HC Deb 22 February 1984 vol 54 cc803-6
4. Mr. Neil Thorne

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the current situation in the Lebanon.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

Fighting continues between the Lebanese armed forces and the Druze militia in the Chouf mountains. In Beirut the ceasefire is generally holding, but the situation remains tense. If further bloodshed is to be avoided, the Lebanese people must make further efforts to settle their differences by negotiation. We shall do all that we can to help.

Mr. Thorne

Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that the abrogation of the treaty between Lebanon and Israel of 17 May 1983 adds considerably to the comfort of the terrorist forces in the middle east, and that this is a bad thing, considering that one of the main hopes for peace in that area must be the support of the only democracy in that part of the world—Israel?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I appreciate that a number of different views are held about the 17 May agreement, which maintains the important principle of full Israeli withdrawal. Whatever one's view of this, it should not become an obstacle to progress on the important issues. There is no objection to alternative arrangements which have the agreement of all parties, but which must cater for the security of Israel's northern border.

Mr. Douglas

Will the Secretary of State give the congratulations of both sides of the House to the British services for the evacuation of British civilian and military personnel from the Lebanon, and will he tell the House what representation, if any, he is making, direct or through our European partners, to the Government of Syria on this vexed question?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I am grateful to the hon. Member for what he said about the part played by the British forces. It will be a source of pride to hon. Members on both sides of the House that Foreign Ministers from a number of Community countries have expressed their gratitude to the British Government for the part that we played in helping the evacuation of citizens of other countries.

The hon. Gentleman will recall that I saw the President and Foreign Minister of Syria not many weeks ago. We continue to make clear to them our view that they should be ready to take part in the negotiations that are necessary if we are to secure a settlement in Lebanon.

Mr. Walters

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that recent events in the Lebanon have made it increasingly apparent that there cannot be a piecemeal approach to a peace settlement? What steps does he propose to advance towards a comprehensive settlement? Does he agree that talks between the Soviet Union and the United States at a conference in which Britain and other interested countries participated would be a step in the right direction?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I agree that it would be desirable if the settlement that we wish to see in the Lebanon could be set in the framework of progress towards a more widescale agreement, but that in itself serves to increase rather than to diminish the problem.

Our position has been to support all steps that can be taken to promote discussion between the parties, with a view to reaching a solution based on the principles which we have many times enunciated, namely, the recognition of Israel's legitimate existence and need for security, and the recognition of the entitlement of the Palestinian people to self-determination.

As to talks with the Soviet Union, I am not persuaded that a conference such as my hon. Friend suggests would be appropriate now. However, I raised the matter when I met Mr. Gromyko in Stockholm a few weeks ago.

Mr. Alton

Will the Foreign Secretary say something about the situation in Palestinian refugee camps, especially at Chatila and Sabra, following the withdrawal of the Italian contingent from the peacekeeping force?

Does he agree that there is now a possibility of renewed pressures on the Palestinians in those camps, and should he not raise this matter with his counterparts at the United Nations.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that this is one reason why it would be helpful if a larger role could be visualised for a United Nations force. We have been putting forward such a proposal. The difficulty is that such a force must essentially be a peacekeeping, not a peace-creating, force. It may be possible to secure an enlargement of the mandate of UNIFIL in that direction, and I shall bear the hon. Gentleman's point in mind.

Mr. Weetch

Will the Foreign Secretary tell the House what he makes of the movement of Israeli heavy armour and personnel, as reported in The Times today, together with the extensive Israeli air attacks on Moslem positions? As Syria and Israel are essentially client states of superpowers, would it not be of advantage to peace in the area if a high level diplomatic initiative were taken to include the superpowers, to underpin any internal political settlement in the Lebanon?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I understand the hon. Gentleman's concern about the nature and scale of recent Israeli troop movements. As I emphasised, Israel is entitled to be concerned about the security of its northern frontier. However, it must be remembered that the objective of the 17 May agreement was to secure the withdrawal of Israeli troops. That can be brought about only if there is a willingness by both sides to promote progress in that direction, and that means a willingness on the part of Syria.

It may be the case that a closer involvement of the two superpowers could help to promote that process. That is why I raised the subject in my talks with Mr. Gromyko, and I was glad that Mr. Shultz did the same. However, I remain to be convinced of the need for a wider conference.

Mr. Healey

As the Prime Minister has said that the West must now seek an understanding with the Soviet Union on regional problems such as those in the middle east, can the Foreign Secretary tell us what specific steps he has taken to secure the support of the Soviet Union for the establishment of an enlarged United Nations force in the Lebanon, and what steps he has taken to secure Soviet understanding of any possible Western military action in the Straits of Hormuz, such as the Prime Minister envisaged yesterday, which, without Soviet understanding, could be pregnant with danger for world peace?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The right hon. Gentleman raises two separate questions. The attitude of the Soviet Union towards an enlarged role for the United Nations in the Lebanon has been the subject of discussion at the United Nations by our representative there for some time now. There are likely to be informal consultations later today on the basis of a French draft resolution, which is alongside the proposals which we have been putting forward. We are, of course, seeking to secure a helpful response from the Soviet Union to that proposal, but it must know that if it goes so far as to demand the removal of all United States ships from the area, that will be unacceptable. We are seeking to find ground on which the role of UNIFIL can be enlarged in that area.

I understand the importance of the point that the right hon. Gentleman raises about the Gulf. It is right to say that if the situation were to require any further movements of a significant kind there we should need to consider acquainting the Soviet Union of our position.

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