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24 Sept 2002 : Column 27—continued

Mr. Straw: Let me first pay tribute to my hon. Friend's tireless efforts on behalf of the Kurds against the Iraqi regime. She makes an important point—one which I have often discussed with her. She heads up the Anglo-American organisation Indict, which has the aim of bringing to proper justice leaders of the Iraqi regime among others. I support her efforts. Indeed, I was discussing her concerns about the pursuit of the leaders of the Iraqi regime in the manner in which we wish with the Attorney-General only yesterday. But in the world in which we live the possibility of being able to extract Saddam so that he can stand trial in The Hague is, to put it mildly, fairly limited, so we must pursue other means.

However, going back to my hon. Friend's first point, I do not believe that there is anyone in the House or beyond represented on the Security Council who does not wish for a peaceful resolution of the matter. Above all, the responsibility for ensuring a peaceful resolution of the issue of disarming Iraq rests with Saddam Hussein alone. Iraq has fought wars of aggression against two neighbours, and launched missile attacks against three others.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan): Will the Foreign Secretary give way?

Mr. Straw: I shall when I have made some progress.

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In 1991, following the Gulf war, the United Nations Security Council required inspectors to remove the threat and disarm Iraq. The inspectors did some heroic work during their seven years, as we heard earlier, notwithstanding continued intimidation and harassment. Their achievements are spelt out on page 40 of the dossier. But in 1998, as they closed in on the most vital secrets at the heart of Iraq's chemical and biological weapons programmes, they were forced to leave. As the Prime Minister spelt out, and as page 16 of the dossier reveals, in 1998, the regime still retained an arsenal of matériel for chemical and biological weapons. Since then, Iraq has continued to produce chemical and biological agents and their means of delivery, and to make other attempts to develop nuclear weapons.

Let me turn to my second question, which is implicit in those asked by the hon. Members for Stratford–on–Avon (Mr. Maples) and for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik): what about the other countries that may have amassed equally dangerous stockpiles of weapons? What are we doing about them? As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister told the House on 14 September last year in the first debate following 11 September, we in the United Kingdom are greatly concerned about the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in several countries. In tackling the problem, we engage the relevant Governments, both bilaterally and through the United Nations and other international bodies such as the International Atomic Energy Agency, to persuade them to comply with their international non-proliferation obligations. We also exert pressure on them through our efforts nationally and with partners in various international export control regimes to block their access to sensitive materials and technology relevant to weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles. It is our hard-headed judgment that we can best prevent the use of their weaponry through diplomacy, but that is simply not the case with Iraq.

With Saddam Hussein, the diplomatic route has been constantly and consistently obstructed by his intransigence and duplicity. It has been blocked altogether since December 1998, leaving us no alternative but to consider other options. Iraq, not the UN, has chosen the path of confrontation.

Mr. Salmond: A few seconds ago, the Prime Minister set great store by the American relationship, but might there not be a difference between that and agreement with the United States Administration? Has the Foreign Secretary seen the speech made by former Vice-President Gore in the early hours of this morning in which he argued that by being willing to countenance action outwith the United Nations the Administration were, as he put it, exhausting the reservoir of support built up after 11 September? Does the Foreign Secretary have any sympathy with that view or did the Government agree with Vice-President Gore only when he was in office?

Mr. Straw: The hon. Gentleman is quoting Mr. Gore with great selectivity. I listened carefully in the General Assembly to the speech made by President Bush of the United States which, as a leading diplomat in the United Nations said to me afterwards, was one of the most positive pro-UN speeches to be made by an American President in many decades. I invite the hon. Gentleman to look at that speech. President Bush was saying that this is

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a real problem for the world and the world's international institutions need to deal with it—that is exactly what we are doing.

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax): If that speech was so positive about the United Nations, can the Foreign Secretary explain to the House why last Friday we got the Bush doctrine that virtually bypasses the UN and tears up international law because it supports pre-emptive strikes anywhere and at any time that President Bush sees a threat?

Mr. Straw: If my hon. Friend read the text of the national security strategy that President Bush and Secretary Powell published, she would see that the gloss put on it is not justified. I shall give the House two quotations. First, it states:

the United States'—

Secondly, it states:

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North): In the 1980s, Britain, along with many other western countries, was a major arms supplier to Iraq. We continued to supply weapons until the 1989 Baghdad arms fair, more than a year after the atrocity at Halabja. During that time, many thousands of people died in the Iran-Iraq war. Since then, we have supplied countless weapons to Saudi Arabia, Iran and other countries in the region. I understand that we are now supplying highly selective and sensitive military equipment to Iran. Does the Foreign Secretary not think that it is time to reassess the whole arms export strategy? Does he not think for a moment that what goes around comes around, that Iran has developed a nuclear weapons capability just as Iraq may wish to do, and other countries in the region have massive capabilities?

Mr. Straw: Britain has one of the most effective and rigorous systems of arms export control anywhere in the world—more effective than any of our European partners and on a par with that operated by the United States—[Interruption.] Yes, of course, that is exactly the point I have been dealing with. Other countries have weapons of mass destruction, but the difference is that we are seeking to deal with the threat that they pose by diplomatic means. That process and possibility has been wholly rejected by Iraq, not the international community.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Straw: Let me make some progress.

What further distinguishes Iraq from other proliferators is the nature of its intent. It is not just the fact that it has weapons of mass destruction, but that it has much greater intent to use them. Saddam's is the only regime in recent history to have used chemical weapons, the only regime to have been declared in breach of the Geneva protocol on chemical weapons and the only regime that sees those weapons of mass destruction as an active tool of regional

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and internal dominance. As page 19 of the dossier sets out, Saddam is prepared to use those weapons—they are by no means a last resort.

Paul Flynn (Newport, West): Would the Foreign Secretary tell us under what circumstances people believe Saddam Hussein would now use his weapons of mass destruction? Is not the most likely circumstance—in fact the only likely one—one in which he was desperate, cornered or beaten and used them as a suicidal gesture? Containment has kept the peace for 11 years. Is it not possible that a military invasion—the Bush agenda—would be likely to bring about the horror that we all fear, which is the use of those weapons and unimaginable consequences for the region and the world?

Mr. Straw: My hon. Friend has come to the nub of the matter. He believes that Iraq poses no significant threat, and is no different from any other country that has weapons of mass destruction. Our view is very different. Not only does Iraq possess those weapons but, unlike other countries, it has a much greater intent to use them.

Paul Flynn: Why?

Mr. Straw: There is no need to look in the crystal ball for the reason why—look in the book at Saddam Hussein's record. Look at the fact that he has not only sought to gas people in Iran, an alleged enemy, but has used those biological and chemical weapons against his own people. He has done it once; he has done it twice; he can easily do it again.

Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park): I agree that evidence that Saddam Hussein is building up weapons of mass destruction is crucial, but could the Foreign Secretary explain why, in the US Department of State's annual report on patterns of global terrorism, which was put on the website and presented to Congress in May this year, there was no mention under the Iraq heading of any build-up of weapons of mass destruction?

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