HC Deb 13 April 1983 vol 40 cc791-2
7. Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he is able to make a statement about progress at the intermediate range nuclear forces talks currently being held in Geneva.

Mr. Pym

Progress in the fourth round of the INF negotiations, which finished on 29 March, was disappointing. The Russians were obstructionist, and seem to have decided that they would try to appeal over the heads of the negotiators to public opinion in western Europe. They flatly refused to negotiate on the basis of the zero option. As a consequence of this, at the end of the round ambassador Nitze, with NATO's full support, took the important step of offering to negotiate an interim agreement which would provide equal limits on the missile warheads of the United States and the Soviet Union. By definition, an interim agreement is far short of the complete elimination of a whole system of missiles which the Alliance wants to see, but it is the next best alternative.

Mr. McNair-Wilson

Can my right hon. Friend give an account of the Russian response to Ambassador Nitze's proposal? Is he saying that the balance will now be struck by a reduction in nuclear warheads, rather than in the total number of missiles deployed by both sides?

Mr. Pym

The proposal that was tabled at the end of the last round was not dealt with in detail at the negotiating table because there is a break between that round and the next one. We have had an almost immediate and apparently total rejection of the proposal by the Soviet Union. Its Foreign Minister held a press conference, the third in his 25 years as Foreign Minister, which lasted a considerable time, and appeared to be completely negative. Whether we like it or not, the present position of the Soviet Union is negative and extraordinarily unhelpful. We have been rightly pressed on this Bench by Members on both sides of the House to be as forthcoming and positive as we can on arms control proposals. We have made them in conjunction with our allies, and the response that we are receiving at present is most regrettable.

Mr. Hooley

The Foreign Secretary used the phrase "equal limits". By that does he mean the totality of nuclear weapons held by NATO countries as against the totality of nuclear weapons held by Warsaw Pact countries?

Mr. Pym

We want equality on both sides—a balance that is verifiable. That is the best way to achieve the security to which both sides are entitled.