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3.28 p.m.

Lord Healey: My Lords, I should first like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, for raising this matter today; and not, if I may say so, a day too soon. I thank him also for what he said particularly about the Middle East and the Moslem world.

At the moment the whole world is moving towards the Millennium with the outlook steadily darkening. There are lame duck presidents in both Washington and Moscow. Russia is sliding into anarchy, dominated by criminal mafias. The United States has an impotent administration, but still a very robust economy. On the other hand, the recent Asian crisis increases the probability of a crash on Wall Street, because the financial systems of the United States are far weaker

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than its real economy. I am glad that the Foreign Office is taking advantage of the meeting in April to bring European and Asian countries together to discuss these problems.

On top of all these dangers is the growing risk of another war in the Middle East and/or Near East. That war could bring revolution in the Gulf states and have a tremendous impact on both the supply and price of oil. I believe that this provides Europe with both an opportunity and a responsibility that it cannot afford to ignore. The most interesting aspect of recent changes in the Middle East is the very substantial increase in the influence of Turkey, which is now an important player in the Balkans and south central Asia as well as the Middle East, and revives memories of the Ottoman Empire of the past. Turkey is now a major influence in Bosnia. Its influence there will increase if the Americans, as seems all too possible, finally withdraw their troops in June this year.

There is growing tension over Cyprus with the threat of military action by Turkey if Russia provides missiles to the Greek Cypriots. In a speech this week Mr. Primakov reasserted Russia's intention to do so. There is a real risk of conflict with the Albanians in Kosovo and Macedonia, which is another possible front in which Turkey may intervene. Turkey has already invaded north west Syria in pursuit of the Kurds in the PKK. It is developing steadily closer relations with Netanyahu's Israel. I have nothing to add to what the noble Lord said about recent worrying developments in Israel, save that the activities of Mossad deserve to be watched very carefully. Within the last week Mossad has spread false stories about arms in Iraq which the CIA has had publicly to deny, and recently it has tried to assassinate a Palestinian leader in the neighbouring Arab country of Jordan.

It is surprising to me that the United States has chosen this moment to emphasise its military links with both Israel and Turkey by joint naval exercises in the East Mediterranean. There is no question but that these exercises create immense embarrassment to the West's friends in the Arab world, particularly Egypt and the Gulf states. All of this takes place at a time when the most urgent problem facing us is posed by Saddam Hussein's refusal to co-operate with the United Nations team charged with ensuring the destruction of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

Like the noble Lord, I had a good many misgivings about the British Government's assertion that they would take military action against Saddam in the next few weeks if Saddam did not give in to UNSCOM. Such action, if not endorsed by NATO and the United Nations, would be highly dangerous to all our friends in the Arab world. It is by no means certain that any such action would be effective. During the Gulf War the West and its allies spent 45 days bombing military facilities in Iraq, but they destroyed fewer Iraqi weapons than have been destroyed by UNSCOM since the end of that war.

Economic sanctions against Iraq or any dictatorship are ineffective because a dictator can always blame the foreigner for the sufferings inflicted upon his people.

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Democracies are the only countries against which economic sanctions are effective, as Britain proved very clearly when it gave into American sanctions over the Suez War in 1956.

At the moment there is no real prospect of changing Iraqi policy unless somehow or other Russian diplomacy, allied with the threat but not the execution of military sanctions, produces a shift in Iraqi policy. The one certain matter is that if Britain is not prepared to exercise its own judgment in this matter and defers in advance to anything that the United States decides to do, disaster will follow.

There is one area in which I believe hopeful developments are under way in the Middle East. It now looks as if the United States is beginning to recognise that it cannot afford to treat both Iraq and Iran as enemies. I am delighted to see that Europe, led by Britain, is trying to re-establish reasonable relations with the Khatami regime in Iran. Turkey has already established relations by accepting a pipeline through Iran from central Asia into Turkey and the sea. I believe that there is now an opportunity, if we take seriously the words uttered by Mr. Khatami over several months, to explore every possibility of doing this. Undoubtedly in the short run this will cause us some embarrassment with the United States, but I believe that the time has come when a determined initiative by Europe and Britain, acting together, can shift American policy for the better. I hope that when my noble friend replies she will be able to confirm my optimism in this regard.

3.36 p.m.

Lord Hurd of Westwell: My Lords, I am grateful, although a little nervous, for the opportunity to address your Lordships for the first time. I am particularly glad to do so under the auspices of the noble Lord who opened this debate with whom I worked closely and congenially on these matters for many years during which I came to rely greatly on his calmness, his experience and his wisdom.

We live in a world of nation states none of whom can by themselves ensure the prosperity and security of their citizens. That is why success in foreign policy depends on success in building and making a success of partnerships. Britain belongs to more partnerships because of the scope of its trade and historical friendships than any other country. Although we are far from being a superpower, we remain a world power. I believe that the key partnership for us among many is that between Europe and the United States. That partnership is strong and successful in the NATO area. I do not believe that it is yet skilful enough in handling crises that arise in the world outside the NATO area.

The United States is the only superpower and is likely to remain so. We are lucky in our superpower. Occasionally Americans overstep the mark. In particular, occasionally Congress must be resisted if it tries to foist laws and policies on us with which we disagree. But that does not seem to me to be the real danger of having America as the only real superpower. The real danger is not overweening ambition but occasional loss of interest by American attention

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wandering away from the problems of the outside world because of the fascination and success of that remarkable country or distractions such as the present ones that make us anxious about the scene in Washington.

But Europeans are in no position to reproach the United States in these respects. We are not yet a valid partner of the United States in these efforts. We as Europeans are not coherent and therefore not persuasive. Following the example set by the noble Lord, I should like to refer to the three linked problems in the Middle East. With regard to the Arab-Israel dispute, for several years the United States has taken the lead. When I had responsibility for these matters, I always discouraged those at home or in Europe who tended to criticise from the sidelines the peace process under way. I was not in favour of the European Union duplicating, or complicating, what the United States attempted to do; nor do I do so now.

As the noble Lords, Lord Wright of Richmond and Lord Healey, have reminded us, the energy of the United States in the peace process has been faltering recently when confronted with the stubbornness of the present Prime Minister and Government of Israel. The peace process has begun to slide downhill, week by week, towards violence and chaos on the West Bank, with the danger of renewed war. The European Union pays a good deal towards the peace process but plays little political part in it. I hope the noble Baroness will amplify what she said the other evening and again this afternoon about her intentions.

The second problem is Iraq. The aims of the United States policy are right, but are weakened by its policy on the Palestinian question. Her Majesty's Government are right to support those aims, but they would be more effective if they were part of a coherent European response, with Europe acting as a valid partner.

We are not engaged in some vendetta against Saddam Hussein, tyrannical and cruel though he is. We are engaged in an enterprise to prevent the spread of desperately dangerous weapons of mass destruction into his hands. There is no doubt about his ambitions or his record, and there should be no doubt about the resolution of the international community to maintain the process of monitoring, inspection and destruction which the Security Council has authorised.

On the third, linked, question it may be that the noble Lord, Lord Healey, is right, that there has been a softening of attitudes under President Khatami and the Government of Iran. We need to probe cautiously their attitudes towards terrorism; towards the Gulf; towards the Arab-Israel process; towards their own acquisition of nuclear weapons; and their attitude towards the unacceptable forms of Islamic fundamentalism--for example, the fatwa against the British writer Salman Rushdie.

These matters need to be probed, but probed by the United States and Europe acting in tandem. If we try to set about this separately, then each of us will be confounded because the Iranians will divide us and profit from the division.

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These are three linked dangers. They shift shape, like the kaleidoscope, day-by-day. They will not wait to be managed while there is some leisurely investigation of the private life of the President of the United States. Nor will they wait for the endless pontificating about procedure upon which so much time is spent in the European Union.

I hope the Government will use the presidency to change gear in Europe, away from discussing procedure towards confronting substance. It is not easy to get agreement on these matters; but your Lordships will know from your own experience that if you discuss small matters all the time you are sometimes condemned to indefinite disagreement and nit-picking. However, if you set yourself to tackle the fundamental problems under the pressure of evident danger you can produce agreement where you did not necessarily expect it.

Her Majesty's Government have that opportunity in the European presidency and during the Prime Minister's forthcoming visit to Washington.

Finally, a word about the Security Council of the United Nations. It is an essential organisation--not because it always carries out every enterprise, but because, under international law, it is the authoriser, the legitimiser.

Here too there is something of a power failure. I draw the attention of your Lordships and the Government to the report written by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, Words to Deeds, about strengthening the United Nations enforcement capabilities. As would be expected from that author, it is an unpretentious report, full of practical wisdom and suggestions. I hope that the noble Baroness will say something about the Government's intention to carry these ideas forward in Europe and New York.

There are many matters, including foreign affairs, on which we should joust between parties, in this House and in another place, but this essential problem is not one of them. I hope that we on these Benches, as we have done, can sustain Her Majesty's Government in these efforts provided that they sustain the partnership between Europe and the United States, on which depends not only our security but the success of any efforts we may make towards a safer and more decent world.

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