Middle East

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:40 am on 19th December 1990.

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Photo of Mr Donald Anderson Mr Donald Anderson Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 7:40 am, 19th December 1990

With the leave of the House, I shall intervene again. I recall, rather hazily, speaking earlier. I have not changed my views since that time and nor, I suspect, has the Minister after nocturnal reflection.

It may sound a little hollow to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist) at this hour of the morning after a long night, but I do so. He made many points well. He referred, for example, to the nature of the Iraqi regime. He mentioned the Kurds, his membership of the campaign against repression and for democracy in Iraq, which I have been linked with, and gave a long exposé of the deficiencies of that regime.

It is an interesting case study that the hostility of western and world opinion can suddenly be against Iran, as the source of all evil in the region, but then switch to Iraq. One sees a similar transformation in relation to Syria. My hon. Friend made that point well.

My hon. Friend spoke of the civil rights deficiencies of the countries involved. He spoke of the importance of oil, but the importance of oil is not so much the interests of the western countries as the fact that, on 2 August, Saddam Hussein marched into an oil-rich neighbour—one of the greatest acts of perfidy in recent times, given the lack of warning and the way in which he had said that he wanted to negotiate. However, the so-called volunteers marched into Kuwait and now he seeks to obliterate a sovereign country recognised by the United Nations and previously was recognised by Iraq. That is the uniqueness of the case.

My hon. Friend made good points about selectivity, the nature of the regimes, and so on, but he sees the trees and misses the wood, which includes the uniqueness of the invasion and, perhaps more important, the significance of the response of world opinion to Iraq's invasion on 2 August. Whether the international community succeeds in this test case will have fundamental effects on international relations in years to come.

It is clear that, in the past 40 years, the middle east has been the flashpoint of the world. Whatever generalisations can be made about improved international relations and the prospects for peace in southern Africa, Cambodia, central America, Afghanistan, or wherever, they are followed by the qualification, "with the exception of the middle east". If the international community can assist in establishing a more stable and peaceful order in that region, it could address the problems of other regions where the problems are not so fundamental as those of the middle east.

The immediate problem facing the world community is the Gulf war. If the United Nations succeeds, it will have an enhanced authority and that added credibility will enable it to address other seemingly intractable problems in the hot spots of the world. It is vital for the international community to succeed. My colleagues and I do not accept the strictures that my hon. Friend addressed to the United Nations. We believe that it is the best hope for the world. If the United Nations and the international community fail in the Gulf, their authority will be reduced and international anarchy will be given a substantial boost.

My hon. Friend has identified the problems associated with Palestine and Lebanon. It is possible for people to argue that the international response to those problems has been selective. I must remind my hon. Friend, however, that United Nations resolution 242 does not refer to the self-determination of the Palestinians.

I agree with my hon. Friend that there is never a right time to attempt to solve all the problems of the middle east. I share my hon. Friend's concern at the policy of the Israeli Government. We are extremely critical of the current and threatened deportation of Palestinians from the occupied territories, which is in clear breach of international agreements and conventions.

If the United Nations is to make an impact in the middle east, it can do so only when the Security Council resolutions in respect of Iraq have been fully complied with. If the United Nations fails in that, it will be in no fit state to consider the other problems of the region. Failure to resolve those problems is one of the great tragedies of the middle east, but there are now prospects for improvement.

My hon. Friend will be aware that the Labour party has pressed for an international conference covering all the problems of the middle east, including justice and self-determination for the Palestinian people. We want the long ordeal of the Palestinian refugees to end and security for all states in the region, including Israel. We also want the torment in Lebanon to cease. We share my hon. Friend's strong argument in favour of the removal of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons from the entire middle east.

That international conference can take place only under the auspices of a United Nations which emerges with credit from the Gulf crisis. For that reason, we look forward to the full implementation of the Security Council resolutions. If the United Nations does not succeed, despite our earnest hopes, we fear the consequences for the world.