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Middle East

4. Mr. Malcolm Savidge (Aberdeen, North): If he will make a statement on the status of the middle east peace process. [108533]

16. Ms Christine Russell (City of Chester): If he will make a statement on the current status of the middle east peace process. [108546]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Robin Cook): I visited the region again last month. I found deep concern at the delay on a framework agreement on the Palestinian track and at the suspension of talks on the Syrian track, but I also found optimism that procedural problems could be overcome.

Clearly, the situation in Lebanon is grave; we are worried and saddened by the violence. I spoke on Friday to the Foreign Minister of Syria and conveyed our view that all parties in Lebanon must exercise restraint. We have delivered the same message to the Israeli and Lebanese Governments. The crisis underlines the importance of efforts to find comprehensive peace for the region, which can be achieved only by the parties returning to the negotiating table.

Mr. Savidge: I thank my right hon. Friend for appealing to all sides to show restraint in Lebanon. Does he recognise that a lasting solution for Lebanon can be found only within the framework of a comprehensive peace settlement between Israel and Syria? Will he urge both those countries to return to the negotiating table?

Mr. Cook: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that welcome. I agree that the only way forward is via the

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negotiating table. It will be difficult to resolve the problems in Lebanon without a resumption of the Syrian track, on which I hope we can make progress on the basis of land for peace.

Ms Russell: Will my right hon. Friend comment on reports that appear to indicate that the recent talks in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, broke down when it was revealed that the Israelis planned to leave 17,000 of their people living on Syrian soil? Will he reaffirm that our Government's position is that those settlements in the occupied territories and east Jerusalem are illegal?

Mr. Robin Cook: It has been the long-standing view of Governments of both complexions that the settlements in the occupied territories are illegal under international law and are a block to the peace process. I am not sure that my hon. Friend is right about the current hiatus in the peace talks. It was undoubtedly unfortunate that one of the negotiating documents was published; it will be difficult to take such a sensitive and delicate matter forward if the negotiating documents get into the press.

Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Mid-Bedfordshire): Has the Foreign Secretary visited the middle east since March 1998? If not, is it because that visit was such a disaster for this country?

Mr. Cook: I do not know where the hon. Gentleman has been during Question Time for the past six months. I visited Israel and the Palestinian Authority in October last year. I was well received and had useful discussions with the Israeli Government. [Interruption.] I do not understand why Tory Members find it hilarious that one is greeted well by the Israeli Government. Last month, I visited Jordan and Egypt where I carried forward discussions. We have been actively involved there; the hon. Gentleman should turn the record over.

Mr. Francis Maude (Horsham): We share the Foreign Secretary's hope that the talks, especially between Israel and Syria, will resume and prove fruitful. We understand Israel's desire to ensure the security of its borders against terrorist attack, but we hope that talks will resume quickly. What is the Foreign Secretary doing to assist the resumption of those talks? My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Sayeed) recalled that, when the Foreign Secretary visited the area in March 1998, he managed to annoy everybody. Is not staying away the best that he can do?

Mr. Cook: The Opposition should reflect on recent history and realise that there has been a change of Government in Israel. The Israeli Government are working closely with us; we have had frequent exchanges with Prime Minister Barak.

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham): What about Lord Levy's involvement?

Mr. Cook: Lord Levy has played a positive role in bringing the parties together. His visit to Damascus before the start of the Syrian talks was helpful in finding a formula to enable those talks to begin.

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In the European Union, Britain is regarded as one of the leading advocates of the peace process. We shall continue to ensure that the European Union offers the necessary peace dividend if peace is to be permanent. The Government have fully supported the peace process; we are in contact with all the parties, and we shall continue to provide full support.

Mr. Stephen Twigg (Enfield, Southgate): Is my right hon. Friend aware of recent anti-semitic propaganda in the state-sponsored Syrian Daily Tishreen, which suggests that the holocaust is a myth and condemns the Stockholm conference on the holocaust, which he attended? Will my right hon. Friend join me in condemning that propaganda, and will he make it clear to the Syrian authorities that the appearance of such articles poses a major threat to the peace process?

Mr. Cook: I am happy to tell my hon. Friend that we have already made such representations. We understand from the Syrian Government that they regret the publication of those views, and that it is unlikely to happen again.

Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park): Does the Foreign Secretary believe that the Government's possible support for the Ilisu dam in Turkey and the water wars that might ensue will have a serious effect on peace in the middle east?

Mr. Cook: The Department of Trade and Industry has set out four major conditions for providing export credit to the dam. They include considerations about the welfare of the people in the valley, provision for proper environmental impact assessments, treatment of any water that would be used or collected in the valley and consideration of the provision of a regular supply of water to countries such as Syria, which are further downstream.


5. Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge): What recent representations he has made to the Government of Zimbabwe concerning good governance criteria. [108534]

7. Miss Julie Kirkbride (Bromsgrove): If he will make a statement on human rights in Zimbabwe. [108536]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Peter Hain): Zimbabwe has reached a turning point. President Mugabe has the opportunity to unite the country around him in a process of reform and recovery, which is long overdue. For far too long, dreadful economic mismanagement has propelled that potentially rich African country into crisis. I appealed to President Mugabe not to miss the moment and to face the challenges head on. It is the duty of friends to speak frankly. I have done that in private on several occasions to President Mugabe--unfortunately, to no effect. I hope that he will now accept that Zimbabwe's economy is in trouble and that the international community wants to work with Zimbabwe, not against it.

Britain, other donors and, crucially, the international financial institutions stand ready to help. However, the Government of Zimbabwe must understand that we will do that only if they show real commitment to sound

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economic policies and if they work with the international community in a spirit of political co-operation, rather than against us in paranoid isolation.

I am saddened that the referendum process that was designed to unite Zimbabwe on a programme of sorely-needed reform was so badly flawed. There was no electoral roll and no access to the media for opposition groups; there were no observers, and scant information was available to voters. The overwhelming victory for the no camp is a sign of the deep dissatisfaction with the Government over that and other issues.

The Government of Zimbabwe must now ensure that general elections in the spring are free and fair, give the voters a real choice and set Zimbabwe on the road to success.

Mr. Randall: I thank the Minister for that full statement. He will be aware that the Prime Minister said in a written answer last week that the Government

Does that mean that this country has put an arms embargo on Zimbabwe?

Mr. Hain: No, the Prime Minister's answer means what it says. If there are any applications for export licences to sell to Zimbabwe arms that could be used for external aggression in the Congo or by other African countries involved in the Congo conflict, they will be refused. That is what the Prime Minister said and that is what the hon. Gentleman should have read into the answer.

Miss Kirkbride: In answering both questions together, the Minister clearly sought to avoid my request for a statement on human rights in Zimbabwe. It would have been nice to have heard a little more about that. Does he agree that today's rejection of the referendum proposals by the people of Zimbabwe is a step in the right direction against the despotic powers of President Mugabe? When will the Government match their announcements on an ethical foreign policy? Why do we not attach conditions, such as the improvement of human rights in Zimbabwe, to bilateral aid? Why have we sold spare parts for Hawk jets to enable President Mugabe to maintain a bloody civil war in the Congo? Why do not the Government have President Mugabe arrested for abusing human rights when he comes to this country, as they did with General Pinochet, or is it business as usual--say one thing and do another?

Mr. Hain: I remind the hon. Lady that her Government sold Hawk jets to Zimbabwe as, indeed, they sold arms to virtually every country on any basis--Suharto in Indonesia, for example. We have repeatedly made clear our anxiety about denial of human rights in Zimbabwe and we have consistently been concerned and made representations about the failure to establish a proper referendum. I repeat what I said in my initial answer: we want free and fair elections and Zimbabwe launched on a programme for democratic pluralism, including respect for human rights.

Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East): The Minister has made a robust and principled response. Does he agree

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that it was unfortunate that Commonwealth Ministers rejected the proposal made at the Heads of Government meeting in Durban last year for an enhanced Commonwealth ministerial action group to deal with such abuses of human rights?

Mr. Hain: My hon. Friend is right. A proposal was put to the Commonwealth and I was at the Commonwealth ministerial action group meeting that agreed to, and strongly supported, the suggestion that its remit should be expanded precisely to cover abuses of human rights and not only military juntas. I hope that the high-level group that has been established as a result of the Durban deliberations can take that agenda forward.

Mr. Mike Gapes (Ilford, South): Does my hon. Friend agree that there has been a steady deterioration of human rights and more and more authoritarianism during the 20 years in which the regime in Zimbabwe has been in power? Is it not hypocritical of Conservative Members suddenly to notice that now, when we are the first Government to begin to take action against those human rights abuses and authoritarian, anti-democratic practices?

Mr. Hain: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The Conservatives were in power throughout the 1980s and most of the 1990s when the situation in Zimbabwe deteriorated, but did very little, if anything, to challenge that deterioration. We want Zimbabwe to succeed. It has enormous wealth, infrastructure and skills compared with the rest of Africa and is the best-educated country on the continent. If it reforms its economic policies and commits itself to a democratic future, we shall work with it to achieve that success.

Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife): The Minister has rightly referred to the wealth and potential of Zimbabwe. In those circumstances, is it not a matter of profound regret that the people of that country should find themselves short of food, short of fuel, in a deteriorating economy and facing an AIDS epidemic? Will Her Majesty's Government assure the House that they will call upon Mr. Mugabe to observe the results of the referendum? Will they also make it clear that Britain's support depends on the adoption of the principles of good governance and that we expect Harare to observe the principles of the Harare declaration?

Mr. Hain: Yes, we expect the Zimbabwean Government to comply with the results of the referendum, deeply flawed though it was, and with the Harare declaration, in terms of their membership of the Commonwealth. It is also absolutely vital that we see the kind of leadership in Zimbabwe that tackles the AIDS epidemic and deals with the economic failure that has led to fuel shortages and other problems. Without it, Zimbabwe is poised on the edge of an abyss and could go over the edge. That would be very serious for its people and, indeed, for South Africa, its major trading partner, and the whole of Africa. We want Zimbabwe to succeed.

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Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley): While we recognise the problems with the referendum procedure, should not this country now, with the Commonwealth, tell Zimbabwe that we will help it with the preparation of an electoral register for the April election and that the Commonwealth will assist in monitoring a free and fair election?

Mr. Hain: We would be well prepared, as I am sure the Commonwealth and the European Union would be, to assist with a properly planned free and fair election. Unfortunately, because of the telescoped timetable for a quick election, without the necessary fair preparations or transparency it is very difficult to dignify such an election by providing official observers. That is the difficulty that we face, which is why I urged President Mugabe to look again at when, and the basis upon which, that election will be staged.

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham): Observers of this Question Time will see from the Minister's answers what a mess and muddle this Government are in. At the beginning of this month, when there were reports of the aerial bombardment of civilians in the Congo war, using Zimbabwean aircraft, the Prime Minister overruled the Foreign Secretary and the Foreign Office by insisting that spare parts for military aircraft were sent to Zimbabwe. How helpful did the Minister find that intervention? Does he think it will increase his effectiveness in influencing African affairs, when at the same time he was telling other African countries that we are determined to do everything in our power to stop fuelling the conflict in the Congo? Is he not even a little embarrassed that, rather than there being a fig leaf of an ethical dimension to the Government's foreign policy, he is now prepared to display on the international stage their willingness to do one thing and say another?

Mr. Hain: Absolutely not. This Labour Government changed the whole policy on arms exports applications. Instead of being prepared to sell arms for internal repression or external aggression, as the Conservatives did year after year, to every dictator throughout the world, we have introduced strict criteria, which we are now applying, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced last week, to ensure that no country can use British arms, under new export licences, in the Congo conflict.

I remind the hon. Lady that it was her Government who sold the Hawk jets in the first place. We have simply been obliged to honour contractual commitments and supply spares for the two Hawk jets that are still being used in the Congo.

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