With permission, I will make a statement on north Africa and the middle east, on which I have undertaken to keep the House regularly updated.
Our country has a compelling interest in seeing the nations of the wider middle east move towards more open societies, political systems and economies. We cannot dictate change in the region, but we can use our membership of the UN Security Council, NATO and the EU, and our close links in the region, to encourage reform, and we can stand up against repression and violence, which we have seen taken to extremes in Libya and Syria.
Britain continues to play its full part in implementing the no-fly zone over Libya, and the measures called for in UN Security Council resolutions 1970 and 1973 to protect civilians. Our actions continue to save lives. NATO strikes have prevented Benghazi from falling, reduced pressure on Misrata, and enabled the delivery of humanitarian aid and the evacuation of thousands of wounded people.
More than 13,000 sorties have been carried out since
Support for the regime within Libya is being eroded as we and our allies intensify the military, political and diplomatic pressure upon it. The EU sanctions on ports in western Libya, which I announced in my last statement, have now been put into effect. I welcome the decision of the International Criminal Court to issue arrest warrants for Gaddafi, his son Saif al-Islam al-Gaddafi, and his intelligence chief, Abdullah al-Senussi. That confirms that there can be no future for the Gaddafi regime leading Libya, and that any of its adherents who do not want to be associated with human rights violations should abandon it, as many former ambassadors, Ministers, military officials and members Gaddafi’s inner circle already have.
In addition to that pressure, we are working with more than 40 states and organisations to support a political transition in Libya through the Libya contact group. That includes the UN, the Arab League and the African Union. At its third meeting in Abu Dhabi on
UN special envoy al-Khatib is leading the political efforts. I met him last week in Luxembourg, and we hope that in the coming weeks he will engage intensively with all parties. In Abu Dhabi, the contact group agreed to facilitate the start of an inclusive national dialogue in Libya. The TNC has begun to make contacts across Libya in support of that process. In the last week, it received the first $100 million of international funding through the temporary financing mechanism set up by the contact group for vital fuel and salaries. I will attend the next meeting of the contact group in Istanbul next month, which we hope will focus on ensuring that the international community is ready to support the Libyan people in building a peaceful and stable future in post-Gaddafi Libya. It is vital that plans for post-conflict Libya are prepared and, as far as possible, agreed in advance.
An international stabilisation response team from the UK, the US, Turkey, Italy and Denmark visited Libya between
Members on both sides of the House will also be concerned about the grave situation in Syria, which shows no sign of abating. Protests across the country are still being met by unacceptable violence from the regime, and the reports of Syrian troop movements near the Turkish border are of serious concern. President Assad’s speech on
The holding of a public meeting of opposition figures in Damascus on
I spoke yesterday to the Turkish Foreign Minister, who briefed me on Turkey’s efforts to persuade President Assad to change course and implement reform. It is important that we use all available channels to convey this message to President Assad. This week, my hon.
Friend Mr Newmark travelled to Syria in a private capacity where he met President Assad. He told him that international pressure on Syria will only increase if it continues on its current path. Given that only a change of course in Syria will bring about an end to the violence, we should welcome contacts that reinforce the need for urgent change. Yesterday, my officials also made clear to the Syrian ambassador our strong concern about allegations that a diplomat at the Syrian embassy has been intimidating Syrians in Britain. Any such activity would amount to a clear breach of acceptable behaviour, and if such claims were substantiated, we would respond swiftly and appropriately.
Elsewhere, there have been positive developments in Jordan, where King Abdullah has pledged to promote political and economic reform. He has set out his vision to develop Jordan’s democracy and engage widely with Jordanian society. We stand ready to use the UK’s bilateral Arab partnership fund to support this process where we can. We also welcome the announcement by the King of Morocco of a new draft constitution on
I welcome the support expressed in the House on previous occasions for UK leadership on the reform of the European neighbourhood policy and the ambitious international response to the region that we saw at the G8 summit in Deauville. Multilateral development banks, including the World Bank, the African Development Bank and the European Investment Bank, will offer to provide more than $20 billion in support of reform efforts over the next two years. It is crucial that the international response to the Arab spring remains ambitious, generous and bold and includes the real prospect of closer association with the EU, including market access, in response to political and economic reform.
I can also report progress on the Arab partnership since the Prime Minister’s announcement of its expansion to £110 million over four years. In Tunisia, we are supporting steps to improve voter education, freedom of expression and balanced reporting in the run-up to October’s important Constituent Assembly elections. Last week, Tunisia became the first north African state to ratify the Rome statute of the International Criminal Court—a very welcome indication of its commitment to reform—and in Egypt we are working with those running the forthcoming parliamentary elections. We remain concerned, though, that parliamentary elections in September may be too soon to allow a wide range of political parties to mobilise fully.
In comparison with these more encouraging developments, I am deeply concerned by the situation in Bahrain. While every Government has the right and duty to maintain law and order, the suspension and investigation of political parties, the imprisonment of leading moderate politicians, the alleged mistreatment of detainees and the trial of members of the medical profession before tribunals containing a military judge were all damaging to Bahrain and were all steps in the wrong direction. I welcome the King’s announcement of a national dialogue from
Iran continues to connive in the suppression of legitimate protest in Syria and to suppress protests at home. I therefore welcome the European Council’s decision to sanction three senior commanders of the Islamic revolutionary guards corps. Iran has also been carrying out covert ballistic missile tests and rocket launches, including testing missiles capable of delivering a nuclear payload in contravention of UN resolution 1929 and it has announced that it intends to triple its capacity to produce 20%-enriched uranium. These are enrichment levels far greater than is needed for peaceful nuclear energy. We will maintain and continue to increase pressure on Iran to negotiate an agreement on its nuclear programme, building on the strengthening of sanctions I announced to the House earlier this month.
In Yemen, President Saleh’s departure has been followed by greater calm in Sana’a. However I remain concerned about greater instability in Yemen and the possibility of economic collapse and humanitarian crisis. The Government of Yemen must confront these challenges urgently. We encourage all parties, including the President, to engage in political dialogue regarding an orderly transition on the basis of the Gulf Co-operation Council initiative, which remains the most credible plan. We also continue to advise against all travel to Yemen and urge all British nationals to leave the country now, while commercial carriers are still flying.
South Sudan’s independence is now just over a week away, but it is set to take place against a backdrop of conflict and unresolved issues. We welcome the agreement reached on Abyei, which paves the way for a swift withdrawal of Sudanese armed forces from Abyei and for the deployment of Ethiopian peacekeeping troops under a UN mandate. The UN Security Council has moved swiftly to adopt a mandate for this new mission. This is just a first step and we call on the parties to implement their commitments.
The continued violence in southern Kordofan is also deeply troubling, with reports of indiscriminate aerial bombardment by the Sudanese armed forces and of individuals being targeted on the basis of their ethnicity or political affiliation. I call on all parties to agree an immediate cessation of hostilities and to allow immediate access to humanitarian agencies. I welcome the news that a framework agreement was signed last night and I hope that it will soon be followed by a ceasefire. We continue to urge north and south to use the good offices of former President Mbeki to resolve outstanding issues under the comprehensive peace agreement before
All these events in the region call for a redoubling of international efforts to support peace, stability and democracy. Nowhere is this need more pressing than in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There is no alternative to negotiations, recommenced as a matter of urgency, to address the fundamental issues at the heart of a two-state solution. We call on the parties to return to the negotiating table, for no other option will bring lasting peace. We will continue to defend human rights and support political and economic freedom throughout a region undergoing momentous change and experiencing a chain of crises, and we will continue to work closely with our allies in the interests of peace and stability for this region and across the world.
May I begin by expressing my unequivocal condemnation of the attacks on the Inter-Continental hotel in Kabul, reports of which have reached the United Kingdom in recent hours? I am sure that the thoughts of the whole House will be with the families and friends of the victims of this attack, which was clearly designed to take human life and undermine efforts, including those of British service personnel, to build a stable Afghanistan.
On the mission in Libya, we continue to support the work of our armed forces in upholding UN Security Council resolutions 1970 and 1973 to protect the Libyan people, and I am happy to join the Foreign Secretary in again paying tribute to the brave men and women of our armed forces.
Last week, under pressure from my right hon. Friend the shadow Chancellor, the Government revealed that the cost of the mission in Libya had run to £260 million, in contrast to the tens of millions that the Chancellor had previously suggested. Given these escalating costs, can the Foreign Secretary restate the Government’s guarantee that no personnel, equipment or resources will be diverted from the Afghanistan campaign to support the Libyan campaign? Is he able to tell the House what efforts the Government are making to help to spread the financial cost among international partners so that it does not fall exclusively on those most involved in the military side of the campaign to increase pressure on the Gaddafi regime?
I note the Foreign Secretary’s confirmation that the temporary financing mechanism is now operating. Yesterday, however, there were troubling reports on the BBC that a medical crisis was looming in eastern Libya, with hospitals in Benghazi running short of supplies. The transitional national council says that this is a result of serious financial difficulties. Can the Foreign Secretary offer the House any assurances that the temporary financing mechanism will indeed allow resources to travel to where they are needed sufficiently quickly?
The right hon. Gentleman will know that for a number of weeks the Opposition and, indeed, many voices beyond the Opposition, have been raising the question of post-conflict planning, and I therefore listened with care to his statement. Of course, we all hope for a resolution to the conflict soon, and we hope for a post-Gaddafi Libya. As the Foreign Secretary said, this week the International Criminal Court issued a warrant for Gaddafi to be sent to The Hague to be tried for crimes against humanity. But if those wishes were granted tomorrow, it is still unclear, after the Foreign Secretary’s statement today, whether the transitional national council and the international community would be ready. By default, it appears, rather than by design, the Foreign Secretary has, in his own words to this House, ensured that
“Britain is in the lead in post-conflict planning.”—[Hansard, 7 June 2011; Vol. 529, c. 38.]
Yet in written answers to my questions he subsequently admitted that not a single official in the Foreign Office or in the Ministry of Defence’s offices in Whitehall was working full time on post-conflict planning in Libya.
Of course we welcome the work that the Department for International Development is doing to plan on humanitarian issues, but the security and political aspects of post-conflict planning are just as important and are, in fact, a prerequisite for any effective humanitarian response. On Monday, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition asked the Prime Minister specifically about this subject, but received little reassurance. We are now more than 100 days into this conflict, and it is 24 days since the Foreign Secretary said that post-conflict planning was at an “embryonic” stage. Can he tell us, where is the plan? Who is in charge? Is he actually confident that the necessary work is being done?
The events of the past six months in north Africa and the middle east have been a test of every Foreign Ministry around the world. On Libya, while we were critical of the Government’s early errors in getting UK personnel out and making contact with the transitional national council, we have supported the United Nations mission. While some of the attention has now left Egypt, the most populous country going through a process of change, we cannot ignore the fact that the new Egypt’s success or failure will probably be the single most fundamental test of the Arab spring’s long-term impact. The Foreign Secretary will be aware that the Egyptian Finance Ministry now states:
“Tourism collapsed temporarily, banks and the stock market were closed, capital flows reversed rapidly, and the manufacturing, construction, and internal trade suffered…the Egyptian economy will likely contract by 1.4 percent in the second half of the current fiscal year”.
The G8 meeting at Deauville, to which the Foreign Secretary referred, made great play of a promise of $20 billion in support for the transitions in Egypt and Tunisia. Today, the Foreign Secretary was able to say only that those resources would be offered by the multilateral development banks, including the World Bank, the African Development Bank and the European Investment Bank. Will he therefore take this opportunity to be more specific about how much of that $20 billion is new money, and about what proportion is in either grants or loans?
Many hon. Members were disappointed by the right hon. Gentleman’s refusal at an earlier exchange to condemn attempts to re-establish the grand prix in Bahrain while violent suppression was still being threatened in that country, but the decision to allow a member of the Government, Mr Newmark, to undertake a private diplomatic mission to Syria is a source not so much of disappointment as of incredulity.
The job of Government Whips is to enforce collective decision making, not flagrantly disregard it, yet the best explanation that the Foreign Secretary was able to offer today for that curious mission is that the hon. Gentleman travelled to Syria “in a private capacity”. Really? Why did the Foreign Secretary allow a member of the
Government, but not a Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister, in the midst of allegations of intimidation by the Syrian embassy on the streets of Britain and evidence of indiscriminate murder on the streets of Syria, to travel to meet President Assad last weekend? It really does prompt the question: is this Government’s foreign policy being run out of the Foreign Office or out of the Whips Office?
Just after the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary made the case for expanded sanctions on Syria—sanctions which were achieved at the European Council and which the Opposition had called for and welcome—the hon. Member for Braintree was entering into his own three-hour dialogue with President Assad. These are dangerous and delicate days in Syria which demand from the British Government discipline, grip and coherence in policy and in the communication of that policy. This is surely no time for do-it-yourself diplomacy.
To summarise, where we can we will support this Government’s approach to the middle east and north Africa, but the House needs clearer answers on post-conflict planning, a clearer strategy for the whole region and, frankly, clarity on who speaks for the Government in their communications with Syria.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for mentioning events in Kabul, which I did not refer to earlier given the focus on the middle east and north Africa. Clearly, however, we are very concerned that British nationals were caught up in the attack on the Inter-Continental hotel, and our consular services have been very busy in Kabul looking after them. I spoke on the telephone this morning to one of the two British nationals involved, and I am pleased to say that they are safe and sound and will return speedily to this country.
The attack is part of a pattern of Taliban activity in Afghanistan—against the momentum that the international security assistance force has gathered—to try to make highly publicised attacks on civilian targets, as well as sometimes on military targets, in Afghanistan. We should not be fooled by that. I saw for myself in Afghanistan last week the progress that we are making on the ground, particularly in Helmand where British troops are so heavily employed, and I am sure that the House will be unified in its concern at that attack, as the right hon. Gentleman reflected.
I am grateful also for the right hon. Gentleman’s continued support, and for the continued widespread support throughout the House, for our implementation of resolutions 1970 and 1973 and for the work of our armed forces in implementing them. He asked about the cost of the campaign, and, in referring yesterday to £260 million, my right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary explained the estimated and expected cost over six months, so not the cost to date.
Those costs and our military activities do not impinge on our work in Afghanistan, as I again saw for myself last week. Clearly, the greater costs of the military campaign fall on those nations that undertake the military activity, and we might all wish that NATO had different financing arrangements, but that is how it works. Nevertheless, many other nations contribute to the cost in other ways, including in humanitarian support, and they will be able to contribute to future stabilisation.
The important thing to bear in mind, and on which I hope there is agreement throughout the House, is that, if we had not acted in Libya but allowed the humanitarian catastrophe that would have resulted from Gaddafi overrunning by force the rest of Libya, and destabilising the neighbouring countries of Egypt and Tunisia in the process, to happen, the costs would have been incalculable to European countries in uncontrolled migration and in new breeding grounds for terrorism and extremism. The cost of the campaign in Libya has to be set against those considerations, and that is a very important point.
The right hon. Gentleman asked whether, if Gaddafi went tomorrow, we would be any further on, and I think that we would be a lot further on than we were a few weeks ago, when I said quite rightly that planning was at an embryonic stage. The stabilisation unit has prepared its report, but it would be quite wrong for the international community to say, “That is what we are going to try to impose on Libya.”
This is not an invasion of Libya; this is about Libyans being able to take responsibility for their own future. That is why I urged the Turkish Foreign Minister in my discussions with him yesterday to ensure that such stabilisation work is discussed at the contact group in Istanbul, and that the national transitional council is able to take it into its planning for the future. It is not something that anybody can sit in an office anywhere in the western world and just decide; it is valuable work that feeds into the planning process for post-conflict stabilisation in Libya, in which we hope that Libyans will take the lead, and of course that the United Nations will take a leading role.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about the involvement of the Foreign Office, but things have changed dramatically in the past year in terms of the work between the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on the one hand and the Department for International Development on the other. On entering office, I was appalled by how poor relations had been between DFID and the FCO, for which he must bear part of the responsibility, having been a Minister in both Departments.
The Secretary of State for International Development and I have taught our Departments that they are each other’s best friend, and we needed to after the activities of the previous Government, so the right hon. Gentleman can be sure that at all levels, whether in Benghazi, in Whitehall, or in the National Security Council where all the work is put together, vast numbers—dozens—of Foreign Office officials are connected with it. His questions on that do not live up to the subject, and they are certainly not commensurate with his rather poor record on those matters.
On Egypt and financing, the situation depends on the demand and readiness of such countries to access the funds. It is mainly financing and loans that are on offer, but they are on offer advantageously, and take-up will depend on the response of countries throughout north Africa to the opportunity. Egypt has not taken up the offer, but it may do so under a future Government, and we hope that it will.
On Syria, I think that the only incredulity is about the nature of the right hon. Gentleman’s questions, because there is no doubt about international unity and support on the matter. Foreign policy is not conducted in a bunker, where we do not communicate with people with whom we disagree. We have diplomatic relations with
Syria; I have communicated with the Syrian Foreign Minister; we communicate with the Syrian ambassador all the time; we send messages through the Turkish Foreign Minister and through Arab Foreign Ministers; and we send messages also through people whom President Assad has met frequently before.
That is why it is entirely right and proper for my hon. Friend the Member for Braintree to have visited President Assad and communicated messages in accordance with the views of the international community. It seems to be only the right hon. Gentleman who thinks that we should not communicate such messages through every available channel.
With the exception of a couple of areas that I thought were rather petty, trivial and incredulous, I welcome as usual the generous cross-party spirit of the right hon. Gentleman’s questions and our continued unity on the importance of these subjects.
However welcome it may be that the International Criminal Court has issued those warrants, is not it the case that on a realistic assessment we can hardly be wholly confident that Colonel Gaddafi will ever face the Court? Does my right hon. Friend agree, however, that the significance of issuing the warrants is as much political as legal, in that it demonstrates a unified international response to the barbarism of Colonel Gaddafi and those about him?
My right hon. and learned Friend is right: it is a legal process, but it is of political importance. It is a political statement by the world that the behaviour of the Gaddafi regime is unacceptable and that it should be accountable for that behaviour. It sends, as I have said, a clear message to adherents of the regime that there is every risk of being held accountable. We cannot provide certainty, but these warrants show an ever-increasing risk to supporters of the regime of facing that accountability, so more of them should take the opportunity to leave it.
The different reaction to the Arab spring, and to Libya in particular, by NATO countries and—on occasion—the complete contradiction of their policies surely suggests the need for a post-mortem on the Libyan situation. Is thought being given to starting some analysis of why NATO countries have reacted so differently and not in any kind of co-ordinated way to this problem?
While, of course, we will want to analyse the campaign when it is over, the right hon. Gentleman has referred to a post-mortem when the campaign is very much alive. Therefore we should not be diverted at the moment. I would not go as far as him, because he is in danger of exaggerating when he says that there has been no kind of co-ordination. NATO got things together and took over the campaign much more rapidly than was the case in previous campaigns. Eighteen nations are involved in the military action and 34 nations are involved in supporting those efforts—the NATO nations and six Arab nations. He is right to draw attention to the fact that some NATO nations have taken part in the military aspects of the campaign and others have not. They are sovereign nations and can make those decisions, but the political unity of NATO is clear, as demonstrated by the renewal, for 90 days from
I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s assessment that the regime in Libya is being eroded, and I welcome the arrest warrants issued by the International Criminal Court, but what does he say to those who feel that the warrants are counter-productive, in that they make it more difficult for Colonel Gaddafi to make an exit, given that he knows that he will probably face arrest?
If we accepted that argument, we would not have the ICC or have embarked on this in the first place. It can be argued that there is a downside to the warrants, in that a negotiated outcome to different conflicts at different times can be made more difficult by such a legal process. On the other hand, the existence of such a process, which we have seen come to fruition in many cases in the past decade, is a stark reminder to tyrants and generals who get out of control, and to people who belong to regimes that commit crimes against humanity, the international process poses a serious risk that they will not be able to escape. The deterrent effect on regimes such as that in Libya therefore has to be set against the downside to which my hon. Friend has drawn attention. If we believe in the ICC, as we do in the United Kingdom—we have subscribed to it and passed an Act of Parliament to bring about our participation in it—we must stand by its decisions and support the efforts to bring people to justice within its ambit.
Will the Foreign Secretary protest in the strongest terms to the Israeli Government about the attack by Israeli troops on a group of children on the west bank with tear gas and stun grenades, when they were not involved in any kind of political activity but were having a rare day of organised entertainment and fun? As even the Jewish Chronicle now compares Netanyahu with Ceausescu, when will we take action to deal with these thugs?
As ever, we call on the Israeli authorities, like any other authorities in the region, to deal proportionately and with only necessary force with any disturbances that may arise. I will look at the instance that the right hon. Gentleman has described and see what representations we should make to the Israeli Government about it. He has heard me many times call for a proportionate response and for the right to peaceful protest. That applies in Israel and the occupied territories just as it should apply elsewhere in the region.
I welcome the fact that Colonel Gaddafi, his son and his chief of intelligence have been indicted by the ICC. Speaking as someone who has given evidence in five trials in The Hague, I wonder whether my right hon. Friend might be able to say how the Government could help in the arrest and extradition of those three people in practical terms. I understand that it is very difficult.
My hon. Friend draws attention to the point that I made earlier: the ICC has proved that it functions—people are hauled before it and there are consequences for crimes against humanity and other very serious, internationally recognised offences. How we can assist will, of course, depend on the situation in post-conflict Libya, but we will certainly stand by the activities of the ICC and will want to see its proceedings upheld.
On the question of Syria, last week I raised with the Leader of the House the incident that the Foreign Secretary has mentioned concerning the intimidation of and threats against young Syrian activists in this country and their families at home in Syria. Will the Foreign Secretary enlarge on the conversation that he had with the Syrian ambassador? Did the ambassador admit to any of the suggestions that the Syrian embassy was complicit in such intimidation?
I can tell the right hon. Lady only a little more. My officials have had that conversation with the Syrian ambassador, who did not admit to any of those activities. I can only repeat what I said in my statement: if these accusations of intimidation can be substantiated—they have not been so far, from what we can tell—appropriate action will be taken by the Government.
All parties could do more to bring about a peaceful settlement between Israel and the Palestinians, but does my right hon. Friend agree that it is deeply unrealistic to expect any Israeli Government, of whatever character, to sit down and negotiate in any way or in any forum with Hamas, an organisation which refuses to recognise Israel or to abide by existing agreements, and is causing or permitting the firing of ever deadlier rockets further and further into Israeli territory—not tear gas, but rockets? Can we have more of a focus on clearing away that fundamental obstacle to peace?
My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to Hamas, which remains a proscribed organisation. I take this opportunity to call again for the release of Gilad Shalit, which, if it were to happen, would certainly advance the interests of peace in the region. We are not calling on Israel to negotiate with Hamas, but we look to the new Palestinian Authority, who are still being constructed after the new agreement between Fatah and Hamas, to negotiate for a two-state solution, to believe in a peaceful negotiated settlement and to recognise the previous agreements entered into by the Palestine Liberation Organisation. If the Palestinian Authority do that, Israel should be prepared to negotiate with them.
The Foreign Secretary rightly talked about the need for participation by all sides to bring about a resolution of the conflict between Palestine and Israel. In that context, does he think it important to meet representatives of Palestinian opinion who live within the post-1948 borders of Israel, including Raed Salah? Why has Raed Salah been banned from this country, having been here for four days already and being due to speak at a meeting this evening in the House of Commons to help the process of dialogue between Palestinians and others to bring about a peaceful solution?
Such decisions are made not by me but my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. She has to take into account all relevant considerations, and I have absolute confidence in her doing so.
When the Foreign Secretary replied to my right hon. Friend Mr Alexander on the attack on the Intercontinental hotel in Kabul, he said that he was doing everything possible to safeguard the interests of British citizens who were caught up in the attack. He also said that we are making some progress in the military fight against the Taliban. Does he agree, however, that the continuation of such incidents, which are perpetrated almost at will by the Taliban, shows that only a political solution can resolve the crisis? We understand that contacts are under way with the Taliban. Will he tell us something about them and assure us that the British Government will give their full support to progressing them?
Yes, we are fully in favour of political reconciliation in Afghanistan. I am trying not to say too much about this, as this is a statement on north Africa and the middle east. We will, no doubt, return to Afghanistan on other occasions. Yes, we believe in a political settlement and in a political surge, as Secretary Clinton put it, as well as a military surge in Afghanistan. It is important that we do not jump to the conclusion that the attack on the Intercontinental hotel shows that what we are doing in Afghanistan is not working; it is designed to give us that impression, and we should not fall for that. It is a terrorist tactic designed to induce that state of mind in western capitals. In reality, a huge amount is being achieved, and we should remember that.
I disagree with my hon. Friend’s view of the Libya campaign. He must remember that what we are doing has probably saved thousands of lives in Benghazi and Misrata. To characterise the campaign as an assassination campaign is wrong. The Defence Secretary and I have made clear our position on targeting—we do not go into the details of targets. Our targeting depends on the behaviour of those involved, and it has included the command systems of the Gaddafi regime. In my hon. Friend’s description, I do not recognise the actual NATO campaign.
Earlier today, Palestine solidarity groups, politicians, teachers and others marked the anniversary of the attacks on the Free Gaza flotilla last year by sailing down the river outside Parliament and marking the launch of a new Free Gaza flotilla. As the Foreign Secretary has previously said that the situation in Gaza is unacceptable and unsustainable, will he tell us what further action he is taking to help get the siege lifted, and will he do everything that he can to get guarantees that this new flotilla will be safe from attack?
We have continued to take the action that I set out in the House last year. We have urged Israel greatly to improve access to Gaza. It has taken some steps, but those steps have not been as fruitful as we had hoped when they were set out. Egypt has now opened an important crossing into Gaza, which may also provide some relief. The answer relies on the general lifting of a blockade of Gaza and on a negotiated two-state solution in the middle east. However, embarking on new flotillas is not the way in which to bring that about. We advise against all travel to Gaza by British nationals, which includes people who may be thinking of boarding a flotilla to go there. We hope that Israel will make only a proportionate response to any such flotilla, but it is, none the less, not the way in which to sort out the problems of the middle east. Such problems require negotiations in good faith by the parties concerned.
I strongly welcome the Foreign Secretary’s remarks about Israel and Palestine, especially his encouragement to Israel to be open to negotiations on a united Palestinian Authority, if they are freely elected by the Palestinian people. Does he believe that both parties could learn from our own example in Northern Ireland by dropping other unhelpful preconditions to talks, such as those that relate to Jerusalem on the one side or the extent of variations to the 1967 border on the other?
I will go a long way with my hon. Friend on this. We want a return to negotiations; that is absolutely right. I have set out the conditions under which Israel should resume its negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, which are the same conditions in relation to the PA. We need the negotiations to succeed so we should not be setting new hurdles. Comparisons with negotiations elsewhere, including those in Northern Ireland, are fraught with difficulty. The situations are not exactly the same and have not reached the point at which negotiations really started to bear fruit in Northern Ireland. A lot of painstaking work still has to be done on this, but it would be a good start, after President Obama’s speech and his statement on the 1967 borders, for both the Israelis and the Palestinians to make it clear that they are happy to return to direct negotiations with each other.
Almost everything that we do in Libya is designed to protect civilians from the entire range of horrendous attacks, including of the type that the hon.
Lady has described. There is also the indiscriminate bombardment by artillery and the attacks on built-up areas, such as those we have seen in Misrata. The work that our armed forces do to prevent attacks and the harassment of civilians under UN resolution 1973 is important. None the less, it does not include putting troops on the ground and invading Libya to separate those forces. That would not be within the UN resolution, and that is not what we will do. We will continue to use air strikes to try to separate Gaddafi’s forces from those vulnerable people, and we have had a lot of success in doing just that.
I welcome the statement, which illustrates what a volatile and unpredictable period of change the middle east is now experiencing. Will my right hon. Friend join me in condemning the recruitment of women and children by Gaddafi to be trained to fire AK47s and rocket-propelled grenades? Is such training not a sign of a desperate regime?
It is another sign of a desperate regime. It adds to the tactics, which were described by Rushanara Ali, and the recruitment of mercenaries by the Gaddafi regime to prosecute a war against their own people. Many of Libya’s own soldiers and officers are unwilling to fight. Certainly, it is a desperate regime, and we must continue to turn up the pressure on it to implement the UN resolutions.
The statement has covered a vast range of important issues. May I ask about one specific matter? The Secretary of State will be aware that the Republic of Somaliland is a beacon of democracy in the horn of Africa in stark contrast with Somalia in the south. Somaliland has offered us help in the form of access to the port of Berbera and stands firm against both pirates and terrorists. Will the Secretary of State assure us that he is treating Somaliland as an ally, the stability and success of which is important to us and to the whole region?
The right hon. Gentleman has made an important point. We have stepped up our diplomatic contacts with Somaliland. None the less, we must not let that distract us from our efforts and those of other African nations to create greater stability in Somalia overall or threaten the future territorial integrity of Somalia. We are doing what he has described and ensuring that we work with the authorities there, and we will increase the emphasis that we place on that.
Egypt is clearly far more important to regional stability than Tunisia, but it is a place where, because of its scale, British influence is likely to be quite limited. Tunisia, however, is a place where, with some focus and resources, we could make a symbolic and sustainable difference. Will the Foreign Secretary please explain the principles on which our priorities are determined and our resources allocated between the two?
That is a legitimate question, to which there is no fixed or dogmatic answer. The future of both countries in the light of the Arab spring will be important, and my hon. Friend is right to imply that Tunisia, a much smaller country than Egypt, might find many of the necessary reforms easier to accomplish—certainly, one gets that feeling on visiting Tunisia. So far, Tunisia’s progress towards elections for its constituent assembly and so on have been more pain free. Nevertheless, in assessing priorities, given the scale of Egypt’s population and influence in the Arab world, and its absolutely vital strategic position in the middle east, we must devote a great deal of our attention and support to Egypt. There is no escape from doing that. Success in the Arab spring—open political institutions and an open economy in Tunisia, but failure in Egypt—would still be a massive failure overall, so we must devote a large proportion of our time and resources to Egypt.
I have just taken the active step of speaking about this here in the House of Commons. Although all Members of Parliament are well aware that speaking in the House of Commons can be a secret activity at times, I hope that this message, which we will be happy to amplify and repeat, will be understood by anyone who contemplates going into that situation. We advise against all travel to Gaza and embarkation on such flotillas is not the way to try to resolve these conflicts.
Statements by the Foreign Secretary are not a secret; they are discussed in every pub in the land every day.
I commend my right hon. Friend’s determination to see through the NATO campaign to a positive conclusion, but when did the Government first realise that the campaign might take 100 days, six months or even longer? May I advise him that, having produced a report on strategic thinking in government, which the director of the Royal United Services Institute this morning described as a landmark report, the Public Administration Committee will return to the subject of how such decisions and assessments are made on a cross-departmental basis, which, as he rightly claims, he has much improved under this Government?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend and look forward to the Public Administration Committee’s further consideration of the development of strategic thinking in government. To answer his question on the length of time, there is no fixed answer and no soothsayer would be able to divine how short or how long the Libya campaign might be. Of course, it is still not possible to say that, and we have never said that it would be possible to say that. Actually, even 1,000 boffins in a think-tank, all working together feverishly with all the information available to them, would still not have known how long the Libya campaign might last. We will continue to work with my hon. Friend on improving the Government’s strategic thinking, but however much we improve it, it will not be possible to say how long each military campaign will take.
Along with much else in the statement, I welcome the urgent attention that the Foreign Secretary is giving to events in Sudan. May I join him in welcoming the ICC’s warrant for the arrest of Gaddafi for his crimes, but should those who provided him with the infrastructure of repression and the weaponry for civilian slaughter not also be deemed complicit in the scale of his crimes?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for those words. We will need to reflect on those things over time and learn lessons from them in the future, but let us remember that the ICC is dealing with the people most directly culpable for crimes against humanity. It is important that its work is concentrated on those individuals, but there will certainly be wider lessons to learn.
Is there a danger that Colonel Gaddafi misreads recent statements by Amr Moussa, the outgoing secretary-general of the Arab League and current presidential candidate in Egypt, in which he has called for a ceasefire and the commencement of peace talks while the existing Libyan leader is in place, and therefore underestimates the unity of purpose in the international community in enforcing the UN resolutions?
I hope that any such danger will be removed by the continued meetings of the contact group, on which the Arab League is represented and at which international unity is strengthening, not weakening. The contact group meeting in Abu Dhabi was attended by seven additional nations, as well as by organisations such as the Organisation of the Islamic Conference and the Arab League. I am sure that the meeting in Istanbul in two weeks’ time will also be well attended and very united, so if Gaddafi is under any misapprehension about the unity of the international community, he will find that that is rapidly removed.
I support our actions in Libya, but there is often a great deal of cynicism about the motivations of western nations in getting involved in such conflicts. What can the Foreign Secretary tell us about the criteria that the Government will apply to interventions in possible future conflicts, so that our constituents and, indeed, foreign nations appreciate that we will apply a consistent approach to these matters?
The hon. Gentleman is right that, after events over the past decade, there is a good deal of cynicism about these things. We must clearly explain the humanitarian motives, as well as our national interest, that have involved us in Libya and give the full background. He has asked about criteria. I have often referred in the House to one of the important criteria: in the case of Libya, we are acting with full, legal, moral and international authority. We are acting within United Nations resolutions, and there is no doubt about the legal position. There will be other situations in which people call for interventions of various kinds, but on which there is no legal authority, because the UN Security Council does not agree to act. In many of those instances, we will have to say that we can do nothing, because we do not have the legal or international authority to act. International law is our starting point, which must remain a key principle in the years ahead.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that, despite a generation of occupation by Syria and series of bloody incursions by Israel, Lebanon remains a potential force for good, with its developed civic society and its entrepreneurial spirit? Does he further agree that one of the best ways to break the ambitions of the Tehran-Damascus axis is by fostering and encouraging democratic elements in Lebanon and weaning them away from Hezbollah and the Damascus agenda?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to draw attention to Lebanon’s key role in the region. It is, of course, a tragedy that so much of its potential has not been fulfilled in recent years, often because of its neighbours’ policies, and he is right to draw attention to that. We certainly strongly support those people who are working to strengthen democracy in Lebanon. One of the things that that requires is the completion of the work of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, which the United Kingdom continues to fund.
My constituents and I are concerned about the degree of mission creep that has occurred in Libya. The mission has continued for longer, has cost more and has involved more people dying than most of us expected at the beginning. Yet, because we are in the air, we cannot intervene on the ground to help women who are victims of rape used as a weapon of war. The right hon. Gentleman said in reply to my hon. Friend Mr Robinson that there would be an analysis at the end of the mission. Will that analysis consider ways of preventing such situations from arising in future and non-military means by which we can protect civilian populations from despots?
It is important to stress that we have used non-military means as well. The UK has funded ships that have evacuated about 5,000 people from Misrata—that shows the support that the UK Government have given—thus taking them out of a danger zone. We have not only been engaged in military action in Libya, but had we not taken military action when we did, many thousands more people would have died in Benghazi and probably in Misrata afterwards. We are constrained by the UN resolutions, which relates to the point that I made to John Woodcock that we must stay within the legal limits of what is set out in the UN resolution. We cannot do everything that we might want to do to assist people, but I stress to the hon. Lady that there is a good deal of non-military help, as well as our military action.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s remarks, particularly concerning Iran and its nuclear ambitions. What further actions or sanctions can he take to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapons programme, which would undoubtedly lead to greater instability in the middle east, and potentially to conflict?
No one can be sure whether sanctions will of themselves prevent a nuclear programme, but last year, as we announced a succession of sanctions, the readiness of the regime in Tehran to negotiate increased, at least for a time. The regime will have to reckon on the fact that pressure from sanctions will intensify over the coming months unless it is prepared to negotiate about its nuclear programme.
All that I can say to my hon. Friend for the moment is that we agreed in the EU last month the designation of 100 more individuals and entities, which will intensify the sanctions. I have referred today to additional sanctions on the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps commanders. We will continue to step up that pressure, but it will be peaceful and legitimate pressure.
Colonel Gaddafi intends to fight to the death, and the Libyan people are sick to death of killing each other. In accordance with resolution 1973, will the Secretary of State at least consider a ceasefire during which an election can occur, internationally supervised by the Arab League, with a fall-back position of resumed conflict if intimidation and violence corrupt the outcome, in order to get an elected Government in Libya instead of another unelected regime, with hundreds of thousands more people being killed in the mean time?
There are several complications to the hon. Gentleman’s proposals. One is that a ceasefire has always been possible, if the regime meets the terms of the UN resolution and stops attacks on the civilian population in Libya. It has been open to the regime for more than 40 years to have elections to determine who is in charge in Libya. Constructing an environment in which going back to armed conflict is a fall-back position would make it rather difficult for the electoral process to take place. It remains the case that for a political process to succeed in Libya, Colonel Gaddafi must leave power. That is how all the Libyans I saw in Benghazi regard the matter, and how the rest of the world regards it.
I warmly welcome the Foreign Secretary’s wise words to the organisers of the proposed flotilla. At a time when the flow of humanitarian aid has increased, yet terrorist attacks on Israel by Hamas have also increased, the flotilla would be a terrible provocation to the state of Israel. A confrontation would certainly take place and talks would be postponed almost indefinitely. I urge my right hon. Friend to approach the organisers of the flotilla directly to make them stop.
As I said earlier, I will make sure that our views are clear to all involved. Provocations are not what we need in the middle east at the moment; equally, disproportionate responses to provocations are not what we need, either. We ask all concerned to respect those considerations. Our views will be made clear to all concerned.
Since the original vote in the House on the mission in Libya, it is clear that the objectives have been updated to include regime change. Is it not time that we had a second debate and Division, so that those of us who have concerns about what is happening can place them on the record?
I do not sense that that is the general view in the House. Our military mission in Libya continues to be defined by the UN resolutions. If we were not undertaking any and all of the military actions that we are, Colonel Gaddafi would be able to intensify his campaign of killing and harassing the population of Libya. It is entirely in accordance with the vote of this House in March and with UN Security Council resolution 1973 that we are doing what we are doing in Libya. I do not therefore consider that it requires a fresh vote in the House.
President Assad must reform or step aside. If we are to maintain international unity of pressure on Syria, we must be careful in how we phrase such things. That is the right position for the United Kingdom to take, particularly as a Security Council resolution is still on the table, which we would like to push forward if the situation in Syria continues to be so dire. I am confident that we have taken the right position.
We all want a negotiated settlement to the middle east conflict, but given that Hamas continues to attack Israel and to manipulate and undermine any direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, what more can we do with our international partners to ensure that Hamas accepts the Quartet principles and comes to the negotiating table?
We stand firm with the Quartet. I made it clear in my earlier remarks what we expect of the Palestinian Authority. We look to the newly formed Palestinian Authority, when it emerges, to live up to the principles that I stated in answer to earlier questions. In the mean time, by failing to accept or even move towards the Quartet principles, Hamas remains a proscribed organisation that damages prospects of peace in the middle east rather than advancing them.