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The Prime Minister: There is a simple answer: we will remain ready to act whenever Saddam Hussein withdraws his co-operation. Although it is easy to say, it is not a correct description of the situation to state that we are in the same position as we were back in February. The substantial differences are, first, in February, there was a long build-up to the memorandum of understanding; it has been two weeks since Saddam Hussein's decision of 30 October to withdraw co-operation. I do not believe that anyone doubts that we will move straight away next time. It is important for us to be able to say to the entire outside world, "This is not action that we take willingly. It is not action that we want to take, but it is action that we feel obliged to take, having exhausted all other avenues."

Secondly, Saddam Hussein now knows that we are deadly serious. He knows that the planes were very nearly ready to mount the strike before he made his offer and climbed down. He has to realise, and I believe that he does, that next time there will be no time for that at all.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): I agree with my right hon. Friend that this is far from over--but will it ever be over until such time as there is the prospect of sanctions being lifted? Does my right hon. Friend accept the glimmer of hope that was given by Kofi Annan, that part of a package would be that at last, after seven years, there would be the prospect of sanctions being lifted?

Secondly, last Sunday Albert Reynolds and I sat in the office of Jaakko Ylitalo, who is the acting director of UNSCOM. He said that UNSCOM had visited 496 sites and that there had been no violation in any of those sites. Furthermore, he talked in terms of a three-month time limit. Could a full look be given at this very complex area of precisely what UNSCOM has found and what it hoped to find?

Finally, to use the felicitous phrase of my righthon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton(Mr. Kaufman), might it not be so bad an idea if a delegation of preferably Arabic-speaking people--senior officials--went to Baghdad not to get their noses brown but to talk in terms of dignity to the proud northern Arabs whom, let us never forget, we were content to provide with arms throughout the 1980s, when we hoped that they would not be defeated by the Ayatollah and militant Islam? This is a very complicated area. Please send some kind of delegation to talk to them before we think of hurling down missiles.

The Prime Minister: I respect the fact that my hon. Friend has different views on these matters. First, I say to him that we have made the position very, very clear to the Iraqis again and again. They know what they have to

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do to get sanctions lifted. They have to do what they agreed to do at the end of the Gulf war. The fact that sanctions are still in place is a measure not of our obduracy but of the fact that they have not implemented what they agreed to do at the end of the Gulf war.

As for UNSCOM, it is there to do a job of work that it knows is not yet complete. There is no doubt at all that there are still weapons unaccounted for. I listed in my statement--I did so deliberately--the vast arsenal of weapons that has been uncovered.

No matter how much we would wish for Saddam Hussein to be a different type of person from what he is, the fact is that he is a brutal dictator who has used chemical weapons against his own people. He has repressed and murdered thousands of his own people. The country is run by an elite guard of people who are well fed, well looked after and well paid while the rest of the population is under repression. When people oppose him, this is a man who seeks a way to murder them. He is not a man in whom we can have any belief that he will do the right thing, except under duress.

As for the Iraqi people, we constantly make the point, as do Arab countries, that the quarrel is not with them. However, we must not be naive about this. There is no way Saddam Hussein will offer us any way forward unless he knows that if he does not do what he has agreed to do force will follow. I am afraid that that is the inescapable conclusion of the past few years.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough): I commend the Prime Minister's statement that there is no point in wishing the end without willing the means, but has he noted the criticism of some Gulf war veterans that the allies' war aims are somewhat confused? What are the Prime Minister's aims? Are they to remove Saddam? No tyrant has ever been removed by aerial bombing alone. Or are they to destroy chemical and biological stocks? As those are easily dispersed, they cannot be destroyed by aerial bombing alone. Is the Prime Minister therefore willing to contemplate military action on the ground?

The Prime Minister: We have set out our position with great clarity: we want UNSCOM to do its work because that is what Saddam Hussein agreed. If he refuses to let UNSCOM do its work, we shall take military action, the purpose of which is twofold: first, to degrade the weapons of mass destruction capability; and secondly, to diminish Saddam's general military capability to threaten his neighbours. Those objectives are plainly set out.

We believe that, in the action that we were about to take, we could have delivered both those objectives. They remain our objectives, so there is no confusion at all. However, we should never promise that we can achieve something unless we are sure that we can achieve it. We are sure that we can achieve the objectives that we set out.

Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington): I congratulate my right hon. Friend and the Defence Secretary on the resolute way in which they have gone about this matter over the past couple of weeks. May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the Foreign Secretary's comments last week in the House, when he conceded that illicit revenues secured in breach of United

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Nations sanctions--from oil supplies from Iraq to Iran through the straits to the south and through Kurdistan in the north--are funding Saddam Hussein's whole operation in Baghdad, particularly the Republican Guard? Why will not the United Nations carry a resolution to enforce a blockade effectively to cut off those oil revenues? When the money is cut off, Saddam Hussein will fall.

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is right. Together with our allies and friends, we are looking at how we can tighten the regime. He is right to say that there has been seepage from the sanctions regime. Any seepage undermines the efficacy of the sanctions. We hope that we can take steps to tighten that regime.

Mr. Christopher Gill (Ludlow): The Prime Minister has paid generous praise to the United States of America for the enormous effort that it makes to carry out United Nations resolutions. The House knows that this country has often sided with the US in carrying out those resolutions. Although we may not contribute much by way of munitions, it is important psychologically that the world sees that the United States does not stand alone, but has an ally in discharging those obligations.

Should we be rash enough to join a common European foreign and defence policy, it would be practically impossible for us to be an ally to the United States when it tries to carry out such difficult operations. Is it fully appreciated in Washington that, if we were propelled into a common European foreign and defence policy, we would no longer be in the present happy position of reinforcing the US President when he takes such action?

The Prime Minister: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his initial statement. On the second point, however, he is just wrong. I am aware of no discussion of any sort in Europe that would either compel us to join some defence policy that would undermine our alliance with the United States or inhibit our ability to act with the United States where necessary.

I remind the hon. Gentleman that the European security and defence identity within NATO was set up a couple of years ago, quite rightly, to recognise the European dimension. That does not mean to say that we have to act in contradistinction to, or contradiction with, the work that we do with the United States. However, it is important that Europe should have a more effective foreign and security policy. Our bottom line is to achieve that in the right way, which in no way undermines or inhibits our relationship with the US and NATO.

I think that the hon. Gentleman will find, as so often, that, once we strip away the paranoia--if I may describe it as that--of those who are opposed to anything with the word "Europe" in its title, we will see that the United States would welcome a stronger voice from Europe on many occasions. If Britain is sensible, we can use our relationship with the United States--and if we are positive and constructive in Europe, we can use our relationship with the rest of Europe--to make sure that the EU and the United States follow the same strategy. That would be to the benefit of the whole world.

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Ms Bridget Prentice (Lewisham, East): Last week, an all-party delegation visited the United Nations and met members of the Security Council. Is my right hon. Friend aware of the high regard in which the Government are held in the UN? Much credit should be given to Sir Jeremy Greenstock, our ambassador, and his team there.

Would my right hon. Friend remind Members of the House and others who are timorous about doing what is right that eight Arab states last week laid the blame entirely at the door of Saddam Hussein? Will he reiterate his view that, if Saddam Hussein back-tracks by one degree, no more talking will take place, but force will be used?

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