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24 Sept 2002 : Column 17—continued

The Prime Minister: I have made it clear that the purpose of any action should be the disarmament of Iraq. Whether that involves regime change is in a sense a question for Saddam as to whether he is prepared to comply with the UN resolution. I consider it odd that people can find the notion of regime change in Iraq somehow distasteful. Regime change in Iraq would be a wonderful thing. That is not the purpose of our action; our purpose is to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, but I can assure the hon. Gentleman that if he studies the Iraqi regime carefully, he will find that it is not very redolent of anything to do with the Liberal Democrats.

Mr. Mohammad Sarwar (Glasgow, Govan): The Prime Minister will be aware that when Saddam Hussein waged a war against Iran and used chemical weapons against his own people, Britain and the United States supported him. By promoting Ariel Sharon as a man of peace, President Bush has lost his credibility in the Arab world as an honest broker. Does my right hon. Friend

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agree with me that war on terrorism cannot be won unless the conflict in the middle east reaches a peaceful resolution and we tackle poverty?

The Prime Minister: I understand exactly why my hon. Friend feels as strongly as he does on this issue, but I want to say two things. First, it is not for me to defend the actions of the previous Government in the 1980s, but it is simply not true to say that when Saddam used chemical weapons against his own people or against the Iranians the international community endorsed it. It did not. It condemned it very strongly in a presidential statement from the UN Security Council at the time.

Secondly, in relation to Israel I think it is right that we have relaunched the middle east peace process, but if we are to get the middle east peace process back on track again, three things need to happen. The trouble is that people select one or other of them, but they all have to happen. First, the right of Israel to exist and its security have to be recognised by the whole Arab world, as indeed the UN wants. Secondly, there has to be a viable Palestinian state; and thirdly, there has to be a proper security infrastructure built within the Palestinian Authority. Otherwise, my fear is that the moment the process gets going again, it will be wrecked by a suicide bomber or a terrorist. We have to have the indemnity against that of a proper security infrastructure. All three of those things will have to happen before the process is back on track.

Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann): It is a reasonable conclusion that it was only the threat of force that led Saddam Hussein to offer to admit inspectors. There must therefore be hope that a reinvigorated inspection and containment regime will work, but if it does not and other measures become necessary, will the Prime Minister please bear it in mind that, looking at the middle east as a whole, there is probably a greater threat from the militancy that we saw in al-Qaeda and the Taliban? That militancy is not limited to Afghanistan; it grows out of Wahhabism, the state religion of Saudi Arabia, and it will be exploited by Saddam Hussein to try to destabilise other areas. Can we please have some policies that will be directed towards the instability that comes out of Saudi Arabia, as without such policies there will be no lasting peace anywhere in the middle east?

Finally, while many people applaud the clarity and the vigour with which the Prime Minister is pursuing this matter, many people feel that there are similar problems nearer home that would benefit from the same approach.

The Prime Minister: On the right hon. Gentleman's last point, which I thought he might make and which he is entitled to make, I still believe that the peace process in Northern Ireland offers a better opportunity for a peaceful future than does any other alternative.

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that fundamentalism is a real and serious issue. We must deal with it in two ways. First, we must make it clear yet again, as we had to in respect of action in Afghanistan, that this has nothing to do with the religious complexion of the particular regime. Indeed, Saddam's victims are Muslims. The idea that we should pursue Saddam because he is a Muslim is as absurd as saying that we should have pursued Milosevic because he was an Orthodox Christian. This has to do with the nature of the regime. That is what is important.

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Secondly, we must give thought to how we engage with the Arab world. In that context it is important that we try to push forward the middle east peace process without apportioning blame on either side: we can blame one side or the other for a long time and get nowhere. We need a huge mobilisation of energy to get that process going. It is not simply the state of the process itself that concerns Arab opinion; it is the sense that we lack the will to push this forward. We must show that we do, provided that it is on a basis that is just for the security of Israel and for the rights and needs of the Palestinian people.

Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside): Will the Prime Minister confirm that Iraq stands uniquely condemned for violation of Security Council resolutions based on chapter 7 of the United Nations charter? What assessment has been made of Iraq's potential for supporting terrorist groups whose aim is to undermine international peace?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the unique status of Iraq in relation to weapons of mass destruction. Although we did not deal with this in the dossier, there is no doubt, for example, that certain forms of terrorism in the middle east are supported by Iraq. That is another indication of the nature of the regime.

Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells): Will the Prime Minister be explicit about his aims regarding the Government of Iraq? Ambiguity on that point will cause immense confusion later as this drama unfolds. Specifically, would he and the Government be satisfied if Iraq accepted or could be made to accept verifiable, unconditional and unrestricted access by weapons inspectors, leading to verifiable disarmament of Iraq's international weapons? If that were successfully concluded, is it not his aim in addition to seek to change the Government of Iraq or its leader?

The Prime Minister: It is precisely our aim to make sure that the United Nations will is implemented. That has to do with the disarmament of Iraq and the proper verification, inspection and monitoring regime that is able to do its job properly. We are in the present position in order to enforce exactly that. We have not been able to enforce that. For 11 years Iraq has refused to comply with that demand. I have no doubt that if the weapons inspectors are able to do their job and we are effectively able to disarm Iraq, that will indeed change the whole nature of the regime. Our ability to do so has to depend on the United Nations being prepared to assert its will firmly and to back it by the threat of force, which is the only thing that will work.

Whether I would like to see the regime of Saddam Hussein change is another matter. Personally, I think it would be wonderful for the Iraqi people and for that region of the world. Our process is fixed on the issue of disarmament because that is the UN demand that has been made. I do, however, think—this is one of the reasons why for 11 years Saddam has ducked the issue of proper inspection—that that would have a huge bearing on the

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regime, but that is, if you like, an incidental consequence of having a proper weapons inspection regime there, able to do its work properly.

Mr. Jon Owen Jones (Cardiff, Central): What few in the House or outside would disagree with in the document is the statement that Saddam Hussein's regime represents a threat, although we may have arguments about the extent of the threat, but the document is silent on what happens in the event of the Iraqi regime's being replaced by force of arms. What threats would ensue? How do we take a decision if we are not allowed to compare the threats to the area that would result from replacing the Iraqi regime by force with the threat of the Iraqi regime's being allowed to continue?

The Prime Minister: Although some of these questions—if we get to the stage of military options, what are the right options, and if we get to the stage of regime change, what replaces Saddam—do not arise for decision now, as I have said throughout I of course agree that they are very serious questions, which we need to look at. The only thing that I would say to my hon. Friend about regime change is that it is hard to think of an Iraqi regime that would be worse than Saddam, but that said, it is obviously important that we deal with all these issues, including making it quite clear to the people of Iraq that should it come to the point of regime change, that has to be done while protecting the territorial integrity of Iraq. That is an important point.

Sir Michael Spicer (West Worcestershire): It is still not clear to me what happens if the Prime Minister does not get the UN resolution that he is seeking.

The Prime Minister: If we cannot get the UN resolution—I believe that we can—we have to find a way of dealing with this. As I said in my Trades Union Congress speech some time ago, the international community must be the way of dealing with this, not the way of avoiding dealing with it, but I am confident that the international community will respond to what President Bush has said, what I have said and what others have said and will recognise that it is important that we lay down a very clear mandate for the UN.

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