Britain should talk to Al Qaeda, says N. Ireland's top cop
Sir Hugh Orde also warns that threat from dissident Irish terrorists is highest in five years.
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Mr. Orde, a candidate to become the new head of London's Metropolitan Police, told the Guardian in an interview that the British government's police activities alone would not be enough to deal with Al Qaeda, and said that "thinking the unthinkable" may be necessary.
Asked whether Britain should attempt to talk to al-Qaida, he said: "If you want my professional assessment of any terrorism campaign, what fixes it is talking and engaging and judging when the conditions are right for that to take place.
"Is that a naive statement? I don't think it is ... It is the reality of what we face.
"If somebody can show me any terrorism campaign where it has been policed out, I'd be happy to read about it, because I can't think of one."
Orde noted that decades of effort by British police were unable to end the activities of the Irish Republican Army in Northern Ireland, and the corner was turned in that conflict only when the government began talking to the IRA. The Guardian notes that Orde was the first head of the PSNI to meet with Gerry Adams, leader of Sinn Fein, the IRA's political wing.
Orde said: "If you look at some of the biggest risks my people have taken it is talking to people who historically they would not have dreamed of talking to. Were we going to actually police our way out of the Troubles? No. Are we actually going to police our way out of the current threat? No."
... "Did I think in 1977 when I joined the Met ... I would end up talking to Gerry Adams in 2004 – and bear in mind the campaign was in London? Absolutely unthinkable."
... He gave this assessment of why the IRA put down its weapons: "It got to a point where those combatants realised ... certainly on the republican side, it wasn't ever going to work. So there's a certain pragmatism in there. The question, does Bin Laden see it that way, probably not. If you don't ask, you don't know."
Orde said that strong police efforts against Al Qaeda would still be necessary, however, even if the government opened talks with Al Qaeda. He added that as far as when to start talks, "the question will be one of timing."
In March, former Downing Street chief of staff Jonathan Powell said that at some point in the future it might be necessary to start talks with the group.
Mr Powell, who helped broker the peace agreement in Northern Ireland, said the deal showed such negotiations could work.
At the time, the Foreign Office rejected the suggestion, saying the government would not talk to any group actively promoting its aims through violence.