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10 Mar 2003 : Column 27—continued

Mr. Straw: Again, I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his remarks. He is entirely right to say that the pressure is intense, but that raises the question of why it is intense. I wonder what would have happened if there had been Liberal Democrat pressure—if that is not an oxymoron. There is a blunt reality about why inspections are now working and no one must resile from it. In last Friday's report, as in his previous reports, Dr. Blix made it absolutely clear when he spoke of "serious outside pressure". Yes, the pressure is serious; it is just outside, in Kuwait; it is the armed forces. It is important that the hon. Gentleman and his party understand that.

Of course war is a last resort—war should always be a last resort. I believe that that is the sentiment of every single Member of this House, whatever their party. No one has a monopoly of wisdom or of morality on this issue.

As for steps to bring peace to the middle east, I agree that we must not be diverted from our efforts to ensure peace in the middle east between the Israelis and the

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Palestinians as we have to make difficult decisions on Iraq. The purpose of my making a statement today on the twin subjects of Iraq and Israel/Palestine is to emphasise to the House, the country and the region our profound commitment to pursue peace in the middle east in any event. The matter is urgent. It would be urgent without Iraq, and it becomes even more urgent with Iraq. That is a point that I continue to emphasise with our American friends.

As for ignoring the United Nations, that is a canard—it is totally untrue. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has moved heaven and earth to ensure that the whole issue of Iraq is dealt with through the United Nations. It was he more than anyone else who ensured that the process of negotiation through the United Nations began in August and September and led to a satisfactory conclusion; and he, with many Foreign Ministers and Heads of Government, is seeking to ensure that there is a proper conclusion now.

Everybody in the United Nations has responsibilities under the charter—not only the United States and the United Kingdom among the permanent members, but all the other permanent and non-permanent members of the Security Council, all of whom have signed up to the charter, including chapter 7, which spells out that sometimes force is necessary where there is defiance of the clear obligations under chapter 7. In the present case, force may indeed be necessary.

Mr. Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough): Does the Foreign Secretary recall the statement of the French Foreign Minister that threats of force and diplomacy have brought Saddam Hussein to partial compliance? Is it not odd that the French now seek to block a final resolution under which diplomacy and the threat of force would converge, so that Saddam Hussein knew once and for all that, in the interests of Iraq and of the Iraqi people, he must comply fully?

Mr. Straw: I agree. Both diplomacy and a credible, but therefore rising, threat of force are needed. However, it is the credible threat of force that is making the difference. This is our best and only opportunity to resolve the issue in a peaceful way.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): I thank the right hon. Gentleman for a statement that was the reverse of reckless. Is he aware that many of us who supported, without a United Nations resolution, action in the former Yugoslavia, believe that action is even more justified in this case?

Mr. Straw: I note what the hon. Gentleman has to say. I have already made clear our view about the legal base that is provided by resolution 1441, going back to resolutions 687 and 678. However, we continue to follow the route that we have outlined of securing a new consensus within the Security Council because it gives us a greater opportunity of resolving the issue in a peaceful way.

Mr. Michael Clapham (Barnsley, West and Penistone): I listened with interest to my right hon. Friend's reply to the Liberal spokesman, the hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Moore), on the question of the United Nations

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second resolution. Given the arm twisting that we know is going on at the UN, could a second resolution ever give legitimacy to action? Does my right hon. Friend not think that the way forward, given that situation, is that we should be giving more time to Hans Blix and the inspectors?

Mr. Straw: It just happens that in international diplomacy there are some robust discussions. I am willing to speculate that my good friend Dominique de Villepin, who is currently perambulating round Africa, to Cameroon, Angola and Guinea, to take three countries at random—[Laughter]—is not just having a café and a little conversation with those he is meeting. I suspect he is reminding them about their loyalty to francophone Africa and how that loyalty can be both proved and disproved.

On the issue of time, if Iraq comes into compliance, and how it can do so realistically is set out clearly in the document, it can have all the time in the world, just as happened with the inspections in South Africa. Actually, it would not take very long. But if Iraq does not come into compliance, time is irrelevant. There will be time after time, and we will be back again having to face a decision about compliance. It is compliance first and then time, not the other way round.

Mr. John Maples (Stratford-on-Avon): I think that the Foreign Secretary knows that I support the Government's policy on Iraq, but like many people I am deeply worried about the damage that it appears to be doing to the western Alliance. We saw the difficulties in the run-up to UN Security Council resolution 1441. These things seem to have become much more difficult now with, as the right hon. Gentleman has described, the French Foreign Minister drumming up opposition to a resolution proposed by two of France's supposed main allies. At one level, I suppose that the Foreign Secretary would say that that is just French mischief-making, but is it not also a demonstration of a failure of diplomacy? Should we not have put much more effort earlier into building the coalition diplomatically before the policy was launched? What are the right hon. Gentleman and the British Government doing to rescue the damage that is being done to the western Alliance?

Mr. Straw: We are putting a great deal of effort into that. I greatly regret the impasse that so far has been reached. I still hope that we may be able to avoid it. However, on 8 November last, after intense negotiations, we achieved a 15-0 result on resolution 1441. The words meant what they said then, and they mean what they say today.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): On Dr. el-Baradei's report and the question of uranium transactions between Iraq and Niger, Dr. el-Baradei said that

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What does the Foreign Office know about "not authentic" documents?

Mr. Straw: What I would say is this—the idea of putting faith in inspectors is to put faith in inspectors. There were perfectly legitimate reasons—

Mr. Dalyell: Answer the question.

Mr. Straw: With great respect to my hon. Friend, I am answering the question. There were perfectly legitimate reasons for having the greatest suspicion about the possibility of Iraq having a continuing nuclear programme. After all, I remind my hon. Friend that Iraq did not exactly volunteer the existence of its nuclear programme in 1991 and onwards. It took defections before it did so. Dr. el-Baradei's report goes on to say:

And they have not closed the dossier either.

Mr. David Tredinnick (Bosworth): When the Prime Minister came before the Liaison Committee recently, I asked him about the situation in Iraq if there was a war and what British forces would be doing afterwards. Can the Foreign Secretary confirm that it is quite likely that British forces would assume a disproportionate amount of the burden in a post-war Iraq? Can he further confirm that it is a commonly held view that one of the greatest failings of this Government has been their inability to sell their policy on Iraq to the people and to their Back Benchers?

Mr. Straw: British forces, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence has reminded me—I apologise, as I did not hear the end of the hon. Gentleman's question—will of course be available to share the burden of securing the peace as well as the burden of fighting in any military action that is required.

James Purnell (Stalybridge and Hyde): I welcome the work that the Foreign Secretary continues to do on the middle east peace process, particularly his commitment to security as well as a viable state for the Palestinians. However, does he agree that a more democratic regime in Iraq, given Saddam Hussein's role in funding suicide bombing, would make peace in the middle east more likely, not less likely?

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