Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1-19)|
MP, MR STEPHEN
WRIGHT, CMG, MR
TUESDAY 20 NOVEMBER 2001
Sir John Stanley
1. Foreign Secretary, I would not ever in this
forum ask anything in relation to military operations; this question
is about policy not about operations. Could you explain to us
what is the British Government's policy on the deployment of British
armed forces on the ground in Afghanistan and what is policy of
the American Government on the same issue?
(Mr Straw) Our policy in terms of deployment of assets,
and here we do not distinguish except (and this is a matter for
the MoD) in terms of risk to personnel, between ground forces
and other assets. The policy is set by President Bush and our
Prime Minister in terms of the overall objectives of this military
action which are, as you know, to bring Osama bin Laden and his
key associates to justice or justice to him, to break up completely
the al-Qaeda terrorist network, andbecause the Taliban
refuse to co-operateto break up the Taliban as well. That
is the policy. There is then a question of what military assets
do you deploy in order to achieve those objectives? Into those
military assets comes the issue of ground forces and the Prime
Minister and the Defence Secretary have made clear that we have
been ready to deploy appropriate ground forces to meet those policy
objectives. As you know, there are some of our ground forces deployed
at Bagram airfield just outside Kabul and they have been there
for a few days. Whether more are deployed there depends to a significant
degree on the findings of the current troop of UK and also US
personnel who are there. Part of their purpose was that of reconnaissance,
making an assessment of the state of airfield and so on, and from
that whether that airfield could be used for further troop deployments
into the airfield, and then there is the question of what troop
deployments do you make. I hope that answers your question.
2. You said that the British Government's position
was to be ready to deploy an appropriate level of ground forces
to meet objectives which have been well set out. Is it the American
Government's position, equally, to be willing to deploy an appropriate
level of ground forces to meet the same objectives, or are we
in a position whereby the British Government is willing to do
so but the American Government is not?
(Mr Straw) No, not at all. Bear in mind that our deployments
take place within the CENTCOM operation, the Central Command of
the US under General Tommy Franks. At this level of integrated
command structure we are not going to put forces in without the
agreement of the United States with a full understanding (it is
not just tacit agreement) about what our troops will do to add
to the overall work of the military coalition. That is the point.
Our troops are not there as some independent operation, they are
there with the United States in support of them. Our troops may
end up in different places from the US troops, that is a different
matter, but it is with their agreement.
3. Just turning back onto the UK side, the impression
of the last few days is that a decision was taken to deploy the
very small force that you referred to, and I feel extremely confident
that the Chiefs of Staff would never have agreed that unless there
had been a very clear understanding that a follow-on force would
be deployed rapidly thereafter to make certain that the total
force was militarily viable. It would appear, however, that the
necessary diplomatic and political clearance had not been obtained.
Are you concerned about a degree of dysfunction between the diplomatic
side and the military side in the deployment so far?
(Mr Straw) No I am not, as it happens. The main thing
that has happened is that the situation has changed so rapidly.
Ten days ago there were still people writing that the Taliban
were an unbreakable force and that bombing the Taliban would simply
harden their resolve. I know there is nobody round this table
4. We are fully signed up!
(Mr Straw) I know. I am saying it does not apply to
anybody here, I know that to be the case. However, there were
plenty of people who were saying that was the situation, even
ten days ago, and the rapidity of the collapse of the Taliban
has been very striking, there is no question about that, and therefore
the environment which the military are working in has also been
changing very rapidly. I know Mr Hoon has made this point. The
troops went into Bagram airport not least to make a technical
assessment of the state of the runway and on the basis of that
for further decision to be made about whether or not more forces
should be deployed. Of course there are wider considerations that
apply there. I do not think we should be criticised, least of
all should Mr Hoon or the Chief of the Defence Staff be criticised
for having given notice to a certain number of troops that they
were on reduced notice to move. You cannot win in this situation.
We did not know what the situation was going to be there, whether
the troops were going to be needed very quickly, whether the troops
could be got in very quickly. If we had not given the troops notice
to move we would not have had those options. We are open to criticism
that these troops have been given notice and they have not been
moved. Well, that is a criticism everybody is willing to take
but it is a small matter compared to having flexible forces available.
Sir John Stanley
5. And, Foreign Secretary, could you just set
out for the Committee what is the precise remit which you have
given to Stephen Evans and what is his exact status at the moment
in Kabul in diplomatic terms?
(Mr Straw) He is the British Government's representative
in Kabul. He is not accredited to any organisation or anybody
purporting to be a government, let us make that clear, and everybody
in Kabul understands that, but he is our representative and since
he arrived there with his colleagues he has been doing a great
deal of work obviously, particularly, in talking to the principals
of the Northern Alliance. He has talked to Mr Abdullah, the so-called
Foreign Minister of the Northern Alliance, he has talked to a
number of the other principals. He is hoping to see General Fahim.
This is what he told me shortly before I came could to this evidence
sessionand from very deep knowledge of Afghanistan and
Pakistan he is developing contacts and helping to meet the objective
which I talked to Mr Olner about, which is of producing a broad-based
6. And the integration of his efforts with those
being made by Mr Brahami on behalf of the UN?
(Mr Straw) Mr Brahimi is not in Afghanistan at the
moment, as you know he has been in the United Nations. We are
permanent members of the Security Council and it is extremely
important that UN Ambassadors like Mr Brahimi should have our
full support, which they do, but also that we are able to provide
them with a perspective from a bilateral relationship with one
of the great parties involved in the military coalition which
he may not be able to get for himself. The reverse is also true.
There is also Mr Dobbins who is out in the region as well and
there will be other interlocutors such as Vendrell, who is effectively
Brahimi's deputy who is now out there, so this is a very co-operative
relationship. We have from the outset made clear our support for
the United Nations. I also have to say that through the appointment,
for example, of Robert Cooper as our representative on Afghanistan,
and through the speech which I made to the International Institute
for Strategic Studies four weeks ago setting out, well before
the military action appeared to be succeeding, a framework for
the future of Afghanistan, we have been able to be one of the
leaders of the debate within the international community about
that future and how we take the steps to achieve that.
7. How does Mr Evans's role relate to that of
Mr Paul Bergne who is our Ambassador to Tajikistan with a special
link to the Northern Alliance?
(Mr Straw) Mr Bergne was based to the North of Afghanistan
to begin with. He speaks both Tajik and Uzbek as well as other
languages. He went in as a roving representative but initially
over the border and as the Northern Alliance were moving he was
based for a bit in Faizabad.
8. Is his role complete?
(Mr Straw) No, he is still thereHe is returning
tomorrow I have been told.
9. Before I call Sir Patrick on Afghanistan
further, you mentioned that the UK and the US are within the framework
of CENTCOM. How do you answer those who say there is a fundamental
difference in the views taken by the US and the UK in that we
are concerned with a stabilisation force, we have sought to mobilise
up to 6,000 forces, whereas the US are wary of national reconstruction
of failed states, with their knowledge of Somalia and the "body
bag" syndrome, and that they would hold back and they are
not interested in the sort of role we play. Therefore, is there
a fundamental difference between our view of stabilisation and
what the US are prepared to do with their forces?
(Mr Straw) There is no fundamental difference whatsoever
in terms of policy. If you heard what President Bush was saying
at the General Assembly, you will know that he is fully supportive
of the United Nations Security Council Resolutions and had he
not been they would not have been passed. He is behind the efforts
of Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Ambassador Brahimi and he,
although he must speak for himself, wishes to see the situation
stabilised. There is a separate issue which is not a matter of
difference but where the debate is evolving about what, if any,
outside forces could be accommodated within Afghanistan alongside
the beginnings of the broad-based civil administration of the
kind that may come out in the conference in Germany at the weekend.
The situation keeps changing and we, therefore, have to continue
the assessment as to what kind of forces may be required and then
who should provide them, but it is well-known that there has been
a good deal of debate about whether some of the OIC countries
working alongside the United Nations (either under the current
United Nations authority) or some future authority could provide
the core of those forces for a peace-keeping role.
(Mr Ricketts) Could I add one other element on the
engagement of the US in terms of the future of Afghanistan. They
are hosting today in Washington a humanitarian conference to begin
to look forward to the reconstruction of Afghanistan co-chaired
by Secretary of State Colin Powell.
(Mr Straw) That makes the point that they are engaged.
There is no suggestion whatever of what you describe as a fundamental
difference. I notice from the evidence that was given at the end
of last month this stuff about whether the Bush administration
is concerned about failed states or nation-building or state-building,
it is slightly esoteric, it was set many months ago and in practice
they are as committed as we are to rebuilding the society of Afghanistan
and to ensuring that there is a well-functioning state.
Chairman: Before I call Mr Pope on the coalition
I know that Sir Patrick has a question on Afghanistan but I know
that Mr Olner has to go shortly, so Mr Olner, one question?
10. It is just that given the large amount of
members of the Taliban who come from Pakistan and from Saudi Arabia,
how concerned are you about the stability of those two countries?
(Mr Straw) About Saudi Arabia and Pakistan? I will
deal with them separately, if I may. I do not think in either
case the fact that quite a number of people who have been fighting
for the Taliban appear to have come from those countriesand
we do not know what the numbers arewill have any significant
impact on the stability of those two states. Both have been vocal
in their support of the fight against terrorism. Pakistan, of
course, shares a long border with Afghanistan and the history
of the last ten years is a matter for the record. All of us have
applauded the courage and statesmanship that President Musharraf
has shown but again there were all sorts of predictions when he
embarked on this path of an alliance with the military coalition
against terrorism and positioned Pakistan in this way, that he
would be undermined by street demonstrations, that there would
be some coup against him. In practice, the numbers that turned
out on the street, even at the height of the bombing when it appeared
there was no successful outcome, were many fewer than anticipated
and many fewer than you get in a normal week in Pakistan. And
so far as we can judge his position in the country has been strengthened
and will particularly be strengthened now that the Taliban are
in flight and they can be seen across the Arabic and Muslim world
for what they are and were. As for Saudi Arabia, I do not believe
that the fact that there were some people from that country who
were involved with the Taliban is going to have any effect on
the stability of the Government of Saudi Arabia.
Sir Patrick Cormack
11. Foreign Secretary, we all hope that these
talks in Berlin will produce the broad-based administration that
you are striving for. If they are successful, is it your intention
immediately to establish full diplomatic representation in Kabul
with an Ambassador and staff and re-open the British Embassy so
that it becomes a proper Embassy helping to influence the development
of a peaceful and democratic nation?
(Mr Straw) It is our intention that we should be fully
engaged with a civil administration and then in time with what
I hope to be a fully functioning fully recognised state. The exact
point at which you appoint an Ambassador is a judgment you need
to make at the time and we certainly would not recognise a state
of Afghanistan until it had got to the point where it was going
to be recognised widely.
12. Of course.
(Mr Straw) At that point when I wish to appoint an
Ambassador and strengthen our post, yes, but meanwhile do I wish
to see our effort in Afghanistan increasingly strengthened? Yes.
And I know that Clare Short, Secretary of State for International
Development, shares that view as well. Clare has been telling
her Committee, and I am sure will tell you too, that DFID has
commendably been right in the lead in the international aid effort
13. You talked a few moments ago about the fall
of the Taliban sending repercussions throughout the Arab and Islamic
world and being shown up for what they are as you reveal the sort
of things that they were up to. How far do you think the fall
of the Taliban has reduced the threat of international terrorism?
(Mr Straw) It has reduced the threat significantly,
of that there is no doubt, but it has not eliminated the threat
even from the al-Qaeda organisation because we are far from certain
that the people involved in the al-Qaeda organisation have all
themselves been eliminated or are now captured. There is evidence,
as you know, about them operating in other countries. It has reduced
the threat in two ways, one, because it has very significantly
undermined the capacity which they had and, secondly, because
those people involved have felt the reaction of the whole of the
civilised world against this to a degree which I think, frankly,
they did not anticipate. And they have also seen that there is
nobody in the world who is with them.
14. Do you believe from your intelligence that
bin Laden is still in Afghanistan, which is something that one
of the Taliban said yesterday, that he was there but not in the
area they controlled? Do you believe that to be probably right?
(Mr Straw) I am not going to go into the details of
intelligence. We think he is still in Afghanistan and in a narrower
area than he was before.
15. I appreciate what you said about the commitment
of the United States and the United Kingdom to rebuilding Afghanistan
and I appreciate that you said that the major players in the Northern
Alliance will attend (all the players I think you said) the talks
in Germany but how convinced are we of their commitment to agree
to the reconstruction of Afghanistan over the next few months
and years? Bearing in mind that we are talking about troop deployments
and there have been reports that the Northern Alliance commanders
rebuffed our troops and said they did not want any further British
troops in Afghanistan and they would make the decisions there.
Are we sure that they are committed to involving the international
community in that rebuilding?
(Mr Straw) So far we are and I think the signs have
been better than most anticipated. All of us are aware of the
history of the Northern Alliance. We come at that with open eyes.
When I spoke to Stephen Evans he said to me that it was encouraging
that all the key elements of the United Front (the official name
of the Northern Alliance) were going to be represented and represented
together at the talks in Germany, and he saw that as an important
sign. Mr Illsley has seen the terrible pictures as well as I have.
The Northern Alliance has been more careful in the way it has
operated than many expected and feared and we are glad of that,
although we have open eyes on the situation. They know that there
was huge pent up anger against the Taliban and they have seen
that expressed by the rapidity with which people have thrown off
the rules which the Taliban imposed on them. This was like Naziism
towards the end of the War. Of course, people had to stay under
the cosh because there was no alternative but the moment that
went, so did the imposition of the Taliban's theory go as well.
If any of these groups wish to maintain the support of their peoples,
my judgment is that they will have to operate in a different way
in the future than they have in the past. They need to do that
because they will understand they have got to maintain that support
but also the eyes of the world are watching them, the ears of
the world will be listening to them, and we will be monitoring
and engaged with what they are doing. Although some of those people
have a propensity to do terrible things, it also has to be said
that the rest of the world has not played a terrific part in the
past in terms of Afghanistan. That is why we have to change the
way we behave. As I said at the United Nations General Assembly,
there have to be no more "Great Games" with the Afghan
people the victim.
16. Foreign Secretary, when the Committee was
in New York and Washington a fortnight ago one of the things that
really struck me is that there is a widespread view in not just
the American media but in the administration as well that there
are close links between al-Qaeda and the Government of Iraq. That
was put forcefully to me by one person who said, "Let's's
put it this way if there is a chain of evidence that links Iraq
to 11 September, we will go after Iraq." Do you think there
is a chain of evidence linking the events on 11 September and
the Government of Iraq? If there is, should we go after them and
what effect would that have on the coalition?
(Mr Straw) I have seen no evidence to that effect.
I have said that publicly, I said that standing alongside Secretary
of State Colin Powell at a press conference when I was last in
Washington. It comes down to the "ifs" that you raise.
What I said then, and what I will repeat, is that you only take
military action in those circumstances if the evidence in favour
of taking military action is of sufficient weight and if there
are no other alternatives for achieving your objective than military
action. Neither condition is there in respect of Iraq at present.
17. One of the things where there has been a
difference between the UK and the US is that the US seemed reluctant
to publish evidence against al-Qaeda in the beginning and it was
our Prime Minister who published it. If evidence exists, not about
Iraq but about any other state that widens out the war against
terrorism, will there be an agreement between the administrations
for publishing evidence?
(Mr Straw) The fact that we put our name to the publication
rather than the United States does not suggest there is a disagreement,
this must not be implied because this is to misunderstand the
nature of the relationship. Sometimes it is more sensible for
us to do things and sometimes it is more sensible for the US to
do things. The US, I am quite certain, I know, were very happy
that we should have published evidence in that way. There were
some really difficult judgments about publishing that evidence
because it was significantly drawn from intelligence although
a great deal of it was historical. As to the future I cannot give
any guarantees one way or the other, Mr Pope. Of course, there
is a good argument in terms of public support for making clear
as far as you can what the evidence is on which you are taking
action. Against that you have to protect intelligence sources,
particularly human intelligence sources, and often that is (as
it was with the publication of this document) the overwhelming
18. One final question on a slightly different
point. When we met Kofi Annan he said that there were two fault
lines causing instability and thus sponsoring terrorism, and those
two fault lines were the log-jam in the Middle East peace process
and the dispute between India and Pakistan over Kashmir. The Middle
East peace process seems to be at the top of everybody's agenda
and a lot is being talked about that. Not a great deal is being
said about the situation in Kashmir. I am not suggesting it will
be easy after 50 or so years to resolve it. How high is it on
your agenda as Foreign Secretary to assist and move things forward
to try and resolve the Kashmir question?
(Mr Straw) First of all, on the Middle East, yes,
the conflict in the Middle East has unquestionably helped create
a climate in which terrorists can both hide and breed. It does
not excuse the terrorism for one second but we need to understand
that and, in any event, the Middle East is a conflict crying out
for a solution and the area is one crying out for peace. For that
reason I greatly welcomed the speech which was made yesterday
by Secretary of State Colin Powell setting out a clear vision
for the areaa state of Israel, properly respected by its
neighbours, not subject to the kind of terrorism that the state
of the Israel has been subject to in the past, with its citizens
and residents free from fear, and alongside that a viable state
of Palestine, again respected by Israel and where both sets of
communities can live in peace with security. The speech was significant
for that vision for setting out the steps to be taken. One of
the frustrations about the situation is the steps are set out
in the Tenet plan and in the Mitchell Report. It has also gripped
some of the more difficult issues like the future of Jerusalem
and the refugee issue, and those two have to be considered actively
in due course as part of the process. As for Kashmir, Kashmir
is near the top of my agenda of concerns but the resolution of
Kashmir is difficult. Kashmir is an issue I know about in considerable
detail; it is an issue which I have followed in very great detail,
but it is also a matter which has to be resolved by negotiation
between India and Pakistan. If we are asked, by agreement, by
both parties to play a role then we are happy to consider that,
but it has to be resolved by direct negotiation and that is why
I was hopeful when the Agra discussions got going earlier in the
summer. They did not have the outcome all of us would have wished
but we hope very much that that kind of negotiation gets back.
19. Foreign Secretary, you have just touched
on the Middle East and I would like, if I may, to go a little
further. Referring back to the meetings we have had recently in
New York and United Nations, we had a strong indication that the
Middle East was now getting higher up the Security Council's agenda
and that the US have accepted, grudgingly perhaps, that the Middle
East had something to do with the 11 September attack. Within
that framework I would like to ask you three questions initially
regarding 11 September. Osama bin Laden has already linked those
attacks to the Arab/Israeli conflict. He cited the role the US
played in support of Israel, he cited other grievances including
the US presence in the Gulf and US/UK policy with respect to Iraq.
Not just looking at Israel in particular, can we have your views
on how the United Kingdom, the US and the EU can address the genuine
grievances in the Middle East, in the Gulf without appearing to
bow to the terrorists' threats? In that context can you tell the
Committee whether United Kingdom policy towards the Middle East
has changed since 11 September and has US policy changed? Particularly
with regards to the US policy, would the British Government be
prepared to take part in an observer mission in Palestine if asked
to do so or perhaps a peace-keeping mission?
(Mr Straw) Our policy has not changed, neither has
the United States'and that is a matter of record. I was
concerned about the Middle East before 11 September, so was the
United States, Colin Powell visited the region. Both the Tenet
and Mitchell reports pre-date 11 September.