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Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): Given that the British Army is already nearly at breaking point, will the Government resist any pressure from President-elect Obama to commit more troops to the morass of Afghanistan?

Bill Rammell: Let me be clear: we need greater burden-sharing by all our partners and allies and we are not anticipating further British troop commitments at the moment. Part of the longer term solution is the development of capacity in the Afghan national army, and therefore the recent agreement by the Afghan Government to expand the army’s capacity from 80,000 to 122,000 troops is very welcome.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): The British remain in the lead on drugs interdiction. Is there any better news about our ability to bear down on that awful trade?

Bill Rammell: As I recall, the most recent United Nations survey shows a reduction of roughly 19 per cent. reduction in poppy cultivation, and the number of poppy-free provinces has increased from 13 to 18. I do not deny that we and the Afghan authorities continue to face a significant challenge, but it is fundamentally in our national interest to address it, given that 95 per cent. of the heroin that ends up on British streets derives from Afghanistan.

Ann Winterton (Congleton) (Con): The co-ordination of policy in Afghanistan is a vital issue. For example, which Department will be responsible for the security of the transmission cables from the Kajaki dam once the third turbine is up and running?

Bill Rammell: There is effective co-ordination on the ground between all the relevant Government Departments. There are regular meetings and liaison, and we will ensure that those issues are addressed.

Mark Fisher (Stoke-on-Trent, Central) (Lab): Following the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew), is it not extraordinary that the EU is making grants and encouraging people to grow poppies in this country when we are bearing down on people growing poppies in Afghanistan? Is that not most illogical?

Bill Rammell: I will come back to my hon. Friend on the details of that question. What I can say with conviction is that tackling poppy cultivation in Afghanistan remains a fundamental priority that we are taking forward with vigour.


8. Mr. Ben Wallace (Lancaster and Wyre) (Con): When he or his officials last met representatives of the Russian Government to discuss Iran. [234535]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Bill Rammell): The Foreign Secretary met his Russian opposite number on 25 September to discuss Iran. He also took part in a meeting of E3 plus 3 Foreign Ministers on 26 September. Political directors from the E3 plus 3 last met on 19 September and are scheduled to meet again on 13 November. An official from our embassy in Moscow most recently discussed Iran with the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs on 16 October.

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Mr. Wallace: Over the past few years, Russia has used energy as a weapon to bully other countries. Is it therefore a credible option to offer the Iranians Russian fuel as a way out of the nuclear impasse? Is it not about time that the United States and the west went their own way with some imaginative thinking in trying to solve the Iranian problem, rather than waiting for an ever more totalitarian Russia and an ambivalent China?

Bill Rammell: Part of the resolution of that problem has to be to ensure the meeting of the legitimate civilian nuclear needs of Iran, and Russia can be helpful in that regard. However, we should be in no doubt that significant concerns remain about the willingness of the Iranian Government to engage with safeguard provision. We need to press them through sanctions and other measures. A significant offer is on the table from the E3 plus 3 process and we have to push internationally for Iran to engage with that process.

Ms Dari Taylor (Stockton, South) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend believe that the strength of economic and political ties between Russia and Iran is undermining international sanctions aimed at putting an end to the Iranians’ development of nuclear power?

Bill Rammell: Russian has supported all five UN Security Council resolutions in respect of Iran’s nuclear obligations. It remains the case that we expect all our partners in the E3 plus 3 process to do everything possible to fulfil their commitments to stop Iran generating and developing nuclear capability.

Mr. Stephen Dorrell (Charnwood) (Con): Are the Government convinced that the objectives of Russian policy vis- -vis Iran are the same as those of Her Majesty’s Government?

Bill Rammell: On the nuclear issue, yes, I believe that that is the case. On five occasions at the Security Council Russia has voted with us in respect of those resolutions, urging Iran to engage. We expect all our partners to fulfil their commitments to stop Iran getting that nuclear capability, and we believe that they will work with us.

Kerry McCarthy (Bristol, East) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that if we want to build better co-operation with Russia on the subject of Iran and the nuclear issue, the strident anti-Russian remarks of the likes of the shadow Foreign Secretary are not at all helpful?

Mr. Speaker: Order. The remarks of the shadow Foreign Secretary are nothing to do with the Minister.

Topical Questions

T1. [234516] Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (David Miliband): Today, I led a service of remembrance in the Foreign Office for those members of the diplomatic service who have lost their lives while serving the country. I am sure that the whole House will want to express its support for the families who bear a lifetime’s burden from that loss.

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Yesterday, the General Affairs and External Relations Council of the European Union discussed Bosnia and Herzegovina, following which I visited Sarajevo, where I relayed the European Union’s deep concern at the pace of reform and the domestic political climate. The Government are committed to Bosnia and Herzegovina’s European perspective, but Bosnian politicians must find a constructive way forward within the Dayton framework.

Miss McIntosh: Today of all days, as we remember all those who have fallen in the past 90 years, will the Foreign Secretary renew with the President-elect of the United States his commitment to insist on maintaining a fair share of the burden of troops in Afghanistan and other theatres of war? Will he also take this opportunity to ensure that other European Union countries maintain their fair share of the burden?

David Miliband: It is not just the military burden that needs to be fairly shared, but the economic and political burden, too. There are 42 countries contributing militarily to the coalition and it is vital that we all play an appropriate role. President-elect Obama’s plans on the military side have received more coverage than his plans on the economic and political side, but they are equally important. We certainly propose to continue to fulfil our responsibilities.

T2.[234517] Judy Mallaber (Amber Valley) (Lab): The election of Barack Obama has been greeted with enthusiasm around the world, in part because of his acceptance of the importance of tackling climate change. What discussions are planned with the incoming US Government to promote that agenda globally?

David Miliband: My hon. Friend makes the very important point that climate change is now seen as a foreign policy and security issue, not merely an environmental issue. The first step is obviously for the European Union to agree a strong climate package in December, but we will be working with the new Administration to ensure that the efforts of American states, cities and businesses are brought together nationally and joined with European efforts.

Mr. William Hague (Richmond, Yorks) (Con): At the previous Foreign Office questions, the Foreign Secretary confirmed that the criteria for the resumption of the EU-Russia partnership talks included Russian compliance with all six points of the ceasefire agreement and the return of ethnic Georgian refugees to their homes. Russia remains in clear breach of the ceasefire agreement, because Russian troops have not withdrawn to their pre-war positions. EU ceasefire monitors are still denied entry to Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and Georgian refugees have not been able to return home, yet the Government have now agreed to the resumption of the EU partnership talks with Russia. Will the Foreign Secretary explain the consistency between his remarks in the House last month and his actions this month?

David Miliband: I rightly referred to a range of criteria that we would use, the most important of which was whether we would be able to pursue our aims in respect of the territorial integrity of Georgia through the negotiations. The current partnership and co-operation agreement—PCA—includes no mention of the territorial integrity of Georgia, whereas the mandate for the PCA
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negotiations states clearly that the Council and the Commission will pursue a settlement of the frozen conflicts in the Republic of Moldova and Georgia, respecting the principle of territorial integrity. That means that the PCA gives us the chance to take forward those principles, and that is what we will do.

Mr. Hague: I think that that answer means that the Foreign Secretary will make no attempt to explain any inconsistency between his remarks last month and his actions this month. What he said last month was in line with the EU summit of 1 September, which said that the implementation of the ceasefire agreement “has to be complete”. I realise that in the past couple of weeks he has probably been overruled by the Prime Minister—or, more alarmingly, by the Business Secretary—but does it not show extraordinary weakness for the Government and the EU to be unable to stick to a firm position for even three months on an agreement that the EU itself sponsored and negotiated? What sort of message does that send to Russia about the future? In our dealings with Russia, do we not need to demonstrate consistency and strategic patience, and does not what he has agreed make this country and our partners look incapable of either?

David Miliband: No. The right hon. Gentleman is kidding himself if he thinks that the continued suspension of the talks would punish Russia. It would not: instead, it would isolate him and, if he were standing on this side of the House, Britain. I spoke to the President of Georgia both last night and last week, and my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe met Georgia’s Foreign Minister yesterday. They did not object to the recommencement of the PCA talks, but they made it clear that they wanted economic, political and security support for Georgia’s territorial integrity. That is what we have offered: frankly, if that is good enough for them, it should be good enough for him.

T3.[234518] Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden) (Lab): I have been contacted by a large number of constituents over the past few months about the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Sri Lanka, and particularly of the Tamil community. What action will my right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe take to ensure that the plight of the Tamil community is high on the EU agenda, especially given the new French presidency?

The Minister for Europe (Caroline Flint): I thank my hon. Friend for that question. I know that she takes this matter very seriously and that she has constituents who have great concerns about the situation in Sri Lanka. The European Commissioner for External Relations, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, and the European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid, Louis Michel, have expressed concern about the situation in Sri Lanka. Both have appealed to the Sri Lankan Government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam to ensure human rights and security, in line with international humanitarian law. They are also looking at whether the funding from the EU has been accompanied by the commitment to human rights that is expected when such funding is received. I shall be happy to write to her with a further update on the matter.

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T4.[234519] Mr. Greg Hands (Hammersmith and Fulham) (Con): We heard earlier about our difficult relationship with Russia. Next week marks the second anniversary of the murder of Alexander Litvinenko in London, but the BBC World Service is axing all cultural programmes in Russian, reducing broadcasting by 19 hours a week and making a 15 per cent. head-count reduction in the Russian service. Most remarkably, the Russian language service that is broadcast into Georgia is to be moved from London and based in Moscow. Does the Minister agree that now is the time to be increasing and expanding our broadcasting into Russia, not cutting it?

Caroline Flint: I am happy to write to the hon. Gentleman with more detail on the issues that he has raised. My understanding is that part of what the World Service is doing is to look at where people access the service most. One thing that it is considering is expanding the service through the internet, as it has found that many more people in Russia want to access the service through that medium than want to use the radio service. These are BBC decisions, but we want to make sure that services are well provided and in a way that is in tune with the sort of media that younger people in particular use today.

T5.[234520] Anne Snelgrove (South Swindon) (Lab): Further to the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary about Egypt’s role in the middle east peace process, what discussions has he had with the Egyptian Government on negotiating an extension to the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas?

David Miliband: I met the Egyptian Foreign Minister in Marseilles last Monday at the EU Mediterranean summit. It is fair to say that at that stage he was still working very hard to ensure that the reconciliation meeting happened over the weekend just gone. It did not happen because Hamas pulled out, which is obviously regrettable. I think that it is important that the Egyptian Government are given every encouragement for their work in supporting the elected leader of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, and in uniting the Palestinian people under his leadership.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): The Foreign Secretary has said that the No. 1 priority for discussion with the new American Administration will be the international economic crisis. When he and the Prime Minister engage with the Administration, may I caution them not to repeat that the crisis was entirely born in the United States? Otherwise, it will bring about the very proper retort that Her Majesty’s Government have rather more than their fair share of blame.

David Miliband: With the greatest respect, I think that is a rather foolish thing to say, as President-elect Obama has spent the last 22 months saying that the economic crisis was born in Washington DC and New York, at the hands of the current Administration. So I do not think that we will have any problems at all forging a strong partnership with the new Administration.

T6. [234521] Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West) (Lab): The Government’s view on Israeli settlements is that they are illegal and an obstruction to peace. Will the Foreign Secretary confirm that steps are now being
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taken to stop settlement products that misapply the EU preference from being sold in this country? Also, are steps being taken to discourage UK residents from purchasing properties in illegal settlements?

David Miliband: I am happy to confirm that we are determined to see properly implemented the 2005 agreement between Israel and the European Union governing products from the occupied territories. It is certainly our intention to see that the agreement is properly implemented.

T7. [234522] Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): While the world’s eyes have been on Iraq, Afghanistan and, more recently, the Congo, the situation in Darfur has continued to deteriorate. What efforts are the British Government making to try to bring about a solution to the impasse caused by the citation of President Bashir by the International Criminal Court? Next year will be a year of elections in Sudan; how will we make sure that they can be carried out?

David Miliband: My hon. Friend raises a very important point. It is because we must not lose the focus on, or recognition of, the importance of Darfur and Sudan that I met the Vice-President of Sudan in New York on 26 September. I discussed with him the importance not just of the elections in 2009, but of the referendum plan for 2011 and preparation for it. Obviously, it is vital that the north-south track is maintained under the comprehensive peace agreement, that the situation in Darfur remains at the heart of the humanitarian effort, and that proper relations with Chad are not forgotten.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): May I return to the subject of Bosnia and Herzegovina? Is the Foreign Secretary satisfied that Serbia is playing a constructive part in talking to the Serbian population within Bosnia to try to bring about a realistic solution?

David Miliband: The hon. Gentleman raises an important point, which I discussed last Tuesday and Wednesday in Serbia. I discussed it again this morning with the Serbian Foreign Minister, and I discussed it with the Serbian President and Foreign Minister last week. Serbia has an important role to play. The Serbian Government said to me very clearly that they want to exercise a stabilising and responsible role in the region, and we certainly plan to work with them to deliver on that.

T8. [234523] Martin Linton (Battersea) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that Israeli settlements on the west bank are illegal under international law, and that it is vital that Israel at least stops expanding those settlements if it wants talks to take place, irrespective of anything else? Will he consider supporting a resolution to that effect in the United Nations under chapter VII of the United Nations charter?

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Bill Rammell): I very much agree with my hon. Friend. We regard all settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories as illegal under international law, and settlement construction is a serious obstacle in the peace process. In a very real sense, Israel is already under an obligation not to expand settlements. However, I do not agree with him on a chapter VII resolution. Such a resolution would imply that all the movement is necessary on one side, whereas in reality we all know that we need movement on both sides.

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