TUESDAY 20 NOVEMBER 2001
Donald Anderson, in the Chair
Memorandum submitted by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Examination of Witnesses
THE RT HON JACK STRAW, a Member of the House, Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, MR STEPHEN WRIGHT, CMG, Deputy Under-Secretary of State, MR PETER RICKETTS, Political Director, and MR RICHARD WILKINSON, Director, Americas, examined.
(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 acceptable.
(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 Department 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 beings 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 UKNES 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.
(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 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.
(Mr Straw) By Jesse Helms, Mr Miller and reported by Jo Byden. When I was in the States, I went to the Foreign Relations Committee, whose chair is now Jo Byden. He expressed deep felt thanks. I said, AYes, 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, AOur 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 United States.@
(Mr Straw) If I can finish this part of the story, Senator Byden said, AYes, 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 belief B and it is reflected in the expert evidence that you have had -- that 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 way B that is not the nature of the relationship -- but that we can persuade the United States sometimes of things which we would not otherwise be able to persuade them.
(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.
(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 themselves.
(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 areas B no doubt you will wish to explore them B which 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.
(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.
(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.
(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 United States.
(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 States since 11 September has been something others have remarked on as well as something which I have noticed.
(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 this B I am very happy to take questions on it B and 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: AWhat 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 first place.
Sir Patrick Cormack
(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 frankly B the only other Prime Ministers to achieve that were Margaret Thatcher and before that Sir Winston Churchill B is 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 September B I think Tom Harris, the Consul General in New York may have told you this B a 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.
(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 sales.
Sir John Stanley
(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.
(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.
(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. They have 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 demonstrate B and we do seek to demonstrate B to 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 for progress.
(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 policy which you neglect at your peril is 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
(Mr Straw) Yes.
(Mr Straw) Absolutely.
(Mr Straw) That would be a much better way. I agree with you about your general statement on the importance of this Convention and the fact that you can only prevent the spread of biological weapons by direct inspection.
(Mr Straw) The overall case for new forms of missile defence has been strengthened since 11 September, not least because the world is much more aware than it was of the extreme nature of the threats that we can face. Before 11 September when I was writing about this, there were some people who were going in for a relativist argument which you will be very familiar with, having been on the same side as myself in meetings which we both used to attend, where if you presented people with one set of uncomfortable facts they dodged it and went on to say, ABut, what if C?@ If you have missile systems which are capable of very serious death and destruction on nations and they are not in responsible hands, it is entirely reasonable that people should try to develop defensive systems against those. One is then left with the argument that, if the terrorists want to, they could always smuggle a suitcase onto an aeroplane or use biological weapons. Yes, they can or, as was unimaginable before 11 September, they can use an aeroplane packed with people as a bomb, with unimaginable consequences. The very fact that they are willing to do that and to escalate what they have done before shows that if these weapons get into the wrong hands there is no knowing what terror they will cause in the world. Secondly, I spoke about the development of new systems of missile defence because this is an area which is more full of myths than any other area I have come across. From some of the debate, you would think that we are starting from a blank sheet of paper on missile defence, that there is no missile defence system in the world up to now and none has been thought about since AStar Wars@ was not pursued in practice by the Reagan administration. People have been trying to seek ways of defending themselves from missiles as long as missiles have been there. We were one of the first countries in the world to suffer from very serious missile attacks. There was some defence against the V1 missiles. There was practically no defence against the V2 missiles. Though I am younger than Mr Olner, I remember people telling me, my relatives and my parents, how terrible it was to be in suburban London and to have no warning at all of these things. If we had had a form of missile defence against the V1s and, above all, against the V2s, I would suggest the war would have ended earlier because the terror which the V2s were able to inflict enhanced the confidence of the Nazi regime at a point when it was otherwise failing.
(Mr Straw) We should not generalise about this. There is an overwhelming case for missile defence in principle. We have sought to develop our own forms of theatre missile defence. Theatre missile defence is allowed by the ABM Treaty. That is a range I think up to 3,500 kilometres. It enables people within that kind of theatre, particularly in islands and on the edge of continents, to be defended. It does not enable people within land masses to be defended. That becomes very much an argument about shades of grey, not an argument on huge issues of principle. It also needs to be borne in mind that the ABMT allows for each side to develop one system for strategic missile defence. It happens that the United States started to develop one of the Dakotas and dropped it. The Soviet Union, as it then was, developed a full system of missile defence and put it round Moscow, so Moscow is the only city in the world which has full strategic missile defence. That has to be remembered before we go on to talk about what next. Our view is that the United States is fully entitled to want to develop systems of missile defence. We will make our own judgment, particularly about our cooperation with them, when we see precisely what their systems are, what their downsides are as well as their upsides.
(Mr Straw) Almost all treaties within international law have provisions within them for notice to be served by one party or the other on the treaty=s revision or its termination. The exact terms will vary from treaty to treaty. The United States has made it crystal clear to me, as I think it has publicly, that it has no intention of breaking international law in the steps it is taking. It may decide to exercise its right under the Treaty. There was no strong agreement at Crawford on this but neither was there strong disagreement about this and I think discussions on it will continue. As to the use of our facilities here, when and if we receive an application from the United States for their further use for a new system, we will consider it.
(Mr Straw) First of all, I do not agree that the United States have any intention of using missile defence systems now or in the future as part of an offensive against other people.
(Mr Straw) You were suggesting they would go on some opportunistic adventure.
(Mr Straw) In that case, you would need to get advice from military experts but the chances are they are going to be using theatre or very limited missiles. In a particular theatre, maybe people have missile defence systems. They exist at the moment; they are entirely lawful under international law. That will go on as part of a particular offensive. People will want to make sure that they stop missiles coming at them and that their missiles are not stopped. That desire is as old as warfare. There is nothing new here. To believe that this system, which is scarcely on the drawing board yet and will take years and years to develop, is somehow going to be a magic wand to enable the United States and the other coalition partners to deal with specific threats of terrorism from particular areas, with great respect, is simply not the case. It cannot be the case because the system is not there. Do the proposals threaten the safety of the world? No, they do not, not remotely. They are designed to make the world safer. I note that, after Crawford, as part of the communique the two Presidents acknowledged continued differences of opinion on MDABMT but said they would maintain their dialogue. Putin added: AWhatever final solution is found it will not threaten or put to threat the interests of both our countries.@ Although there is some difference of view between the US and Russia, it is not something which Putin regards as threatening. Down the track, I think we will find that this is resolved by discussion. Whether it is within the Treaty or outside, I am not certain, but one of the things which I have noted in the five and a half months since I have been doing this job is how opinion has moved. You ask about the position of the British Cabinet. We have not any particular proposals. There have been discussions. If you want briefing papers on it, I am happy to provide them. Far from not wanting this discussed, until 11 September when other things took over, debate on missile defence was at or near the top of my agenda. I initiated discussions, for example, inside my own party here in Parliament, published articles about it, issued briefing notes and so on because I wanted to generate what I saw as a more sophisticated debate on this than we had before. As to the nature of the discussion, the ABMT is a bilateral treaty between what was the former Soviet Union and is now Russia and the United States of America. The key discussions are bound to take place between them. Of course, we discuss the implications for us and our interests with the United States and also with interlocutors in Russia. I do that continually with colleagues in the US, but I did it with both Sergei Ivanov, the Defence Minister, and Igor Ivanov, the Foreign Minister, when I was in Moscow about two and a half weeks ago and again with Igor Ivanov when I saw him in New York last week.
(Mr Straw) These are proposals which are coming from the United States. They are at a very early stage. One of the issues is whether some of the research testing does not come within the ABMT. There is an interesting debate amongst some international lawyers as to what comes within it and what does not. Russia is reasonably relaxed, as far as one can judge, about its interpretation of the terms of that Treaty. We are taking an interest in that obviously. Are we putting forward our own proposals to the United States for missile defence? No, we are not, because it is a matter for them to come forward with these proposals. They are a long way down the track, Mr Chidgey.
(Mr Straw) No. In the time I have been doing this job, nobody in the US administration, including those who have cartoons on their walls, has said anything disobliging about the SDP to me, not one word.
(Mr Straw) There is a general point to be made about the recent crisis which relates to earlier questions. There has long been a debate in the US about the exceptional nature of their society B and it is an exceptional society in every sense of the word, and a very admirable society B and how far the exceptional nature of that society should lead them towards an isolationist view of the world or a more multilateral view of the world. That debate goes on. Quite a number of leading commentators in the United States, including Francis Fukiyama who wrote his celebrated essay on the end of history after the collapse of the Cold War, have suggested that the atrocities on 11 September will shift the balance of opinion in the United States much more towards engagement internationally than was there before. That is also my observation from my vantage point. If you look at what President Bush was saying in his speech to the General Assembly ----
(Mr Straw) Or Colin Powell in the Middle East speech, you will see that the United States is, as it always has been, alive to its responsibilities but now it is very engaged on an international agenda and volunteers repeatedly its support and respect for the role of the United Nations. President Bush did not have to give up a Saturday to go to New York to speak to the United Nations; he did. He spoke very warmly. That is our overall view.
(Mr Straw) I am smiling at you because Mr Ricketts is the world expert on the terms of the Istanbul text and other matters relating to Turkey, ESDP and NATO. I am not a bad expert on it either. There have been the most extensive and intensive discussions on this with Turkey. I went to Ankara three weeks ago for discussions with the President, the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister. They were followed by Mr Ricketts=s more intensive discussions and they continue. Has there been a rubbing point between us and the United States? No, far from it. We have worked very closely indeed, cooperatively, with the United States in order to try to achieve a position which takes account of Turkey=s concerns B and they have genuine concerns B but also meets the essential requirements laid down in the Nice text for ESDP.
(Mr Ricketts) We and the Americans have been working together to find the best possible arrangement for Turkey to be associated with ESDP, bearing in mind Turkey=s importance as a military power and its record in crisis management, and to give it the most generous and forthcoming offer possible of participation, subject to the framework that has been adopted in successive European Councils, laying down the arrangements for invitation of non-EU Member States to participate in ESDP actions. That is a reflection of the fact that the Americans now come to see that ESDP is helpful in providing another option for crisis management, given the range of possible threats that we might face, and wanting to do that in the most NATO-friendly way possible and therefore with the best possible terms we can reach with the association of the non-EU Member States.
(Mr Ricketts) I would not agree with it. It is a matter of fact and record that the US has provided the overwhelming amount of assets to be deployed in Afghanistan and the United Kingdom is second. We have been actively engaged in the conflict to a degree that our other European NATO partners have not but NATO has been involved. For example, as you will know, what NATO has provided is the AWAC system to cover the United States whilst their AWAC system is moved to the theatre of Afghanistan. They need that not least since 11 September. France has provided assets in the theatre, a few frigates, and there has been detailed discussion, some of which has been written about in the press, about deployment of other assets. You will be familiar with the offer which has now been agreed by the Bundestag, by Germany, for the provision of up to quite a large number of ground troops. For all sorts of reasons, not least because our systems are more integrated and our forces are modern, we are more able rapidly to deploy in that kind of theatre than our partners and we were assisted by the coincidence of the Safe Sharia exercise which had taken place in Oman over that period, where we had 20,000 troops and a lot of assets roughly speaking in the right place at the right time. Several partners, including north east France and Australia are providing naval forces in the Indian Ocean alongside the United Kingdom and the United States. We now have a fleet in the Mediterranean whilst the US fleet has moved off to the Arabian Sea. Other NATO countries have been able to assist the United States. There are now discussions taking place B as you may know, Lord Robertson has been in the lead on these B about the degree to which NATO, as NATO, could be assisted in the Afghanistan region in the current situation.
Chairman: Can I give you early warning that the Committee has decided to launch an inquiry into Turkey, focusing both on the EU aspects and defence.
Sir Patrick Cormack
(Mr Straw) Yes.
(Mr Straw) Yes. If you are looking at things that have happened since 11 September, the way in which the relationship has developed has been remarkable. It was getting there before that and it had very significantly warmed up. The reason why I was careful about my choice of words earlier is because, in the nature of this relationship, it is extremely important to avoid appearing to be condescending on either side. You cannot ever just point to direct cause and effect but what I said is a good example of where the Prime Minister was able to develop a relationship and then provide some reassurance to the US administration. Yes, it is a very important relationship and it is interesting how President Putin has seized the moment to do things that he has presumably wanted to do for some time but he lacked the opportunity. I think he has applied himself brilliantly. I was struck, when I was in Moscow, by how very significantly he is literally in the lead, although it is a country with rumbustious politics. However, in saying what is the most important relationship in the US, (a) you will have to ask them but (b) I would observe that the relationship with China is extremely important and that too has strengthened and warmed considerably during the course of this year.
(Mr Straw) No, this is not a proposal which has suddenly been pulled out of the pocket. This is a proposal which has been the subject of intensive discussion with Washington and Moscow.
(Mr Straw) One of the concerns of the Russians is about the way the PJC has been operating and they want to see a more intensive relationship. That is part of the purpose of these proposals. If they develop, this will be a good example of where, in our position to some extent, to use a phrase which the Prime Minister has used, as a bridge between the United States and Europe in its widest sense, we have been able to develop an initiative which I think will turn out to be acceptable to the United States and also to Russia.
Sir Patrick Cormack
(Mr Straw) Yes.
(Mr Ricketts) These ideas have been developed very much with Lord Robertson. They are a response in some way to the proposals and the requests from President Putin himself in the weeks from 11 September. He came forward saying he wanted to see a step change in the relationship between Russia and NATO and Russia and the west more generally. These are proposals which have been developed in discussion very much with Washington as well, seeking in specially, carefully defined areas to move beyond the PJC to give the Russians a greater sense of engagement with other members of the Alliance in carefully selected areas, while reserving discussion on the key, core NATO issues for the allies only.
(Mr Straw) They certainly do. They are permanent members of the Security Council, along with us.
(Mr Straw) Let me talk about what we are doing. The best example of what we are doing ----
(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 Pakistan 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 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
(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 Consular 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.
(Mr Straw) It sounds fairly grand. Its annual resource cost to the Foreign Office is ,743,000 per month ---
(Mr Straw) I am sorry, a year, ,62,000 a month.
Sir Patrick Cormack
(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.
(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 would be going to the market to buy Lord Cramer'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 that. 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.