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8. Mr. Nigel Waterson (Eastbourne) (Con): If he will make a statement on his recent visit to Cyprus. [49006]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): In Cyprus, I met Foreign Minister Iacovou and the leader of the Turkish Cypriot community, Mr. Talat. I urged the two communities to resume their dialogue, for the longer that settlement negotiations are delayed, the harder a settlement will be to achieve. We also have to ensure that Turkey's EU accession track and the United Nations settlement process are not competing, but are complementary. During my meeting I stressed to all parties, including Turkey and Greece, which I also visited, that the status quo is bad for Cyprus, bad for the region and bad for the EU.

We have noted all the responses to Foreign Minister Gul's proposals of 24 January, including the positive reactions of EU Comissioner Olli Rehn and the Governments of Italy and Spain. Those proposals are a constructive step and deserve to be taken seriously.

Mr. Waterson: I am grateful to the Foreign Secretary for that reply, but does he think, on balance, that his visit has contributed to an improvement in relations with the Republic of Cyprus and with the Greek Cypriot community here in the UK, or does he agree with President Papadopoulos that his visit has poisoned relations between Nicosia and London?

Mr. Straw: I do not accept the latter. It is a matter of great regret and entirely counter-productive that President Papadopoulos decided to object to my visiting Mr. Talat in his offices—the same premises, I may say, where one of my predecessors, the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Sir Malcolm Rifkind), visited Mr. Denktash in 1996. It would have been preposterous if I had treated Mr. Talat less well than the right hon. and learned Gentleman treated Mr. Denktash.

Sir Malcolm Rifkind (Kensington and Chelsea) (Con): As the Secretary of State has said, my visit to Rauf Denktash was not in any way objected to by the then President Klerides and was seen as a sensible way of having dialogue with both communities. Will the Secretary of State therefore continue to impress on President Papadopoulos and the Government of the Republic of Cyprus that the best interests of the republic will be served by proper and responsible contact with recognised leaders of the Turkish community?

Mr. Straw: I am very grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for his remarks. I hope that it will send a message to the Government of Cyprus that this is not a partisan issue dividing the House but one on which there is a substantial all-party consensus in favour of the two communities—the Greek Cypriots in the south and the Turkish Cypriots in the north—coming together. I take it from what he has said that he, and I believe the House too, also regard it a matter of regret that the Administration of President Papadopoulos have sought to distance themselves from the Turkish Cypriot community and to cease to have any contact with it. Moreover, because of their unhelpful approach towards
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the aid proposals for the north from the European Union, they are in my judgment seeking to marginalise the Turkish Cypriot community and not in any way to assist in their economic development. That cannot help the Greek Cypriot community any more than it can help the Turkish Cypriot community.

Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham) (LD): What action can the Foreign Secretary take to defend the interests of British citizens, including Mr. Departhog a constituent about whom I have written to him, whose property and homes in northern Cyprus have been expropriated by the military, as the civilian Turkish authorities will not accept representations relating to the behaviour of their military?

Mr. Straw: The hon. Gentleman raises another reason why the only salvation for Cyprus is through negotiations leading to a sensible settlement, brokered by the United Nations, and by an end to the division of the island. That is the only way in which the genuine interests of the Greek Cypriot community, including those of Greek Cypriot origin who are British citizens, can be resolved satisfactorily. The issue of compensation for land seized is central to those negotiations. Unless and until the Greek Cypriot Government, as well as the Turkish Cypriots and others with interest, get back to the negotiating table, there is in practice absolutely no chance of the hon. Gentleman's constituent receiving what is due to him. I wish it were otherwise, but Mr. Iacovou, the Foreign Minister of Cyprus whom I saw, could offer me no alternative prospect for his own people and for solving their problems. That is why I regret very much the negative approach that that Government are taking.

Mr. John Maples (Stratford-on-Avon) (Con): I am glad, as are many of us, that the Foreign Secretary went to see President Talat, who has proved to be a good and constructive leader of the Turkish Cypriots and who tried very hard to reach an agreement on the Annan proposals. That is in contrast to President Papadopoulos, who many of us believe negotiated in bad faith throughout that period and had no intention ever of endorsing Annan IV, V, VI or any other number. It seems that his strategy was to get into the European Union and then put the squeeze on the Turkish Cypriots by squeezing Turkey. The tragedy is that we allowed that to happen. Does the Foreign Secretary think in retrospect that we should never have allowed the Republic of Cyprus into the EU without settling that problem first?

Mr. Straw: Although it was a decision that we made, there was, I think, an all-party agreement on it and it was not an issue of great controversy between the parties in the late 1990s. The problem then was that the Greek Cypriot community had reasonable leadership who wished desperately for a deal both on EU membership and a settlement with the Turkish Cypriot community, but the Turkish Cypriots under Mr. Denktash were almost impossible to negotiate with. Had EU membership been proposed under the current circumstances, neither any British Government nor most European Governments would have touched the idea of allowing a divided Cyprus into the EU. The
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hon. Gentleman is exactly right to say that, as I suspect, the Government of Cyprus are now seeking to use their membership of the EU to try unacceptably to seek progress on their United Nations-related issues.

What I said to those whom I met from the Government of Cyprus was that if they go down that road, they will get exactly what they do not want, because they will make it impossible for Turkey to enter into full negotiations for membership of the European Union and then, over time, there will be a status quo in Cyprus which some countries may start to recognise in practice. That is not the position of the United Kingdom Government. We do not recognise the so-called Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus and we want to see a unified Cyprus, but the current approach of the Government of Cyprus does not in any way represent movement towards a united Cyprus and objectively is likely to lead to the opposite result.

Palestinian Elections

9. Rosie Cooper (West Lancashire) (Lab): What assessment he has made of the likely impact of the Palestinian elections on the middle east peace process. [49008]

13. Mr. Edward Vaizey (Wantage) (Con): What assessment he has made of the outcome of the Palestinian elections; and if he will make a statement. [49012]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): As the House is well aware, the Palestinian elections produced a majority in their Parliament for Hamas. We have made it clear that we respect the outcome of any free and fair elections, but we have been equally clear that those who take part in the democratic process have a responsibility to reject violence. The result therefore presents Hamas with a very clear choice. Last Monday the Quartet agreed that all members of a future Palestinian Government must be committed to non-violence, to a recognition of Israel and to an acceptance of previous agreements, including the road map. We, along with our EU partners, will continue to work with the Palestinians, the Israelis and the international community to make progress on the road map, to which both the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and the Israeli Government remain committed.

Rosie Cooper: The Secretary of State has answered some of the questions that I intended to pose. Do the Government support the Israeli Prime Minister on the dismantling of the settlements, as well as calling on the new Palestinian Authority, however it is composed, to renounce terrorism, recognise Israel and commit to peace talks? The Prime Minister of Israel needs support as well.

Mr. Straw: I have often applauded the position taken in recent years by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, and it is a tragedy that he was afflicted as he was a few weeks ago. On the settlements, I should add that in the same statement last Monday 30 January, the Quartet reiterated its view that settlement expansion must stop.
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Mr. Vaizey: It is not just Hamas that has supported terrorism—Fatah has done so as well. Will the Foreign Secretary use the opportunity of the Palestinian elections to review the aid package of the European Union and of Britain, and ensure that none of the aid that western countries sends to the Palestinian Authority is used to fund terrorism?

Mr. Straw: The European Union and the United Kingdom put in place strong accounting measures to ensure that money going to the Palestinian Authority, which was at that stage Fatah-controlled, was not going to fund terrorism. I know that the EU as well as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development are satisfied with those controls. For quite separate reasons, direct budgetary aid from the British Government and, I think, from the EU was suspended to the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority because we were not satisfied with the way in which some of the money was being accounted for, nor with their budgetary discipline. That aid apart, aid is being paid to people in the Palestinian Authority area. It is important that that should continue for humanitarian reasons, but again, the Quartet, with our full support, made it clear that any future assistance to any new Government would be reviewed by donors against the Government's commitment to the principles of non-violence and the other conditions that I mentioned.

Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): I thank the Foreign Secretary for his important statement on Hamas. However, how seriously does he view the articles of Hamas's charter which incite anti-Semitism by propagating the protocols of the elders of Zion and claiming that Jews control the international media and are responsible for revolutions around the world?

Mr. Straw: I view those articles extremely seriously. They are completely objectionable and obnoxious. What we look for from the Hamas leadership, if it wants the beginnings of a proper relationship with the rest of the international community, is an indication that it is willing to start travelling away from positions that it has previously adopted. So far, such indications have not been forthcoming.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): I warmly support what the Foreign Secretary has said in response to the questions put to him on this subject. Does he believe that it is absolutely essential for the long-term possibility of peace and stability in the middle east for the western powers, including this country, to maintain a positive ongoing dialogue with Hamas, which has taken over the Parliament in the Palestinian Authority; and, in addition, that we must maintain the help and aid to the Palestinian people while ensuring, as I believe that he has highlighted in his answers so far, that none of that aid will in any way be adapted to assist terrorism against Israel?

Mr. Straw: None of us has any interest whatever in, as it were, punishing the Palestinian people for giving the "wrong" answer in those elections. We are very conscious of that. They were free and fair elections and we have to respect the decisions of the Palestinian
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people. At the same time, nor can we gratuitously reward Hamas if it carries on with active support of terrorism and violence. That is why the Quartet has come to a very responsible and cautious position. Aid that was being paid anyway continues to be paid. The ball is in the court of Hamas. We are not expecting it to stand on its head and abandon overnight every position that it has held in the past. We are expecting from it, however, some clear indications of the direction in which it wishes to travel.

As to formal discussions with Hamas, insofar as any discussions took place between representatives of the British Government and Hamas, they were suspended some time ago. Whether they could be reopened would depend on the indications that we had of movement by Hamas.

Martin Linton (Battersea) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Israeli Government and, to a lesser extent, the United States Government have only themselves to blame for the victory of Hamas, since they cut the ground from under every moderate Palestinian politician by allowing the expansion of Israeli settlements on the west bank in defiance of the peace process, in defiance of the United Nations and in defiance of the law?

Mr. Straw: I understand what my hon. Friend is saying, but I do not think that that is the analysis of most members of Fatah as regards what happened. In the debate that is now going on within Fatah, many of its members are saying that it was Fatah that lost the election rather than Hamas that won it, because of its history of being in existence for so many decades and because of allegations of inefficiency and corruption, and worse. I suspect that those in Fatah who are saying that are more likely to be correct in their analysis.

Mr. Keith Simpson (Mid-Norfolk) (Con): The Foreign Secretary has been very robust in saying that through the Quartet we will not be seen to be directly negotiating with or rewarding Hamas until it gives up on terrorism and on its attitude towards the destruction of the state of Israel. Can he tell the House whether he has any evidence that any members of Hamas are involved in terrorist activities directly or indirectly affecting British interests in the middle east?

Mr. Straw: I have no evidence that I can put before the House at the moment in respect of that. If there is, I will make it available if it is appropriate for me to do so.

Sir Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab): Is it not undeniable that withdrawal or reduction of aid to the Palestinians because they voted for Hamas will only strengthen their intention to vote for Hamas again, and that punishment of the Palestinians is one of the reasons behind their vote for Hamas? Does my right hon. Friend
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agree, also, that until poverty, oppression and deprivation among the Palestinians are dealt with, there will be no hope of peace for the Israelis or for the Palestinians?

Mr. Straw: As I said, we have no intention of punishing the Palestinians for "voting the wrong way". That is not the appropriate response. That is why the Quartet, with our active agreement, continues to pay aid to the area, with the exception of that suspended to the Fatah Administration before the elections. However, my right hon. Friend would not approve of a position whereby, if a Hamas-based Government were formed and we paid aid, we could not be certain whether some of it was going towards terrorist causes. I do not believe that my right hon. Friend would be happy with that outcome. The Quartet's cautious approach, which we share, of continuing to pay money at the moment because the Administration remains dominated by President Mahmoud Abbas, but subsequently expecting some change by Hamas, is the appropriate way forward.

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