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Libya

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:56 pm on 16th April 1986.

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Photo of Mr James Callaghan Mr James Callaghan Father of the House of Commons 4:56 pm, 16th April 1986

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will allow me to respond to that point when I conclude my speech in a few minutes. It is agreed by almost every hon. Member that we should isolate Libya from our world, but we should then seek to isolate the terrorists from their own world. There is a potential division at least between those who use terrorism in the middle east to achieve their ends and those who use terrorism to sabotage any settlement or agreement. Libya's ruler belongs to the second group.

There are some in the first group with whom some compromise might one day be possible, and we should work to separate the two. In an entirely different category are those Arab states which have no more liking for Gaddafi than we have, but which may be driven at present to appear to be siding with him, although they will disengage as quickly as they can.

I would have told President Reagan that Gaddafi was not central to the solution of the middle east question, but it is the inability to reach a middle east settlement that strengthens Gaddafi. We can weaken him if we give some hope to those middle east states to which I have referred in order to reinforce their self-confidence and make them feel more secure and willing to outface the rejectionists. That is the path of wisdom that we should follow. It will not deal immediately with terrorism, but it will weaken and undercut the terrorists in what they are trying to do.

The West as a whole must address itself to the genuine grievances on which terrorists thrive, and here the role of the United States is crucial. During the 1970s, under three successive Administrations, the Americans appeared to occupy more central ground than President Reagan does today. The United States then had more of the appearance of a mediator. But during the 1980s her misconceived intervention in Lebanon has given her the appearance of a participant—alas, with no apparent long-term policy.

America's diplomacy today has neither the intensity of President Carter's efforts at Camp David nor the sustained energy and the constructive mind of Henry Kissinger when he applied himself to this problem. He was not successful, but there was a sense of momentum and of trying to find solutions even to small problems that gave everyone the feeling that something would happen.

Four years ago, after the slaughter in the Sabra and Chatila camps in Lebanon, President Reagan made a speech with much of which I was in agreement. Unfortunately, Israel rejected it out of hand, to my great regret. I do not know what happened afterwards, but President Reagan seemed to lose interest in the problem. America's efforts, which are vital to success, have become spasmodic and impulsive. There have been periods of activity, interspersed with months of neglect.

For a long time now, those of us who have watched the middle east situation develop have noticed that the United States has done little except talk procedure as a substitute for substance. Endless discussions have taken place at a secondary level on how to get various participants around a table, but I am not aware of any discussion of the substance of the dispute—such as the need to remove the legitimate grievances of the West Bank inhabitants, the conditions of security for Israel, and so on. In the face of this, both President Mubarak and King Hussein of Jordan appear to have lost heart.

When the Prime Minister sees King Hussein—I understood her to say that it would be this week—I hope that she will raise, not these piddling questions of procedure, but what proposals of substance we in Europe can put forward. Perhaps she could galvanise other European countries into presenting some sort of approach on substantial matters. I hope that the Prime Minister will tell the United States, which is vital to success, in terms which I hope it will find acceptable, that it is its responsibility, not merely to consider how it can next respond to terrorist attacks, but how it can substantially and methodically restart this difficult process, which some believe is impossible. Nevertheless, that process must be attempted because we are dealing with the most volatile area in the world today. It is far more dangerous than Afghanistan or south-east Asia. I hope that the Prime Minister will take that line when she meets King Hussein.

I am fearful when European politicians say in despair that nothing will succeed. If nothing will succeed, let us build the air raid shelters now. This must not he the last word, but if it is and the President does not put his full personal authority behind an attempt to make progress on the Arab-Israeli problem and to create some momentum, not only will America fall flat on her face in Libya, as she did in the Lebanon, but the most volatile area in the world could set the rest of the world aflame.

I do not suggest that a resumption of negotiations will put an end to state-sponsored terrorism, but it would certainly serve to isolate terrorists and those who harbour them from other states in the middle east. Europe should pull itself together. It has played a most inglorious role. I do not think that the Government were behind hand in this matter. Indeed, I wish that they had gone further. Certainly many European states could have gone much further and responded to some of the Foreign Secretary's suggestions.

I make one further suggestion. The Soviet Union should be drawn into the fight against terrorism. It has declared that it is against state terrorism and terrorism. I do not know what value we can attribute to its words, but a summit will undoubtedly take place. When a dialogue takes place between the two great powers, and between President Reagan and Mr. Gorbachev, a discussion on how all of us can use their considerable influence to end this hateful practice which is disfiguring the world today should be in a prominent place on the agenda.

I have made several criticisms of the United States' actions and its failure to act. I do not do so destructively. I am a firm adherent of the value of the United States in the NATO Alliance, and I am a great admirer of the American people, their energy, spirit, and willingness to tackle problems which the rest of us will not. Our friends in the United States have committed many errors, but who is without error? Not even my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Brown).

It is the task of Europe and the United States to resolve the differences which have grown up and to which both sides have contributed, so that we may add to the peace of the world.