Previous SectionIndexHome Page

24 Sept 2002 : Column 14—continued

The Prime Minister: Yes, indeed we do. There is a continuing threat from al-Qaeda, not only in this country but in others. Although the hub of its operations has been effectively shut down in Afghanistan, none the less it still has tentacles around the world and it is important that we go after those too.

Mr. Khalid Mahmood (Birmingham, Perry Barr): I welcome my right hon. Friend's commitment to the enforcement of the UN resolutions on weapons inspections in Iraq. Will he affirm his belief that all UN resolutions should be respected, particularly resolutions 242 and 338 concerning Israel and Palestine, which, if implemented with a time scale, would have a far-reaching impact on the stability of the whole region?

The Prime Minister: I believe that it is important that the UN's will is implemented fully. That is why I said what I did about the middle east peace process. I think that one thing, however, must be stated clearly: the UN resolutions in respect of the middle east impose obligations on both sides. They impose obligations in respect of support for terrorism and recognition of Israel as well as withdrawal from the occupied territories. That is why, in the end, the only way of making progress in

24 Sept 2002 : Column 15

the middle east is for all the aspects of the UN's will to be implemented in relation to the middle east. My hon. Friend did not do this, but sometimes people are selective and look simply at Israel's obligations without recognising that those obligations cover all the states in the region.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy): The Prime Minister said earlier that there must be genuine preparedness and planning to take action if diplomacy fails. Has he given the United States any commitment that the United Kingdom would support unilateral action against Iraq?

The Prime Minister: As I said a moment ago, we are not at the stage of taking decisions about military action. However, it is important to recognise that in the event of the UN's will not being complied with we must be prepared to take that action. We are not at the point of decision yet, but no one should be in any doubt that it is important to express very clearly that should the UN's will not be resolved through weapons inspections and monitoring, it has to be resolved in a different way.

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington): The Prime Minister refers, in detail at times, to the report published today and has just made a reference to the inspection of presidential establishments. The report says that Iraq consistently refused to allow UNSCOM inspectors access to any of the eight presidential palaces. Yet on 15 April 1998, a report was prepared by UNSCOM inspectors on the inspections of the presidential sites, which were conducted on the 10 days running up to 15 April. If we are to rely on the Joint Intelligence Committee, should not our intelligence be more accurate than it is in this report?

The Prime Minister: I will say exactly what happened; my hon. Friend may recall it from the time. The Iraqis began what was clearly a ploy to prevent the inspectors from doing their job by designating certain sites presidential palaces. After massive pressure, the inspectors were allowed in to certain of those presidential compounds. However, the inspectors said later that because of all the obfuscation, prevarication and delay, they had no real belief that they had been able to inspect the sites properly.

I can understand people's hesitations about military action in these circumstances, because of course any sensible person has to hesitate before taking such a strong step. However, I find it hard to credit that anybody could look at the behaviour of Iraq over the past 10 or 11 years and say that the regime had co-operated with the UN inspectors. It did not and one might think that the reason for that is that it wanted to keep the weapons of mass destruction it should not have had in the first place.

Sir Brian Mawhinney (North-West Cambridgeshire): Does the Prime Minister accept that those of us who believe in the concept of evil support his cautious but tough analysis and approach? Does he also accept that, given the 11-year history of this problem, it would help the House and the country to form a judgment if we had

24 Sept 2002 : Column 16

some idea of how long he was prepared to allow the United Nations to reassert its authority before looking at alternative strategies?

The Prime Minister: We are at the stage of discussing with our partners in the Security Council the form of a new resolution and what demands we might make. At this stage, therefore, I am not in a position to say that it will be so many weeks or that it will be done in a particular way. Let us be clear: there is no point in the UN taking charge of this again unless we are precise and clear about what we expect the Iraqi regime to do. As I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell), we know from experience that it will try to avoid weapons inspections. We know from current intelligence that that is its intention. So, there will have to be a tough and clear mandate, but the precise terms of that are under discussion.

Mr. Michael Connarty (Falkirk, East): May I put on record my thanks to my right hon. Friend for honouring the tradition of the House and calling this recall? Can he give me a clear and simple answer as to whether he thinks that UN resolution 1999 is adequate for the UN to enforce the weapons inspectors' return and any programme of disarmament, or is he thinking about using another resolution on behalf of the United Kingdom? Also, will that resolution deal only with the return of the UN inspectors and not be a fig leaf for the American intention to invade Iraq and topple Saddam Hussein?

The Prime Minister: We do need a new resolution and it should focus on the disarmament of Iraq of weapons of mass destruction. That is what I believe we should do. It is important to have a fresh resolution because the international community needs to reassert its will very clearly and because we need to make sure that any new inspection and monitoring system is not subject to the same problems as the old one because, in the end, that was not able to do its job.

The only thing that I would say to my hon. Friends about the intentions of the United States is that, if we look at the history of this Iraqi regime over the past 10 or 11 years or throughout its time, we can see that the Americans are right to be cautious about believing that it intends to comply. In fact, I am sure that the regime does not intend to comply at all, although it may be forced to do so. Therefore, it is important that we make it clear that the pressure is there all the time. The purpose of any new UN resolution should be focused on disarmament because that is where the UN has expressed its will clearly.

Mr. John Maples (Stratford-on-Avon): I am sure that the Prime Minister will agree that there are many threats to our security that emanate from countries in the middle east and that while those posed by Iraq may be amenable to a military solution, others are not. What I want to hear from the Prime Minister is that our policy towards Iraq is part of a coherent policy for the region and for dealing with security threats and the Islamic terrorist threats that emanate from other countries. I hope that our policy towards Iraq will be part of that.

The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman has made a good point. I raised the issue of weapons of mass destruction three days after 11 September and before my

24 Sept 2002 : Column 17

first meeting with President Bush in the February before that, when international terrorism was not the issue that it is today. I said that we had to have a coherent approach to weapons of mass destruction. That will mean different things in relation to different countries. I fully accept that Iraq is not the only concern. There are other countries in that region and elsewhere that are trying to develop such weapons and we need a differential strategy in respect of each of them.

I want to make it clear that, in my judgment, if we do not deal with the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their retention by highly unstable states, often with dictatorial regimes, then perhaps not this year or next year, but in the not too distant future, that problem will explode on to the consciousness of the world. I believe that passionately, which is why, whatever the issues in relation to Iraq and apart from anything else in relation to it, it is important to take a stand now and say that, where we have made determinations on behalf of the international community, we will see them through. If we do not, the message to Saddam and anyone else will be that they can develop these weapons with impunity and that the international community lacks the will to deal with them.

David Winnick (Walsall, North): Most of us hope that military action can be avoided, but does not the responsibility lie fully with the Iraqi regime? Whether we go to war or not surely depends on whether it is willing to comply with all the resolutions. Would not it be helpful if the UN Security Council showed a united front and did not allow itself to be divided time and again by a criminal dictator?

The Prime Minister: I totally agree, and I hope that the UN Security Council will be so united.

Mr. Paul Marsden (Shrewsbury and Atcham): Ignoring the mini-me performance by the leader of the Tory party, may I ask the Prime Minister a simple question to which yes or no will suffice? Does he support regime change without UN authorisation—yes or no?

Next Section

IndexHome Page