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John Reid: The right hon. and learned Gentleman may not be surprised to know that I have not seen that report, because I was on a troop flight back from Iraq earlier today, just before I came to the House. I will check on that. I think that he mentioned negotiation. To my knowledge, I do not think that that has started. The sequence of events is as follows. The first thing to be done is to carry out the United Nations review and assessment of the standards in Kosovo itself; thereafter discussions will be widened. Whether or not preliminary talks are started and whether or not those are part of ongoing discussions between the United States or the United Nations elements in Serbia and Montenegro I do not know, but I will check on that and if he will permit me, I will write to him, because I am not in a position to comment on reports in the past few hours. What I am in a position to say is that, in Kosovo, NATO has continued to improve the flexibility and usability of troops since the violence there in March 2004. A lot of progress has been made, but all nations continue to press for further improvements. That is the present position.

I want to comment on a point made by the hon. Member for Uxbridge on the original intervention in Kosovo. I would not want to set a precedent that we continue to follow in protecting the Lib Dems against unfair criticism—or any criticism at all—but in this case he unfairly criticised the Lib Dems for what he regarded as an inconsistency between their support for intervention in Kosovo and their lack of support for intervention in Iraq. In fairness, we should recognise that there are several major grounds on which military intervention can take place. One is obviously self-defence and another is impending humanitarian catastrophe, which was the case in Kosovo. A third, of course, is United Nations Security Council resolutions. So I think what the hon. Gentleman said was unfair.

If I may be more helpful, if the hon. Gentleman really wanted to point out the glaring contradictions of the Lib Dem position he might compare, not Kosovo and Iraq, but Iraq 1998 with the last intervention in Iraq. Exactly the same legal grounds were used as a basis for military
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intervention in Iraq in 1998, and accepted and defended in, I think, both Houses of Parliament by the Liberals, as were later disputed by them in the recent intervention.

Sir Menzies Campbell: I am sure that the Secretary of State for Defence will give way.

John Reid: I am surprisingly asked to give way, and I will.

Sir Menzies Campbell: I welcome the Defence Secretary to his new position. He and I shared Opposition defence spokesmanships for a considerable time. I fear that he is doing us an injustice, no doubt inadvertently. If he remembers, in 1998 the reason that provoked military action was the fact that the inspectors were being denied access to a number of facilities. The military action that was taken was designed to destroy those facilities. It was taken over a period of some three days. It was entirely proportionate. It was a last resort because Saddam Hussein would not submit to any diplomatic initiative and it did not have as its objective regime change. Those are three very substantial differences in principle from the basis of the military action taken against Saddam Hussein in 2003, as we now know from the leaked minutes of the meeting held in July 2002.

John Reid: With great respect to the right hon. and learned Gentleman—and I do have great respect for him—none of that holds water. Resolution 1441 was the last resolution demanding immediate, unconditional and full disclosure and acceptance of all the UN resolutions thus far, and its purpose was not regime change, but to respond to the breach of the UN resolutions, so the substance of the legal basis for the 1998 intervention and the latest intervention is exactly the same. What had changed in between was the Liberal party's view of the political landscape in this country, I am afraid to say. Although I credit him and his party with being consistent from the time when they last changed their position onwards, I am afraid that I cannot credit them with being consistent over the past period. Nevertheless, let us turn to the other points that were raised.

The hon. Member for Mid Worcestershire (Peter Luff) referred to a multiplicity of questions arising from his and others' interest in India. On that question, I hope that he will forgive me if I refer him to the Foreign Office, and I have already briefly mentioned it to my colleague, the Minister for Europe. I hope that they will respond on those issues.

I will mention Iraq later in the context of my visit, but let me take some of the points that have been raised by the hon. Member for Woodspring, who speaks on foreign affairs for the Conservative party, by my hon. Friends the Members for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) and for Halifax and by the right hon. and learned Members for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) and for Rushcliffe (Kenneth Clarke), among others.

As the House knows, the present position is that coalition forces are in Iraq under the terms of UN Security Council resolution 1546 and at the request of
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the Iraqi Government. The Minister for Defence in Iraq, al-Dulaimi, whom I met in the past 24 hours, is clear about the value of our presence—he reinforced and confirmed that to me—and the continued need for that presence for the time being.

The Government have a consistent position about our future plans: they should be based on conditions, not on a chronological sequence of events irrespective of the reality on the ground. We will stay no longer than necessary, and we will withdraw once Iraq has made sufficient progress, with our assistance, in building the capability of its own security forces to the point where they are able to deal with the security situation unaided.

I will return to several of those points later, when I briefly mention my visit to Iraq yesterday, but that is essentially the present position. There is no significant change, except that, of course, in Iraq itself, there has been a build-up of the Iraqi capability—Iraqisation, as it is sometimes called—to combat the insurgency and terrorism and to facilitate political developments and the appointment of Ministers to the Transitional Government, several of whom come from the Sunni community.

There has been great interest in the resources needed to sustain Iraq and Afghanistan. In addition to the hon. Members whom I have mentioned already, that issue was raised by the hon. Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer). We remain in close discussion with our coalition allies in Iraq about force levels. We are confident that the commitment to the coalition remains strong across a very wide number of participants. The withdrawal of the Dutch and their replacement by the Australians in our sector illustrates the flexibility of those arrangements. We will co-ordinate closely with our NATO allies to provide a UK contribution to help to expand the NATO mission in Afghanistan.

The claims of overstretch, which were repeated by the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes, are wide of the mark. Our future plans, to which he referred, are to rebalance the Army and to create expeditionary forces with a greater degree of flexibility, reach, speed and deployability, thus improving our ability not only to respond quickly, but to mount simultaneous campaigns.

Dr. Fox: The right hon. Gentleman said explicitly that troops would not be withdrawn from Iraq until the time was right or, in his earlier words, until the job was finished. For the sake of clarification, can he give the House the assurance that that will be done as a joint decision with the United States and that there is no possibility of American troops being withdrawn earlier, leaving British troops in place on their own?

John Reid: I am not aware of anybody suggesting that we should withdraw the United States forces from Iraq, thus leaving the 8,000 British forces there to cope. I am trying to understand the question. Certainly, as a generic response, I would say that we would not take any of these decisions without the fullest consultation with our allies, prime among them, of course, the United States, which is making a huge contribution not only to countering the present insurgency and terrorism in Iraq but to training forces. All that will be done, but we reserve the right, as does any sovereign nation, to make our own decisions ultimately; but we have always done that in the fullest consultation with our allies and will continue to do so.
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The point applies not only to Iraq and Afghanistan, but to other areas of the world. The right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife and my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) raised the question of Darfur and whether more should be done to strengthen the United Nations mandate. We are putting pressure on all sides to try to find a peaceful resolution to this difficult and tragic crisis while, in the meantime, putting pressure on all sides to observe the ceasefire and their other commitments under it. The Government of Sudan and the Darfuri rebels must co-operate with African Union mediators so that there can be an early resumption of the Abuja peace talks. We therefore welcome the EU's decision to double the size of its monitoring mission. We have already provided in the order of £14 million to that mission and we are looking to see how we can assist its expansion, including through the possibility of NATO or EU help.

Another issue that was raised by several Members, including the foreign affairs spokesmen for the Liberals and the Conservatives, was the Chinese arms embargo. Of course, there are concerns about China, particularly about human rights, that do not need to be re-expressed in the House. The EU has agreed to review the embargo, and that review is ongoing. We believe that the embargo is an ineffective means of controlling arms sales to China and that the revised code of conduct would be more effective. However—and I stress this—no date has been set for a decision on lifting the embargo. As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has previously made clear, China's recent anti-secessionist law has created a very difficult political environment in which to discuss these matters. I fully understand the concerns expressed not only by hon. Members in the House but by the United States, and I agree on the importance of maintaining security as a major factor in our consideration of the east Asia region.

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