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War on Terrorism

4. Mr. George Osborne (Tatton): If it is his policy to support action against countries other than Afghanistan in the campaign against terrorism. [39567]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Ben Bradshaw): The coalition did not take action against Afghanistan as a country, but against al-Qaeda and the Taliban regime that harboured and supported it. We support appropriate action against terrorism; indeed, it is our duty to do so under United Nations Security Council resolution 1373, which was passed on 28 September 2001.

Mr. Osborne: Who really speaks for the Government on the issue of broadening the campaign against terrorism? Is it the Secretary of State for International Development, who thinks that further military action is not sensible; is it the former Foreign Secretary, who leaks Cabinet discussions to advance his case; is it the current Foreign Secretary, who thinks that the American Administration are electioneering; or is it the Prime Minister, who conducts his own presidential foreign policy without telling anyone about it and does not come to the House to explain it?

Mr. Bradshaw: That question was not worthy of the hon. Gentleman. [Hon. Members: "It was."] Okay, it was. He quoted most of my colleagues inaccurately, but the Government are clear on the issue. As I said in my original answer, our policy is based on the unanimous United Nations resolution that was passed post-11 September.

Mrs. Lorna Fitzsimons (Rochdale): Does my hon. Friend accept that one of the lessons that most of my constituents and others who view the actions after 11 September have learned is that we ignore people such as Saddam Hussein and the Taliban at our cost? Does he agree that in deciding how to proceed—as we must—he has the support of the majority of the public? Will he

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ensure that we put as much effort into maintaining broad support, especially in the Muslim world and the Muslim diaspora? We have enjoyed support so far from the majority of British Muslims, who understand that they are just as much at risk from terrorism and acts of gross human rights abuses by Saddam Hussein as we are.

Mr. Bradshaw: I agree with my hon. Friend that it is important that we take people with us in the campaign, which should not be seen in a narrow military dimension. It involves international development, good governance and political and economic reform. Many people have missed the fact that phase two has already begun in many ways. In co-operation with several Governments, including the Philippines, Yemen and Nepal, the international community is assisting Governments who wish to deal with the terrorist threat but do not always have the means themselves to do so.

Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight): Does the Minister accept that in any action against Iraq it will be essential to carry with him not only his hon. Friends and Opposition Members, but the wider Muslim community and the country as a whole? That will mean building up trust in the Prime Minister. When will the Prime Minister come to the House—[Hon. Members: "Tomorrow."] When will the Prime Minister—[Hon. Members: "Tomorrow."] When will the Prime Minister make a statement on his proposals for Iraq, instead of just leaking stories to the Australian press?

Mr. Bradshaw: Members have given the hon. Gentleman the answer to his question about when the Prime Minister will next come to the House. The hon. Gentleman is wrong to assume that action against Saddam Hussein would be unpopular in the Arab and Muslim world. As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has already pointed out, little love is lost between Saddam Hussein and his neighbours. We will of course work to take people with us and maximise consensus.

Mr. Derek Foster (Bishop Auckland): My hon. Friend will recall the widespread admiration for the Prime Minister following the events of 11 September, especially in putting together the broad-based alliance. Is he aware that if we follow the United States into action against Iraq, we run the risk of wrecking that alliance, further destabilising the middle east—which is already on the threshold of war—and causing widespread unease on the Government Benches?

Mr. Bradshaw: I do not think that it is correct to talk about Britain following the United States. Britain will make a decision based on our national interest. As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and I have already pointed out, little love is lost between Saddam Hussein's regime and his Arab neighbours, but we will of course take into account views in the Arab world, as we did after 11 September, and do our utmost to build the maximum consensus.

Middle East

5. Norman Baker (Lewes): If he will make a statement on the prospect for peaceful resolution of the conflict in the middle east. [39568]

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The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): The Government are profoundly concerned at the continuing violence in the middle east. We fully understand the intense political pressures on the Israeli Government to respond to repeated suicide bombings. Our condemnation of terrorism in all its forms is unequivocal. We look to the Palestinian Authority for 100 per cent. effort to deal with terrorism, but actions aimed at inflicting maximum pain on Palestinian civilians can never be an effective basis on which to build peace.

It is precisely because of the gravity of the situation that the parties concerned and the international community should do all they can to restart the peace process. Over the past three days, I have spoken to the Israeli Foreign Minister, the Palestinian Authority's foreign affairs representative, the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, and to EU Foreign Ministers. We welcome the return of US envoy General Zinni later this week, the Saudi Arabian initiative and US Vice-President Cheney's visit. Both the Israelis and the Palestinians must grasp the opportunity that those provide to de-escalate the violence and restart dialogue.

Norman Baker: When the Prime Minister met Vice-President Cheney yesterday, did he stress that it is important for the middle east that UN resolutions in respect of Israel and Palestine are enforced as well as those in respect of Iraq, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) noted? Is not the way forward to establish a genuinely independent Palestinian state, as well as to make sure that Israel's right to exist within its own borders, free from attack, is recognised by all? Did the Prime Minister also tell Vice-President Cheney that any attack on Iraq would be likely to set the peace process back, rather than advance it?

Mr. Straw: The point about the United Nations Security Council resolutions was not raised with Vice-President Cheney for one reason only: the United States is completely committed to the implementation of key resolutions 242 and 338, which it supported in the Security Council. The US has helped to provide a route map to securing the resolutions' implementation through the Tenet and Mitchell plans.

In addition, we all share the aspiration and the hope that a secure state of Israel can exist within recognised borders alongside a viable state of Palestine. We have long made that clear, and I am glad to say that President Bush made it clear in almost those exact terms when he addressed the UN General Assembly on 10 November.

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield): Does my right hon. Friend agree with the comments of Jonathan Friedland in The Guardian last week, when he said that every last one of the 200-plus Israeli reservists who refused to go to the West Bank and Gaza were heroes? Last week, premier Sharon told the Knesset that the aim was

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Mr. Straw: With apologies to Mr. Friedland, I must tell my hon. Friend that I did not see that article in The Guardian last week, so I shall not comment on it. As far as the area's future is concerned, the situation there is extremely grave. Of course, there are people who, like my hon. Friend, speak strongly and powerfully for the Palestinians, and there are people who speak with equal passion on the other side, for the Israeli community. I hope that there are people in all parties in this House who speak for all sides.

The situation is profoundly grave. Yes, I grieve for all the innocent Palestinians who have lost their lives in recent weeks, and I grieve also for all the Israelis who have lost their lives. But I have to say that the terror that is now felt in Israel as a result of the increasing and escalating use of suicide bombers is palpable. [Interruption.] The terror carried out by the IRA in this country was bad enough, as many people—myself included—experienced, but I ask the House to understand and appreciate what it would have been like if it had included the terror of suicide bombs.

As I made clear in my statement, in these circumstances we must work to ensure cautious and statesmanlike responses from both sides. However, we must also have some appreciation of the pressures exerted on the politics of Israel, as well as on the Palestinian Authority. We must also try to look to the future in the midst of this grave darkness. That is why the United Kingdom Government have been working as hard as we can, and why we welcome General Zinni's travels to the region at the end of the week, the visit of Vice-President Cheney and, in particular, the initiative of Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.

Sir Peter Tapsell (Louth and Horncastle): I preface my question by declaring an interest as a member of the Business Advisory Council of the United Nations. The Foreign Secretary has reminded us this afternoon of the grave developments in Iraq, but those were known to most of us before the shocking events of 11 September. In recent days, our Prime Minister and the President of the United States have clearly indicated their likely intention to lead our two countries into war against Iraq. Before the Prime Minister seeks the support of this House of Commons for such action, will the Foreign Secretary urge him to publish a document explaining in precise detail, for the benefit of those of us who do not have access to secret intelligence reports, the threats to Britain and the United States that would justify an attack on Iraq at this stage? Will the Foreign Secretary also tell us under what chapter or clause of the United Nations charter we would seek to proceed in declaring war?

Mr. Straw: The issue of the chapter on military action does not arise because no decision has been made about military action. I have said already that we accept our obligations in international law, but the issue of Iraq is about international law and the failure of the Saddam Hussein regime to meet the very clearest requirements of international law on him.

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The hon. Gentleman makes a point about 11 September, and I would make exactly the same point. We were aware of much of the evidence against Saddam Hussein before 11 September. What 11 September did—for the whole international community, I hope—was make us more alive to threats from failing states, terrorism and rogue states such as Iraq than ever before. Surely the lesson of 11 September, and of the decay of Afghanistan which allowed terrorism to breed before 11 September, is that where we have evidence—as we had about Afghanistan before 11 September—we need to act on it before the international community and the peace of the world is put at risk to the degree that it was on 11 September and could be again.

Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton): Taking into account the act of outright aggression carried out in Ramallah today by Israeli forces under a Defence Minister who, to his shame, is the leader of the Israeli Labour party, the fact that tanks supplied by Britain may well have been used in that attack, and the fact that in the year of Sharon's premiership four times as many Israelis have been killed by terrorist acts as in the preceding year and four times as many still Palestinians have been killed—innocent Palestinians as well as innocent Jews, as my right hon. Friend says—is not the time approaching when economic sanctions and an arms ban may have to be considered by the United Kingdom and Europe on both sides in this hellish confrontation?

Mr. Straw: I accept my right hon. Friend's profound concern and applaud the way in which he has put his point. However, I believe that, although the situation is very grave, the best prospect of a peace, which can only come through negotiation, is by accepting the principles of Crown Prince Abdullah's initiative and by the work of General Zinni and others in ensuring that there is a pathway back through Tenet and Mitchell to direct negotiations. What is so frustrating is that virtually everybody is agreed, inside the Israeli Government as well as the Palestinian Authority, that there have to be negotiations, and they are pretty well agreed about the basis for those negotiations. We all have to get those negotiations going. If I felt that my right hon. Friend's proposals would assist in those negotiations, I might support them, but I have yet to be persuaded.

Mr. Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton): Following a recent visit to the middle east with the shadow Foreign Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram), I tabled a question asking what was being done to help to allow Yasser Arafat attend the Arab summit in Beirut at the end of this month. I thank the Foreign Secretary for the fullness of his reply, and for agreeing that Yasser Arafat should attend. As violence in the middle east gets worse and worse day to day, any new idea is of the utmost importance. As the Foreign Secretary said, the proposals made by Crown Prince Abdullah deserve to be treated seriously and must be encouraged. Having an empty chair in Beirut instead of Yasser Arafat will only make things worse. What progress has been made in seeking a common position with the Americans that Yasser Arafat should be allowed free passage from the Palestinian Authority to Beirut and back again?

Mr. Straw: A good deal of discussion has taken place with the Americans to ensure that. I am glad to note that

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the Israeli Government have now agreed at least to release President Arafat from what effectively amounts to house arrest. We shall continue to put pressure on the Israeli Government to ensure that he can travel to Beirut and back again in safety. That is essential, and we are discussing it with the United States Government and others.

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