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The Prime Minister: I agree with everything the right hon. Gentleman says. I thank him for his support and assure him that we shall certainly act as he urges us to do in respect of the Arab states. Their statement last week was an important development, but we have to keep up the argument the entire time. I entirely agree that the dispute is with Saddam Hussein and not with the Iraqi people, nor with the rest of the Arab world. We have to carry on repeating that message all the time.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his support, because on issues such as this it is important that there be cross-party support. One of the things that we have learnt from dealing with Saddam Hussein is that he looks carefully to see how much support there is and how much he can attempt to win by means of divide and rule. Therefore the greater support there is across the political divide here, the greater the impact on him and the greater our ability to avoid the use of force.

I also entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman about weapons. As I said a few moments ago, one of two things will happen: either the inspectors will do their work and complete it, or we shall take action ourselves to diminish the weapons of mass destruction capability.

Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East): May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his steadfast resolution and that of our US allies, which has prevented, for this time, further defiance of the world community by Saddam Hussein? However, as my right hon. Friend will realise, in the US over the weekend there has been a subtle change of policy, which is to heighten the policy objective of toppling the regime in Baghdad. Would he care, first, to spell out whether that is fully agreed to by the Government; and secondly, to state what it means in practice? Does it mean, for example, arming or financing opposition groups? Is he aware that the most credible of those opposition groups have already rejected such assistance?

The Prime Minister: As I said a moment ago, we have to consider with the US the support that we can give the opposition to the Iraqi regime, and that is a legitimate aim for us. If it is the case--and no one can seriously doubt it--that Saddam Hussein does not act in good faith and unless prevented will unquestionably pose a threat to his neighbours--let alone the repression that he visits on his own country--it is an entirely sensible policy objective for us to do all that we can to support opposition to him. We must simply seek the most sensible way of achieving that. That is by no means inconsistent with, and indeed is complementary to, our other objectives.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex): I warmly endorse the Prime Minister's praise for UNSCOM, but is he aware that since the Annan agreement, UNSCOM's work,

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although successful, has been like drawing hen's teeth and it is thought that much of that work has been compromised? Will the Prime Minister tell the House what limits he will assign to obstruction by the regime in Baghdad to UNSCOM's work; and in the event of such obstruction, at what stage he will consider that action will be necessary to ensure that the work is made possible?

The Prime Minister: The important thing is that UNSCOM does its work without any let or hindrance, and the Iraqis have now agreed to that. We shall obviously consider carefully the reports made by UNSCOM to ensure that that condition is being kept. The hon. Gentleman is right--work has been largely compromised since February. If that starts to happen again, we will regard it as a breach of the undertakings that have been given; so we will make a judgment based on UNSCOM's reports, and we must monitor that situation extremely carefully.

If the Iraqis think that they are returning to the position that they were in between February and 30 October, when they withdrew all co-operation, they are wrong. We expect the inspectors to go back into Iraq and be able to complete the work that they were tasked with by the UN resolutions. Again, I stress that all we are demanding is that the resolutions made at the end of the Gulf war--from which these events derive--be implemented in full. We shall watch the work every inch of the way.

Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield): Is the Prime Minister aware that although the world is united in its hostility to the regime of Saddam Hussein and its desire to have the United Nations resolutions carried out, there is no possibility--and the Prime Minister should admit it--of carrying through the Security Council a resolution authorising force against Saddam? He has not even attempted to do so. If an operation, once suspended, were launched now without further notice, the effect on the middle east, as the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) pointed out, would be absolutely catastrophic for the influence of the United States and Britain in that area.

If force were used to change the regime in Iraq, which President Clinton has hinted at and the Prime Minister has now confirmed, that would put us totally outside the realm of legitimacy in international law and the United Nations charter.

The Prime Minister: I can say two things to my right hon. Friend. First, we believe that the legal basis for action is secure because of the UN resolutions that have been passed and the need to enforce them.

Secondly, let us examine what has happened over the past few days. I cannot believe that anyone seriously thinks that the Iraqis, who two weeks ago had withdrawn all co-operation and effectively prevented UNSCOM from performing their duties, would have today allowed the inspectors back in unconditionally--they say--to do their work normally, without let or hindrance, except under duress and the threat of force. It is simply not credible that they would have altered their position unless they were threatened with military action.

I say to my right hon. Friend and those in the international community who are hesitant about the use of force that it is no good willing the ends unless we will

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the means. It is absolutely no good saying to the outside world that we want the UN resolutions on eliminating weapons of mass destruction to be carried through if we are at the same time saying that we will never contemplate the use of force to ensure that they are carried through. It is perfectly obvious from what has happened that if we took that position there would be no elimination of weapons of mass destruction and we might as well render those UN resolutions of no effect at all.

It simply cannot be overstated--we have learnt this on many occasions--that when we are dealing with a dictatorial, brutal and corrupt regime such as that of Saddam Hussein, diplomacy works only if it is backed up by the credible use of force.

Sir John Stanley (Tonbridge and Malling): Will the Prime Minister confirm that the UNSCOM inspection teams, whose work is absolutely critical, will have the unambiguous and unqualified support of the American and British Governments, in particular, in inspecting both declared and undeclared sites?

The Prime Minister: Yes, I can confirm that absolutely.

Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton): I congratulate my right hon. Friend and President Clinton on facing down the procrastinations and tergiversations of murderers and torturers, and on demonstrating to those who toddle off periodically to Baghdad to get their skins tanned and their noses browned that only force or the threat of force has any effect on such people in their violation of a succession of Security Council resolutions.

My right hon. Friend has confirmed to my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) and others that existing Security Council resolutions specifically authorise the use the force--as they did when the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) was Prime Minister. Although he has understandably dealt today with the consequences of the Iraqi attempts to fail to conform to the United Nations Security Council resolutions on weapons inspection, will my right hon. Friend confirm also that there is no prospect of sanctions being lifted until Iraq complies with not only the weapons resolutions but the whole range of UN resolutions?

The Prime Minister: It is essential that everything that the United Nations has set out should be implemented. I agree entirely with my right hon. Friend and welcome his support for ensuring that those Security Council resolutions are implemented in full. I emphasise that that must occur because Saddam Hussein has been trying to develop weapons of mass destruction.

I urge upon those who are doubtful of the need to threaten to use force that we are not talking about technical breaches of the agreements. Saddam Hussein was developing weapons of mass destruction before the Gulf war. He has continued to try to do so since then and to conceal it. If he were successful, the threat to the world would be enormous. He is the one who has used chemical weapons--and he used them against his own people. Some 5,000, mainly women and children, were killed as a result of chemical warfare.

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It is essential that we keep in place the existing mechanisms and maintain eternal vigilance until the Security Council resolutions are complied with in full.

Mr. Martin Bell (Tatton): I am put in mind of the relationship between another Prime Minister and another President who met twice a year--first she told him what she thought and then she told him what he thought. However, these are different times and different people. Can we be assured that Britain has an independent voice in this matter and not just an echo; and that there is at least a prospect of revisiting that grand coalition--not only in this country but in the United Nations, and especially in the Arab world and the Gulf states--that was put together when last we committed our armed forces to the Gulf, in 1990-91?

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