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Patrick Mercer: I am listening to the right hon. and learned Gentleman with great interest. Like every other analyst of this situation, he will appreciate that if it is to improve, there must be greater security. If the Iraqi forces are to be trained to take up that role, it is necessary for coalition troops and police to be there in the medium if not the long term. How can we withdraw when those tasks still need to be completed?

Sir Menzies Campbell: The hon. Gentleman, who has some knowledge of military strategy, knows that an exit strategy is defined as being either the moment at which one knows that one has done one's task, or the moment at which one knows that one cannot complete it. My anxiety is that we have an open-ended commitment whereby we will stay for as long as we are required. Just how long will that be? What consequences does it have for overstretch in our armed forces and for our political influence in an area in which that influence has been deeply damaged?

There will be a point at which we have to leave Iraq, but there will never be a good time to do so. The right approach is to have an objective. At the moment, the Government do not have an objective. I imagine that somewhere in the depths of the Ministry of Defence, with which the hon. Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) is no doubt familiar, people are planning for how long British forces will be there—for two, three, or four years. That is not a commitment that we have any obligation to maintain. We had a moral obligation created for us by the Government in taking military action—a moral obligation that none of us could shrink
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from—but we have fulfilled that, and we have a moral obligation to our own forces and to the interests of the people of the United Kingdom.

Clare Short: There was an option for securing the future of Iraq after the conflict—an international leadership under an international mandate that would have brought in lots of different forces seeing themselves as serving the people of Iraq rather than the coalition. Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that that option is still available, because the new UN resolution after December could internationalise the leadership and the reconstruction, and then the occupying powers could leave and the people of Iraq could have the chance of a better future?

Sir Menzies Campbell: I wish that the right hon. Lady were right about that. Her intention is perfectly correct. However, we fared very poorly in the efforts that were made to persuade Muslim countries to provide supporting forces in Iraq, even after UN Security Council resolution 1546, which gives warrant and authority for the continuing presence of the coalition, and expires at the end of this year. I wish that it were possible to created a multinational force of the kind that the right hon. Lady describes, but I have very great doubts about that.

Clare Short: A number of the Muslim countries that were approached made it clear that they would be willing to serve as part of a UN-mandated force, but not in support of the coalition. That was the position of Pakistan and of other countries.

Sir Menzies Campbell: I ask the right hon. Lady to consider this from her intimate knowledge of government and of our relationship with the United States: are there circumstances in which we could have envisaged the United States ceding authority to a force of the kind that she describes? I doubt that very much. Her intention is right, but the chances of achieving it are not as great as she or I would prefer.

That takes me on to Iran. The European Union and the United States have legitimate anxieties about Iran's use of its civil nuclear programme to conceal a nuclear weapons programme. At the heart of that is Iran's entitlement under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty to enrich uranium for civilian purposes. However, as everyone knows, once technologies have been mastered for that purpose it is a short step to achieving the technical capability for the production of a nuclear weapon. In truth, given Iran's record of concealment and lack of co-operation with Dr. el-Baradei's organisation, the E3, as it has been described in shorthand, is certainly right to seek the permanent cessation of enrichment and reprocessing activities. We must now embrace concerted efforts to persuade Iran to uphold its suspension commitments under last year's Paris agreement, with the ultimate object of persuading it to agree to end all enrichment activities and to accept full International Atomic Energy Agency inspections. It is necessary to consider other methods, and the credible prospect of economic sanctions combined with incentives on trade and technical matters, together with the offer of security assurances, could be helpful in enabling us to reach such an agreement.
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A source of profound concern, however, is the active consideration by some in Washington of a military alternative—and, indeed, the possibility that Israel might act as some kind of surrogate of the United States. The Foreign Secretary has been unequivocal. He said in December that military action against Iran was "inconceivable". The Prime Minister, when asked to comment, said, rather more delphically, that "there are no plans". I believe that the House would want the Government to state again, unequivocally, their position on the use of force against Iran, because the risks of military action are enormous. A military strike could provoke retaliation throughout the whole of the middle east, with Israel being a direct target. Circumstances in Iraq could deteriorate if Iran thought that it was in its interests to try to stir up trouble for the coalition in order to divert attention from itself. It would most certainly strengthen the position of hard-line conservative factions in Iran at the expense of the reformists and undermine the prospect of change.

Furthermore, an attack is far from certain to achieve its military objectives, given that Iran's nuclear facilities are well hidden and well dispersed. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that any attack could prove counter-productive, leading to Iranian withdrawal from the NPT and strengthening domestic support, born out of a sense of national identity, for the acquisition of nuclear weapons.

In that context, the issue of Israel and the Palestinians was mentioned in a trenchant intervention by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short).On many occasions in recent years we have heard from the Dispatch Box condemnations of the expansion of settlements on the west bank and of steps taken that would make it impossible for Jerusalem to be available as a capital for both communities. But what is ever done in support of those condemnations? What steps does anyone ever take? If one suggests, as I did 18 months or two years ago, that we might review the European Union's preferential arrangements for Israel, one brings a forest of condemnation and criticism down on one's head. Can we envisage any circumstances in which we would be so condemnatory of breaches of international law by any other democracy, but then stand back as the breaches continue and find ourselves incapable of taking action in support of our condemnation? On that analysis, Israel enjoys a privileged position indeed.

Mr. Winnick: In 1948, as a young person, I, like many others, took the view that the creation of Israel was justified. I have not changed my view. However, is it not clear that the Sharon Government and those to the right of Sharon have not the slightest intention of bringing about a Palestinian state? As my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) pointed out, the continued post-1967 occupation means misery and humiliation for the Palestinian people. It is the responsibility of the United States, far more than that of Britain, to do what it can to force Israel to recognise that it is breaking international law and inflicting such harm on the Palestinian people.

Sir Menzies Campbell: The hon. Gentleman and I took different positions on Iraq, but I am happy to say that on this topic we are of one mind.
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The United Nations has been mentioned. The Minister for Europe referred to a 60th anniversary in his opening speech. Of course, this year marks the 60th anniversary of the United Nations. Recent events have brought that institution's authority under threat but also provided an opportunity, with the publication of the report of the high-level panel.

It is worth reminding ourselves that the Atlantic charter was the blueprint for the United Nations. Three things formed the basis of that charter: the dignity of the human individual, the banishment of war as an instrument of foreign policy, and a new programme of economic liberalisation to promote development and alleviate poverty. The principles remain the same today, but it is perhaps a pity that we have not been better at implementing them. The principles are the same as those that we are discussing here.

No state acting on its own can address the challenges of poverty, disease, conflict and terrorism. That is echoed in the authoritative report of the high-level panel. Its common thread is respect for international law and the necessity for multinational action. Against the background of Iraq, the panel sends out a clear and strong signal that the existing rules governing the use of force are adequate and need to be respected.

The Secretary-General has responded by putting forward his proposals, which echo to some extent those of the panel, and emphasise that the goals of security, development and human rights are interdependent and can be fulfilled only by sustained co-operation. I hope that the British Government will make that cause fundamental in their approach to foreign affairs in this Parliament.

The Security Council should reflect today's world, not the balance of power in the aftermath of the second world war. The principle that should be embraced at all stages is that the world needs co-operation, which means collective action, rules and respect for those rules.

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