WEDNESDAY 13 MARCH 2002
Donald Anderson, in the Chair
Memorandum submitted by The Secretary of State for
Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
Examination of Witnesses
THE RT HON JACK STRAW MP, Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, MR PETER RICKETTS CMG, Political Director, and MR JOHN MACGREGOR CVO, Director for Wider Europe, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, examined.
(Mr Straw) I have an opening statement which I will summarise as time is short. Your Committee, Chairman, has just been to Turkey. I greatly welcome the fact that you have made the visit. It is a country which I have been taking an interest in myself. It repays re-visiting. I have been there twice myself in the last five months. We think that there are encouraging signs that Turkey's reforms are beginning to develop momentum but since you and your colleagues have been there more recently than I have and have been able to spend a great deal more time there than I have been able to, I would be very interested to hear your conclusions as well.
Chairman: That will come out in the wash of the Committee's questions. We are as a Committee most grateful to our Ambassador in Ankara, our Consul-General in Istanbul, who are models of what a Committee could expect from diplomatic representatives.
(Mr Straw) We have long supported Turkey's membership of the European Union but that has to be on the basis of the criteria set out in Copenhagen in June of 1993, which apply to Turkey as equally as they apply to any of the other applicants. It will be recalled that membership requirements of the candidate country are to achieve stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law for human rights, respect for the protection of minorities, the existence of a functioning market economy as well as the capacity to cope with the competitive pressures and market forces within the Union. It presupposes the candidate's ability to take on the obligations of membership and adhere to the aims of political, economic and monetary union. Those are the criteria laid down. You will also be aware, Ms Stuart, that in Helsinki it said in paragraph 12 that Turkey is a candidate destined to join the Union on the basis of the same criteria as applied to other candidate states. Turkey, like other candidate states, would benefit from pre-accession strategy to stimulate and support its reforms. That is the basis. We want to see Turkey in. However, we want to see Turkey in on the same basis as any other member and we think that is not only important for the integrity of the Union but also important for Turkey, so it can take a full and confident place at the table. In terms of its status in accession, it is, as I think you know, at the pre-screening stage. Although I think in many other respects it has been treated in a similar way to other candidates who are further down the track, in terms of where it is in timescale it is further back than any other candidate at the moment. You are saying when will they make good progress, when will they be in? I cannot put a date on that. They will come in when they have got through the screening process and when they have been able to show tangible progress on each of the chapters, those chapters have been closed and there has therefore been agreement to their accession. You ask about our United Kingdom strategic interests. Size, geographical position and its neighbourhood, to put it as delicately as that, mean that Turkey is an extremely important ally for us. They have been a loyal, faithful ally of the United Kingdom and the other now 17 members of NATO. They have played, as you know, a very important part in the continuation of the action which has been necessary against Iraq. They have played a key role in the fight against terrorism and we hope very much that they will take over as lead nation on ISAF, the International Stabilisation of Assistance Force, in Afghanistan. Our own judgement is that our strategic interests with them are reasonably well served at the moment but would be better served if they were members of the European Union. For example, under ESDP a lot of the difficulties which they face at the moment would fall away when they were a member of the European Union.
(Mr Straw) We have not given them a date yet and I do not think we would give them a date until they have gone past the present pre-screening situation. That is because it has been collectively judged that it would not be appropriate to offer them a date at the moment. For example, if you take their big human rights agenda, when I was there, which was initially at the end of September, these 34 separate constitutional amendments had just been passed through and the President and the Prime Minister and other people I spoke were all very pleased about that, but that was getting agreement in principle to these changes. They have then got to get them through in detailed texts and then they have to be sure that they operate on the ground. That is in a sense a bigger agenda than is faced by most, not all, other accession countries. However, if your Committee were to say that you think that we should consider setting a date, which is not a recommendation I have had put to me up to now, then of course I would pay very careful attention to that.
(Mr Ricketts) Could I just add one sentence, Chairman, just to say that, as the Foreign Secretary says, it is difficult to set a date because in the end it is up to the Turks themselves and the pace of their own economic and political reform programmes which will determine how quickly they move through this process leading to the accession negotiations.
(Mr Straw) Yes, is the answer to that. We are completely committed to them joining if they fulfil the Copenhagen criteria. They know that. I accept entirely the implication behind your question, and what was said more explicitly by Ms Stuart, which is that the very process of seeking membership in an active way, which they have been, is obviously acting as a dynamic to the internal politics of the country in Turkey and if that dynamic was stalled, and unfairly stalled, that could have quite a serious adverse effect on the domestic stability of Turkey, and we acknowledge that.
(Mr Straw) I will ask Mr Macgregor and Mr Ricketts to comment on the exchange of officials. The Prime Minister's visit programme has a lot of demands on it but it is kept under close review and again I am sure that if your Committee, Ms Stuart, were to say they thought a visit by the Prime Minister was a priority that would be considered closely.
(Mr Straw) Of course not. I have been to Turkey twice already and I would count it as a very important ally and a very important country with which we should develop already deep relations.
(Mr Macgregor) There have been regular exchanges between senior officials on a whole range of issues: on defence, Mr Ricketts himself, I think regularly, but there is also normal political dialogue between us. There is also a lot of practical work between us, for instance, through drugs liaison officers and indeed there is a proposal that there should be an immigration liaison officer which we hope will come to fruit this year. There is a lot of practical co-operation between British and Turkish officials.
(Mr Ricketts) We certainly attach great importance to language competence in Turkey, as elsewhere. You will, I hope, have seen that our current Ambassador could speak good Turkish, that our Consul-General in Istanbul speaks Turkish, and we are making sure that coming up through the ranks there is a sufficient number of Turkish speakers preparing to become ambassador in due course.
(Mr Ricketts) Certainly.
(Mr Straw) I think so, is the answer. We are into the realm of speculation but I think the European Union has shown itself to be an extraordinarily adaptable institution since it started as a very narrow organisation with six Member States, with two at the time hugely dominant, France and Germany. You say that Turkey is outside the European mainstream tradition of law, control of the armed forces and so on, with great respect I do not agree with you. Turkey is different because it is an Islamic country, although it is a secular Islamic country, but if you think about the countries which are now coming into membership or, for example, you think about the state that acceded into membership of the European Union by a different route, namely East Germany, people living in East Germany until 1990 had not enjoyed any idea of democracy for getting on for 60 years, and the armed forces were not subject to proper democratic control. That is also true with different but similar experiences across Eastern Europe where countries like Romania were hardly known as paradigms of democracy before the War and did not have any serious sense of democracy or the beginnings of democracy until the collapse of Communism at the end of the 1980s. And that goes for one country after another. I think Turkey is in a slightly different stage of development but it is not that different from many other European countries. You are furrowing your brow but we, in this country, forget just how recent is the experience of democracy in most European countries. We also forget that even in countries where democracy is now taken for granted across the Western European Union - let us leave aside France and Germany and those counties under German occupation during the War - such as Spain, Portugal and Greece, they all had fascist dictatorships when I went to university, when I left university and for some years after that, yet they are now fully-functioning democracies. I think Turkey's provenance is actually a far better one than those countries which were fascist dictatorships within the lifetime of most people in this room. So, with respect, I am more optimistic than you. It has a growing population but the united Germany now has a figure of 80 million, and my recollection of Turkey's population is that it is 64 million. On GDP per head, in the speech to which again Sir John paid such attention, he will recall there was a series of figures quoted - 23, 20, 4 - where I pointed out that the geographical area of the European Union would increase by 23 per cent with the accession of not Turkey but the current accession states, its population would increase by 20 per cent but GDP increase by just 4 per cent. In other words, the average GDP of countries like Poland, the Czech Republic and so on, is one-fifth of the average GDP of the current 15. When I got those figures, I simply did not believe them, and had them reworked again and again. It is true that if you use exchange rates and purchasing power parities you come to a slightly narrower gap but it is still stark, so if the European Union ends up by being able to cope with the accession of these states, it will be able to cope with Turkey's accession.
(Mr Straw) You are on a slightly dangerous ground here, certainly with art, and philosophy and science.
(Mr Straw) No, but the whole point about Turkey is that it is the fulcrum point between Asia and Europe. Do not forget, it has a Christian heritage as well as an Islamic one, as you will have seen; that is part of its history. If you think about the young Turk movement, yes, they had to break away from what we now describe as an authoritarian, non-democratic past, but there are quite a number of countries around in Europe which had to do that too, and have done it and did it rather late, and then had a long period when, however much the idea of democracy tried to flower, democracy was stalled. But if you think about the development of the young Turk movement, and then of what Ataturk was able to achieve, I think it is a pretty remarkable story, and it stands scrutiny with many other European nations. You said that a lot of these things were rather technical, with every accession state, not just Turkey, we have to ensure the criteria are not just technical but real because we do not do those countries any good or the European Union any good if we say, "Because you have passed a piece of paper which says that human rights will be respected, we know by virtue of that fact they will be respected", we have to be reassured that in reality, on the ground, they will be respected.
(Mr Straw) We are both very firm members of NATO, and that applies to most but not all of the existing other 14 of the European Union. There are strong trade and investment ties between the United Kingdom and Turkey, and, allowing for the dip in trade with every country which occurred after their big economic crises, trade links have been growing and, with luck, if Turkey's application, as it were, ran out, those relationships would continue. I very much hope and the United Kingdom Government hopes that Turkey will become a full member of the European Union, and we are giving every encouragement we can to them. The question of rejection does not arise, it is a question of getting to a position where Turkey is able to go through a pre-screening process and then it takes part in the process that countries further advanced, for example, Poland and the Czech Republic, are in now, and when we get to a position when all the chapters are closed, all the chapters are closed. Of course it is open to the democratic wishes of the people of Turkey at any stage to decide they want to stop that, but I suspect they will not.
(Mr Straw) Mr MacGregor has just passed me one of the constitutional changes which was agreed in October 2001, which was to change the composition and functioning of the National Security Council, altering the balance in favour of the civilian government and emphasising its advisory rather than its policy-making role. I have to say that since your Committee, Mr Anderson, spent some time there, this is one of many areas where I would be very interested to have your observations about whether you feel this change, once implemented, will be sufficient.
(Mr Straw) Indeed. Do you want to say something?
(Mr Macgregor) Really just to talk of the slight irony, that of course in that role they have pushed Turkey into a more westward-leaning mode ---
(Mr Macgregor) --- and in a way into a shape which is more like the country that we would like to deal with. But changes nevertheless are on the way, and those constitutional changes of October last year are only the first of what is anticipated to be a series of changes.
(Mr Straw) I think that is almost explicit in the constitutional change which they have agreed to, so the answer to that must be yes.
Sir John Stanley
(Mr Straw) Actually I thought it was pretty clear. I must say in terms of Government gobbledegook I do not think it is even in the second division, if I may say so. However, our position is literally what was agreed at Helsinki in December 1999, and it is worth me reading that out. "The European Council underlines that a political settlement will facilitate the accession of Cyprus to the European Union." I depart from the quotation there to say that I think everybody understands and accepts that, that it would be better if there were a political settlement. The text then goes on, "If no settlement has been reached by the completion of accession negotiations, the Council's decision on accession will be made without the above being a pre-condition. In this the Council will take account of all relevant factors." I think that is really all one can say about this at the moment. That is the position, it is not a pre-condition but we would prefer it if there was a settlement.
(Mr Straw) I think it is an answer to the question, with great respect to you, Sir John, because I have just said that we support the position set out here, which is that we want to see a political settlement, but what happens if no settlement has been reached by the completion of accession negotiations, which are separate in any case, and I see no suggestion that accession negotiations should be delayed by the negotiations on a political settlement. "The Council's decision on accession will be made without the above being a pre-condition". Are we proposing to change the Helsinki conclusions? No.
(Mr Straw) Our position on Cyprus' accession is that Cyprus should be treated in the same way as anybody else in accordance with that text that I read out earlier from Copenhagen from June 1993. So that sets out the template. Cyprus, as you will be aware, has closed more chapters than any other accession applicant. That process continues on a track which is separate from negotiations, if any, about a political settlement. That is where we are.
(Mr Straw) I am not aware of any. Whether some have tried I cannot say, I can only speak for the British Government.
(Mr Straw) Everybody in Turkey I have ever met who takes an interest in these things understands that Helsinki raises the possibility of a divided Cyprus, or part of Cyprus essentially, being admitted to the European Union, that is just a reality, it could happen, it is there in the texts. I do not presume to speak for the state of public opinion or governmental opinion in Turkey about that, and you may have greater insights than I do.
(Mr Straw) I do not presume to speak for them. We would have to make sure that such an apocalyptic vision did not occur. I think everybody is aware of this, not the apocalypse or the catastrophe but the fact that the Republic of Cyprus, the geographical island of Cyprus, could be admitted to the European Union is a reality and it is a possibility and they have got to work around that.
(Mr Ricketts) It would clearly be a much less satisfactory outcome for Turkey, but also for the EU and for Cyprus, than the accession of Cyprus reunited at the end of successful settlement negotiations. That is what we are bending all of our efforts to achieve in the remaining months.
(Mr Straw) Turkey would have to make different decisions about what it then did. It would not stop its request to become a full member of the European Union. Mr Ricketts said, and it is implicit too in the conclusions of Helsinki, it is a less than satisfactory outcome, less than the outcome we want, but it may be the outcome that is inevitable if there cannot be a political settlement of Cyprus.
(Mr Straw) I think they could respond speedily, it depends what was agreed. What I am not going to do, with great respect to this Committee, is get into speculating about the current state of discussion which is taking place between the different parties in Cyprus, between Clerides and Denktash, on which your question is based.
(Mr Macgregor) The EU has said that it will accommodate a UN settlement, in other words that it will be flexible about it. It has already indicated a degree of flexibility.
(Mr Straw) I will ask officials if they have got anything to add, but if you look at paragraph 24 of the memorandum that we submitted you will see that we really made a similar point to yours that what matters is what happens on the ground. Obviously changing the text is a precondition, it is necessary but by no means sufficient. We have got a large number of human rights projects with Turkey and examples from 2001 include translation into Turkish of the FCO Handbook on Prevention of Torture, a training programme for senior prison administrators, independent monitoring of prisons in Turkey, development of prisoner education and recreation programmes, training for the Jandarma, who are the military policy, in custody, detention and public order policing, and forensic science training for the Jandarma. Also this year we are seeing the launch of the Human Rights Dialogue at senior official level between the United Kingdom and Turkey. (Mr Macgregor) I am the leader of the Human Rights Dialogue on the British side and we are intending to arrange a first meeting probably in May of this year. Before going forward into that meeting we shall be consulting the Human Rights Sub-Committee of the House and also NGOs to ask what points they make. To go back to your own point, Ms Stuart, about do we try to keep in touch with the situation on the ground, the answer is we certainly do and, indeed, I think it was through us that you were able to talk to the NGOs you did talk to in Istanbul. We go to hearings where there are leading human rights cases, we are in court whenever we can be. We also, I think, learn a great deal through police exchanges by having our police in Turkey, by them coming here. No-one is pretending that this is going to change things in a night but I think it is making some real progress. Similarly, the booklet on torture translated into Turkish, it will not itself prevent torture immediately but it is a start.
(Mr Straw) Yes, it is.
(Mr Straw) If you take changes in police practice which have occurred in the last 25 years in this country, and some of us will remember that they were a bit by and large before the implementation of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, and a lot more has come out more recently about what needs to happen, we had to change the law in this country and then there had to be a big programme of training and really winning the minds of police officers. I remember when the Police and Criminal Evidence Act was going through the House, and it was aborted before the 1983 election and had to come back, there was a lot of hostility by police officers about the idea that their freedom was going to be undermined by the introduction of what was alleged to be a set of bureaucratic rules. So there had to be a training programme but also taking people through the benefits to the police of, for example, interrogating people in conditions in which the integrity of the interrogation could not be challenged, which is a situation which we have now achieved. I noticed in one of the telegrams reporting on your visit, Ms Stuart, you referred to the parallel of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, and I think that is something where we should do some work and where, as both you and Mr MacGregor are saying, we need to ensure the advice is given police officer to police officer. That is extremely important. The other thing I would say on human rights is that Turkey is a member of the Council of Europe and subject to the European Convention of Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights, and they have signed up to it, and if we are going to ensure there is a reality of human rights on the ground in Turkey we need to ensure the Council of Europe at a political and ministerial level and every other level is engaged with Turkey in a very active way.
Chairman: Foreign Secretary, I am afraid we have to suspend the sitting for ten minutes and we will come back as soon as possible.
The Committee suspended from 5.27pm to 5.37pm for a division in the House
Chairman: Everyone is here so we can start. Sir John on human rights.
Sir John Stanley
(Mr Straw) I have certainly not in the discussions I have had. It has to be said that both visits I have made to Turkey have been post-11 September but at the one I made at the end of September, by definition within a fortnight or so of 11 September, it was the first item that the President raised with me when I saw him, and he is actually very proud of what he has achieved in getting through these constitutional amendments. I have had no sense of that, I do not know whether any of my colleagues have.
(Mr Macgregor) No.
(Mr Straw) I understand the point you are making but it has not been my experience nor that of the officials who are with me. Turkey has had a terrorist problem and it had one which pre-dated 11 September. We have a terrorist problem. When I was Home Secretary I proscribed the DHKP-C, one of a list of 21 non-Irish terrorist organisations which I proscribed, which decision was endorsed by Parliament in February a year ago. I know obviously there is a fair degree of co-operation on the anti-terrorist and counter-terrorist front between our law enforcement agencies but I have to say I have had no experience myself that their attitude or approach has changed. At a senior level, the impression I have had is that the Government of Turkey is as committed post-11 September to its human rights agenda as it was before.
(Mr Macgregor) There are two arguments. One is about these two organisations, another is about eight more. The Turks are lobbying in favour of ten altogether. In our view, the chances are better to pinpoint the two to start with, and I do not think there is any reason to be negative about the hopes for eventually agreeing those two.
(Mr Straw) That is circumlocutory, unlike paragraph 22!
(Mr Straw) You may not get a straight answer!
(Mr Macgregor) I know of no objection in principle.
(Mr Straw) There you are, a straight answer.
(Mr Straw) I would certainly consider it.
(Mr Straw) It is not a blank cheque.
(Mr Straw) It could be an open door but you never know which room you are walking into. Of course.
(Mr Straw) I am looking forward to your report.
(Mr Macgregor) Could I just add, although it is modest - I do not know quite what figure the Committee considers modest - we have allocated £150,000 in the current year to a series of projects which we label under our EU Action Plan for Turkey, which is similar to action plans of about the same dimensions ---
(Mr Macgregor) The current financial year coming to an end in March.
(Mr Macgregor) These are actual projects in the year 2001-02. We can let the Committee know what the level of disbursement is.
(Mr Macgregor) I have a list here of the ten projects.
(Mr Straw) I am going to ask Mr MacGregor to comment on the Chevening Scholarships and the SOCRATES programme. On the issue of the visa section's work flow, as you will have seen principally in Istanbul, much less in Ankara, we are concerned about the time which has been taken to process visa applications. The position has been reviewed by JECU, the Joint Entry Clearance Unit, and measures implemented include a 20 per cent increase in throughput, increased staff levels and allocation of duties, improved workflow, making better use of accommodation, extra interviews and improved lines of management and section objectives. I am very happy, Chairman, if you wish, to write to you setting out in more detail the actions that have been taken and I am glad you have raised it. I should also say, however, that I know from my own constituency experience that there has been a pattern of some really very difficult and contested settlement cases, particularly for marriage - it is best if I provide information in confidence to the Committee about those - and that has increased the level of scrutiny of some of the applications that have had to be made.
(Mr Straw) Without going into the merits of that case, and I will happily look at it to find out exactly what happened because it obviously is of concern, Mr Macgregor?
(Mr Straw) No, Mr Macgregor is going to answer. I finished answering visas. I will write to the Committee about the detailed changes that have been made. I will write to the Committee, if it wishes, about some of the problems that have been encountered. If I am given some information about this Chevening scholar, in other words some identification, I would like to follow that up personally as well if it is unsatisfactory.
(Mr Straw) Now Mr Macgregor is going to give an answer to Ms Stuart's questions about SOCRATES and Chevening.
(Mr Macgregor) I shall try to be brief and straight. First of all, as you rightly point out, there was something of a general crisis on the matter of visas at the end of last year. That is acknowledged by us and we have done something about it. It is still not in a wholly satisfactory position but it is better than it was at the turn of the year. Obviously all visa applicants have been caught in this same situation. If the waiting time is, as it is now, around about 75 days that affects students as much as it affects anybody else. Although we try to make special routes for people who have specific dates they need to go on, it is actually quite difficult to run such a large operation on that basis. Secondly, in the year 2001 we had a very considerable increase in the number of refusals and refusals are usually on the basis of interviews and that whole process of refusing inevitably slows down, which is why we have posted new officers in order to try and do something about that. Perhaps it indicates that there has been something of a wave of what I would call opportunistic visa applications, perhaps in response to the economic crisis. In other words, students are affected like all visa applicants. In fact, the percentage of student applications refused is higher than for the rest of the applications. I will not try to interpret why that is but it is about three times the rate. With the help of the post we can perhaps seek to illuminate the background of the generality of cases to show why. On the question of Chevening scholars, which is quite different from all this, this is simply a hard choice we are having to make in straitened budgetary times between a variety of very worthy countries. In the area for which I am responsible, which is the whole of Europe including Turkey, we have to decide on Russia, which is obviously a very high priority, there is Central Europe, there are countries like Turkey. In the new allocation it is true that Turkey has considerably fewer than it had before. I am sure Ministers will be happy to receive the views of the Committee as to whether we have the right priorities. Perhaps we could let you see the various countries where we do have Chevening scholars in Europe and you can help us to make that rather hard judgment. Your point is taken that there is a limitless market for these. The SOCRATES point, am I correctly understanding it, that these are students who have SOCRATES grants through the EU to go to a British university and are caught up in visa queues?
Ms Stuart: No. SOCRATES is only starting to become fully operational within Turkey, so I would expect when you go back and look at the reasons why you have half the Chevening Scholarships now I would not be surprised if the starting of SOCRATES may have been one of the reasons. The two are very much related. If our processing of visa applications is not improving, not only may we not be prepared for SOCRATES in the United Kingdom but even those we want to take will not come here but will go to other European countries and we will essentially miss a very valuable opportunity. Maybe you would want to write back to us and show the combination, the interrelation between the two, but also more to the point how you are preparing for SOCRATES so we can get the full evidence on that.
(Mr Straw) Yes.
Chairman: I am obliged.
Sir John Stanley
(Mr Straw) A degree of finality was achieved with Turkey in the Berlin-plus text. It is not an issue that is closed so far as the Government of Greece is concerned. I will ask Mr Ricketts, who was directly involved in the negotiations which were US-UK-Turkey, as you will recall, to offer his view about this. This is the $64,000 question. Why does a party to a negotiation finally decide to come to an agreement? Because they think it is in their interest. A lot of work was done in the room and behind the scenes as well, a good deal of reassurance offered to Turkey. It is my belief that our negotiators, Mr Ricketts and his colleagues, for the US Mr Bradtke, and Turkey, did a very good job between them and the text is one that protects Turkey's interests but also happens to protect Greece's interests as well and I hope very much that it is acceptable to the Government of Greece. Mr Ricketts?
(Mr Ricketts) I agree with the Foreign Secretary, as always.
(Mr Straw) Only ever in public I should say, as always.
(Mr Ricketts) During the negotiation where Turkey did have concerns, they were explored and we were able to give reassurances within the scope of the Nice European Council conclusions which set out the EU position on participation by countries like Turkey. We had a lot of help from the United States who made it very clear that they attach a lot of importance to Turkey coming to an understanding with the EU which would allow Turkey to participate in EU-led military operations. I think in the end they took an overall judgment against the background of the reassurances and clarifications that they had that it was in Turkey's interest to take a positive view towards participation in ESDP on the terms set out. That was very welcome to us but there was nothing beyond what was discussed over the negotiating table, I think.
(Mr Straw) I am sorry that it was not. They came to their view is the answer. Obviously they made a strategic decision in the round. I think we are all aware of the sensitivities of both the Turks and the Greeks about this issue and I genuine believe, having got parts of the text, particularly paragraphs two and 12, embedded in my brain, that it is in the interests of Turkey, it is in the interests of Greece, it is in the interests of both NATO and the EU. Greece and Turkey and the US and the UK are allies who all subscribe to the NATO treaties.
(Mr Straw) I know you are.
(Mr Straw) I can only say I hope so. The discussions on this continue. Palpably, if there is to be a conclusion, a closure of this issue, we have to secure a situation where both the Turks and the Greeks are on board.
(Mr Straw) Yes.
(Mr Straw) Yes, it is of importance. I will ask Mr Ricketts to add some detail. We continue to discuss it and offer reassurance by turn to Turkey and then to Greece. I am sure it will be discussed in the margins at Barcelona.
(Mr Ricketts) We have now made clear in our Laeken EU Council Declaration last December that the ESDP is able to take on some crisis management operations. That makes it all the more important and urgent, as you say, Sir John, that we get the right EU-NATO links in place. As the Foreign Secretary says, I am sure the issue will continue to be discussed around the Barcelona European Council this weekend.
(Mr Ricketts) Certainly.
(Mr Straw) A lot. Develop the relationship, which is what we are seeking to do. This is not just soft-soap, but I think that visits by senior parliamentarians like yourselves are very important, and the fact that, reading the telegrams, you appeared to spend four days there, which is a lot of your time, in that the two visits were to population centres, is very important. By definition, in the time I have been doing this job, most countries in the world have not been able to visit at all, I have visited Turkey twice however and I regard the relationship we have with the Government of Turkey as very important. The closest one is the one I have with Ismail Cem, who is the Turkish Foreign Minister, but I also regard the relationships I have, we have, with Prime Minister Ecevit and the President as important as well. We need to continue to develop and underpin the diplomatic/political relationship. We also have to ensure there is a sense of momentum on negotiations with the EU and, something we have not discussed but which is of profound importance, ensure that the support which has been given successively to Turkey through the IMF for its economic reform and recovery is successful because there is in any country a direct linkage between people's sense of economic well-being, their willingness and ability to be involved in democracy and their readiness to look forward rather than backwards.
(Mr Straw) Thank you.