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Mr. Ancram: I just asked the question.

Mr. Straw: And I am answering it.

That spokesman said:

My understanding is that in so far as there has been any direct contact between Javier Solana and Hamas, or even any indirect contact, it occurred before the EU banned the organisation in September 2003. The Conservative Front Bench was advancing a policy of direct contact with that terrorist organisation after it had been banned.

The last point relates to Ukraine. There is no suggestion of any heavy-handed intervention, certainly not by us. As I said in my statement, the issue is the process, not the result. If the process is fair, the result of the elections is a matter entirely for the Ukrainians. It all depends on whether the process is fair. We, of course, will respect any result provided that the process is fair and accepted as such by international observers.

Sir Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife) (LD): There is much in this compendious statement that one can support. In particular, I offer my continuing support, and that of my right hon. and hon. Friends, for the Government's policy on Iran—and, if I can be forgiven a seasonal reference, I congratulate the three wise men of the EU on their achievements in that connection.

May I also offer my support for the determination to hold to the election date of 30 January in Iraq? Any postponement would be a damaging blow to progress and would hand an enormous propaganda victory to the insurgents.
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Turning to Ukraine, in an uncharacteristically delphic passage, the text of the Foreign Secretary's statement says:

the election process—

Exactly what does the Foreign Secretary mean to convey by that, and how does he believe that those rights and responsibilities may have to be exercised?

On the middle east, obviously everyone will welcome the opportunity that now presents itself, but the Foreign Secretary has rightly been at pains to point out that there have been many opportunities in the past and that many hopes have been dashed. Warm words will not do; progress in realistic terms is obviously essential. On a particular matter arising from that, did the right hon. Gentleman seek any assurances that in the event of deterioration in the security situation during the weeks leading up to the election, any measures taken in response would be proportionate?

Mr. Straw: I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for his remarks, especially in respect of Iran, and I accept his seasonal greetings.

We are not there yet, but if we are able to ensure that by a peaceful process of negotiation and—if I may say so—by the three leading countries in the European Union working together, with the EU, on what amounts to a constructive and agreed EU foreign policy, we can edge Iran fully into acceptance of its international obligations to have a civil nuclear programme without any suspicion of a nuclear weapons programme, and at the same time help to normalise relations between the EU, the west and Iran, we shall have done a modestly reasonable job, and I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for his support. I am also grateful for what he said about the determination to see the election timetable held to for 30 January.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman referred to a delphic passage about Ukraine. I take full responsibility for the drafting of that passage, so if it was delphic, that was me, not my officials. All I intended to convey was that although the outcome of the elections—provided that they are fair—is a matter for the Ukrainians, Ukraine, like all other members of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe and the Council of Europe, has voluntarily accepted obligations to meet internationally established standards for the running of elections. So far, on the face of things, it is the breach of those international standards that gives the international community both obligations and rights to take diplomatic action of the kind that we are taking to bring Ukraine into line.

On the middle east—yes, we have to move beyond warm words. The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked what would happen in the event of deterioration in security. Obviously, we have pressed on the Israelis the need for moderation and proportionality. What is crucial, however, is that the Palestinians make a real effort—a 100 per cent. effort—in respect of security, and that that is reciprocated by the Israelis. All the Palestinians whom I met understand that, and their responsibilities, very clearly. I hope—but who can
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tell?—that the rejectionist terrorist groups also appreciate just who will be damaged if they launch attacks against Israel at any time, but particularly at this time. Along with our United States and EU partners, we intend to have a close and continuing interest and involvement in both Israel and the occupied territories, and to do what we can to ensure that the environment for the elections—from now until 9 January and, I hope, well beyond—is satisfactory.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) (Lab): Can my right hon. Friend, acting in the role of the oracle, tell us the answer he received from Senor Solana about his talks with Hamas? If anyone, whatever their title, purports to speak for European nations, they should not be seen to be holding secret talks on behalf of the European Union with proscribed and dangerous organisations.

Mr. Straw: As I have already explained to the House, my understanding is that, in so far as there was any, direct contact took place before the EU as a whole banned the political and military wings of Hamas as a proscribed organisation. Of course, Javier Solana understands better than anyone the circumstances in which he works. I have the highest regard for Javier Solana and his work; he fully respects the fact that foreign policy, under the Maastricht and Amsterdam treaties, is in the hands of every member state, except in those circumstances where we make unanimously a common foreign policy.

Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport) (Con): There have been a number of meetings, under the auspices of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, of the NATO-Ukraine Parliamentary Council, of which I am joint chairman together with the Speaker of the Ukrainian Parliament, the Rada. May I express good will and concern to all those who are approaching the issues in Ukraine in a balanced and constructive way? Indeed, I hope that public accountability will win through at the end of the day.

Mr. Straw: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for those comments. May I also, in turn, express appreciation to him and his colleagues, because the NATO parliamentary delegation was part of the delegation of monitors led by the OSCE?

Tom Levitt (High Peak) (Lab): On Saturday, through the medium of the Glossop branch of Amnesty International, I signed a greetings card to a Palestinian family who live in the occupied territories and whose lives have been blighted by that very occupation. In that card, I expressed the hope that this might be the last winter in which they would find themselves being so occupied. I should be grateful to my right hon. Friend if he suggested—he will not be able to say whether I am right or wrong—a time scale by which we might start to look at a distant horizon for change.Finally, does not my right hon. Friend find some irony in the words of the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram), given that the Ukrainians want in to Europe and the Tories want out?
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Mr. Straw: My hon. Friend is entirely right about the last point. On Ukraine, I was not quite sure whether the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) was suggesting that we should come down more heavily on the side of Russia or the EU. Our view is that we should not come down heavily on anyone's side, except that of the democratic voice of the Ukrainians.

My hon. Friend asks about the time scale. The time scale set out in the road map is very short. We were due to get to a viable Palestinian state by the end of next year. The time scale, sadly, has now slipped, but each step that needs to be taken between where we are now and a separate, viable state of Palestine, living alongside a secure state of Israel, is in the road map. All that is now required is real determination and will by both sides to ensure that the road map is implemented.

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