Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1-19)



  Chairman: Minister, may I welcome you to the Committee. I welcome with you Mr Peter Ricketts, the political director of the Foreign Office, and Mr Simon Featherstone, the head of the European Union Department (External). You and I assumed that the meeting would be with the Foreign Secretary. He telephoned me from the middle of his meeting at 2.30 to say that the meeting there was lasting longer than he expected. We are delighted that you are able to be with us in his stead. I think this is the first meeting that you have come to as Minister for Europe, for which we congratulate you, at a very dramatic time when the landscape of Europe, both in terms of its security structures and its political structures with enlargement, is now being altered, so a major agenda. We will have the debate in the Chamber tomorrow on the Copenhagen Council with the decisions being made on Thursday and Friday. First, because of the importance of Iraq, I would like to turn to that and ask Sir Patrick Cormack to open the batting.

Sir Patrick Cormack

  1. I endorse the Chairman's welcome, Minister. I assume that Iraq will feature prominently on the agenda next week. Perhaps you would like to say a word or two about how the coordination of the European response is progressing. We have had a recent statement from Mr Chris Patten to the effect that the European nations should work together to back the United States if Saddam Hussein fails to comply with the United Nations resolution. Do you think we are close to getting that sort of unity? Would you like to expand a little on that?
  (Dr MacShane) Yes. Thank you very much for your kind words. I am sorry that the organ grinder is not here and you have to put up with me. On Iraq, it will be discussed by foreign ministers over dinner on Thursday night. They will be looking at the latest developments, particularly the Iraqi declaration about its weapons of mass destruction programmes and the enormous number of documents that were submitted to the UN. The European Union now has a clear objective towards Iraq and it is very much the same as this government's, namely the disarmament of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction in accordance with UN Security Council resolutions. The EU has always supported the Security Council's efforts to resolve the crisis and I think we are getting individual statements by key EU leaders to make very clear to Saddam Hussein that he must enter into full compliance with not just resolution 1441 but all the other UN resolutions which he has been flouting in the last ten years.

  2. We have this vast dossier of almost 12,000 pages. What will the European Union in general and Britain and France, being members of the Security Council, in particular, be doing to ensure that there is proper cooperation and coordination between those who have to assess this vast document and those who are on the ground conducting the inspections?
  (Dr MacShane) Clearly, a principal role falls to the two permanent members of the Security Council from Europe, namely the United Kingdom and France. We need now to examine carefully this document which, as we all know, is nearly 12,000 pages long. We are waiting to see what Dr Blix says. We come back again and again, as my colleague the Parliamentary Under-Secretary made clear in Foreign Office questions this afternoon, to the need to ensure Saddam Hussein's full compliance—that is to say, the declaration and the disarmament of his weapons of mass destruction[3].

  3. I accept all that but what I am saying is what steps are being taken to ensure that there is proper cooperation and communication between those who are charged with analysing this vast document and those who are charged with the inspections on the ground, because there must obviously be a clear link between the two?
  (Dr MacShane) The document presented by Iraq is now being analysed and the inspectors on the ground have to report within 60 days after they began—that is to say, on 27 January. I am not aware of specific linkages as such. Clearly, information coming from the Iraqi declarations, I assume, will be e-mailed, telephoned, satellite phoned to the inspection team on the ground so it can help them as they search for all the evidence that is needed.
  (Mr Ricketts) This is one part of the material available to the inspectors on which they will base their inspections. I am sure Member States as well as the experts in the IAA[4] will pool their assessment of the Iraqi declaration. There will be further meetings of the Security Council, I would expect, before Christmas to take stock of what the initial analysis points to and this will be one element in the ongoing inspection process that is now set to intensify.

  4. Are you confident that we will at Copenhagen come close to a true European unity of position on the resolution and on Iraq?
  (Dr MacShane) On resolution 1441, all members of the Security Council have endorsed it, including the European ones. The President of the UN General Assembly, formerly the Foreign Minister of the Czech Republic, and I have certainly been struck on the visits I have made to the applicant countries since taking up my post by their firm view that the United States is a partner and ally of the European Union and should be backed in key strategic decisions such as the one over Iraq. I do not foresee a specific resolution, though this will not be formulated until the dinner itself, that will take us beyond where we are in terms of resolution 1441 because the story is unfolding and it will not come to a final point, I would have thought, by the end of this week.

  5. One must look at this in the whole context of the Middle East. Do you think we can look to Copenhagen for any European initiative on perhaps a Middle East peace conference?
  (Dr MacShane) Yes, we will have a declaration on the Middle East based on the road map drawn up by the so-called Quartet[5]. As you know, the Prime Minister continues to work for a Middle East peace conference and we still have the strong commitment to the two states of the Middle East as laid down by President Bush. I think there will be a clear signal from Copenhagen that we expect the sides there to start negotiating and stop using the violence currently being deployed.

Sir John Stanley

  6. At Foreign Office questions this afternoon, your ministerial colleague at the Foreign Office, the Parliamentary Secretary, Mr Mike O'Brien, reiterated the British Government's view as to the interpretation of Security Council resolution 1441 in the event of there being a material breach of that resolution by Iraq. He said to the House that the British Government's view was that it was simply the preferred option of the British Government that, in those circumstances, there should be a return to the Security Council for a substantive, new resolution. Do you agree that the British Government's view on this point is one which is not shared by many, possibly if any, of our other European partners; certainly the majority of whom take the view that the obligations under Security Council resolution 1441 and other related resolutions are that, in the event of a material breach, there is a requirement to return to the Security Council for a further substantive resolution before any engagement is made in military action?
  (Dr MacShane) That was very much the position ahead of the adoption of resolution 1441, when a number of countries insisted always on a formal two resolution approach to the process. One of the achievements of good diplomatic work, if I may call it that, in New York was to draft a resolution that bridged those two positions and brought on board countries, for example, like Syria. I am reluctant to speculate because it always struck me in the discussions before 1441 that there was one gentleman listening very eagerly to divisions and lack of clarity and certainty on the part of the western democracies in particular and, as my colleague, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary, made very, very clear, our view is that 1441 does offer what the Foreign Secretary has called a peaceful pathway to resolve the crisis. It is up to Saddam to take it. If he does not, he will face the serious consequences foreseen in the resolution. At the end of the day, I can only speak for Her Majesty's Government, but I am fairly convinced that most of the prime ministers and leaders of governments attending the European Council in Copenhagen, both the existing and candidate members of the European Union, will want to see this matter resolved very clearly indeed.

  7. We accept that you can only speak for the British Government but you are, like us, listening to what other governments are saying and, as are the members of this committee, you are wholly aware that since the agreement of Security Council resolution 1441 the French government has made it very clear, to its own domestic audience and more widely, that in their view there is a clear requirement to return to the Security Council for a further substantive resolution. Given that that is the French position, which appears to be quite widely shared amongst other EU Member States, can you tell us how the British Government is going to try to bridge what appears to be a fundamental difference of view as to whether or not a second substantive resolution would be required between the EU Member States, this of course being a very, very substantive issue on which it is of the utmost importance to try to show a united front to Saddam Hussein?
  (Dr MacShane) Resolution 1441 does mandate the Security Council to discuss any material breach, if one gets that far. It comes back to the Security Council in any case. It is then up to any member of the Security Council to make its position known. I am not sure I can go all the way with you in saying that all or the majority of EU Member States have made unqualified declarations that they expect a full, second declaration before there could be any next stage of resolving the Iraqi crisis. I heard President Chirac, at a press conference after the Paris 2 conference in Paris to raise money for the Lebanon which I attended, say that he certainly thought the Security Council would have to look at this again. I was listening to him in French and did not take a note. I was not quite sure he said there had to be a second resolution. What is important is that the Iraqis have complied with allowing weapons inspectors back. They have made this enormous declaration of 12,000 pages. Inspectors are on the ground. The pressure is building up. The heat is on. I think Europe, the United States and the rest of the democratic world expect Saddam to comply fully with the wishes not just of this resolution but of the other ones which he has been violating in recent years.

  8. Can you assure the Committee or not that the British Government at the Copenhagen Council will be doing all it possibly can to produce agreed wording in the final communique, in which all EU Member States sign up to wording which does hopefully reconcile this potentially serious divergence of view, so that the EU does produce a united front on this key point?
  (Dr MacShane) I am sure the EU will provide a united front. I am not entirely convinced, with respect, that as of today this is the issue. It certainly was before the adoption of 1441. I do not disagree with you in any way on that. I have had a number of conversations with foreign ministers and some government leaders since my appointment. While none wishes for war, all know that Saddam cannot be allowed to get away with it again. I think there will be a very strong message from Copenhagen to Saddam that he has to enter into full compliance both with this and previous resolutions of the United Nations and I have no doubt we will argue that case very strongly over dinner bilaterally for the strongest and most united language. I do not want to tempt fate to say where we might be on whether or not a second UN Security Council resolution is demanded by some countries in the Security Council or not at some future stage.

Mr Illsley

  9. Can I apologise for having to leave the meeting early? Is there any prospect of any agreement between Greece and Turkey in relation to Cyprus? Can you reiterate the British Government's position with regard to the accession of Cyprus? Does that position remain the same, that no other country will have a veto on their accession? Are you confident that their invitation to join the EU will be made at Copenhagen?
  (Dr MacShane) I can say yes to all three points. It is not so much that Greece and Turkey have to come to an agreement but that the UN plan put forward by Kofi Annan, who will be coming to Copenhagen to try to ensure that it is finally agreed there, is supported by the Greek government, is supported by the Greek Cypriot government and is supported by Mr Erdogan and the new AKP[6] government in Turkey. This does present us with an historic possibility at Copenhagen. There are bits and pieces that have to be tied up and that is allowed for in the Kofi Annan proposals but at Copenhagen we could be going into the end of the Council with the Annan peace plan accepted, providing for a united island of Cyprus in international terms with clear limitations on how the two communities control their own affairs, with Cyprus accepted into the European Union and in any case Cyprus will enter the European Union, if it so chooses to do and meets all the criteria and agrees the final negotiating position, at Copenhagen. It may enter in a very different way from what we were looking at a year or two ago. That is a wonderful moment of peace that is on the horizon for the eastern Mediterranean.


  10. We are currently a guarantor power from 1960. We have always had a very close interest in the future of the island. What residual role would be left for the United Kingdom if the Annan proposals go through?
  (Dr MacShane) We remain a guarantor power and that is the wish of both communities on the island and the wish of Greece and Turkey. The sovereign base areas are not part of the Republic of Cyprus and therefore all European Union treaties make clear that they are currently outside the European Union. We are committed to the undertakings set out in the Treaty of Establishment and Britain has played a behind the scenes role, but a very useful role, with our experience in trying to bridge the many, very wide gaps that exist in the different positions on resolving the Cypriot problem.

  11. They are within the EU because they are a sovereign UK territory?
  (Mr Featherstone) Under the Treaty, they are formally excluded from being part of the EU, even though they are a dependent territory of the UK.

Mr Pope

  12. Could I move to Turkey's chances of being given an accession date at Copenhagen? It struck me that since the recent elections the government of Turkey has played a positive role in regard to Cyprus. We know that Turkey's application has the support of the United States Government. What do you think are the chances of them being given an accession date this week, or is it more likely, as some press reports have suggested, that they will be given a rendezvous date in the future at which they may be given an accession date?
  (Dr MacShane) I hope very much that out of the Copenhagen Council will come a firm and proximate date to begin negotiations with Turkey on accession to the EU. Mr Erdogan in his visits to western Europe has made very clear that such discussions will be long and arduous. We are talking about a decade or more before any conceivable entry of Turkey into the EU. Britain has taken a lead in this and not just, as much of the press have reported, out of a geostrategic interest because Turkey obviously is a very important nation, but also because the Turks, who seek modernisation, who support democracy and human rights, are all looking to the EU for encouragement. Also, because the prize of having an Islamic or Muslim democracy operating internationally, abiding by European values, is an enormous prize. We as a government have made very clear and I have made very clear in all my conversations with EU partners that Britain wants the strongest possible message sent from Copenhagen to the Turks.

  13. I am very pleased to hear that and I welcome the British Government's view that Turkey will be a big asset to the European Union. It will send a very clear message for a Muslim state coming in that it is not just a Christian club. Could I ask that we maintain a high profile and robust position on the Turkish human rights record? I accept that its human rights record has improved. The situation is vastly different to what it was, say, ten years ago, but I think it still has quite a long way to go and there is a role there for countries like the UK, which are friends of Turkey and want to see Turkey in the EU, to be a friend who will be honest with Turkey and say that their human rights record has quite a bit further to go.
  (Dr MacShane) You are absolutely right. If we look at what has happened in the mainland east European and central European countries now seeking to join the EU, some of which had some barely acceptable stories about treatment of minorities in particular ten years ago, coming toward the EU has obliged them to lift their game and abide by democratic norms. I will continue, as will other ministers, to press Turkey publically to come to the EU norms on human rights. We have just had a marvellous Human Rights Open Day across the road in the Foreign Office. Last year, we spent £1.6 million promoting human rights through NGOs and Turkish authorities. PEN, for example, the writers' organisation, was supported by the Foreign Office to send observers to trials of writers who should not even be on trial, let alone in prison. The Foreign Office's record, our ambassadors' record and I hope our minister's record is absolutely first rate. We have a human rights dialogue with the Turkish government, the second one of which took place in November. Clearly, as I hope they in Copenhagen get a clear road map towards the European Union, human rights will be firmly on the agenda.
  (Mr Ricketts) Having been with the Foreign Secretary in Ankara a week ago, it was very striking the pace of change in terms of the reform programme going on in Turkey at the moment. They adopted one large package of constitutional changes in August. There was a further package of 31 measures put to Parliament the day the Foreign Secretary was there on 3 December, which they aim to agree before Copenhagen, and then there was a third package including a number of important measures which they are about to put to their parliament. As part of that, their commitment to the final eradication of all torture was made absolutely explicit. There is more to do but there is quite a pace of activity under way now with the new government.

  14. That is a really helpful reply, certainly for people like myself who have been a long term critic of Turkey's human rights record, to be able to recognise that quite rapid changes have been made recently. It seems Turkey has convinced the UK government but it clearly has a way to go to convince some of our partners. Austria and France are at best sceptical and at worst hostile to Turkey's application. A number of other countries—Ireland, Sweden, Finland, Luxembourg—are not committed. Giscard D'Estang said it would be the "end of the European Union" if Turkey was admitted. What chance have we of persuading some of those other countries that are very sceptical that Turkey will be an asset to the European Union?
  (Dr MacShane) I think one should be careful about generalising about countries. There are political forces within countries which have different views towards Turkey. I notice, for example, that Mr Stoiber, the Conservative leader in Germany, said that he would oppose Turkish admission to the European Union, whereas the German Chancellor and Mr Fischer have come down clearly in favour. I also notice that President Chirac said that he believes Turkey's future place is within the European Union even if, according to today's Figaro, his own party is narrowly hostile to it according to an opinion poll. There are some voices I have heard in the French media representing political groupings in France which, as you rightly say, are extremely hostile. I also heard the same remarks over the last ten years about some of the countries that are about to enter into the European Union, so I hope we will educate and persuade. I hope Turkey will show by dint of modernisation and increased democratisation that it is a worthy candidate to enter the EU.

Mr Olner

  15. I apologise because I need to leave quickly as well. Given that the media attention now seems to be more concerned about people buying flats in Bristol and the possible war on Iraq, could we turn to Zimbabwe and ask whether you think the EU's current policy on Zimbabwe is producing any tangible results?
  (Dr MacShane) I think it is part of the process of pressure on the Mugabe regime which he has reacted against very strongly. It sends a clear signal elsewhere in the world, including of course Mr Mugabe's neighbours, that the European Union finds that the way he has been conducting himself is unacceptable. We have to maintain that pressure on the Mugabe regime. The European Union's contribution is an important part of maintaining that pressure.

  16. Given that Mr Mugabe and his regime are fairly resilient to dodging sanctions that are put in his way, are you happy that the Mugabe regime is not using international conferences and the like to dodge the travel ban that has been put on him and his regime?
  (Dr MacShane) There are international treaty obligations that oblige every country where there are certain types of conferences, normally those associated with the United Nations or its agencies, to accept any head of state or properly delegated member of government to be free and able to attend. I do not think all American politicians, for example, are always happy to see Mr Castro doing his press conferences in New York but he had that full right because Cuba was a member of the UN and we cannot remove that right, as we are bound by treaty, from Mr Mugabe. On the other hand, I have certainly heard anecdotal evidence from friends connected with Zimbabwe that the publicity in refusing him or his ministers permission to travel has given heart to those struggling for democratic change and has been found very embarrassing by Mr Mugabe and some of his close associates. It is one form of pressure. It is not a magic key that converts Zimbabwe into what we would wish it to be: a functioning, democratic state in which all its people can live at peace.

  17. Your department will have seen some evidence, particularly from people in Matabeleland, that Mugabe and his regime are using food distribution as a way of silencing his opponents. This has rather gone off the front page of most of the papers at the moment. Can I ask how often you revisit how best we can help the oppressed minorities within Zimbabwe?
  (Dr MacShane) Zimbabwe occupies a very significant place in Foreign Office and government thinking. You are right; one is always concerned to read newspaper reports of food aid not getting to where its donors want it to go. DFID and the British Government try to ensure that any aid goes to reputable NGOs and charities that can distribute the food without there being a political influence in that food distribution.
  (Mr Ricketts) The Foreign Secretary raised this very subject again with the EU foreign ministers last night at the General Affairs Council in Brussels and quoted to them the words of the executive director of the World Food Programme, that Mugabe's policies have turned what was a problem as a result of natural causes into a humanitarian catastrophe. We are keeping EU foreign ministers very fully briefed on what is going on there.

Sir Patrick Cormack

  18. Could I express the hope that the evidence to which Mr Olner referred and which this Committee submitted in turn to the Foreign Secretary is shared with foreign ministers of the European Union because, although I would not for a moment doubt the integrity of your intentions or of Her Majesty's Government, there is a feeling, particularly among the oppressed people of Zimbabwe, that they have slipped on the world's agenda and that their concerns and their terrible privations are not being addressed with sufficient urgency. The dossier to which Mr Olner refers not only gives details of the deprivation of food aid but of the forced sterilisation of Matabele women, and of intimidation on an horrific scale. The people who came to give us evidence were so much in fear of their lives that we could not publish their names. This is a despicable regime. Can you say anything to indicate that it will be fairly high on the agenda of our European friends in coming days?
  (Dr MacShane) I completely agree with you. I would like nothing more than to see the front pages of our popular papers and broadsheets emptied of the current absolute trivial nonsense that they are printing page after page of, to be replaced with serious matters of world concern, including the situation in Zimbabwe. I would have been delighted if in the Foreign Office questions that we have just had there had been a question tabled by any honourable member on Zimbabwe to highlight the issue. I am always very pleased when there are adjournment debates, either in Westminster Hall or at the end of business, that allow these questions to be raised. I can give witness, both in my present and previous posts, that in all the meetings that I have attended with ministers since June 2001 Zimbabwe has been regularly not just on the agenda but very often dominating the agenda of what we are seeking to achieve.

  19. Could you give an undertaking to this Committee that you will try and ensure that the evidence to which I referred, which this Committee submitted to the Foreign Secretary, is shared with his colleagues in the European Union?
  (Dr MacShane) I am very happy to do that and give an undertaking. I think it might be more appropriate for my colleague, the minister responsible for Africa, Baroness Amos, to write to her opposite numbers and appropriate ministers in the EU with these points. I do assure you she regularly raises these concerns at meetings both in Europe and in Africa with her colleagues from Europe as well as her African opposite numbers.

3   HC Deb, 10 December 2002, col 137. Back

4   International Atomic Agency. Back

5   The EU, Russia, the UN and the USA. Back

6   Justice and Development Party. (AKP). Back

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