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24 Sept 2002 : Column 30—continued

Mr. Straw: I cannot explain the contents of one document published in the United States, but I can say that the United States Administration have hardly been slow in coming forward in expressing their concern about Iraq.

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham): Today has shown how important it was that Parliament was recalled. It has enabled the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary to set out their case with great clarity to a sceptical House. How much progress have the US and UK Governments made in bringing together a mighty coalition of the western democracies and the Arab states? Does he not agree that the more members of the coalition there are the better will be the chances to increase the pressure and of a favourable outcome?

Mr. Straw: We have devoted a great deal of work to that and I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his question. While I was at the United Nations General Assembly last week for a week, as was Secretary of State Colin Powell, we both met a large number of Foreign Ministers from Arab and Islamic states to discuss, among many other things, the threat posed by Iraq. Not one of

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the Foreign Ministers to whom I spoke has anything but contempt for and concern about the Iraqi regime, and they are, above all, praying that the action that we all hope and believe that the international community will now take, will relieve the region of the threat posed by the weapons of mass destruction that Saddam has.

Mr. David Curry (Skipton and Ripon) rose

Mr. Straw: I should like to make some progress. I have taken a number of interventions.

The third question that the House needs me to deal with is whether, in its approach, the international community has been guilty of using double standards, especially with regard to Israel/Palestine. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister dealt with that at some length, but let me explain why we do not accept the argument.

As a permanent member of the Security Council, Britain wants to see the full implementation of all UN resolutions in the middle east and elsewhere. The current situation in Israel and in the occupied territories is dreadful. Our condemnation of suicide bombers and those who organise them is absolute. But despicable though they were at the weekend, the latest terrorist outrages do not justify the latest incursions by the Israeli defence force into Ramallah or Gaza.

I said at the weekend that those forces must be withdrawn. Working with our international partners in the United Nations, in the small hours of this morning, Security Council resolution 1435 was passed with our full support. It demands that Israel immediately cease measures in and around Ramallah, including the destruction of Palestinian security and civilian infrastructure; demands the expeditious withdrawal of Israeli occupying forces from Palestinian cities towards a return to the positions held prior to September 2000; and calls on the Palestinian Authority to meet its express commitments to ensure that those responsible for terrorist acts are brought to justice.

Mr. George Galloway (Glasgow, Kelvin): Will the Foreign Secretary give way on that point?

Mr. Straw: I should like to make some more progress.

United Nations Security Council resolutions 242, 338, 1397 and 1402 set out the steps that all parties in the region must take to secure lasting peace. They impose requirements on Israel, on the Palestinians and on every Arab state. Despite the horrendous violence, there has been some progress in the region. Exactly a year ago, as I have particular reason to recall, even uttering the word "Palestine" caused controversy in some quarters. Now a commitment to a viable state of Palestine alongside a secure state of Israel is the official policy of the UN, provided by resolution 1397, with the full support of the US.

One other aspect of the double standards argument is that the military action taken by the UK and the US during the past decade has been directed against Muslims. Such claims are palpably untrue. The facts speak for themselves. The four major military campaigns that Britain has fought during the past decade have each had

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the effect of helping oppressed Muslims—Kuwait in 1991, Bosnia in 1995, Kosovo in 1999 and Afghanistan in 2001.

In the case of Iraq, our differences are emphatically not with the long-suffering people of Iraq. With the United States, Britain sponsored a new UN resolution earlier this year to increase the flow of civilian goods to Iraq. But our efforts to soften the impact of sanctions on the Iraqi people have been frustrated by the Iraqi regime, which prefers to spend oil revenues on weapons. Saddam has done nothing to meet the UN's conditions for the lifting of sanctions, condemning the Iraqi people to a life of penury.

Mr. Galloway: Will Israel react to last night's Security Council resolution in the way that it reacted to the one after its rampage through the holy land at Easter when the UN unanimously demanded that Israel accept inspectors from the UN to check reports of mass destruction of refugees in the camp at Jenin? Israel told the inspectors to get stuffed, they got stuffed and not another word has been said about the resolution since.

Mr. Straw: I hope that the resolution is implemented. I am pleased to note that my hon. Friend is calling for the full implementation of all UN Security Council resolutions. There is a hierarchy of resolutions, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs. Ellman) referred. Chapter 6, under which all resolutions relating to the middle east have been issued, relates to the pacific resolution of disputes. Above that, there are the mandatory chapter 7 resolutions, which impose the clearest possible obligations, usually on a single state rather than on two or three states, which is what chapter 6 is there for. Chapter 7 imposes mandatory obligations on states that are completely out of line with international law and policy, and the United Nations has decided in its charter that the failure to meet those obligations may be met by the use of force.

I look forward to my hon. Friend saying that he supports chapter 6 and chapter 7 resolutions, and that he wants all the chapter 7 resolutions, which all relate to Iraq, implemented in full.

The fourth question is whether even if Saddam is as great a threat as we say, it is justifiable to use force to deal with the threat. The short answer to that question is yes, provided force is a last resort and its use is consistent with international law.

Law, whether domestic or international, fundamentally depends for its legitimacy on the values it reflects. Law without values is no law at all. But while the moral legitimacy of any law will strengthen the natural consent for that law, there will always be some who reject or despise the values on which the law is based. Against them, the law has to be enforced, ultimately, by the force of arms. But the force which is used has itself to be consistent with the moral and legal framework it seeks to defend. Law without force is no law. Force without law is no law.

Mr. Dalyell: Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Straw: I shall not give way.

Those realities about the nature of law have long been recognised within states. The painful experience of the 20th century made us recognise them too in respect of

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regulation between states. The League of Nations was shown by its specific failure over Abyssinia literally to be powerless. When exhortation ran out, the world community had nothing. The subsequent collapse of the League gave the green light to the tyrannical excesses of Hitler, and in the end, much more force had to be used, and much more blood shed, than if both the system and the world's then leaders had been capable of acting to enforce international norms of behaviour.

The architects of the United Nations learned those lessons.

Mr. Dalyell rose

Mr. Speaker: Order. The Foreign Secretary has indicated that he wishes to proceed.

Mr. Straw: I know that many hon. Members wish to speak, and I have taken many interventions.

The architects of the United Nations learned the lessons of what happened in the pre-war years. The UN declaration of human rights and the UN charter are the most powerful invocations I know of the moral imperatives behind international law

But the declaration and the charter skilfully combined high idealism with hard-headed realism and, above all, recognised that, as with domestic law, the ultimate enforcement of the rule of international law had to be by force of arms.

David Winnick (Walsall, North): Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Straw: If my hon. Friend will permit me, I will carry on.

Diplomacy, of course, should always be tried first, but the paradox of some situations—Iraq is pre-eminently one—is that diplomacy has a chance of success only if it is combined with the clearest possible prospect that force of arms will be used if diplomacy fails. As the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, has said,

We have used all the diplomatic instruments at the disposal of the United Nations, but, so far, Saddam has rendered them unworkable.

The recent sequence of events has been a re-enactment of the past 12 years. Only two weeks ago, the Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister, Tariq Aziz, said that Iraq would never readmit weapons inspectors. Then President Bush made his powerful speech to the United Nations General Assembly on 12 September, and a new international consensus started to come together. Saddam's alibis started to run out. Just a week ago, we were suddenly told that Iraq would readmit the inspectors without condition, after all. Some of us were a little sceptical about that offer—quite rightly. Two days later, the Iraqi Foreign Minister began to re-impose conditions on his previously unconditional offer. This is a pretence at co-operation, but even this has come about only because Saddam has at last realised that he faces a clear choice: willing compliance or, I am sorry to say, compliance by the use of force.

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Some assert that the policy of containment has worked. My answer is that containment, backed by the potential use of force, was broadly working while the inspectors were able to do their job and the Security Council's resolve remained firm. But all the evidence suggests that Saddam has used the past four years, without inspectors, to break out of his containment and to seek to re-establish his power. Only free and unfettered inspections, backed by a Security Council united in its determination to disarm Iraq, offer the prospect of dealing with the threat by peaceful means.

A peaceful conclusion is the outcome that is desired on both sides of the Atlantic, both by Her Majesty's Government and by the United States Administration. We should applaud the efforts of President Bush to secure that end. We are now pressing for a new resolution, setting out the case for a tough and intrusive weapons inspection regime. Detailed discussions are taking place as I speak between ourselves and our key permanent five partners.

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