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Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, with the leave of the House, I should like to repeat a Statement on Iraq which has been made in another place by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary. The Statement is as follows:
"First, they have real fears about the threat Saddam Hussein poses to their region. Secondly, like ourselves, they would prefer a diplomatic solution. But lastly, if Saddam does not accept the diplomatic initiatives that have been offered to him, then, as Prince Saud said, it is the Iraqi regime that will bear responsibility for the consequences. I agree with them on all three counts.
"On the first point, there is no room for doubt over the scale of Saddam's chemical or biological capability, nor over his repeated attempts to conceal it. Last week I published a paper setting out the statistics of Saddam's arsenal of weapons of mass destruction and documenting his persistent deception.
"Saddam claimed he had only 650 litres of anthrax. The figure turned out to be 8,400 litres. He continues to have the capability to manufacture enough extra anthrax to fill two more warheads every week. One such warhead could depopulate an entire city. Saddam has programmes to produce at least three other germ agents.
"Saddam claimed his VX nerve gas programme had ended in failure. The truth turned out to be that he has the capability to produce 200 tonnes of VX agent. One drop of it is enough to kill. Ten years ago next month, Saddam used chemical weapons to kill 5,000 Iraqi citizens at Halabja. He also used them against fellow Moslems in his war with Iran. He will not hesitate to use them again.
"As Richard Butler, the executive chairman of UNSCOM, has noted, Saddam, "avoids answering questions and prevents UNSCOM from finding the answers". In the past nine months he has delayed or denied access to four out of five sites where UNSCOM believed concealment was taking place.
"The UN inspectors are our only guarantee that Saddam will not fulfil his ambition to acquire the weapons that could wipe out whole cities. However, that guarantee is of little value if they are not allowed to carry out effective inspections into the sites where they suspect chemical or biological weapons, or vital information, are concealed.
"We also agree with our allies in the Gulf that it would be better if we could resolve this confrontation by diplomatic means. That is why Britain took the lead in proposing to its Security Council partners a new resolution condemning Saddam's repeated obstruction of UNSCOM's work. That approach has
"We are also in close touch with the attempts at diplomatic mediation by Russia, France and the Arab League. Saddam has a history of backing down under pressure, and we welcome the recent signs that Iraq is ready to consider a diplomatic solution. However, I have to say to the House that, as yet, the proposals coming out of Baghdad fall well short of our requirement that any agreement should be convincing and should enable UNSCOM to resume its work without restrictions, without deadlines and without any no-go sites. While we want a peaceful solution, an outcome which left him able to develop chemical and biological weapons would make it only too likely that the peace of the region would be broken again by Saddam himself.
"Our quarrel is with Saddam Hussein, not with the Iraqi people. We support the territorial integrity of Iraq and would like to see it rejoin the international community. Meanwhile, we are at the forefront of the diplomatic efforts to bring relief to the Iraqi people. We have led the negotiations at the UN to more than double the oil-for-food programme. We are the second largest donor of humanitarian aid to Iraq. There are no sanctions against food or medicine. It is Saddam, not the UN, who has decided to use his resources to construct presidential palaces for himself and to create weapons of mass destruction for his regional ambitions, rather than to purchase food and medicine for his people.
"Finally we agree with our major Gulf allies that if diplomacy fails, the responsibility for the consequences will rest solely on Saddam. The best prospect for a diplomatic solution is to leave Saddam in no doubt of our resolve if he persists in his ambition to develop chemical and biological arsenals. He would be making a major miscalculation if he mistook our reluctance to use force for a lack of determination to use it if necessary. I hope both sides of the House will support that clear and firm message to Saddam".
Lord Moynihan: My Lords, on behalf of the Opposition I should like to thank the Minister for updating the House with the latest developments on the situation in Iraq. I should also like to take this opportunity to reiterate our ongoing support to the Government, while they, together with the United States, continue to take a firm stand on Iraq, to ensure that United Nations resolutions are enforced and the UNSCOM inspectors are able to remove and destroy horrific chemical, biological and nuclear weapons of mass destruction. We support the Government in their desire to pursue all diplomatic avenues to ensure that Saddam Hussein complies with the will of the international community. But if diplomacy fails, it is right to keep the military option open.
However, there have been developments since the Government's last Statement. I wish to ask the Minister for an absolute assurance that the clearest possible diplomatic, strategic and military objectives will be set for any action that we take and that these will be reported to the House at the appropriate times.
I particularly wish to ask the Minister for that assurance today, since over the last week certain statements have been made on our objectives. I believe that clarification from the Minister would be most helpful. For example, last Monday the Foreign Secretary in another place said that our objective was to secure Saddam Hussein's compliance with Security Council resolutions and ultimately for the Security Council to be assured that all Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and related facilities have been destroyed. However, last Friday in Washington President Clinton said that the United States' objective was to prevent Saddam Hussein from threatening his neighbours and the world with weapons of mass destruction. Furthermore, on Sunday the Secretary of State for Defence spoke of the possible objective of reducing the ability of Saddam Hussein and his regime to survive.
I appreciate that the Minister has at all times been clear in what she said to your Lordships' House. However, I am sure she will agree that differing statements of the objective we hope to achieve are leading to uncertainty, confusion and a growing level of concern in your Lordships' House. Could the Minister therefore today clarify the Government's objective to resolve this crisis? Should all diplomatic means be exhausted and it prove necessary to take the military option, can the Minister assure the House on behalf of the British servicemen and women whose lives may be put at risk that clear, unequivocal objectives will be set?
Could the Minister also clarify the legality of the steps the Government might take in the event of an armed conflict? Is the Government's position that Resolution 687 provides sufficient authority for military action?
We currently hold the important position of President of the European Union. I wish to ask the Minister what discussions are ongoing with our other partners in the Security Council and in Europe, given that the French Foreign Minister, Hubert Vedrine, has said:
He has described the British and American position as "propaganda" to intimidate Saddam Hussein and there is also President Yeltsin's warning that an attack could lead to a third world war. What assessment have the Government made of the draft UN motion being drawn up by France, Russia and the Arab League, which aims to secure access to 68 possible locations of material for Iraq's weapons of mass destruction? Given the incursion of some 7,000 Turkish troops into northern Iraq yesterday, can the Minister tell the House what implications this will have for any military action they may be preparing to take?
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