Middle East

Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 13th March 1991.

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Photo of John Home Robertson John Home Robertson , East Lothian 12:00 am, 13th March 1991

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on relations with countries in the middle east.

Photo of Mr Christopher Butler Mr Christopher Butler , Warrington South

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the current situation in the middle east.

Photo of Hon. Douglas Hurd Hon. Douglas Hurd , Witney

The coalition forces suspended hostilities against Iraq on 28 February. Security Council resolution 686 sets out the conditions which Iraq must fulfil for a definitive end to hostilities. We and our coalition partners will continue our efforts to achieve this and to restore peace and security to the area.

Photo of John Home Robertson John Home Robertson , East Lothian

That answer is welcome. Notwithstanding the incomprehensible public stance of the Palestine Liberation Organisation on the invasion of Kuwait, does the Secretary of State acknowledge that private pressure from the PLO led to, among other things, the release of British and other foreign hostages by Saddam Hussein back in December? Will he further acknowledge that there can be no security in the middle east until a just settlement is achieved for the Palestinian people? Will he join me in welcoming the acknowledgment by Secretary of State Baker of the continuing role of the PLO? Can we expect the British Government to start holding conversations with members of the PLO in the near future?

Photo of Hon. Douglas Hurd Hon. Douglas Hurd , Witney

It is certainly true that there cannot be a settlement of the Arab-Israel problems without a just settlement for the Palestinians. Unfortunately, it is also true that the present leadership of the PLO substantially weakened the authority with which it can speak on behalf of the Palestinians by supporting Saddam Hussein's aggression. That is a fact with which the Palestinians have to wrestle. I welcome the meeting that Secretary Baker had with Palestinians yesterday. As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have our own contacts with Palestinians, both in the occupied territories and in Tunis.

Photo of Mr Christopher Butler Mr Christopher Butler , Warrington South

I am sure that the whole House welcomes the sending of a United Nations team to investigate possible Iraqi atrocities in Kuwait. Will the remit of that team be extended to cover any possible subsequent atrocities?

Photo of Hon. Douglas Hurd Hon. Douglas Hurd , Witney

Like my hon. Friend, I welcome this sending of the secretary-general's team. I believe that it is investigating atrocities in Kuwait. I urged the Kuwaiti authorities some time ago that one of their actions when they returned to Kuwait should be to start drawing up an authentic catalogue of stories of such atrocities so that it can be made available to the United Nations.

Photo of Mr David Alton Mr David Alton , Liverpool Mossley Hill

On the third anniversary of the atrocities against the Kurds and the deaths of some 5,000 Kurds in one town alone, does the Foreign Secretary agree that perhaps the most fitting commemoration would be for the British Government and other allied Governments to take a more active role in seeking self-determination for the Kurdish people? What information does he have on the present Kurdish resistance in Iraq and the success that it is having?

Photo of Hon. Douglas Hurd Hon. Douglas Hurd , Witney

It is not realistic to suppose—nor does the hon. Gentleman ask for—an independent Kurdish state when one considers that Kurds live in four countries. What we are talking about and what my hon. Friends were talking about earlier, is a degree of autonomy and respect for Kurdish rights and practices. I agree with that.

We have reason to believe that there is a substantial uprising in the northern parts of Iraq in which the Kurds are playing their part in an attempt to overthrow the regime in Baghdad.

Photo of Mr Anthony Nelson Mr Anthony Nelson , Chichester

Now that many countries in the Gulf region—especially Kuwait—are back to the political drawing board, does my right hon. Friend accept that Britain has a historic and influential role to play in any political reconstruction? Does he share the view of some that there is little prospect of more enlightened and democratic government simply through transferring power from ruling families to other pairs of hands? Does he agree that what is probably needed is the democratic check of some representative councils along the lines of those set up in other Arab states, such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and the Sultanate of Oman, which have worked well to defend the interests of their people against excessive autocracy of government.

Photo of Hon. Douglas Hurd Hon. Douglas Hurd , Witney

I believe that Arab states, like countries in South America and black Africa, will find their own way towards greater involvement of their people in the processes of government. I hope very much that that will happen in Kuwait.

Photo of Mr Ernie Ross Mr Ernie Ross , Dundee West

In an earlier response, the Secretary of State suggested that the PLO had somehow blotted its copybook. Yet he knows as well as I do that in recent attempts by western nations to find out who represents the Palestinian people, such as the visit of the troika of Ministers last week and that of James Baker yesterday when he met Faisal Husseini, Hanan Ashrawi, the mayor of Bethlehem and the ex-mayor of Hebron among others, who are the leaders of the Palestinians on the west bank and Gaza, all delegations made it clear that the one group which speaks for them is the PLO. I hope that the Secretary of State will not go back to the old game of simply putting off discussions on the pretext that he does not know who represents the Palestinians. They have made clear who their representatives are, and unless and until we talk to them, there can be no moves towards peace.

Photo of Hon. Douglas Hurd Hon. Douglas Hurd , Witney

I accept that, because the Palestinians must be an essential part of the answer to the Arab-Israel problem, there must be representative Palestinians, as opposed to Palestinians selected by the occupying forces. But it is important that the PLO leadership should, when organising themselves and deciding what to say and do in the near future, reflect on the harm that has been done by elements of that leadership during the recent Gulf crisis.