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House of Commons

Tuesday 11 November 2008

The House met at half-past Two o’clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

The Secretary of State was asked—

Middle East

1. Mr. Richard Spring (West Suffolk) (Con): What recent assessment he has made of the prospects for peace in the middle east; and if he will make a statement. [234527]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (David Miliband): The Annapolis process has been a first step in restoring trust between the parties. We should try to build on it to create a process that can deliver a broader peace, in which all exercise their rights and fulfil their responsibilities. That would be a true settlement between Israel and all Arab states. I hope that it will be given new momentum from the beginning of the new Administration in the United States.

Mr. Spring: Following the Syrian Foreign Minister’s recent visit to London, how will the Foreign Secretary develop that specific relationship, especially in encouraging the Syria-Israel dialogue, which Turkey brokered?

David Miliband: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. First, we will seek to continue to say to the Syrians that they have important responsibilities in the middle east, notably in respect of relations with Iraq and with Lebanon, as well as with Israel, but that they also have much to gain from a comprehensive settlement—the Arab peace initiative provides an important basis for that.

Secondly, I met the Turkish Foreign Minister last Friday. Turkey has brokered the four rounds of peace talks between Syria and Israel, and I urged him to continue his important work. When I am in Israel next week, I shall also urge the Israelis to continue that important track in the peace process.

Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): Does my right hon. Friend share my concern that, today, at a rally in Ramallah, President Abbas told the thousands of people gathered there:

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the martyrs—

David Miliband: I have not seen that quotation. As soon as Question Time is over, I will try to find out the details. I believe that hon. Members of all parties have felt that President Abbas is, in the words of the Israeli Prime Minister, “a soldier in the army of peace.” My hon. Friend has given a striking quotation, and I will investigate it as soon as I am back in the office.

Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes) (Con): Does the Foreign Secretary genuinely believe that, in the two-state solution, it is possible to negotiate a viable and autonomous Palestine, without involving all the representative elements of the Palestinian people, including Hamas, which has recently said that it envisages a Palestinian state existing alongside an Israel based on the 1967 borders?

David Miliband: The Palestinian people need to be represented by a single authority and a single elected leader, and that is President Abbas, about whom we have just been talking. Hamas has the opportunity to join reconciliation talks under Egyptian auspices. The position that President Abbas outlined is an important signal, but it needs to be followed through. That is the basis on which the Palestinians will get the state that they deserve and need, and that the whole region needs.

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): Does my right hon. Friend agree that, if we are to get a satisfactory outcome in the middle east, we must engage our European colleagues more energetically? The new Minister for Europe is an energetic colleague. Could not she be sent around Europe banging heads together to get greater involvement on the issue that we are considering and other issues?

David Miliband: My right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe is many things, but a head banger is not the first phrase that comes to mind. I assure my hon. Friend that she has already toured the capitals of Europe, notably, Prague, Sofia and Paris, and I am sure that the middle east was on her agenda. My hon. Friend is right that the European Union has an important role to play. It already supports humanitarian efforts for the Palestinians and plays an important role in training Palestinian security forces, which are vital if a Palestinian state is to come into being alongside a secure Israel.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): May I say to the Foreign Secretary that it would be helpful if he could impress on his Israeli counterparts that the behaviour of the Israeli military courts in Gaza is damaging Israel’s reputation and makes the prospect of a peace settlement yet more remote?

David Miliband: The right hon. and learned Gentleman raises an important point. I will certainly discuss the situation in Gaza with the Israeli Government. We have discussed the situation of the Gazan MPs in the House before, and I will certainly raise that, too. We have discussed the humanitarian situation in Gaza, which will also be on the agenda. I will take up and look into the point that the right hon. and learned Gentleman raises.

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Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East) (Lab): Has my right hon. Friend had any talks with the Israelis about the huge number of children who are held without charge in Israeli jails, against the Geneva convention and outside the occupied territories?

David Miliband: I have not had such talks, but I am happy to take them up when I meet my Israeli counterpart next week.

Mr. David Lidington (Aylesbury) (Con): Given that only last night the Prime Minister described Iran’s nuclear ambitions as the greatest challenge to non-proliferation in the middle east and indeed the world, could the Foreign Secretary say why, a year after the Prime Minister promised further European sanctions, those sanctions are still not in place and why Iran is not even on the agenda for the EU Foreign Ministers meeting due on 11 and 12 December?

David Miliband: There certainly are further sanctions than there were a year ago, notably those exercised through Security Council resolution 1803, which has been put into practice by the European Union, but perhaps the hon. Gentleman was referring to oil and gas sanctions, which are important. He and I agree that we need to ensure that financial measures in the oil and gas sector are taken forward, and we continue to have that dialogue. We are trying to achieve unanimity across the E3 plus 3, because it is the basis on which to confront Iran. However, I assure him that the European Union is fulfilling its responsibilities. I do not know which forthcoming meeting the hon. Gentleman was referring to. The General Affairs Council met this week and I am happy to tell him that Iran is a regular topic of discussion. Indeed, I can assure him that it is certainly not suffering from a lack of focus.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

2. John Barrett (Edinburgh, West) (LD): If he will make a statement on the conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. [234528]

5. Judy Mallaber (Amber Valley) (Lab): What his most recent assessment is of the prospects for a resolution to the conflict in eastern Congo. [234532]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (David Miliband): We strongly support the regional initiative of Presidents Kikwete of Tanzania and Kibaki of Kenya. It has allowed countries in the region to discuss co-operation to end the humanitarian crisis and injected new momentum into achieving full implementation of the Nairobi communiqué and the Goma accords, which we will now take forward with President Obasanjo, the UN special envy, and ex-Tanzanian President Mkapa. My noble Friend Lord Malloch-Brown will be in the region next week to take that forward.

John Barrett: The whole House will remember what happened in 1994, when up to 800,000 people were killed in neighbouring Rwanda, after which 2 million people fled to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. What will the Secretary of State do to ensure that peacekeeping forces on the ground can take the necessary action to stop the same disaster happening again?

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David Miliband: The United Kingdom was proud to support the biggest UN operation ever, the 17,000-strong United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo—or MONUC—force, which is in the DRC. As the hon. Gentleman knows, however, we need political action, from both the DRC Government and President Kagame in Rwanda. That was the purpose of my trip to the region 10 days ago and it is the purpose of the African Union intervention, which is so significant.

Judy Mallaber: What scope is there for the AU and the EU to work together and use their joint influence on the Congolese and Rwandan Governments? In particular, is there any scope for co-operation in responding to the request by the head of MONUC to boost UN troops, so that there are sufficient forces in the right places to deal with the insurgents and rebels, who are causing so much havoc and terror in the area?

David Miliband: My hon. Friend makes an important point about AU-EU collaboration. That was the purpose of my visit to Dar es Salaam, and the work of Commissioner Michel is taking the issue forward. The EU has an important role in monitoring the implementation of the Nairobi and Goma accords, as well as on the humanitarian side. It is right that the fighting force is a UN force. I do not think that we want a rival EU force. What we need is for all countries, including European countries, to think how they can contribute to the MONUC force. We are waiting for a Security Council discussion later today. The first priority is the proper and effective deployment of MONUC forces, but if it is reported that more troops are needed, different countries will have to decide how they build that up. The decision of the African Union to involve itself and say that African troops will be the first port of call for extra forces is important in that respect.

Mr. Brooks Newmark (Braintree) (Con): What pressure is being brought to bear on the DRC Government to disarm the Hutus, who are responsible for the massacre of the 800,000 Tutsis in Rwanda?

David Miliband: Eleven hundred FDLR—Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda—troops have been disarmed and repatriated to Rwanda. That is an important step forward, but everybody who meets President Kabila emphasises that it is only that—a first step. When we talk of his fulfilling his responsibilities under the Nairobi agreement, it is precisely the disarmament and repatriation of the FDLR that is at the heart of his responsibility.

Mary Creagh (Wakefield) (Lab): I thank my right hon. Friend for his efforts in the Congo. He will be aware that there have been more than 4 million excess deaths there in the past 10 years because of the chronic instability and fighting, and more than 250,000 people have now been driven from their homes. What can he do to put an end to the sexual violence, in particular, and the recruitment of child soldiers? As in all wars, it is the women and children who suffer the most.

David Miliband: My hon. Friend rightly draws attention to one of the more shocking aspects of this conflict. The conflict in the Congo has cost more lives than any other since the second world war; I think that the total is now 5 million. The best thing we can do is to have a proper ceasefire, because that is the only basis on which the rights she is talking about can be properly adhered to.

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Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP): With time being of the essence, surely it must be right for the European Union to support the United Nations and the African Union with military assistance. Is Oxfam not right to say that European

David Miliband: I do not accept that Europe is taking no action, and I do not just mean on the humanitarian side, where Europe is the largest donor to the DRC. European countries do have troops in the DRC, and we have a small number of officers helping to command the MONUC brigades there. What is important is that the UN takes a grip on this, and that the UN is the right place in which to take this forward. I hope that the hon. Gentleman would also agree that, rather than repeat the mistakes of the 1990s, when neighbours of the DRC got involved in the war instead of preventing it, it is right that a range of African countries should be the first port of call for extra troops.

Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South) (Lab): The problem with having African solutions to African problems—desirable though that is—is that, in the short term, it is going to lead to the deaths of many thousands of people. As we have seen in Darfur, the African Union lacks the capacity to intervene effectively. If intervention is to come, it will have to come from elsewhere—either through reinforcing MONUC, as my right hon. Friend has said, or through some form of EU intervention along the lines of the French Operation Artemis five years ago.

David Miliband: I think that we are looking at a rather longer-term problem than Operation Artemis. That was a time-limited, three-month operation, as my hon. Friend will know, as a distinguished former Minister for Africa. In our view, MONUC is the right place in which to situate the command structures. We do not want competing command structures, and we need to ensure that, if commanders on the ground report that they need more troops, those troops can be found.

Mr. Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton) (LD): Why is the Foreign Secretary so against an EU force, given that France, Belgium and the Netherlands have said that they are prepared to send forces, and that an EU deployment would be possible under the lead nation concept? Given the urgency of the situation, and the improbability of any immediate reinforcements coming from within the African Union, is not the Foreign Secretary indulging in dangerous wishful thinking by putting the burden of responsibility entirely on African troops?

David Miliband: I am not seeking to put any gloss on the situation: no one who has been there could fail to realise the gravity of it. There is nothing to prevent European nations from contributing to the UN MONUC force; that is the right place to do it. However, I do not think that the Foreign Ministers of some of the countries that the hon. Gentleman cites as being keen to send forces are in quite the position he believes them to be in, but let us leave that to one side. It must be right that, rather than having two fighting forces from outside, we have one, under a single UN command structure, that can deliver. That is what we are trying to do.

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Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central) (Lab): When my right hon. Friend visited Rwanda, was he able to impress upon President Kagame his view that a political solution was absolutely vital and that, just as we expect President Kabila of the DRC to play his part, President Kagame must now insist that Rwanda should be on the side of peace, not of war?

David Miliband: Yes, it is evident that Rwanda has important responsibilities in this respect, and Bernard Kouchner, the French Foreign Minister, and I certainly impressed that on President Kagame, who made it clear that he and his country would fulfil their responsibilities. That is the significance of the regional process that has now been started.

Mr. Keith Simpson (Mid-Norfolk) (Con): The Foreign Secretary has emphasised what must happen in the medium to long term, but many hon. Members on both sides of the House have highlighted the catastrophic nature of what is happening in the short term. Many of us believe that, although there are 17,000 UN troops there, they do not have a proper, effective command structure; nor are they a deterrent to General Nkunda, who has now said that, in the event of the troops bringing pressure to bear on him, he would take military action against them. In the short term, what kind of effective military deterrent can we put in place to prevent Nkunda and the others from carrying out what is effectively genocide?

David Miliband: First, it is most important to reinforce the ceasefire and, secondly, to ensure that MONUC troops are properly deployed in the areas threatened by General Nkunda. There are 5,500 troops in the north Kivu province and 76 IDP—internally displaced persons—camps there, which makes the scale of the problem evident. Thirdly, all those with links to General Nkunda need to make it absolutely clear that they will not tolerate further activities of the sort that went on last week and in previous weeks.

Anglo-American Relations

Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): What the priorities of the Government will be in their dealings with the next President of the US and his Administration. [234530]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (David Miliband): The Prime Minister spoke to President-elect Obama last Thursday and offered him his warmest congratulations on his historic campaign and victory. We look forward to working with the new Administration further to develop the uniquely comprehensive relationship between our two countries. At the top of our agenda will be the international economic crisis, the middle east peace process, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and climate change.

Simon Hughes: Following the hugely encouraging victory of Senator Obama—and, above all, in view of Armistice day, when we remember the sacrifice of so many people from this country and our allies—what will the Government do to ensure that the new Administration promote not only good relationships between this country and the USA, but better relationships between the Presidents and people of the USA and Russia, our two great wartime allies?

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