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House of Lords

Monday, 11th May 1998.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Carlisle.


Baroness Knight of Collingtree asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they would support an American initiative to start peace talks on the Cyprus issue.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, Her Majesty's Government fully support US efforts in support of the United Nations Secretary-General's Mission of Good Offices in his search for an overall solution to the Cyprus problem.

Baroness Knight of Collingtree: My Lords, does the Minister agree that there is some urgency, bearing in mind the recent Greek Cypriot decision to deploy Russian S300 surface-to-air missiles and, at a lower level, the continuing inconvenience in that all visitors to and exports from Northern Cyprus must go through Turkey?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I agree that there is a real danger of increased tension in the area partly as a result of the decision to deploy the missiles. That is why Mr. Holbrooke was in Cyprus during the weekend of 1st to 4th May. The Government remain committed to his efforts, and to those of others under the UN umbrella, as he tries to pursue a settlement in Cyprus. From that point of view, the situation is urgent.

The Earl of Lauderdale: My Lords, does the Minister agree that there is a Russian element to the problem which is indirectly related to the attention being paid to central Asia as regards mineral resources?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I am afraid that I cannot make the last connection, although the noble Earl may wish to pursue it. There is a Russian element in the sense that the missiles being ordered by the Cypriot Government are of Russian origin. We have made it clear that we do not think it wise of the Cypriot Government to acquire those missiles, although they have the right to do so in defence of the sovereign territory of the Republic of Cyprus.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede: My Lords, does my noble friend believe that this is precisely the kind of issue in which the Western European Union should be playing a greater role because all the parties concerned are members or observers of the WEU? Will my noble friend encourage the Council of Ministers and the parliamentarians of the Western European Union to make greater efforts to try to resolve this potentially disastrous situation?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I shall encourage anyone to contribute their good offices to improving the situation

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and increasing the likelihood of a settlement within Cyprus. However, there is a serious problem with the WEU or NATO formally being the main peacemakers in the area in that both Greece and Turkey are members of NATO and therefore conflicts are involved. We have primarily supported the UN efforts in this area and the efforts of the US in support. We have also designated our own special negotiator, Sir David Hannay, on behalf of the UK presidency, to try and make progress in the area.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: My Lords, when the Government advise the Republic of Cyprus, will they bear in mind that the crisis which produced such antagonism from the Turks was caused, in the first instance, by the attempts of the Greek Cypriots to unite with Greece? That created great tension in the Turkish community which could be repeated. Therefore, may I urge the Government to put pressure on the Republic of Cyprus not to accentuate the tension by deploying such missiles?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, we could go over the desperate history of the period in the 1970s, but the fact remains that there was a Turkish invasion of the Republic of Cyprus. Those troops remain there and we recognise the legitimacy of the Government of Cyprus. Nevertheless, we consider that all parties to the dispute should try to seek an intercommunal settlement. We support the UN, the US and anyone else who contributes towards the achievement of that settlement.

Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that an increased nuclear threat in Europe or anywhere else is to be condemned? Should not the Government actively take a more negative attitude towards such development?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, the Cypriot Government are not acquiring nuclear weapons so this is not a nuclear issue. Nevertheless, I agree with my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, that it would have been better had the escalation of weaponry within Cyprus not occurred. However, we recognise the right of the Cypriot Government to acquire arms to defend themselves. Furthermore, from the point of view of Turkey, it would be better were sabre-rattling not to occur. The situation is delicate and all efforts must be directed at seeking a settlement.

Lord Ellenborough: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the very unsympathetic attitude of some of the western countries and the European Union towards Turkey has resulted in the fact that the Turkish Cypriots are merely pushed towards Turkey and Turkey is pushed away from the West towards the Islamic East, which may be a very dangerous situation?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, Her Majesty's Government recognise the potential danger of that situation. Indeed, we were anxious that Turkey should take part in the European conference organised in March of this year. However, the Turkish Government declined to participate. We are hoping that further diplomatic efforts will be made so that Turkey will feel able to participate

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in the process emanating from that European conference and that, therefore, relations between the European Union and Turkey will improve because they were seriously damaged at about the time of the Luxembourg conference.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, further to the answer which the Minister gave to his noble friend Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, would he agree that the Western European Union does not in fact have any foreign policy successes to its credit; that it is most unlikely to chalk one up in this instance; and that therefore Her Majesty's Government are best advised to continue collaboration with NATO and with our allies, the United States of America?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord's conclusion but not with his premise. The WEU has a number of initiatives in the former Yugoslavia and so on which can be pointed to. However, the main peace process within Cyprus will be carried out through the auspices of the United Nations. We shall continue to support that and in particular United States's efforts to support that UN initiative.

Lord Moynihan: My Lords, in view of the Minister's support for the US initiative, does the Minister agree with Richard Holbrooke, the special emissary appointed by President Clinton to forge a peace deal between the Greeks and Turks in Cyprus, when he said that:

    "[The] EU's decision to open membership talks with Cyprus in March was a correct one, but the failure to put Turkey on the same basis as the other 11 countries that began the accession process was a mistake"?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, not precisely. I obviously agree with the first part of Richard Holbrooke's remarks. As regards the second part, I have said already that we considered it important that Turkey should participate in the European conference. We made all diplomatic efforts to try to ensure that that happened. In the event, the Turks declined to attend. However, there is a distinction between Turkey and some of the other applicant members of the European Union, particularly the five which are not currently involved in formal negotiations, in that there are political problems with the Turkish application which must still be addressed. Nevertheless, we believe that Turkey should return to a positive relationship with the European Union which, in current circumstances, means participating in the European conference process.

Mordechai Vanunu

2.35 p.m.

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the Prime Minister raised the case of Mordechai Vanunu at his meeting with the Israeli Prime Minister on 19th April, and what response he received.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, the Prime Minister did not raise the case of Mordechai Vanunu when he met the

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Israeli Prime Minister recently. However, we have already raised Mr. Vanunu's case with the Israeli Government on humanitarian grounds and, if necessary, will do so again.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, I am grateful to the Government for raising the case of Mr. Vanunu with the Israeli authorities. Is the Minister aware that recently the honourable Member for Islington North and myself presented to the Israeli Prime Minister and President a petition which had been signed by hundreds of people from all over the world, from Archbishop Desmond Tutu downwards, calling for Mr. Vanunu's release and that that release has been demanded also by Amnesty International? Does not the Minister believe that the continued detention of Mr. Vanunu is purely retributive in view of the fact that he has already spent 11 years wholly deprived of human company? That represents a much more severe sentence than the 20 years originally passed on him.

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