Select Committee on International Development Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 780 - 799)




  780. Do we give Ambassador Fowler help with intelligence?
  (Mr Hain) Yes and I can say we will be giving even more help in the coming period.

  Chairman: Mrs Clwyd, would you like to continue the questioning on one of your interests, Iraq.

Ann Clywd

  781. There is a view which, as you know, is more widely held in this country than it was previously that sanctions have no more shaken up Saddam Hussein's regime than the war planes that fly over the south and attack targets from time to time and in fact the whole US/UK policy towards Iraq seems to have consolidated his position in that country, has encouraged smuggling and put illicit profits into his own hands. That kind of criticism, as you know, is now growing. Would you say that UK policy and US policy are at one on this or is there a difference in approach towards the issue of sanctions on the regime?
  (Mr Hain) We have specifically on that question of US and UK policy a common position within the current discussions around the Security Council resolution. There is a difference of emphasis inevitably and questions on the administration from Capitol Hill which can often be negative but there is a common position. To address your central and very important point, those who say that sanctions have not worked must ask themselves what would have happened had they not been applied. Saddam Hussein came into power I think I am right in saying in 1979 and within a matter of years he was invading Iran and within a matter of years after that brutal conflict with many lives lost he was invading Kuwait. In the last eight or nine years he has not invaded anybody; he has been contained. For one of the most aggressive and brutal dictators that the world has ever seen that is not a bad record. Obviously it has not been straightforward and there have been casualties in all directions but the question that needs to be asked is without a sanctions regime what would he have done and I think the answer is as plain as a pikestaff that he would have quite conceivably invaded other countries, continued with his murderous policy towards his own people in northern Iraq and in terms of the Shias in the south, and that has been contained although there are still massive abuses, as my honourable friend is more aware than almost anybody.

  782. Would you say there is one major difference between ourselves and the United States and that is that United States policy is to remove Saddam Hussein whereas we are a bit more mealy-mouthed about it and say that is not our actual aim? Do we not share those aims?
  (Mr Hain) We want to see a 360-degree change in policy coming from Baghdad. That is the objective and the argument about whether you say you want to remove him or not is in a sense academic. The point is to get that change in policy, although I recognise the point that my honourable friend is making. Can I also say what we are seeing now is very far from the picture that is often painted by those who oppose sanctions in Iraq. In those areas which Saddam Hussein does not control, northern Iraq for example, health opportunities are increasing and infant and maternal mortality rates are falling. In those areas he does control where he siphons off money into building palaces, holiday resorts and leisure facilities for him and his own regime, health problems are increasing. So the fault lies squarely with him and his regime not with the international community who are applying sanctions in a humanitarian way. He has even tried to siphon off some of the Oil for Food money in order to purchase state of the art teeth-whitening equipment. This is absolutely outrageous in a situation where his own people are suffering, many of them starving as a result of his policies.

  783. Is there not an argument therefore for lifting sanctions on northern Iraq because people in northern Iraq are generally considered to be the goodies and yet they suffer double sanctions, sanctions against them by Saddam Hussein and sanctions against them by the UN? That argument has been put to us by witnesses.
  (Mr Hain) I understand the point and I can appreciate the frustration particularly on behalf of the Kurds in northern Iraq but if that were to happen two consequences would follow. One is there would be a de facto partitioning of Iraq which I do not think should be an objective of international policy. The other consequence in addition to the leakage of oil supplies which has already occurred out through northern Iraq out to Turkey, which is a problem, is that there would be even more leakages undermining the whole sanctions regime.

Mr Robathan

  784. Can I apologise for not being here for all your evidence; you understand how the House of Commons works. I might just point out that a 360-degree change in policy ends up going in the same direction.
  (Mr Hain) Make it 180 degrees.

  785. I would like to follow up, Minister, because I think it is important because it goes to the heart of our policy of sanctions and whether or not it is working and, as you rightly say, it has been going on for a number of years. It is very nearly nine years. It is nine years since they invaded Kuwait so it is nine years since we had sanctions. But I remember James Baker after the Gulf War saying, "I think we have taught Saddam Hussein a lesson", and this seems to me to go to the heart of the failure of the Government—and I am not blaming your particular Government because it was the same under the last Government—of how do we progress. I support sanctions, do not misunderstand me and I am sure Mrs Clwyd does as well, it is just how it is targeted and how it has worked. It has not led to the peace we would wish to see in that area. I have to say the problem is quite simple. The problem is Saddam Hussein and his regime and therefore I think it is a bit mealy-mouthed not to come out and say, "This is the man. Get rid of him", and everything we do with the sanctions policy should be targeted to getting him out. We all know sanctions are a blunt instrument but, as Mrs Clwyd has said, why not be a little bit more clever and more subtle and try to assist the people in the north and the people in the south and indeed the ordinary population and try to get at him and it seems to me that we are not doing that.
  (Mr Hain) People in the north have already been assisted as indicated by the different health indices, which is very encouraging. I understand the Honourable Member's frustration on this but the fact is that Saddam Hussein is the prime road block on the path to a peaceful, stable Iraq.

  786. Is it the Government's policy to get rid of him or to assist in his removal?
  (Mr Hain) The point about Saddam Hussein is that his policies have got to change.

  787. He has to change, surely?
  (Mr Hain) It is very, very difficult to foresee a future prosperous, stable and peaceful Iraq with Saddam Hussein at the helm but I do not want to respond in the way you are inviting me to, attractive and tempting though it is. I do not want to make an empty statement or gesture which cannot then be implemented. I think this policy, difficult though it has been, is the best policy both to contain his aggressive threat to the outside world. He is still pursuing his programme of developing weapons of mass destruction threatening many countries, indeed the whole world, and that is why the Security Council Resolution which we have been actively working on and want to bring to a head, as I say, before the end of next week is crucial and all the countries of the world that are serious about changing the situation in Iraq should sign up to it and get it through the Security Council pronto.

Ann Clwyd

  788. How many countries are supporting that resolution?
  (Mr Hain) 11 countries have declared their support for the principles behind it out of the 15. That leaves four—China, Russia, France and Malaysia. We have been in active discussion with all of them and I am confident that we can get a resolution through the Security Council and I think there is an obligation on every country now to sign up to it finally as they have been moving towards doing so that everybody's concerns both in terms of technical matters and in matters of principle have been addressed.


  789. You can see, Minister, that Mr Robathan is your friend as well in this Committee.
  (Mr Hain) I sense that maybe you are not, Chairman.

  790. I think you might find it easier if you addressed us my name rather than giving us a "smart sanctions" title.
  (Mr Hain) I would be very happy to do that. The Foreign Affairs Committee was not conducted according to those rules and I have come hot foot from that so perhaps I am branded with that terminology.

Mr Robathan

  791. Could I put one last short point. This is about policy and how effective it is. In ten years' time it will all be a little bit greyer and older and of course we will be sitting where you are sitting, Minister!
  (Mr Hain) I would not count on that!

  792. And if we are not careful we will still be having the same discussion about sanctions. My point is I think policy for government, be it Conservative or Labour, needs to move on on this. If I might say so, you mentioned it should not be United Kingdom policy to determine the division of Iraq, but I am a bit of democrat (it may surprise you to know this!) and I think it is up to the people of Iraq to decide how they wish to be governed.
  (Mr Hain) I agree.

  793. And whether they wish to be split up and whether the Kurds and Marsh Arabs wish to go their own way. I do not think it should be United Kingdom policy to decide Iraq should stay together.
  (Mr Hain) I do not think it is United Kingdom policy to determine what should be the democratic decision of the people of Iraq if they are available to make that decision.

  794. They cannot while Saddam Hussein is in power.
  (Mr Hain) Indeed and that is why we want to see a complete change in Iraq. We are trying to improve the sanctions position. That is what this resolution is all about. We are trying to make progress. It is very difficult but we are trying to do so. I do think that the implication behind the question—and I know it is a friendly question—

  795. It is actually.
  (Mr Hain)—is that we need to improve things, and we are trying to do that. If Mr Robathan has got any good ideas or the Committee has I will be very pleased to look at them.

  Chairman: Mr Rowe has been very patient.

Mr Rowe

  796. A very quick point because I think what I want to ask is too wide for this particular debate today. It does seem to me that the international community, almost unconsciously, is edging towards a whole new concept of world order with an international criminal court, with the whole business of war crimes and so on, the idea that we intervene when we disapprove of something going on somewhere, if we feel it is in our interests to do so, with the confusion in some ways over the way in which sanctions should be applied. One just wonders whether a bit further down the track we are not going to be having some quite lively debates about the sanctity of orders, the sanctity of the nation state and so on and so forth. It does seem to me that the big powers are in danger of ending up somewhere, unconsciously, when perhaps they ought to be being a bit careful.
  (Mr Hain) I think that the way I would respond to that question—and it is an important one—is to go back to the Secretary-General of the UN's speech to the United Nations General Assembly. Kofi Annan advocated an international debate on humanitarian intervention against the background of Kosovo and the difficult issues that raised not least for the United Nations. It is in that area that we enthusiastically support the debate and we have made proposals privately within the Permanent Five and other international arenas to progress that debate. I think that we are entering a different world order and, yes, there are difficulties. Perhaps that is one of the legacies of the ending of the Cold War that we need to tackle this question both in respect of sanctions because sanctions are a form of intervention and in respect of peace-keeping and military intervention like Kosovo and East Timor.

  Chairman: The Committee is going to have to consider these issues. Mrs Clwyd we interrupted you.

Ann Clwyd

  797. Hopefully the UK and Dutch-sponsored draft resolution will go through but realistically do you think Iraqis are going to agree to another UNSCOM equivalent being imposed upon them particularly now they have shut off oil exports and they seem to be raising two fingers at the Security Council? Any resolution of that kind will need some kind of compliance by the Iraqis. What makes you think they are likely to comply.
  (Mr Hain) It does need some compliance by the Iraqis. I would not want the resolution to be interpreted as introducing a son or daughter of UNSCOM. It is an entirely new initiative in terms of monitoring and inspection and destruction of chemical, biological and nuclear capacity. I think that it would be in the interests even of Saddam Hussein with a Security Council resolution with such wide support to comply and although you are quite right in pointing out that he has lifted two fingers to the current "oil for food" programme, our assessment is that he is able to do that because the oil price has been hiked up. He has therefore got a bit of room for manoeuvre but that is not going to be endless and he is going to have to comply in order for Iraq to stay in business in any form.

  798. The draft resolution encourages Member states and international organisations to provide supplementary humanitarian assistance to the Iraqi population. What supplementary humanitarian assistance does the UK intend to supply?
  (Mr Hain) That will obviously depend on the conditions in which we find ourselves and the opportunities for poverty relief which do not have any chance of being siphoned off and spent on gold taps for Saddam Hussein's baths and things like that which is what has happened. Could I perhaps add one other point that I missed earlier on in terms of the whole debate. I have made a positive virtue, because I feel strongly about it, of supporting the Iraqi opposition and have met them and in a sense perhaps increased that dialogue and support to them. I sent a message to their recent conference in the US and also have given support to the Indict campaign which is chaired by you and which has its explicit objective of targeting Saddam Hussein in terms of his international crimes.

  799. Thank you. We saw the UN Humanitarian Co-ordinator for Iraq Mr Von Sponeck who gave oral evidence to this Committee. He has recently had his position renewed for another year but press reports say that both the UK and the US objected to his reappointment. Can you tell us what were your objections to his reappointment and can any conclusions be drawn from the fact that both he and his predecessor Mr Halliday advocated the lifting of sanctions on humanitarian grounds? Would you share with us the objections to the two of them?
  (Mr Hain) I can confirm, since you ask me directly, that we did object to his reappointment. I think it is an objective of UN officials, whether him or Mr Halliday previously, to actually support United Nations policy and anybody operating especially within Iraq should realise the use which such a skilled propagandist and manipulator of international opinion, as Saddam undoubtedly is, is able to make of UN official statements, well-intentioned though they may be.

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