17. Mr. Robertson
To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he next intends to meet the Secretary-General of the United Nations to discuss the Gulf war.
§ Sir Geoffrey Howe
I value greatly my periodic meetings with the UN Secretary-General. My most recent meeting with him was in New York on 25 September, when we discussed the Gulf conflict. There are no plans for a further meeting in the immediate future, but we remain in close touch through the United Kingdom permanent representative in New York.
When the right hon. and learned Gentleman meets the Secretary-General, will he explain at some length why we are so implacably opposed to a United 1062 Nations flag flying over our naval presence in the Gulf, and why Britain seems to be oblivious to the dangers to which our naval ships are put while they sail under one of the eight different flags of the eight different navies that are sailing around in the Gulf? Surely it would be in the interests of the safety of shipping in the Gulf, as well as the safety of our mariners in that area, if we bit the bullet and got down to having a United Nations flag over the naval presence.
§ Sir Geoffrey Howe
The hon. Gentleman presses with astonishing enthusiasm a proposition that does not commend itself anywhere else. There are formidable practical difficulties about that proposal in present circumstances; for example, in obtaining agreement in the Security Council itself, when it is hard enough to get agreement on the support for the arms embargo, agreeing operational instructions and rules of engagement, and seeking agreement on cost burden-sharing. The truth is that there has never been a United Nations naval peace-keeping task force. It would represent a problem of a new order of magnitude. It is the view of those who have naval vessels in the Gulf that in the current situation it is much better for individual national forces to look after their own shipping and to co-ordinate their activities locally. The Opposition would be far better engaged in pressing the Soviet Union to take the simple step of delivering its support for an arms embargo, as Mr. Shevardnadze said he would on 25 September.