With permission, I should like to make a statement on the latest developments in Iraq.
Last August, Iraq informed the Security Council that it was suspending co-operation with the United Nations Special Commission and the International Atomic Energy Agency other than on monitoring. The effect was to prevent both agencies from carrying out surprise inspections at sites that they suspected were part of a programme for weapons of mass destruction. The work of both agencies was confined to monitoring the status of sites that they had already cleared.
The Security Council responded with resolution 1154, which provided both a penalty for that violation of Saddam's agreement, and an incentive for him to comply. As penalty, we suspended the regular review of the continuing need for sanctions. As an incentive, we offered a comprehensive review if Baghdad returned to full compliance. Nevertheless, on Saturday, Iraq notified the Security Council that it would no longer co-operate with UNSCOM, even on monitoring.
As the outgoing President of the Security Council, Britain convened an emergency session, which agreed to a statement condemning the Iraqi action. It records the view of the Security Council that Baghdad's decision is a "flagrant violation" of Security Council resolutions and of the agreement it made with Kofi Annan on his visit to Baghdad in February. The Security Council's support for the statement was unanimous. It was fully endorsed by Russia, whose spokesman has said that Russia was "deeply concerned" about the Iraqi decision.
Baghdad's attempt to close down the work of the inspectorates coincides with evidence that Saddam Hussein continues actively to pursue his ambition to maintain his capacity to produce weapons of mass destruction. Only two weeks ago, a group of experts received the results of tests performed in French and Swiss laboratories to corroborate the US finding of traces of VX nerve gas in fragments of Iraqi missile warheads. The French laboratory found evidence consistent with the presence of nerve gas in the warheads, and both laboratories confirmed that Iraq had tried to decontaminate the warheads. For years, Saddam has maintained that Iraq had never achieved a deliverable VX weapon. Those discoveries expose his denials as one more lie.
Even greater anxiety relates to Iraq's programme for biological weapons. UNSCOM has concluded that Baghdad's most recent declaration of its biological weapons capacity fails to give a "remotely credible" account of the programme.
We are in close consultation with our allies to maintain a united front and to achieve the most effective pressure on Iraq. Today, a resolution will be tabled in the Security Council that will demand that Iraq immediately restores co-operation with both UNSCOM and the IAEA. That strong resolution has been drafted by Britain, and we will be working to achieve unity around it. We want to find a diplomatic solution, but we have always made it clear that all options remain open.
The latest decision by Baghdad is particularly perverse, as the Security Council agreed only last Friday on the terms of a comprehensive review of Iraq's compliance with its undertakings. Those terms held out the prospect of a time frame for completion of the work of UNSCOM and the IAEA, and could, in turn, lead to the lifting of sanctions on Iraq.
Any such progress can be achieved only with the full compliance of Baghdad. So long as Baghdad continues to conceal its capacity for chemical and biological warfare, and so long as it obstructs UNSCOM from revealing the truth about those programmes, there can be no progress towards the lifting of sanctions.
Our dispute is with Saddam Hussein. We have no quarrel with the people of Iraq. On the contrary, we have grave concern for the suffering that they are experiencing under Saddam Hussein. Only last month, Max Van Der Stoel, the UN special rapporteur on Iraq, presented his latest report, which concluded that there has been no improvement at all in the repeated violation of human rights by Saddam Hussein, including torture, summary execution, arbitrary arrests and persecution of minorities.
Britain took the lead at the United Nations in pressing for a doubling of the "oil-for-food" programme. Consequently, Baghdad can now sell over $10 billion of oil per annum to pay for food, medicine and other humanitarian goods. I am pleased to report to the House that the latest information available to the UN confirms that, as a result, there have been positive improvements in access to food and medicine.
Saddam Hussein appears to be gambling that the world will grow weary of his constant evasion and repeated confrontation. His calculation is that we will eventually give up and abandon the sanctions regime, without requiring him to abandon his ambitions for regional supremacy through weapons of terror. We must remain ready and resolute to prove him wrong.
It would be too dangerous for Iraq's neighbours in the region to leave Saddam Hussein with the capacity to produce weapons that could wipe out whole cities. It would also be too damaging for the authority of the United Nations if Saddam was allowed to break the agreement he entered into with its Secretary-General. He cannot, and he will not, be allowed to win.
I thank the Secretary of State for his statement, and support his expressions of resolve. The House will appreciate that this is not the first time that Iraq has severely tested the will of the international community. It was only last February that, in order to avoid military action, it undertook to co-operate fully with UNSCOM and to provide immediate, unconditional and unrestricted access to inspectors. Iraq is now breaking that undertaking.
At the time, the Secretary of State rightly told the House:
If Saddam were now to be permitted to set aside all those decisions of the UN, and if we were to walk away and allow him to do so with impunity, there would be no point in invoking the power of the UN the next time we are confronted with a dictator threatening the security of his region or the lives of his people."—[Official Report, 17 February 1998; Vol. 306, c. 909.]
Does the Secretary of State stand by those remarks today?
At the time, the Prime Minister said that only
effective diplomacy and firm willingness to use force"—[Official Report, 24 February 1998; Vol. 307, c. 174.]
had brought about the agreement, and that nothing else would ensure its satisfactory implementation. Are the Government prepared to display equal resolve through the international community now? Can the Secretary of State say something about the deployment of British forces in the region, and about any preparations that may be under way to despatch more forces to the Gulf?
Can the right hon. Gentleman give the House an assurance that his final warning to Iraq will be more effective than his final warning to President Milosevic during the Kosovo crisis in the summer? Can he tell us more about the terms of the resolution to be tabled in the Security Council today? Is it the Government's view that a further resolution is necessary before force can be used if diplomacy fails?
Will the right hon. Gentleman also comment on the resignation of Richard Butler's deputy, Scott Ritter? Mr. Ritter accused the British and American Governments of turning a blind eye to Saddam Hussein's transgressions, in the vain hope that, if they gave way, Saddam would lay off. Does the Secretary of State think that, if those warnings had been heeded, the present crisis might have been avoided?
Finally, will the Foreign Secretary confirm that Iraq cannot pick and choose the people who are appointed by the international community to enforce its will? Does he agree that it would be a tragedy if Richard Butler and his work were cast aside in a futile attempt to placate Saddam Hussein?
I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for what I shall take as support for our position. He is, of course, absolutely right to say that this is not the first time that Saddam Hussein has tested the will of the international community—nor is it the first time in the past eight years. Saddam Hussein's testing of the international community did not commence after the general election. Whenever the previous Administration stood firm to him, we gave them our full support.
It is important that we remain patient, strong and resolute. We might as well be clear now that this will not be the last time that Saddam Hussein tests our resolve. We have to be firm and clear that he has to comply, and we shall have to be resolute the next time he seeks to test that resolve. There is absolutely no intention on the part of the Government to walk away from either the crisis in the Gulf or what we said on the previous occasion.
We remain ready to use all options. We have a dozen Tornados already in the Gulf, and we have maintained that presence ever since the previous crisis. We are confident that we have the basis on which, if required, we could put them into use. Resolution 1154, which endorsed the agreement reached by Kofi Annan in Baghdad, warned that violations would be met with the severest consequences.
Finally, in respect of Mr. Ritter, it is a bit rich to accuse the United States and the United Kingdom of being weak and irresolute in standing up to Saddam Hussein. Those two countries have been the firmest in making it clear that Saddam Hussein has to comply with the resolutions, and it would give us a better prospect of Saddam Hussein recognising our resolve if the right hon. and learned Gentleman did not at every possible opportunity seek to undermine that resolve.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that his statement has not only regional but global implications, in view of the potential threat to world stability posed by the acquisition of nuclear and other non-conventional weapons by Iraq? Does he agree that the crisis has been coming for a very long time, and that, on recent statements that he has made, I have warned that things would not get better, and could get worse, without firm action?
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that there is now no scope for further negotiation with Iraq, because the United Nations Security Council resolutions in place require not negotiation but compliance by Iraq, and we have seen that, if negotiation does take place, Saddam Hussein violates any agreement he makes? Having confirmed that UN resolutions authorise the use of force, should that be decided on, will my right hon. Friend accept from me that, unless Saddam now backs down, there is no alternative to military action, which must come sooner rather than later?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely correct to say that what is now required of Saddam Hussein is compliance with the UN resolutions. The Security Council has no business and no power to enter into negotiations with Baghdad as to which bits of the resolution he chooses to comply with. The resolutions have been carefully considered and carefully calibrated.
Saddam Hussein must now comply with them in full, and he should reflect on the fact that, on this occasion, the Security Council has been united not only on the text, but in private comments and public statements criticising Baghdad. I have already told the House that all options remain open. Today, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence met Mr. Cohen from the United States Administration, and they have issued a joint statement stressing that we are ready to use force if force is required.
May I express my support for the terms of the statement, and the firmness in which it is couched? While not expecting the Secretary of State to trade intelligence reports across the Floor of the House, does he agree that, to justify the option of the use of military force, it is necessary to have hard current evidence of continued wrongdoing by Saddam Hussein? Is he satisfied that there is such current evidence? Does he further agree that military force should never be used in revenge or frustration, no matter how extreme the provocation, and that, if it is used, it must be proportionate and have clear political objectives?
I entirely concur with the hon. and learned Gentleman that, if force is used, it must be used not as an expression of personal frustration or revenge, but in a way consistent with the UN resolutions, seeking to secure the objectives of those resolutions. Sadly, however, the evidence of non-compliance by Saddam Hussein mounts by the month. He has not been in compliance with the resolutions since the start of August, when he suspended co-operation with inspections, and he is no longer in compliance even with those parts of the resolutions that provide for monitoring.
Perhaps even more pertinent to the case of Saddam Hussein is the fact that not only is he in clear violation of the UN resolutions, but he is in flagrant violation of the agreement that was signed in Baghdad following personal exchanges between himself and Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary-General. We should all keep firmly in front of us the fact that Saddam Hussein in his action on Saturday and in August is not just challenging the United States and the United Kingdom, but defying the agreement that he made with the United Nations, and challenging all members of the United Nations.
Baghdad has authority under the Security Council resolutions to export up to $10 billion of oil to purchase food, medicine and humanitarian goods. Some of the oil that is exported from Iraq comes under that programme. There is ample evidence that substantial volumes of oil are being exported from Iraq illicitly and illegally, and that the funds used from that do not go to purchase any humanitarian goods required by the Iraqi people; they support the extravagant life style of the elite in Baghdad, and pay for the weapons of mass destruction that are at the root of our concerns.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is important that we should secure Security Council authority for any action? Does he further agree that it is important not to threaten that which we are not ready to perform? Does he further agree that, if military action is undertaken, we may have to contemplate a substantial and extended air assault? Finally, does he agree that every step should be taken to secure the support of middle eastern states?
I entirely agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman's last comment. It is important that we work with our allies and friends in the region to keep Iraq isolated. They may have some difficulty in expressing the fact publicly, but they understand that they are in the front line with Saddam Hussein and are the countries most at risk if the international community walks away and leaves Saddam with the capacity to produce weapons of mass destruction. Of course we must have proper authority for any action that we contemplate. It is equally important to maintain the unity of the international community, which is stronger than it was last February. That is a source of great strength and leverage for us with Baghdad.
Is not the problem the total bankruptcy of UNSCOM as a credible player? A senior United Nations official recently described the head of UNSCOM, Richard Butler, to me as a "congenital liar". That is based on knowing him for decades. Scott Ritter, who was lauded from the Opposition Front Bench, has admitted since his resignation that he was working with Israeli intelligence, while being the deputy head of a UN mission in Baghdad.
In the past few hours, it has been revealed that four inspectors working in Iraq under pseudonyms and carrying false passports were Colonel Khadouri, Lieutenant Shamani, Colonel Rabscon and Jador Dalai Shamoni—all operatives of Mossad, the Israeli intelligence service. We all hope that the inspectors can get back to work monitoring the awful weapons that exist not only in Iraq but throughout the region, not least in Israel; but a new and credible leadership of UNSCOM and transparency in its work will be a precondition for the restoration of credibility.
Above all, we need a time frame for ending the sanctions, which are killing 6,000 Iraqi children every month—not Ba'athists, not Saddam's officials, not the elite, but 6,000 Iraqi children every month—according to Mr. Dennis Halliday, the recently resigned UN official who quit his job in Baghdad because he said that the policy that he was being asked to implement was completely bankrupt.
I have heard of the reports that Baghdad has alleged that four people in UNSCOM were working for Israel, but I have had no corroboration of those reports, which stem from Baghdad. Of course, I shall happily answer any written question that my hon. Friend wants to put to me on the issue. Indeed, I undertake to write to him once we have clear information.
I strongly disagree with my hon. Friend's characterisation of Mr. Butler. I have known Richard Butler since long before he became the head of UNSCOM. I know him to be a diplomat committed to building a successful international community. My hon. Friend and most Labour Members would find a lot of common ground with Mr. Butler's wider views on foreign policy—and possibly even domestic policy. I therefore utterly acquit him of the charges that have been made against him. Baghdad's main complaint about Mr. Butler is that he has been too robust in carrying out the job that the UN asked him to do.
Finally, there is a simple remedy for the dire situation of some children in Iraq. It lies in the hands of Saddam Hussein. He could use the oil that he is smuggling out to maintain his elite and his programmes of weapons of mass destruction and put it into the oil-for-food programme, on which he has continually failed to meet the targets. Those resources could be used to meet the needs of his people instead of the needs of his military machine.
We have closely monitored the food and medicines going into the country. They are exempt from sanctions. There have never been sanctions on medicine. At the same time as there are complaints that there are not sufficient antibiotics in Iraq to treat the children, Saddam Hussein has imported specialist surgical equipment to carry out cosmetic surgery on those around him. Those are his priorities, and he is to blame for the suffering of the children.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, following the Annan agreement, the workings and timetable of UNSCOM were severely compromised? The present state of weaponry of the most dangerous sort in Iraq may be worse than we had reason to believe earlier.
Secondly, will the right hon. Gentleman say a little more about the point raised by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) on the importance of securing the support of our friends and allies in the Gulf? Is he aware that there is a great deal of suspicion of American motives in the Gulf states, which find it particularly hard to swallow the discrepancy between the way in which the Americans deal with the Israelis and the way in which they deal with Iraq? Although those are largely matters of fantasy in their minds, it is important that the issue should be clarified, and that our support for the Americans in securing their safety should be well understood.
I disagree with the hon. Gentleman on the Annan agreement compromising the work of UNSCOM. The agreement led the way for UNSCOM to carry out intrusive inspections on presidential sites. A number of such inspections took place. I cannot give the hon. Gentleman an assurance that the position is not worse than we fear. Even if it is only as bad as we fear, that is severe enough to justify us in maintaining the pressure on Iraq to come into full compliance before there can be any move to remove sanctions.
I welcome the progress that has been secured in the middle east peace process. It is a modest step, but it is the first step that we have had for two years, and as such is particularly welcome. We must build on the momentum created by that agreement. I assure the hon. Gentleman that Britain, Europe and the United States will make it clear that we want compliance with the Security Council resolutions that affect Iraq, and agreement and progress on the middle east peace process.
Leaving aside the voice of Baghdad that we heard a moment ago, is it not encouraging that those countries that were reluctant to act earlier this year are now realising the cat-and-mouse antics of the criminal regime, and taking a more forceful position? If it was right—as it obviously was—a few weeks ago for the international community to give an ultimatum to the Serbian leadership, should not the United Nations very quickly give Saddam Hussein an ultimatum that he should comply entirely with the United Nations weapon inspections, or military action will be taken? Unfortunately, force—or the threat of force—is about the only thing that the bloody dictator in Baghdad understands.
There is no need for any fresh ultimatum. Resolution 1154 made it clear that a violation of the Security Council resolutions or a failure to comply with the memorandum of understanding signed with Kofi Annan would lead to the severest consequences. I also entirely endorse my hon. Friend's comment in the earlier part of his question. In the past few days, the countries that have felt most indignant about the action by Baghdad are those that have hitherto pleaded for understanding of Iraq's position and the need to offer light at the end of the tunnel. We entirely agree with them about the need for light at the end of the tunnel, but it is now becoming apparent to all that Saddam Hussein has no intention of responding to that incentive, and will continue to test our resolve until we make it plain that there is no other way out of the sanctions regime for him.
Will the Foreign Secretary make it clear that Iraq should have no doubt that the House is united in standing up to ensure that the United Nations resolutions are carried out? While making that clear, however, is it not important to be absolutely fair and acknowledge that, although there is complete and proper condemnation of the non-compliance with the work of UNSCOM, it is acknowledged that the IAEA work on nuclear weapons has been carried out? Last week, the IAEA gave the Science and Technology Committee of the North Atlantic Assembly the assurance that, at that moment, it had no criticism. When we present a case, we must ensure that we do not over-egg the pudding.
Secondly, why is another United Nations resolution necessary? Surely resolution 1154 gives us the power to take action, and the resolution last Friday—or was it on 29 October?—showed the Russians and the French backing the proposed action. Why do we need another resolution?
Saturday's statement was a statement, not a resolution. I think, and I am sure that the whole House would agree, that there is merit in making it clear to Baghdad that there is unity in the Security Council around the strong resolution that we have drafted, which condemns the violation of the agreement and demands immediate compliance with both the resolution of the Security Council and the Annan agreement.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about the different portfolios. There are four under examination, one of which is the nuclear file. Substantively, he is correct; the agency reported last month that it could now move from intrusive inspection to on-going monitoring and verification. It might also be possible for us to contemplate a similar step concerning the missile portfolio.
None of that, however, removes any of the points of concern that I have expressed concerning the state of the chemical and biological weapons portfolios. On both those fronts, it is clear that Saddam Hussein has the capacity to produce deliverable weapons of mass destruction, and until all four portfolios can be closed, sanctions must remain in place.
My right hon. Friend has correctly pointed out that Saddam Hussein presents a serious danger to his middle eastern neighbours. What is their response to that danger? What are the attitudes of some of those neighbours, such as Iran, Syria and the Gulf states?
We seek a close dialogue with those countries, and will undertake our own diplomatic efforts in that regard. Mr. Cohen, the United States Secretary of State for Defence, is on his way to the Gulf to consult those allies and discuss their approach to the present crisis.
I remind the House that, when we last had a confrontation with Baghdad, in February, there was considerable understanding from the Gulf states, which adopted a strong statement making it clear that, if force were used, responsibility for its being required would lie squarely with Baghdad. I hope that we will see the same degree of understanding and support from those countries now. After all, they know that, if the United Nations walked away, they are the ones that would be at risk from Baghdad's military machine.
Given the devastating allegations made earlier this year by Scott Ritter, will the Foreign Secretary place on record the fact that, henceforth, his office and his officials will give absolute and unequivocal backing to any and all requests for assistance from UNSCOM in its vital work on behalf of the world community? Will he also make representations to his colleagues in the Ministry of Defence that now may not be the best time to cut defence spending and reduce the number of combat aircraft available to the RAF?
Whether Mr. Ritter's allegations are devastating depends on whether one regards them as credible. I have no need to give the hon. Gentleman an assurance that henceforth we will give full support to UNSCOM; we have always done so, and Britain has been among the leading supporters of its work. After everything that the previous Administration did to cut the finances and resources of our defence forces, a period of silence from the Opposition on that score would be welcome.
May I assure my right hon. Friend that everyone in the House will agree with the actions that the world community has taken? The latest episode shows that Saddam Hussein is a past master of using events in the region to his advantage. We have only to consider the fact that King Hussein is in America receiving medical treatment, and that the middle east peace talks, although there was agreement at Wye, have yet to move forward, to see why Saddam Hussein felt confident enough to test the will of the world community.
Unless the world community is absolutely resolute in its determination to oppose Saddam Hussein and bring him to heel, he will continue to flout the resolutions, with which he still has not complied. The message must go out from the House that we are united in seeing through the antics of that idiot.
I agree that Saddam will continue to play box and cox with the world community, in the hope that on some occasion we shall give up and go away, and leave the ring to him. It is important that he understands that we will not do that this time, or any other time. The secret to our carrying conviction when we say that is to appear united both as a nation and as a member of the international community.
Given the grave nature of the capabilities of Saddam Hussein that are now being discovered, and the desire that our defence policy be foreign-policy-led, will the Secretary of State make representations to the Ministry of Defence to ensure that we maintain a nuclear, biological and chemical capability in the Territorial Army? Does he agree that the decision of the United States to create 170 such units is instructive in that context?
I am not entirely sure that the hon. Gentleman is rising to the gravity of the international issue that we are considering. We have no evidence that Saddam now has the capability to hit the United Kingdom. None the less, we are determined not to leave him in possession of the capability that he has.
Will my right hon. Friend utterly reject the propaganda by Radio Baghdad, and any little echo of it in the House or elsewhere, and make it clear that there can be no suggestion of equivalence between Israel and Iraq? That is first, because there is an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians made at the Wye plantation, which we greatly welcome, and secondly because the Israeli people can throw out their Government, whereas the Iraqi people, despite what their friends seem to think, cannot, because they have a dictatorship that has never been elected.
My hon. Friend draws a clear and important contrast between Iraq and Israel. In Israel there is a lively, open and free debate about the peace process and the next steps that the country should take. That underlines the stark contrast between the two. None the less, I hope that it will be possible for us to build on the recent agreement to achieve progress in the middle east peace process, and that it will provide stability for the region. I hope that we shall be able to demonstrate to the countries involved the fact that we seek even-handedly to build stability and security throughout the region.
Will the Foreign Secretary confirm that we are now in a more serious situation than in February, because of Iraq's violation of the will of the international community? Backed by UN Security Council resolution 1154, are we not back to the position as of February, except that the agreement with Kofi Annan has also been violated? Will the right hon. Gentleman address again the concerns of my right hon. and learned Friend the shadow Foreign Secretary about the Security Council resolution that he is tabling today, and ensure that it is at least as strong as resolution 1154, so that no one can take the view that the international community has stepped back from the position that it took last February?
I can certainly assure the hon. Gentleman that we have no intention of weakening the position of the international community at the present time, and that will not be the effect of the draft text that we have prepared for debate within the Security Council. He is right, in the sense that the international community is in a stronger position now than it was at the start of the year because of the passage of resolution 1154 and the signing of the memorandum of understanding. It is now quite clear what Saddam Hussein has to do. It is quite clear that he accepted that in February. It is also quite clear what the consequences would be of his violating that understanding.
Is it not clear that giving effect to those aims may eventually require more than air strikes, which are in danger of becoming the 20th-century equivalent of sending a gunboat? Will the Foreign Secretary ask his colleagues in the Ministry of Defence to revisit the assumptions that they have made in the strategic defence review on sustainability across all three services and in our defence industry, as the Americans are doing at this very moment?
I must remind the House that this Government took office after a period of substantial and continual cuts in Britain's defence capacity. Those cuts have now been arrested. We have produced a strategic defence review which meets the real needs of Britain in the modern world. It is about time that those hon. Members who cut British defence spending in office stopped trying to preen themselves as the people on the side of the forces.
I am sure that almost everybody in the House would commend the Foreign Secretary on his resolve. However, he speaks of patience—does he not think that the world has been patient for long enough? Will he confirm that all avenues of the UN have been explored over eight years, yet Saddam Hussein still undermines the stability and peace of the region and terrorises his own people?
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that Saddam Hussein's regime has no legitimate authority, but only the authority of force and the de facto authority that that gives him? The Foreign Secretary has said that he believes that we have no argument with the people of Iraq. Will he therefore take steps, through the UN, to arraign or indict Saddam before either a specially set up international tribunal or the projected International Criminal Court?
Saddam Hussein is the best single case for the International Criminal Court which we supported in Rome in the summer. I very much hope that it will be possible for us to make as rapid progress as we can in getting that court set up. In the meantime, we remain open to proposals for an international tribunal specifically to consider Iraq and Saddam Hussein. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that Saddam is plainly guilty of major atrocities and offences against humanitarian and international law, and it is entirely regrettable that, at present, there is no international mechanism to hold him to justice. We would wish to see that there was such a mechanism.