Iraq

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:20 pm on 13th February 2003.

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Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Minister of State (Middle East), Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Trade), Department of Trade and Industry, Minister for Trade and Investment and Deputy Leader of the House of Lords (also Department of Trade and Industry), Minister of State (Trade and Investment) Deputy Leader of the House of Lords (also FCO) 4:20 pm, 13th February 2003

My Lords, I thank both noble Lords for their broad welcome for my right honourable friend's Statement. In particular, I welcome the noble Lord, Lord King, to his job of substituting, which he did so ably today.

The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, asked about a debate on Iraq. I understand that conversations are taking place in the usual channels at present. I hope that we will manage to resolve them successfully and reach a mutually agreed understanding on when a debate will take place.

The noble Lord, Lord King, said that the tone of the Statement suggested that we had already made up our minds that there was a further breach. That is true. The Statement says it quite clearly; but it is based on what Dr Blix and Dr El Baradei were able to report in January on the questions that had remained unanswered by the Iraqi regime in the document that they submitted to the United Nations in December, and on what was described as Iraq's lack of active co-operation in their dealings with the United Nations inspectors. There are around 20,000 security and intelligence personnel in Iraq, and only just over 100 United Nations inspectors to cover a country the size of France. It is not the inspectors' job to run around to try to find the evidence that Iraq has no weapons of mass destruction. It is the job of the Iraqi regime to show the inspectors that that is the case. Sometimes the failure of some of our international partners to grasp that essential point about what the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1441 says has led to some of the misunderstandings in recent days.

On what is happening in NATO, it is bound by solemn undertakings of the partners. We believe that the request made by Turkey is in its interests and those of NATO. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, suggested that possibly it was not a request by Turkey, and that some of the recent statements from Turkey indicate that it can manage nicely on its own. I suggest to the noble Lord that one should be careful about some public statements. Many of our friends near the region have difficultly nuanced positions. From my own recent trip to Saudi Arabia and Egypt, I know that there is sometimes much difficulty in people explaining in public what they can say to us in private. I had understood that the position of the noble Lord's right honourable friends in another place placed a rather different emphasis on what has happened regarding NATO.

Meetings are continuing in NATO to try to resolve the issue. Our permanent representative, Sir Emyr Jones Parry, will be representing the United Kingdom. The work will continue throughout the weekend. The permanent representatives are meeting both in the morning and the afternoon. Sixteen countries agree on the position; three do not. As the noble Lord, Lord King, said, and the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, agreed, it is very important that we lower the temperature of the rhetoric on both sides of the Atlantic. It is not just those on one side of the Atlantic who have made statements that have made others concerned. The rhetoric in both directions should now be one of much more studied discussion about how the issue can successfully be resolved.

I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord King, says about the importance of credible military force to back up the position on UNSCR 1441. If credible military force is not maintained, it will undermine the authority of the United Nations, and, as the noble Lord, Lord King, rightly said, it will increase the threat from the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

Since we passed Resolution 1441, it has always been our view that a second resolution is desirable. That is the position of our allies throughout. We will examine whether, and in what light, we can take forward our desire for a second resolution in the light of the statements tomorrow. My right honourable friend's Statement did not dwell on the matter, because we thought that it was right to listen to what Dr Blix and Dr El Baradei say to the United Nations tomorrow on whether they have further information to help resolve how the second resolution might be taken forward.

We hope to hear more about the Al-Samoud missile in tomorrow's statements in the United Nations. But, as my right honourable friend's Statement made clear, we raised questions about the al-Samoud missile in our dossier put forward in September. The noble Lord is right that the range then was said to be around 180 kilometres, 30 over the United Nations specification. But we will want to look carefully at the outcome of the inspectors' own view on that missile. I understand that a team of international experts is also looking at the point.

We have been discussing aid. We are in regular contact not only with our allies in the United States but with a range of UN humanitarian agencies. Everybody is making detailed contingency plans. We are confident that UN preparations are as good as they can be, given the risks and the uncertainties. We support a leading UN role in the response to any humanitarian crisis and thereafter. In response to the noble Lord's point on what he claimed my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Development said, I have not seen those words. I wish to study them carefully before responding to the noble Lord, but I will do so in due course.

I agree with the noble Lord that any attempt to lower the temperature of the difficulties that prevail in the Middle East is to be much welcomed. We join the noble Lord in wishing that an outcome of any dialogue established will be an improvement of the security situation in that part of the world.

We shall discuss the links between Al'Qaeda and Iraq in more detail in the Question raised by the noble friend of the noble Lord, Lord King, to be discussed next week. The Government have said on several occasions that it is perfectly clear that Iraq has had considerable—I hesitate over the word "linkages" because it means different things to different people. It is clear that Iraq has given succour to different terrorist organisations, including Abu Nidal and others who have been espousing the cause of terrorism in the Middle East.

I do not think that anyone is in any doubt that it is up to Saddam Hussein now to prove to the world that he does not have those dreadful weapons; it is not up to the rest of the world to prove that he has.