HC Deb 13 January 1998 vol 304 cc125-8
1. Mr. Cohen

If he will take steps to ease or remove sanctions against Iraq affecting children and the sick. [20412]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Robin Cook)

The process of relaxing United Nations sanctions can begin when Saddam Hussein complies with all the relevant Security Council resolutions. His behaviour in November demonstrated that he is still far from willing to comply.

We have no argument with the Iraqi people. That is why we co-sponsored oil for food resolutions, which permit Iraq to export oil in exchange for humanitarian relief. Regrettably, the prolonged failure of Saddam Hussein to accept the arrangements led to a long delay before the benefits became available to his people.

Mr. Cohen

Does my right hon. Friend agree with Kofi Annan that the input of humanitarian aid is unsatisfactory? Does he agree with UNICEF that 960,000 children are chronically malnourished—an increase of 72 per cent. since 1991? What is moral about sanctions that target children? Even if Saddam Hussein uses children politically, why does the west choose to be their agent of death? At the least, will the Government agree to double the oil for food deal and ensure that the money goes on food and medicine for those children rather than being syphoned off for reparations?

Mr. Cook

There are no sanctions on food or medicine. We are willing to consider an increase in the oil for food provision, but we are dealing with a man who has built additional presidential palaces in the past six years while the situation that my hon. Friend described has prevailed among his people. He has continued to spend billions of pounds on weapons of mass destruction. The United Nations Special Commission on Iraq report demonstrates that, even as we speak, Saddam Hussein is acquiring enough anthrax to fill two warheads every week. Given that he has a record of using chemical weapons against his own people, the international community cannot tolerate him continuing to acquire the capacity to destabilise the region. For those reasons, we must continue our pressure on him to abandon his programme for weapons of mass destruction. The hardship of his people must rest on his head more than on anyone else.

Mr. Alan Clark

I do not doubt for a minute the humanitarian instincts of the hon. Member for Leyton and Wanstead (Mr. Cohen), but does the Foreign Secretary agree that he is dealing with the arch practitioner of the human shield technique in military and diplomatic affairs? Were the Foreign Secretary to relax sanctions, only a tiny group of children or the sick, assembled for a photocall for the world's press, would receive any aid. The rest of the oil revenue would go straight to the military machine that Saddam Hussein so menacingly continues to assemble, as the Foreign Secretary has just described.

Mr. Cook

I do not deny the genuine humanitarian impulses of many people who see distressing photographs from Iraq of children in need, and wish to respond. I understand their good faith, but they have to reflect on the fact that the Iraqi Government have an appalling record of repression and oppression of human rights, led by a man who claims 45 presidential palaces. It is by no means clear why the president of Iraq, whose country is apparently in such hardship, needs more palaces than any other monarch anywhere in the world. Sanctions are continuing after six years not because the world is vindictive, but because Saddam Hussein continues to refuse to comply with the resolutions of six years ago.

Mr. Dalyell

Has it occurred to the Foreign Secretary that the perceived cruelty against children might strengthen rather than weaken Saddam Hussein's position?

Mr. Cook

My hon. Friend raises a serious issue, which all of us involved in the debate must address. That is precisely why we have embarked on trying to get across to the Arab world that sanctions apply to Saddam Hussein because of his military ambitions and particularly his acquisition of chemical and biological weapons, not because we wish in any way to punish the Iraqi people. I hope that we can get that message across throughout the region because other Arab countries in the region stand to be most at threat if Saddam Hussein succeeds in acquiring such a capacity.

Mr. Menzies Campbell

Is not the person best able to help the children of Iraq Saddam Hussein himself? What assessment has the Foreign Secretary made of consequences in the event of the United Nations abandoning its efforts to ensure that the Security Council resolutions were fully implemented? Is it not likely that, in those circumstances, Saddam Hussein would swiftly return to the manufacture of chemical and biological weapons, continue to pursue the nuclear capability, which he wishes above all else, and thereafter simply threaten to use weapons of mass destruction whenever he thought that it was in his interests to do so?

Mr. Cook

The hon. and learned Gentleman's best answer lies in UNSCOM's report to the Security Council. I commend it to any hon. Member who has any doubts about the Security Council's policy. The report makes it quite clear that Saddam Hussein still persists in seeking to acquire a chemical and biological capacity. It is only with the greatest persistence that UNSCOM has worn down his attempts to develop a nuclear capacity. For all those reasons, I have not the slightest doubt that if the world were to accept the propaganda war being waged from Baghdad and drop its guard and sanctions, we should be left with a regime in Baghdad that had not only acquired such weapons but has, in the past, shown a willingness to use them.

Mr. Benn

Is the Foreign Secretary aware that the policy has been pursued for seven years and that Saddam Hussein is stronger than ever? The punishment of the Iraqi people and the death of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children amount to a war crime. Is he also aware that America has no support whatever in the Security Council, China, France and Russia or the Arab world for the military threats made? Is it not time to look at the matter again rather than make innocent people suffer for policies that have failed, and will almost inevitably continue to fail?

Mr. Cook

I cannot accept my right hon. Friend's view that the policy has failed. Indeed, if he studies the UNSCOM report, he will discover that it has effectively halted the Iraqi nuclear and missile programmes. As the chairman of UNSCOM never tires of pointing out, UNSCOM has managed to dismantle and destroy more weapons than were ever destroyed during the Gulf war. The policy has not completely succeeded, but that is down to the defiance of Saddam Hussein.

In Geneva, where all five permanent members of the Security Council met at a meeting which I chaired, we achieved a unanimous agreement on a text which requires Saddam Hussein unconditionally to comply with Security Council resolutions. It weakens the pressure on Saddam Hussein and encourages him when anybody suggests division among the permanent members of the Security Council.

Mr. Howard

I acknowledge the humanitarian concerns that have been expressed on both sides of the House. Does the Foreign Secretary share my apprehension over today's report that Saddam Hussein has halted the work of the United Nations inspection team, headed by Mr. Scott Ritter? What action does the Foreign Secretary propose to take in response to this latest attempt by Saddam Hussein to flout the UN's authority?

Mr. Cook

I fully share the right hon. and learned Gentleman's concerns about the development of the past 24 hours. It is for the chairman of UNSCOM, not Saddam Hussein, to decide the composition of teams that carry out inspections. The present round of inspections has been carried out by 44 personnel from 19 different countries. It is therefore wholly false to accuse UNSCOM of any national bias. I shall be discussing the matter with the United States Secretary of State Madeleine Albright on Thursday, when I visit Washington. Mr. Butler, the chairman of UNSCOM, will be returning to Baghdad next week. In the light of his report and those discussions, we shall certainly be considering what further action should be taken through the Security Council.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

May I remind my right hon. Friend that many of those who oppose sanctions today are the same people who argued for them in 1991, and opposed the military action?

Mr. Cook

I am seeking to achieve maximum unity against Saddam Hussein, and I do not think that it would be consistent with that policy to answer my hon. Friend's question.

Mr. Cohen

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I give notice that I intend to raise the matter on the Adjournment.

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