Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20-29)




  20. But the words "viable Palestine state" never escaped from our Prime Minister or Foreign Secretary.

Mr Chidgey

  21. I asked about the United Kingdom's role and whether you felt the UK should be prepared to take part in an observer mission in Palestine or a peace-keeping mission.
  (Mr Straw) If there is a role for us. We have always been active. Certainly if there were an agreement for us to provide observers, I am sure we would do so. As to providing peace-keeping forces, that is a much bigger question and I doubt whether that question will arise for us, not least because of our history in the area. If it did we would consider it.

  22. Just addressing the wider grievances than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the Middle East—the disparity of wealth, poverty, whatever.
  (Mr Straw) There are bigger issues about the economies of the countries in the Middle East and trying to enhance their prosperity. We have to do all we can to support states which are in difficulties. That is part of the discussion which we had with the King of Jordan when he was here. We have to reduce the pall which Iraq throws over the rest of the area. That is why at the UN General Assembly I spent a lot of my time in discussions about whether we could achieve a better sanctions regime than the one we have now and a much more sharply focused one.

  23. Does that extend to Egypt, poverty and educating the poor?
  (Mr Straw) Each country is different. We have very good relations with President Mubarak and I have good relations with Mr Maher, the Foreign Minister. Egypt, as it happens, is in receipt of a very significant amount of aid from the United States, very large sums of aid, and we will continue to do all we can to improve prosperity in Egypt with other projects to assist them in the development of educational projects and so on.

Andrew Mackinlay

  24. Can you give us an overview on where we are with civil rights in countries on which prior to 11 September we might have been taking, diplomatically and publicly, a stringent view—China and Russia in relation to Chechnya. I think implicit in that question is what is the current remit to the extent that al-Qaeda or others have been supporting Chechnya rebels. There is a change of view, we have to deal with the world as it is, so can you take us through that?
  (Mr Straw) If you are saying should we have one definition of terrorism rather than two or three, my answer is yes. I personally take a pretty robust view about terrorism because although in any one situation the arguments being made in favour of armed conflict within a given state may be plausible, it is hard to point to a dispute in which terrorists are operating where the net result of that dispute is not a much greater degree of unhappiness and killing and suffering. We cannot go on, in my view, therefore tolerating the territorial terrorism that we have seen in the past. On Chechnya, we understand the position that the Russian Government has taken. At the same time we have said to them and will continue to say to them that they must act with the same discretion and regard for human rights that we ourselves had to observe in relatively similar situations of terrorism. That does not mean that you can deal with every situation with kid gloves but it does not mean you go in for gratuitous violence. All the international conventions recognise that the degree to which you are permitted to use force depends on the threat but also it does not permit gratuitous violence or death and we should not entertain that. As far as China is concerned, discussions with China continue and in all the discussions I have ever had with the Chinese interlocutor—and that goes back to when I was Home Secretary—the issue of human rights was raised and there was gradually a sense that China recognises that it is in its own interests to improve its respect for human rights within its own country.

  25. The Security Council Resolution, which requires countries within their domestic situation to do everything to home down on terrorism and terrorist activities, what is your reading of how it is going with countries that either have a reputation or are expected to be a bit weak, particularly in relation to controlling not just the money but also the disposal or the marketing of weapons, both small arms and, indeed, perhaps even nuclear materials or whatever?
  (Mr Straw) The UN Resolution set down an agenda in terms of action against terrorism. You may know that Sir Jeremy Greenstock, who is our Permanent Representative to the United Nations, was made Chairman of the Security Council Committee Against Terrorism and that was a very great personal compliment to him. It is very unusual, I am told, for any Permanent Member of the Security Council to have their Permanent Representative made a Chairman of the Security Council Committee, but he is doing considerable work there in checking on what individual countries are doing, what measures are needed. You will know that we here in this country were taking measures before the House of Commons yesterday and I am delighted that my successor and colleague David Blunkett put up a robust argument in favour of those proposals and as far as I know they were carried and they build on the Terrorism Act 2000 I introduced when I was Home Secretary. The necessity of these proposals, as I recognise them to be, is accepted by the House and by the other players. The Chancellor has been taking the lead in terms of cutting back on the use of the financial systems to sponsor or support terrorism and we have been working alongside the US on measures to block bank accounts better to track the use of funds and so on. A great deal of work is going on. You may want a memorandum on this.

  26. I was rather asking what is your perception of what is going on elsewhere? Are we on target? Can we expect some embarrassment when we have to make some crunch decisions where you have not complied with the spirit of the letter?
  (Mr Straw) Some countries are on target, some are not and that is true inside the European Union. There are some abstruse arguments taking place among Member States about particular aspects of the measures. I think they will be resolved, issues about for example the fast track warrants and so on as to what kind of crimes should be associated with these warrants. Some people argue they should only be "terrorist" crimes whilst others, including the United Kingdom, are arguing that since most of the crimes which terrorists commit are not terrorist specific crimes, they are crimes like murder, causing explosions, theft, drugs, and they ought to be available for the wider range of crimes. Mr Chairman, I omitted in answer to a question from Mr Chidgey to say something about the European Union in relation to the Middle East peace process and I apologise for that. Just to say that we are heavily involved in the discussion inside the General Affairs Council of the European Union on the Middle East. We had a further very detailed discussion at the GAC yesterday which I attended before I went to Barcelona. I am clear and we are clear that here is an area where the EU can be most influential by working alongside the United States, not deciding to engage in separate initiatives in terms of the peace process but by co-operating with the United States as well as making a very distinctive contribution which we do in the EU for example by our very significant support to the Palestinian Authority.

  27. I was thinking of the former Soviet Union countries. When it broke up there was really no audit of what war materials were in these countries and also what nuclear materials could be available. That has always been my anxiety and I think a lot of people's. It was almost an anarchical situation. I am not talking about the Russian Federation but everything else. Are we getting on top of that?
  (Mr Wright) We are in touch with the Russian authorities about the risks here. We discuss and have discussed for some time pre-11 September with the Russian authorities about the risks of terrorism in the WMD field. We discuss with them (within the limits of state security that they impose and we impose) the safety of nuclear materials in Russia and the United States, I believe, does similarly. So we have been conscious of these issues for quite some time. I think since 11 September those discussions and the degree of frankness has somewhat improved because there is no doubt about the political commitment of the Russian Government to combatting these threats, as we are committed. So there is a certain enhancement of political commitment but the problems are inherently very difficult to get at because they are acute problems of analysis and intelligence about the degree of the threat.


  28. As you know, we in the Foreign Affairs Committee have looked in the last Parliament at intervention for humanitarian purposes which is where the Chinese had a particular view of national sovereignty, Tibet and so on. Is it your view that the China's willingness to join the coalition against terrorism on this occasion was because their own terrorist problem suggests there is a shift in their attitude to such intervention for humanitarian purposes?
  (Mr Straw) I understand what you are saying. I am afraid you will have to ask them as to whether their very welcome support of the coalition against terrorism will lead to a change in their attitude towards Tibet. That is not an issue I could conceivably speculate on. So far as I am concerned however, we are very pleased with the support which they have offered and it has been vocal and was volunteered at an early stage.

  29. The fight against terrorism is clearly not restricted to Afghanistan. We know that elsewhere the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine assassinated a democratically elected Cabinet Minister, we know that HAMAS and Hizbollah have been responsible for a number of outrages against civilians. Is it your view that the chapter stops in Afghanistan or will a second chapter start against those countries which harbour terrorists?
  (Mr Straw) I do not think we should see it in that sequential way. There has long been concern about countries which either knowingly or negligently allow terrorists to operate in their territory. If you are talking to me about HAMAS and Hizbollah and Islamic Jihad, I proscribed those organisations when I was Home Secretary and took a very robust view about their activities. I banned the military wings. We have to take a lot of action against such groups and we have to begin to engage in intensive dialogue with the countries which are harbouring, sheltering or just being negligent about the behaviour of these groups but continue that engagement. When the Prime Minister was in Syria I know these matters were raised there. When I was in Iran very publicly I raised these matters as well as privately because I was thanked for the fact that I had banned the MEK terrorist organisation (which is an Iranian terrorist organisation which appears to be backed in part by the Iraqis) and so grateful were the Iranian people for the banning of MEK I am told that the British Embassy in Tehran received over 40,000 individual letters of thanks for this action. When I was asked about this publicly I said we are grateful for this but you also need to know that I banned, amongst others, HAMAS, Hizbollah, Islamic Jihad and therefore we have to have a dialogue about these organisations as well and the degree to which they are supported, and one of them in particular, is supported by Iran. The fight against terrorism has to go on because the world is not a safe place as long as terrorists can operate and although sometimes terrorists confine themselves to one area, they seek support, they seek money, they seek arms and they seek to trade in drugs way outside that area as well.

  Chairman: Secretary of State, the campaign against terrorism will continue and I trust that this, the first of your dialogues with the Select Committee, will continue. May I thank you warmly on behalf of the Committee.

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