HC Deb 27 March 2001 vol 365 cc813-4
11. Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon)

If he will make a statement on the situation in the middle east. [154097]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Brian Wilson)

Following a successful European Union Troika visit to the region, Heads of State and Government discussed the situation in the middle east at the European Council in Stockholm on 23 March. The Council reaffirmed the Union's determination to contribute to peace, stability and future prosperity in the middle east. To that end, it requested the EU High Representative Javier Solana to explore how the EU can play an enhanced role in promoting the resumption of the peace process.

Although there has been an overall reduction in the level of violence in the past two weeks—notwithstanding the events of the past 24 hours—we remain deeply concerned at the continuing tensions and instability. We urge both parties to take immediate parallel steps to address the current crisis.

Mr. Dismore

Does my hon. Friend agree that there is overwhelming evidence that Palestinian terrorism—such as the mortar attack from a Palestinian police station in Gaza last week, the two bombs in Jerusalem today or the terribly tragic shooting of a 10-month-old Israeli baby girl yesterday—can no longer simply be attributed to Palestinian rejectionist groups, but is also the responsibility of the Palestine National Authority? Will my hon. Friend do all he can to ensure that Mr. Arafat does whatever he can to try to stop that terrorism and violence from the Palestinians and so allow the peace process to be resumed?

Mr. Wilson

We condemn such acts from whichever source they come. The problem is that if there is no atmosphere of dialogue—an atmosphere that appears to be leading to a just outcome to all the problems—it makes room for extremist elements to preach a doctrine of violence and to commit the acts to which my hon. Friend refers. Everything that we do and say is directed towards a resumption of the peace process with one aim—getting people around a table to discuss a solution, taking up where discussions were leading before the Israeli elections, and feeding into the process, bilaterally, through the European Union, in every way possible. Taking out isolated acts of terrorism and condemning them is perfectly legitimate, but it does not contribute to the wider solution. We condemn all violenee. We must have dialogue if there is to be peace.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex)

What are the objectives of the Government's policy towards Iran?

Mr. Wilson

We are anxious to encourage reform within Iran. We are anxious to develop our relations, and to that end the Minister for the Cabinet Office recently made the first high-level visit to Iran in, I think, 20 years. We shall take that process forward. Where there is progress towards democratic standards we will encourage that, and that is true in Iran.

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley)

Is my hon. Friend aware that a senior Iraqi official has recently been in the UK, that he is a close friend of Saddam Hussein, that he has been given a multiple entry visa by our embassy in Jordan and that he is closely connected with an institute in Iraq that is involved in chemical and biological components? Why was he given a visa when visitors who wished to come here from Iraq and Syria—members of the Iraqi opposition—were refused visas this weekend? Has there been a change of policy on Iraq?

Mr. Wilson

I do not think that this is really the forum in which to second-guess the visa process. However, I would say that the gentleman in question was admitted as the president of the Council of Technical Colleges in Iraq. He was not judged to be a senior figure in the Iraqi regime. He came here to access educational materials and, as my hon. Friend and the House well know, the policy of sanctions against Iraq is not directed against educational materials or humanitarian goods. In that spirit, it was consistent to grant the visa to that gentleman.

Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet)

With reference to my question 33, and echoing the words of the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore), does the Minister agree that the overriding priority at the moment, given the extreme fragility of the middle east peace initiative, must be to encourage an end to violence and a resumption of the dialogue and negotiations? Given that the European Union countries have presented the Palestinian authorities with a very favourable economic package, does the Minister agree that he and his counterparts in Europe must use all the influence that they have at this time to encourage Yasser Arafat to meet those twin overriding objectives?

Mr. Wilson

There is a significant role for the European Union—and I think that everyone in the middle east believes that there is a role for the European Union in this process. Therefore, I am very pleased at the visit by the EU High Representative to explore how the EU can play an enhanced role. That step was strongly supported by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in Stockholm at the weekend.

What the hon. Gentleman says is correct. There is a role for the EU and I am sure that, in the discussions with Yasser Arafat and other representatives of the Palestinians, the points that the hon. Gentleman made can be pursued.

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