Examination of Witnesses (Question 38-59)|
STRAW, MP, MR
CMG, MR PETER
TUESDAY 20 NOVEMBER 2001
38. Secretary of State, may I welcome you and
your colleagues to your first meeting with the newly constituted
Foreign Affairs Committee in this Parliament? Before we move to
the substantive parts today, British/US relations and the fight
against terrorism, may I say that you have just returned, I believe,
from discussions on Gibraltar. Can you tell the Committee whether
you intend to make a statement to the House or, since we are meeting
the Minister of State next week, can we have a full memorandum
on the subject in time before that meeting next week?
(Mr Straw) Thank you very much for that
welcome. May I introduce the officials who are with me? Dick Wilkinson
is director, Americas. Stephen Wright is deputy secretary, defence
and intelligence. Peter Ricketts is the political director of
the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. As for Gibraltar, I have
indeed just returned from Barcelona where we had discussions within
the Brussels process and when impromptu I met a small delegation
of Gibraltarians representing a slightly larger number of Gibraltarians
who were outside articulating their concerns about the process.
That was a very useful conversation. I shall be formally placing
the communique on the record of the House. Next Tuesday, we have
oral questions in the House and there are two on Gibraltar which
are bound to be reached. I am taking both of them so there is
an opportunity for me to be asked about it. On Wednesday, Peter
Hain is coming before your Committee and we will of course let
you have a memorandum at the beginning of next week, if that is
39. I am obliged. We have about two hours. I
propose to probably devote an hour and a quarter or so to the
first part on British/US relations and then move onto the battle
against terrorism. The Committee, as you know, visited New York
and Washington. We had excellent support from the diplomatic staff
there, both the UK Mission in New York, the Consulate General
in New York and our embassy in Washington. We would be most grateful
if you would convey our thanks, as indeed I have in written form,
to the missions in those two posts.
(Mr Straw) I will. I was in Washington just before
your visit but I was in New York last week after your visit and
I know that officials in the Consulate-General and in the United
Nations Mission were appreciative of the visit. I think it does
say something for their skill and dedication that they were, for
example, able to arrange for you to have a full meeting with Kofi
Annan, whose time is hardly unlimited at the moment. On top of
that the staff in New York have given more than could be expected
of any human being in the weeks since 11 September. One of the
nicest things that happened last week was that we organised a
reception for all the staff from the Consulate General Office,
from UKMIS and from the Joint Management Office, which is a neglected
part of that operation which manages both sides. I was able to
say thank you to all the staff and meet about 200 of them personally.
40. We found it was a good time to be British
in the US, both in New York and in Washington. Do you understand
the critics who will say that the applause is fine but where is
the beef? Where is the influence? How would you seek to respond
to those who ask whether this enthusiasm translates into real
influence for Britain and real help to our interests in the US?
(Mr Straw) First of all, let us be in no doubt of
the depth and breadth of the relationship and, as you witnessed
and I personally witnessed walking down the street, I had more
people in New York come up to me to say thank you than I have
had in London. It is not because people are not thankful but people
take it for granted here. There is not the least doubt that across
America and across every interest, people have an extraordinary
sense of gratitude to the United Kingdom, particularly to our
Prime Minister, but to everybody else in this country for our
reaction on 11 September and since. That has now reflected in
a resolution of the Senate of the United States which was passed
a couple of days ago, a copy of which I have just had.
41. Senator Jesse Helms?
(Mr Straw) By Jesse Helms, Mr Miller and reported
by Jo Biden. When I was in the States, I went to the Foreign Relations
Committee, whose chair is now Jo Biden. He expressed deep felt
thanks. I said, "Yes, thank you very much for saying that
but it was first of all our duty because twice in the space of
25 years the United States came to our rescue when we were in
far more parlous circumstances. We would not be enjoying the freedoms
which we have enjoyed since the Second World War without that
assistance." Second, I said, "Our reaction in any event
was instinctive; we would not think about it, from the Prime Minister
to everybody else. We just felt we had to be in there with the
42. To those who ask what effect will it have?
(Mr Straw) If I can finish this part of the story,
Senator Biden said, "Yes, we understand all that but you
do not realise how important it was for us on the day of the atrocity
for the whole of America to receive such unqualified support and
empathy from the United Kingdom." It was reflected around
the world but it was more graphic and more instinctive from us.
In your Committee proceedings last time, I think it was two of
those who you interviewed who pointed to the fact that the depth
of the relationship now, which everybody is celebrating, could
not have occurred but for the fact that the foundations of this
relationship go back over centuries. Influence is an intangible
thing but it is my beliefand it is reflected in the expert
evidence that you have hadthat the relationship of trust
which exists between ourselves and the United States, which is
reflected at every level but particularly in the relationships
between the administration and officials and ministers here, means
not that every time we get our waythat is not the nature
of the relationshipbut that we can persuade the United
States sometimes of things which we would not otherwise be able
to persuade them.
43. Can you give examples?
(Mr Straw) In the course of this campaign against
terrorism, there have been plenty of examples, but I will not
go into detail now, where the final decisions which were made
by the coalition have been the consequence of discussions within
the coalition. It is for the historians to write that up. One
of the reasons why I think the relationship works is precisely
because it is based on trust, not on grandstanding. Neither side
feels any need to go into detail about the nature of the relationship
and the relationship could not operate unless there was that trust.
As for other tangible examples of the relationship, there is trade.
We sell the United States £27 billion-worth of goods. We
provide them with services of £29 billion-worth.
They are our biggest trading partner by far. We are the biggest
investor in the United States. They are the biggest single investor
in this country.
44. We know the figures.
(Mr Straw) The figures are hugely important, in my
view. You would not have that kind of tangible relationship without
the wider and deeper political, social and intellectual relationship
which has been there for a very long time. You could point to
loads of examples where the result of one particular set of representations
led to one change by the US administration but I am not going
to get drawn into detail on the recent past because that would
be to break the confidence of the relationship, particularly which
exists in the defence and intelligence level. If you look at the
now emerging warmth of the relationship with Russia, for example,
I would suggest that maybe one of the factors in that has been
the degree to which the Prime Minister here and other ministers
have been able to help to lay the ground. The decisions which
the United States have made are decisions which they have made
45. What about more tangible matters like the
long standing dispute with the US over the Air Services Agreement?
Do you think that 11 September and this new, warm relationship
will assist in the resolution of such disputes?
(Mr Straw) I would hope so. It is a dispute which
should have been sorted out some time ago. I was going to go on
to say that it cannot follow that, because there is a close relationship,
we can agree about everything. There are a number of areasno
doubt you will wish to explore themwhich are well known,
which include Kyoto, the protocol for the Biological Weapons Convention
and a number of other issues, where we take either an opposite
view to the United States or a different view. That is in the
nature of a healthy relationship. Coming back to the Air Services
Agreement, we would wish to see a resolution to that. We hope
that it can be resolved quite quickly, not least because, as you
may know, there is a European Court of Justice pending judgment.
If that rules against future bilateral agreements that would be
to the disadvantage of the United Kingdom airline industry, so
there is a lot of pressure on us and therefore, we hope, on the
United States to pursue this.
46. It is very obvious that both you and I are
of the same age group and I very much subscribe to your view that
it is our duty to react exactly the way we did on 11 September.
Could I ask how you think the government will be able to exercise
its influence, now we have a special relationship, with America's
(Mr Straw) I do not think there is any question that
we have always been influential in terms of foreign policy. It
does not mean we follow the same foreign policy. That needs to
be made very clear because our starting point on quite a number
of issues is often different. On some issues, it is the same.
During the Cold War, our broad approach to relations with the
Soviet Bloc was the same as that of the United States. I guess
the best example here is the Middle East. The starting point of
the United Kingdom in terms of our relations with the countries
of the Middle East historically has been a different one from
the United States. That is particularly true in respect of the
creation of the state of Israel where our attitude was much more
ambiguous than was that of the United States and that in turn
has led to historic differences in how Israel perceives its relationships
with the US and with the United Kingdom. On a range of issues,
active discussion at my level with Secretary Powell, with Condoleeza
Rice, with President Bush, by my officials and by our embassy
in Washington means that, one issue after another, there is what
amounts to collective discussion and things then start to move.
If you are asking me about recent examples, I am reluctant to
give too many of those because that can create difficulties for
those one is seeking to influence. There are plenty of them. I
was trying to look up just before I came in, in one of the books
written by Henry Kissinger, a quite interesting essay which he
provides, which I will look up and copy to you afterwards, where
he discusses the nature of the relationship and how, because the
relationship is very much deeper, we are able to influence the
policy preparation process of the US administration at an earlier
stage and they to influence ours.
47. Were any tensions created between our special
relationship with the US and our relationships within the EU?
(Mr Straw) You mean following 11 September?
(Mr Straw) No. It has been striking, having been on
the General Affairs Council since 7 June and being involved as
a member of another EU Council for the previous years, that relations
were always very warm with other colleagues.
49. It was reported in the press that some European
Union countries were a little upset that we got to the table first.
(Mr Straw) Relations were very warm. What has been
striking since then is the degree to which our other European
colleagues have looked to us and to whichever minister has been
taking the lead for the United Kingdom for a lead as to what has
been happening in Afghanistan during the period of intense military
conflict and to offer views about the position of the United States
as well. There have been some reports of some comments by one
or two people on the General Affairs Council which I have seen
reported, but in terms of speaking as I find I have not been the
recipient of the kind of irritation which you describe. Generally,
I think people have nothing but admiration for the role of the
Prime Minister and the role of the United Kingdom government in
being so ahead in terms of supporting, in a tangible way, the
50. Do you think President Bush shares Prime
Minister Blair's vision of a global society and the possibility
of a new international order which is going to be so relevant
in the future to stopping terrorism and being seized of it in
the first instance?
(Mr Straw) I cannot say for certain whether he has
used those words. President Bush can speak for himself. What I
can say is that I have heard the words that he has used and I
heard them most recently when he spoke to the United Nations General
Assembly on Saturday a week ago and made a speech which was replete
with reference and respect for the United Nations and the need
for any movement in the international order to be based upon the
United Nations; the degree to which what President Bush and other
colleagues in the United States administration have been saying
has been strengthened in relation to the United Nations since
11 September has been something others have remarked on as well
as something which I have noticed.
51. How would you react to the suggestion that
perhaps the relationship as it is now is simply as a result of
11 September and that, prior to 11 September, the relationship
was probably going the other way? I give you an example of why
that came into my head. John Bolton, who is the US Secretary of
State for arms control in the US State Department, when we visited
him, had a cartoon on his office wall which showed President Bush
screwing up treaties such as Kyoto, the antiballistic missile
treaty, and throwing them over his shoulder to a waiting Tony
Blair, Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schroeder, which tended to suggest
to us that the pride of place he gave to it meant he set a lot
of store by it.
(Mr Straw) Mr Bolton brings a particular skill, knowledge
and perspective to his job in the State Department, but he is
not one of the principals. I had an interesting lunch time conversation
with him when I visited the State Department, very shortly after
my appointment in June. What you have to judge people by, frankly,
is not by the cartoons on their walls but by their actions. It
happens that on the protocol for the Biological Weapons Convention
we have a different view from the United States. That is well
known and I have gone into great detail with colleagues in the
United States to ascertain the strength of their concerns about
thisI am very happy to take questions on itand to
take them through our arguments against the position which they
have adopted. It does illustrate the nature of the relationship
that, notwithstanding the fact that there is this obvious difference
of view about the protocol for the Biological Weapons Convention,
we continue the discussions in a cooperative way and we hope to
see some movement on this by the United States. Mr Rubin, when
he gave evidence to you on 30 October, I think made some interesting
observations. He said: "What we have seen in these last two
months is that the special relationship is not about personalities
it is about policy, and that regardless of who the Prime Minister
would have preferred won the election or who is his better friend,
the policies of our governments go down so deeply and are in such
consonance at deep levels that personalities at the top are really
not that relevant." If I can add my own gloss to that, I
think personalities do make a significant difference in diplomacy
and there is no doubt at all about the fact that the Prime Minister's
initiatives with President Bush so shortly after he was elected
to ensure that the relationship which he had with President Clinton
continued but with a different framework because President Bush
won the election have helped, but James Rubin is right to say
that none of this could have been achieved since 11 September
without the foundations of the relationship being there in the
Sir Patrick Cormack
52. Foreign Secretary, thank you for what you
have been doing and good wishes in all you are continuing to do.
You are building upon a long tradition laid by Foreign Secretaries
of different political parties, as you will readily agree. I wanted
to ask you something practical. As a great believer in the special
relationship and one who was very greatly encouraged by the wonderful
reception we had a fortnight ago, I remain concerned about the
isolationist tendency not of the American administration but of
the American people in the wake of 11 September. I wonder what
you can do in nurturing the special relationship to encourage
the American people to come back to this country in greater numbers.
As you know, first of all with the foot and mouth epidemic at
the beginning of the year and now, following 11 September, there
are many people in this country who consider that the special
relationship is marvellous but it is not exactly helpful to their
future livelihood. What are you doing on that front?
(Mr Straw) To encourage tourism?
(Mr Straw) A great deal which is intangible and then
tangible. In terms of the intangibles, the fact that, as someone
has commented recently, the Prime Minister has been able to get
inside the psyche of the American people franklythe only
other Prime Ministers to achieve that were Margaret Thatcher and
before that Sir Winston Churchillis in itself a major achievement.
It moves people's instinctive feelings in the United States up
a gear to a much more proactive sense of affection for this country.
If we are trying to persuade people to make millions of separate
decisions about wanting to come here and taking steps to come
here rather than go anywhere else, feeling warm about this country
and interested about what happens in this country, interested
in its leaders, this is a very important part of that. This continuing,
close relationship at every level is very important. What are
we doing about it tangibly? First of all, it is a whole programme
of public diplomacy which we have in the United States run by
our officers there, not least in respect of trade promotion and
trade initiatives. I was able, when I was in New York, to talk
at great length to people at this reception who were involved
in trade initiatives. You will be familiar with the work of some
of our other offices around the United States which, apart from
their consular work, are predominantly devoted to encouragement
of trade. We had planned before 11 SeptemberI think Tom
Harris, the Consul General in New York may have told you thisa
United Kingdom with New York programme to celebrate the relationship.
There was then an issue about whether it was cancelled. I think
Tom Harris spoke to the mayor's office; he may have spoken to
Giuliani himself. Anyway, it went ahead and it was by all accounts
an enormous success. That too helps. I know that New York is not
America, as anybody else in America will be the first to tell
you, but New York helps form opinion in the United States. There
is all the other work we are having to do to support the British
airline industry which is extremely important.
54. I am glad to hear what you have to say.
Perhaps you will also bear in mind that in the past, whilst it
has been relatively easy for Americans to invest in this country
and participate in British ventures, it has not been as easy for
us to sell into America and this is something I hope our American
friends will reassess. Do you think they will?
(Mr Straw) I hope they will and I think you are right
to suggest that we need to make use of the relationship in a very
active way, to ensure that trade at every level is seen as a two
way street. That applies in many areas, not least including defence
Sir John Stanley
55. In an earlier reply, Foreign Secretary,
you skipped in my view rather too lightly over the quite marked
difference of view in a number of arms control multilateral agreement
areas between the United Kingdom and the United States. It was
certainly brought home to us in the discussions we had in the
State Department that there is a markedly different approach and
a markedly more pronounced scepticism amongst the present US administration
towards multilateral arms control agreements than has existed,
for example, under the Clinton administration. You have already
referred to the fact that the present US administration is absolutely
clear that it is not going to accept the verification protocol
of the Biological Weapons Convention which has taken some six
to seven years to negotiate. We were told quite clearly that the
US administration reserves the right to exercise the provision
which is in the ABM Treaty to unilaterally renounce the Treaty.
We were told quite interestingly, I thought, by the particular
official we had this discussion withI will leave you to
guess because these discussions were in private; I do not think
you will have too much difficulty in guessingthat he was
positively proud of the lone US vote that had taken place in the
General Assembly of the United Nations that week, a vote of 140
versus one, the one being the United States, in which the General
Assembly had voted for an early coming into effect of the Comprehensive
Test Ban Treaty. He went on to confirm that the US administration
would not be putting the ratification of the CTBT to the Senate.
In the non-weapons of mass destruction area, he made it quite
clear that the United States present administration would not
be ratifying the Anti-personnel Land Mines Convention and, somewhat
remarkably to my mind, when we got on to the UN action programme
in relation to small arms, which of course have been responsible
for the largest single number of deaths in conflict situations
of any type of weapon since the end of the Second World War, he
made it clear that there were profound objections by the US administration
to this programme of action and he believed this was part of the
international community's hidden agenda to deprive US citizens
of their constitutional right to bear small arms. When you take
the complete litany which I have set out, Foreign Secretary, it
is difficult to dispute there really are some very major differences
between the United States and the rest of the international community,
particularly other NATO members, in the multilateral arms control
area. The question I would like to put to you is this: in relation
to the four multilateral agreements that I have referred to, leaving
aside the ABM Treaty which of course is between the United States
and Russia alone, in relation to the other four, the Biological
Weapons Convention, the verification protocol, the CTBT, the Anti-personnel
Land Mines Convention and the action on small arms, could you
set out what the British government is doing in trying to persuade,
if it can, the US administration to move closer to the position
that we have, which is shared universally amongst the other members
of the NATO Alliance?
(Mr Straw) You are right to point out that this is
one area where there are significant differences of view between
ourselves and the United States and it is important that we should
be open about that. On each of the four that you mention, the
United Kingdom has been in the lead on each of these four treaties.
56. And the International Criminal Court?
(Mr Straw) Indeed. What are we doing? On the Biological
Weapons Convention, one of the first issues which I looked at
in detail when I took over this portfolio in early June, it is
always important, if you are involved in discussion, to try and
comprehend the detail and strength of arguments which are going
to deployed against you. That is what I sought to do. What has
concerned the United States particularly about the protocol to
the Biological Weapons Convention is the nature of the verification
regime. The BWC is a very fine Convention but it lacks verification.
It cannot come effectively into force without a verification system.
They are concerned that their pharmaceutical industry and defence
services might have key intelligence taken from them by the process
of verification. We believe that those worries are unfounded and
that the benefits of a thorough verification system are very substantial.
The simple truth is that it is extremely improbable that any verification
system is going to find anything untoward in the United States,
in this country or in many other countries. Why we need a good
verification system is in respect of countries which may or may
not have signed up to the Convention but are covertly developing
such weapon systems.
57. What are we doing to influence the US?
(Mr Straw) I raised it with Secretary Powell and others
in June. There has been further correspondence. That has continued.
There have been discussions and there has been some movement,
although not sufficient, by the United States since then. If you
are suggesting can we always, because of the special relationship,
get the United States to agree with us, the answer to that is
no. Can we get them to shift sometimes? I think the answer is
yes. I spoke at the CTBT conference which is part of the United
Nations last week. The United States is one of the countries,
along with India and Pakistan and a number of others, which refused
to sign the CTBT. I doubt we will get them to move, but we might.
Theythe UShave however agreed not to operate tests
and to observe a large part of what is in the Treaty. On the Small
Arms Convention, which was held in September, we have taken a
different view. I think I know exactly who you were talking to
about this and I take a different view. There is a process there
of education with the US. If we cannot get them in the short term
to agree to take part in these conventions and treaty operations,
we can sometimes get them to agree to do the same by other routes
and to observe effectively their terms without signing up to them.
I have agreed the terms of our statement here. There is a BWC
review conference which is underway in Geneva now and we, with
the European Union, will be making our position clear and working
for a shift in the US position. On the Anti-personnel Land Mines
Convention, I will pass this to Mr Wright.
(Mr Wright) The Land Mines Convention is in force
without the United States. There is as I understand it no current
intention on the part of the US to sign up to it, but it is possible
to demonstrateand we do seek to demonstrateto the
US administration that the experience of implementing the Convention
is perfectly consistent with maintaining an effective force posture
by our national armed forces. The US, as I understand it, is not
currently reviewing its position, but we will continue to work
(Mr Straw) I have spoken so far in terms of what we
have done by way of discussion with the leading members of the
administration. One of the facts of life so far as the US Government's
foreign policywhich you neglect at your perilis
the fact that the framework in which any President and Secretary
of State in the United States can operate is determined to a significant
degree by the United States Senate and, in other ways, by the
House of Representatives. When I have been to Washington, I have
made it my business to go and talk to the people I need to talk
to, to maintain relations there. It is extremely important that
we try and open up these debates, as I have sought to on a number
of occasions, with senior senators and representatives, as well
as with people directly in the administration, to try and shift
the context in which the people in the administration are working.
Sir John Stanley
58. Foreign Secretary, of the four areas we
have been discussing, I think you would agree that the single
most crucial, because it is the single most devastating, is the
biological weapons and the absence of a verification regime for
(Mr Straw) Yes.
59. I think you would also agreethis
is accepted around the worldthat given the nature of biological
weapons, the smallness of size, the ease of concealment, the only
effective way you are going to achieve verification is by on the
(Mr Straw) Absolutely.
3 HC 413-ii, p 54. Back
Note by witness: We sell the United States £29 billion
worth of goods. We provide them with services of £18 billion