HC Deb 16 January 1991 vol 183 cc836-9
3. Mr. Winnick

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the latest position in the Gulf.

4. Mr. Home Robertson

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a further statement on progress towards the implementation of United Nations resolutions affecting the middle east.

Mr. Hurd

Since Iraq's invasion of Kuwait on 2 August, we and many others have made sincere efforts to bring the Gulf crisis to a peaceful solution on the basis of the Security Council resolutions. Those efforts were redoubled in the last days, notably by Mr. Baker's meeting with Tariq Aziz on 9 January and by the United Nations Secretary-General's visit to Baghdad on 13 January. Iraq failed utterly to respond positively to any of these initiatives. We continue, as we did yesterday, to urge Iraq to choose the path of peace. But the deadline yesterday was a real one. If Iraq does not withdraw from Kuwait it will be forced to do so.

Mr. Winnick

Is not it clear that the wholly negative response of the Iraqi regime to the French proposals of yesterday and even more so to the visit of the United Nations Secretary-General shows only too well that it is Saddam Hussein who wants war to keep Kuwait and that it is poisonous nonsense to suggest that it is the allies who are keen on war?

Is not there a further lesson to be learnt by the democracies from this: that besides opposing appeasement, they should not arm dictatorships? Why is it that time and again dictatorships such as that in Iraq have been armed by the democracies? Admittedly, the Iraqis have not been armed by us in the past few years, but they have been by France, Germany and the Soviet Union. Do not we understand that these are the very arms that can be used against our own people?

Mr. Hurd

I agree with the hon. Gentleman's first point; he put it well. As for his second, as he acknowledged, we have not been arming Iraq. We have been applying, at some cost to our manufacturers, an embargo against it since the beginning of the Iran-Iraq war. I agree that the whole issue of how arms are sent and how to prevent them from falling into the hands of possible aggressors needs to be discussed.

Mr. Home Robertson

Only one thing is more depressing than the refusal of the British and Americans to co-operate with yesterday's French initiative, and that must be the failure of the Iraqis to respond to that initiative, which could have established a link between United Nations resolutions affecting Kuwait and those affecting Palestine. When, as now seems inevitable, my constituents in the Royal Scots have to play their part in liberating Kuwait, will the Foreign Secretary take urgent action to ensure that they never again have to get involved in conflict in the middle east—by tackling the underlying instability of the area and ensuring concerted international action to resolve the Palestinians' legitimate rights?

Mr. Hurd

Yes, certainly; when aggression against Kuwait is reversed we must all return with new vigour to look for a just solution to the Arab-Israel problem. But the hon. Gentleman has studied this matter for years and he cannot seriously believe that there would be any hope or advantage in an international conference, convoked in the context of the aggression against Kuwait, on the Arab-Israel problem. Which of the parties that he wants to be there would attend? That would not be a way of restarting the peace process on Arab-Israel.

Mr. Churchill

Will my right hon. Friend explain to hon. Members who believe that sanctions should be given more time to work the risks attendant on such a policy for the British and allied forces in the Gulf? Is not it the case that beyond the middle or the end of March temperatures in excess of 100 deg. F would make the use of nuclear and chemical protection suits almost impossible, that that could put British forces at risk for about six months and that there is no guarantee that at the end of that period the Iraqi regime will not have developed nuclear weapons?

Mr. Hurd

There is no guarantee that if the use of the military option were postponed for any length of time it would be as effective as it could be now. Without going into my hon. Friend's specific question, that is true. The will and the means exist now. In my view, it would be very rash to suppose that the two would come together again so well in the near future.

Sir Dennis Walters

The British Government have rightly confronted with great vigour the indefensible aggression of Saddam Hussein against Kuwait. Can my right hon. Friend assure the House that equal vigour will be displayed as soon as possible to resolve the Palestinian issue and to deal with Israel's defiance of repeated United Nations resolutions and international law?

Mr. Hurd

We have to apply equal vigour, but, as my hon. Friend suggests, the one must come after the other. In both cases we need to follow the Security Council's guidelines. First, the Security Council resolutions that we debated yesterday are very clear as regards Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait. Secondly, as my hon. Friend knows better than I, resolutions 242 and 338 cover Israel and suggest what is in essence a compromise—what is sometimes called land for peace. We have to follow with vigour every possibility of achieving such a settlement.

Sir David Steel

Does the Secretary of State accept that last week on both the west bank and in Gaza I found deep demoralisation and a sense of frustration among the Palestinians about the fact that the outside world has taken so long to deal with the very resolutions that he has just cited? That is why last night's statement by the Secretary-General of the United Nations was so important —promising that as soon as the Kuwait crisis was over there would be a middle east peace conference. That is something which I hope the Secretary-General will pursue in both the Security Council and the European Community, so that at last we may portray Saddam Hussein properly—as an obstacle to the wider middle east peace and not as an assistance to it, as, unhappily, so many think that he is.

Mr. Hurd

The latter two questions have been fairly put. That is exactly the position. Saddam Hussein has been an obstacle, not an effective advocate. However, the right hon. Gentleman knows that there is no magic about an international conference. It needs to be called in circumstances where it has a chance of success. That is why the vexed problem of Israel sitting down with representative Palestinians has to be tackled and solved first. It was that which James Baker and the Egyptians, with the Palestine Liberation Organisation, were trying to sort out before the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. In one form or another, we shall have to return to that problem before there can be a successful conference.

Sir Michael Marshall

Does my right hon. Friend accept that in the present situation the possibility of 11th hour initiatives, whether from Yemeni sources, France or elsewhere, and any possible future initiatives have to be viewed in the context of virtually every permutation having been tried, particularly by the Arab countries, with Saddam Hussein and all having foundered on his simple refusal to withdraw from Kuwait? Is not it the case, therefore, that we are in the position that the House endorsed yesterday and that further initiatives are unlikely to take us anywhere at this time?

Mr. Hurd

That, sadly, was the view to which we came at the European Community Foreign Ministers meeting two days ago, and events have proved us right.

Mr. Ernie Ross

Has the Foreign Secretary had time to reflect on the suggestion made to him last night that would effectively get us out of the problem of Saddam Hussein trying to link the two issues? Yesterday, Palestinians were shot by Israeli defence forces on the west bank. During the recess, 20 Palestinians were killed by the Israeli defence forces. These are grave breaches of international law. If we are to demonstrate to the Arab population in the middle east that we are determined to uphold the status of both international law and the United Nations resolutions, by means of parallel endeavours we could deal with these issues separately from the Iraq-Kuwait crisis.

Mr. Hurd

We have not been silent on these events. As the hon. Gentleman will acknowledge, the Security Council dealt with and passed judgment on these events in the occupied territories all the way through last autumn and no doubt it will continue to do so. In real terms, a serious chance to tackle again with greater hopes of success the Arab-Israel problem will have to await the reversal of the aggression. However, I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we have to reject it. Everybody, including the Palestinians, will need to have fresh ideas if we are to do so with any success.

Mr. Brazier

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is sad that so few of our allies in Europe seem to be willing to recognise, in terms of providing assistance to the forces in the Gulf, that their interests as well as ours and those of the Americans are fully bound up in the Gulf crisis? Does he also agree that it is particularly sad that some of our neighbours who have sent albeit token forces to the Gulf are apparently now instructing them to take no part in any conflict that may take place?

Mr. Hurd

Let us see what happens. I hope to attend a WEU meeting in Paris tomorrow which no doubt will pursue that. I welcome strongly the statement made today by the French President.

Mr. Kaufman

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind the fact that Security Council resolution 681 carried on 20 December with regard to the Arab-Israeli dispute does not refer simply to an international conference, essential though it is, but to human rights violations by Israel involving shootings, deportations and other arbitrary actions on the population under Israeli occupation? That being so—of course, the international conference will have to await the end of the Iraq-Kuwait crisis, which we continue to hope will be resolved peacefully—action can be taken now because of the violations of United Nations resolutions.

Therefore, first, will the Government draw to the Israeli Government's attention their continued defiance of the United Nations? Secondly, if need be, will the Government raise these matters again urgently at the Security Council since, as my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross) points out, the shootings and deportations continue? Thirdly, will the right hon. Gentleman tell the Israelis that, although at present it is not possible to convene that conference, there will come a time when the world will turn its attention to this matter fully and a proper resolution involving self-determination for the Palestinians must result, so the Israelis would be well advised to start talking now?

Mr. Hurd

As the right hon. Gentleman said, the Security Council and our representative on it have not been silent or held back from expressing a view and strong criticism of the acts of repression and, particularly, the deportions in the occupied terrorities. On the future tackling of the problem, on behalf of this country I have gone to some difficulty to make it clear that we do not accept the policy of the present Likud Government in Israel which rests the security of Israel on continued occupation. That is not acceptable and it is not safe for Israel in any longer-term view. We hope that the time will come when Israel will accept that and settle down to working with others for a more stable outcome.