TUESDAY 20 NOVEMBER 2001
Donald Anderson, in the Chair
Memorandum submitted by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Examination of Witnesses
RT HON JACK STRAW, a Member of Parliament, Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, MR STEPHEN WRIGHT, CMG, Deputy Under-Secretary of State, MR PETER RICKETTS, Political Director, and MR RICHARD WILKINSON, Director, Americas, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, examined.
Chairman: Can I ask Sir John Stanley to open the questioning.
Sir John Stanley
(Mr Straw) Our policy in terms of deployment of assets, and here we do not distinguish except (and this is a matter for the MoD) in terms of risk to personnel, between ground forces and other assets. The policy is set by President Bush and our Prime Minister in terms of the overall objectives of this military action which are, as you know, to bring Osama bin Laden and his key associates to justice or justice, to him to break up completely the al-Qaeda terrorist network, and because the Taliban refuse to co-operate to break up the Taliban as well. That is the policy. There is then a question of what military assets do you deploy in order to achieve those objectives? Into those military assets comes the issue of ground forces and the Prime Minister and the Defence Secretary have made clear that we have been ready to deploy appropriate ground forces to meet those policy objectives. As you know, there are some of our ground forces deployed at Bagram airfield just outside Kabul and they have been there for a few days. Whether more are deployed there depends to a significant degree on the findings of the current troop of UK and also US personnel who are there. Part of their purpose was that of reconnaissance, making an assessment of the state of airfield and so on, and from that whether that airfield could be used for further troop deployments into the airfield, and then there is the question of what troop deployments do you make. I hope that answers your question.
(Mr Straw) No, not at all. Bear in mind that our deployments take place within the CENTCOM operation, the Central Command of the US under General Tommy Franks. At this level of integrated command structure we are not going to put forces in without the agreement of the United States with a full understanding (it is not just tacit agreement) about what our troops will do to add to the overall work of the military coalition. That is the point. Our troops are not there as some independent operation, they are there with the United States in support of them. Our troops may end up in different places from the US troops, that is a different matter, but it is with their agreement.
(Mr Straw) No I am not, as it happens. The main thing that has happened is that the situation has changed so rapidly. Ten days ago there were still people writing that the Taliban were an unbreakable force and that bombing the Taliban would simply harden their resolve. I know there is nobody round this table -
(Mr Straw) I know. I am saying it does not apply to anybody here, I know that to be the case. However, there were plenty of people who were saying that was the situation, even ten days ago, and the rapidity of the collapse of the Taliban has been very striking, there is no question about that, and therefore the environment which the military are working in has also been changing very rapidly. I know Mr Hoon has made this point. The troops went into Bagram airport not least to make a technical assessment of the state of the runway and on the basis of that for further decision to be made about whether or not more forces should be deployed. Of course there are wider considerations that apply there. I do not think we should be criticised, least of all should Mr Hoon or the Chief of the Defence Staff be criticised for having given notice to a certain number of troops that they were on reduced notice to move. You cannot win in this situation. We did not know what the situation was going to be there, whether the troops were going to be needed very quickly, whether the troops could be got in very quickly. If we had not given the troops notice to move we would not have had those options. We are open to criticism that these troops have been given notice and they have not been moved. Well, that is a criticism everybody is willing to take but it is a small matter compared to having flexible forces available.
Sir John Stanley
(Mr Straw) He is the British Government's representative in Kabul. He is not accredited to any organisation or anybody purporting to be a government, let us make that clear, and everybody in Kabul understands that, but he is our representative and since he arrived there with his colleagues he has been doing a great deal of work obviously, particularly, in talking to the principals of the Northern Alliance. He has talked to Mr Abdullah, the so-called Foreign Minister of the Northern Alliance, he has talked to a number of the other principals. He is hoping to see General Fahim(?) . This is what he told me shortly before I came could to this evidence session - and from very deep knowledge of Afghanistan and Pakistan he is developing contacts and helping to meet the objective which I talked to Mr Olner about which is of producing a broad-based multi-ethnic government.
(Mr Straw) Mr Brahimi is not in Afghanistan at the moment, as you know he has been in the United Nations. We are permanent members of the Security Council and it is extremely important that UN Ambassadors like Mr Brahimi should have our full support, which they do, but also that we are able to provide them with a perspective from a bilateral relationship with one of the great parties involved in the military coalition which he may not be able to get for himself. The reverse is also true. There is also Mr Dobbins (?) who is out in the region as well and there will be other interlocutors such as Vendrell (?), who is effectively Brahimi's deputy who is now out there, so this is a very co-operative relationship. We have from the outset made clear our support for the United Nations. I also have to say that through the appointment, for example, of Robert Cooper as our representative on Afghanistan, and through the speech which I made to the International Institute for Strategic Studies four weeks ago setting out, well before the military action appeared to be succeeding, a framework for the future of Afghanistan, we have been able to be one of the leaders of the debate within the international community about that future and how we take the steps to achieve that.
(Mr Straw) Mr Bergne was based to the North of Afghanistan to begin with. He speaks both Tajik and Uzbek as well as other languages. He went in as a roving representative but initially over the border and as the Northern Alliance were moving he was based for a bit in Faisalabad.
(Mr Straw) No, he is still there --- He is returning tomorrow I have been told.
(Mr Straw) There is no fundamental difference whatsoever in terms of policy. If you heard what President Bush was saying at the General Assembly, you will know that he is fully supportive of the United Nations Security Council Resolutions and had he not been they would not have been passed. He is behind the efforts of Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Ambassador Brahimi and he, although he must speak for himself, wishes to see the situation stabilised. There is a separate issue which is not a matter of difference but where the debate is evolving about what, if any, outside forces could be accommodated within Afghanistan alongside the beginnings of the broad-based civil administration of the kind that may come out in the conference in Germany at the weekend. The situation keeps changing and we, therefore, have to continue the assessment as to what kind of forces may be required and then who should provide them, but it is well-known that there has been a good deal of debate about whether some of the OIC countries working alongside the United Nations (either under the current United Nations authority) or some future authority could provide the core of those forces for a peace-keeping role.
(Mr Ricketts) Could I add one other element on the engagement of the US in terms of the future of Afghanistan. They are hosting today in Washington a humanitarian conference to begin to look forward to the reconstruction of Afghanistan co-chaired by Secretary of State Colin Powell.
(Mr Straw) That makes the point that they are engaged. There is no suggestion whatever of what you describe as a fundamental difference. I notice from the evidence that was given at the end of last month this stuff about whether the Bush administration is concerned about failed states or nation-building or state-building, it is slightly esoteric, it was set many months ago and in practice they are as committed as we are to rebuilding the society of Afghanistan and to ensuring that there is a well-functioning state.
Chairman: Before I call Mr Pope on the coalition I know that Sir Patrick has a question on Afghanistan but I know that Mr Olner has to go shortly, so Mr Olner, one question?
(Mr Straw) About Saudi Arabia and Pakistan? I will deal with them separately, if I may. I do not think in either case the fact that quite a number of people who have been fighting for the Taliban appear to have come from those countries - and we do not know what the numbers are - will have any significant impact on the stability of those two states. Both have been vocal in their support of the fight against terrorism. Pakistan, of course, shares a long border with Afghanistan and the history of the last ten years is a matter for the record. All of us have applauded the courage and statesmanship that President Musharaff has shown but again there were all sorts of predictions when he embarked on this path of an alliance with the military coalition against terrorism and positioned Pakistan in this way, that he would be undermined by street demonstrations, that there would be some coup against him. In practice, the numbers that turned out on the street, even at the height of the bombing when it appeared there was no successful outcome, were many fewer than anticipated and many fewer than you get in a normal week in Pakistan. And so far as we can judge his position in the country has been strengthened and will particularly be strengthened now that the Taliban are in flight and they can be seen across the Arabic and Muslim world for what they are and were. As for Saudi Arabia, I do not believe that the fact that there were some people from that country who were involved with the Taliban is going to have any effect on the stability of the Government of Saudi Arabia.
Sir Patrick Cormack
(Mr Straw) It is our intention that we should be fully engaged with a civil administration and then in time with what I hope to be a fully functioning fully recognised state. The exact point at which you appoint an Ambassador is a judgment you need to make at the time and we certainly would not recognise a state of Afghanistan until it had got to the point where it was going to be recognised widely.
(Mr Straw) At that point when I wish to appoint an Ambassador and strengthen our post, yes, but meanwhile do I wish to see our effort in Afghanistan increasingly strengthened? Yes. And I know that Clare Short, Secretary of State for International Development, shares that view as well. Clare has been telling her Committee, and I am sure will tell you too, that DFID has commendably been right in the lead in the international aid effort in Afghanistan.
(Mr Straw) It has reduced the threat significantly, of that there is no doubt, but it has not eliminated the threat even from the al-Qaeda organisation because we are far from certain that the people involved in the al-Qaeda organisation have all themselves been eliminated or are now captured. There is evidence, as you know, about them operating in other countries. It has reduced the threat in two ways, one, because it has very significantly undermined the capacity which they had and, secondly, because those people involved have felt the reaction of the whole of the civilised world against this to a degree which I think, frankly, they did not anticipate. And they have also seen that there is nobody in the world who is with them.
(Mr Straw) I am not going to go into the details of intelligence. We think he is still in Afghanistan and in a narrower area than he was before.
(Mr Straw) So far we are and I think the signs have been better than most anticipated. All of us are aware of the history of the Northern Alliance. We come at that with open eyes. When I spoke to Stephen Evans he said to me that it was encouraging that all the key elements of the United Front (the official name of the Northern Alliance) were going to be represented and represented together at the talks in Germany, and he saw that as an important sign. Mr Illsley has seen the terrible pictures as well as I have. The Northern Alliance has been more careful in the way it has operated than many expected and feared and we are glad of that, although we have open eyes on the situation. They know that there was huge pent up anger against the Taliban and they have seen that expressed by the rapidity with which people have thrown off the rules which the Taliban imposed on them. This was like Naziism towards the end of the War. Of course, people had to stay under the cosh because there was no alternative but the moment that went, so did the imposition of the Taliban's theory go as well. If any of these groups wish to maintain the support of their peoples, my judgment is that they will have to operate in a different way in the future than they have in the past. They need to do that because they will understand they have got to maintain that support but also the eyes of the world are watching them, the ears of the world will be listening to them, and we will be monitoring and engaged with what they are doing. Although some of those people have a propensity to do terrible things, it also has to be said that the rest of the world has not played a terrific part in the past in terms of Afghanistan. That is why we have to change the way we behave. As I said at the United Nations General Assembly, there have to be no more "great games" with the Afghan people the victim.
(Mr Straw) I have seen no evidence to that effect. I have said that publicly, I said that standing alongside Secretary of State Colin Powell at a press conference when I was last in Washington. It comes down to the "ifs" that you raise. What I said then, and what I will repeat, is that you only take military action in those circumstances if the evidence in favour of taking military action is of sufficient weight and if there are no other alternatives for achieving your objective than military action. Neither condition is there in respect of Iraq at present.
(Mr Straw) The fact that we put our name to the publication rather than the United States does not suggest there is a disagreement, this must not be implied because this is to misunderstand the nature of the relationship. Sometimes it is more sensible for us to do things and sometimes it is more sensible for the US to do things. The US, I am quite certain, I know, were very happy that we should have published evidence in that way. There were some really difficult judgments about publishing that evidence because it was significantly drawn from intelligence although a great deal of it was historical. As to the future I cannot give any guarantees one way or the other, Mr Pope. Of course, there is a good argument in terms of public support for making clear as far as you can what the evidence is on which you are taking action. Against that you have to protect intelligence sources, particularly human intelligence sources, and often that is (as it was with the publication of this document) the overwhelming consideration.
(Mr Straw) First of all, on the Middle East, yes, the conflict in the Middle East has unquestionably helped create a climate in which terrorists can both hide and breed. It does not excuse the terrorism for one second but we need to understand that and, in any event, the Middle East is a conflict crying out for a solution and the area is one crying out for peace. For that reason I greatly welcomed the speech which was made yesterday by Secretary of State Colin Powell setting out a clear vision for the area - a state of Israel, properly respected by its neighbours, not subject to the kind of terrorism that the state of the Israel has been subject to in the past, with its citizens and residents free from fear, and alongside that a viable state of Palestine, again respected by Israel and where both sets of communities can live in peace with security. The speech was significant for that vision for setting out the steps to be taken. One of the frustrations about the situation is the steps are set out in the Tenet plan and in the Mitchell Report. It has also gripped some of the more difficult issues like the future of Jerusalem and the refugee issue, and those two have to be considered actively in due course as part of the process. As for Kashmir, Kashmir is near the top of my agenda of concerns but the resolution of Kashmir is difficult. Kashmir is an issue I know about in considerable detail, it is an issue which I have followed in very great detail, but it is also a matter which has to be resolved by negotiation between India and Pakistan. If we are asked, by agreement, by both parties to play a role then we are happy to consider that, but it has to be resolved by direct negotiation and that is why I was hopeful when the Agra discussions got going earlier in the summer. They did not have the outcome all of us would have wished but we hope very much that that kind of negotiation gets back.
(Mr Straw) Our policy has not changed, neither has the United States' - and that is a matter of record. I was concerned about the Middle East before 11 September, so was the United States, Colin Powell visited the region. Both the Tenet and Mitchell reports pre-date 11 September.
(Mr Straw) I was talking about a state of Palestine before 11 September, I am very happy that others have also been talking about it because I think we ought to say what we mean here and that is the position we are in. There is a difference between a Palestinian state which can be used as a play on words for Jordan and a state of Palestine which is a different, and a viable one as well, so we are not talking about Bantustans or their equivalent in the minds of some people. I am looking for the words that Colin Powell used. He said while the fight against terrorism, ie directly, is our top priority, it is not our only priority. In these first years of the 21st Century we have other interests too important to ignore", and then he went to say that "winning the war against terrorism creates new opportunities to use American leadership and power to make our world safer, freer and more prosperous", and he then brings out the problems in the Middle East. We had a duty to push for a more peaceful future for the people of the Middle East before 11 September, that duty is still there but, if you like, its urgency has been increased and we need to get on with it. It obviously needs a change in attitude by both sides of the conflict in the Middle East.
(Mr Straw) If there is a role for us. We have always been active. Certainly if there were an agreement for us to provide observers, I am sure we would do so. As to providing peace-keeping forces, that is a much bigger question and I doubt whether that question will arise for us, not least because of our history in the area. If it did we would consider it.
(Mr Straw) There are bigger issues about the economies of the countries in the Middle East and trying to enhance their prosperity. We have to do all we can to support states which are in difficulties. That is part of the discussion which we had with the King of Jordan when he was here. We have to reduce the pall which Iraq throws over the rest of the area. That is why at the UN General Assembly I spent a lot of my time in discussions about whether we could achieve a better sanctions regime than the one we have now and a much more sharply focused one.
(Mr Straw) Each country is different. We have very good relations with President Mubarak and I have good relations with Mr Moussa (?), the Foreign Minister. Egypt, as it happens, is in receipt of a very significant amount of aid from the United States, very large sums of aid, and we will continue to do all we can to improve prosperity in Egypt with other projects to assist them in the development of educational projects and so on.
(Mr Straw) If you are saying should we have one definition of terrorism rather than two or three, my answer is yes. I personally take a pretty robust view about terrorism because although in any one situation the arguments being made in favour of armed conflict within a given state may be plausible, it is hard to point to a dispute in which terrorists are operating where the net result of that dispute is a much greater degree of unhappiness and killing and suffering. We cannot go on, in my view, therefore tolerating the territorial terrorism that we have seen in the past. On Chechnya, we understand the position that the Russian Government has taken. At the same time we have said to them and will continue to say to them that they must act with the same discretion and regard for human rights that we ourselves had to observe in relatively similar situations of terrorism. That does not mean that you can deal with every situation with kid gloves but it does not mean you go in for gratuitous violence. All the international conventions recognise that the degree to which you are permitted to use force depends on the threat but also it does not permit gratuitous violence or death and we should not entertain that. As far as China is concerned, discussions with China continue and in all the discussions I have ever had with the Chinese interlocutor - and that goes back to when I was Home Secretary - the issue of human rights was raised and there was gradually a sense that China recognises that it is in its own interests to improve its respect for human rights within its own country.
(Mr Straw) The UN Resolution set down an agenda in terms of action against terrorism. You may know that Sir Jeremy Greenstock, who is our Permanent Representative to the United Nations, was made Chairman of the Security Council Committee Against Terrorism and that was a very great personal compliment to him. It is very unusual, I am told, for any Permanent Member of the Security Council to have their Permanent Representative made a Chairman of the Security Council Committee, but he is doing considerable work there in checking on what individual countries are doing, what measures are needed. You will know that we here in this country were taking measures before the House of Commons yesterday and I am delighted that my successor and colleague David Blunkett put up a robust argument in favour of those proposals and as far as I know they were carried and they build on the Terrorism Act 2000 I introduced when I was Home Secretary. The necessity of these proposals, as I recognise them to be, is accepted by the House and by the other players. The Chancellor has been taking the lead in terms of cutting back on the use of the financial systems to sponsor or support terrorism and we have been working alongside the US on measures to block bank accounts better to track the use of funds and so on. A great deal of work is going on. You may want a memorandum on this.
(Mr Straw) Some countries are on target, some are not and that is true inside the European Union. There are some obtuse arguments taking place among Member States about particular aspects of the measures. I think they will be resolved, issues about for example the fast track warrants and so on as to what kind of crimes should be associated with these warrants. Some people argue they should only be "terrorist" crimes whilst others, including the United Kingdom, are arguing that since most of the crimes which terrorists commit are not terrorist specific crimes, they are crimes like murder, causing explosions, theft, drugs, and they ought to be available for the wider range of crimes. Mr Chairman, I omitted in answer to a question from Mr Chidgey to say something about the European Union in relation to the Middle East peace process and I apologise for that. Just to say that we are heavily involved in the discussion inside the General Affairs Council of the European Union on the Middle East. We had a further very detailed discussion at the GAC yesterday which I attended before I went to Barcelona. I am clear and we are clear that here is an area where the EU can be most influential by working alongside the United States, not deciding to engage in separate initiatives in terms of the peace process but by co-operating with the United States as well as making a very distinctive contribution which we do in the EU for example by our very significant support to the Palestinian Authority.
(Mr Wright) We are in touch with the Russian authorities about the risks here. We discuss and have discussed for some time pre-11 September with the Russian authorities about the risks of terrorism in the WMD field. We discuss with them (within the limits of state security that they impose and we impose) the safety of nuclear materials in Russia and the United States, I believe, does similarly. So we have been conscious of these issues for quite some time. I think since 11 September those discussions and the degree of frankness has somewhat improved because there is no doubt about the political commitment of the Russian Government to combatting these threats, as we are committed. So there is a certain enhancement of political commitment but the problems are inherently very difficult to get at because they are acute problems of analysis and intelligence about the degree of the threat.
(Mr Straw) I understand what you are saying. I am afraid you will have to ask them as to whether their very welcome support of the coalition against terrorism will lead to a change in their attitude towards Tibet. That is not an issue I could conceivably speculate on. So far as I am concerned however, we are very pleased with the support which they have offered and it has been vocal and was volunteered at an early stage.
(Mr Straw) I do not think we should see it in that sequential way. There has long been concern about countries which either knowingly or negligently allow terrorists to operate in their territory. If you are talking to me about HAMAS and Hizbollah and Islamic Jihad, I proscribed those organisations when I was Home Secretary and took a very robust view about their activities. I banned the military wings. We have to take a lot of action against such groups and we have to begin to engage in intensive dialogue with the countries which are harbouring, sheltering or just being negligent about the behaviour of these groups but continue that engagement. When the Prime Minister was in Syria I know these matters were raised there. When I was in Iran very publicly I raised these matters as well as privately because I was thanked for the fact that I had banned the MEK terrorist organisation (which is an Iranian terrorist organisation which appears to be backed in part by the Iraqis) and so grateful were the Iranian people for the banning of MEK I am told that the British Embassy in Teheran received over 40,000 individual letters of thanks for this action. When I was asked about this publicly I said we are grateful for this but you also need to know that I banned, amongst others, HAMAS, Hizbollah, Islamic Jihad and therefore we have to have a dialogue about these organisations as well and the degree to which they are supported, and one of them in particular, is supported by Iran. The fight against terrorism has to go on because the world is not a safe place as long as terrorists can operate and although sometimes terrorists confine themselves to one area they seek support, they seek money, they seek arms and they seek to trade in drugs way outside that area as well.
Chairman: Secretary of State, the campaign against terrorism will continue and I trust that this, the first of your dialogues with the Select Committee, will continue. May I thank you warmly on behalf of the Committee.