Members present:

Donald Anderson, in the Chair
Mr David Chidgey
Sir Patrick Cormack
Mr Fabian Hamilton
Andrew Mackinlay
Mr John Maples
Mr Bill Olner
Sir John Stanley


RT HON JACK STRAW MP, Secretary of State, MR TIM DOWSE, Head, Non-Proliferation Department, and MR PETER RICKETTS CMG, Political Director, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, examined.


  1. Foreign Secretary, may I on behalf of the Committee welcome you and your two colleagues to the continuation of our study into foreign policy aspects of the war against terrorism. You have with you Mr Peter Ricketts, Political Director, whom we have certainly met before, and of course Mr Tim Dowse, Head of the Non-Proliferation Department, who returns again. We met him last Thursday. Perhaps he should be permanently encamped here with the Committee. Foreign Secretary, I would like to begin with an update on the current position in New York at the Security Council. I well understand the constraints which lie on you because of the continuing negotiations, but can you at least begin by telling us this? It is said that the United States is losing patience with the lack of movement at the Security Council and if there is no agreed resolution by, say, the end of the week do you think there is a real danger that the US will indeed lose patience to the extent of seeking to go ahead on its own and dispense with the Security Council resolution?
  2. (Mr Straw) The United States Government has to ask for itself, point one. Point two is that these discussions about any Security Council resolution have been in the air since the speech made by President Bush on September 12, which must now be six and a half weeks ago, although it is also true that discussions amongst the P5 as a whole did not begin until about two weeks ago. It is now important that the Security Council reaches a conclusion. I am not going to put a deadline of the end of this week or the beginning of next on it because this does not work that way. In my view what is as important as, if not slightly more important than, reaching a timely conclusion is the nature of that conclusion and if it takes an extra day or an extra two days in order to bolt down some other aspect of the resolution and by doing so we then gain a wider measure of agreement, so much the better. Of course, all the parties, particularly those in the P5, recognise that we are towards the end of the negotiations and, speaking for the British Government, I hope very much that we are able to secure the resolution which is currently agreed by the widest number of people in the Security Council.

  3. So far as the key sticking points are concerned, would you confirm that one of them is the automaticity that the French are particularly concerned about, that there would be a danger of in one resolution going ahead without a reference back to the Security Council if there were to be non-compliance?
  4. (Mr Straw) It has been called automaticity. I do not think it is a very helpful description because none of the relevant drafts put forward at any stage has had within it any automatic trigger which moves from the resolution being agreed to military action without cause. If I can put the difficulty in a more complete way, Mr Chairman, it is this. On the one hand there are those, France and Russia particularly, who are concerned that the Security Council having in one resolution laid down the terms of the weapons inspections and what would amount to a failure by Iraq, and they are concerned that that resolution might be used in circumstances where military action, although in practice justified, to justify military action. On the other side there are the United States and the United Kingdom with, if you like, the opposite concern, which is that we could end up with a situation where the future integrity of the whole of the international system of law is at stake: military action is necessary and palpably obvious and yet one or other member of the Security Council decides to veto it. It is how you square this circle which has been the matter in discussion. It is well known that it has been our position that we would have preferred a single resolution where everything was up front from the current failures by Iraq through to prescriptions related to the inspectorates through to what would happen if those inspectors were not able to do their job properly or with one resolution. But we have also made it clear that we are ready, whilst that is a preference, to discuss a two-phase process and these discussions are now in hand.

  5. And the two-phase process would be a return to the Security Council before any question of military action is considered?
  6. (Mr Straw) Not before any question of military action can be considered because we do not know the full circumstances of what may happen once the inspectors go back and then the circumstances envisaged in which the whole international community believed that military action was fully justified without a necessity to return to the Security Council. In practice, however, let us be clear about this, that no single member - no two members - of the Security Council can control the agenda of the Security Council, so to a degree there has been some tilting at windmills here. However, by way of reassurance, we are happy for it to be said that matters should be able in all the circumstances to go back to the Security Council. Any member of the Security Council can have items put on the agenda of the Security Council and move resolutions. As I say, there has been this implication that somehow the US or the UK would control the agenda.. It is not the case.

  7. What about the presidential palaces? Is this an area of disagreement?
  8. (Mr Straw) I think there is now understanding amongst the P5 that if there are to be proper inspections they have to include the presidential palaces. We cannot have an obvious hole in the arrangements where "presidential palaces", which cover literally the area of Blackpool, for example, are exempt from inspection because that would be no inspection at all.

    Sir John Stanley

  9. Foreign Secretary, as you know, the Committee had briefings in New York and Washington the week before last and in the discussions we had with the US Government it was made very clear to us that in the event of there being military action it would be insufficient to focus that military action on simply seeking to remove Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction and that military action would have to be accompanied not merely with removing the weapons of mass destruction but also with regime change. Does the British Government take the same view, that if there is military action it would be purposeless to focus simply on disarmament and that if military action takes place it must necessarily involve regime change?
  10. (Mr Straw) Let me take this from the top. What would be the objective of any resolution which we hope will be agreed inside the Security Council? The objective of such a resolution would be to disarm Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi regime of its weapons of mass destruction, full stop, and not regime change per se. How could that be achieved? Hopefully by peaceful means, albeit backed by the threat of force. If, however, those means fail then a change in the regime in Iraq would almost certainly become a consequence of any military action and may be the means to the end of the objective of disarming Saddam Hussein because by that stage it would have become a self-evident truth that the existing regime was unwilling to comply with international law. Beyond that I am not going to speculate, Sir John, because the circumstances in which military action may take place cover a wide spectrum of possibilities.

  11. I would not in any way seek to ask you to speculate on anything to do with future military operations for very obvious reasons. I am simply seeking clarification of the British Government's position which from what you said appears to be virtually identical to that of the American Government, namely, that if military operations start it would be largely futile to just focus on trying to remove Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction and it would have to be accompanied by regime change. The point the Americans made to us was that we might be able to destroy a significant amount of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction but they were saying to us that as long as Saddam Hussein was still there it was a total certainty that he would try and build back that weapons of mass destruction capability and therefore he had to go.
  12. (Mr Straw) I have said what I have said. What we are seeking in the United Kingdom Government is a peaceful resolution of Saddam Hussein's flagrant violation of international law, the rule of the United Nations. I hope and pray that it is possible to secure disarmament of the Iraqi regime by peaceful means and if they are disarmed then it is literally the case that the nature of that regime will have been changed, albeit that the regime itself will not have been. If those peaceful means are not possible then the message we will have received from Saddam Hussein is that his defiance is complete; he is unwilling to co-operate with the international community, and it is therefore very hard to see, short of some late conversion by him, how he could possibly assist in that disarmament.

    Mr Chidgey

  13. Foreign Secretary, putting aside your optimism for one moment, can I just take your mind back to what happened after the Gulf War and the inspection regime went in then to destroy weapons of mass destruction. I am sure you will be better briefed than I in knowing that it was only at the last minute that it was discovered that many of the weapons of mass destruction that Saddam Hussein had had not been discovered and it was only with the defection of one of his sons-in-law that the UN inspectors were able to find and destroy them. Given that scenario I would like to ask you how confident you are under the new inspection regime, given the time that Saddam Hussein has had to develop his skills, that we can in fact discover all weapons of mass destruction that threaten the region and destroy them? Secondly, what is your policy and the Government's policy in a situation where, subsequent to an inspection and destruction programme, Saddam Hussein would of course apply for sanctions to be dropped and you may well therefore find us a hostage to fortune in the event that the weapons of mass destruction are still there in plentiful supplies? What advice have you received on those two questions?
  14. (Mr Straw) You are asking me to prove a negative here. What we know from the previous inspection is that when there was a very deep international consensus about the imperative of Saddam Hussein accepting the weapons inspectors that led to compliance by Iraq. It also led to a flow of information which is obviously necessarily a part of any inspection process. The combination of those was that a large amount of Hussein's arsenal of weapons of mass destruction and the capability to produce them were destroyed. We also know that in the last four years since the inspectors had to leave Saddam has been rebuilding capabilities in both chemical and biological weapons and trying to build up his capability in the area of nuclear weapons. It is my belief that the tougher, more rigorous, better resourced the inspection regime the more likely the regime is to be successful.

  15. May I ask if you are confident that the new inspection regime will be tougher and more efficient than the previous one?
  16. (Mr Straw) It is learning from what happened before, not least in respect of restrictions by Saddam Hussein as to where they could or could not go or conditions that they could or could not have when they went to places. That is one of the reasons why we have been so insistent on the right of the inspectors to go anywhere, including presidential sites. Your last point was what would happen in respect of sanctions. We will have to see. The removal of sanctions is not part of any draft resolution that I have seen.

    Mr Maples

  17. We were told in the United States that under the new inspection the part of the United Nations in this was unlikely to be as effective as UNSCOM because of the facilities available to it, which I suppose largely dictate expertise in terms of personnel. Do you believe this is true or do you believe we can take steps or the United Nations can take steps to make sure that it is at least as effective as UNSCOM was?
  18. (Mr Straw) A great deal of work here is going on to make sure that the skills and numbers of people available to the inspection regime are similar to if not greater than those available to UNSCOM, and also, in respect of the IAEA, the International Atomic Energy Authority will be conducting inspections alongside it. We are obviously aware of the need for high level human capability as well as other resources. Otherwise the inspections will not work out as they should do.

  19. As long as that is being dealt with that is fine. The second thing I wanted to ask you about is this question of the one or two resolutions. When we were in New York we also met the Russian and French ambassadors to the United Nations who made it very clear, and I think I summarise their position correctly, that what they were not prepared to see was one resolution which called on Iraq to comply with the new inspection regime and at the same time authorised a single member of the Security Council by implication to take action if they felt that resolution had been broken. What you seemed to be implying was that if we allowed this to take place in a two-stage resolution, one resolution imposing a new inspection regime and then a need for another one to authorise military action, then somebody who voted for resolution one could have a veto on or not vote for resolution two. I wondered why you or we collectively think that that is likely to happen, because what it would mean would be that somebody who took the problem seriously enough to have voted for resolution one then, when it was pretty clear that Iraq was in breach of that, was actually prepared to veto the United Nations Security Council taking any action because that would actually be to put the United Nations Security Council in the worst of all possible worlds. If that was your view as a country you would be better off to veto resolution one and never allow resolution two to arise because, as I say, you would by voting for one and vetoing two be putting the United Nations Security Council in an impossible position. I wonder why you think that is likely to happen and why it is a problem.
  20. (Mr Straw) I did not say it was likely to happen. All I was trying to do was to explain to the Chairman why these discussions take a long time because there are fears on both sides. One can equally turn the point on its head, as I have done on many occasions when talking to my French and Russian counterparts, and say that I do not believe that the United States Government or the United Kingdom Government would participate in military action against Iraq if it were not justified. Everybody involved in these very intensive negotiations, from and including President Bush, wants to see a peaceful resolution to Saddam Hussein flagrant violation of international law if that is remotely possible. What is being teased out in these intensive discussions is the routes that events may take so that we are all clear about the likely actions we will take and positions that will be taken by the different Member States in the event, for example, that there is a violation so that we are able to square the circle or deal with these anxieties on both sides. May I say, Mr Chairman, that when I said to Mr Chidgey, I think it was, that there was not anything in the existing draft resolutions relating to sanctions, that is correct.

    Mr Chidgey

  21. What about previous resolutions?
  22. (Mr Straw) Mr Ricketts has reminded me that in 1284 there are provisions for the lifting of sanctions and those would still apply, but only when we have certified that Iraq is back in compliance.

  23. Chairman, it is worth stressing that previous experience shows us that inspections are not in fact totally reliable in terms of finding weapons of mass destruction. We could find ourselves in a situation where sanctions are lifted and just a little while after weapons of mass destruction are still available to Saddam Hussein.
  24. (Mr Straw) There is a variety of possibilities. The inspectors will be intent on doing an extremely thorough job before they offer any certification. Their knowledge base will depend not only on what physical facilities they find but also what access they have to data, to records, and so on. They may be fortunate, they may not. I have no confidence in the Iraqi regime, let me make this plain. We would not be here if any of us had any confidence in the Iraqi regime, but I am someone who does have considerable confidence both in the IAEA and in UNMOVIC, and both Blix and ElBaradei as I speak are before the Security Council giving a presentation to them.

    Andrew Mackinlay

  25. There are two aspects I want to ask the Foreign Secretary. One I have given Mr Dowse notice of on our laboratories and internal chemistry labs but I will come to that in a moment. Because of time can I merge together two points? Both in the United States and when we have had witnesses here, including a former Ambassador to Iraq, I have bounced off them the concept that perhaps Saddam might not understand absolutely what is before him: one, that we really do mean business, "we" being the United Kingdom and allies, the United States, but also, taking up the point you responded to Sir John Stanley on, if he complies we are not in the business as such of regime change. Witnesses, both in the United States and here, have said that they share the anxiety that this man probably might not understand. I use the analogy of the Cuba missile crisis where you did have intelligent people at both ends of the spectrum who nevertheless did use secret interlocutors to make it quite clear, one, the gravity of the situation, but also the key to unlocking the situation. I wonder if you can give us some reassurance that that point has been taken on board. Also, flowing from that is that I am concerned that even later on this afternoon my colleagues may quite rightly ask you about the legal legitimacy of the concept of self-defence under the UN Charter. We have been through this before. As a politician who is defending the Government I am frustrated about the presentational aspects. Rather than going down that road about whether or not it poses a threat and therefore you have got to take defence, we really ought to be emphasising here in the United Kingdom and our United States colleagues that it is a question of enforcement of the United Nations authority. I think we have got off on a wrong tack and I put to you that rather than going along with this business about whether or not you have got a right and there is an imminent threat to the united States coast from Saddam Hussein, we ought to be saying that what is at stake is the United Nations. That is a) and b) I want to put down and I will come on to the laboratories afterwards.
  26. (Mr Straw) I agree with you. Whether that has come across fully or not is for others to judge. I can only say that in all the speeches I have ever made about this I have said that it is the authority of the UN that is at stake and I recall that at our party conference I went through all week saying that it is not the United States, it is not the United Kingdom but the United Nations authority that is at stake in this. Therefore it is not the responsibility alone of the UK or of the US but of the United Nations. That firm position must be taken in respect of Iraq and it is about the authority of the United Nations. That is why I believe that the Security Council has such a responsibility to grip this issue; it is very important that it does. It cannot dodge it. Otherwise, for sure the authority of the international order so painstakingly built up over a period of almost 60 years will be at stake with very serious consequences well beyond Iraq.

  27. What about Saddam understanding, because there are one or two people who believe he might not fully understand?
  28. (Mr Straw) All the evidence is that he does understand when there is a clear threat of force and he is faced with the alternative. That is why he complied post the 1991 defeat. For sure, alongside complying he worked hard to destabilise the inspectors and to split the international community and he ceased fully to comply and then to comply at all at the point where he had succeeded splitting the international community to the point at which the inspectors found it impossible to do their job. I just say this to you, Mr Mackinlay. There is a reason why in the space of three days, between September 11 and September 14, the position of the Iraqi Government went through a 180 degree turn on whether to have the inspectors in. As sure as I sit here, on September 11 the Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister was saying, "We will not have inspectors", and on September 14 as I was leaving New York, they said (the same people), "We will have inspectors in". Why were they saying that? Because they had suddenly digested the fact that the international community was getting extremely impatient with the excuses, lies and prevarication from the Iraqi regime and that there had to be the beginnings of compliance. Have they been told about the consequences? Yes. I know that. I have had it from people who have spoken to them.

  29. I am grateful for that. I will not probe you further on that. A nod is as good as a wink. I am satisfied with that.
  30. (Mr Straw) Foreign ministers I have spoken to and heads of government have themselves been in to see Saddam Hussein and told him in words of one syllable about the consequences.

  31. Last week, technically on another inquiry, on the Biological Weapons Convention, I was questioning Mr Dowse who has accompanied you this afternoon. I really am concerned with a degree of some urgency about our postgraduate institutions in this country. The way I understand it there is very little supervision of what is going on, partly because of sheer volume and the old days when we were not so exercised about these things, like pre-September 11. There is a transient scientific community in this country which brings us a lot of money and there is also the need for academic freedom, which I accept, but nevertheless we do not know who is doing what this very afternoon in some of our laboratories in our academic institutions, what they are literally here for, where they come from and what they are keeping in the back of the fridge. I put it in simple terms. Since I met Mr Dowse last week I have probed one or two people who are in this field and privately they will say to me, "Yes, you have got a point, Mackinlay".
  32. (Mr Straw) You have a point.

  33. I do, yes, of some validity, I should stress to you. You were Home Secretary and are now Foreign Secretary; you have got the Intelligence Service under you. I and I think members of this Committee are deeply concerned and I think we would be reassured if you said, "Yes, we are looking into this", because it cannot be a satisfactory state of affairs. We really do not know what is happening in our institutions and, I put it to you, who they are.
  34. (Mr Straw) There is a resumed Biological Weapons Convention taking place on 11 November, Monday week, and this is a high personal priority for me. I published a Green Paper about the Biological Weapons Convention earlier in the year. There are a lot of detailed discussions going on. I am very anxious indeed to see some progress made internationally and for the gap between the various parties to be closed. We currently use a voluntary scheme. I think there are many advantages in using a voluntary scheme. If the Committee says to me, after having looked at this, "We think you ought to look at this again", then we shall do so. That is the best I can say. If this is your judgment I will certainly look at it again.

  35. Your colleague did undertake to give us some more details anyway. I do not want to prolong the meeting but I do think we need, even if it is only confidence, some greater details on this.
  36. (Mr Straw) We can provide you with those but it is probably best if they are provided confidentially. Our science base here generally is very large. There are various indicators for the depth and breadth of our science base which includes a disproportionate number of citations of British papers, a disproportionate number of Nobel prizewinners in the scientific field and so on. There are many other indicators and maintaining and developing our science base is extremely important. The second point is that the boundary between some science whose application is for military purposes and some science whose application is for civilian purposes can be very blurred indeed, and this is most obvious in the area of biology and biochemistry and many other areas as well. You have got to be careful because there are issues here of the climate for scientific endeavour as well as genuine issues of academic freedom, so you have got to balance a number of factors. However, as I say, we are happy to look at this again but it is better if we brief you in confidence about all this.


  37. I anticipate that Mr Mackinlay will ensure that the Committee come back to this point.
  38. (Mr Straw) If you think we ought to have a look at it, we will have a look at it.

    Mr Olner

  39. To take you, Foreign Secretary, back to the UN, it is France and Russia who seem to be holding out against any sort of agreed statement. Given events over the weekend and the experiences there, the particularly nasty form of terrorism within Moscow itself, have you any private thoughts as to how we can get France to be a more honest broker?
  40. (Mr Straw) If you had the French Foreign Minister, Dominique de Villepin, in front of you, -----

  41. If he came.
  42. (Mr Straw) I am sure he would accept the invitation. His English is significantly better than my French, but if you had him in front of you I am sure he would say that it was the United States and the United Kingdom who were holding out against an agreement. Even my Russian counterpart would put it in similar terms. What is happening here is that there is a discussion taking place between the five members of P5. Everybody is agreed about the need to secure compliance by Saddam Hussein of the previous decisions of the Security Council. I have to say that the fact that that has now become a shared imperative represents very significant progress since President Bush's speech on September 12. So far the points of debate are on how that is to be achieved. My own sense is that the areas of difficulty between the parties are reducing. I hope that we will reduce them still further. We cannot be sure but that is the position we are in.

    Sir Patrick Cormack

  43. Foreign Secretary, in your statement to the House last week on Bali you talked about the campaign against terrorism lasting years, maybe even decades. Since that statement we have had yet another terrible terrorist outrage. What does the nature of the timing of these acts in Indonesia and in Kuwait, now Moscow, etc, tell us about the state of al-Qaeda? Do you believe that al-Qaeda has indeed been involved in all of these?
  44. (Mr Straw) We do not know for certain. The group which has claimed responsibility and which was obviously immediately involved in the outrage in Moscow was of Chechen rebels, and those in Indonesia were Indonesian rebels, but both groups are known to have links with al-Qaeda. We cannot be certain at the moment about the precise nature of the links in the cases of these particular atrocities. The fact that well over 300 people have been killed and many more injured in terrorist outrages in the space of two weeks should alert us to the continuing threat that we all face from this kind of terrorism, and today we had the shooting of an American diplomat in Oman, the capital of Jordan, and I am afraid to say that the threat is going to stay. Indeed, the combination of failing states, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction by rogue states and international terrorism represents the greatest strategic challenge to the civilised world at the moment and I think for at least the next two decades. We have two so-called asymmetric threats. I have made the point recently in two speeches that I have delivered that in the last year, for example, only one of 24 conflicts identified was a classic conflict between two functioning states. All the rest come within the category of these other threats: conflicts within states, conflicts based on failing states and so on, so these are the new strategic threats and the most immediate and acute threat is from international terrorism which labels itself with the face of Islam but which represents a most profound perversion of Islam and which has a fanaticism based on religious as well as political belief but often, as we saw in Afghanistan, hardened in a failing state and extremely anxious to conspire with those who have access to weapons of mass destruction.

  45. In your statement last week you were talking particularly about British subjects. One accepts that it is exceptionally difficult to give adequate warning without spreading unnecessary panic, that this balance has got to be achieved, but you also said that had there been even a one per cent chance of knowing on September 10 what might happen on September 11 then action should have been taken. Do you believe, and there has been much press speculation, that there was a one per cent chance of terrorists attacking Bali before they struck on the 12th?
  46. (Mr Straw) I dealt with this rather fully in my statement but I am happy to repeat it. We certainly received no intelligence whatever which was sufficient to justify using the word "warning". As I said, what we had was this generic threat information which related to six islands and those six islands taken together cover a 100 million population and 60 per cent of all tourist destinations for western tourists in Indonesia. That was taken into account. It was received on 27 September - I am speaking from recollection but we can give you the letter if that recollection is not accurate - and I think the final threat assessment made by the Security Services and other streams of intelligence by 8 October led to a judgment which I in retrospect think was correct, that we should not change the overall threat levels for Indonesia. It is immensely difficult, Sir Patrick. If we were to react to every piece of intelligence the world would seize up. We would have done the terrorists' job for them. Bear in mind that one of the reasons why intelligence assessment takes some time is that it does not come with a certificate of truth attached to it. Even if it had that they have then got to decide on its value. Quite a lot of intelligence that is fed or picked up is deliberately the opposite of the truth. The difficulty is that we do not know until we really assess it which part is true and which is false. It is a very complex exercise.

    Sir Patrick Cormack: I fully accept that. Thank you very much indeed.

    Mr Olner

  47. Given that over here we had some amber, red, black alerts, goodness knows why, should there not be a continuing grade of advice that the Foreign office give to its nations when they are abroad?
  48. (Mr Straw) We do it all the time. It is constantly updated. I was looking over the weekend at the updating of advice in other countries within South East Asia on the basis of intelligence assessments and the changes will be made public very shortly. All the time one is looking at this. Life has also to go on. Some of us here, including myself, have had direct experience of Irish terrorist outrages and we had to take precautions, but we also had to ensure that we as a society were not defeated by IRA terrorism which, it will be recalled, led to the assassination of a Conservative Member of Parliament just the other side of Bridge Street; it led to an attempt to assassinate the whole of the British Cabinet on not one but two occasions, and led to many innocent people being killed or injured. Life had to go on because if we simply decided to seize up the economy and life altogether the IRA would have won and we could not allow that to happen. That applies equally to the whole of the international community. I personally was once involved in a terrorist attack so I have some sense of what it feels like, albeit I was not badly injured. Life has to go on.

    Mr Maples

  49. Foreign Secretary, of course we completely follow that and I have heard from other people that when the IRA made warnings if you publicised them all life would have ground to a halt. What we are trying to do is to get some idea of where the Foreign Office strikes that balance because we regard perhaps your second most important duty as the protection of British citizens abroad. I wonder if you would deal specifically with one matter which was in The Sunday Telegraph on 20 October, which quoted two US intelligence officers as saying that the CIA had briefed that Bali was a target and had passed that to the British Government two days before the bomb blast but it was not made public, and also that Britain was briefed that Islamic terrorists could be planning to attack night clubs in Bali two days before the blasts. Is that true or false?
  50. (Mr Straw) I will have to write in to the Committee but my recollection is that we could find no provenance for the first part of what was said, that there was a CIA report sent to us two days before the bombing.

  51. There was no source?
  52. (Mr Straw) No provenance for that story in The Sunday Telegraph saying that we received a report from the CIA two days before. That is my clear recollection. If I am wrong of course I will write to the Committee. There are two bases for saying that. One is that people have been through the files and had a look, but the second is this, that what is a matter of public record is that at all material times the advice given by the United States State Department in respect of Bali was the same as was given by the United Kingdom Foreign Office.


  53. And the second point Mr Maples made?
  54. (Mr Straw) That meant that US diplomats themselves from Jakarta were on holiday in Bali at the time of the blast, at least six according to the US Ambassador in Jakarta. It is wholly improbable that had such a warning been received, leaving aside whether it had been passed on to us, the United States would not have acted on it in respect of its own diplomats, so that is why.

    Mr Maples

  55. You said on the first one that you had looked through the files. The second one was saying that Britain was brief that Islamic terrorists could be planning to attack night clubs in Bali two days before the blasts.
  56. (Mr Straw) I have no evidence to that at all. You must not always believe what you see in newspapers.

  57. That is why I am asking.
  58. (Mr Straw) Not even The Sunday Telegraph. I have already told the Committee, as I told the House last week, that the reference to Bali was much more generic information about a threat which we received and it came to us on 27 September and was assessed by 8 October. May I also say that this is exactly the sort of detail which will be examined by the Intelligence and Security Committee.

  59. I just thought that since these two particular matters were in the open it was fair to give you the opportunity to deny them. The second one, according to the newspapers, specifically related to Bali and to night clubs.
  60. (Mr Straw) I have given the answer to that, which is that there was a generic threat which covered six islands.

    Sir John Stanley

  61. Foreign Secretary, going back to the question of Iraq, both you and the Prime Minister have made it very clear that if there is to be the commitment of British military forces in Iraq this will only be done on a clear legally justified basis. It has been reported that the law officers advised the Government that a new UN resolution would be required to provide such a legally justified basis. I am not going to ask you for the law officers' advice because I know what answer I would get, but can I ask you in front of this Committee to say what is the Government's position? Does the Government believe that there is a legally valid basis for the commencement of military operations against Iraq without there being a new UN resolution?
  62. (Mr Straw) The Government's view is that there might be, is the answer to this.

  63. There might be a legally valid basis, not a certain one?
  64. (Mr Straw) It all depends on the circumstances at the time, Sir John, before you get too excited about my answer, and that must be the case. Colleagues will know that there are a number of bases for judgments about whether military action is or is not justified in particular circumstances, one of which is a new Security Council resolution. A second will be existing Security Council resolutions. A third will be rights either under the UN Charter or a customary international statement to use force in certain circumstances, so you have to take them all together. The final judgments will obviously be made on the basis of advice which we will receive from the law officers and which we do not disclose. Both the Prime Minister and I have said that we are obviously committed to ensuring that actions we take are consistent with our obligations in international law. There are so many possible scenarios that I do not think there is a lot of point in speculating about whether force would or would not be justified in this circumstance or that circumstance because we have not got there yet. Would we prefer there to be a resolution or resolutions from the Security Council? Yes. That is why I am devoting so much time and attention to securing exactly that end.

  65. If there is no new UN resolution do you envisage that the legal basis for any commencement of military operations will rest on a pre-emptive right of self-defence or do you think it will rest on the non-compliance by the previous aggressor, namely Iraq, with the previous cease-fire agreement, thereby allowing the members of the previous coalition to recommence hostilities on the basis of non-compliance with the cease-fire?
  66. (Mr Straw) With respect, Sir John, I am not going to be tempted down that path of speculation. I prefer to rest on my previous answer which is that there is a wide range of circumstances. We are talking here about a range of circumstances which are not fully certain at the moment. It depends on the circumstances at the time. No decisions have been made at this stage for us to be involved in military action and I cannot say exactly what the circumstances would be.

  67. I would like to ask you lastly in the legal area on the general issue of international law in relation to pre-emptive strikes on which the Committee took some extensive evidence last week. The US Government, in its National Security Strategy of the United States of America, which was published last month, has stated quite clearly that the existing legal basis for pre-emptive action is no longer valid against the threats which you have outlined to the Committee this afternoon. On page 15 of that document it says that legal scholars and international juries often condition the legitimacy of pre-emption on the existence of an imminent threat and the US administration makes the case that that is not a basis that is really valid any longer when you do not have threats necessarily posed by identifiable nation states, when the threats may come from unseen terrorist groups and using weapons of mass destruction which may be wholly invisible, like biological weapons, and when the first indication of some terrible tragedy is that people in the target area start contracting terrible fatal diseases. I would like to ask you to say on behalf of the Government whether you accept the general thesis that the existing boundary of international law on pre-emption, based on having to demonstrate imminent threat, now looks as if it has been rendered somewhat obsolete or certainly anachronistic by the way in which the threat is developing on the lines I have indicated and you have indicated this afternoon to the Committee.
  68. (Mr Straw) The first thing to say about the national security strategy document is that it is a United States document; it is not ours. The second point is this, that international law, like our own common law, is not a fixed quantum. It changes as circumstances change. If what is being said is that international law has to adapt to threats that were not anticipated even ten years ago, the answer to that has to be yes. It is worth bearing in mind, and I do not know when you took evidence on this but having got into the concept of pre-emption in international law, that it arose, amusingly enough, from the British Government in The Caroline in 1837 deciding to take pre-emptive action against what we would argue was a rather difficult state which we thought was hiding what we regarded as terrorists, and the difficult state was the United States and the terrorists were Canadians. We impounded The Caroline boat and rendered it unsaleable in order to pre-empt action by these marauding bands of Canadians who had been given shelter by the United States, and that led to a protest by the United States and led them to develop the concept of international law. Circumstances have changed since then. I do not speak for a second for the United States Government; they can speak for themselves, but all I can say is that I do not find anything irrational at all about the approach of the US and their desire, which we have to share with the rest of the civilised world, to adjust their mechanisms to deal with the new threats which arose most lucidly on September 11. Had we known on September 10, for example, that the planes which had been hijacked in that way were for certain going to be used as explosives against the World Trade Center, then some difficult judgments would have had to be made about bringing those planes down, and if they had been brought down the correct judgment would have been made, horrible though that would have been. Had we known some weeks before about the possibility of this group of terrorists committing such a terrorist threat, then it would have been wise and sensible and appropriate to have taken military action against them. I read what the United States is saying as not much more than that. It is not that they are going to waste their time identifying some remote academic threat and then removing the government in the state concerned because in the real world life is not like that and governments have to prioritise their actions, but should we now be increasing our efforts against international terrorism and should we be pre-empting the sort of thing they did in Bali and the sort of thing they did in Moscow? Yes indeed. I think of the entirely reasonable demands on me in the House of Commons last Monday for information about what we knew in advance and to improve our intelligence base in the future. All of that is directed to one aim, namely, that we should develop our systems so that we are better able to pre-empt both the possibility of terrorist action and its consequences than we are at the moment.


  69. No-one would doubt that the circumstances you have described would come squarely within imminence and we would not need to look at a wider definition of pre-emption. Before calling Mr Hamilton can I try and sweep up what Mr Mackinlay and Sir John have said in respect of self-defence? Have you ever sought to rely in this case on self-defence under customary law or Fifty One and how would you seek to explain to a British citizen that we as the United Kingdom need to defend ourselves against Iraq? One can understand and easily explain to a British citizen that Kuwait or Saudi Arabia might talk about self-defence. How do we apply that to the United Kingdom?
  70. (Mr Straw) Mr Anderson, apologies for not being tempted down the path of various scenarios. Let me be clear about the position here. We wish to see Saddam Hussein disarmed of his weapons of mass destruction. We wish to see disarmament of those weapons of mass destruction both because of the threat which they pose to his own people, to the region and to the wider international community and also because he is in flagrant defiance of the international community. We have made the world relatively safer over the last 60 years because of the relative success of our international institutions based on the United Nations, and if we want to have a safer world still in the future that system has to be upheld and enforced. That is what I am aiming for. What is the best chance of resolving the Iraqi situation peacefully? It is by preparing to take military action and certainly not speculating publicly about the circumstances in which it would be taken. That is why, I am afraid, I am not willing to be taken down that path. Saddam Hussein should be in no doubt that if he fails to comply with the rule of international law then I believe most people in the international community think that force should then be used.

    Mr Hamilton

  71. That brings me quite conveniently, Foreign Secretary, to the questions I want to ask which relate to the consequences of war against Iraq. You will recall in1991 during the then Gulf War when Saddam Hussein's back was against the wall that he fired missiles into Israel. Thirty nine Scud missiles in all were fired and at the time the then Prime Minister of Israel, Yitzhak Shamir, refused to retaliate and the world praised Israel for that. The current Prime Minister of Israel, Ariel Sharon, according to some sources has made it clear that he would not take such a view and that should he be attacked during another war against Iraq he would retaliate. Can I ask you whether the British Government has discussed any of this with the Israeli Government and whether in your view or that of the British Government the Israeli Government would retaliate? I should say that while we were in Washington there were very mixed views about this. Some thought that the Israelis would retaliate and would be right to do so; others thought there was no chance of that happening.
  72. (Mr Straw) I personally have not discussed this with representative of the Israeli Government. I have discussed it with others. It is perfectly possible that British diplomats have discussed it in Tel Aviv or it has been discussed at an official level. The decisions that have to be made are ones made by the Government of Israel. If Shimon Peres or the Defence Minister were on the stand here he would give you the same answer as I am about to give you, which is that I am not going to say any more and it would depend on the circumstances at the time. Every country has a right to act in self-defence under Article Fifty One of the United Nations Charter. As I say, decisions which Israel make will be a matter for Israel. Are we looking at possible consequences of military action in the region? Yes, of course.

  73. I would like to move on because I think there is a very important question that we have touched on about regime change. The Prime Minister on 24 September in the special debate we had in the Commons said, "Iraq deserves to be led by someone who can abide by international law, not a murderous dictator ...", a sentence which I think we would all agree with. "We have no quarrel with the Iraqi people. Indeed, liberated from Saddam, they could make Iraq prosperous and a force for good in the middle east." The question is this: is our Government currently working with exiled Iraqi groups to consider the future of Iraq after Saddam Hussein?
  74. (Mr Straw) To say we are working with exiled groups would give a wrong impression. There have I think been talks at officials level with the Iraqi opposition groups which are based here, which received information about their views, but to suggest that we are working with them would be over-egging the situation.

  75. But we have had contact with them?
  76. (Mr Straw) Yes.

  77. Can I move on and ask you about the consequences of Saddam being removed from power for the country of Iraq itself? We asked several people in Washington whether they believed that the country would fragment. The general belief was that it would not. What is the British Government's view about this?
  78. (Mr Straw) I have talked a lot to people in the region about this. It was part of the agenda when I visited four of the countries in the region three weeks ago when I went to Cairo, Oman, Kuwait and Teheran. It was a matter which I discussed this morning when I met the Crown Prince of Bahrain here in London. There is a wide measure of agreement by most of Saddam's neighbours about what needs to be done, including, post-disarmament of Iraq, for Iraq's territorial integrity to be maintained. There are points of view about that and anxiety that no-one should take decisions or actions which would destabilise those borders. The borders, as you all know, were basically British inventions some 80 years ago. They do not follow every natural geographic feature in the region, it is all over the map, but they are the borders which are now internationally accepted so it would be unwise to depart from them. I think that there is such a common interest among the states bordering Iraq that first of all it is improbable that any of Iraq's neighbours would take any action to destabilise and fragment Iraq and, secondly, that it has developed in the last 80 years as a single entity, albeit with these three distinct groups, the Kurds, the Shi-ites and the Sunnis, that with proper support to a successor regime its territorial integrity would be enhanced.

  79. You mentioned earlier that you have been to the region and have had discussions in several key capitals. I think one of those, and perhaps one of the most important in the region, is Iran. May I ask you what the Iranians' view was about the possibility of military action against Iraq and whether or not they would intervene?
  80. (Mr Straw) Again, it is for them to say what their views rather than for me. However, you will know that Iran suffered more at the hands of Saddam Hussein than any other country. There are still every day one or two people dying from the effects of the gases of what must be 15 years ago in Iraq. There is very considerable anxiety across Iran about Saddam Hussein and his continuing to build up weapons of mass destruction, and certainly a deep desire to see measures taken to ensure Iraq's compliance with the United Nations Security Council resolutions.

  81. I would like now to move on to the effect of a war in Iraq and the broader struggle against al-Qaeda. Tony Blair said on Australian television on 22 October, just last week: "The purpose of terrorism is not just the act of destruction itself, the purpose of terrorism is as its name applies - to cause terror, to produce chaos, to produce division ... that is why the only way of dealing with it is for people to come together." How do you think an attack on Iraq will affect the cohesion of the international coalition against terrorism?
  82. (Mr Straw) I think it will improve it, is the answer. Military action against Iraq, as military action against anywhere else, has to be justified and would have to be seen to be a last resort. It comes back to the point I made much earlier, that it is fanciful to suggest that any power is going to use military force in a quixotic way and there is no evidence whatever that the United States is intending to. Indeed, President Bush has shown very great patience and caution and is concerned to ensure that there is international legitimacy and support for all the actions he is taking. If military action turns out to be necessary and it is justified, as I say, as a last resort, then I think that it could only indirectly assist the fight against terrorism because it shows the resolve of the international community.

    Mr Hamilton: You do not think that a war against Iraq, even under the circumstances you describe, would fragment and push away Arab Muslim countries?

    Mr Mackinlay: And destabilise it?

    Mr Hamilton

  83. And destabilise it.
  84. (Mr Straw) I personally doubt it. It is something which I discussed in confidence with many of the leaders I met. Of course, there always are, every day, people in the Arab world who wish to stir up violence against the "infidel" West, and we saw that most acutely with Osama Bin Laden. Those people exist. I am afraid they are deeply evil people with a completely perverted idea of humankind and of their own religion. I am afraid to say it has got to a pass where it is only by military action it is going to be possible to defeat them. The idea of dialogue with these people seems to me to be entirely fanciful.

    Mr Chidgey

  85. Can I just carry on that line of questioning with you, Foreign Secretary, if I may, because I think it is an extremely serious part of this examination, particularly for the longer term. From the evidence we have taken and the discussions we have had with many people, both with people in Washington and of course here, many experts are deeply concerned about what I would call the "hijacking" of people's religious beliefs to support international terrorism. The facts make quite frightening reading. I am sure you are familiar with the RAND organisation and you possibly know Bruce Hoffman, one of their terrorism experts, who has produced information from his database to show that in 1996, the last time he had data available, the groups driven in whole or in part by salient religious, theological motive committed ten of the 13 most lethal terrorist attacks in that year. My point is, linking with Mr Hamilton, that should we take military action against Iraq, justified as you say, and should, for example, Al Jazeera be putting television pictures around the Arab world of massive Iraqi civilian casualties, is that not by definition going to further encourage evil people like Osama Bin Laden to recruit many thousands more people under the cloak of people's religious beliefs in the provocation and expansion of international terrorism?
  86. (Mr Straw) Mr Chidgey, if I may, I will just park your "ifs". Of course, it is true that there will be international terrorist organisations, particularly Islamic terrorist organisations who claim Islam to themselves which seek to exploit any situation where military action is taken against an Islamic country. I have to say they sought to exploit, however, military action being taken against the Taliban in Afghanistan in order to free a Muslim country, as they did military action taken to free another Muslim country, Kuwait, in 1991 and to free Muslims in Kosovo in 1998. They will seize on all excuse or none, but the question for us has to be is the military action justified in this case? If it is justified, we will be able to justify it. I have a very, very large Muslim population myself in my own constituency. I remember the anxieties of people over Kosovo and even more so in respect of Afghanistan. Those anxieties are not there now because you can point to the fact that this military action not only was justified at the time but palpably, in retrospect, has been justified because we have freed Muslim people. What I also say to my Muslim friends is look at the record of Saddam Hussein. It happens that his is not a particularly devout regime so one should not think they are all ---

  87. I accept what you say and I think your analysis in terms of logic is absolutely correct. What I am seeking and I think other members of the Committee are seeking is some reassurance that the Government under its foreign policy is launching some form of diplomatic offensive to ensure that the very points that you are putting to us reaches a much broader and more sensitive audience, if I can put it this way, not in this country but in the Middle East. Al Jazeera is there putting its point of view. What are we doing to ensure that the logic of your argument reaches the wider world?
  88. (Mr Straw) We have done a great deal. We have an Islamic Media Unit based in the Foreign Office. One of the areas of very, very great expertise in the Foreign Office (one of many) is that of its Arabists and people with intense understanding and knowledge of the Islamic and Arab world. That unit has been very useful. The kind of conversation which I had in the region three weeks ago with President Mubarak, with King Abdullah of Jordan, with the acting Prime Minister of Kuwait, the Emir ,and also in Teheran with the Foreign Minister and the President, Kharrazi and Khatami are all part of this diplomatic effort and I had a very good conversation - and I am sure he will not mind me saying this part of it - with President Khatami in Iran about his great concern to see a dialogue of nations. He calls it a "dialogue of civilisations". My only difference with him is that I call it a "dialogue of civilisation", singular, because of the important inter-relationship between Islamic traditions/civilisations and the West. We are in error if we think that these are two very separate traditions because they are much more intertwined than many people think. For sure all that is important. At the summit between times discussing le chec force Anglais (?) or even bigger chec Français (?) last Thursday and Friday, we had a very interesting discussion amongst the foreign ministers about the UNDP report which was written by some Arab experts about the relative under-development of the Arab world. That is a really interesting report. So we are looking at all of that to try and build up understanding and change within the Islamic world. That said, Mr Chidgey, I am afraid we are dealing with very mad and very bad people amongst the terrorists. We came to that stage we had with the Fascists during the Second World War - would that we got there earlier - and when you get to that stage you are dealing with people infected with hatred.

    Chairman: I would like to bring in two colleagues, Mr Olner and Sir John Stanley.

    Mr Olner

  89. Briefly, Foreign Secretary, talking to you about Pakistan, given that there is a deep polarisation in that country between secular, democratic parties and the Islamic right wing, how stable do you think the Musharraf regime is and what are the UK doing to stabilise Pakistan?
  90. (Mr Straw) We have given a good deal of support to the Musharraf Government, particularly over the last 18 months. That has included being in the lead on the EU textile agreement which has been of considerable assistance in developing the economy.

  91. It did not work particularly well for him in the last election.
  92. (Mr Straw) Hang on a minute. In Pakistan we have also given President Musharraf encouragement to stick to the roadmap which was laid down by the Pakistani Supreme Court and its judgment about whether the takeover of power by President Musharraf was or was not legitimate, and we applaud him for the fact that he has done so. There have been elections in Pakistan. I am told they produced an unanticipated result. That is what happens when you have elections. I do not think we should throw our hands up in horror simply because there are parties which are called "Islamic" which have been elected. There are parties in our own tradition which are called "Christian Democrats" and "Christian" where the relationship between our religion and political parties is a closer one than many of us would wish to see. My own view is that it is early days in terms of the formation of the government there and there are a number of parties. We need to watch the situation with care and to give support to democratic, secular forces there. That is what we are doing.

    Sir John Stanley

  93. Foreign Secretary, do you share the confidence of the US administration that if there is no new UN resolution in relation to Iraq it will still be relatively easy to put together a significant military coalition against Iraq? Do you consider it is axiomatic that the British Government will be part of that coalition?
  94. (Mr Straw) What I would say on that, as I have said all the way through this evidence, is that we would prefer there to be a Security Council resolution or resolutions. We would also infinitely prefer this to be resolved by peaceful means. I know for certain that it can only be resolved by peaceful means if we are prepared, and prepared to take military action, and we do not therefore rule out the possibility of us being involved in military action, within international law, even if there is no new Security Council resolution. However, we would far prefer there to be a Security Council resolution or resolutions.

  95. You have not answered the first part of my question. Do you share the confidence of the US administration that if there is not a new UN resolution that it will still be relatively easy to put together a significant military coalition?

(Mr Straw) If military action is justified, then putting together a coalition would be relatively straightforward.

Chairman: Foreign Secretary, alas, time is up. The debate will continue. May I thank you and your colleagues.