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Regime Change

6. Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South) (Con): What his policy is on regime change in respect of Governments whose policies he considers unacceptable. [12883]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): We have no policy as such on regime change—except in the Conservative party. Without context, regime change is an abstraction. Our focus is on ensuring that all other states live up to their international obligations. Where they fail to do so we seek to change their behaviour. We actively encourage and support the development of democracy across the world, as that is the best way by far to secure change in regimes by peaceful means.

Richard Ottaway: I think that the House will take that answer with a pinch of salt. Will the Foreign Secretary accept that there is inconsistency in a policy that takes us to war against a country that has no weapons of mass destruction, yet chooses to ignore countries such as North Korea, which is developing nuclear weapons programmes, or, even worse, Burma, which is using chemical weapons against neighbouring countries? I anticipate that in his reply the Foreign Secretary will fall back on the United Nations, in which case will he explain why there is no UN resolution condemning either country?

Mr. Straw: I am indeed going to rely on the UN charter, as it is one of the fundamental foundations of international law. It is not a question of falling back on it; it happens to be the whole of the explanation. In the case of Iraq, there were 12 years of mandatory chapter VII resolutions that authorised the use of force—all necessary means—in 687, 678 and subsequently 1441. In the case of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and Burma there are no such resolutions. Why? Because of the difficulty of securing international consensus.

Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): I am sure that my right hon. Friend agrees that the policies of the Government of Burma are unacceptable, and I for one would like that regime changed. In the context of his response just now, what progress has been made in discussions with other Association of South East Asian Nations members? Their role is mission-critical in developing the kind of international support necessary for the changes we want to see embraced in Burma.

Mr. Straw: Almost all the other ASEAN countries disapprove of the Burmese regime, but take a different view from the UK and the European Union about the
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way forward. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe met the ASEAN countries last year when he had responsibility for that part of the world and, as he has just reminded me, was unable to gain their support for a new Security Council resolution. We continue to say to our ASEAN friends that we do not believe that their approach of constructive engagement with and qualified support for Burma has shown any sign whatever of producing a positive change in that regime.

Sir Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife) (LD): I apologise for my false start earlier, Mr. Speaker.

The Foreign Secretary will be aware that paragraph 36 of the Attorney-General's opinion of 7 March 2003, which was published during the general election, stated that

no doubt in recognition of article 2, paragraph 4, of the United Nations charter to which the Foreign Secretary has just referred. Perhaps today the right hon. Gentleman could take the House into his confidence. Was there ever any doubt that once military action was commenced against Iraq it would be pursued to the point of the removal of Saddam Hussein? Indeed, was there ever any doubt that regime change was the objective of that military action?

Mr. Straw: It is a matter of record that we gave Saddam an ultimatum in the second week of March 2003, which was for him to leave the country and so not face the prospect of military action. He failed to meet it. I accept that the matter has been the subject of controversy and will remain so, but the position of the British, American and many other Governments around the world is that under the UN charter, in principle, if there is an appropriate chapter VII resolution, regime change can be a legitimate consequence of military action so authorised. In the case of Iraq it was our judgment, and the Attorney-General's advice, that such military action was indeed justified.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend take this opportunity to praise the memory of the three soldiers from the Staffordshire Regiment who were killed carrying out their duty on behalf of the country? The regiment has a distinguished tradition.

Will my right hon. Friend also take this opportunity to express our horror at the manner in which, among all the killing and carnage that took place in Iraq last week, children, some as young as six, were butchered by terrorists? Is it not the case that anyone in the House who justifies in any way such killing and terrorism is not fit to be a Member of this place? They should be held in the same contempt as those who try to justify what happened in London on 7 July.

Mr. Straw: Like my hon. Friend, I pay tribute to the Staffordshire Regiment and to those three very brave soldiers from that regiment who gave their lives for the cause of peace and security in Iraq; there is no higher service than that which they have given.

On the wider issue that my hon. Friend raises, I agree with him, and I would just like to say that the victims of this terrorism in Iraq have all been Muslim, which I
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think makes a very important point when we consider whether there is any justification for such outrages and inhumane actions.

Sir Peter Tapsell (Louth and Horncastle) (Con): On the subject of regime change, has the latest publication by Chatham House, explaining the link between terrorism and the mishandling of the problems of Iraq and Palestine, been drawn to the attention of the Government of the United States and carefully studied by the Foreign Secretary?

Mr. Straw: I cannot speak for the United States Government. The report has certainly been carefully studied by me, and it makes interesting contributions to the debate, although the hon. Gentleman will see that, at the bottom of page 2, for example, it is much more qualified than many newspapers have suggested. There the authors of the report say that yes, in their judgment,

the fact that the UK

have made us more of a target. All I say to the hon. Gentleman, through you, Mr. Speaker, is that it is inconceivable that we, as a member of the international community, even if we had not engaged in the military action in Iraq, would not have engaged in the action in Afghanistan or stood up against al-Qaeda; and the report says that if we take all those things together it makes us a target. Yes it did; and we were a target in any event, and we would have been notwithstanding Iraq. I say to the hon. Gentleman and other Members who are sceptical about this, with respect, that they need to remember that the al-Qaeda attack against the United States took place out of the blue, unprovoked, on 11 September 2001, 18 months before military action against Iraq, not six months afterwards.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): I join the Foreign Secretary and the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) in paying tribute to the three soldiers who so tragically lost their lives in Iraq. The Government, who were swift to intervene to change the regime in Iraq, have not sought to intervene to change the regime in Zimbabwe, yet Zimbabwe is failing to live up to its international obligations. What action would he consider to be necessary and proportionate to deal with the regime in Zimbabwe?

Mr. Straw: I think it is the first time that the hon. Lady has questioned me, and I welcome her to the Front Bench in that new capacity. I share the frustration that she and everybody else feels about the situation in Zimbabwe, but the truth is that up to now, it has not been possible for us to gain an international consensus inside the United Nations Security Council against Zimbabwe, much though we believe that there should be one and that the situation there is damaging the whole region.

I also say to the hon. Lady that it is easy to feel frustrated but it is dangerous for her to imply that the answer is some kind of military intervention. I know of
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no military plan that could possibly work in respect of Zimbabwe. Moreover, this was emphatically ruled out by the former Conservative shadow Foreign Secretary, the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram), when he wrote to me back in October 2002, saying that he had not called for military action in Zimbabwe. [Interruption.] The hon. Lady is indicating that she is not. I am glad she is not, but in its absence, we have to work with the tools that we have.

We managed to secure Zimbabwe's suspension from the Commonwealth. We have had increasingly effective and tough sanctions established inside the European Union. Meanwhile we await the report of Anna Tibaijuka, the Secretary-General's special representative, who has just returned from Zimbabwe, and will certainly concert with all our international colleagues to see whether further effective diplomatic and other action can be taken in respect of Zimbabwe.

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