HC Deb 02 February 1977 vol 925 cc523-5
1. Mr. Walters

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on Her Majesty's Government's policy towards a settlement in the Middle East.

4. Mr. David Watkins

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what consultations are taking place between himself and the new United States Secretary of State designed to secure a permanent peace settlement in the Middle East.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Dr. David Owen)

The Government remain anxious to take whatever practical steps may be open to them to assist in the search for a settlement in the Middle East. As my right hon. Friend said in the House on 19th January, before coming to a conclusion we need to know the approach of the new United States Administration. We are already exchanging views with them on this subject.

Mr. Walters

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that not for many years has there been a better opportunity of achieving a peaceful settlement in the Middle East? While the main burden of bringing this about falls on the United States, Europe has a major contribution to make as well, because the consequences of a renewed war would be disastrous for Europe. Is the Foreign Secretary discussing with his colleagues what initiative Europe can take at this stage irrespective of the American attitude?

Dr. Owen

I agree that the prospects look better than they have done for many years, but that does not mean that there are not substantial difficulties. As I have told the House, discussions took place on Monday among the EEC Foreign Ministers within the framework of political co-operation, and we all welcome very much the decision of the new American Secretary of State to visit the area.

Mr. Watkins

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the people of Palestine, who have suffered most in the Middle East conflict, have been consulted least? Will he impress upon Mr. Vance, the new United States Secretary of State, that they should and must be involved in the negotiations and that the United States ought to use their influence to help them?

Dr. Owen

Palestinian participation is directly a matter for the parties. As my right hon. Friend said in his speech to the General Assembly on 5th October, one essential element in a settlement will be land for the Palestinians.

Mr. John Davies

In view of the recent happenings in Egypt and the concern one has that Egyptian good will should be reinforced, can the right hon. Gentleman assure us that he is in close consultation with President Sadat and his Government to ensure that no opportunity is lost to try to bring about the kind of meetings that are necessary to resolve this difficult problem?

Dr. Owen

Yes. The internal problems, which I hope are only temporary, are a matter for the Egyptian Government, but there are close links between us and the Egyptian Government. I welcome what the right hon. Gentleman said. I think President Sadat might play a notable part in the cause of moderation in bringing the Arab world together to form agreed views on the approach to a settlement in this area.

Mr. Greville Janner

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the sort of pressures allegedly being applied to the Metal Box Company to submit to the blackmail of the Arab boycott are hardly likely to induce an atmosphere for a settlement but will rather cast doubt on the bona fides of the people applying the pressure? Will my right hon. Friend reiterate the Government's opposition to this boycott?

Dr. Owen

I readily do so in quite unequivocal terms. We are opposed to the boycott and we do not think it will achieve the ends that the people behind it think it will achieve.

Mr. Aitken

Does the Minister accept that the moderate OPEC Powers of Saudia Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are looking to the West for a reciprocal gesture of moderation, particularly regarding the search for a possible peace settlement? Assuming that Europe always follows America's coat tails, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman not to fall into that trap because there have been so many messages, both public and private, to the European Powers, including Britain, that Arab Powers are looking for a European meeting on the subject?

Dr. Owen

I do not think that we are conducting our foreign policy on the coat tails of the United States Administration. That has never been my view. I do, however, see the United States as one of our strongest and most powerful allies, and I have no hesitation in telling the House that we shall conduct our foreign policy in the fullest co-operation with the United States and consult them at all stages when we think it appropriate.

Mr. Colin Jackson

While welcoming my right hon. Friend's assurance that we do not intend to carry on our policy on the coat tails of the United States, may I ask whether we may have a guarantee that we shall not be waiting for Godot step by step with regard to European policy in the Middle East? Surely 1977 presents a supreme opportunity for the European countries, particularly Britain, to play a constructive rôle.

Dr. Owen

We will play a constructive rôle and we will use our chairmanship and the presidency of the Council in as helpful a way as possible, both in coordinating the views of the Nine and in establishing close relationships with the United States. However, in various parts of the world we shall have the choice as to which countries have a considerable leverage and responsibility. I am quite clear that in the Middle East the United States is still the country with some of the strongest leverage in order to bring about a settlement in that area.