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10 Mar 2003 : Column 21—continued

Iraq and Israel/Palestine

3.30 pm

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement on Iraq and Israel/Palestine.

On Friday last, 7 March, I attended a ministerial meeting of the Security Council in New York—the fourth such meeting since late January. I have placed in the Library copies of the chief inspector's latest reports, together with the text of the speech that I gave to the Council, and a copy of the amended second resolution of which the United Kingdom is a co-signatory.

The Security Council's meeting on Friday took place four months after the adoption of Security Council resolution 1441, which gave Iraq a "final opportunity" to comply with a series of disarmament obligations. Significantly, during the hours of intensive debate last Friday, not a single speaker claimed that Iraq was in compliance with those obligations; neither did a single speaker deny that Iraq has been in flagrant breach of international law for the past 12 years.

Dr. el-Baradei's and Dr. Blix's reports were about the continuing work of the inspectors. As I did in New York last Friday, I should like to pay tribute to them and their teams for their work in very difficult circumstances.

First, let me deal with the International Atomic Energy Agency. As the House will be aware, nuclear facilities are intrinsically more difficult to construct and less easy to conceal than equivalent facilities for producing biological or chemical weapons. Dr. el-Baradei reported on Friday last that

That is welcome.

On UNMOVIC on the other hand, Dr. Blix reported movement in some limited areas: for example, the partial destruction of prohibited al-Samoud missiles. That is, however, only the tip of the iceberg of Iraq's illegal weapons programme. The full extent of that iceberg was revealed in a document compiled by UNMOVIC entitled "Unresolved Disarmament Issues: Iraq's Proscribed Weapons Programmes", which was made publicly available late on 7 March. I have also placed copies of that document in the Library. I commend it to all Members. It sets out, in 173 pages of painstaking detail, the terrible nature of the weapons that Saddam has sought with such determination to develop. It is a chilling catalogue of evasion, deceit and feigning co-operation while in reality pursuing concealment.

The sheer scale of Iraq's efforts to develop those weapons and to hide them can be grasped only by reading the whole document, as I have done. But, from the 29 separate sets of unresolved issues, let me give the House just one illustration: anthrax—easily inhaled and the death rate for untreated victims may be 90 per cent. or more. Only tiny amounts are needed to inflict widespread casualties. Contrary to Iraqi assertions, the inspectors found evidence of anthrax where Iraq had declared there was none. Again, contrary to Iraqi assertions, UNMOVIC believes there is a strong

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presumption that some 10,000 litres of anthrax were not destroyed in the early 1990s and may still exist. Iraq also possesses the technology and materials to allow it to return swiftly to the pre-1991 production levels for anthrax.

Let me now deal with the issues of inspections and more time. I fully recognise the temptation to believe that the inspections are working and all that is needed is more time. But Saddam Hussein is a master of playing for time. Frankly, as anyone can see from reading the UNMOVIC document, to continue inspections with no firm end date will not achieve the disarmament required by the Security Council. This is, however, the suggestion in the recent memorandum from France, Germany and Russia. As the memorandum itself acknowledges, that cannot be achieved without the fulfilment of a prior condition—namely, Iraq's full, active and immediate co-operation.

Once more last Friday, the Iraqi permanent representative to the United Nations claimed that Iraq had no more weapons of mass destruction. It is the same old refrain that we have heard from the regime for the past 12 years. Yet whenever the inspectors have caught the regime out, it has first protested, then conceded that narrow point, but then mendaciously claimed that there are no more.

The choice before us is whether we stand firm in pursuing our objective of disarmament or settle for a policy that, in truth, allows Saddam to rebuild his arsenal under cover of just enough co-operation to keep the inspectors tied down for years to come.We should not deceive ourselves. The alternative proposals before the Security Council amount to a return to the failed policy of so-called containment. But the truth is that containment can never bring disarmament, nor is it the policy of the United Nations as expressed in resolution 1441 and in all the preceding resolutions going back to 1991.

Dr. Blix reported on some further recent activity by Iraq in respect mainly of the al-Samoud missiles. We must ask: what has caused this further recent activity, albeit limited as it is? It is not our policy that has changed, nor international law, nor the degree of diplomatic pressure. The reality is that the only thing that has changed has been the willingness of the United States and the United Kingdom to deploy their armed forces for the sake of achieving the objective very clearly set out by the United Nations. The other reality is that Saddam responds only to pressure. The clear conclusion to draw from this is that we must further increase the pressure on him. We have to put him to the test clearly laid down by the United Nations.

The Government have made clear all along their desire to secure a peaceful outcome to this crisis. It is for this reason that I took the initiative in the Security Council last Friday to circulate a revised version of the UK-US-Spain draft second resolution. This specifies a further period beyond the adoption of the resolution for Iraq to take the final opportunity to disarm. Negotiations on its important detail have continued over the weekend and again this morning. We are examining whether a list of defined tests for Iraqi compliance would be useful in helping the Security Council to come to a judgment.

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What we are proposing is eminently reasonable. We are not expecting Saddam to have disarmed in a week or so—let me make that absolutely clear, as I did last Friday—but we are expecting the Iraqi regime to demonstrate by that time the full, unconditional, immediate and active co-operation demanded of it by successive UN Security Council resolutions since 1991. There is no reason whatever why, within a matter of days, Iraq cannot make clear its desire fully and actively to co-operate. There is no reason at all.

I profoundly hope that the Iraqi regime will, even at this late stage, seize the chance to disarm peacefully. The only other peaceful alternative would be for Saddam Hussein to heed the calls of a number of other Arab leaders for him to go into exile and to hand over to a new leadership prepared to conform with the Security Council's demands. However, if he refuses to co-operate, the Security Council has to face up to its clear responsibilities under the United Nations charter.

In the event that military action proves necessary, the international community will have, among many other duties, a duty to build a secure, prosperous future for the Iraqi people. Last Thursday, I met the United Nations Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, in New York to discuss the humanitarian position and UN involvement in any reconstruction of Iraq. At that meeting, I proposed on behalf of Her Majesty's Government that the UN should take the lead role in co-ordinating international efforts to rebuild Iraq, and that they should be underpinned by a clear UN mandate.

As the crisis enters this phase, there are fears that, in securing Iraq's compliance with international law, we may exacerbate tensions elsewhere in the region. Emotions are understandably inflamed by the position in Israel and the occupied territories, where, tragically, there appears to be no end to the spiral of killings. Since September 2000, more than 2,300 Palestinians and more than 700 Israelis have been killed. We mourn the loss of life on all sides.

However, we cannot allow the cycle of violence to destroy hope for a better future. There is ground for optimism. The international community today shares our vision of a lasting settlement as set out in a series of Security Council resolutions for a viable Palestinian state based on the 1967 boundaries, and an Israeli state free from terror, secure in its borders and recognised by the Arab world.

We are actively encouraging both sides to fulfil their obligations. We are playing a full part in the international effort to help the Palestinian Authority to do more to build democratic institutions and a sound civil administration. As hon. Members know, I chaired a meeting in London on 14 January to discuss those issues with Palestinian leaders. It was unfortunate that that happened through video link because they were prevented from travelling outside the occupied territories. The discussions also included representatives from the region and the Quartet—the UN, the European Union, the Russian Federation and the United States.

The United Kingdom hosted further meetings, which were attended by Palestinian representatives in person, between 18 and 20 February. I have spoken to

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Chairman Arafat of the Palestinian Authority twice in the past seven days. I greatly welcome his decision to nominate Abu Mazen, who is also known as Mahmoud Abbas, to the post of Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority. I hope that the Palestinian legislative council approves that nomination.

Those who know Abu Mazen realise that he has a fine track record in peace negotiations with Israel and that he will lead the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinians well as putative Prime Minister. We hope that that appointment and other reform measures by the Palestinian Authority will help to restore a meaningful peace process, as set out in the road map that the Quartet devised.

Likewise, we look to Mr. Sharon, the Israeli Prime Minister, and his new team of Ministers to work with the international community in restoring hopes for peace. I shall talk to the new Israeli Foreign Minister, Silvan Shalom, tomorrow.

A lasting settlement in the middle east will remove one great threat to security in the region and the wider world. In confronting the danger from Iraq's weapons, the UN can remove another great threat. We must not let Saddam turn his "final opportunity" to disarm, as set out in resolution 1441, into endless opportunities to delay. The future not only of the region but of UN authority is at stake.

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