WEDNESDAY 5 DECEMBER 2001
Mr Donald Anderson, in the Chair
Memoranda submitted by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Examination of Witnesses
RT HON JACK STRAW, a Member of the House, Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, and MR STEPHEN WRIGHT, CMG, Deputy Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, examined.
(Mr Straw) I am troubled by any killings but if you are asking me whether I think there should be an inquiry into what happened there, the answer to that is that I have seen no good case in its support. I was struck by a comment which the head of the ICRC made which is quoted in Le Monde which I will turn up in a second. The heads of the ICRC themselves said that it needed to be borne in mind that these killings occurred after these prisoners had foreseeably rearmed themselves, had broken into armoury and had then taken up aggressive action themselves. I wonder, Mr Anderson, if I may just make some general observations, given the fact that today is literally an historic one in terms of Afghanistan.
(Mr Straw) I regard the signing of the agreement on Afghanistan's future as a very significant achievement for the people of Afghanistan, for their representatives and an achievement for the international community. I would like to pay tribute to the United Nations and to the Afghan leaders, men and women, who have grasped this opportunity to begin to rebuild their country. This is a victory for the coalition against terrorism. A stable Afghanistan with a broad based government is as important to our own security as it is to the Afghan people. This really is one world. There is now much work to be done on the ground in Afghanistan to turn this agreement into the reality of a stable nation at peace with itself and the world. Britain will continue to play its part in supporting these efforts, as we have played our part up to now in helping the United Nations' Special Representative, Lakdhar Brahimi, bring about this remarkable agreement. We have come much further, more quickly towards a stable Afghanistan than anyone thought possible just a few days ago and certainly than anyone was suggesting four weeks ago. The message from Bonn is that the will is there to build a new future and so now are the means.
Chairman: I am obliged. On that point of reconstruction I call Mr Chidgey and then Ms Stuart.
(Mr Straw) The immediate humanitarian need has to be met straight away, regardless of whether this interim authority is in place, and that is what the coalition has been doing, various key governments, particularly the United Kingdom with the Department for International Development, and of course many of the large NGOs under the UN World Food Programme. That has to continue. Fortunately the amount of deliveries overall has increased recently as the security situation in the country has stabilised. There is also the prospect, which will be of critical importance, that the freedom bridge, so-called, between Uzbekistan and North Afghanistan may at last be opened. It has been the subject of protracted negotiations with the Uzbek Government but we are hoping that may be possible. To come to the core of your question, the quicker that the interim authority can be established, and the quicker that it in turn can help to stabilise increasing areas of Afghanistan, the quicker that we can get in real humanitarian effort and move from bandaid assistance - where you are just providing food parcels - to proper reconstruction, for example if we can get the water supply restored to these areas quickly and you can get crops sown then that will make a very big difference to the prospects and over time reduce the need for straight forward aid.
(Mr Straw) Annex 1 to the Agreement happily makes clear that the interim authority, including the Northern Alliance, would wish to see some kind of international stabilisation force in Afghanistan. Exactly what kind of force will have to be the subject of discussion with the interim authority and in due course I think it would be very desirable that any such international force had a mandate of some kind from the United Nations Security Council because it has to operate under some basis in international law. Active work is continuing on the nature of such a force.
(Mr Straw) Can I just make this point. All that said, one of the many remarkable things which has happened since the fall of Mazar on 9th November and of Kabul a couple of days later has been the degree to which there has been relative peace within most areas of Afghanistan without there being a need for external forces. Kabul has been quiet. It has a police force, a rudimentary police force of just 1,200 people which for a population of its size is very small but it has been relatively quiet. I think having been through this terrible blood letting over the last decade the sense I get from those I have spoken to is that people understand they have got to show restraint. That is one of the things which I commend and believe the Northern Alliance has. In terms of would Britain be involved?
(Mr Straw) Offered, there is work going on on that. To go back to a question you asked earlier, because our forces are, literally, one of the best in the world, and we have good headquarters experience, people tend to put the United Kingdom at or near the top of any list.
(Mr Straw) No, my colleague, Geoff Hoon, is currently looking carefully at the kind of contribution we could make to such a force but we would like to do so.
(Mr Straw) There has not been any proposal yet for one to be established. So far as Osama bin Laden is concerned, he is already indicted in the courts of the United States for the 1998 atrocities which took place against the US embassies in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi. Almost all of his key associates could similarly be indicted for their involvement in the atrocities which took place before 11th September of this year or that atrocity. Probably, because those crimes have taken place against United States' citizens or against citizens of Kenya and Tanzania, such people stand to be indicted before the well functioning courts of those countries. The point of having an international tribunal is where you cannot take people through the criminal process within a proper functioning state because none exists, and that is not the case here.
(Mr Straw) Yes. As I mentioned to the House of Commons Tuesday, a week ago, there were on the initial delegation to Bonn, out of what were then 28 delegates, three who were women, which is not a particularly high proportion but some Members here will excuse me from pointing out that it is a higher proportion than is enjoyed by the large Opposition party in the House of Commons, if I can put it that delicately.
Mr Maples: Or on this Committee.
(Mr Straw) Or on this Committee, indeed. So that is progress. The information this morning concerns eight members of this interim administration. The Chairman, Hamid Karzai, is a Pushtun but is independent and close to the King's Group. Colleagues here may have heard the radio reports this morning that he played a very courageous role in Taliban infested territory in fighting the Taliban and organising fighting. There are five Vice Chairmen who include Shima Samar for Women's Affairs, Amin Arsala for Finance, who is a Pushtun from the King's Group, General Fahim, who will deal with Defence who is Tajik from the United Front, the Northern Alliance, Mohaqiq who will deal with Planning and an unnamed Uzbek United Front member who will deal with Water and Power. Other portfolios within the Cabinet would be Dr Abdullah Abdullah, who has been the Foreign Affairs representative and will be the Foreign Affairs Minister who is also a member of the Northern Alliance, and Younis Qanuni who has led the Northern Alliance delegation in Bonn, is a Tajik and also from the Northern Alliance. Ten Cabinet members have been chosen including one woman, there are a further 11 names yet to be decided to bring the total Cabinet up to 23 ministers in addition to the five chairs and the Chairman. That is where we have got to. Then, of course, there is a big agenda down the track for the next stage of this process.
(Mr Straw) For the United Kingdom?
(Mr Straw) Right.
(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 Lakdhar 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 Lakdhar Brahimi and Kofi Anan 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.
(Mr Straw) In the foreign press.
Sir John Stanley
(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 11th 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.
(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 11th 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.
(Mr Straw) Yes.
(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 Laverov, 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.
(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.
(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 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.
(Mr Straw) Which county are you thinking about?
(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 11th 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.
(Mr Straw) No, no, I said before the Committee is of the highest possible intellectual ability.
(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 27th 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.
(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 admission to the UN is held by other nations.
(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.
(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 Nabeel 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 10th and Secretary Colin Powell went a further mile with his very, very comprehensive statement on 19th November and his courageous decision, for which he has been criticised in the United States, to put in Mr Burns, Under Secretary, and General Zini 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.
(Mr Straw) Yes.
(Mr Straw) Yes, it was my second visit, I visited there, also, on 25th September. The principal purpose of my visit on this occasion, on 21st 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.
(Mr Straw) The situation in the Middle East, in Israel and in the Occupied Territories, is extremely depressing. The last year, since intifada began on 28th September of last year, has been one of increasing despair, occasionally punctuated by some hope but then the cycle of violence getting worse. We have to recognise that reality but draw from that strength and hopefully convey this strength to those in the region to redouble their efforts for peace but peace is made more difficult on both sides. The advocates of peace are weakened by this continuing cycle of violence until a point is reached, on both sides, where people say "We cannot go on". I am sad to say we have seen this in other countries, we have seen it in Afghanistan.
(Mr Straw) I am not going to predict Chairman Arafat's future. That is a matter for the Palestinian Authority and the people of the Occupied Territories.
(Mr Straw) We have to ensure that terrorist prisoners of war are treated in accordance with international law. I have seen no evidence that they have not been so far and the United States has been very careful throughout this conflict, following the atrocities of 11th September, to ensure that it acts within international law. It was one of the reasons why it sought and secured the United Nations' Security Council Resolution which has been achieved. These crimes were committed against citizens of the United States, as well as others, on the territory of the United States, so the United States is entitled to take criminal process against them in and, indeed, it is the duty of the administration to ensure that such criminal process takes place. I have not followed the detail of the military tribunals which may be established on the executive order. What I do know is that the Constitution of the United States will apply to those courts whether they are military or not. Indeed, the United States has a very long standing and well deserved reputation for fair treatment of suspects before any kind of tribunal. There is a separate issue which we face here which is how far can you bring intelligence evidence, which is essential for a conviction, into open court.
(Mr Straw) It is a really difficult issue.
(Mr Straw) It is not going to arise.
(Mr Straw) Except for somebody charged with complicity and then here it is not going to arise in respect of Afghanistan because I can foresee no circumstances in which somebody who has been picked up in Afghanistan for a crime committed in the United States has a stopover in the United Kingdom. I am sorry to appear obtuse, Mr Chidgey, but you know what is in the Home Secretary's Bill and why that Bill has been put forward, our concerns about the fact that Article 3 could lead us in to a situation which has already happened, it happened to me as Home Secretary, where people with overwhelming evidence that they are terrorists cannot be sent back to the requesting country and also cannot be detailed here, a ridiculous situation which we have to deal with. That is the purpose of this Bill. I hope the Liberal Democrats recognise the wisdom of it.
Mr Chidgey: Party committee.
(Mr Straw) Yes we are.
(Mr Straw) First of all, it has taken many forms but it is about raising the importance of these areas. I am sorry, I know the report was before I was appointed to this job but Mr Wright has told me it was indeed a very good report.
(Mr Straw) And I will read it; I have not done so yet. Back in July we hosted a conference on Afghanistan for the United Nations which involved 21 countries including all the "Stans". I ensured that I had time to meet the foreign ministers of each of the Stans who attended. Since 11 September we have increased our diplomatic contact with those countries. I had what I thought was an important and lengthy meeting with the foreign minister of Uzbekistan whilst at the United Nations General Assembly three weeks ago. I had planned to go to three or four of the Stans two weeks ago and plans were in hand but I had decided that better use of the immediate time I had available was to go to Iran and Pakistan because of the needs of the moment and because I could have a more direct effect on what then became the Bonn process than if I had gone to the Stans. Meanwhile Geoff Hoon had gone the previous week to Uzbekistan and Tajikistan so he dealt with two of them. Why do you not answer, Mr Wright, it is perfectly obvious where the note has come from!
(Mr Wright) I do not want too interrupt your thought process, Secretary of State, but I thought it might be useful to remind the Committee that we had already before the 11 September had an intention to open an Embassy in Bishkek and we are pressing ahead with that plan. Since 11 September we are looking again at the question of whether we should open a small Embassy in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, where up to now we have not had one, principally for security reasons. Those security problems remain but, of course, for the reasons you have said, there are more important reasons now to look at the other side of the argument.
Chairman: It would be helpful for the Committee to have a note generally at the start of the year on the whole cavernous issue of Central Asia. We have covered a very wide area of questions. May I again on behalf of the Committee thank you and Mr Wright for your help.