there. Craig Murray and Sir Andrew Green thank you both very much.