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I am reminded by the passionate speeches of the two noble Lords that the problems that we are dealing with in the Middle East are not problems of crime, security and terrorist violence; those are there and they are problems, but they are also symptoms of the underlying difficulties and sometimes they are reactions to some of our ill advised military adventures. The problems underlying them are political problems. They are not going to be resolved without being addressed politically. What does politics involve? It involves engaging in difficult meetings, conversations and discussions, sometimes at a distance or at arm’s length and sometimes at close quarters with precisely the people with whom you have the deepest disagreements. Politics is not simply about meeting those you agree with; that is pleasant and proper, but it does not address the problems.

I am very much reminded of my early experiences of going to west Belfast to meet with Mr Gerry Adams and the loyalists at times when it was not fashionable and there was no serious peace process. Recently, I was reminded of it again. Given what I have lived through—we have now come to a later stage of our process—I am convinced that, in a fundamental human sense, we have the same kind of problem in the Middle East and, for the past couple of years, I have made it my business to go there to meet with Hamas, Hezbollah and a number of the politicians in the region. That has almost been nostalgic for me because I felt exactly the same kinds of things. People are talking in a serious way about the difficulties with which their people have to live and the possibilities of some kind of engagement and negotiation. Before the south Lebanon war, Hezbollah was asking, “How do we deal with weapons? How did you decommission weapons in Northern Ireland? What was necessary to achieve that?” Of course, since the recent Lebanese war, all that is kicked into the long grass for the present. Until Hezbollah feels a sense of security, why would it start to decommission its massive number of weapons? But at least it was interested in talking about it.

Hamas was talking about a long-term “hudna”—a ceasefire. Noble Lords will remember how we talked about cessations of violence, what they meant in Northern Ireland and how long they would be for. Hamas was talking about 25 or 30 years of ceasefire in order to give an opportunity for a long-term process of discussion towards peace and finding a way of living together. Of course, there are profound suspicions, and properly so. There are no angels on

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one side or the other, but there are no devils either. There are human beings with their own fears, ambitions, needs and concerns. Of course, our approach must be to ensure that the people of Israel can live in peace and security in their own place. But that applies not a whit less to the Palestinians.

In that whole region, we need to find a way that does not involve a quartet from outside going in and telling that part of the world how to live. We need to construct an inclusive, semi-permanent conference table at which these issues can be addressed. We heard reference to the European Union. Whatever the European Union is, it was not fundamentally put in place for economics. It was to deal with the aftermath of two world wars. It is and was meant to be a semi-permanent, inclusive conference table, which we sometimes forget. We must work to try to achieve the same thing for the Middle East.

Recently, when I met the Syrian Foreign Minister in Damascus, I found that he is looking for an opportunity to help us to deal with the problems not just in Israel, Palestine and Lebanon, but also in Iraq. The solution lies not in finding a cover for our nakedness in retreat militarily, but in taking a step forward to find political ways in which we can construct a process through which we can deal with all these issues—not by coming in as outsiders to threaten, much less by undermining our own allies in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan by stoking up the fires of fundamentalism through our foolishness, but by finding an institutional, structured, inclusive, semi-permanent opportunity for people to talk about the problems rather than to kill each other because of the differences.

6.13 pm

The Lord Bishop of Winchester: My Lords, I am pleased to follow the noble Lord’s wise and experienced speech. Granted that a day is to be given in December to the Holy Land, Iraq and Afghanistan, I shall devote the whole of my time to northern Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. But even they are not untouched by the long shadow of our lack of commitment to achieving a just and viable peace in the Holy Land and the still-terrible story of the war in Iraq. Of course, I welcome the note right at the end of the gracious Speech that Her Majesty's Government,

Then there is a reference to Darfur.

However, this mention of Africa comes with a great deal less detail than in most recent gracious Speeches. Where is the Government’s commitment to give real priority to Africa as—I think that these were the Prime Minister’s words—a scar on the conscience of the world, which led to the real achievement of his commission on Africa? I fear that it has run into the sands of the Middle East. When have we received in this House any substantial update on progress since the publication of the commission’s report 18 months ago? Who has ever heard of the Africa Partnership Forum through which such reporting should be happening regularly?

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Northern Uganda is at least one-third of Uganda, with some 4 million people grievously affected over 20 years and around 1.5 million still living in appallingly destructive displaced-persons camps. It is very good that the peace talks continue between the Ugandan Government and the LRA, facilitated by the southern Sudanese Government, and that the ceasefire largely still holds. I appreciate the substantial contribution to this state of affairs made by Her Majesty's Government over many years. But how do the Government now view the difficult tension between the need on the one hand to bring Joseph Kony and his lieutenants to the talks, and the talks to a lasting solution, and, on the other hand, the warrants of the International Criminal Court against Kony and four or five others? Do the Government support the strongly held judgment not only of President Museveni, but also the Acholi and other religious leaders, and, apparently, 95 per cent of the people of the north, that peace, rather than the ICC’s interest, is the priority?

Will the UK be a strong and persevering partner not only with the Ugandan Government, which has few friends in the north, but also with the peoples of the north and the religious leaders for the long and complex process of reconstruction once peace is achieved? Will we recognise and help others to recognise the need for a paramount commitment to the needs of children across northern Uganda, so many of whom have suffered terribly in every way imaginable, and in many ways that should not be imaginable? Will the Government use whatever good offices they have to ensure that recent reports of hurried and forced removals of people from some of the camps with inadequate support and equipment to unreconstructed or even utterly strange villages are untrue? Will they keep a careful watch over the human rights situation in Uganda and the treatment generally by the Kampala Government of their outlying regions, especially the northern third of the country—not least as we look ahead to Her Majesty’s participation in Kampala next year at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, to which she referred in her speech?

It is natural on many grounds to move from northern Uganda to the DRC, not just because so much in the way of shared languages, cultures, history and trade connects the two countries. The LRA has for many years moved in and out of the north-east of the DRC, as have other groups of Ugandan rebels. In turn, Ugandans—if not Uganda—have armed a succession of rebel groups, illegally extracted huge amounts of gold and other Congolese resources, and fuelled the insecurity and violence that still makes for the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people in the DRC and for, perhaps, 1,200 deaths a week, half of which are children. That is a good deal more, I fear, than in Iraq. Where is the publicity for Congo?

It is very good that the presidential election appears at last to have produced a clear result in the victory of Joseph Kabila. We now have to pray and work for it to be widely and peacefully accepted. If it is, we can hope that for the DRC the transition out of conflict can at last begin. I hope that we shall hear tonight from the Minister that the UK has heart for

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what will be a long and difficult course and that we shall encourage the DRC’s other international partners and donors to stay in there with us. Mr Kabila’s Government will need the continuing existence and support of the committee of ambassadors if they are to tackle effectively the forbiddingly vast scale of the task that lies ahead of them. It is imperative that the UN resists any temptation to reduce the strength or the mandate of the UN force in the DRC—the largest though it is. I hope, too, that the EU force, committed to the DRC through the elections, will not be too quickly withdrawn.

There are mountains of work to be done before the Congolese army is at all reliable or competent, its leaders at all honest, and its units no longer a terror to their own people. The process of disarmament and resettlement of fighters of all sorts, or their effective integration into the new army, has so far been painfully slow and disorderly. Is it the UK Government’s intention that this many-faceted process should be placed under a single management to support the new Government, and that the EU security co-ordination mission should be appointed and funded to do the job? Congo’s mineral resources have to be developed for the benefit of the people.

How do HMG, the EU and other partners intend to help the new Government to create and maintain an effective regulatory regime? Will the Minister assure the House that he and his colleagues will continue to strengthen the UK's own processes under the OECD guidelines? On the Government’s performance on that front, there are some very critical words indeed in the recently published sixth report of DfID, Conflict and Development Peacebuilding and Post-conflict Reconstruction.

Lastly, do the Government intend to encourage the ICC both to bring further charges against Thomas Lubanga, the first Congolese warlord to be brought before it, and to pursue others at a very high level whose atrocities are equally well-known? The development of a credible justice system is another of the many priorities facing the new Government. They have to be dissuaded from appointing known villains to new commands and influential positions. I hope that amid so much else, Her Majesty's Government have their eye on the Great Lakes region of Africa.

6.21 pm

Lord Lamont of Lerwick: My Lords, I want to talk about Iraq and Iran and the relationship between the two countries. Before doing that, I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Interests as a director of two companies involved in trading with both those countries. I hope that the House will not think it wrong of me to talk about and draw on my experience of dealing with that region.

Like several noble Lords, I recently had the opportunity to observe and listen to former President Khatami of Iran. As I listened to him, I became more and more surprised that this was the man whose regime was dubbed “the axis of evil”. This was the president of Iran who was the first head of state to

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condemn the terrorist actions on 9/11, which he condemned as “an act of nihilism” that was totally inconsistent with Islam. It was this president who also gave practical help and strong support to the American invasion of both Iraq and Afghanistan, in exchange for which he received continuing sanctions against his country and diplomatic isolation.

From a western point of view since, the situation in Iran has become much worse with a much more extreme Government in power, but the isolation of Iran and the economic difficulties have contributed to the ascent to power of the hardliners. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, I welcome what the Prime Minister said the other day about talking to both Iran and Syria about Iraq, and trying to enlist their help. However, I am not too sure that the Prime Minister's tone in his statement was quite right. He demanded a dialogue; he wanted a dialogue while simultaneously warning those countries of the consequences if they did not participate. There is some suspicion that his words may have been altered slightly at the request of the United States.

The United States has also expressed interest in talks, but to many people it appears to have laid down as conditions for the talks words and terms which most people would have thought were more appropriate in the conclusion of the talks.

From an Iranian point of view, the invitation to talks may prove less than overwhelming. When the West and the United States were in a strong position in Iraq, Iran was told to keep well out of Iraq. It was told not to participate in the reconstruction of the country. But now that the West has problems, Iran is asked to come in and is unlikely to want to be the deus ex machina to solve America's problems.

There is also a danger that the West may overestimate what the Iranians can do in Iraq. Iran is already close to Iraq through the Dawa party, the Sciri party, and the Prime Minister of Iraq is close to Iran—so close that the Americans have warned the Iraqi Government on occasions not to get too close to their neighbour.

We should remember that Iran shares the original objectives of the United States and Britain in Iraq. Iran wants Iraq kept as one country. It has supported a secular Government; it has supported a Sunni as president because it wants to keep the country as one country. It is not often reported in this country that the supreme ruler Khamenei—not often thought of as a moderate—has repeatedly urged the Shias not to retaliate against acts of violence by the Sunnis. It is not often reported in this country that the Iranians actually organised polling stations and ballots for the elections in Iraq.

Looking at the issue more widely, diplomatically Iran has never been in so strong a position as it is today. Its two main enemies have been removed as a result of the war. More profoundly, the whole balance in the Middle East between Shia and Sunni has been dramatically altered. The emergence of a Shia crescent from Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon to Iran and Iraq has caused something between unease and panic in the moderate Arab countries—Egypt,

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Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states. The issue that is increasingly discussed is how to prevent Iran filling the power vacuum.

Dr Kissinger and Jeremy Greenstock have talked about building up structures around these moderate Arab states. These were the states that initially supported Israeli action against the Lebanon until they were forced into a diplomatic retreat by public opinion in their own countries. Whatever the merits of this idea of getting these countries all together, there is room for scepticism at the extent to which they themselves would act as opposed to talk cohesively. But a restarted peace process, as Dr Kissinger pointed out, would require close co-operation among the moderate Arab states, and involve the EU and United States as well. If a solution to the Palestinian problem were ever arrived at, that would mean that Iran had much less opportunity for mischief.

Under Secretary Burns at the Pentagon the other day criticised Iran because it had ambitions to be a regional power. Surely it is important to keep in touch with reality. Iran already is a very important power in the region. It is a significant oil producer, a country with a population of 60 million people—soon to be 100 million people. It is also a country with its own security concerns, having lost something like 500,000 people in a war within living memory.

Of course there is legitimate and real concern about what President Ahmadinejad has said about Israel. I suspect that those remarks were more aimed at enhancing Iran’s influence among the Arab states—they certainly do not resonate so well in Iran itself. It has been made clear on several occasions that were there to be a Middle East settlement that was acceptable to the Palestinian people, Iran would not, as President Khatami put it, be more Catholic than the Pope, but would accept what the Palestinian people had decided.

Henry Kissinger in an interesting article on Sunday said:

That is quite right but treating Iran as a pariah will not encourage Iran in that direction. Many of the actions of the West in recent years have seemed designed to encourage the revolutionary fervour of people like President Ahmadinejad. There is no doubt that the Iranian public are tired of the Government acting as a revolutionary agent rather than one to bring an increased economic prosperity, which is what they desperately want.

I welcome the fact that the Government want talks with Iran, but they must not be just about Iraq and the nuclear issue. They must be about wider issues: Iran’s entry into the WTO and its place in an integrated economic world. The Government must recognise Iran as a respected, but not dominant, power in the region. There are no guarantees, but an approach on that basis is more likely to produce an Iran that is less of a revolutionary agent and more of a responsible regional power, which is what we want.

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6.30 pm

Lord Maginnis of Drumglass: My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to speak about the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus in this debate. I last addressed this House on the Cyprus issue in July 2005. Since then, our Government have done virtually nothing other than rehearse their good intentions—meaninglessly and without achievement. While one cannot force an agreement if either of the two traditions in Cyprus is unwilling, there are things that the United Kingdom Government could and should do. They can take action on matters within their own competence and influence the policy of other nations within the European Union and the United Nations.

In April 2004, the Annan plan for a Cyprus settlement was endorsed by virtually the whole world as a fair and reasonable compromise. Despite the fact that it contained considerable risks for them, the Turkish Cypriots accepted it. The Greek Cypriots rejected it. They were entitled to reject it but—and this is the crucial point—having rejected it, they should no longer expect the world to assist them to keep the Turkish Cypriots in isolation.

I shall address some of the practical effects of this isolation. It denies Turkish Cypriots the right of representation in almost every international forum. It prevents or restricts the use of ports and airports in Northern Cyprus. It precludes Turkish Cypriots having access to financial markets, curtails trade and tourism, and hampers all cultural and sporting relations between the TRNC and other countries.

Turkish Cypriots have done nothing to deserve this treatment, nor has it ever been authorised by a sanctions resolution under Chapter 7 of the United Nations Charter. Neither did this situation emanate simply from the 2004 Annan plan referendum. Turkish Cypriots have been under isolation from as long ago as 1963, when the Greek Cypriots massacred hundreds of their men, women and children and drove them into defensive enclaves. The Turkish defence of these people in 1974 was necessary and justifiable. In his memoirs, Sir Alec Douglas-Home wrote:

Perhaps I may remind your Lordships what world leaders have said about the isolation of the Turkish Cypriots after they accepted the Annan plan. On 26 April 2004, the European Council said in a statement:

A Foreign Affairs Committee report in another place, dated 1 February 2005, said that,

One particularly urgent matter is the denial of direct flights to Turkish Cypriot airports. This means

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that all flights to Ercan have to stop over at a Turkish airport, adding considerably to time, cost and inconvenience, and putting Northern Cyprus at a major competitive disadvantage. On 18 May 2004, Prime Minister Blair had this to say:

Again, the Foreign Office Minister told this House that,

Yet, when I asked the Foreign Office Minister on 1 February 2005 when direct flights were going to commence, I was told that the Government were considering the legal issues. I accept that the legal issues may be complex, but even the slowest lawyers would have come to a conclusion by now.

The Government have not produced any legal argument as to why direct flights should not be permitted. I therefore conclude that none exists, a conclusion I have had confirmed by two eminent British legal counsel. I understand it is a matter within the United Kingdom Government’s own competence, not a matter for the EU. Therefore, direct flights could commence without further delay. Thereafter, I would also expect our Government to encourage other Governments, within and outside the EU, to follow suit. Turkish Cypriots earned the right to be relieved of their isolation when they voted for the Annan plan. As the United Nations Secretary-General said at the time:

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