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Mr. Straw: I pay tribute to my hon. Friend and her colleagues on the parliamentary teams, and I have obviously read carefully what the OSCE monitors had to say. The situation is difficult and fragile, but I should say that I understand that the calls from the south-east for secession have come from regional governors, so they do not necessarily reflect the full popular sentiment. The rerunning of the elections is currently a matter for the Ukrainian Supreme Court, but if that happens, I suspect that there will be the same presidential candidates as before.

My hon. Friend asked whether napalm had been mentioned during the conference at Sharm el-Sheikh. I heard no reference to that allegation whatever.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): Last week, the Foreign Secretary received an assurance from the Israeli Foreign Minister that Israel would ensure freedom of movement for the elections. Is he aware of reports that I saw today that, since his visit to Israel, officials of the Palestinian election commission were held for six hours at an Israeli checkpoint? Will he investigate whether those reports are correct? If they are, will he communicate his frustration to the Israeli authorities with the same candour that he would display if he discovered that British troops were obstructing the Iraqi election commission in trying to prepare for elections in Iraq, particularly given that he was given an assurance to the contrary four days earlier?

Mr. Straw: I was not aware of that claim, which I take seriously. I shall certainly investigate it and ask our ambassador in Tel Aviv to do so, and report back to the House.

Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate) (Lab): Surely the greatest threat to elections in Iraq would be a reprise of the events that unfolded in the attack on Falluja, which did more to create terrorists than anything else up to that point. What message from Sharm el-Sheikh was sent to the US Administration to ensure that in future their use of force be more proportionate than the force unleashed on Falluja? When the Foreign Secretary raised the issue of the security wall with the Israeli Government, what was their response?
 
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Mr. Straw: On the first point, the decision to act in Falluja was not made by the United States Government but by the interim Iraqi Government, who are authorised by the United Nations. My hon. Friend may not like that fact, but it happens to be true. They made the decision. Prime Minister Allawi went to huge lengths to resolve the problems in Falluja by peaceful means. It was only when it became clear that the Sunni leaders, tribal leaders and terrorist leaders were unwilling to enter into a compromise that he authorised that action.

Falluja was scarcely mentioned during the discussions in Sharm el-Sheikh. What was mentioned, however—it is specified in paragraph 6 of the communiqué—is the condemnation

It is terrorism and terrorists in Iraq who are trying to stop the electoral process taking place.

John Barrett (Edinburgh, West) (LD): Members on both sides of the House will hope that those who have been involved in the large-scale protest in Ukraine will show restraint, but does the Foreign Secretary have contingency plans in place to communicate with UK citizens and their families so that they are protected should the situation deteriorate, as it could quickly?

Mr. Straw: Yes, and we have a fully staffed embassy in Kiev.

James Purnell (Stalybridge and Hyde) (Lab): Given the opportunity in the middle east, does the Foreign Secretary agree that we should do everything we can to bring both sides together? In that respect, does he think that the Israelis should do anything more to assist in the provision of free and fair elections? Does he also think that the Palestinians and perhaps the Egyptians should do more on security to ensure that withdrawal from the Gaza strip leads to greater security for the Palestinians and the Israelis?

Mr. Straw: What has been said by the Israelis, the Palestinians, the Egyptians and others is very good. It is crucial that the words are followed through so that there is real and effective co-operation on the part of Israel and its security forces to allow for the elections to take place in accordance with the 1996 arrangements and for the casting of votes in East Jerusalem, and on the part of the Palestinians to make the efforts that they have promised on security. If both those things happen, the elections can take place and they will be free and fair, but it will require constant effort by the parties and constant monitoring by the international community.

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): The Foreign Secretary will know that the borders of Ukraine are rather artificial and were established by the old Soviet Union. Given that fact, and given that the Russians are only partly a minority—they form a good 40 per cent. of the population—does he envisage a situation arising, as a result of the greater polarisation, in which there is a separation of the two states, rather like what happened in Czechoslovakia? If that were the case, what would be the implications for the United Kingdom? What contingency plans has his Department got in place?
 
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Mr. Straw: The borders of most countries that are not islands are artificial in the terms in which the hon. Gentleman describes them; Ukraine is far from unique in that respect. Its borders reflect history and many other pressures. I do not want to contemplate a division of Ukraine; that is not on the agenda. What we hope is that the Ukrainian Supreme Court will be able to seek to resolve the matter by entirely peaceful and lawful means.

Linda Perham (Ilford, North) (Lab): The Foreign Secretary knows of the hopes of my thousands of Jewish constituents for an end to terror and fear in Israel, and of the yearning of the Israelis to live in peace and security. He mentioned President Bush's explicit commitment to the Prime Minister during his visit to Washington on giving impetus to the road map. How does the Foreign Secretary see that progressing and what role can the Americans play in making such progress?

Mr. Straw: The Americans have a key role to play as the most important ally of the state of Israel and as one of the four key partners in the quartet with the European Union, the Russian Federation and the United Nations. The importance of the discussions between our Prime Minister and President Bush two weeks ago was that, following them, President Bush recommitted himself actively to pursuing the peace process and, as he said, to spending American political capital, and, I might add, his own, to ensure that the road map stops being just a piece of paper and becomes a reality on the ground, with the Israelis being able to enjoy the security within and on their borders that has long eluded them, and with the Palestinians being able to enjoy the nationhood and statehood that has always eluded them.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): Although much of what the Foreign Secretary has said today has commanded general support across the House, it is slightly unusual to combine in a single statement four disparate conflicts or potential conflicts; I hope that that will not become the practice. As I have to choose one, may I say that we are not only at a crossroads over the future of Ukraine? Does he agree that we are also at a crossroads over how Russia will handle itself? Does he agree that one reason why there have been so many velvet revolutions in central and eastern Europe is that Russia declined to use force in situations about which it felt strongly? Will he be making representations to the effect that Russia should act similarly with respect to Ukraine?

Mr. Straw: I thought that there was a general demand for me to make a statement about Ukraine as well as on the middle east. I am in your hands, Mr. Speaker; I should be happy to make four statements in sequence rather than all together. If that would be for the convenience of the House, it would not cause me a problem.
 
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On the issue of Russia and restraint, I think that the Russian Government fully understand their responsibilities and the need for all sides to show restraint.

Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire) (Lab): How widely known is the holding of the general election in Iraq among the Iraqi people? A short time ago, it seemed that it was not well known; perhaps people had other things to be bothered and worried about. There might be some indication in terms of the number of people who have registered to vote or are expected to register and in the number of local elections that have already been held to prepare people for a coming general election.

Mr. Straw: My understanding is that there is already a good level of appreciation of the elections and the process. The system of registration is based on the records for food rations. As people go to claim their food rations, they are registered to vote. The usual process of the publication of provisional registers is under way and the independent election commission of Iraq is seeking nominations. Alongside that, there are plans for a proper information campaign to be run by the independent election commission to educate people in Iraq better about the process of elections, which of course they have not enjoyed for getting on for 40 years.


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