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David Miliband: Yes; my hon. Friend raises an important point, not least in the light of the Biden-Lugar Bill, sponsored by the now Vice President-elect in his previous capacity as a Senator, which proposed a tripling of American aid to Pakistan. We all know that it is not just spending aid money, but how it is spent and what it is spent on, that is vital. Certainly, an important part of our discussions will be on what is needed in Pakistan,
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which is, after all, a country where the military budget of its Government is three, four or five times that of the education budget—and that is before the military spending from the US is included, which totalled about $10 billion or $11 billion over the past six years. There needs to be a fundamental shift.

Mr. David Hamilton (Midlothian) (Lab) rose—

David Miliband: I shall take one more intervention and then, if I may, I shall make some progress.

Mr. Hamilton: A serious discussion is taking place in America about it recognising India as a preferred partner, as opposed to Pakistan. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it would be a mistake for the President-elect to consider that, because we should be supporting the delicate democracy in Pakistan?

David Miliband: My hon. Friend is right that it is important that the United States has good relations with both India and Pakistan. The civil nuclear deal that has been agreed between India and the United States brings India within the remit of the International Atomic Energy Agency for the first time. Given the proliferation that has occurred though the A. Q. Khan network, there are particular sensitivities and difficulties about the relationship between the US and Pakistan on the nuclear file, but asserting the need for both Pakistan and India to have good relations with America—and they need to be comprehensive, not just military—is an important part of discussions.

A third part of the drive in Afghanistan and Pakistan is the need for a clear political strategy for supporting democratic leadership in both countries. Next year and 2010 will be critical for Afghanistan, with presidential elections and then parliamentary elections planned. We need to help the Government to register voters and to provide security so that people are free to cast their votes. We will continue to support the Government in Pakistan and work to cement the democratic transition in these very difficult times, not least with the multilateral Friends of Democratic Pakistan group, first convened in September.

The fourth and final aspect is development assistance to ensure that citizens on both sides of the border have access to basic services and opportunities for education and employment, because underdevelopment and lack of opportunity provide fertile ground for extremism. We have committed about £190 million to Afghanistan for 2008-09, and are doubling our assistance to Pakistan, which by 2011 will be the UK’s second largest aid programme after India, the Indian aid programme obviously declining as Indian economic wealth grows.

Today is the 60th anniversary of the universal declaration of human rights, and there is arguably no greater threat to human rights than conflict. The European continent has had the longest period of continuous peace since Roman times. However, while 2008 saw conflict averted in the Balkans, conflict returned to the Caucasus. In 2009 we need to learn the lessons: continued pre-emptive deployment of military and civilian missions in the western Balkans, combined with systematic political outreach to all the countries of the western Balkans, using the lure of European Union membership to help drive internal reform; and hard-headed engagement
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with Russia, standing up for the independence, sovereignty and democracy of newly independent nations on Russia’s borders, while also engaging Russia on issues of mutual interest.

Further afield, there is, unfortunately, hot conflict festering. Next year needs to be a decisive year in the Arab-Israeli conflict. I fear that unless it is, the prospect of a two-state solution will slip away. As I said in our debate yesterday, 2008 has seen close Israeli-Palestinian dialogue, a new Israel-Syria dialogue, and a fragile ceasefire in Gaza, but settlement activity is undermining the viability of a Palestinian state on 1967 borders. Meanwhile, the increased fragmentation and disunity of the Palestinians threatens to make it harder for them to implement, if not agree, a deal. When people visit and talk to ordinary citizens on both sides, as many of us have done, it is clear that they are losing faith in the peace process.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): Will the Secretary of State use this opportunity to condemn the Israeli blockade of Gaza—the denial of food, water, energy and medical supplies to people there—the devastation that it is causing to people’s lives, and the bitterness that it is creating? Does he not think that Israel must be held responsible for what is collective punishment?

David Miliband: I am happy to repeat what I have made clear on many occasions, both publicly and privately with the Israeli Government, which is that the delivery of food, medicine and energy into the Gaza strip is essential to remedy what is a disastrous humanitarian situation. Equally, it is important to say that the rocket attacks that continue to come out of Gaza are the other side of the coin. They fuel the argument that when Israel vacates land, that land is then used to attack Israel. The misery of the Palestinians and the insecurity of Israelis are two sides of the same coin, and there are responsibilities on both sides.

It is increasingly apparent to me that the only solution in the middle east is a genuinely comprehensive solution—what I call a 23-state solution that ties in not just Israel and Palestine, but all the countries of the Arab League, building on the Arab peace initiative of 2002. The logic is simple. Only a comprehensive solution offers Israel what it really craves—stability and security in the region—and only with Arab political support will the Palestinians be willing and able to do a deal.

The Government will work hard towards a comprehensive solution over the coming year. It will mean working closely with Israel—always a beacon of democracy in the region, it is worth remembering—in the run-up to elections in February and beyond. It will also mean further concerted work with the Palestinian Authority on security and economic development. It will mean more systematic engagement with the Arab world, including Syria, which faces big choices in 2009, but has a big opportunity to contribute to regional stability. It will also mean active, high-level engagement with the new US Administration and EU partners. All these things we are committed to do.

In Iraq, 2009 will also be a year of elections. In January, Iraqis will go to the polls to elect new provincial councils. Later in the year, they will vote for a new national Government. We will continue to work to help
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the Iraqi Government build their capacity in the security sector, working with the Iraqi security forces and police. As the Prime Minister has said, we expect a fundamental change in our mission in Iraq in the first half of 2009 as we complete the tasks set out in his statement to the House in July: the training of the Iraqi 14th Division in Basra, transferring Basra airport to Iraqi control, pushing forward economic development, and providing the necessary support for the provincial elections to be held in January next year. That fundamental change will mean a shift from a military focus on Basra to a whole-Iraq approach that centres on close co-operation with the Iraqi people across the spectrum of politics, economics, human rights, culture and trade.

Mr. Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton) (LD): Given that both the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister have said that there will be a fundamental change in the British mission in Iraq, is it not now time to announce an inquiry into the Iraq war?

David Miliband: As the hon. Gentleman knows, we do support an inquiry into the origins of the Iraq war, when our troops are safely home. An hour and a half ago, very unfortunately, Members in all parts of the House had to come together to mourn the loss of a British soldier last Thursday. That shows the continuing danger that our troops face. It is important for us to have the inquiry, but it is also important for us to have the inquiry when our troops are safely home, and I assure the hon. Gentleman that that is our intention.

Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP): On a recent visit to Iraq, a number of us observed the pride taken by those serving on our behalf in the work that they were doing in rebuilding the area surrounding Basra and training the security forces and army. They made very clear their belief that they had an important job to do, and that they were doing that important job and doing it proudly. They also made it clear that they did not want to see their work undone by a political decision to pull them out quickly before it had been completed. May we have a an assurance that the foundations that have been laid will be built upon before any quick decision is made?

David Miliband: Yes. Let me say, in the nicest possible way, that many Members do not feel that we have been quick, or over-hasty, in making a decision to withdraw our troops from Iraq. I think that we have shown considerable commitment to ensuring that, in the hon. Gentleman’s words, the job is properly done.

I am sure that when the hon. Gentleman was in Basra he had a chance to hear about the progress of the 14th Division. He will have observed not just the professionalism of our own people, but the fact that we are building up a professional force that is able to guard the security of Iraq. I am grateful for the kind and appropriate words that he used about the work of our own forces.

Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead) (Lab): Will the Foreign Secretary explain why the Government have such an abysmal record in connection with the refugees—more than 4 million—who have fled their homes in Iraq and had to leave the country? [Interruption.]

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David Miliband: Someone just mentioned translators, but that is not the information for which the hon. Gentleman has asked. I am happy to put on record, in the Library of the House, the facts about the locally engaged staff whom we have helped with financial aid in Iraq and with resettlement in the United Kingdom. Those facts are quite contrary to some of the sensationalist newspaper reporting, and I urge Members to look at the details that I am placing in the Library before making allegations about our treatment of locally engaged staff.

As for the 4 million refugees who are in surrounding countries, I do not accept that it is our record that is abysmal. Along with the Iraqi Government, we are committed to the efforts being made to build an Iraq that is safe for all its people. I know that the Iraqi Government want the Iraqi refugees to return as soon as possible, and I know the views of the countries in which they are now. I discussed the issue when I was in Syria, where there are nearly 1 million refugees. I think it important for us to work for a safe Iraq that can welcome back its people.

Mr. Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) (Con): May I return the Foreign Secretary to the issue of an inquiry into the war? He will know that my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) has already cited historical precedents, pointing out that inquiries have taken place while our troops have been in the field. Why does the Foreign Secretary think it was appropriate for the United States Congress to undertake a thorough review and inquiry, but it is not appropriate for us to do the same?

David Miliband: For the same reason that it is entirely appropriate for four House of Commons Committees to hold inquiries. We have had a whole debate about the inquiry, there will be an inquiry, and I think that we should leave it at that.

Nick Harvey (North Devon) (LD): Will the Foreign Secretary give way?

David Miliband: Yes, for the last time.

Nick Harvey: The Foreign Secretary has restated the position that the inquiry should take place when our troops have withdrawn. Is he seriously saying it must take place after the last man is out? I thought that the intention was to leave a few hundred there on a long-term basis even after we had withdrawn battlegroups next year. Surely we are not going to wait until the very end of that process.

David Miliband: No, we are not. We are not going to hide behind the idea that the last troop must have come home. We have always made it clear that our commitment is in respect of combat troops, and we intend to honour that commitment.

I am sure that all Members will share our concern about the situation in the eastern Congo. In November, the United Kingdom co-sponsored a United Nations Security Council resolution to reinforce the UN mission, MONUC, with an additional 3,000 troops. Those troops
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are desperately needed to try to maintain the ceasefire and allow aid agencies to address the humanitarian situation, and we will aim for rapid deployment.

I am certain that the best way in which the international community can help to provide security in the east is through an enlarged UN force. However, on Monday the General Affairs and External Relations Council asked Javier Solana rapidly to prepare options for EU assistance in the eastern DRC, including the option of European military contributions to MONUC, at the request of the Secretary-General of the UN, Ban-ki Moon.

Mr. Robert Walter (North Dorset) (Con): The Foreign Secretary visited the DRC at the beginning of November with his French counterpart. He is aware that the United Kingdom currently provides one of the European Union battlegroups, which is deployable at 15 days’ notice. In the intervening period, MONUC has received no assistance. Can the Foreign Secretary tell us in what circumstances a battlegroup would ever be deployed by the European Union?

David Miliband: The circumstances are obvious. A battlegroup will be deployed when that is the most appropriate response to the problem that exists. It should be remembered that we backed the UN resolution calling for an extra 3,000 troops, with, I believe, support from Members in all parts of the House. We think that, for all the arguments about a single command and control structure, MONUC should be the first port of call for extra troops. We should increase the size of MONUC, and that is what we are trying to do. Today, as it happens, I had a productive meeting with the Nigerian Foreign Minister to discuss the ability of a range of countries to support extra troops for MONUC, and we intend to ensure that that happens. However, the Secretary-General of the UN has asked the EU to examine its options, and that is what we will do.

The answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question is that the European battlegroup should be deployed when that is the best option, and when it is feasible.

Jeremy Corbyn: I thank the Foreign Secretary for giving way to me a second time. Can he make it clear, first, that any troops sent from anywhere to the Congo will be under the direct command and control of MONUC and within its orbit, and secondly that their deployment will be accompanied by a robust, active and effective peace negotiation and peace process so that we are not sucked into a war about resources in which neighbouring countries become involved?

David Miliband: The troops would not be under UN authority if they consisted of an EU battlegroup. That does not mean that there are no circumstances in which the EU could deploy—after all, Operation Artemis deployed in 2003, although in rather different circumstances—but if an EU battlegroup goes to the Congo, it will not be a UN force. It will operate in parallel with other forces.

Mr. Davey rose—

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David Miliband: The hon. Gentleman will have a chance to make a speech later, but I will give way to him.

Mr. Davey: I am grateful to the Foreign Secretary. He has told us that on Monday Ministers instructed Javier Solana to respond to the UN Secretary-General’s request for more troops from the European Union. Will he say a little more about those instructions? Did the Ministers ask Javier Solana to respond positively—to say that the European Union would send more troops—or was the intention to explore options in the interim, presumably with member states? What is Javier Solana actually going to do?

David Miliband: He is going to respond to the UN Secretary-General’s request for a bridging EU force, and examine its feasibility and desirability.

Yesterday the hon. Gentleman referred to a large number of countries which, at the European General Affairs and External Relations Council, had said that something must be done in the name of Europe. Let me gently say to him that none of the countries that said that something must be done were willing to put their own troops into the mix to help to get it done. I think that that demonstrates that Javier Solana has quite a difficult job to do in addressing both the feasibility and the desirability of a force. However, he is acting in good faith, and we will certainly support him. I imagine that the issue will be discussed tomorrow night at the European Foreign Ministers’ dinner, or at least in the margins of it, and I shall be happy to report to the House on the progress that Javier Solana is making.

Let me now respond to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) about the political process. Any troops must accompany a viable political process, which is why we are supporting former Nigerian President Obasanjo’s mediation between the rebels in the National Congress for the Defence of the People and the Government of the DRC. Relations between the Rwandan and DRC Governments have shown signs of improvement in recent weeks, since the visit with French Foreign Minister Kouchner, and they have agreed a joint plan to tackle the FDLR—the Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda—militias, but we will need to maintain the political pressure if real progress is to be made.

Political process along both axes of the conflict in Sudan is vital, too. We will continue to support the United Nations-African Union mediation over Darfur, as well as full implementation of the north-south comprehensive peace agreement. In both the DRC and Sudan, our humanitarian spend is one measure of our political commitment. We are Sudan’s second largest bilateral donor, and during 2009-10 total DFID spending in the DRC will rise to £100 million.

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