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Foreign and Security Issues

16. Mr. Coaker: When he last met his European Union counterparts to discuss common foreign and security issues. [26446]

Mr. Doug Henderson: I met my counterparts at the General Affairs Council on 26 January.

Mr. Coaker: Will my hon. Friend outline the progress that has been made by the EU Foreign Ministers in achieving a peace agreement in Bosnia? The area has gone out of the news recently, with attention understandably focused on Iraq, but the situation in Bosnia is none the less serious, and we must do all we can to bring about a speedy resolution.

Mr. Henderson: I assure my hon. Friend that we are doing everything that we can to continue to press for settlement of the various issues in Bosnia. At the General Affairs Council on 26 January we took an initiative two weeks after President Dodic's new Government was elected in the Republika Srpska to give the country some assistance from council funds to enable it to reinforce its democracy. Specifically, we gave it 6 million ecu to help the payment of public servants, which is essential if a civic society is to be established.

Mr. Colvin: Does the Minister agree that membership of the European Union carries with it a mutual security obligation, although no guarantee? Does he therefore agree that, for the countries of central and eastern Europe, enlargement of the EU is as important to their security as enlargement of NATO?

Mr. Henderson: I think the hon. Gentleman recognises the importance of economic and social links. Regardless of any arrangements that they may make through NATO or any other organisation for their security, many of the

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countries in central and eastern Europe recognise that full membership of the European Union brings economic and social stability, which provides security for their nations.


17. Mr. Eric Clarke: If he will make a statement on Israeli settlement expansion in the west bank. [26447]

Mr. Robin Cook: The EU position on settlement building in the occupied territories is clear. It is both illegal under international law, and damaging to the peace process. The building of settlements pre-empts final status talks and destroys hard-won trust between Israelis and Palestinians.

Mr. Clarke: Does my right hon. Friend agree that the situation there is critical and is inhibiting a peaceful settlement? I was delighted to hear this afternoon your previous statement on the matter, and I give you full support--

Madam Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman must speak through the Chair. I think the Foreign Secretary has got the question--a very complimentary one, which I am sure he can answer.

Mr. Cook: As I understand it, I have my hon. Friend's support, as well as his question. I fully share his concern on the matter.

Two issues of great concern to the Palestinian people arise from the Ras al-Amud development--first, the illegal continuing occupation and building of settlements on territory occupied by military force; and, secondly, the longer-term implications for Jerusalem, as it appears to be part of a strategy to make sure that Jerusalem does not continue to be a mixed city with a division between the two peoples there. For those reasons it is very important, if Israel wants the peace process to proceed, that it halts that particular expansion and refrains from all further settlement development.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton: There is no doubt that the expansion of Israeli settlements on the west bank and elsewhere is impeding the peace process in the middle east. Bearing in mind the exceptional relationship that exists between the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and the President of the United States, and the fact that, through its funding of Israel, the United States is undoubtedly contributing to the expansion of the settlements, what action is the Foreign Secretary prepared to take to bring pressure on the Government of the United States to influence what is going on in Israel?

Mr. Cook: I discuss the middle east peace process at least every second day with my opposite number in the

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United States, the Secretary of State. I entirely and thoroughly endorse her call on the Government of Israel to take time out from settlement building. During Mr. Netanyahu's recent visit to the United States, President Clinton made perfectly clear the impatience of the United States at gestures that make it more difficult to take forward the peace process.

The hon. Gentleman raises the very real financial and economic consequences of doing that. Israel has prospered well from the peace process and the extra investment that peace and stability attracted. Israel has more to lose than anyone else if that peace and stability now appear to be at risk.


19. Mr. Savidge: What assessment he has made of the welfare of children in Iraq; and if he will make a statement. [26449]

25. Mrs. Anne Campbell: What assessment he has made of the welfare of children in Iraq, and if he will make a statement. [26455]

Mr. Fatchett: The children of Iraq have suffered enormously at the hands of a ruthless dictator who cares nothing for their welfare. Unlike Saddam Hussein, we are concerned for their plight. We have provided £94 million in aid to the people of Iraq since 1991, much of which has been specifically targeted towards projects for children. Our co-sponsorship of oil-for-food resolutions has ensured that food and medical supplies reach all Iraqi people. We welcome the recent recommendations of the Secretary-General that the oil-for-food programme be expanded. That will also help to improve the situation for all vulnerable groups in Iraq.

Mr. Savidge: Does my hon. Friend agree that, given the estimate that some 1 million under-fives are underfed, it is obscene that Saddam Hussein should have squandered some $1,000 million on building luxury palaces for himself, and it is dishonest that he should have sought to put the blame on United Nations sanctions?

Mr. Fatchett: My hon. Friend makes a strong and valid point. In many of the comments that we hear about the current crisis, one of the grotesque ironies is the fact that Saddam Hussein has argued about access to what may be 40 presidential palaces. At a time when, because of his own actions, his own people have been suffering, a dictator has no moral right to indulge in luxury for himself and to build palaces in those numbers. Saddam Hussein's record speaks for itself. Again, my hon. Friend makes the point on why we have to ensure total access to the United Nations inspectors.

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3.30 pm

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Robin Cook): Madam Speaker, at the end of last week I visited the Gulf and held meetings with leading figures in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. With your permission, I should like to share with the House the three key points that they made. First, they have real fears about the threat that Saddam Hussein poses to their region. Secondly, like ourselves, they would prefer a diplomatic solution. But lastly, if Saddam does not accept the diplomatic initiatives that have been offered to him, as Prince Saud said, it is the Iraqi regime that will bear responsibility for the consequences. I agree with them on all three counts.

On the first point, there is no room for doubt over the scale of Saddam's chemical or biological capability, nor over his repeated attempts to conceal it. Last week, I published a paper setting out the statistics of Saddam's arsenal of weapons of mass destruction and documenting his persistent deception.

Saddam claimed that he had only 650 litres of anthrax. The figure turned out to be 8,400 litres. He continues to have the capability to manufacture enough extra anthrax to fill two more warheads every week. One such warhead could depopulate an entire city. Saddam also has programmes to produce at least three other germ agents.

Saddam claimed that his VX nerve gas programme had ended in failure. The truth turned out to be that he has the capability to produce 200 tonnes of the VX agent. One drop of it is enough to kill. Ten years ago next month, Saddam used chemical weapons to kill 5,000 Iraqi citizens at Halabja. He also used them against fellow Muslims in his war with Iran. He will not scruple to use them again.

As Richard Butler, the executive chairman of the United Nations Special Commission has noted, Saddam

In the past nine months he has delayed or denied access to four out of five sites where UNSCOM believed concealment was taking place.

The UN inspectors are our only guarantee that Saddam will not fulfil his ambition to acquire the weapons that could wipe out whole cities. However, that guarantee is of little value if they are not allowed to carry out effective inspections of the sites where they suspect chemical or biological weapons, or vital information on them, are concealed.

We also agree with our allies in the Gulf that it would be better if we could resolve this confrontation by diplomatic means. That is why Britain took the lead in proposing to the Security Council and our partners a new resolution condemning Saddam's repeated obstruction of UNSCOM's work. That approach has received widespread support among Council members. Japan has offered to co-sponsor the resolution.

We are also in close touch with the attempts at diplomatic mediation by Russia, France and the Arab League. Saddam has a history of backing down under pressure, and we welcome the recent signs that Iraq is ready to consider a diplomatic solution. However, I have to say to the House that, as yet, the proposals coming out of Baghdad fall well short of our requirement that any

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agreement should be convincing and should enable UNSCOM to resume its work without restrictions, without deadlines and without any no-go sites. While we want a peaceful solution, an outcome that left him able to develop chemical and biological weapons would make it only too likely that the peace of the region would be broken again by Saddam himself.

Our quarrel is with Saddam Hussein, not with the Iraqi people. We support the territorial integrity of Iraq and would like to see it rejoin the international community. Meanwhile, we are at the forefront of the diplomatic efforts to bring relief to the Iraqi people. We have led the negotiations at the UN to more than double the oil-for-food programme. We are the second largest donor of humanitarian aid to Iraq. There are no sanctions against food or medicine. It is Saddam, not the UN, who has decided to use his resources to construct presidential palaces for himself and to create weapons of mass destruction for his regional ambitions, rather than to purchase food and medicine for his people.

Finally, we agree with our major Gulf allies that, if diplomacy fails, the responsibility for the consequences will rest solely on Saddam. The best prospect for a diplomatic solution is to leave Saddam in no doubt of our resolve that, if he persists in his ambition to develop chemical and biological arsenals, we will not allow him to continue. He would be making a major miscalculation if he mistook our reluctance to use force for a lack of determination to use it if necessary. I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the House will support that clear and firm message to Saddam.

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