Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Written Evidence

Letter to the Clerk of the Committee from the Parliamentary Relations and Devolution Team, Foreign and Commonwealth Office

  Thank you for your letter 19 October. I hope this letter fully answers your questions.

Further to the response to recommendation 22, the Committee wishes to receive a progress report on implementation of the Agreement on Movement and Access. What steps has HMG been taking to achieve implementation of the Agreement?

  After the Agreement on Movement and Access was signed on 15 November 2005 there was notable early progress on the Rafah crossing. On average 1,200 Palestinians a day were using the crossing into and out of Gaza, which opened nearly every day for around five hours. By 25 June, 280,000 people had used the crossing. It made a dramatic difference to the freedom of movement of Palestinians. Since the abduction of Corporal Shalit on 25 June, however, the crossing has been largely closed.

  Progress on other sections of the agreement has been disappointing. The crossing points between Gaza and Israel have frequently been closed. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA) has reported an increase in the number of obstacles to movement within the West Bank during 2006.  The convoys between Gaza and the West Bank that were envisaged in the Agreement have not been set up. Construction of the Gaza seaport has not commenced, and discussions on a Gaza airport have achieved little.

  The UK continues to believe that the Agreement on Movement and Access should be fully implemented. We continue to encourage the parties to implement the agreement. The lack of further progress has been disappointing. This reflects the deterioration of the security situation, and the breakdown of communication between Israel and the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority government. Progress on these two issues could lead to progress on the implementation of the Agreement on Movement and Access. We continue to urge restraint on all sides and encourage the Hamas-led govemment to accept the three Principles set out by the Quartet as a way of resuming dialogue with Israel.

  The UK has been closely involved with General Dayton's plans for the Kami crossing. The UK has seconded a military officer to General Dayton's team to advise on plans to improve security at Kami, to enable Palestinians to export their harvests through it. We fully support his plans and are looking at ways to provide further practical assistance in their implementation.

  We have raised our concerns about the closure of the crossing points between Gaza and Israel with the Israeli Government. The EU demarched Israel about the Rafah crossing point on 13 September. At the General Affairs and External Relations Council, EU Foreign Ministers have concluded that the Agreement on Movement and Access should be implemented by both sides. The Quartet has also reiterated this call adding that Rafah and all other passages should remain open consistent with relevant agreements.

Further to the response to recommendation 25, the Committee wishes to know what further progress has been made with training Iraqi security forces, including the Iraqi police, and what is the Government's current assessment of the ability of those forces to take responsibility for security in those areas in the South where security is currently provided by the British-led MNF.

  The development of a capable, legitimate and representative Iraqi Security Force remains a high priority for the Iraqi Government and the Multinational Forces. The Iraqi Army is now some 129,760 strong. Although many of the challenges outlined in our initial response remain, notably in the areas of intelligence, command and control, logistics and equipment, we judge that the Iraqi Army continues to make progress. The Iraqi Army's 10th Division, now numbering 11,558, has exceeded expectations in its involvement with the current Iraqi-led security operation in Basra, which began in late September. It is now taking the initiative in providing framework security for the reconstruction efforts being undertaken in parallel with the security operation.

  The Iraqi Police Service (IPS) nationally numbers 128,008. Significant problems remain with the IPS in southern Iraq, as elsewhere in the country. These problems include infiltration by militias, and in some provinces, notably Basra, units of the IPS have been implicated in violent incidents. We are working with the Ministry of Interior to develop Iraqi capacity to bring corrupt and criminal policemen to justice, and have recently stepped up our training and mentoring effort to the police service in Basra. However, tackling the problem of militia influence over the police will be a long-term challenge for the Government of Iraq and its partners.

  As we outlined in our reply to the FAC, the Joint Committee to Transfer Security Responsibility is the body that makes recommendations on the readiness of individual provinces or cities for transfer of lead responsibility for security from the MNF to the Iraqi local authorities. These recommendations are then put to the Iraqi Prime Minister for decision. The JCTSR is composed of representatives from the Iraqi Government, Multinational Force, and the US and UK Governments.

  The JCTSR makes its recommendations on the basis of assessments of: the threat level; the Iraqi Security Forces' ability to take on the security task; the capacity of provincial bodies to govern effectively; and the posture and support available from Coalition Forces after the transfer of lead security responsibility. In August the JCTSR recommended that Dhi Qar province was ready to be handed over to Iraqi security forces responsibility and PM Maliki accepted this recommendation. The formal handover took place on 21 September. Maysan and Basra, the remaining provinces in MND SE where MNF I has lead security responsibility, have not yet been assessed against the conditions outlined above as being ready for hand-over to Iraqi security responsibility.

Further to the response to recommendation 39, the Committee wishes to receive an update on the latest position with respect to the Iranian nuclear programme, and on what specific steps HMG has been taking to resolve the situation.

  Iran has not taken any steps since September to address international concerns about its nuclear programme. In particular, it has not suspended its uranium enrichment related and reprocessing activities, as required by the IAEA Board of Governors and the United Nations Security Council. On the contrary, it has continued to expand its enrichment activity: the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran said on 28 October that Iran has begun enriching uranium in a second 164-centrifuge cascade.

  The E3+3 (UK, France, Germany +- China, Russia, US) have continued to show flexibility in our search for a negotiated solution. On behalf of the E3+3, EU High Representative Javier Solana engaged in intensive discussions with the Secretary General of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, Ali Larijani, over the course of September. These were aimed at exploring whether Iran was prepared to meet IAEA Board and Security Council requirements and begin negotiations with the E3+3 on the basis of our far-reaching June proposals. After some positive indications in early September that Iran might be prepared to do so, Dr Larijani told Dr Solana in Berlin on 28 September that Iran was not in fact prepared to suspend uranium enrichment. President Ahmadinejad also said publicly on the same day that Iran would not suspend "even for one day". Iran has not given any indication that it is prepared to meet other IAEI Board and Security Council requirements, such as the resumption of co-operation with the IAEA on Additional Protocol terms.

  The Foreign Secretary chaired a meeting of E3+3 Foreign Ministers with Dr Solana in London on 6  October to review the situation. The Ministers agreed that Iran's failure to meet Security Council requirements left no choice but to consult on the adoption of a new Resolution imposing sanctions. The aim of these sanctions will be to constrain Iran's ability to develop a nuclear weapons programme and to put political pressure on the regime to meet IAEA Board and Security Council requirements and return to talks. We are now discussing a new Resolution with Council members.

  Iran's failure to engage on the E3+3's June proposals is deeply disappointing and raises further questions about Iran's real motives. The proposals would give Iran everything it needs to develop a modern civil nuclear power industry, including active support for the building of new light water reactors in Iran through international joint projects and legally-binding assurances relating to the supply of nuclear fuel. They would also bring Iran significant political and economic benefits, which would help promote trade, attract investment and create jobs for Iran's young population, as well as allow for the possible lifting of US sanctions in some areas of real need for Iran.

  We remain committed to finding a negotiated solution. The E3+3 proposals remain on the table, as does our offer to suspend further action in the Security Council if Iran takes the steps required by the IAEA Board.

Further to the response to recommendation 48, the Committee wishes to receive a fuller statement of the Government's policy towards establishing a permanent section of the IAFA to deal with non-state actors and in particular, whether the Government is satisfied that sufficient funding is available for this aspect of the IAFA's work.

  As the fourth largest contributor to the IAEA's budget, the UK continually assesses the Agency's work and organisation. The UK supports the Agency's work on non-state actors and encourages effective coordination both within the Agency and externally with the enforcement divisions in Member States. One of the roles of the Agency is to provide individual Member States with the information that they need to take action to deal with the threat of non-state actors. The IAEA has a limited role in dealing directly with the threat.

  The UK believes that the current structure and funding of the IAEA is sensible and would not benefit from change. At present it is structured towards its primary purpose, that is, within the terms of its Statute, to play an effective role in combating global nuclear proliferation—whatever its origin. The UK is satisfied that, at present, sufficient funding is available to the IAEA for this work. The establishment of a permanent section of the IAEA to deal with non-state actors would not make the Agency any more effective in this area.

Are all three phases of the deployment of the new UN force in Lebanon complete? What contribution has been made by the UK (a) to UNIFIL and (b) to training and/or equipping the Lebanese armed forces?

  The UNIFIL mission is envisaged to deploy in three phases. Phase 1 (25 August—29 October), Phase 2 (30 October—19 November) and Phase 3 (19 November onwards). As of 25 October, 8,818 troops had been deployed to UNIFIL+. The French and Italians are providing the core of the force. The Germans are leading a Maritime Task Force. The strength is 15,000 as authorised under UNSCR 1701.

  The UK offered to provide support to the UNIFIL mission including the use of our Sovereign Base Areas on Cyprus and provision of a naval logistician to assist the UN. The UK also provided HMS York to the UN-sponsored interim maritime task force in September and October. This task force was replaced by a follow-on force, under UNIFIL command, on 15 October.

  As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, the UK pays a premium contribution to the costs of UN operations. This year our contribution is expected to be approximately £16 million.

  The UK has committed £2.5 million to security sector assistance in Lebanon. A minute was placed before parliament detailing UK proposals to supply the Lebanese with 50 vehicles. This met no objections and the contract has been signed. The Ministry of Defence is also planning to provide counter terrorism training and we are looking to identify the equipment and training needs of the security forces and co-ordinating donor responses. We have allocated £320,000 for counter terrorism assistance in Lebanon, including training for border security, police capacity building and aviation security. We are also working with US, EU and other international partners to co-ordinate international support for the Lebanese Security Forces.

Richard Cooke

Parliamentary Relations and Devolution Team, Foreign and Commonwealth Office

10 November 2006

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