Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon): Perhaps my hon. Friend will bear in mind the fate of missing Israeli service personnel held by Hezbollah, which, as he says, is supported by Iran. They include Elchanan Tenenboim, for whom today was his 500th day in captivity after being kidnapped in Switzerland; Ron Arad, Tzvi Feldman, Zacharia Buamel and Yehuda Katz, who were kidnapped in the Lebanon in the 1980s; Guy Hever, who was kidnapped in the Golan heights in 1997; and Benny Avraham, Omer Suaed and Adi Avitan, who were kidnapped on the Israeli side of the Lebanese border in the past few years. Perhaps my hon. Friend would like to speculate on why Iran supports Hezbollah, which refuses to give any information whatsoever to the families of those people, who have been missing for so long.

Mr. Murphy: It is clear that Iran has considerable influence over Hezbollah. An easy way for it to play a role or to make a symbolic shift in its position would be to instruct those that it funds and supports—namely, Hezbollah—to provide information on the whereabouts of, tragically, what might prove only the remains of the individuals whom my hon. Friend mentions. Certainly, the Iranian Government could easily instruct Hezbollah to make the limited concession of revealing the whereabouts of those poor individuals, whether living or dead.

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the relationship between Hezbollah and Iran, but I am also worried by the recent Karine A shipment of weapons from Iran, seemingly bound for the Palestinian Authority. That is worrying, and I hope it is not part of a wider pattern. It is frightening that such an enormous arms shipment could go to an organisation that publicly remains committed to a peace process in the middle east.

4 Mar 2002 : Column 128

Iran shamelessly uses anti-semitism as a strategic weapon. The Iranian Government's recent refusal to accept Her Majesty's Government's nominee for the post of ambassador is yet another example of that.

Many of us are determined—I know that my hon. Friend the Minister is—to continue to press the Iranian and Syrian Governments, in particular. As the Prime Minister said in Damascus, terrorism in all its forms has to end.

10.31 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Ben Bradshaw): I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood (Mr. Murphy) for raising this subject. I want to speak first about the Government's general policy on countries that promote terrorism, and to illustrate it with reference to positive developments in a couple of countries, before turning to the specific examples raised by my hon. Friend.

My hon. Friend may be interested to know that Iraq—we have concerns about support for terrorism there, but especially about the programme involving weapons of mass destruction—will be debated in Westminster Hall on Wednesday morning. My hon. Friend and other Members who support the Government on this issue may wish to make their views known then.

State promotion of terrorist groups is a cruel, destabilising and ultimately self-destructive instrument of the foreign policies of some Governments. It is an instrument that Governments should and must now abandon. The last six months of terrible attacks on civilians and those engaged in the democratic process have exhausted the tolerance of this Government, and of the international community, of terrorism of any kind. I am thinking, of course, of 11 September, but also of the savage murder of the journalist Daniel Pearl; the attack on the Indian Parliament which destabilised relations between two nuclear powers; the hijack of a Colombian airliner last month; and the sickening bomb attack in Jerusalem on Saturday—a terrorist attack that has perpetuated the current cycle of violence in Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Yet there are Governments who persist in providing terrorist groups with funds, weapons, information and political support—Governments who continue to believe that agreement with the objectives of terrorists justifies terrorist methods. The British Government's view is simple: such state promotion of terrorism is unjustifiable and must end. There is no moral distinction between an attacker who kills civilians or parliamentarians and a state that wittingly provides the resources that facilitate such a terrorist attack.

Mr. James Wray (Glasgow, Baillieston): Does the Minister agree that Syria, Iraq and Iran do not have inter-continental ballistic long-range missiles that could reach the United States? Does he agree that article 15 of the 1972 treaty on the limitation of anti-ballistic missile systems, which gives the Russians and the Americans the right to withdraw from the treaty, does not help? The treaty's globalising of peace and war, whether it refers to American, British or Iraqi terrorism, really does not help. It is the poor who suffer.

Mr. Bradshaw: I do not agree with my hon. Friend one bit. Although the countries that he mentioned may not

4 Mar 2002 : Column 129

have the ballistic missile capability to deliver weapons of mass destruction to that extent at this moment, we do not doubt that at least two of them are actively attempting to acquire that capability, and may be much closer to it than any of us would like to think.

We welcome the progress that has been made by Libya towards abandoning state sponsorship of terrorism and the importance of a strong international condemnation and concerted action against the states concerned. A decade ago, Libya sponsored and incited terrorists. The international community responded by imposing an effective sanctions regime on Libya. The sanctions have resulted in Libya returning to international standards of decency.

The Libyan state has satisfied us that it has severed its links with the IRA. The joint United Kingdom-Libya statement on the murder of WPC Yvonne Fletcher allowed us to re-establish diplomatic relations. Libya has taken steps to make amends for the terrible damage that it caused in the past. The Security Council recognised Libya's surrender of two suspects accused of the Lockerbie bombing. Sanctions were suspended at that point and can be lifted entirely once Libya has complied with the final requirements of the Council.

There has also been progress in Sudan, which in moving away from tolerance of terrorism has offered an example to other nations that retain links with terrorist groups. In the mid-1990s, Sudan allowed bin Laden and the al-Qaeda organisation to organise their international terror campaign from Sudanese territory. The international community's response was robust—we delivered a clear message that such activity could not be tolerated. The imposition of Security Council sanctions was again a valuable tool. Sudan responded. The Security Council in turn responded by lifting sanctions in September last year.

My hon. Friend raised the prospect of military action against a state sponsor. The Government are prepared to use a military approach, as we did in Afghanistan, if again confronted with an Administration who threaten us and care nothing for the views of the international community. There are, of course, many other means of effecting change that we would explore first. We would pull all available diplomatic and economic levers. We would work with Governments who are willing but unable to confront terrorists. Military action is very much a last resort.

Angus Robertson (Moray): I suspect that the Minister is talking about the situation in regard to Iraq. What conversations has he had with colleagues from other European Union countries? Do they share the Prime Minister's views about the possibility of widening the campaign against terrorism into a military phase in regard to Iraq?

Mr. Bradshaw: Our European allies very much share our concern that Iraq should comply fully with its obligations under the United Nations resolutions to allow weapons inspectors back into that country without any conditions attached. If Iraq fails to do that, the international community will face some very difficult decisions. Those who oppose in principle any talk of a military response against countries such as Iraq in such circumstances need to say how they would deal with rogue states determined to acquire weapons of mass destruction and use them on their neighbours and elsewhere.

4 Mar 2002 : Column 130

My hon. Friend also expressed concerns over the behaviour of Iran. We share his concern about the support that the Iranian Government give to terrorism in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We are satisfied that the Iranian Government make material contributions to the capabilities of terrorist groups, including Hezbollah's External Security Organisation and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Both organisations are proscribed in the United Kingdom under the Terrorism Act 2000.

Iranian encouragement of those opposed to the peace process can only inflame and escalate the cycle of violence. The Government take every opportunity to tell the Iranians that we condemn their support for those terrorist groups and that it is without any possible justification. We believe that that critical engagement is helpful, and I am glad that my hon. Friend supports us in that policy.

In answer to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore), we raise the case of the captives at every opportunity with the Iranian and Syrian authorities and in the limited contacts that we have with the political wing of Hezbollah in the Lebanon. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary met with the families of those captives on his recent visit to Israel.

Next Section

IndexHome Page