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House of Commons

Tuesday 16 April 2002

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—


1. Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon): What assessment he has made of the situation regarding cross-border terrorist incursions into India. [45516]

7. Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle): What recent steps he has taken to encourage the UN to supervise both sides of the line of control in Kashmir. [45522]

13. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): What initiatives Her Majesty's Government are undertaking to ensure peace in the Indian sub-continent. [45528]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): In our view, only a political dialogue, not violence and terrorism, will bring a solution to Kashmir. Unfortunately, military mobilisations on both sides of the line of control remain high. On the communal violence in the Indian state of Gujarat, we are deeply concerned about the deaths and injuries on both sides of the religious divide. We have been in regular contact with the Government of India about that, and indeed about Kashmir. They have strongly condemned the violence in Gujarat, and have given assurances, which I welcome, that they will take action to bring to justice the perpetrators of the attack.

On Sri Lanka, the news is much happier, and I am glad to be able to report to the House that following the good offices of the Government of Norway, in which we have been participating, a ceasefire has now been declared between the Government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam terrorist organisation. We look forward to that developing into a full-scale peace process.

Mr. Dismore: Is my right hon. Friend aware that in January, after many terrorist attacks in India, the Indian Government requested the extradition from Pakistan of 20 suspected major terrorist leaders, including Azhal Masood, the prime suspect for the December attack on the Indian Parliament, Athar Ibrahim, the main suspect for the Indian airlines IC-814 hijacking, and Dawood Ibrahim, the underworld don behind a series of bomb attacks in

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Mumbai? Will my right hon. Friend join the USA in pressurising Pakistan to arrest those highly dangerous individuals and either put them on trial in Pakistan or extradite them to India for trial there?

Mr. Straw: It is incumbent on all members of the United Nations, including the Governments of Pakistan and India, fully to implement the requirements of UN Security Council resolution 1373 on countering terrorism. Like the United States, we have been engaged in discussions with the Government of Pakistan about their meeting their obligations in respect of countering terrorism. We believe that they need either to bring those suspects to trial—or certainly those 15 who appear on the Interpol list—or hand them over to the Government of India.

Mr. Prentice: My right hon. Friend will know that the line of control extends for 450 miles, yet there are only 45 UN military observers—one for every 10 miles of territory. Why cannot we urge the UN to increase the number of military observers in that area, which could easily become a tinderbox leading to a third world war?

Mr. Straw: I do not think that there is any problem about urging the UN, but there is a difficulty in getting bilateral agreement to the role of observers on both sides of the line. My hon. Friend will know that observers are currently situated only on the Pakistani side of the line of control. As I have made clear, we consider that the Kashmir dispute is, in essence, a bilateral dispute, but the international community, including the United Kingdom Government, remains ready to assist in that. Looking to the future, there may well be a role for observers, under the auspices of the UN, better to enforce a proper peace.

Simon Hughes: On Sri Lanka, following the Secretary of State's welcome recognition of the major breakthrough achieved, largely through Norway but also through the good offices of many other countries, will Her Majesty's Government urge not only the Prime Minister and Government but the President of Sri Lanka to take what must be the best opportunity for peace and an end to the terrible killing that the country has had for 20 years or more? Will the Government, in the context of the Commonwealth and the region, offer all assistance, both on the constitutional agenda, so that self-governance can be achieved within acceptable terms, and on the redevelopment agenda, which will clearly be vital if the northern half of Sri Lanka is to play its full part in the economy of that country and of the region?

Mr. Straw: The short answer to the hon. Gentleman's question is yes. I place on record our appreciation of the work that he has undertaken over many years to try to bring the sides together and the attention that he has paid to the issue of Sri Lanka.

Since we are to discuss the middle east later this afternoon, I say to the House that it is a terrible commentary on what has happened in Sri Lanka that, by any analysis, more people—60,000—have been killed in terrorist outrages and in the ensuing military action in Sri Lanka than have been killed in the middle east. I applaud the work of the new Government of Sri Lanka and the

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statesmanship at last being shown by the LTTE. The Government and the Commonwealth stand ready to assist in every way we can.

Mr. Barry Gardiner (Brent, North): The Foreign Secretary will know that later this year in the state of Jammu and Kashmir there are to be local state elections. Will he take this opportunity to place on record our Government's support for the Indian Government's continuing desire to maintain the secular tradition of democracy in that country? Will he also put on notice those who, by sponsoring cross-border terrorism, would seek to destabilise the area in the run-up to those elections?

Mr. Straw: As my hon. Friend knows, I have been unequivocal in condemning all forms of terrorism, not least cross-border terrorism across the line of control. As for the prospective elections on the Indian side of the line of control, in Jammu and Kashmir, we look forward to those elections being held, but it is crucial—I believe that the Indian Government understand this—that they are held in a climate of peace and security and with proper facilities for external monitors.


2. Mr. Greg Pope (Hyndburn): What recent discussions he has had with the US Administration about Iraq. [45517]

8. Ms Meg Munn (Sheffield, Heeley): What recent discussions he has had with the US administration about Iraq. [45523]

9. Mr. Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon): What recent discussions he has had with the United Nations Security Council concerning weapons inspectors visiting Iraq. [45524]

12. Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North): What recent discussions he has had with his counterparts in the United States in respect of Iraq. [45527]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): My ministerial colleagues and I regularly discuss Iraq with the United States and our other Security Council counterparts. Most recently, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister discussed Iraq with President Bush during his visit to Crawford, Texas slightly more than a week ago.

Iraq is in clear breach of nine separate UN Security Council resolutions, not least but not exclusively in respect of the threat posed by its weapons of mass destruction. The clear obligation on Iraq is to readmit UN weapons inspections without delay and without conditions.

Mr. Pope: Does my right hon. Friend agree that Iraq is a cause of not only regional instability but global instability; that it is right that UN weapons inspectors be allowed free and unfettered access to Saddam's weapons of mass destruction; and that if that access is denied and

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that denial continues, we, the international community, have the right under existing UN resolutions to take action?

Mr. Straw: My hon. Friend is correct to point out the extreme danger posed by Saddam Hussein's failure to meet the obligations of the UN Security Council resolutions, to abandon his development of weapons of mass destruction, and to ensure that there is proper inspection of what he has or has not done. My hon. Friend tempts me to comment on issues of international law, but I shall resist and say simply that, in our judgment, views about compliance with international law need to be taken in the circumstances at the time.

My hon. Friend has raised questions about military action. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister told the House last week, no decisions about military action have been made—nor, may I add, are such decisions, if they are to be made at all, likely to be made for some time.

Ms Munn: Have there been any discussions with the US Administration of the Israel-Palestine situation, which is of great concern and which threatens the stability of the whole region?

Mr. Straw: Indeed there have been continuous discussions between the United States and us. The middle east and the Arab-Israeli conflict formed the centrepiece of the discussions at Crawford. On Sunday I spoke at some length with US Secretary of State Colin Powell about precisely that situation and his work to secure a peace.

Mr. Djanogly: There has recently been press comment that the US Government asked the CIA to investigate the chief UN weapons inspector in relation to the last round of weapons investigations in Iraq. Does the Foreign Secretary care to comment on that and on the likelihood, if inspectors are allowed back into Iraq, of a new round of inspections being successful?

Mr. Straw: The hon. Gentleman invites me to comment on a report about alleged action taken by a foreign Government, the US Government. My reply is, no thanks.

On the more significant issue—the possibility of Saddam Hussein readmitting weapons inspectors—we and the United Nations continue to press the Government of Iraq to readmit weapons inspectors. However, the outlook is bleak in respect of compliance by Saddam Hussein. That is best illustrated by the fact that the Government of Iraq began to engage in a process of dialogue under the auspices of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan; a further meeting was due to take place a few days ago, but the Government of Iraq decided unilaterally to pull out.

Our message to Saddam Hussein is clear: if he has nothing to hide, he has nothing to fear from weapons inspections. The view of the international community is also clear—he must readmit weapons inspectors, otherwise he will be seen by the whole world to be in the clearest possible breach of international obligations.

Mr. Chaytor: Does my right hon. Friend think that there is a relationship between the issue of weapons

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inspections in Iraq and the issue of the Palestinian state? Does he think that recognising that relationship could be the way forward to resolve both problems?

Mr. Straw: Of course I recognise the fact that there are political connections between the two issues. Nobody more than Saddam Hussein would like the question of his failure to comply with international obligations to be intertwined with the Arab-Israeli conflict; of course I am aware of that. However, there is no reason on account of the Arab-Israeli conflict in Israel and the occupied territories for Saddam Hussein to fail to comply with his obligations. It is also a matter of record that the victims, internally and externally, of Saddam Hussein's crimes and aggression have almost exclusively been fellow Muslims—fellow Muslims whom he gassed in the south of Iran during the Iraq-Iran war and fellow Muslims whom he gassed in the north of Iraq during the Kurdistan civil war.

Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife): As neither the charter of the United Nations, nor indeed any other principle of international law, nor even the ceasefire resolutions which affect Iraq, authorise regime change, can the Foreign Secretary confirm that, unlike others, it is not the policy of Her Majesty's Government to seek to replace Saddam Hussein through the use of military action?

Mr. Straw: My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister explained our position when he said that in practice regime change has been a means to an end of securing a proper peace settlement, human rights and the enforcement of international obligations in countries such as Kosovo, Serbia, Sierra Leone and Afghanistan. We regard Saddam Hussein as, first, quite detestable and despicable on the basis of his record; I do not think that that is an issue. Secondly, he is in the clearest possible breach of international obligations. Thirdly, by his development of weapons of mass destruction, he poses a severe threat to the rest of the world, which has been acknowledged by the international community so, fourthly—I emphasise that no decisions whatever have been taken—to secure his compliance with those international obligations it may be necessary to see an end to that regime, but always in the context of international law.

Mr. Peter Kilfoyle (Liverpool, Walton): Further to the question of the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Djanogly), if the Foreign Secretary will not confirm that Paul Wolfowitz directed the CIA to subvert the position of chief United Nations weapons inspector Hans Blix, will he confirm that ironically the CIA found that Mr. Blix was guilty of nothing more than acting within the parameters set for him?

Mr. Straw: I am responsible for a great deal, but happily I am responsible neither for Mr. Wolfowitz nor the CIA.

Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield): But is it not obvious, as the Foreign Secretary said, that Iraq represents an enormous clear and present danger, not only to neighbouring countries in the middle east and the Muslim population to which he referred, but very much to this

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country and western Europe? Will he, as far as he can, cause to be published detailed evidence of the development of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq? Is not this country right to be enormously grateful to the United States of America for being prepared to take the necessary action to defend our interests just as much as its own?

Mr. Straw: So far as the evidence is concerned, almost all the evidence on Iraq's development of weapons of mass destruction is already available and published. I have, and am happy to make available to all right hon. and hon. Members, details of United Nations reports on weapons inspections, human rights abuses and the development of nuclear weapons. They are already available on the website.

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock): Publish them then; print them.

Mr. Straw: They have already been published. I am happy to ensure that they are further published in an easily accessible form—in other words on paper, not on a website—and to place them in the Library.

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax): Will the Secretary of State say whether he intends to publish the dossier that was in the news a few weeks ago containing the evidence of mass destruction? I understand that that is not the dossier that he has been waving about at the Dispatch Box.

Mr. Straw: My hon. Friend is right to say that this document is not the dossier, but most of the dossier to which she referred is drawn from such documents and other sources. No one should be in the least doubt about Iraq's flagrant violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions. We do not have to wait for the publication of a dossier, which is held up only by difficulties in determining whether intelligence should be made public. We do not have to wait for such a dossier to read documents such as this and hundreds of pages more of the clearest evidence of Iraq's violation of its international obligations, in respect both of weapons of mass destruction and of its violation of the human rights of its neighbours and its own citizens.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy): Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in March 1999 a UN humanitarian panel of experts recommended a number of modifications to the sanctions on Iraq, which it thought might lead to incremental improvements in the internal humanitarian situation? One of those recommendations was to authorise foreign investment in Iraq's non-military export industries. Why is that recommendation absent from the Government's smart sanctions proposal, under which all exports from Iraq other than oil will be banned?

Mr. Straw: I am indeed aware of that recommendation. It is one that we, as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, have been following up ever since. We want to see the so-called more focused smart sanctions in place. We have wanted to see them in place for well over a year and a half. Why have they been held up? The sanctions, which would apply only to defence matériel and weapons of mass destruction, rather than to

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the whole gamut of imports into Iraq, are held up because of Iraq, and because of its efforts—diplomatic efforts up to now—to persuade in particular one permanent member of the Security Council, Russia, not to vote in favour.

I am pleased to say that, following our diplomatic efforts and those of the United States, Russia agreed to the principle of a goods review list at the end of November. The final process of negotiation is currently taking place, and I hope and believe that it will be possible to have the new regime of sanctions in place by the end of May, but it is the Government of Iraq who are opposing it, because they know that they will be denied a propaganda weapon, claiming—inaccurately—that all their imports are subject to and therefore controlled by sanctions. Also, they know that the more focused system of sanctions will be more effective at stopping defence matériel going into that country.

Mr. Malcolm Savidge (Aberdeen, North): If we start a war with Iraq and if, in line with the speculations of the Defence Secretary on the Dimbleby programme on 24 March, we were subsequently to launch a pre-emptive nuclear first strike against the Iraqi people, with probable collateral damage in neighbouring countries, does my right hon. Friend believe that that would be a moral or sane way of seeking to bring peace to the middle east and the rest of the world?

Mr. Straw: There were two big ifs in my hon. Friend's question. His remarks were a parody of what my right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary said on that programme. There is no suggestion of the use of nuclear weapons in that theatre. My hon. Friend is right to say that there would be some collateral damage from a nuclear strike on Iraq, and that is not remotely on the agenda. I am aware of the speculation, but in all the military action in which this country has ever been involved under this Administration and, I believe, under previous Administrations, we have been careful, cautious and proportionate in the use of military action, as we should be, and it must be obvious to the entire House and the country that the current President of the United States has shown similar care and proportionality in the decisions that he has made about military action.

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