Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40-52)|
28 FEBRUARY 2007
Q40 Mr. Moss: Perhaps I can return
to the question a little bit more specifically. Is there any real
evidence, from military or other intelligence, of movements of
armaments across the Iran-Iraq border, whereby the Iranians are
arming some of the insurgents in Iraq?
Mr. McDonald: We believe that
there is evidence. That is part of our dialogue with Tehran, and
representations have been made in Tehran and London. Our approach
has been somewhat different from the American approach. We have
not had press conferences. We are trying to change Iranian behaviour.
That is a central feature of our dialogue with Tehran.
I have to say that the American policy is evolving.
Yesterday, Secretary Rice announced that the US will take part
in a meeting in Baghdad next month that will include the Iranians.
We have always had dialogue with Tehran; the Americans have not,
but on the issue of Iraq, they are reconsidering that.
Q41 Chairman: Do you interpret that
to mean that the American Administration are now accepting the
Iraq Study Group's recommendations without saying so?
Mr. McDonald: Yes.
Q42 Mr. Keetch: This comes back to
Mr. Purchase's point. It is remarkable that we will talk to the
Iranian Government, even though they want to obliterate the state
of Israel and are probably acting to get weapons into southern
Iraq to attack British troops, but we will not talk to Hamas.
Many might construe that to be a not very concise position.
I want to be specific about the point that Malcolm
Moss talked about. Is it your belief that weapons and technology,
such as the improvised explosive devices that are being used in
southern Iraq, are coming across the border with the tacit agreement
of the Iranian regime, or is it more likely that Revolutionary
Guard units are doing it on an ad hoc basis? Is Tehran is saying
yes to it, or is it being played out by elements of the Iranian
Mr. McDonald: If I may so, Mr.
Moss gave us a very helpful quotation. The Prime Minister was
very clear, and for good reason. We do not know precisely. We
see evidence of the weapons coming acrossthat is a factbut
the motivation and the authorisation are not clear to us. That
is why the Prime Minister spoke with such precision.
Q43 Mr. Keetch: And have we got our
Royal Marine boat back from the Iranians?
Dr. Gooderham: Not to my knowledge.
Mr. McDonald: No.
Q44 Sir John Stanley: Did the U-turn
on American policy to which you have just referred owe anything
to the British Government?
Mr. McDonald: I would not characterise
it as a U-turn, because the Americans and the Iranians have already
had some contact, including in the Iraq context. In November 2004,
there was a meeting in Sharm El-Sheikh, which brought together
Iraq's neighbours and the G8. In a meeting in New York in September
last year to discuss the compact, Secretary Rice and Foreign Minister
Mottaki were sitting in the same room, so there is a process in
place. It is significant that the Americans are making something
of itit has been part of our dialogue with thembut
there was more than one pressure. I do not think that we can claim
Q45 Sir John Stanley: Could you tell
us what the British Government are seeking from the Syrian Government?
Mr. McDonald: In relation to?
Sir John Stanley: In relation to Iraq,
Iran and Lebanon.
Mr. McDonald: I shall deal with
Iraq. There is still an ongoing problem between Syria and Iraq,
with links between Damascus and ex-Ba'athist rejectionist elements,
so that is an issue between us. There is also an issue of militants
infiltrating the Syria-Iraq border. Those are the two main things
on our minds.
Dr. Gooderham: With respect to
the Palestinians, we are looking to Syria for co-operation on
Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, both of which are housed
in Damascus. We have long felt that the Syrian Government have
considerable influence over both organisations. We would like
to see them use that influence in a constructive way to bring
about the kind of Government that would allow for a resumption
of negotiations leading to a two-state solution. That is very
much what we would like to see them do on that front.
On the Lebanon front, if we were doing
a scorecard, this would be the one on which we would have to give
the lowest marks to the Syrians. We have not seen the kind of
evidence that we were hoping to see in the wake of the war last
summer that would suggest to us that Syria is playing a constructive
role in respect of the very fragile situation in Lebanon. The
international community is working very hard to support the democratically
elected Government in Lebanon, which has been in crisis for some
months. We believe that Syria is contributing to that crisis,
and we would like to see it play a much more positive role in
bringing the Ministers who have left the Government back into
the Government and allowing that Government then to govern as
Q46 Sir John Stanley: Do you consider
that the Syrian Government has ruled out the possibility of a
return of Syrian military forces into the Lebanon?
Dr. Gooderham: I would not want
to use the words "ruled out". One would like to think
that, after leaving Lebanon in the wake of the assassination of
former Prime Minister Hariri, that that is itthey are not
planning to return again. We have not seen any evidence to suggest
that they are planning a return; it would clearly be a very negative
step if they were to do that.
Q47 Mr. Purchase: Turning to Egyptlong
a major player in the Middle East and a helpful player in terms
of Palestine and Israelrecent developments have made life
more difficult. Hamas is now in control in Gaza and the strip
to Egypt and there are traditional links between Hamas and the
Muslim Brotherhood. It is Egypt's belief, view and evidence that
an inhibiting factor to its becoming an increasingly democratic
state is the presence of the Muslim Brotherhood and its activities.
Given all of that, is the relationship with Hamas and Egypt under
a great deal of stress? Is there any prospect of continuing discussion
there, if nowhere else? They have some mutually dependent activities,
particularly in relation to Gaza. How do you see that developing
over the next few months?
Dr. Gooderham: You have characterised
it very well. Egypt enjoys a difficult relationship with Hamas.
The Egyptians have been for some time, and continue to be, active
behind the scenes in trying to get a grip, as it were, on the
security situation, particularly in Gaza. They are certainly very
active as a member of the so-called Arab quartet to that end.
There was a recent Quartet meeting in Berlin last week. One of
the agreements that came out of the trilateral meetings between
Rice, Abbas and Olmert is that the quadrilateral committee, which
involves the three plus Egypt, should reconvene to try to tackle
the growing problem of the smuggling of arms from Egypt into Gaza,
which all concerned, including President Abbas, are very worried
about. That is precisely the sort of area where Egypt can play
a very positive role.
Q48 Mr. Purchase: Just to develop
things a little from there, as we mentioned earlier, Egypt has
played a key and helpful role in the Israel-Palestine conflict
for many years. Given the situation that we have been referring
toHamas and the Muslim Brotherhooddo you believe
that Egypt can still be seen as a key diplomatic broker in those
circumstances between Palestine and Israel?
Dr. Gooderham: Very much. It is
hard to imagine that an Israel-Palestine political process would
get very far without the active support of the Egyptian Government.
That is why we are so pleased to see them as actively engaged
as they are. It seems to us that they are a central player.
Q49 Mr. Horam: Looking at this in
context, do you regard this period as a bad one for the resolution
of the Palestinian-Israeli problems? Is it particularly bad because
of the weakness of the respective Governmentsthe Palestinian
authority and the Israeli sideand something that we have
to live with for a bit longer, or what?
Dr. Gooderham: We would not want
to conclude that we just have to live with it. That is a counsel
of despair, and we would not want to conclude thus. However, clearly,
in historical terms, the last few years have not been good. As
I said earlier, if you regard the effort made by President Clinton
leading up to Camp David in 2000 as the point at which we got
closest to the establishment of a Palestinian state, we have been
going backwards since then. Simon referred earlier to Prime Minister
Olmert's commitment to disengagement. Clearly, Israel has got
out of Gaza, at least in the sense that the settlements have been
removed and there is no permanent military presence in Gaza. Our
hope since then has been that we can get back to a situation at
which the next stage in the process can resume. We believe that
the way to achieve that is through direct negotiations between
the Israelis and the Palestinians, involving the United States
and others as necessary.
Q50 Mr. Horam: Is there not a vicious
circle in the sense that the difficulties that we now face in
Palestine and Israel are hitting back on Iraq and on Lebanon and
Dr. Gooderham: It is certainly
true to say that all of those issues are linked. That is the argument
of many who follow developments in the region, and we would agree
with it. The Israel-Palestine issue is so central to the future
of the region in general that it is widely accepted that, if we
could resolve it, although that would not resolve all the other
issues in the regionit would be naive to suppose thatit
would have a very positive impact. Conversely, if we are not able
to resolve it, it will remain the cancer in the region that is
responsible for so much anger and hostility. That is why we
are not alone in believing that we have to do everything that
we can to try to resolve the issue.
Q51 Chairman: Can I finally ask you
how much you think the Sunni-Shi'a conflict in Iraq and, potentially,
in Lebanon could damage the wider prospects for a political solution
in the region? Obviously, the Gulf Co-operation Council states
are very nervous about Iran. You referred to the Arab quartet.
The interesting thing is that all those countries are Sunni. Is
there a hidden Sunni agenda on the wider concerns in the Arab
world about not just Iranian influence, but internal Sunni-Shi'a
conflicts in some of the Gulf states and Saudi Arabia and on what
is happening in Iraq and Lebanon?
Dr. Gooderham: Simon will want
to say something, I am sure, about Iraq specifically. On the region
in general, yes, of course everybody who has an interest in stability
and prosperity is worried about the prospect of sectarian conflict
breaking out, whether just in individual spots or, worse still,
across the whole region. I am sure that that is a strong motivation
for the Arab Governments that we have been discussing to want
to get on top of issues such as Palestine, Lebanon and, indeed,
Mr. McDonald: Clearly, there are
severe problems between the Sunni and the Shi'a in Iraq. However,
it is essential that the situation should not break down into
a Sunni-Shi'a civil war. I do not think that we are there yet.
A key feature of the Baghdad security plan that is now under way
is that the Government of Iraq as a wholeSunni-Shi'aare
implementing that plan in an even-handed way against militants
in both Shi'a and Sunni communities. They are not targeting only
one group. So the Government as a whole are coping with their
Today, I have just come from lunch with Speaker
al-Mashhadani, who is a Sunni, and he is leading a delegation
of Iraqi MPsMembers of the Council of Representativesand
they come from all confessional backgrounds. A woman was also
part of the delegation. Over lunch, they had a regular old ding-dong,
but these people from different backgrounds are now prepared to
debate and discuss matters. That is what we have to work with
and work on, so that they cope with the differences through debate,
not through violence.
Q52 Richard Younger-Ross: You used
the term "civil war", although it is not a civil war.
How would we know when it was a civil war? How would you define
Mr. McDonald: I would define a
civil war as rival centres of power competingas with the
Wars of the Roses in England, or the religious wars in Germany
in the 17th centurybut this is still fighting within one
polity. I do not think that the battle lines are drawn between
bits of territory within Iraq. It is still a unitary country.
There is still a Government with all confessions represented,
and that is the focus. There is no rival Government that is out
there and seeking to topple this legitimately elected Government.
Chairman: Thank you. No doubt, we will
have many opportunities to come back on that issue and the other
issues that we have touched on. Mr. McDonald and Dr. Gooderham,
thank you very much for coming today. We will now adjourn for
a couple of minutes, to allow our other witnesses to come to the
front. Anybody who wishes to leave, please leave nowthat
will save us a lot of time.