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7. Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon): When he next plans to visit Cyprus to discuss the Annan plan. [123872]

The Minister for Europe (Mr. Denis MacShane): I hope to visit Cyprus in due course. The Government call on both sides to signal their intentions to negotiate on the basis of Kofi Annan's plan and to commit to putting it to referendums on both sides of the island.

Mr. Dismore : I am sure that my hon. Friend will agree that the biggest obstacle to settlement in Cyprus is the dinosaur attitude of Mr. Denktash. Does he also agree that the opening of the green line has cut away one of Mr. Denktash's prime arguments—the suggestion that Greek and Turkish Cypriots cannot get along together? We are seeing wonderful examples of people who are reconciled in facing their problems. Will he do all that he can to ensure that the people of northern Cyprus have the opportunity to express their views through the ballot box later this year in elections to the so-called Parliament in the north free of intimidation? Will he also encourage the opposition in the north to unite, so that the real feelings of the Turkish Cypriots can be expressed, in opposition to Mr. Denktash?

Mr. MacShane: In addition to this oral question, my hon. Friend has tabled some 31 written questions on Cyprus that are answered today. That is a tribute to his

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diligent work on behalf of the interests of many of his constituents, which the House should acknowledge. He is right: it was wonderful to see the people of Cyprus voting with their feet, as it were, and brushing aside the old political thinking. I believe that they voted with their feet for a reunited Cyprus to join the European Union. We are making these points and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and I discussed them with the Turkish Foreign Minister, Mr. Gul, last week. We will continue to do so. We hope that the elections will take place in a free and fair way in northern Cyprus. Our ambition remains that a united Cyprus, on the basis of the Annan plan, will join the European Union next May.

Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet): With Cyprus joining the European Union on 1 May next year, is it not timely for the British Government to remind the illegal regime in northern Cyprus that people there will not be able to share the benefits of joining the European Union? Would it not also be timely for the British Government to remind the Turkish Government that, if they are serious about wanting to join the European Union, they must play a much more constructive part in reunifying the island and getting rid of the green line?

Mr. MacShane: Those points were made by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary virtually word for word in his meeting with the Turkish Foreign Minister, Mr. Gul, last week, but there is an additional point. If a reunited Cyprus joins the European Union next May, it will make Turkish an official language of the European Union, as one of the two top figures of state in that reunited Cyprus will have to be a Turkish-speaking Cypriot. I think that that is of great advantage to Turkey as it looks forward to its candidature. That is why we hope that that can happen and think that the way forward must be to support Cyprus's EU ambitions and to put to one side the anti-European hostility that features in so much of our press in this country.

Mr. Edward O'Hara (Knowsley, South): Would my hon. Friend join me in welcoming the fact that for the next academic year the English School in Nicosia is, once again, inviting Turkish students to study with their Greek compatriots? It so happens that Rauf Denktash is an alumnus of that school. Would my hon. Friend remind the Turkish Government that the 35,000 troops who are on the island are supposed to be there to protect the interests and human rights of those very people whose voice is not being heard—the Turkish Cypriots—and that they should cleanse the electoral rolls before December to ensure that the elections are valid and give full and authentic voice to the Turkish Cypriot community?

Mr. MacShane: One would have to be deaf and blind not to sense from northern Cyprus the desire to see their island reunited. I was not aware of the initiative by the school in Nicosia to offer places to Turkish students; I hope that Turkish will become used like Greek all over the island. There is still a window of opportunity. We as a Government and, I think, all hon. Members urge all the Governments in the region—we must address the Turkish Government, the Turkish Parliament and the Turkish military—to recognise the fact that this is a

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golden moment to seize. It will be good for Turkey, good for Cyprus and good for the eastern Mediterranean if a united Cyprus can enter the EU next May.


8. Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham): When he last met representatives of the US Administration to discuss Iraq. [123873]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): On 27 June, I met National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice in London, and on 2 July I met ambassador Paul Bremer, who heads up the coalition provisional authority in Baghdad. On Sunday, I discussed Iraq with Secretary Powell on the telephone. The House will wish to know that the first meeting of the new Baghdad city council took place yesterday. The 37 members of that council were chosen from among the members of the 88 neighbourhood advisory councils of Baghdad. With the launch last week of the Basra city council, every major Iraqi city now has its own local government.

Mrs. Gillan : It is a shame that the Foreign Secretary did not have a chance to meet Senator Richard Lugar, who chairs the Foreign Relations Committee, and who, after visiting Iraq last week, said:


Is not that latest American assessment rather closer to the truth than what the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary say on the subject; and do we not face a similar situation to that in Bosnia, where British troops are still deployed after 11 long years?

Mr. Straw: Frankly, I do not see a huge distinction between the comments of Senator Richard Lugar, whom I know and greatly respect, and what the Prime Minister and I have said. We all recognise that we have a long-term commitment to security in Iraq, but we also have to recognise the importance of reducing our presence, then leaving Iraq altogether as soon as the security situation allows and the Iraqi people wish it.

Mike Gapes (Ilford, South): Will my right hon. Friend confirm that for many of us the decision to go into Iraq was a question of a choice between the failed policy of containment and the historic opportunity to liberate the Iraqi people from fascist tyranny; and that we in this country who made that choice will know over the next decades that it was right? Does he agree that just as the countries of central and eastern Europe that are now coming into the European Union were liberated by various means, and Germany and Poland were liberated from Nazi tyranny many years ago, we can be proud today that in the long historic sweep ahead of us we will have made a contribution to democracy and freedom for Muslims and Arabs in Iraq and throughout the region?

Mr. Straw: Yes, I do accept that. The key question for everybody, not least those who, for reasons that I

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understand, opposed the war, is to ask what condition that region and international peace and security would now be in if, in the face of that defiance of the will of the United Nations, we and the US had walked away. I shall tell hon. Members what the position would be. Saddam Hussein would have been re-empowered and re-emboldened. He would have increased the terror in his country and acted with even greater thoroughness to increase his chemical and biological capabilities and develop his nuclear capabilities. He would have continued to disrupt any chance of an effective peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, and increased the threat that he posed to international peace and security. That is the truth and I look forward to newspapers debating that rather than their extraordinary obsession with 45 minutes.

Mr. Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton): At the St. Petersburg summit, the Prime Minister made much of his exclusive interview with Sky's Adam Boulton to announce, doubtless ever so sincerely, that evidence of the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq would be assembled and given to people.

He said,

Now that the Foreign Secretary has been promoted and is, since yesterday, Alastair Campbell's official spokesman, will he tell us what evidence has been accumulated, how much longer we must wait and how much more patience we shall need?

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover): Why did you vote for the war then?

Mr. Straw: My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) asks a pertinent question. [Interruption.] I shall answer the question of the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan), but, after languishing for 18 years in opposition, I shall also offer the Opposition gratis advice: it would be unwise for them and their reputation if they started to rewrite history, as they are trying to do.

The Iraq survey group has been established and is carrying out its work. Neither my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister nor I can say how long it will take. It will take as long as it takes. However, if the hon. Gentleman has any doubts about whether he made the correct decision on 18 March, I commend to him all 173 pages of the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission's last report on unanswered disarmament questions. It sets out in horrifying detail Iraq's failure to answer questions about the whereabouts and capabilities of chemical and biological weapons. That was the truth, and the document, from an entirely independent source, was one of the main considerations in the minds of hon. Members when they carried the vote with a large majority on 18 March.

Mr. Jon Owen Jones (Cardiff, Central): Although the Foreign Secretary is correct in saying that we need more time to look for weapons of mass destruction, the Government could usefully make some interim statements. For example, how long does it take to find whether a nuclear programme and undiscovered nuclear reactors exist? How long does it take to find a chemical

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factory? The Government could usefully make some initial decisions and determinations now so that we were at least in a better position to know what weapons of mass destruction Iraq did not have even if we do not know what weapons it had.

Mr. Straw: First, parts of the September document that we published have already been proved true. They include the parts that relate to the shorter-range missile systems and the import of far larger quantities of missile engines than Iraq ever conceded. Indeed, it failed to admit to them when it was forced to make its second set of disclosures on 9 December. I can recall no claim that Iraq had built a nuclear reactor, so my hon. Friend should not invent claims to knock them down.

It is in our interests as much as those of anyone else to continue the search. However, given the reign of terror, the destruction and looting that unfortunately took place during and immediately after the war, and our knowledge of Iraq's continued efforts at concealment, which the dossier pointed out, the task will be difficult and painstaking. I remind those who would make glib assumptions that, 30 years on, we still do not know the whereabouts of IRA arms dumps, despite the fact that we know the country far better and that our intelligence penetrated it far more successfully than we have ever been able to penetrate Iraq.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): I agree with what the Foreign Secretary has just said. Does he accept that many who voted as they did on 18 March, and have no regrets, believe that we should not spend more than another 45 minutes on the nauseating nitpicking that has been going on recently?

Mr. Straw: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I am in no doubt about that, I know that he is in no doubt about it, and I see from the nods all around him that a large number of Conservative Back Benchers, at least, take the same view. I hope that their advice is passed to the Front Bench, because the Conservative party, which has an honourable history, will simply be a part of history if it tries to rewrite it.

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