Iraq and the Middle East

– in the House of Lords at 4:04 pm on 19th April 2004.

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Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Lords (Privy Council Office) 4:04 pm, 19th April 2004

My Lords, I should like to repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. The Statement is as follows:

"With permission, Mr Speaker, I should like to make a Statement on my visit to the United States from 15 to 16 April. In New York I met the UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, and in Washington President Bush. With them both, the two main points of discussion were Iraq and the Middle East peace process.

"On Iraq, there is no doubt the present situation is very difficult. Since mid-March the US has suffered 123 military fatalities, of which 112 were killed in hostile action. One Ukrainian soldier was also killed in Al Kut during recent disturbances.

"A number of contractors have been targeted since the middle of March. In addition to a number of US civilians killed, one British, one Italian and one Canadian security guard, two Finnish businessmen, three Germans and one Dutch contractor have been killed.

"Most security incidents continue to occur in the 'Sunni triangle' north-west of Baghdad. This includes the town of Fallujah where the US Marines have set up a cordon against Sunni insurgents. US forces are also deployed around Najaf, where Muqtadr al Sadr's supporters are still ensconced. There is currently a pause in military activity in Fallujah and Najaf to allow discussion with those involved.

"And we should not lose sight of what is actually happening across the majority of the country. Two thousand three hundred schools have been rehabilitated; 32 billion US dollars has been pledged for reconstruction; electricity generation is above pre-conflict levels; higher oil production over the past four months has given Iraq 2 billion US dollars more in revenues than we expected even last November. Iraqis are enjoying the benefits of a new Iraqi currency worth 40 per cent more than the discredited Saddam dinar.

"Of course there will be resistance, as we are seeing in Fallujah and Najaf. It is absolutely clear what is going on there. All those who think they will lose out when Iraq becomes democratic—former Saddam supporters, foreign terrorists, militias led by extremist clerics—have a vested interest in seeking to delay or disrupt the transition towards democracy. They portray themselves as opponents of American occupation. In fact, they are opponents of allowing the Iraqi people the chance to choose their own leaders in free and fair elections.

"It is essential that the forces of reaction and terror do not prevail. The vast majority of Iraqis want a prosperous, stable, democratic Iraq, at peace with its neighbours, a force for good in the region and the world, with international forces staying not a day longer than they have to. Iraq's wealth, Iraqi wealth; Iraq's oil, Iraqi oil; a country that is a sovereign independent state governed by Iraqis for Iraqis.

"That is exactly what the coalition wants. We are on their side against the small minority of those trying to disrupt this vision. And we have a political and military strategy to achieve it.

"Our work on reconstruction and investment in Iraq must continue so that all parts of Iraq know that they have a place and a future in the new Iraq. We will redouble our efforts to build the necessary capability of the Iraqis themselves to take increased responsibility for security and law and order.

"We will hold absolutely to the 30 June timetable for handover of sovereignty. We will work with the UN Secretary-General's representative, Mr Brahimi, and all members of the UN Security Council to secure a new Security Council resolution to set out the new arrangements. The UN should have a central role and this should be developed still further once the occupation ends on 30 June. The UN will have a vital role in the electoral and constitutional processes in 2005 and in co-ordinating international reconstruction assistance.

"I welcome the proposals made by Mr Brahimi for this transition. As he says, the most important milestone is the elections to be held in January 2005. Before then, there will be an interim government from 1 July, to be formed before the transition, led by a prime minister, with a president to act as head of state and two vice presidents.

"I also welcome Mr Brahimi's suggestion of a large national conference to promote dialogue, consensus-building and reconciliation in Iraq, and to elect the consultative assembly to serve alongside the government in the period up to January 2005 and help prepare for elections.

"That is the vision. We will stay the course until it becomes the reality. I hope that the whole international community will come together to support it. Whatever people's views of the wisdom of the war in Iraq, it must surely be in everyone's interest, not just in Iraq but across the world, for this vision of hope and democracy to prevail and succeed.

"I also discussed the Middle East peace process with both Kofi Annan and President Bush. We condemn the targeted assassination of Hamas leader Abdel Aziz Rantissi, just as we condemn all terrorism, including that perpetuated by Hamas. We have to break out of this vicious cycle of suicide bombings and retaliation. Israel needs security, and the only lasting security will come from the stability of a solution to the Middle East peace process with two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side peacefully. That is why we welcome the Israeli proposal to withdraw from Gaza and parts of the West Bank.

"The road map remains the best way to peace, and disengagement from occupied territory can be an opportunity to return to it. Disengagement is not the final step; it has to be an important first step on the road to a final settlement.

"There was criticism that last week's announcements pre-judged the issues of Palestine's final status. It should not and does not. It is a statement of fact that those final status negotiations, when they come, cannot ignore the reality on the ground, but I repeat that all issues are to be decided in that negotiation.

"Israeli withdrawal also provides a chance for full engagement by the international community. The quartet should seize this opportunity to help the Palestinian Authority take the necessary economic, political and security measures so that a viable Palestinian state becomes not just a concept but a real possibility. I hope that a meeting to discuss these issues can take place as soon as possible and, in any event, not later than May.

"Among the other issues that I discussed in both New York and Washington was Cyprus. I am sure the whole House will join me in paying tribute to Kofi Annan for the skill and distinction with which he has led the UN during difficult times and, specifically, for the work he has done in Cyprus. I hope the people of Cyprus will see the benefits of the UN plan and vote for it in the referendums on Saturday.

"I believe passionately that all these issues need to be seen in their wider context, for they are all linked. We are firm in response to terrorism and states proliferating weapons of mass destruction. But we must also be firm in tackling the breeding grounds for terrorism. That means broadening out the international agenda and confronting the issues upon which the terrorists prey—poverty, conflict, religious and ethnic strife. Both the UN Secretary-General's high level panel on the future of the UN and the G8, chaired this year by the US and next by the UK, can help establish this broad and common agenda, and set a forward direction for the whole international community. It is more essential than ever that they do so".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

Photo of Baroness Rawlings Baroness Rawlings Conservative 4:13 pm, 19th April 2004

My Lords, I am sure we are all extremely grateful to the noble Baroness the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement made in the other place by the Prime Minister.

May I make it clear that we on these Benches maintain support for the military action taken against Saddam Hussein? We also fully support the continuing deployment of British troops in Iraq and pay tribute to them for their professionalism and bravery in very difficult circumstances. We condemn, too, the roadside bomb which last night injured British soldiers in Al Amarah. Terrorist assaults on brave young men who are helping to build a free Iraq are utterly unjustified and will achieve nothing.

I agree with the Government that we must see this through and reject the view of all those who say we should now pull out. But can the noble Baroness tell the House whether British commanders in Iraq have asked for reinforcements, or whether any such request has come from the Americans? What arrangements are being made to replace the 1,300-strong Spanish contingent? Does she share my disappointment at the decision by the new socialist government in Spain to withdraw their troops? Did the Prime Minister try to persuade Senor Zapatero to reconsider this decision?

As we approach the 30 June deadline for transfer of sovereignty, I welcome the UN involvement in a handover. But what will be the precise nature of the UN role? Will special envoy Brahimi have the same discretion he had in Afghanistan? If he concluded that the deadline of 30 June was unrealistic, could the deadline be reconsidered? Can the noble Baroness tell the House to whom power will be transferred on 30 June and who will decide on that? What powers will be transferred? In particular, who will be responsible for security?

Will the new Iraqi authorities after 30 June be able to decide how and where coalition troops are to be deployed, or if they are to be deployed at all? Will the Iraqi authorities have power to ask coalition troops to leave Iraq? Who will decide what happens to insurgents captured by coalition forces? Finally, what is the Government's current assessment of the capabilities of the Iraqi security forces? Is any further thought being given to improving the training and effectiveness of those forces? With the deadline now barely two months away, it is important that we get specific answers to these questions.

On the Middle East peace process, did the Prime Minister express any concerns to President Bush about the recent level of consultation between the US, UK and EU on major policy shifts and initiatives?

We welcome Israel's disengagement from Gaza and partial disengagement from the West Bank. I am pleased that the noble Baroness agrees that there can be no lasting peace or security in the Middle East without a viable Palestinian state alongside a secure state of Israel. Will she confirm that a two-state solution cannot be imposed and must be reached by agreement through negotiation?

Finally, and most importantly, can the noble Baroness confirm that last week's statement by President Bush will be the start of a process and not the end of it?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Crosby Baroness Williams of Crosby Leader In the House of Lords, Leader, House of Lords, Liberal Democrat Leader in the House of Lords 4:17 pm, 19th April 2004

My Lords, I echo the thanks of the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, to the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement made in another place. I share the expression of admiration for coalition troops and of deep sympathy for those who have been bereaved by the loss of troops and if I may say so, of civilians in this terrible war. However, I believe that the most eloquent words in the world will not cover the fact that the United Kingdom has, in my view, suffered a very serious setback over Iraq and the Middle East in the past few days and that even this declaration and Statement cannot wholly disguise that fact.

Let me first ask about Iraq. On the BBC lunchtime news, Mr Paul Bremer said that Iraq troops would not be able to protect the country by the 30 June deadline for the handing over of power to the Iraqis. In short, what does "sovereignty" mean? We have claimed that we will be handing over sovereignty to a country which we agree cannot protect itself, cannot defend itself and cannot maintain its own rule of law. Are we beginning to create a set of Potemkin states which have no more sovereignty than simply having their names on the United Nations' list of nations and virtually no other reality?

May I ask, therefore, exactly what steps we believe we can take better to train the Iraqi security forces so that they will commit themselves to the defence of their country and will feel, in doing so, that they have an obligation to its future?

Secondly, have the United Kingdom Government at any time raised the issue of the precise function of the coalition forces in Iraq? There are great differences between a military force that is there to support reconstruction and the coming of peace to a country, and one that continues to fight a war. In that context, the languages used by President Bush and Prime Minister Blair are very different.

Should we not do our very best to restrict any damage to civilian life as a result of the present occupation of Iraq? In particular, will the Leader of the House tell us whether any thought has been given to avoiding collective punishment—the deliberate demolition of houses and other actions that have led to a huge level of Iraqi civilian casualties in Iraq, contrasting quite sharply with the loss of civilian life in the southern part of the country? Although there are admittedly greater problems in the north than in the south, it looks as though some rather heavy-handed methods are being used.

With reference to the pause in military activity, is the ceasefire holding? If it is, will it enable us to produce some understanding and a truce that will enable military action in Fallujah to be limited to what is necessary simply to stop that city being misused by terrorists?

Turning to the Middle East, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the forces of peace there have received a very serious setback in the past couple of days. I will briefly mention two things. First, unquestionably, there has been no adherence to the outline of the road map, which specifically referred, as the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, pointed out, to a negotiated settlement. However, what has been announced is not a negotiated settlement; it is an imposed settlement—imposed by the Israelis and the Americans on the people of the Palestinian territories who have not been involved in negotiations at any stage. In that context, will the Leader of the House confirm that the Palestinian authority repeatedly attempted to ask the United Kingdom Government to represent in the discussions with President Bush that there should be no fundamental change that has not been negotiated? That plea appears to have been either misheard, misunderstood or not in any sense accepted by the United States.

Finally, we repeat time and again the hope for a two-state solution. However, what kind of two-state solution can there be with a state that is not economically or socially viable? The West Bank and Gaza are little more than fragments or remnants of what was once a territory. Israel has made it plain that she will continue to retain complete control over the air and sea space of Gaza, over the movement of goods and people over the borders of that state and even over land crossings. Is that a state? Is it even the beginning of a state?

Now that Mr Sharon's Government propose to take over 52 per cent of the territory of the West Bank and not oblige a change in the route of a wall that would avoid taking 8 per cent of the West Bank, can we really describe this as a move towards a second viable state? I must tell the House that I believe to talk of a two-state solution is to subscribe to a level of hypocrisy that is not acceptable in a democratic assembly. I should be grateful if the Leader of the House would comment on that.

Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Lords (Privy Council Office) 4:23 pm, 19th April 2004

My Lords, I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Rawlings and Lady Williams, for their comments, especially with respect to the importance of giving support to our troops on the ground.

The noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, asked whether our military had asked for reinforcements. She will be aware that we keep force requirements under constant review. With respect to the withdrawal of the Spanish troops, again, the noble Baroness will be aware that this was a manifesto commitment by the socialist party in Spain that they are now seeking to carry out.

On the question of the 30 June deadline, I made our position absolutely clear in the Statement, in which I repeated what my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said this afternoon. He said:

"We will hold absolutely to the 30 June timetable for handover of sovereignty".

On UN involvement, the role of the UN and of special representative Brahimi is to work to set up the interim government and to look at the powers of that government. On the question of the powers that will be transferred, the noble Baroness will be aware that four ministries in Iraq are already under total Iraqi control—health, education, water resources and infrastructure and major works. There will be a complete handover and the CPA will be disbanded at that point. However, the Iraqi security forces will continue to need support after handover on 30 June and we envisage that a multinational force will continue, in agreement with the Iraqi authorities. Until they take full responsibility, it is clear that the people of Iraq would welcome that.

The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, asked specifically about training. She will be aware that improving the security environment everywhere remains at the top of our agenda. Our objective is to build Iraqi capability for law and order. Our understanding from the CPA is that 75,000 Iraqi police are now on duty. More are being trained and British police trainers are involved in Basra, Baghdad, and in the training centre that has been established in Jordan.

Coming to the Middle East, I was asked about the consultation that has taken place between the United States, the United Kingdom and our European Union colleagues. The noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, will know that we are in constant contact not only with our US partners but with our European Union partners on this matter. We all agree on the need for a two-state solution. That has been reiterated again this week. I agree that this is the start of a process, as was made absolutely clear in the Statement that I repeated.

The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, asked about the Middle East peace process. The Statement made absolutely clear that we are not talking about a settlement but an interim step. The noble Baroness referred to a negotiated settlement. That is not the case. It is an interim step that we see as important. Israel is talking about withdrawal from Gaza and four settlements on the West Bank. Yes, the road map has three specific steps, but this is not in any way taking away from what is in the road map. Our commitment to the road map and to the stages in that road map remains. Of course, there have to be final status negotiations. Again, as the Statement made clear—and as President Bush also made clear—the United States would not prejudice those final-status negotiations. All of these issues will need to be discussed. The two-state solution is the basis of the work in which we are currently engaged. We will continue to work for a peaceful and just solution in the Middle East.

Photo of The Earl of Onslow The Earl of Onslow Conservative 4:28 pm, 19th April 2004

My Lords, will the Minister be more forthcoming about the sovereignty question posed by the noble Baronesses, Lady Rawlings and Lady Williams of Crosby? It sounded as though all that would be handed over were the powers claimed by one of Mr Prescott's new regional authorities in Great Britain, because no serious powers will be exercisable by the new Iraqi government.

The final status has been prejudiced by President Bush in his statement. He said that the Palestinian refugees would have no right of return to old Palestine itself. Can somebody please explain to me, as I have never understood it, why the descendants of those who were removed from their homes by the legions of Titus should have a greater claim to return than those who were removed from their homes by the thugs of the Stern gang in 1948?

Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Lords (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, I hoped that I had explained the issue of sovereignty. The Iraqis will now have political control. As I said in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, they already have that political control in four areas. At the end of June, that will be handed over in totality; the CPA will cease, the Iraqis will have political control, and the coalition and anything that the coalition does in respect of any of the areas will be by invitation. The Iraqis will have full political control. I made the point specifically with respect to security and what we anticipate will happen in that regard.

On the refugees in the Middle East, that is a final status negotiation issue. We have always said that it should be so. The issue has been around for a long time and needs to be discussed and agreed between the two parties.

Photo of Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale Labour

My Lords, I welcome the Statement made by my noble friend the Leader of the House, repeating the Statement made in the other place, not least because it spelt out some of the positive elements in what are very difficult situations in both Iraq and the Middle East peace processes, in contrast to the overwhelmingly negative and disastrously gloomy picture that we get if we rely only on the media.

Would my noble friend agree that everyone has always known that there would be some Jewish settlements left on the West Bank, no matter what the eventual peace agreement was and whatever the details of it were? Realistically, that was always going to be the case; I believe that everybody knew that. Therefore, there is nothing cataclysmic in saying that the Israel Government want to keep some settlements on the West Bank. Everything is up for negotiation in the final settlement, and anyone who tries to predict the final outcome is being neither realistic nor very fair.

Would she also agree that the withdrawal from Gaza proposed by the Likud government is something very much to be welcomed, even though there are possible problems about a unilateral withdrawal? The fact that there is going to be a withdrawal could and should jump-start the whole peace process involved in the road map. I would hope that it can be seen that this is a dramatic move by the Israel Government, and a dramatic move that should re-energise the peace process, which has become moribund. I hope that it will stimulate both the members of the quartet and the Palestinians to start again on the road to peace. As my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said after the announcement of the withdrawal, this move certainly does not need to be seen as the end of the road map; indeed, quite the opposite, it is a real way back to it.

Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Lords (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for her comments, and, in particular, for her understanding that we see this as the start of a process on the road to peace.

Yes, the move by the Israelis is dramatic, but it is part of a long process. As I said in reply to the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, it is not an end in itself. We see this very much as an opportunity to get the road map back on track.

On the specific points raised by my noble friend, the withdrawal from Gaza is to be welcomed—although I should point out to the House that there will be some Israeli presence on the Gaza-Egypt border. We shall need to see compromise and statesmanship from both sides in this issue before we reach a final outcome with the kind of peaceful and just solution for which we are all looking.

Photo of Lord Hurd of Westwell Lord Hurd of Westwell Conservative

My Lords, could I press the Minister on the points already raised by my noble friend about the effect of the transfer of sovereignty on 30 June? Could she be clearer about the powers to be transferred to what we will now call a sovereign government? Will that sovereign Iraqi government be in command of their own security forces—the Iraqi police, the new army and the civil defence corps? How can they be credible as a sovereign government if they do not have power?

Obviously there is a good deal amiss with the morale of the Iraqi forces under the present American command. The Minister said that we expected—she and the Government expected—that Iraq would continue to need a foreign security presence. That may well be right, but will it be for the Iraqi sovereign government to assess that need after 30 June and will it be for them to decide how long and in roughly what strength they will continue to need the military support of foreign friends?

Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Lords (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, the noble Lord has asked a series of very good questions. I am not able to answer all of them in detail, because those are precisely the points currently being discussed. The noble Lord will know that the UN special representative, Mr Brahimi, was in Iraq for 11 days, has made some interim comments about what he sees as being possible and is due to go back to Iraq. Discussions are taking place at the moment with the UN; our own Prime Minister spoke to Kofi Annan last week, and to other members of the Security Council.

We are going to see a situation in which the Iraqis will have total political control. What is envisaged is that an Iraqi interim government will be established with UN help by 1 July, the CPA will be dissolved, and by the end of January 2005 elections will be held for a transitional national assembly, again with help from the UN. That transitional national assembly will elect a three-man presidency and appoint an executive and new transitional government.

On the issue of security, while we are working very hard to build up the Iraqi security forces, we all recognise that there are areas in which those security forces continue to be weak. What we envisage is a multi-national force. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister made it absolutely clear that we would want the UN to be involved in that process and that we would want some kind of UN resolution.

Photo of Lord Kilclooney Lord Kilclooney Crossbench

My Lords, would the Minister agree that a number of sovereign states are incapable of providing their own security, such as Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia and even Haiti? Can she also say whether the war against international terrorism would be strengthened or weakened if the coalition forces withdrew from Iraq and followed the example of Spain?

Finally, on the subject of Cyprus, would the Minister not agree, as I have stated in your Lordships' House previously, that the European Union acted somewhat irresponsibly in telling the Greek Cypriots that if they voted against the Annan plan, Greek Cyprus would be guaranteed membership of the European Union and, at the same time, the Turkish Cypriots would not be allowed to join the European Union? That seemed illogical. Can she follow the example of the American Government by encouraging the Turkish Cypriots to support the Annan plan on Saturday, assuring them that if they do vote "Yes", there will be a significant relaxation on the discrimination and isolation that Turkish Cypriots have suffered for 30 years?

Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Lords (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, the noble Lord has asked a number of questions, which I am afraid that I cannot cover in the time available. In relation to Cyprus, we are absolutely clear that the Kofi Annan settlement plan provides the best and fairest chance of peace, prosperity and stability that is ever likely to be on offer. Of course, we hope that both sides agree to it in the referendums of this coming weekend.

On the issue of Iraq, I repeat what has been said many times not only by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister but also by others in the coalition. We have a commitment to seeing a democratic Iraq, so we will be there and will support the Iraqis through the process until that is achieved.

Photo of Lord Judd Lord Judd Labour

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that on security in Iraq there is an issue to be addressed? She has emphasised the increased role for the United Nations in the rebuilding of the political, economic and social dimensions of Iraqi life, which I am sure we all welcome. She has spoken of the need for a multilateral presence to assist the Iraqis with security. Will she tell the House a bit more about the Government's thinking on the difference between the UN being central to one part of the operation and a multilateral force, which is not being described as being under UN auspices, being responsible for supporting security? I think quite a number of noble Lords are concerned about the difficulties and contradictions there and about the muddle and confusion that might arise.

Does she not further agree that the issue of hearts and minds is central to establishing peace and security and the future of Iraq and that therefore, as the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, said, the way in which security operations are undertaken is all important? There has to be a demonstrable determination to preserve civilian life and to concentrate operations on the source of the trouble.

If one is talking about hearts and minds, does that not bring us to the Middle East? Does my noble friend agree that peace in the Middle East equally demands winning the battle for hearts and minds and that the difficulty about unilateral action is that it seems to downgrade the moderates among the Arab population to second class status? They respond to initiatives. We must demonstrate all the time that they are in the driving seat alongside the rest of us.

Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Lords (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, I am sorry that my noble friend is confused. I think that the situation is absolutely clear. The UN has a clear role working with the Iraqis on the political processes and, in particular, on the electoral processes. It has made it absolutely clear that it does not want a role on the military side. What we are seeking is a UN resolution that would mean that there is a multinational presence on the security side in Iraq after the end of June and that we have a coalition of the willing in Iraq at the invitation of the Iraqis. I agree with my noble friend and with the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, on the importance of preserving civilian life. There is no one who wants to see large-scale civilian casualties in Iraq. We recognise that this is important in terms of hearts and minds.

With respect to the Middle East, in phase 1 of the road map there have been many opportunities for the Palestinian side to come up with its own initiatives. Responsibility has to be taken by both sides to move the process forward.

Photo of Lord Biffen Lord Biffen Conservative

My Lords, the noble Baroness the Leader of the House made a very measured Statement but it seems to me that one element was missing, that is the imminence of the American presidential election and how that has influenced the American reaction to the Sharon proposals. I cannot believe that that will have been ignored in the issue of hearts and minds. It will be seen as a decision paying a great deal of regard to American domestic politics affecting a sensitive area in Arab-Israeli relations.

Secondly, are we really expected to suppose that Sharon thinks that his initiative in this respect is a means of opening up the road map? I do not think that any Arab can reasonably suppose that, given that we know where Likud comes from and the very powerful elements within Israel and within the Sharon element of Israeli politics that look to the incorporation of the West Bank. If we are going to end up by assessing hearts and minds, and we know how vital that is in providing the background for a coalition success in Iraq, it seems to me that the past few days have been a terrible rebuff.

Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Lords (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord does not really expect me to comment on his highly speculative views about the role that the imminence of the US presidential election might have played. I cannot be expected to comment on that from this Dispatch Box.

On his second point about the Middle East and the road map, the noble Lord will know that Prime Minister Sharon reiterated his commitment to the road map in a letter to President Bush. President Bush has reiterated his commitment to the road map, as has my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. We want to see a reinjection of vigour into that process. We see last week's announcement as an opportunity to do that.

Photo of Lord Eden of Winton Lord Eden of Winton Conservative

My Lords, on the question of Iraq, is it not wholly intolerable that private armed militias should be allowed to exist and to cause mayhem wherever they choose? What action is being taken to curb them and to strengthen the legitimate security forces in Iraq?

On the question of the Middle East, is it not high time that the extraordinary patience of the rest of the world is rewarded by a practical demonstration that Israel and Palestine really do want a settlement? Toward that end, how soon are we likely to see an end to the provocative and counterproductive attacks from either side on the other? Did Mr Sharon give an assurance that there would be an immediate halt to any further expansion of Israeli settlements and to the dismantling of those that have already been identified? Will we now see the active engagement of Israel and Palestine in serious, substantive negotiations to achieve the two-state solution, if necessary with international guarantees? On the subject of the two-state solution, I strongly support the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams. What prospect can there be for an economically viable Palestine if it is constantly hemmed in by an aggressive Israel?

Photo of Baroness Amos Baroness Amos President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Lords (Privy Council Office)

My Lords, on the two-state solution, as was made absolutely clear in the road map and in debates and discussions since then, we must work towards a two-state solution that allows Israel to have secure borders and produces a stable and viable Palestine. That is what we are working towards. Concern has been expressed at the economic situation that currently exists. Part of the work that the international community is doing is working with the Palestinians on some of these issues.

On the issue of private militias in Iraq, action is ongoing. Part of it is the longer-term work in the creation of a new Iraqi army. However, important work needs to be done in excluding the extreme elements, as it were, and working towards including those elements of the private militia that may be able to move into the new Iraqi army and excluding those elements that will need to be disbanded because they are a force for terrorism in that country.