Gulf Region: Security Organisations

– in the House of Lords at 2:30 pm on 23 November 2005.

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Photo of Lord Hannay of Chiswick Lord Hannay of Chiswick Crossbench 2:30, 23 November 2005

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What steps they are taking to encourage the emergence of a regional security organisation in the Gulf area which would include Iran, Iraq and the members of the Gulf Cooperation Council.

Photo of Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Government Whip

My Lords, the Government support a number of initiatives in the region, such as the International Institute of Strategic Studies' regional Gulf dialogue. A Cabinet-level delegation will attend the next conference in Bahrain on 2 to 4 December. Officials in London and at posts have assisted this initiative by encouraging engagement from the region. If they are to be successful, leadership of regional security initiatives must come from the region.

Photo of Lord Hannay of Chiswick Lord Hannay of Chiswick Crossbench

My Lords, while thanking the Minister for that encouraging reply, does she agree that it is important to begin now to establish a framework for security and mutual confidence between all the countries in this extremely unstable region and that regional security and co-operation agreements have proved valuable in many other parts of the world? Could a regional organisation in the Gulf area also be one element in meeting Iran's security concerns? Is the Minister able to say whether Iran is included in the initiative she spoke about?

Photo of Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Government Whip

My Lords, regional security discussions, and for the region to take on its security implications itself, are extremely important. I understand that Iran has been invited to participate in the meeting on 2 December, but it is not yet clear whether it is going to attend.

Photo of Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Labour

My Lords, does the Minister see any reason in this respect for going somewhat wider than the Gulf countries specified by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay of Chiswick, particularly in relation to Iraq, and perhaps embracing some sort of role for the Arab League?

Photo of Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Government Whip

My Lords, I believe that the Arab League met in Cairo earlier this week, but I have not yet received a full account of that meeting. It would certainly be positive if the Arab League were able to provide some cohesive support in the region—as long, of course, as that was acceptable to Iraq. That would be key.

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Deputy Leader, House of Lords, Spokesperson in the Lords, Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs

My Lords, does the Minister accept that what has been wrong with western policy towards the Gulf region for the past 30 or 40 years has been the tendency to support one Gulf state against the rest—first to rely on Iran until the revolution, as the West's bastion; then supporting Iraq against Iran during the war; and then trying to build up Saudi Arabia against both? Do the Government accept that we should be supporting the closest possible co-operation among all the major states in the area rather than divisions among them?

Photo of Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Government Whip

Yes, my Lords. The Government certainly believe that it is important to support the region as a whole, and countries working together in the region. We do so not just through the Gulf dialogue but by supporting other initiatives such as the Iraq Neighbours' Group, and the NATO Istanbul co-operation initiative.

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Spokespersons In the Lords, Foreign Affairs, Deputy Leader, House of Lords, Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, does the Minister agree that if and when British troops finally withdraw from Iraq—whenever that may be—part of the planning for that should be a maximum emphasis on co-operation and reinforcement of local military initiatives and forces, along the lines that the noble Lord, Lord Hannay of Chiswick, has raised? Does she agree that it is important not to make the kind of crass mistakes made after the Iraq invasion, when decisions were taken—I do not know by whom—to disband the entire Iraqi military, with catastrophic results? Local defence forces must be built up.

Photo of Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Government Whip

My Lords, the noble Lord is absolutely right. Local defence forces must be built up. I certainly agree that it is for the countries of the region to support Iraq when the multilateral troops withdraw, whenever that may be. However, the responsibility for internal security in Iraq must lie with the Iraqi National Government and the Iraqi security forces, which we support.

Photo of Lord Bramall Lord Bramall Crossbench

My Lords, does the Minister agree that as a general rule, the complicated problems of somewhere like the Middle East and international terrorism are better tackled by dynamic diplomacy such as talking, as my noble friend suggests, to others most concerned in the area and helping friends to help themselves, rather than by large-scale, expeditionary operations into the unknown?

Photo of Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Government Whip

My Lords, dialogue is extremely important. That is precisely why we strongly support the Gulf dialogue in December because it will bring together the countries of the region and enable them to have not only a dialogue as a region but also bilateral dialogues, which are so important.

Photo of Lord Roberts of Conwy Lord Roberts of Conwy Spokespersons In the Lords, Wales

My Lords, is there anything to stop the states mentioned in the Question from forming their own regional security organisation? Have they shown any indication that they wish to do so?

Photo of Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Government Whip

My Lords, I believe that there is nothing to stop the states of the region getting together as a regional security force, but I do not know whether they are minded to do so at the moment. However, the dialogue that they have established—the one taking place in December will be the second—may sow the seeds of such regional co-operation.

Photo of The Countess of Mar The Countess of Mar Crossbench

My Lords, when does the Minister expect the dialogue to produce positive action?

Photo of Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Government Whip

My Lords, we have to wait and see. Dialogue takes time, but we hope that it will be as fast as possible.