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General Affairs Council, 25 May

Lord Randall of St. Budeaux asked Her Majesty's Government:

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: The General Affairs Council met in Brussels on 25 May. The Council adopted the A Points, and noted the European Parliament Resolutions of 29-30 April and 2 May listed in Document 8115/98. A copy will be placed in the House Library as soon as it becomes available.

The Foreign Secretary provided a Presidency progress report on Agenda 2000 negotiations. Foreign Ministers set out their positions on a wide range of issues. The GAC agreed the proposed outline of the structure for a draft report to Cardiff. Foreign Ministers also agreed that COREPER should report back to the next GAC on how to respond to the latest letter from EP President Gil-Robles about European Parliament involvement.

The Council reached agreement on the text of the EU Code of Conduct for arms exports, which will be formally adopted at a future Council meeting. The code aims to set high common standards for arms exports from all EU member states. It develops the EU Common Criteria agreed in 1991 and 1992 and includes a mechanism under which a member state will have to consult a Partner which has denied a licence for a particular export, before granting an essentially identical licence.

The Council took note of the reports of the EU/US and EU/Canada Summits. It agreed that the EU/US Summit, which made substantial progress towards resolving the problems of US sanctions legislation and endorsed the Transatlantic Economic Partnership, represented an important step.

The Council agreed a Declaration condemning the Indian nuclear tests and setting out the steps India has to take to rejoin the mainstream of international efforts on non-proliferation.

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The Council underlined EU support for Indonesia, called on President Habibie to continue political reform, welcomed the release of two political prisoners and called on the Indonesian authorities to co-operate constructively with the efforts under the auspices of the UN Secretary General on East Timor.

The Foreign Secretary briefed partners on his visit to Ankara on 19 May, and reported Turkey's decision not to attend the Association Council which had been planned for 25 May.

The Council discussed preparations for the ad hoc meeting of Euro-Mediterranean Foreign Ministers in Palermo on 3-4 June. This should give renewed impetus to the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership and prepare the ground for the third Euro-Mediterranean Ministerial Conference in Stuttgart in April 1999. The Council endorsed the Presidency's handling, and reaffirmed its commitment to ensuring that the meeting is a success.

The Council took note of developments in the Middle East Peace Process in the light of on-going US efforts. The French Foreign Minister briefed colleagues on the Franco-Egyptian "Call for Peace".

The Council heard a report from Mr. Felipe Gonzalez, the EU and OSCE Special Representative for the FRY. It noted with concern recent developments in the FRY affecting the freedom of the media. It welcomed the opening of a dialogue between Belgrade and the leadership of the Kosovar Albanian community, while expressing grave concern about the escalating violence in the province. It underlined the need for the parliamentary elections in Montenegro on 31 May to be free and fair and for their results to be respected by all.

The Council agreed to consider on 29 June whether Croatia should continue to benefit from Autonomous Trade Measures in the light of that country's performance on refugee returns and other important issues such as democratisation and independent media.

The Council endorsed the principle of financial support for Azerbaijan (beyond that provided under TACIS), as proposed by the Commission, subject to technical examination by Financial Counsellors.

The Foreign Secretary drew attention to the EU/Russia Summit (15 May) and reported on the outcome of the G8 Birmingham Summit.

US Nuclear Doctrine

Lord Kennet asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What information they have of:

    (a) nuclear weapons newly developed by the United States which did not require testing; and (b) the United States Presidential Decision Directive of last autumn concerning United States future use of nuclear weapons.[HL1958]

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: Her Majesty's Government understand that the US has recently carried out non-nuclear trials involving the casing of the latest

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in a series of variants of a freefall bomb that has been in service since the 1960s. We understand that the weapon casing has been modified to enable its more flexible deployment.

The US has briefed Allies in broad terms on its new Presidential Decision Directive (PDD) on US nuclear doctrine. The PDD revises nuclear targeting guidelines and doctrine, with the latter now focused exclusively on nuclear deterrence. The new directive formally abandons the notion that the US could fight and win a protracted nuclear exchange.

Arms Sales to Taiwan

Lord Monkswell asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether, apart from the overall criteria governing arms exports announced on 28 July 1997, any other restrictions apply with respect to sales to Taiwan.[HL2132]

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: We restrict the export to Taiwan of licensable defence-related equipment. Applications for export licences to supply defence-related equipment and technology are considered case by case. All decisions are made in the light of the criteria announced on 28 July by the Foreign Secretary (Official Report, columns, 26-29). In scrutinising applications for Taiwan, we also give particular weight to the implications for regional stability.

Afghanistan Arms Embargo

Lord Monkswell asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the United Kingdom continues to impose an arms embargo on Afghanistan in line with the European Union's Common Position of 17 December 1996.[HL2133)]

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: Her Majesty's Government remain committed to the EU arms embargo against Afghanistan.

Following discussion with this department and the Ministry of Defence, the Department of Trade and Industry recently approved a licence for the export of mine-clearance suits for use by the United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Assistance to Afghanistan in its demining operations. The grant of this licence is for humanitarian purposes, and is consistent with the purpose of the embargo.

Indigenous Minority Languages

Lord Monkswell asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the United Kingdom will sign the Council of Europe Charter for Regional or Minority Languages.[HL2134]

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Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: Her Majesty's Government have given thorough consideration to the merits of the United Kingdom becoming a signatory of the charter, which entered into force on 1 March 1998. We have concluded that it would be appropriate to do so. Part II of the charter sets out general principles of recognition and support for indigenous minority languages and removal of discrimination against them. We readily subscribe to these principles. We also intend to specify the Welsh language in Wales and, when the necessary procedural arrangements are in place, the Gaelic language in Scotland under the provisions of Part III, which require adherence to a number of specific measures taken to promote the use of these languages in public life. It is also intended to specify the Irish language in Northern Ireland at at early date. Part II of the charter will apply to the Scots language. We will be considering which, if any, other languages should be bound by the general principles in Part II and might be specified under Part III in due course.

New Joint Services College

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What recent developments there are in joint command and staff training matters.[HL2157]

Lord Hoyle: The establishment of the Joint Services' Command and Staff College at its interim site at Bracknell has highlighted the considerable benefits to be had from a joint approach to command and staff training within a multinational environment. Opportunities for the common understanding of warfare and defence as a whole are maximised. Specially selected officers have their command, analytical and communication skills tested against challenging scenarios ranging from peace support operations to modern warfare. As part of our commitment to joint training, the Ministry of Defence has signed a PFI contract with Defence Management (Watchfield) Limited to build a new Joint College at Shrivenham (Watchfield) and to provide a range of facility management services. The new college is scheduled to open in September 2000.

National Blood Authority

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the National Blood Authority has any functions in Scotland.[HL2074]

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Baroness Jay of Paddington): The National Blood Authority has no functions in relation to Scotland. However, we expect there to be appropriate liaison between all the United Kingdom blood services to ensure the best possible care for patients.

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