Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40-59)



Ms Stuart

  40. Just to follow on which is related but not related, if you see what I mean. There have been suggestions in the press that whilst immediately following September 11 Britain and the Prime Minister in particular were very much in the lead in recognising its own strategic interests and that very much strengthened our relationship with America, subsequent events—not least the fact these talks on the future of Afghanistan were held in Bonn—show that kind of immediate role is somehow receding.
  (Mr Straw) For the United Kingdom?

  41. Yes.
  (Mr Straw) Right.

  42. I just wonder what your view is on that?
  (Mr Straw) I am surprised by the implication of your question because I do not think it is true. We wanted the discussions on the future of Afghanistan to take place within the auspices of the United Nations and sponsored the UNSCR resolution to provide that. We have taken a leading role in the Security Council with the other permanent members but I think most of the other members would say that they recognise that Sir Jeremy Greenstock, our Ambassador to the UN, has often been in the lead on all of these issues, as he has on many others. The fact that he was made Chairman of the Terrorism Committee was a great personal tribute to him as well as a compliment to the work of the United Kingdom. Now, if you are going to have the United Nations acting as the broker and midwife for a process of an interim authority and then of government, they have to do it, and other countries, including permanent members of the Security Council, have to support that but not get in the way of that process, and that is what we have sought to do. We have done a great deal of work behind the scenes, first of all much earlier in proposing that the Secretary-General should appoint a Special Representative, happily he did that very quickly, providing Lakhdar Brahimi with as much support as we could. I think we were the first country to identify and appoint a senior diplomat to assist in the reconstruction process, in our case Robert Cooper, who has quickly earned a very high reputation at the United Nations with Lakhdar Brahimi and Kofi Annan and he has been in Bonn all week. In addition to that, we were, I think, the first country to establish a representative in Kabul. Stephen Evans went in there as soon as it was remotely safe for him to do so. We have been there at every point and behind the scenes, for example, I have had myself a series of conversations with Dr Abdullah Abdullah, with the Russian Foreign Minister and the Iranian Foreign Minister, to try and ensure that the Northern Alliance were positioned correctly in these talks so that they received recognition for their role but not to the point where other members of other delegations could not be accommodated within the constitution. I think we have worked as we should do at supporting the United Nations' led role actively but not getting in its way.

  43. I did take up the suggestion by reading it in the foreign press.
  (Mr Straw) In the foreign press.

Sir John Stanley

  44. Foreign Secretary, is there going to be a second phase in the war against terrorism beyond Afghanistan?
  (Mr Straw) The war against terrorism in the general sense is going to go on and it needs to because we need to ensure the kind of threat that was before the world on 11 September cannot take place again. If you ask in terms of a second phase will we continue to identify serious terrorist threats internationally and take action against them, yes. If you are asking me about will military action be taken against particular targets, I am not willing to speculate on that with apologies, Sir John.

  45. No need to apologise, I am delighted that you have answered in those terms. The last thing I would expect you to do is to speculate on future military options in this particular forum. Foreign Secretary, the Prime Minister has given a clear statement that in the further development of the war against terrorism to a second phase he has said and I quote—this is an interview in The Independent on Sunday on 2 December—"Nothing will happen without consultation with allies, it will be done in a very considered way". I would like to ask you, if I may, whether you can assure the Committee that the consideration that will be given in that consultation process will be rather more lengthy than has sometimes occurred in the past with our American friends? I am thinking particularly of the occasion of the US invasion of Grenada when your predecessor as Foreign Secretary gave an assurance to the House one afternoon that there was going to be no American invasion of Grenada. The invasion took place over night and the then Foreign Secretary had to make something of an apology to the House the following afternoon. Can we have your assurance that when the Prime Minister refers to consultation in a very considered way that is a clear assurance to the Government of this country that there will be full consideration over a reasonable length of time?
  (Mr Straw) Yes. I cannot give you an absolutely iron guarantee that I could not be placed in such a similarly difficult position at some stage in the future on some issue but on the specific thing, Sir John, there is already a great deal of considered consultation going on. It has to be said that President Bush has throughout, from 11 September, taken very great care to consult allies about action which needs to be taken and has shown in my judgment very great statesmanship about this. I have no reason to think this will not continue. I know—because I know—that there is detailed consultation already taking place.

  46. President Bush has made a very forthright public statement that the UN Weapons Inspectors must be returned to Iraq.
  (Mr Straw) Yes.

  47. Does the British Government take the same unequivocal clear view as the American Government?
  (Mr Straw) Yes. Saddam Hussein is the architect of the misfortunes of the Iraqi people. Weapons Inspectors need to go back there. Iraq poses a very severe threat in terms of its development and possible use of weapons of mass destruction, of that there can be no doubt. Therefore, restraining the development of those weapons of mass destruction is essential and to do that we require proper inspection. We have been in the lead in the United Nations on seeking a replacement, a more effective replacement, of Security Council Resolution 1284. When I was at the United Nations' General Assembly three and a half weeks ago I spent a good deal of my time in discussions with Igor Ivanov, the Russian Foreign Minister, and Sergei Lavrov, who is the Russian Permanent Representative, about our proposals. Where we got to was not that they were accepted as we wanted them to be but it was better than we anticipated because in place of the straight forward rollover resolution, which would have just strung things out for another six months, we got agreements with the Russians, and then with the whole of the Security Council, for work to go on, on the detailed operation of a goods review list between now and the time when this current resolution will expire in six months' time. With luck I think this might happen. There will be then a much better regime in place which, on the one hand, will allow the export to Iraq of goods which are only of civilian use for humanitarian and other purposes and on the other hand will better, more effectively interdict material which is either for military use for weapons of mass destruction, certain conventional weapons, or of dual use.

  48. As you know, Saddam Hussein, so far, has taken an unequivocal hard stance against the restoration of the UN Weapons Inspectors into Iraq, and I would like to ask you, Foreign Secretary, do you see any prospect of being able to persuade Saddam Hussein to accept the restoration of the UN Weapons Inspectors into his country without an intensification of military action against that country?
  (Mr Straw) I see some prospect of it. I would not use the verb "persuade". I see some prospect of Iraq coming to accept that this has to happen for the future of the regime as well as the future of people in that country. I would not put it higher than that but I think there is some evidence to that effect.

  49. Coming to accept that without an intensification of the military action?
  (Mr Straw) There certainly has to be intensification of diplomatic pressure on them. If we are to achieve that end, without that which you speak about, it requires more active engagement, for example, by Russia than they have had before and a recognition by Russia that what has been an ambiguous approach to Iraq up to now is not helpful in terms of the stability of the region and the stability of the international community.

Mr Pope

  50. The US has the right to defend itself under the UN Charter. Do you think that right extends to taking pre-emptive action against a state which the US believes may attack it?
  (Mr Straw) All countries have a right to self-defence under Article 51 of the United Nations' Charter, Mr Pope. I am not, I am afraid, going to get drawn into hypothetical answers to hypothetical questions of the "what if" variety. What is clear is the United States were fully justified in taking the action that they did take in Afghanistan. It is clear, also, that if country X receives very good information that country Y or terrorist group Z is about to attack it, and takes action in self-defence to stop that attack, it is acting consistently with Article 51 but the exact circumstances are going to vary.

  51. Can I put it to you that there is a country Y which is developing a much larger ballistic missile capability than it currently has. It is possibly developing chemical, biological, maybe even nuclear weapons.
  (Mr Straw) Which country are you thinking about?

  52. If I specify the country it makes it harder for you to answer. The country I am thinking of is Iraq. I do not think there is any doubt that the fears I have just expressed about Iraq about ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction are there. It is difficult to verify them simply because they will not allow the UNSCOM inspectors in. Where does this leave us in the next phase? It is natural as we all celebrate events in Afghanistan we are all looking at what happens next. It seems to me that is the logical next step.
  (Mr Straw) On the issue of Iraq, I have not got that much more to add to that which I answered to Sir John a moment ago. You are right to say that Iraq's building of weapons of mass destruction is a very serious potential threat to the peace and stability of the region and, therefore, to the whole of the international community. You are right, also, to imply that the international community has to take action. There is then a question of what action is best taken in respect of that where care and consideration is required. This is a separate matter from culpability for the atrocities of 11 September. As I have said before, and this has been repeated by others, I have seen no evidence to link the Iraqi regime with Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda or the Taliban, but we are concerned, very concerned, about Iraq's development of these weapons. We believe that international action has to take place and I have talked already about the dramatic steps which have to be taken.

  53. If I can just widen it out a little from Iraq, it was possibly foolish of me to allow myself to be drawn.
  (Mr Straw) No, no, I said before the Committee is of the highest possible intellectual ability.

  54. If I can turn to the UN Counter Terrorism Committee, which is chaired by Sir Jeremy Greenstock, that Committee has given countries until December 27 to come up with a proposal to counter terrorism. I think the likelihood is most countries will sign up, most countries will do something. A range of other countries will sign up and do nothing. Some countries may not sign up at all. What happens after December 27 to those countries which are just not complying at all in the UN campaign against terrorism?
  (Mr Straw) I will need to write back to you, Mr Anderson, if I may, with a more considered answer, but what is likely to happen is that there will be a report from Sir Jeremy Greenstock's Committee to the Security Council and then the Security Council will consider what action needs to be taken.
  (Mr Wright) If I could just add to that, Foreign Secretary. The intention is by the 27 December the Committee should have received reports from all the countries. Those reports are, as I understand it, principally about legislation in those countries, domestic legislation which relates to terrorism, and plans for legislation. What will then happen is that the Committee is now agreeing that all those reports should be reviewed by one of three sub-committees who are dividing up the work really alphabetically. It is when that review process reaches conclusions and makes recommendations that problems can be identified and addressed.


  55. What will happen to those countries which it is believed do not have administrative or military capacity to comply?
  (Mr Wright) Would you like me to respond, Foreign Secretary?
  (Mr Straw) Yes, please.
  (Mr Wright) There is certainly intention in the United Nations to offer assistance in the first instance to help countries improve their legislation and improve their remedies. I think it would be premature and there is certainly no fixed plan yet as to what to do about countries that fail to respond, fail to improve, fail to respond to any assistance offered and so on because that is necessarily some way down the road.

  Mr Pope: A final comment. Just to say the Committee met Sir Jeremy when we were in New York about three weeks ago and I think we are all delighted that he has been asked to Chair the Counter-Terrorism Committee. It does reflect on how well our mission to the UN is held by other nations.

Mr Hamilton

  56. Foreign Secretary, can I move us back to the Middle East conflict. Do you think there is now any possibility of a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict following the suicide bombings in Haifa on 1st December and, of course, today's tragic suicide bombing as well? Is there any possibility?
  (Mr Straw) We have to continue to hope that there could be a peaceful resolution of this terrible and longstanding conflict but, for sure, the prospects of such a resolution in the short term have been greatly reduced by what has happened, and of that there can be no doubt.

  57. I think we all share that but I hope our Government will do everything it can to encourage the Americans as well to be involved. I think their involvement is absolutely essential.
  (Mr Straw) Mr Hamilton, all of us have been very active in terms of diplomacy. I was speaking on Saturday in advance of these appalling acts of terrorism to Nabil Shaath to seek to persuade him to allow in the United Nations' General Assembly Resolution on the Middle East reference to the fact that Israeli civilians were being killed, had been killed, as well as Palestinian civilians. The point I made to him was that since the Palestinian authority say publicly that they recognise that there have been innocent Israelis who have been killed, as well as innocent Palestinians, and they do not agree with that, they oppose it; and they recognise the right of the state of Israel to exist and to live in peace with security. They need to have those words in resolutions which they were sponsoring before the General Assembly, and they have to make a choice. On Sunday, I spoke to Yasser Arafat after the terrorist outrages in Israel to urge him, yet again, to take effective action against people who they know to be terrorists in Hamas, Hezbullah and Islamic Jihad, to lock them up and make sure they stay locked up. I was telephoned, also, by Shimon Peres on Sunday and talked to him. I said to him that I said to Chairman Arafat that I had made a similar point but more starkly—since Chairman Arafat there and then was expressing his outrage at these terrorist incidents—that he should ensure that the same views against killings of Israeli citizens were reflected in this United Nations' General Assembly Resolution. Now, I regret the fact that this was not followed through and, therefore, when the Resolution came up before the General Assembly two days ago we abstained, which I think was the only proper thing to do in respect of the Resolution. We continue to see what can be done to assist. Javier Solana was in London yesterday, I had a long meeting with him and then subsequently he had a long meeting with the Prime Minister. What we believe, very strongly, is that there must now be clear and unambiguous steps taken by the Palestinian Authority to assert its authority over its territory and in particular over these terrorists. We have all said that for long enough but it has to happen in our judgment. They have to lock up these people. They have to make sure they stay locked up. We have always made it clear to the Palestinian Authority that we would be ready to provide observers, which we believe could be made acceptable to the Israelis, and the Americans would too, to verify these people were locked up. They have to take other action as well and in my view Chairman Arafat has to work very hard to reduce the level of gratuitous violence which is emanating from outside. On the relations with the United States, there are continuous discussions with senior people in the United States administration, clearly between our Prime Minister and President Bush, about this issue. I have to say that President Bush did go the extra mile in his statement to the General Assembly on November 10 and Secretary Colin Powell went a further mile with his very, very comprehensive statement on 19 November and his courageous decision, for which he has been criticised in the United States, to put in Mr Burns, Under Secretary, and General Zinni as his Special Representatives. It is tragic that, again, some extremist terrorists took this outrageous action which for the time being has so disrupted the peace process. But, to come back to the beginning of your question, the only future for the people in those lands is through a peace process. Although some people there, of course, get close to despair we have to keep working to support them to achieve a peace.

  58. Thank you very much. Can I move us on to another key regional plan which may have a role in all this and that is Iran.
  (Mr Straw) Yes.

  59. You visited Tehran on 21 November. Can I ask you to tell the Committee what you achieved during that visit?
  (Mr Straw) Yes, it was my second visit, I visited there, also, on 25 September. The principal purpose of my visit on this occasion, on 21 November, was to discuss Afghanistan. I met Dr Abdullah Abdullah at the British residence in Tehran, that was an extremely important meeting. I had previously spoken to him on the telephone a couple of times, I think, but I had not met him. We were able to discus the Northern Alliance's attitude to the Bonn conference which at that stage had still not been agreed, their approach to external military presence in Afghanistan and other matters. In turn I was able to talk to Kamal Kharrazi, the Iranian Foreign Minister, and his colleagues about Iran's approach to Afghanistan, and particularly its approach to the Northern Alliance. The key point here is that that part of the Northern Alliance represented by General Fahim, Mr Qanuni and Dr Abdullah Abdullah has long been supported by Iran. They have not only given rhetorical support but they have paid for them as well. Subsequent to that, I have been able to call both Dr Kharrazi and Dr Abdullah to try to ensure a satisfactory outcome to these talks, which has now been achieved.

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