Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Question 80-86)



  80. I hope, Chairman, we are not making mirth of this because it is extremely important what happens in the global future.
  (Mr Straw) Mr Olner, I am not making light of it at all—I was only reflecting on the time. I want to talk about what we are doing because that is the best example of the strategy. What are we doing in Afghanistan? We have embarked upon a three-pronged strategy which is military, humanitarian and political/diplomatic. In the past there has been from time to time a military strategy against Afghanistan, one side or the other. We were engaged in that in the 19th Century, much more recently Russia, and through proxies Russia and United States have been engaged in it, and there having been some kind of stand-off in the conflict great powers then walked away and there are many, many lessons to be learnt from what happened ten years ago when the Soviet Union walked away and the United States and others walked away from Afghanistan and left a vacuum and we know how that was filled. We have been determined here that we do not walk away. We recognise our responsibilities in the context of world peace and good order for a stable and secure Afghanistan. At the same time we recognise our responsibilities for allowing the Afghan people within that framework to decide their own kind of government. What is now happening? People said this could not be done. They said loads of things about how this conflict would get to at this stage but there is now this meeting which is going to take place under Ambassador Brahimi's Chairmanship in Germany, probably on Friday or Saturday. I spoke earlier today to Stephen Evans who is the United Kingdom's representative in Kabul. He says that the Northern Alliance are clearly committed to attending and sending senior representatives to this meeting. We believe that the other representatives are also committed and that will start the process of getting broad-based multi-ethnic government. If you want an example of how we make the world a safer place, of course I can give you vision statements (and I would be delighted to do so) which talk about the strengthening of the UN but, as Aneurin Bevan once said, "There's no need to look in the crystal, let's read the book," and it is the unfolding work of what the international community is doing by engagement in Afghanistan to secure a better future for them under the aegis of the United Nations, and we have literally been in the lead in those developments.

  Chairman: Before we move into the second part two quick questions from Mr Chidgey and Sir Patrick Cormack.

Mr Chidgey

  81. Returning very briefly to NATO and the invocation of Article 5, which you are familiar with; do you believe that the Article 5 invocation would remain in place should the United States of America extend its military action against Afghanistan to a third nation, Iraq perhaps?
  (Mr Straw) I have not got the text in front of me but in the case of Article 5 it related directly, as I recall it, to 11 September and to Afghanistan. It is matter obviously for NATO Council as to whether it stays in force or not but my guess would be that most Member States around the table would say that it related to Afghanistan. I can give you the text.

  Mr Chidgey: Thank you very much.

Sir Patrick Cormack

  82. Just one very brief question, Secretary of State, in wrapping up this session on British/US relations. There has been quite a lot of controversy about our representation in San Francisco having adequate and proper premises from which to conduct our various operations. Can you bring us up-to-date on the San Francisco saga?
  (Mr Straw) I have been looking at this and about resources deployed in the United States. I am really grateful to you for making enquiries about this because I have to say I was not fully briefed on the issue of the Consul General's house until I received your enquiry. But the current plan is to sell the house. Have you visited the house? I have not.

  83. Not personally.
  (Mr Straw) It sounds fairly grand. Its annual resource cost to the Foreign Office is £743,000 per month—


  84. Per month?
  (Mr Straw) I am sorry, a year, £62,000 a month.

Sir Patrick Cormack

  85. That is inflation beyond belief!
  (Mr Straw) We are looking for another house which we intend to buy for less than the likely sale price of the current house or to rent for less than the annual resource cost. It does not involve in any sense a downgrading of our representative but we are under injunctions from the Treasury to make best use of our assets.

  86. May I just say, though, speaking with a English-Speaking Union of Governor's hat on, we know what enormous help the Consul General has given and how much he has used these premises and how much it has been appreciated, and what a really key part it has played in fostering Britain's image there, so, whatever you do, I hope you will not be downgrading.

  (Mr Straw) Can I just say this: I am one of those people who does not believe that you should simply look at the price of the Foreign Office's assets, you should look at their value. And, yes, whether we would today be going into the market in Paris to buy the residence in the rue du Faubourg St Honoré is an interesting question, and whether we would be going to the market to buy Lord Cromer's mansion in Cairo today is an interesting question; but they are there, they are assets of great value, intangible value, and that has to be weighed in the balance when we are making decisions—

  Chairman: Secretary of State, you have told us that you are going to sell the property. Please will you give us a memorandum on the reasons behind that3. I am sorry to deprive Mr Wilkinson but time is short and I want to conclude the first part on British/American relations and to move onto the campaign against terrorism.

3  See evidence, pp 41-44.

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