HC Deb 30 November 1988 vol 142 cc689-91
2. Mr. Campbell-Savours

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what subjects were discussed at recent meetings between Her Majesty's ambassador at the United Nations and the new President of the General Assembly.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

No such meeting has yet taken place. However, Dr. Caputo, in his capacity as Chairman of the United Nations General Assembly, has asked to see our permanent representative to the United Nations, Sir Crispin Tickell. The invitation has been accepted, but no date has yet been fixed.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Are we warming to the Argentines?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

We have been pressing on the Argentines initiative after initiative for movements towards the re-establishment of more normal relations. As I have said many times, the table of my opposite number is groaning with the weight of fresh proposals. For example, as long ago as 1982 we removed all financial and trading discrimination, but the Argentines' response has been disappointing. They are continuing to discriminate against British goods and firms despite all that we have tried to do to press them in the opposite direction.

We are still trying—as I told the House that we were in 1986—to see whether it is possible to establish a multilateral framework for the management of fisheries disputes. We have been looking constantly for a way of normalising relations, but sadly there has been an insufficient response.

Sir Peter Blaker

Will my right hon. and learned Friend convey to the President of the General Assembly and to the United States Administration the dismay of many hon. Members on both sides of the House who are well disposed towards the United Nations at the refusal of a visa to Mr. Yasser Arafat? The Palestine National Council in Algiers went a long way towards accepting the existence of the state of Israel and United Nations resolutions 242 and 338, and this decision is likely to make the task of the moderates in the PLO more difficult.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

My right hon. Friend has made an important point very clearly and effectively. We took the opportunity during yesterday's debate to make entirely clear our view that Mr. Arafat should have been allowed to address the General Assembly, and that that was the legal obligation of the United States under the headquarters agreement. We should have liked to hear him confirm there the very point made by my right hon. Friend—that the PLO supports an international conference on the basis of Security Council resolutions 242 and 338 and rejects terrorism.

The additional point that is vexing Opposition Members is this. We want a positive response from the United States on this matter. We pressed the substance of the resolution in our own statement and we supported the statement that was made by the Twelve to achieve it, but we did not think that we were likely to bring about a change in the United States attitude by supporting a resolution couched in intemperate language. We have made our position absolutely clear. There is a mutuality of obligation in the United Nations. The host country owes an obligation to the Establishment, and the Establishment owes a duty to the United States. I invite the House to acknowledge that we have pressed this case and that we shall continue to do so as vigorously as is required.

Mr. Steel

Surely the Secretary of State accepts that intemperate action is worse in foreign affairs than intemperate language. That is what we have seen by the United States in its refusal of the visa. Those of us who have had contact with the PLO over the years have urged the recognition of United Nation resolutions such as No. 242. Now that that recognition is forthcoming, it is lamentable that the visa has been refused. The British ambassador should be given more robust instructions than simply to abstain from voting.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I have made absolutely clear the extent to which we regret the refusal of the visa, and so did our spokesman in New York yesterday in concert with the representatives of the other member states. Mr. Arafat should have been allowed to address the General Assembly, but the question is how we can best move forward in the future. I am prepared to assure the House that the United Kingdom's credit with our friends in the Arab world and in the United States is substantial enough and strong enough for it to be understood when we say that Mr. Arafat should have been heard, and we say it in language that is more likely to produce a positive response from the United States.

Mr. Lawrence

Is it not patently obvious that if Mr. Arafat and the PLO were serious about peace with Israel they would explicitly recognise the existence of the state of Israel, rather than just hint at it, that they would explicitly renounce violence—which they do not even hint at—and that they would not explicitly demand that the capital of the Palestinian state should be Jerusalem?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

My hon. and learned Friend is right to remind the House of the familiar conditions for the debate to go forward, but it is also right to acknowledge, as we have, that the statements that have emerged from the Palestine National Council meeting in Algiers are important moves in a positive direction and should be acknowledged as such. It is for that reason that we left the United Nations in no doubt, and now leave the House in no doubt, that we think that Mr. Arafat should have been heard. It would have been an opportunity for him to make clear to the United Nations the PLO's explicit acceptance of my hon. and learned Friend's points. We want progress to be made in that direction and we should like action to be taken by both sides. We think that yesterday the United Nations reached the right judgment on the substance but that the language used was not best calculated to produce the change of heart in the United States that we want. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) interrupts. We proposed a series of alternative wordings that we think would have been more likely to allow the United States to reach the right conclusion. However, the House should be in no doubt that the case to be made by Mr. Arafat on behalf of the PLO ought to have been heard, because the concessions and the movements that have been made in Algiers are important.

Mr. Kaufman

What a wriggling, snivelling response we have had from the Foreign Secretary. How can he offer any justification for the pusillanimous abstention by Britain yesterday in the Legal Committee when 129 nations voted in favour of a modest, sensible resolution which simply asked the United States to reconsider what it had done? Would it not have been a good idea to give Mr. Arafat the opportunity to state before the General Assembly what was implicit and clear in the Algiers declaration—that the PLO recognises resolutions 242 and 338—and also what Mr. Faisal Awaida of the PLO said explicitly in London yesterday—that the PLO is ready to recognise the state of Israel? Is it not an abuse by the United States of its position as host to the United Nations that it should decide on domestic grounds who should be allowed to address the General Assembly of the United Nations? If indeed a past association with terrorism is a disqualification from being allowed into the United States, how did Mr. Shamir—an acknowledged former terrorist—ever get in?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The right hon. Gentleman must come back to the point that I have made repeatedly this afternoon. What the representative of Her Majesty's Government said in the United Nations yesterday is precisely as follows:

I wish to make clear that in the view of the British Government Mr. Yasser Arafat, chairman of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, should have been allowed to come to the United Nations headquarters in New York. This is the legal obligation of the United States. My delegation endorses the opinion given on this matter by the United Nations legal council"—[Hon. Members: But—]"but just as we believe that the United States should show respect for the United Nations, so we believe that the United Nations should show respect for the United States. This mutual respect should have been reflected in the language of the resolution. If the House wants to get effective action by the United States, which is not just an important ally but a most important actor in the Arab-Israel dispute, it makes sense for us to set about the matter in a fashion likely to produce that result.

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