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David Miliband: I think that US-Russia relations are, in the first instance, a matter for the US and for Russia, but we can contribute by engaging Russia in debates about the future of the international system, of which it forms an important part. Secondly, we can ensure that nuclear non-proliferation remains at the heart of a shared agenda with Russia. Thirdly, we need to continue to give help—through the G8, for example—to the disarmament that Russia continues to take forward. There are obviously responsibilities on Russia as well: the President of Russia says that he does not want a new cold war, although the speech he gave last week was an odd way of showing it. It is important that Russia fulfils its responsibilities to the international system.

Mr. Peter Kilfoyle (Liverpool, Walton) (Lab): Are we not becoming enmeshed in American missile defence—without the debate promised by former Prime Minister Blair? Given President-elect Obama’s express doubts about missile defence and given that it is grossly expensive, hugely ineffective and extremely destabilising for Europe, should it not be a priority of our Government, working with the new American Administration, to look for a more constructive collective approach to security concerns?

David Miliband: In tandem with the new Administration, we will certainly look into a whole range of nuclear proliferation issues, including ballistic missile defence. I would say to my hon. Friend, however, that the countries in central and eastern Europe that are siting those missiles are taking sovereign decisions about their own security and defence. Furthermore, the current Administration in Washington offered to run the ballistic missile defence system jointly with the Russians, so it is a pity that the Russians did not take up that offer.

Sir Malcolm Rifkind (Kensington and Chelsea) (Con): Does the Foreign Secretary agree that an urgent priority for the Obama presidency—and, indeed, for that matter, for the British Government—is to ensure that we do not extend NATO membership to countries unless we are prepared ultimately to go to war in their defence? As there is not the slightest possibility of either the United States or the countries of western Europe going to war over countries such as Georgia or those like it whose territorial integrity might be threatened, will the right hon. Gentleman discuss with the American Administration other ways of enhancing the security of Georgia—by accelerating its membership of the EU, for example, as well as through other initiatives?

David Miliband: Yes, we will discuss a whole range of ways in which Russia’s neighbouring countries can give greater security and support—political and economic, including through the EU, as well as on the security front. We should certainly not welcome people into NATO unless they are willing to live up to all the obligations. I would say, however, that when the three Baltic countries joined NATO 10 years ago, many people asked whether they could ever be properly bound into a western security architecture, yet they have been—and they are far more secure for it. I absolutely assure the right hon. and learned Gentleman that the Georgian and Ukrainian cases will be decided on the basis of their merits, their capacity and the determination of their population to join. These countries must want to join; it is not just a matter of whether we allow them to.

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Colin Burgon (Elmet) (Lab): President-elect Obama made absolutely clear his condemnation of the assassination of trade unionists in Columbia in Latin America. Does not that condemnation provide the opportunity to reposition ourselves in Columbia? If any assistance we gave went not to the military but to the social partners, the trade unionists, in Columbia, would we not at last be on the right side of the argument in that country?

David Miliband: I can say that, publicly and privately, we have been condemning the killing of trade unionists in Colombia for a long time, and will continue to do so. I can also say that the only military aid that we give to Colombia is for de-mining and human rights training; there is no question of the money leaking into other activities. We will certainly continue to press for reform in Colombia, because it is greatly needed.

Mr. Simon Burns (West Chelmsford) (Con): Does the Foreign Secretary agree that the election of President-elect Obama offers a golden opportunity for a fresh start in the middle east? Will he and the Government, and Tony Blair in his role with the Quartet, seek to persuade the President-elect not to lose sight of the actions that are needed so urgently in the middle east as he concentrates on sorting out the domestic problems in the United States?

David Miliband: Yes. We have already addressed that issue once today, and I addressed it on election day, but we need the engagement of the American Administration from day one. If there is any lesson to be learnt from the Annapolis process, it is that it is not possible to wait until year seven to become fully engaged with the middle east.

Mr. Tom Clarke (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that this is an appropriate time to encourage the American Administration to become more positively involved in international development issues, including conflict prevention and the implementation of the millennium development goals?

David Miliband: I do think it is important that America becomes fully engaged with development issues, and the size of its economy gives it a unique capacity to do so. Let me say to my right hon. Friend—I hope that he will still talk to me when I have said this—that of all the things the Bush Administration did, one of the most significant was their work on health issues. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] It would be nice to see a few of my hon. Friends expressing agreement as well. I am trying to persuade them.

May I draw to my right hon. Friend’s attention—in the nicest possible way, and without asking him to sign up to anything else—the significance of the $5 billion PETFAR health programme? Perhaps the best way of doing that is to point out that it provides an excellent basis on which the Obama Administration can build in strong and dramatic ways.

Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh) (Con): One of the foreign policy challenges that the United States Administration will face is the deteriorating situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that the European Union and the new Administration should work together to prevent Bosnia from sliding back into crisis? Can he assure the House that the Office of the High Representative will remain open, and
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that there will be no question of withdrawing EU troops from Bosnia until genuine stability is returned and reforms are under way?

David Miliband: The hon. Gentleman will be pleased to know that the message of support for the five objectives and two conditions was at the heart of my visit to Bosnia yesterday. In meetings with leaders of all six political parties, I made absolutely clear our determination to follow up the letter that I composed jointly with the Czech Foreign Minister in July about the importance of the EU focusing on the Bosnia issue and the importance of sticking to the conditions that we have outlined for the future of the Office of the High Representative. I also spent two hours on the plane with the High Representative himself, discussing how he could work with the EU to ensure that his mandate was properly fulfilled.


4. Alun Michael (Cardiff, South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op): What steps his Department is taking to encourage the Somali community in the UK to engage with helping Somaliland to develop its place in the world. [234531]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Gillian Merron): My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary was glad to join my right hon. Friend in meeting members of the Somaliland community in Cardiff last month to discuss links between the community and Somaliland. We are keen to encourage further links with the community, and are planning further meetings with officials.

Alun Michael: I am sure that the whole House will wish to send its sympathy to the people of Somaliland following the recent suicide bombings that disrupted the peace and development of democratic institutions which had continued for the past 18 years. When our right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary visited Cardiff recently, he met leaders of the Somali community. I was particularly proud of the young Somali women from Fitzalan high school and the young Somali men from Butetown and Grangetown who said that they wanted to help build links back into the Somaliland community. Will Ministers encourage the diaspora to become involved particularly in work with schools in Somaliland, and will my hon. Friend join me in considering the possibility of internet links to help build pupil-to-pupil and teacher-to-teacher contacts between us and Somaliland?

Gillian Merron: We also condemn the appalling bombings, and I join my right hon. Friend in offering condolences and sympathy to all those affected. I also commend my right hon. Friend for the work he does in support of Somaliland, and I share his view that fostering links between young people is crucial. I am glad that, under the Department for International Development global schools partnership programmes, four primary schools in Somaliland are linked with primary schools in Cardiff, involving some 4,000 children in Somaliland. We also need to have virtual links between schools, so I am glad that the British Council is developing the online element of its connecting classrooms programme, to enable links to be made between parts of the world, particularly those areas where travel is dangerous.

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Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): What work is the Foreign Office doing on failed and failing states such as Somalia?

Gillian Merron: We constantly work with relevant Governments and non-governmental organisations to support the development of governance and the rule of law and the improvement of the lives of the people in those areas.

Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North) (Lab): Further to that question, what specifically are the Government doing to find a way forward in resolving the conflict in Somalia, which has real strategic implications not only for the horn of Africa, but beyond that for east Africa as well?

Gillian Merron: My hon. Friend is right to express that concern, and the UK is keen to help Somaliland continue to make progress. That is difficult, particularly where there are setbacks, such as on human rights. A political solution is what is needed, and we work with all our international partners to get that, and we seek the support of the African Union to ensure that Somalia and Somaliland find the correct political solution in the interests of all their people.

UK-Pakistan Relations

6. Justine Greening (Putney) (Con): What recent discussions he has had with his counterpart in Pakistan on UK-Pakistan relations. [234533]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Bill Rammell): My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has discussed UK-Pakistan relations with Foreign Minister Qureshi on a number of occasions, and with President Zardari during the Friends of Pakistan meeting in September. We have a broad range of common interests, including the international financial crisis and the need to combat the threat from violent extremism.

Justine Greening: The Minister will be aware that there is a significant Ahmadiyya community across this country, which is based in Southfields in my constituency. Is he raising the issue of the persecution of that community in Pakistan? If so, is he aware that recently two members of that community were brutally murdered in Pakistan? However, that is just the extreme end of a broader pattern of persecution that takes place daily. Will he raise this specific issue with the Pakistan Government to find out what pressure can be brought to bear to deal with this problem?

Bill Rammell: I agree with the hon. Lady: we are concerned about the two recent murders in the Ahmadiyya community. We fundamentally support religious freedom, and with our European Union partners we regularly raise concerns about the treatment of minority groups with the Government of Pakistan, and have stressed the fundamental interplay that exists between long-term security, a stable democracy and the importance of guaranteeing the rights and political participation of all Pakistani citizens. We will continue to make that argument.

Mr. Khalid Mahmood (Birmingham, Perry Barr) (Lab): Is my hon. Friend aware that the British embassy in Islamabad has stopped taking applications from Mirpur,
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which has made it extremely difficult for people there to have applications processed, as the nearest places at present are Lahore or the United Arab Emirates? Since there have been no terrorist activities in Mirpur, that situation should not continue.

Bill Rammell: I understand my hon. Friend’s concerns, and I know he has expressed them on a number of occasions. There is a balance to be struck. There are logistical and security concerns about the issuing of visas. We keep matters under review, but the current situation is as it stands.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): Is the Minister aware that last week 14 new members of the Pakistan National Assembly were here in our Parliament under the auspices of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association UK branch? They were particularly interested in the development and evolution of parliamentary democracy in their country. They were also interested to know why in the past we supported in Pakistan an individual who certainly did not support parliamentary democracy. Is it our view that we can develop with the Government of Pakistan an improvement in parliamentary democracy in that country?

Bill Rammell: I certainly agree with the hon. Gentleman that visits such as that organised by the CPA are particularly important. We both want to support the development of democracy in Pakistan, which is a key facet of our bilateral relationship.

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley) (Lab): I am sure that my hon. Friend will be interested to know that several Pakistani MPs attended an Inter-Parliamentary Union human rights conference in Geneva last week. They thanked the IPU for the role that it had played in trying to help President Zardari, who had spent all those long years in jail, to get a fair trial. They singled out the IPU in particular, because they said that no other organisation gave assistance in the same way. What news does my hon. Friend have about the reinstatement of the judges in Pakistan, because it was of considerable concern to this country when, under emergency rule, they were all dismissed?

Bill Rammell: I share my right hon. Friend’s regard for the IPU’s work, not only in Pakistan but across the world. During the coalition discussions to resolve the issue of the restoration of the judiciary we certainly reiterated our position of attaching great importance to respect for the independence of the judiciary as a cornerstone of the rule of law. We supported the efforts of coalition leaders to find a solution. That remains our position, and we are pushing that argument forward very strongly.

Mr. Paul Goodman (Wycombe) (Con): Has the Minister had an opportunity to discuss with his Pakistani counterparts the effect of recent US military strikes on Pakistan? Could he tell us the Government’s view of military action that takes place in Pakistan that is not authorised or approved by its Government?

Bill Rammell: That is an operational matter—[Hon. Members: “It is not.”] It is an operational matter that should be, and is, discussed between the Pakistani authorities and the United States. The Government of Pakistan are making great efforts to control security in the border
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area, and it is very important that both we and the United States work closely with the Pakistani authorities in support of that.

Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): Stability in Pakistan will be difficult to achieve while the Kashmir conundrum continues. Does the Minister welcome President-elect Obama’s underlining of Kashmir as an issue that America will have to address? Does the Minister also agree that the presence of half a million Indian troops in Kashmir means that Pakistan keeps most of its military on its eastern flank, instead of focusing on its western flank and helping us in Afghanistan?

Bill Rammell: The situation in Kashmir remains an important concern, and we are urging all parties to commit themselves and to support the composite dialogue in that regard.


7. Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire) (Con): What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Defence and the Secretary of State for International Development on co-ordination of policies relating to Afghanistan. [234534]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Bill Rammell): Ministers in all three Departments regularly discuss and co-ordinate our strategy and policies on Afghanistan. To complement ministerial-level working, the cross-departmental Afghanistan senior officials group and the Afghanistan strategy group also meet regularly.

Mr. Heald: In reviewing the co-ordination efforts, will the Minister examine the US model, in which the army is able to undertake aid and reconstruction efforts? Military victories become hearts and minds victories, because local people can see positive evidence on the ground that a victory means that they get something worth while in the way of aid and reconstruction.

Bill Rammell: I agree with the hon. Gentleman’s underlying comment that there needs to be a multifaceted approach in Afghanistan. Although that has a military component, it also contains political, economic, aid and other elements. There needs to be a follow-on from military activities, and we are very much engaged in that area.

Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South) (Lab): When the Foreign Secretary meets President Karzai, will he take the opportunity to address the issue of the number of people in Afghanistan awaiting the death sentence? I understand that the judges have dramatically increased that number, to 125 or so. Can he make specific approaches to Afghanistan not to go down a route that would bring such international opprobrium?

Bill Rammell: I know that my hon. Friend takes a real interest in these issues, and we have been consistent in articulating our policy on the death penalty. We have also raised specific concerns, for example about the case of the journalists, and we will continue to put forward our view to President Karzai and other members of his Government.

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