Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Written Evidence

Letter to Kim Howells MP, Minister of State for the Middle East, Foreign and Commonwealth Office

  Thank you for appearing before the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee last month to give oral evidence on our "Global Security: Middle East" inquiry. As you will be aware, we have since had the opportunity to visit some of the key states in the region. We would like to follow up our visit with a number of questions on the role of the United Kingdom in the Middle East. These are listed below:

      (1)  The Committee learnt in Damascus that the FCO has a negative stance towards Syria's application to the World Trade Organisation. What is the FCO's current position on Syria's application to the WTO, and why is this position being held?

      (2)  The Committee learnt in Damascus that the UK has developed an "understanding" with EU partners on a policy of no ministerial visits to Syria. The Committee was told that this "understanding" was "evolving". What is the current policy of the UK with regards to ministerial visits to Syria?

      (3)  The Committee was told that the EU was adopting a "go slow" policy towards ratification of the Association Agreement with Syria. What is the current position of the UK on ratification of the Association Agreement?

      (4)  The Committee was told that $1.2 million more funding would be required to complete the clearance of unexploded cluster munitions in south Lebanon by the target date of December 2007. What consideration has the Government given to providing this extra funding to ensure this work is completed on schedule?

      (5)  What representations has the Government made to Israel to a) ask it to hand over all relevant maps locating unexploded ordinance and b) ascertain how many cluster bombs were dropped on Lebanon during the most recent war? What is your assessment of the overall level of co-operation provided by Israel in helping to clear unexploded cluster munitions from south Lebanon?

      (6)  What representations has the Government made to the United States to encourage it to persuade Israel to provide figures for the number of cluster bombs dropped on Lebanon during the most recent war and to hand over all relevant maps locating unexploded ordinance?

      (7)  On the Today Programme on 22 March 2007, you said that former US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton's remarks suggesting the US had deliberately blocked a ceasefire in Lebanon to give Israel a chance to destroy Hezbollah had "come as a surprise". You said that "I certainly didn't get a sense that there was some kind of formal collusion between the Israelis and the Americans. They certainly didn't communicate that to us in any shape or form". Is it still your view that such a "formal collusion" did not exist?

      (8)  In a press conference in March, you suggested that based on your visit to Lebanon, there is no evidence that large amounts of weapons are being smuggled to Hezbollah from Syria, although some may have been smuggled before UNIFIL's deployment. Does the FCO have any evidence to suggest that weapons are currently being smuggled across borders to Hezbollah?

      (9)  What is the estimated frequency of Israeli overflights into Lebanon's territory? We understand that the Government has made representations to Israel on this issue. Is it your assessment that these representations have had an impact on Israel's behaviour?

    (10)  What number of Iraqi refugees does the Government intend to allow to resettle in the United Kingdom in 2007?

    (11)  What is the breakdown of staff employed by the FCO at each position from Ambassador to Third Secretary in each of the following countries in each year from 2000 to 2007? Are changes expected in the next two years?

        Countries: Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, UAE

    (12)  What has been the expenditure of (a) the FCO and (b) DFID in each of the countries listed in the question above in each year from 2000 to 2007? How is this expected to change in the next two years?

    (13)  How many staff based at the FCO in London have been working primarily on a) the Middle East excluding Iraq and (b) Iraq in each of the years from 2000 to 2007?

    (14)  How many members of the diplomatic service have held fluency in Arabic in each of the years from 2000 to 2007? How is this expected to change in the next two years?

  We would be grateful if we could receive a reply to these questions by 21 May 2007.

1 May 2007

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