HC Deb 14 December 1994 vol 251 cc916-8
10. Sir David Madel

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what plans he has to visit Syria in 1995 to discuss the middle east peace process; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Douglas Hogg

We attach great importance to our relations with Syria. I was in Damascus several weeks ago, but neither the Foreign Secretary nor I have any plans to visit in 1995.

Sir David Madel

In view of the lifting of the arms embargo on Syria by the European Union, and other efforts to improve relations with that country, does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that Syria should now do much more to control the terrorist groups that want to wreck the middle east peace process? Should not Syria now spell out in detail what it means by normalisation of relations with Israel?

Mr. Hogg

The second part of my hon. Friend's question is important. It is quite plain that we will not see a permanent agreement between Israel and Syria unless Israel makes it plain that she will withdraw from the entirety of the Golan Heights and unless Syria makes it plain that she will establish with Israel the kind of relationships that are properly to be established between one friendly state and another. It is important that in negotiations both parties make their provisions plain as speedily as they can.

Mr. Ernie Ross

The Minister will know that the Syrians have offered full peace for full withdrawal and that the Israelis have responded by saying that the depth of peace will be based on the depth of the withdrawal. The right hon. and learned Gentleman will also know that everyone in the area is concerned about the military machine that still exists in Iraq and that any depth of withdrawal or scaling down of Syrian forces is bound to be based on the potential that Iraq has to cause trouble, as it recently tried to against Kuwait. What steps are the Government taking to ensure that the war machine in Iraq is taken into account to help along the peace process in the middle east?

Mr. Hogg

I think that both parties to the negotiations between Israel and Syria are primarily concerned with the position of Israel on the Golan Heights, the need for Israel to withdraw and the nature of the relationship that thereafter will be established between Israel and Syria. I do not think that the wider question to which the hon. Gentleman referred is playing a very large part in the Israeli-Syrian negotiations.

Mr. Hicks

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the involvement of Syria is not only crucial but central to a long-term middle east settlement and, indeed, to reaching an accommodation with Israel? Do not the Government have an obligation, given our history in the region, to take initiatives with our partners to achieve those objectives?

Mr. Hogg

It is obviously important that we should see a permanent agreement between Israel and Syria as soon as it can be achieved. The Americans have an important intermediary role to play, and are playing it. The parties must hold face-to-face bilateral discussions if we are to secure an agreement soon. The British and, indeed, other Governments in the European Union have a supportive role to play, but a permanent agreement will come not from outside pressure but from bilateral face-to-face discussions between Israel and Syria.

Mr. Hardy

Does the Minister accept that the next, and perhaps most urgent, step that has to be taken in pursuit of the peace process is to ensure elections for Palestinians at an early stage? Will he ensure that Britain and the rest of western Europe send sufficient support and monitoring personnel to ensure that those elections proceed satisfactorily?

Mr. Hogg

The hon. Gentleman is quite right. It is obviously important that elections should be held as soon as possible. It is rather unlikely that they will take place before next spring or summer, but I wish it were sooner.

I do not think that they will take place unless Israeli forces are redeployed quite soon. I am sure that, if elections are fixed and there is a request for assistance, as I suspect there will be, the British Government, in common with other western countries and others, will wish to play a part and respond.

Mr. Cyril D. Townsend

Will my hon. Friend try to get the partners in the peace process back to some pretty basic United Nation principles: that territory should not be conquered and occupied by force of arms, in Syria or elsewhere, that, where territory is occupied, the Geneva convention should apply—it certainly does not apply in southern Lebanon today—and that the local population should have the right to self-determination?

Mr. Hogg

Where territory is occupied, the Geneva convention most certainly should apply. Security Council resolutions 425, 242 and 338 apply and should be the basis of discussions and ultimate settlement.

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