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I welcome the increasing international commitment to Iraq. The UN hosted a constructive high-level meeting on Iraq in September, at which I was present. Having participated as a UN official in earlier such meetings, I can record that there is a slow warming of the ice between Iraq and its neighbours. Indeed, other countries are starting to be more active in terms of support to Iraq.

Lord Hurd of Westwell: My Lords, will the noble Lord say something about the progress in dealing with corruption? There is no point in spending huge sums of money if they dribble away into the wrong hands. I am thinking particularly of oil theft, which appears to go on the whole time, and continuing reports of money going astray.

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, the noble Lord raises an enormously important point. As the international financial institutions become more active in Iraq, it has been possible to improve some of the measures and accountabilities for the use of funds. However, I suggest to the noble Lord that there are two primary routes to the corruption in Iraq. The first is the continued insecurity, which allows people to steal oil from pipelines; that would not happen in a country that was well policed and could protect its pipelines against these kinds of actions. The second is the continuing sense of instability that the Iraqi political class has about its survivability. I have always found that, when a regime is not certain about how long it will last, that is the moment when it is most tempted to filter resources into its own accounts and to provide a retirement fund in case government officials are forced to go into exile. Therefore, I argue that the best way in which to combat corruption is first to ensure security, secondly to convince Iraqis that democracy is here to stay and that Iraqi politicians have a long-term future in the country, and thirdly to improve the arrangements of international audit and accountability for funds. I acknowledge that progress on all three is not fully satisfactory.

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Earlier this month, EU Foreign Ministers committed to enhancing their political engagement with Iraq and its neighbours, which is another sign of growing support for the Government in Iraq. As the Prime Minister has argued in another place, our role in Basra has changed and is moving increasingly towards support for Iraqi authorities. This is a tribute to the determination and dedication of our troops and civilian personnel from the MoD, DfID and the FCO, both British and Iraqi.

I will now say a word about Iran. While Turkey has shown great fortitude in its response to provocation from the PKK within Iraq and while Saudi Arabia is working constructively with Arab colleagues, even towards opening an embassy in Baghdad, I am afraid that I cannot report such healthy collaboration from Iran. Iran is quite simply not a good neighbour. Despite an apparently clear strategic interest on the Iranian side in the success of both Prime Minister Maliki’s Government in Iraq and Prime Minister Karzai’s Government in Afghanistan, both of whom enjoy good relations with Tehran, elements of the Iranian regime remain that just cannot help themselves. They are illegally smuggling arms and supporting extremism and violence, and targeting American and British troops in both countries, as well as playing a similar role in Lebanon.

Within Iran itself, the human rights situation is fast deteriorating. In the past 12 months, the authorities have closed reformist newspapers, arrested journalists and editors and confiscated satellite dishes, while websites and blogs have been blocked. Large numbers of teachers, women’s rights activists and students have been arrested for taking part in peaceful demonstrations. This seems to be part of a clampdown by the system on all forms of organised progress. Let me take just one example, that of Mansour Osanloo. He is a trade unionist, the president of the Syndicate of Workers of the Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company. He has been arrested several times, first in December 2005, when he was detained without trial for seven months, and most recently in July this year. The charges against him are unclear, but trade unions are illegal in Iran. Osanloo has been arrested and imprisoned for being, it seems, just a peaceful trade unionist. He has not been allowed proper access to legal assistance or medical treatment to save his eyesight, which was damaged following injuries that he sustained at the hands of the security forces in May 2005.

Iran is one of the very few countries that still executes juveniles, in violation of its obligations under international conventions. Iran also continues, as I think we are all aware, to violate UN resolutions on its nuclear programme. Mr Larijani’s resignation over the weekend from the Supreme National Security Council in his role as nuclear negotiator has provoked a new round of speculation and concern. We have always insisted that Iran has the right to civil nuclear power, but not to start a regional arms race. In the next months, we expect a new Security Council resolution and discussion within the EU on new sanctions. If Iran continues to defy international demands and refuses to bring its programme into compliance with the demands of the Security Council and the IAEA, there will indeed be further sanctions.

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As I have said before in this House, let me assure noble Lords that we are committed to solving these issues through diplomatic means. Iran needs to stop moving further into international isolation. We need to draw Iran back into becoming a responsible regional leader and international player, but that will not be achieved as long as Iran feels able to fuel violence in its neighbourhood and develop an illegal nuclear capability.

I shall say a word about the Middle East peace process, which will be discussed at Annapolis in the coming weeks, followed by a major donor conference in December. Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas have appointed negotiating teams and have met fortnightly through the summer. These meetings provide the best opportunity since 2001 to make progress. As the Prime Minister said on 8 October, we cannot achieve what we want in the wider region without progress on Israeli/Palestinian issues. For the sake of time, I will not go further on this issue now, not least in the expectation that noble Lords will wish to return to it during the debate.

A few weeks ago, this Government published their proposals for an economic road map to underpin the peace process—a programme for rebuilding the Palestinian economy and for reducing the high levels of unemployment and poverty among the Palestinian people. Economic development remains a key part of building a constituency for peace and of course the quartet envoy, the former Prime Minister, remains hugely active in support of that agenda. We are providing humanitarian support to Gaza, the West Bank and the Occupied Palestinian Territories at this time. But both parties need to act to establish a just and lasting peace. Palestinian rocket attacks into Israel continue, but equally settlement activity and the construction of the barrier threaten the viability of a future Palestinian state.

Again, I will leave a fuller commentary on Lebanon until later in the debate, but I just note at this point that the key upcoming event is the presidential election due in November, on which many of our hopes for future stability in that country now rest.

I hope that noble Lords will forgive such a rapid tour of this troubled region, but I hope that at least, perhaps in its mistakes as much as in its claims, it will provide a stimulus for the debate to follow. I beg to move.

Moved, That this House takes note of developments in the Middle East and Afghanistan.—(Lord Malloch-Brown.)

5.30 pm

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, we are grateful to the Government and to the Minister for promoting this debate at a time when the issues under discussion are very much in need of close examination. As the Minister says, it is a massive canvas and it is very hard to do full justice to all aspects of the Middle East and Afghanistan—and indeed the report we are going to discuss—in one speech or one debate.

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We are extremely fortunate that we are going to have the opportunity of hearing two maiden speeches in this debate, to which I am greatly looking forward. The first is going to come from my noble friend Lady Warsi who, despite her youth—I hope that does not sound too old from an older man—is hugely experienced in community relations and particularly in the position of women in the war theatres and uglier regions of the world. That matter requires very close attention, which she will give. She is also an expert on racial justice work and will bring very good first-hand experience to our debates. We look forward to that very much.

Later on we will have a second maiden speech from my noble friend Lady Neville-Jones, who is well known to many of us. She was extremely senior in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office as political director and was chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee. I have never been too sure what joints that joint committee was joining but, along with her other past activities, that gives her enormous experience in these areas to share with us. Intelligence and security are central to our national interest and concerns. I look forward to that as well.

I would like to take the subjects in not quite the same order as the Minister. I will begin with Iraq and the threat of Turkish invasion, which are parts of the same issue—the future integrity and survival of Iraq as a nation and, we hope, as a democracy.

Iraqi Kurdistan is already a semi-autonomous part of that nation. Turkey has been remarkably relaxed about the emergence of Iraqi Kurdistan as almost a separate concern within Iraq. The PKK invasion and the threat of a separate Turkish Kurdish state is of course a different matter and a deadly threat to Turkish stability. We must understand that while caution and calls for restraint all round are completely understandable and indeed essential, so too is Turkish anger at—as the Minister says—the highly provocative attacks by the PKK. The problem is this: if neither the Kurds nor Baghdad have any kind of control—or even concede that they should have any control—over the PKK strongholds and the Kandil hill mountain areas, then the Turkish case for doing something is very strong and we can see the point of view of the Turkish leadership and parliament. There is also an interesting debate going on about the legality of it all. If the sovereign power—which is Iraq, with Kurdistan within it—concedes that its writ does not run in the Kandil mountains, is Turkey acting legally if it is to go over the border? It would be valuable to have a comment from the Minister—maybe supported by some legal advice—at the end of this debate.

That is the unnerving position that is developing there. It raises the broader question which all of us dread, which is that it could be a move by an outside power to enter the Iraqi melange and could lead to dangerous pressures for Iraqi break-up, which none of us wants. I certainly do not. We will debate our own position in Iraq again and again in the coming months and some of my noble friends, including my noble friend Lord Attlee, will look at the detailed military aspects.

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I find the Operation Overwatch timetable—to 4,500 and then 2,500 in the spring—a little worrying, quite aside from the slightly odd way in which it all was announced by the Prime Minister. There is a saying in our phrase-book: “Get in or get out”. The plan now seems to be to go down in the spring to two battle groups. If one of those battle groups is out helping the Iraqis to train or is on the borders, can the other hold the Basra airport encampment if there is a sudden upsurge of extreme and highly populous violence? I do not want to be too fanciful, but our history is unfortunately marked by a number of instances when a brave British outpost was undermanned and over-run, even by more primitive people. We can think of Gordon of Khartoum—no pun intended—and Isandlwana where that terrible thing happened.

Can the Minister tell me if there is some discontent in Washington with our plans, or are people happy there? We get completely different versions. We are certainly discontented with some of the American procedures in Iraq in recent years. A lot of fingers have been pointed at some of the mistakes made by the American Administration—and by the Americans themselves. I hope that the Miliband mission to Washington that I read about in the papers this morning will clarify things and smooth relations, but I hope it will not be at the cost of being subservient on either Iraq and how we handle it or Iran and how that should be handled. I will come to that point in a moment.

We remain in favour of an independent inquiry into the Iraq saga at the appropriate time to help us see what went wrong, how to put it right and how to apply the lessons elsewhere.

I now come to the Israel-Palestine issue, which some people describe as the key issue, saying that if we can solve Israel-Palestine everything in the Middle East will be sweetness and light. I do not believe that. There are many other long-standing disputes and dangers related to the rise of militant Islam and so on, and those will not disappear if we can get some miraculous advance between Israel and Palestine. The Arab-Israel dispute is certainly the poison in the well and it may be about to get much worse. It links with many other issues such as south Lebanon, the Syrian position and—again—Iran’s role in supporting Hezbollah, Hamas or anything else.

The Minister reminds us that the Annapolis conference is coming up. The conference rooms are all booked. Does the Minister feel that this heralds a change of the whole US policy and approach? Some people may be too hopeful in thinking that it does. Obviously the long-term goal is clear: a permanent peace based on UN Resolutions 242, 338, 1397 and 1515, and on the Madrid principles, the Saudi Arabian peace initiative, the quartet road map and a thousand other efforts. That is where we want to go. Obviously one conference alone cannot possibly achieve this: it could not begin to do so, even if we had had slightly happier vibes and reactions from the leading participants before the conference even began. That is why I agree with the US Israel Policy Forum—a very interesting body striking a new note

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in American attitudes to Israel—that the meeting must be one of a series which must be inclusive, produce substantive moves and concessions and have a real impact on the many imperilled and miserable lives of people living in Gaza and the West Bank. It is imperative to avoid the danger of it being all process and no substance, which we have seen too often in the past.

As I said, the mood in the USA may be changing, especially given the enlightened Jewish opinion which argues that the clear aim must be two independent sovereign states—I know Mr Bush has said that, but other voices are now giving him additional support—and genuine homelands respectively for the Jewish and the Palestinian people. There must be borders based on 1967, maybe with one or two negotiated changes; a just solution to the refugee problem; agreement on Jerusalem; and, above all, a freeze on settlement expansion—that cannot go on.

Tony Blair and his mission can indeed play a key part in all this because the embryo Palestinian state, which is not yet really in existence, is not only bisected by settlements but economically destitute. A huge international programme of revival needs to be marshalled and I hope that the former Prime Minister, Mr Blair, will concentrate on that. Certainly he should be supported. That is where he should put his efforts rather than giving Manichaean lectures in America on good and evil. That is what he can do and where his talents can be best applied.

The Annapolis conference and, I hope, its successors need to embrace a wide number of Arab states. It is essential that Condoleezza Rice, with all her travels, persuades the Saudis and the Syrians to get on board, which she has not yet done. The position of Hamas is difficult but, if there is a second conference, that is the point where it could be invited as well. It cannot be excluded in the end, and the quartet and the Americans are going to have to face up to that.

Some of these issues are covered in the EU Committee report, which the noble Lord, Lord Roper, will introduce in a moment. I look forward to hearing what he is going to say. At first reading—I can be persuaded otherwise—the report seems more about the role of the EU than the actual detailed working plans, step by step, of the way in which to move forward. That is in contrast to the American ideas which I have been talking about.

The report brings home to me just how incoherent and unstructured the EU foreign policy role is and, I am afraid, is bound to be. It would be nice if it could be otherwise. Despite brave calls for a more active and imaginative role for the EU, which we all want, somehow it never happens. The same goes in regard to the lack of integration in EU aid policy, which, sadly, has a long history of failure. We should certainly co-ordinate with our European neighbours, or those who are willing, in all kinds of detailed and intimate ways, but we should be cautious about submerging our own unique roles and skills contribution too far into the EU system.

The report strikes me as a warning in this House against seeing too many of our international aims

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through the EU prism nowadays, and perhaps points to a restructuring and modernising of our own committee system in the new global context, taking special cognisance of our invaluable membership of the growingly powerful Commonwealth network. I should like to hear what your Lordships, and particularly the experienced chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Roper, think about that rumination.

The Minister spoke with great authority on Afghanistan, where he has just been. We all know that this is proving a far tougher nut to crack than earlier hopes implied, as every historian warned us and most of us predicted. We on this side want to hear a great deal more about the overall strategy if we are to accept that yet more troops are going into Afghanistan; we want to know whether the Canadians and Dutch are now pulling out; we want to know what can be done to unify commands effectively; and, above all, we want to know what more can be done—the Minister has spoken about it—to address the narcotics and poppy issues squarely and offer the farmers something better, not deprive them or turn them to the Taliban. The question has to be asked again: why does not the UN or some grouping of nations buy out the whole crop for medicinal purposes? I was surprised to hear the Minister say in one sentence—although he later changed it—that the cultivation had been reduced. In fact, as he went on to say, it has been rising miserably fast. It is a problem that we are not on top of, and it is getting worse at vast expense. Our policy has to change.

The options are narrowing on Iran. Even Mr Putin seems to be losing patience with Tehran. There are fresh ways of turning the screw—Mr Sarkozy has been airing some of them—and those who say that it is either sanctions or a resort to force are giving a false dichotomy; there are options between those two courses of action. Sanctions may be necessary to curb the drift into a military nuclear pattern from a civil nuclear pattern, but we know that China and Russia are never going to come on board and support full UN trade sanctions even if these could be made to work, which many noble Lords said last week they doubted.

Financial sanctions and maybe cyber-sanctions are another matter. Further checks on doing business with Iranian banks or banks connected with Iran could well do a lot more to deepen the divisions in a deeply divided society, which Iran is. The mullahs are cross that they are not getting dollars for their oil, and the young people are clearly fed up with the rule of the mullahs. As I said, the French Government seem to have new zest and ideas on these subjects. Mr Larijani has resigned yet, oddly, turned up at the meetings in Rome. Clearly a lot of internal forces are working against the absolute unified hard line of Iran as a troublemaker, which the Minister mentioned. The one man who could certainly unite Iran is Mr Cheney in Washington, along with his friends. If they decide on an all-out attack, that will consolidate Mr Ahmadinejad’s rule like nothing else.

We want to be friends with the United States in dealing with these terrible problems, but it is a friendship that is rather difficult to maintain. In too many areas, from legal irritants over extradition up to

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issues such as Guantanamo, Washington seems insufficiently prepared to listen. We all want to see the return of the genial and generous Uncle Sam of the past, but that is not what the world is currently being offered. United States leaders speak of American dominance, but dominance is not the answer. Exporting a simplistic version of democracy, to be delivered by overwhelming force if the medicine is not taken, is not a policy and will not work. I liked the article in the Economist the other day reminding us that democracy is a very loose term and that we should refine it by thinking less in terms of mass ballots, automatic elections, Jeffersonian models or Westminster models and more in terms of the rule of law, open and public discussion and a public-spiritedness in the conduct of affairs. It is a concept which needs careful handling, and nations which believe they can carry it all before them waving the banner of democracy are not going to get very far.

Above all, our American allies have to face the fact, as we do in Europe, that power has shifted to Asia in all these matters. The answer to many of the Middle East problems may well lie as much today in Beijing, Delhi, Tokyo and Moscow as it does in Washington or Brussels. Why do I say that? Because they are the regions with not only the economic power but the political power. They are the regions with the capital and savings generated in enormous quantities, while we—especially the Americans and our own country—are the regions and nations of debt. So they produce the money and we borrow it, and the power tends to lie with those who lend and not those who borrow. That applies as much in the Middle East as elsewhere.

Our national interest is to recognise where the new power lies and to work as closely with it as we can. Our history and skills make us well equipped to do so, and the sooner our foreign policy and the present foreign policy of each Government recognise these realities, the better.

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