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The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (David Miliband): Dr. el-Baradei, the International Atomic Energy Agency director general, reported on Iran’s nuclear programme on 26 May. I spoke to him last week about his report. He confirmed that Iran had failed to suspend enrichment-related activities; had made no progress on transparency measures, for which the United Nations Security Council and the IAEA had called; and had failed to answer the IAEA’s questions relating to studies with a possible military dimension. He said that these studies were a “matter of serious concern”, and they are the subject of continuing IAEA investigation.

Mr. Mackay: Why did the Prime Minister say on 16 June, after his meeting with President George Bush, that that day he would take action that would immediately freeze the assets of Iran’s biggest bank, Bank Melli, when many days later that clearly still has not happened?

David Miliband: I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman says that has not happened, because there was political agreement at the Foreign Affairs Council that I attended last Monday, and yesterday the formal technical procedure that froze the assets of Bank Melli went through the European Union. I would have thought that that would be welcomed in all parts of the House.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): The Foreign Secretary will have seen the reports over the weekend that the Israeli Government were carrying out exercises that suggested a possible long-term intention to attack Iran and her nuclear establishment. Will the Foreign Secretary make every effort to persuade the Israeli Government that such an action would be profoundly unwise?

David Miliband: I am very happy to confirm to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that we are 100 per cent. committed to the pursuit of a diplomatic resolution to the problem in respect of Iran’s nuclear intentions, which are, of course, a threat to stability right across the region. There is now an ever wider coalition ready to put pressure on the Iranian regime, and also to try to make it clear to the Iranian people that a major offer of economic, cultural and scientific co-operation is waiting for them. The economic malaise that currently afflicts Iran is the result of the choices made by the Iranian Government, but there is an alternative for them, and we are committed to make sure that the sanctions and incentives reflect that.

Mr. David Lidington (Aylesbury) (Con): The Foreign Secretary will recall that the Prime Minister promised in his Mansion house speech last November tougher sanctions on oil and gas investment in Iran, and yet only last week in his joint press conference with President Bush, the Prime Minister said:

I wonder whether the Foreign Secretary can explain the reasons for this seven-month delay, and does he accept that if Ministers threaten sanctions and then fail to deliver them, all they end up doing is undermining the credibility of any threat this country can make?


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David Miliband: I am genuinely sorry that the hon. Gentleman has taken that tack because actually there is agreement across the House that a sanctions and incentives dual track is the right approach to Iran. There is agreement—from Iran to the United States, to this country and to any independent observer—that the sanctions are having an effect on the Iranian economy. The Bank Melli decision has been implemented, as of yesterday, and UN resolution 1803 has been fully implemented and the further sanctions to which he referred. Although the International Atomic Energy Agency discussions were completed only in May, there is the report to the IAEA board, and, as I said, UN sanctions resolution 1803 is now to be implemented. There should be a shared commitment to see those fully in force. The fact that, side by side with those measures, there is a revived offer to Iran is a good thing, not a bad thing, and I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman has tried to create division about that.

Lebanon

9. Mr. Andrew Love (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op): What assessment he has made of the prospects for achieving sustainable peace in Lebanon following its recent presidential elections. [213064]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (David Miliband): The Doha accord and the election of President Sleiman were important steps forward for Lebanon, but the situation remains extremely fragile. It is now vital that a national unity Government be formed as soon as possible. During my recent visit to Lebanon earlier this month, I underlined my strong support for President Sleiman and Prime Minister Siniora, including through $4 million of UK support to the Lebanese security sector that will be so important in rebuilding the confidence of the citizens of that country in their armed forces.

Mr. Love: We certainly do need to rebuild confidence, because earlier this year they had gone to the brink, almost reaching civil war. The Doha agreement has proved the way forward, yet the situation remains deeply unstable and tense; indeed, I understand that troops were called out onto the streets of Tripoli today. What more can my right hon. Friend do, particularly in using his good offices, to ensure that a Government are elected at the earliest opportunity? That is the way that we can bring greater stability not only to Lebanon but throughout the middle east.

David Miliband: I know that my hon. Friend has championed the importance of Lebanon not just to the Lebanese people but in terms of security and stability across the middle east, and he is absolutely right to do so. I think that it is the nomination of a Government that is currently held up, and I spoke to Prime Minister Siniora about that when I was in Lebanon and last week, in advance of yesterday’s and today’s conference in Austria on the rebuilding of the Palestinian refugee camps. The nomination of the Government will take place and, next year, there will also be elections for a new Government. I very much hope that all the parties will recognise their interest in pursuing a stable strategy in advance of those elections, and in allowing them to take place in conditions as close to normality—certainly without violence—as possible.


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Topical Questions

T1. [213045] Mr. Robert Goodwill (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con): If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (David Miliband): I spoke in the House yesterday of the appalling campaign of state-sponsored violence that made a free vote in Zimbabwe impossible. I welcome yesterday’s UN presidential statement, the first from the UN Security Council, condemning the violence and demanding that the Zimbabwean Government respect basic political freedoms. Regional and international partners need urgently to ensure that the democratically elected will of the people of Zimbabwe, reflected in the results of the 29 March election, be respected.

Mr. Goodwill: In the past, the British Government have been accused of pussyfooting around the issue of human rights in Uzbekistan, partly because of the need for the Americans to use bases in that country. What is the current assessment of political and human rights in that country, in particular with regard to child labour in the cotton fields?

The Minister for Europe (Mr. Jim Murphy): The hon. Gentleman is correct about the worrying reports of human rights abuse in Uzbekistan as detailed in the Foreign Office’s annual report on human rights. We raise this issue regularly, bilaterally and multilaterally. There are very worrying reports of child labour in the cotton industry. We have raised these matters with the Government, but we also support the demand of UNICEF and the International Labour Organisation for an external examination and oversight of what is happening in the Uzbek cotton industry, so that those reports can be discounted or proven once and for all, and then action can be taken.

T2. [213047] Phil Wilson (Sedgefield) (Lab): Will the Foreign Secretary comment on the capacity of the Palestinian Authority to provide security for their own people, and outline what came of the Berlin security conference?

David Miliband: My hon. Friend raises a very important point. I was able to see for myself in Jenin the real efforts being made by the Palestinian security forces, and I am pleased to say that those are successful efforts to bring new security to that city and effectively to end the occupation. For the first time in the occupied Palestinian territories, there has been a withdrawal of Israeli defence force troops and the installation of the Palestinian security forces. We are big sponsors of the Palestinian security forces financially, but also through the mentors whom we provide there. I believe that my hon. Friend the Minister for the Middle East discussed the matter with Prime Minister Fayad last night in Berlin. The critical thing is that the successes in Jenin are now repeated in other parts of the west bank.

Mr. William Hague (Richmond, Yorks) (Con): May I join the Foreign Secretary in welcoming the UN presidential statement on Zimbabwe and ask him whether the Government will now put forward a concrete set of proposals for European Union sanctions on the Mugabe
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regime that are more serious, more far-reaching and more rigorously applied than anything that we have seen in the past? Will they include, in particular, a full visa ban for Mugabe, his officials and their families and associates, a range of financial measures, including an assets freeze on institutions complicit in the regime’s abuses and a ban on their transactions, and a guarantee that there will be no more invitations to European Union summits for a criminal Government who have lost all legitimacy?

David Miliband: I am pleased to tell the right hon. Gentleman that no such summit is currently in prospect. I can assure him that all the options that he has described will be discussed at European Union level; last night, I spoke to the Dutch Foreign Minister. This is not Britain against Zimbabwe; the whole of the European Union now wants to recognise the importance of the situation. On the basis of two recent phone conversations and exchanges with Mr. Kouchner, the French Foreign Minister, I am pleased to say that the incoming French presidency wants to give this matter priority too.

Mr. Hague: We hope that these measures will be not only options but British and French proposals in the coming days. May I additionally ask the Foreign Secretary, particularly in the light of the African National Congress statement today, which is much more critical than the South African Government have been of the situation in Zimbabwe, whether he has had any indication of any change in South Africa’s policy? Given that President Mbeki has been invited to the G8 summit in two weeks’ time, where Africa and development is on the agenda, will the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary try to ensure that the G8 communiqué calls specifically on all nations present at that summit to cease any actions that prop up a regime that is doing untold damage, both to Africa and to development, and thus give appropriate voice to world opinion on the conduct of the South African Government?

David Miliband: I think the whole House united yesterday in recognising the importance of South Africa to change in Zimbabwe. The right hon. Gentleman asked whether I had been given any indications about a change in the South African attitude, perhaps suggesting some private conversations. One can look at the public actions of South Africa, notably in the UN Security Council yesterday, when the presidential statement was published—it is available on the website—by unanimity. South Africa and China, countries that were mentioned in yesterday’s discussion, signed up to language condemning the Mugabe regime, both for its humanitarian abuses and for the way in which it tried to rig the election—or made the election impossible— and calling on African leaders to take steps forward. On the G8, the Prime Minister and I will certainly be arguing for the most effective and strongest possible G8 and G8 plus five communiqué to address all our responsibilities to tackle those issues.

T3. [213048] David Wright (Telford) (Lab): On one of the hottest days of the year so far, may I turn the minds of Ministers towards Antarctica—the two are, of course, linked? What are we doing to preserve the great wilderness that is Antarctica and to ensure that we use the resources that are there in abundance very carefully?


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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Meg Munn): It is a pleasure to answer my first ever question on Antarctica. The protection of the Antarctic environment is enormously important and is provided through the 1991 protocol on environmental protection to the Antarctic treaty. My hon. Friend will know, given his interest, that that treaty has so far been successful in preserving Antarctica as a natural resource devoted to peace and science. It is an example of the international community working together to achieve that aim, and I assure him that this Government will continue to give it their full support.

Mr. John Baron (Billericay) (Con): The Iranian Government are reportedly sympathetic to the idea of an international consortium enriching uranium on Iranian soil. Given that that would allow western powers to be involved with, and to oversee, enrichment and the harnessing of nuclear power for civilian use, would the British Government back such an idea?

David Miliband: The hon. Gentleman will know from the package that was presented to the Iranian Government 10 days ago, and has now been published right round the world, that we believe that there is a future for civilian nuclear power generation in Iran. However, the history of Iran’s failure to be open and transparent with the international community about its nuclear intentions has gravely undermined confidence. Therefore, at this stage it is right to talk openly and plainly about continued commitment to shipments of uranium into Iran, for example for the Bushehr reactor, for which the Russians are responsible. It is right that we are willing to open discussions with the Iranians should they first freeze and then suspend their uranium enrichment programme. It is premature for us to say that we know that there is one single answer of the sort to which the hon. Gentleman refers. We have to recognise that confidence has been gravely undermined and needs to be rebuilt step by step as the Iranians show themselves to be a trustworthy partner of the international community.

T5. [213050] Anne Moffat (East Lothian) (Lab): What confidence does my hon. Friend have that the figures given by the Colombian Government on the deaths of trade unionists are accurate, given that Amnesty International reports that many more deaths have occurred? Imagine the atrocity of people losing their lives just because they are trade union members.

The Minister for the Middle East (Dr. Kim Howells): The murder of trade unionists and human rights workers in Colombia is an issue of great concern. I have seen various figures and the picture is far from clear, but the bottom line is that a single murder of a trade unionist or a human rights defender is one too many. My hon. Friend will know that, whichever figures one takes, the number of such killings was falling year on year until this year. I am sure that she will share our great concern that the trend has been reversed and, as I did in April, I call on the Colombian Government to do everything that they can to ensure that those in Colombia who fight to defend human rights are able to do their work in safety and without fear.

Mr. Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton) (LD): What is the Foreign Secretary doing to end the scandalous situation in which a British bank—Barclays—still bankrolls
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Mugabe’s thugs by operating through a local subsidiary, thereby bypassing EU sanctions on Zimbabwe? Why has action not yet been taken to deal with that insidious loophole at either the UK or the EU level? Will he condemn that practice which flouts the spirit if not the letter of the sanctions against Zanu-PF’s leaders?

David Miliband: I condemn anything that gives financial or moral succour to Zanu-PF leaders. As far as I am aware—and I am happy to take new information if the hon. Gentleman has it, and follow it up—we know of no British company that is breaking the sanctions regime.

In respect of companies that are using subsidiaries or other means, I would want to look at the details of any individual case. The details are important, because there is the question of employment and support for ordinary Zimbabweans as well as succour for the regime. However, we utterly condemn anything that gives support to the regime.

T6. [213051] Mr. Andrew Love (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op): My hon. Friends will be aware of the ceasefire in Burundi between the FNL and the Government. Hopes are high that that will lead to peace talks and a settlement, but we have been here before. Critical to any success will be the reintegration of the FNL combatants into Burundi society. What efforts are Ministers making to assist in the peace process and, perhaps more importantly, to help Burundi reintegrate people into society after the civil war?

Meg Munn: We too are optimistic about the peace process and the UK Government will continue to support the Government and people of Burundi in terms of that process. We are expecting about 150,000 refugees to return to Burundi this year, and my hon. Friend will know that that means that the rate of return has increased considerably. The UK provided £1.1 million in October 2007 for cash grants for those returning refugees.

Mr. Stephen Crabb (Preseli Pembrokeshire) (Con): If the catastrophe and suffering in Burma are not sufficient, and the bloodshed, violence and economic destruction taking place in Zimbabwe are not sufficient, can the Minister please tell us what set of circumstances would warrant intervention under the doctrine of responsibility to protect?

David Miliband: We did not manage to get to this question in the first 45 minutes, and the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise it. As he knows from the debates we had about Burma, we are ready to use the full force of international law. Of course, the responsibility to protect has legal aspects as well as political aspects—those legal aspects include proof of crimes against humanity, war crimes or ethnic cleansing.

Because Zimbabwe is not a signatory to the International Criminal Court, the hon. Gentleman will know that a UN Security Council resolution is required for any referral. He will know from yesterday’s statement that we have been working very hard to get Zimbabwe on to the Security Council agenda and that that has not been possible until now—never mind getting a Security Council resolution with a reference to the ICC. However, the UN’s call for humanitarian envoys to be sent to Zimbabwe to assess the situation is the first step towards not only exposing the regime but making possible any referral such as that to which he refers.


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T7. [213052] Ann McKechin (Glasgow, North) (Lab): Given the adoption of the new constitution in Kosovo, will my right hon. Friend comment on the progress of the withdrawal of the UN forces and the deployment of the new EU mission?

David Miliband: My hon. Friend makes an important point. The untold tale of the past three months is the lack of violence in Kosovo. The fact that 120 days have gone by since the declaration of independence—15 June marked that date—is very significant. This week, the Secretary-General of the UN will be taking forward the commitments in his report on the reconfiguration of the UN force into an EU presence right across Kosovo, respecting the need to ensure that there are no parallel security structures or alternative state structures in Kosovo. That is a major issue for the completion of the process of reconstruction in the former Yugoslavia and the western Balkans. It is a major achievement for European security and defence policy because the stability that now exists, although it is fragile in all sorts of ways, represents the best hope for Kosovo and its newly independent authority and Government.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): Will the Foreign Secretary give the House an undertaking that Zimbabwe will remain at the top of the Government’s agenda until Mugabe has been removed from office and that there will be no question of giving help, aid or succour of any sort to other African leaders who make any attempt to sustain him in office?

David Miliband: Yes, certainly. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree that Zimbabwe should remain at the top of our agenda beyond the date of the end of the Mugabe regime. Both sides of the House recognised yesterday that the massive reconstruction job is one in which we are not monopoly players—we are not the sole players—but I hope that we will be significant players in supporting a decent Government for those decent people in Zimbabwe who desperately need the help of not only Britain but all the richer countries, and certainly all their neighbours.


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