HC Deb 21 March 1984 vol 56 cc1034-6
5. Mr. Ernie Ross

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

7. Mr. Walters

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on progress towards a middle east peace settlement.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

There has been no recent progress in settling the various disputes in the region. We shall be keeping up our efforts to help bring about negotiated settlements to the Arab-Israel dispute, and the Iran-Iraq war. It is disappointing that the Lebanese reconciliation conference in Lausanne made so little progress, and it is to be hoped that Lebanon's leaders will make a further effort to reach a lasting settlement.

Mr. Ross

Does the Foreign Secretary accept that at the core of the middle east problem is the need to resolve the problem of the Palestinians, and that there is no likelihood of that problem being resolved after the report that he issued on 8 February this year, drawn together by Assistant Attorney-General Judas Karp, outlining the repression of the Palestinian Arabs on the West Bank? If the Israeli Government are not prepared to tackle the repression of terrorism against the Palestinians in the occupied territories for which they are responsible, there is very little likelihood of the Palestinians and the Israelis sitting down together and discussing peace.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I am certain that the interests of the Palestinians on the West Bank have to be taken fully into account. We regard Palestinian self-determination as essential in any negotiated settlement. It has been our view for a long time—indeed, since the Venice declaration—that the PLO should be associated with any negotiations, provided that they themselves accept the Venice principles.

Mr. Walters

Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that King Hussein's recent remarks reflected the understandable frustration felt by Arab moderates at United States policy in the Middle East? Does he propose to be more active in trying to bring about an international conference aimed at achieving a comprehensive peace settlement, before a major explosion takes place again in the area?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I am interested in what my hon. Friend has to say about the reasons behind King Hussein's recent remarks. I shall not comment on what they imply about relations between his country and the United States of America, but plainly the voice of King Hussein and of Jordan has an important part to play in the search for a settlement in that area. Indeed, it has a leading part to play in bringing together the voices of the moderate Arabs, who have such a contribution to make. I am not sure that the proposal for a conference has any part to play at this stage, but we shall certainly continue to press all the parties concerned to come together to consider the future.

Mr. Maclennan

What action has the Foreign Secretary taken to mobilise an international response to evidence of weapons being used in the Iran—Iraq war that are outlawed by the laws of war, in particular, chemical weapons?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

We obviously view with great concern reports that chemical weapons have been used in that conflict. As the hon. Gentleman knows, a United Nations team is currently involved in assessing the evidence and I should not want to prejudge its findings. I have already made it clear that we would roundly condemn any violation of the 1925 Geneva protocol.

Mr. Temple-Morris

Does my right hon. and learned Friend share the view of the Americans and others that the greatest present obstacle to peace in the Gulf is the attitude and policy of the Iranian Government? If so, wilt he make that clear to the House?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

We deplore the continued conflict in the Gulf and have been urging both parties to take steps to bring it to an end as soon as possible. A whole series of attempts have been made to achieve mediation. Many people have tried to achieve that, both inside and outside the Security Council, including the United Nations Secretary-General. Every such effort should be sustained.

Mr. Healey

Does the Foreign Secretary agree that, now that King Hussein has delivered the coup de grace to recent American policy in the near east, the main danger to world peace and Western interests lies in interference with freedom of passage for oil supplies through the Gulf as a result of the war there?

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman answer the following extremely urgent questions? First, does he agree that unilateral Western military action to secure freedom of supplies would be most unwise, unless it was clear that there was a serious danger to the prosperity of Western countries as a result of any interference with oil supplies? Secondly, will the Foreign Secretary ensure that no Western action is undertaken in the Gulf without securing the understanding of the Soviet Union, in whose back yard the Gulf happens to lie, and which has the same interest as the West in freedom of passage through inland waters? Finally, have any steps been taken to cover the insurance of tankers passing through the Gulf, in case commercial insurance rates rise to a level that oil companies cannot afford?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I cannot give a specific answer to the right hon. Gentleman's last point. As he will appreciate, the rates fluctuate according to the circumstances as they are seen at any particular time. However, I undertake to make some further inquiries about that. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman about the potential dangers of the Iran-Iraq war and the importance of ensuring that before considering any question of military or other action to clear the straits if they became blocked all diplomatic channels should be exhausted. I also agree about the importance of ensuring that, if events move in that direction, the Soviet Union is advised of the nature of any action or initiatives in prospect, because it would be serious if there were any misunderstanding in that respect.

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