Previous SectionIndexHome Page

11 Mar 2003 : Column 206—continued

Mr. Breed: If such a resolution were vetoed by the US, would the hon. Gentleman consider that unreasonable?

Mr. Maples: I am trying to construct a solution to a problem, and the hon. Gentleman is throwing an artificial hand grenade into the middle of it. Of course, if somebody vetoes it, and the UN Security Council cannot agree to it, it cannot happen. The United States, however, wants and needs a solution to the problem. It has difficulties, as we all do, with the history of the problem and how we approach it. It can work only if the UN Security Council agrees and if Saudi Arabia and Egypt agree, too. At the Beirut Arab summit, back in the autumn of last year, Israel was essentially offered that deal, under which, if the various conditions were accepted, the state of Israel would be recognised. Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has said the same thing. There is real mileage in that.

It is time our Government, the United States Government and the UN concentrated on trying to find a solution in that way. If, in the context of having to concentrate on the problems of the middle east, we could help to find a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, and help the development of civil society, freedom, and, eventually, democracy in the Arab world, we would have a chance of bringing stability to a region that has troubled our security and our interests for far too long.

3.7 pm

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield): I join other Members in congratulating the Select Committee on a comprehensive report. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I will address the majority of my remarks to the sections of the report dealing with the situation in Iraq and some related issues.

One of the strengths of the report is that it avoids some of the caricatures that are creeping into comments being made on both sides of the debate on Iraq. I am one of those who voted for the amendment two weeks ago and who are sceptical about military action. But those who take that view need to be cautious about characterising all those who take a different view as people who think that war is a desirable outcome. Those of us who argue for a different course must also avoid caricaturing us as soft on Saddam and not willing to face up to responsibilities.

There are things on which we all agree. We can all agree that Saddam is duplicitous; there is no doubt about that. We can all agree that he has failed to meet, and has tried to avoid, his obligations under UN resolutions for many years. We can all agree that his regime is brutal and ruthless, particularly towards his own people. When the Prime Minister posed the

11 Mar 2003 : Column 207

question on several occasions—whether we honestly believed that the weapons inspectors would be back in Iraq today without the threat of force—he was right to do so. Pressure on Saddam has been vital in getting the weapons inspectors back into Iraq. That brings us to the nub of the argument: how can that pressure be used and best be taken forward in a way that achieves the results that we want and does not produce unwanted results that could be serious not only for Iraq but for the entire world?

As the world stands on the brink of a possible war, the international community is divided in a way that could threaten the credibility of the United Nations as a multilateral institution for many years to come. We should not be surprised by that or by the fact that Saddam is trying to exploit the situation. However, no one has a monopoly on seriousness in saying how we deal with the issue. That is why we should take account of the messages that are being sent.

We must recognise that the international community has perhaps avoided for too long facing up to how it deals with Saddam. That is the first message that we need to understand. However, I say to the Government in all seriousness that they need to understand that many people in the House and outside do not accept that the United States Administration want to use force as a last resort or use the threat of force as a means of pressuring Saddam into achieving disarmament by peaceful means. They believe that the Administration in the White House decided almost a year ago that military action would be taken. That Administration decided to pause to go down the UN route, and all credit to the Prime Minister for his efforts in achieving that. However, it was a just a pause.

The United States has not treated the United Nations as a partner. It has issued ultimatums to the UN for a course of action that has already been decided. The result is not in doubt—there is an inexorable move towards military action. That is why some of us found it chilling to hear President Bush say a month or two ago that he was bored with the results of non-military action in the same way that he gets bored with watching a tired old B-movie. That is no way to build consensus in the international community about how we confront Saddam.

The real tragedy is that we have backed ourselves into a corner. We are reluctant to admit that our actions are producing results, albeit partial results. Instead of considering how we can take the pressure forward and use and exploit the movement by Saddam that has occurred, we are reluctant to admit that movement is even taking place. We are almost saying that anything short of an invasion will somehow let Saddam off the hook or will involve easing the pressure on him even if, objectively, we ratcheted up the pressure on Saddam. The end result is that the United States and, sadly, our Government have ended up at odds with many of their greatest supporters in this place and many people outside. We must move beyond that.

The question often asked is, "All right, what would you do?" I shall therefore make a few points about what we could do. The beginnings of a solution can be found in the Blix report of last week. He did not talk about refusing to face up to Saddam; he talked about a clear work programme, based around inspections—not for weeks, not for years, but for months—that could keep

11 Mar 2003 : Column 208

up the pressure on Saddam. That could be compatible with the UK proposal that I thought I heard on the airwaves today about setting a series of tests for Saddam to establish how far he is prepared to face up to his obligations. There is a slim chance at the eleventh hour that a consensus could build around such a proposal.

It would take two things for such a proposal to work. The first is that those of us who take a different view from the Government must be clear that the pressure must be kept up and must be real. There is no doubt that Saddam will continue to try to avoid his responsibilities. However, the UK and US Governments must also stop basing everything around ultimatums and predetermined time scales, even if those ultimatums and time scales are time scales plus one or two weeks. In other words, the tests must be real rather than hair triggers that are set up to fail.

The authority for such tests is there and ready for us to take. It lies with the Blix team. The UK and US Governments cannot set themselves above the process by setting their own tests and almost challenging the Blix team to go along with them. We must recognise that Blix has the expertise and that his team is the route that we should use.

Let us not just be cautious about ultimatums towards Saddam. Let us also be cautious about ultimatums towards our allies. If we are to avoid the risks of such ultimatums, we must stop sending mixed messages about the role of the UN. Somehow, the impression has been given that we will go along with the UN when that suits us, but that we will not if it does not suit us. It is not the prerogative of the US President to arbitrate when global pre-emptive strikes are appropriate and when they are not. That is the UN's prerogative. That is why we created and fashioned it.

My second suggestion about what we could do recognises that it is not enough just to tackle the issue of disarmament. There is also a moral case for considering how the international community can give practical assistance to the people of Iraq to help to protect them from Saddam and, I hope, to rid themselves of such a tyrant. There is certainly a case for ensuring that the emerging democracy that is developing in north Iraq and in the Kurdish areas is supported and protected. My hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) has spoken graphically and eloquently on the issue, and we need to be firm in relation to the no-fly zone.

That also means that we should consider creative ways of changing the sanctions regime to ensure that aid goes to those areas. In doing that, we could issue a challenge to Saddam. He must co-operate and allow us to get supplies and aid into the emerging areas of democracy in Iraq. That would pose him with a dilemma. If he allowed that to happen, his regime would start to get a bit shaky. His authority in his country would be undermined, and a good thing too. If he did not go along with us and blocked the convoys and aid and perhaps even attacked them, there would be a different case for military action. That case would command wide support in the House and internationally.

No one will be surprised to hear that my third suggestion relates to tackling the issue of double standards. The problem is real and it will not go away. Those people who say that the road to peace in the

11 Mar 2003 : Column 209

middle east goes through Baghdad are not only a bit geographically challenged but a bit politically challenged as well. Perhaps it is not surprising that people keep talking about road maps. Someone would need a road map of the middle east to work out where such a road would go.

The charge is real that we have not treated Israel and Palestine in the same way. Time and time again, we are told that we need to get the peace process going. Yes, that is true. We are told that the answer is more talking and, yes, we need more talking. We are told that Iraq is subject to chapter VII resolutions that require enforcement, but that the resolutions for the situation in Israel and Palestine are chapter VI resolutions that do not carry the same enforcement mechanisms. Technically that is absolutely true. It is also absolutely true that chapter VI resolutions are as equally legally binding as chapter VII resolutions.

Thousands of people died in the twin towers in America and the fact that so many people died rightly had a cataclysmic effect on American public opinion. However, what do we say to the Palestinians given that more than 2,000 of them have died since September 2000, or to the Israelis given that 700 of them have died since then? If that happened in Britain, the equivalent figures would be 7,000 Israelis or 37,000 Palestinians dying. If that happened in the United States, it would be the equivalent of 33,000 Israelis or 174,000 Palestinians dying. Faced with those figures—those lives—try telling anyone in the Arab world that the place for action is in Iraq and that all the people in Israel and Palestine need are words. If we look at the problem that way, we begin to understand why they are so bothered and angered about double standards.

I support the efforts to get the peace process going. I also support my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary in calling for early publication of the road map, but we need to do more than that. We need to consider how the will of the United Nations will not just be talked about, but upheld. The hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples) had some interesting ideas on that. We need to face up to the fact that we have a responsibility to achieve results. It is not enough merely to engage in talk that makes us feel better, and the United States has the clearest responsibility of all.

We all rightly condemned the appalling Haifa attack last week. It was also the first fatal attack on Israeli civilians since the middle of January. During that time, 174 Palestinian men, women and children have died in attacks from Israeli tanks, missiles and aircraft, many of them supplied by the United States. There is effectively an arms embargo against the Palestinians—we know that from the furore arising from an allegation of arms shipments going to them last year—but there is no arms embargo against Israel. Faced with carnage on that scale and the Sharon Government, who refuse to respond even when there is a lull in fighting, the time has come for the United States to do something. If it means what it says about wanting peace in the middle east and about its actions in Iraq not being an attack on Islam, it must face up to the consequences that flow from that.

11 Mar 2003 : Column 210

One of those is that it is time that the United States stopped its arms shipments to Israel, and we, as its closest ally, may be best placed to tell it that.

Next Section

IndexHome Page