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Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak): My right hon. Friend has outlined the role of the United Nations, and the Prime Minister said that the evidence against bin Laden and his associates has been shared with key partners. Will my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary confirm that one of those key partners is Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary-General, and that the UN's role in the programme on which we are embarked will not be limited simply to organising humanitarian aid?

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Mr. Straw: I believe that Kofi Annan has been fully briefed. It is he in particular who has pointed out the clear rights of member states to take action under article 51 of the charter of which he is the custodian.

Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton): Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is not much use people asking for United Nations authority for action and then opposing the action all the same? That happened in Iraq when Mr. Benn demanded a United Nations Security Council resolution, got it and then opposed the action.

Mr. Straw: I have a feeling that my right hon. Friend has been waiting for some time to say that. [Laughter.] Which dish is it that is best served cold? [Laughter.] As ever, my right hon. Friend makes an entirely fair point. I have heard people say, "What about the United Nations? Why is not the General Assembly going to meet?" Notwithstanding the fact that the UN General Assembly headquarters are only a few blocks away from the site of the atrocity, it met the very next day. The Security Council passed a resolution, the text of which I have in front of me, and so too did the General Assembly in almost identical terms, except for the final paragraphs, which come within the ambit solely of the Security Council.

The extent and breadth of the international coalition and consensus that has been put together since the atrocity is extraordinary. Resolutions in the Security Council and General Assembly have, on the whole, been unanimous, which is almost unprecedented. As my right hon. Friend made clear, if we are to vote for and support their words, we have to ensure that we understand the meaning of those words, and the meaning of those words is that there has been the fullest possible support and endorsement by the international community as expressed within the General Assembly and Security Council for the military action now in contemplation.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan): Is not that exactly the point? The United Nations is no longer immobilised because of cold war enmities. It has the capacity for action. Is not the point that it is the most important international institution, not one of a large number?

Mr. Straw: The hon. Gentleman is right. The basis of international law for the whole world is the United Nations charter.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): Are the Foreign Secretary and his colleagues trying to get through the United Nations, building on the resolutions to which he has referred, a binding Geneva-style, all-embracing convention against terrorism, to which every member state would be expected to subscribe if that state was to continue to receive the benefits of membership?

Mr. Straw: There are already a number of conventions and I shall come to the details. We are in the vanguard of those who have signed and ratified those conventions. The Government of India have produced a further draft convention. Yesterday, the Secretary of State for Defence and I discussed many matters with the distinguished Foreign Minister of India, Mr. Singh, including how, in alliance with the Government of India and many others,

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we can better progress the convention, which would provide additional powers. Meanwhile, there is Security Council resolution 1373, which for the first time in the history of the United Nations mandates member states—they are not given an option—to take a variety of actions to fight terrorism of all kinds on one definition.

Mr. Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central): This is an important point for those of us who recognise that action must be taken against the terrorists. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that under international law and the aegis of the United Nations action has to be, in the Prime Minister's words, proportionate, and that we cannot sanction action going beyond what is legitimate and proportionate?

Mr. Straw: Action must be proportionate, but we must bear in mind the proportion of the attack against the United States and the proportion of the threat still posed by the al-Qaeda organisation.

None of us has any quarrel with the people of Afghanistan, who have suffered more than anyone from the wickedness of the current Taliban regime. My right hon. Friend set out the humanitarian assistance that has already been made available and is being put in place. The Secretary of State for International Development and her Department have been in the lead, nationally and internationally, in ensuring that an aid programme backed up by money is put in place. We are using their expertise, which is unrivalled in the world, to ensure that proper coalition of humanitarian assistance.

Mr. Tom Clarke (Coatbridge and Chryston): Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Straw: I will if I may first make some progress.

Our help to the Afghan people must go beyond that. They have the right to expect a peaceful and secure future. In July, well before the 11 September atrocities, the Government hosted a meeting of Foreign Ministers from neighbouring countries at the request of the United Nations at Wilton Park, a Foreign Office conference centre. It was agreed that a future Government should be broad based and reflect the country's rich ethnic mix. Unlike the Taliban regime, the future Government and country of Afghanistan should be a member of the United Nations.

Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South): Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Straw: I will if I may make some progress first.

We want to work with all responsible Afghans to bring peace to their country and to help it on the path to stable development. The country needs irrigation, agriculture, schools, hospitals and roads. Afghanistan's friends will be generous. Our commitment to the Afghan people is straightforward. We say to them, "You have been ill served by those who have made your country a centre for terrorism across the world. As soon as this stops the world will work with you to build a better future for you and your children."

Sir Peter Tapsell (Louth and Horncastle): Will the Foreign Secretary give way?

Mr. Straw: I want to make some progress because many Members wish to speak.

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Regional instability is a natural consequence when the rule of law collapses in a failed state such as Afghanistan, and it is as much a threat to the Muslim world as it is to the west. One country that knows from long experience the damage that the Taliban regime have done to the Afghan people and their neighbours is Iran. Last week, I visited Teheran for talks with President Khatami and the Iranian Government—the first such visit by a British Foreign Secretary in a quarter of a century. We discussed how our two countries could better work together to help the refugees who are already seeking shelter in Iran, 2 million of whom crossed the border before 11 September. We agreed to carry on the fight against drugs. As the House knows, 90 per cent. of the heroin on British streets originates in areas of Afghanistan under Taliban control. A high proportion of it is smuggled through Iran, which has already lost thousands of its troops in the struggle against this evil.

President Khatami has spoken of the need for a dialogue between civilisations. The need is now greater than ever before. The evil deeds of bin Laden and al-Qaeda are sanctioned by no faith, let alone one like Islam, which stresses tolerance and respect for human life.

When I visited Cairo last week, that message was reinforced by the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, one of the world spiritual leaders of Sunni Muslims. He told me that the terrorist attacks against the United States went completely against the teachings of Islam and that those responsible should be brought to justice. We are, therefore, at war with terrorism and in that war we are on the same side as Islam.

We would all gain from removing barriers to understanding between peoples and faiths and from creating a much more inclusive world. The experience of 11 September shows the continuing need for Britain to be actively engaged in the world. When states fail or conflict breaks out, it matters to us, whether it happens in the Balkans, Latin America, Africa, the far east or the middle east. Few parts of the world have suffered more from conflict and acts of terrorism than the middle east. Last week, I talked to the Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres as well as to Chairman Arafat of the Palestinian National Authority about the latest moves for peace. I made it clear how determined the United Kingdom is to help those parties reach a just, lasting and comprehensive settlement. The House will therefore wish to join me in expressing dismay at the further acts of violence against innocent civilians this week. The Palestinian National Authority should do more to prevent such acts and to punish those responsible. Israel's response should be neither excessive nor disproportionate.

I urge both sides to redouble their efforts to enforce the ceasefire, to implement confidence-building measures and to resume talks aimed at a settlement based on the principle of "land for peace". Peace with security can come only through such a political process, in which Israel's rights as a state and the rights of its citizens are fully recognised, and which at the same time allows the emergence of a viable, democratic and peaceful Palestinian state committed to co-existence with Israel and recognised and respected by Israel. That has long been the position of the United Kingdom, shown by repeated

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endorsements of many statements to that effect by the European Union and underlined again by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister at the Labour party conference. President Bush himself expressed the same view on Tuesday:

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