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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Chris Mullin): I summoned the Zimbabwe ambassador on 22 February to object strongly to the continued intimidation of the media and Opposition. I made it clear that we wanted to see free and fair elections, and that these developments augured badly. We had a robust exchange.
Mr. Jack: I am pleased that the Minister is making some representations, because I have yet to see anything seriously tangible to suggest that the elections in Zimbabwe will be fair. In the past two years, four newspapers have closed down and a new law has been proposed to attack civil society, in contravention of agreements at African level that civil society is important to democratic elections. Given the resources that were mobilised in Iraq to ensure that the democratic voice of the people was heard, what similar forces will be deployed to ensure that all those in Zimbabwe have their say in their general election?
Mr. Mullin: No, we are not going to invade Zimbabwe. Indeed, the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) ruled that out some time ago. I agree with most of what the right hon. Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack) had to say, however. We see no sign that Zimbabwe is preparing for a fair election. As in the past, the electoral register contains thousands of ghost voters, while many people who are entitled to vote have been left off it. The registrar general is refusing to provide the Opposition with an electronic version of the register that can be checked. Journalists are being harassed, independent newspapers suppressed and opposition meetings broken up. As I say, we see no sign that Zimbabwe is preparing for a free election. We are watching closely and we shall not hesitate to share what we find with the right hon. Gentleman and the wider world.
Hugh Bayley (City of York) (Lab): The British Government have been in the lead in expressing opposition to Mr. Mugabe's regime, but does my hon. Friend agree that if we really want to influence events in Zimbabwe, it is important for us to work with other Commonwealth and African countries? It would have a much greater impact on events if we worked in common with others, instead of appearing to be the old colonial power acting on its own.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. His words are very wise, and Opposition Members would be wise to heed them. In the past month, we have succeeded in persuading the European Union to roll over the sanctions against Zimbabwe for a further 12 months. I wonder whether a Tory Government, with their policy
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of isolation in Europe, could have persuaded the other 24 members of the EU to achieve a similar result. I somehow doubt it.
Sir Peter Tapsell (Louth and Horncastle) (Con): Have this Labour Government explained to Mr. Mugabe the splendid opportunities for electoral fraud offered by the widespread introduction of postal voting?
Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley) (Lab): As my hon. Friend knows, the Inter-Parliamentary Union human rights commission has met representatives of the Zimbabwe Government on several occasions to discuss the imprisonment and harassment of many existing Members of Parliament in Zimbabwe. Will my hon. Friend tell us in what conditions Mr. Roy Bennett and other Members of Parliament in Zimbabwe are now being held? The last account that we had was that they were pretty dire, and I wonder whether he has had any further news on the situation.
Mr. Mullin: I have no up-to-date information about the prison conditions of Mr. Roy Bennett. He is in prison and has been barred from standing again in the election. As far as I know, he is the only serving Member of Parliament to be imprisoned in Zimbabwe. My hon. Friend might be interested to know that his wife proposes to stand in his place.
Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South) (UUP): The EU's decision is welcome, but has the Minister had any consultation with other African countries to see whether they are in a position to observe the election, and whether they are in a position even now to see what is happening, as it is close to the day of the election?
Mr. Mullin: That is an important point. There is a lot that other African countries can do. We are looking in particular for the Southern African Development Community delegation to observe the credibility of the election. That will be a test of the credibility of SADC as well as that of the Zimbabwe Government. SADC has laid down some clear guidelines, and we hope that it will insist on those being adhered to. It is also important that election monitors examine the entire process, not just the event on the day, so that they can take account of whether circumstances exist in Zimbabwe for a free election to be held. As I said, that is a test of SADC's credibility as much as of that of the Government of Zimbabwe.
Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes)
(Con): Given the Foreign Secretary's vocal support for democratic elections in Iraq and Ukraine, what is the reason for his deafening silence on Zimbabwe's coming election? With opposition candidates being beaten up, newspapers banned and politicians rather than judges imprisoning political opponents such as Roy Bennett, quiet diplomacy and quiet words with the high commissioner for Zimbabwe are simply not enough. What will the Government do to protect the democratic rights of the people of Zimbabwe from Mugabe's tyranny?
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Will Mugabe once again, for the third time under this Government's watch, be allowed to laugh in the face of democracy while this Government walk by on the other side?
Mr. Mullin: We are always in the market for constructive suggestions, but we do not hear many from the right hon. and learned Gentleman and his hon. Friends. All that we hear is a great deal of huffing and puffing, which will not make the slightest differenceindeed, it plays straight into Mr. Mugabe's hands, as one of the planks of his electoral platform is that the opposition in Zimbabwe are British stooges. Of course that is not the case, but every time the right hon. and learned Gentleman and his hon. Friends start making their mouths go, it rather gives that impression. He is well aware that we have not been at all silent on what is going on in Zimbabwe. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady) asks what we have achieved. One thing is the rollover for another 12 months of European Union sanctions. As he knows, we have also played a leading part in trying to get the United Nations interested in what happens in Zimbabwe.
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): The aim of the work undertaken by the French and German Foreign Ministers and by me, since summer 2003, has been to ensure that Iran's nuclear programmes are for peaceful purposes only. Following the November 2004 Paris agreement, senior officials are now involved in detailed negotiations to pin down objective guarantees about Iran's nuclear activities and in respect of technological and economic co-operation and political and security issues.
Mr. Moore: I am grateful for the Foreign Secretary's statements. Both sides of the House will agree about the undesirability of Iran obtaining a nuclear weapons capability. Certainly, we support the diplomatic efforts of the United Kingdom, France and Germany in seeking to prevent that from happening. Is he alarmed, however, that as yet it does not appear that the International Atomic Energy Agency is getting unfettered access to all potential nuclear sites? Does he agree that that must put in jeopardy the closer economic ties that we all want?
As I understand it, the access of the IAEA to Iran's nuclear sites has generally been satisfactory, but in some cases it has not been. Iran is required to comply with the terms of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and its own safeguards agreement with the IAEA. It has also signed but not yet ratified the additional
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protocol that requires extra inspections. Whether Iran gives proper access to the IAEA will most certainly be one of the factors that the agency's board of governors will weigh in the balance when it comes to consider its next steps.
Tony Lloyd : May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his role in pushing forward these important talks, as there is no doubt that a nuclear-armed Iran would be a driver of nuclear proliferation throughout the region? However, does he accept that Iran has legitimate security concerns? It has nuclear neighbours within the region and faces a potential conventional threat from those on its own borders. Within that context, would not it make sense to bring together the international community to say that some form of security guarantee was needed for Iran within a stabilised region? Obviously, Iran would have to be a player within that security framework, but security guarantees might help to ease the pressures that Iran itself faces.
Mr. Straw: Iran, like any other nation in the region, has security concerns, but none of its concernsI am pleased to hear my hon. Friend endorse thiswould justify its acquisition of nuclear weapons, which would make the security of the whole region, including Iran, significantly worse, not better. We accept its security interests; security has been one of the aspects of the discussions that have followed the Paris agreement in November and of the discussions that the three Foreign Ministers, including myself, had with Dr. Rouhani in December. But Iran has to take steps itself, and one of the most important that it could take to improve the security of the whole region would be to accept a two-state solution in respect of Israel and Palestine and to acknowledge Israel's right to exist, as required by UN Security Council resolutions.
Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South) (Con): With the Israelis alleging that the Iranians will have a nuclear weapon within six months, the situation is clearly getting serious. I accept the Foreign Secretary's assertion that verification is key, but does he accept that it is not just the E3 who must be satisfied with verification, but the United States?
Mr. Straw: I have seen these reports, but not their provenance. Our discussions with the Iranians are based on their failure to make disclosures in accordance with their safeguards agreement under the non-proliferation treaty. That has been well recorded, including in a Command Paper that I presented to the House, and is based on suspicions about the dual use of Iran's nuclear activities. There is no concrete evidence that Iran is developing nuclear weapons; let me make that clear to the House. I accept that in addition to the E3France, Germany and the United Kingdomwe must involve all the other partner members of the IAEA board of governors, including the Russian Federation, whose Foreign Minister I met this morning, and especially the United States, whose Secretary of State I shall be seeing this afternoon.
Llew Smith (Blaenau Gwent)
(Lab): Does the Secretary of State accept that the Government will be guilty of double standards if we continue to lecture Iran
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on meeting its obligations under the non-proliferation treaty while failing to meet our own obligations, particularly article 6, under which we are committed to negotiate awayin good faith and at an early dateour nuclear weapons, something we are failing to do?
Mr. Straw: I do not accept what my hon. Friend says; the factual basis of his question is simply wrong. Under article 2 of the non-proliferation treaty, we are allowed to hold nuclear weapons. That applies to all five permanent members of the Security Council as so-called "nuclear weapons states", in contrast to all others, who are categorised under article 4 as "non-nuclear weapons states". Moreover, there is a requirement for gradual but multilateral progress towards full-scale nuclear disarmament. We have taken more steps than any of the other permanent members of the Security Council. We are also involved in constructive discussions on the forthcoming review conference on the non-proliferation treaty.
Mr. Malcolm Savidge (Aberdeen, North) (Lab): My right hon. Friend's role, together with his two European counterparts, in the delicate negotiations with Iran over non-proliferation deserve full support. Does he welcome the evidence that the Bush Administration are becoming more supportive? Does he agree that it would be helpful if they considered supporting any positive incentives that Europe might offer to Iran?
Mr. Straw: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his opening comments. Let me make it clear that we have worked closely from the very start with the United States Administration, who have a key interest in this issue. The US is a permanent member of the Security Council, as are we, and at each stage it has actively backed the resolutions passed unanimously by the IAEA board of governors. I look forward to the collaboration and co-operation with the US Government in respect of Iranas in respect of so many other issuescontinuing.
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