HL Deb 07 July 1981 vol 422 cc581-8

3.15 p.m.

Lord Carrington

My Lords, I paid a short working visit to Moscow for discussions with the Soviet Foreign Minister on 6th July. My principal purpose was to present to the Soviet Government the proposal adopted by the European Council on 30th June for a two-stage international conference on Afghanistan. Discussion of this matter occupied a full morning of talks.

In explaining the proposal I made it plain that I was speaking on behalf of the Ten member states of the European Community. I emphasised that the problem with which it dealt was one of global significance and whose solution was essential in the interest of peace, stability and the development of East/West relations. I reminded the Soviet Government that the Ten—and indeed the great majority of the international community—are convinced that the complete withdrawal of Soviet troops is an essential element of any solution.

Mr. Gromyko took the view that the proposal by the Ten was, as he put it, "unrealistic", because the main problem was intervention by others in the affairs of Afghanistan, because it was not stated that the present Afghan régime should participate at the outset and because the proposed composition of the conference was unsatisfactory. I told him that I did not find these arguments convincing. Mr. Gromyko did not say that he rejected the proposal and did not exclude further discussion. For my part, I made it plain that the proposal, which has already received an encouraging degree of support in the international community, remains on the table and that its details are open for discussion.

The brief communiqué agreed at the end of the visit refers to the intention of both sides to continue the dialogue. I have made it clear that as far as I am concerned this means about Afghanistan. I shall now wish to consult with my colleagues in the Ten on the next steps.

I also spoke to Mr. Gromyko about theatre nuclear forces, the Madrid Conference and the Middle East. On theatre nuclear forces, I took issue with some of the figures put forward and pointed out that the problem could only be resolved in the negotiations between the Soviet Union and the United States which are due to start before the end of the year. We agreed that the situation in the Middle East was dangerous and that the right way forward was a negotiated settlement even though our views on timing and method differed.

We shared the view that if agreement could be reached in Madrid on the area to which new confidence-building measures would apply, the way should be clear for a rapid conclusion of the conference.

3.18 p.m.

Baroness Llewelwyn-Davies of Hastoe

My Lords, the House will be most grateful to the noble Lord for making that Statement, and I am sure that the whole House will wish to congratulate the noble Lord the Foreign Secretary on making an effort to solve this very difficult Afghan situation and, indeed, the very dangerous international position in general.

In spite of the rather disappointing response, we are glad that Mr. Gromyko did not reject the proposal, and we on these Benches would like to encourage the noble Lord to continue with the negotiations, especially as there is a hint that Mr. Gromyko might consider doing so in September.

We were told that the Middle Eastern problems were discussed and that both sides found it also a very dangerous situation. We have been very concerned by the reports of a substantial arms build-up in Syria, and I should like to ask the noble Lord whether that was discussed and whether he could comment on that situation.

We are also glad to know that there were talks about European nuclear arms. I wonder whether, by any chance, Mr. Gromyko confirmed what he is reported to have said to Herr Brandt, that the Russians would propose to stop deploying nuclear weapons once talks have begun—even if the Americans are rather unwilling to start talks as soon as we are perhaps prepared to do—and that they are, in fact, prepared to consider the reduction of nuclear weapons.

One last point I should like to make. Would the Foreign Secretary agree that it was perhaps rather unfortunate that the Italians were affronted for the second time at not being included in talks with West Germany and France about what was a Community matter, especially as this is the beginning of our presidency and because the Italians were so helpful to us last year in our negotiations over the Community budget? In general we wish the Foreign Secretary good luck in his continuing talks, to which we all look forward with some hope.

3.21 p.m.

Lord Gladwyn

My Lords, we too would like to thank the Foreign Secretary for making this Statement. I am sure we can all agree that although the result of his mission was not satisfactory, this was in no way due to the Foreign Secretary himself, but only, I am afraid, to the continued intransigence of the Soviet Government. Did the noble Lord by any chance represent—I imagine he did—to Mr. Gromyko that the continued presence of Soviet troops in Afghanistan will hardly be consonant with the maintenance of what is called détente, and that if the Soviet Government really wish to have any kind of détente they must contemplate some kind of arrangement of a satisfactory nature with regard to Afghanistan?

With regard to the Middle East, I understand that there was some discussion about the Middle East, but there was difference on timing and method. I can well understand that there was a difference on timing, but perhaps the Foreign Secretary would like to tell us what exactly the difference on method is? How do the Soviet Government imagine that the situation on the West Bank, for instance, will be settled satisfactorily? What is their plan? Have they got an idea of a conference, or what is their big plan? Perhaps the Foreign Secretary would tell us that.

3.23 p.m.

Lord Carrington

My Lords, I am grateful to the two speakers. I am sure that it was right to try this proposal on behalf of the Community, and I am sure it is right to go on trying, because the problem is not going to go away. As the Soviet Government themselves admitted in a communiqué signed by Mr. Gromyko and Mr. Gierek after his visit to Poland, the first item in that communiqué was headed "The Problem of Afghanistan". So the Soviet Union recognise that there is a problem. It is undeniably true—and I think that the Soviet Union understand this—that until such time as the problem is solved and there is a complete withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan, there can be no normalisation of relations between Europe and the Soviet Union.

I wonder whether I might duck the question which the noble Baroness asked me about Syria, because I think it really rather widens the scope of the questions. It does not exactly arise from my visit to Moscow, and perhaps on another occasion I might answer that. There were a number of questions which arose from the visit. On the tactical theatre nuclear forces, the difficulty with the Soviet proposal is that they are saying that there should be a moratorium. They are prepared to have a moratorium provided also that there is no preparation and deployment on our side as well. The difficulty with that is that they are in a very considerable state of superiority with these weapons, and therefore a moratorium would perpetuate the imbalance on the Soviet side. As I pointed out to Mr. Gromyko, the only way in which it is possible for a moratorium to be declared is when the two sides have met, agreed on the basic figures and the data, and make sure that neither side is disadvantaged by the proposals which are put forward. So I do not really believe that the moratorium proposal as it is now suggested can possibly go forward.

On the question that the noble Baroness asked me about my meeting with Herr Genscher and M. Cheysson, there are occasions when it is rather useful to meet some of one's colleagues to talk about foreign affairs, and not affairs necessarily connected with the Community. One of the things I wanted to talk to my two colleagues about was Namibia, in which the French, the Germans, and ourselves are in the Contact Group and have a particular interest. There was of course no intention in any way of making the Italians feel that they were left out. I welcomed the opportunity of seeing them, and indeed, to make sure that they did not feel so, I took the opportunity last night to go to Rome rather late and talk to my Italian counterpart. I took the opportunity to speak to him of what had happened in Moscow and to get his preliminary views, which were very valuable, about what the next step should be. So I hope that there is no suggestion of any intention to neglect the Italians, who naturally we consider one of our most important partners in the Community.

The noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, asked about the continued presence of Soviet troops in Afghanistan. I think I have answered that. The continued presence of Soviet troops anywhere is a disadvantage, if that is what the noble Lord is saying. But on the Middle East, the difference of method was that the Soviet Union is proposing a conference of all the parties concerned to solve the problem, and our view is that, though it may well be that in the end a conference will be necessary to set the seal upon any agreement, at the present time it is not realistic to suppose that a conference, either would be accepted or would be very successful.

Lord Home of the Hirsel

My Lords, I think there is a certain amount of confusion in the country about what is actually happening on the ground in the field of disarmament. I think I understood my noble friend to tell us about the strategic level, and that must be between the Soviet Union and the United States; but is a conference still going on in Geneva on conven tional disarmament, or in Madrid, or where? Is something actually happening at this present time?

Lord Carrington

My Lords, my noble friend is quite right. There are the strategic level of conferences, the strategic arms limitation talks, one aspect of which are the talks on theatre nuclear forces, which the United States have said that they are prepared to start before the end of the year and which was part of the NATO double decision on modernisation. There are then the talks on mutual and balanced force reductions, which have been going on in Vienna ever since I can remember, and which are not making very much progress, but at which we are still trying to come to an agreement on the basis, on the data, on which decisions are taken. Then there is the European security conference in Madrid, which is discussing a French proposal for a disarmament conference in Europe, which is still being discussed in rather a positive way, and it is possible that there may be a decision on that within a week or two if we can get agreement with the Soviet Union.

Lord Aylestone

My Lords, in thanking the noble Lord for his Statement may I ask him—

Baroness Gaitskell

My Lords, may I congratulate the Foreign Secretary on the success of his visit—

Several Noble Lords: Order!

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Earl Ferrers)

My Lords, I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Aylestone, who was first.

Lord Aylestone

My Lords, in thanking the noble Lord for making his Statement, may I ask him whether he is of the opinion that if an agreed composition of such a conference were made—I know an agreement would be difficult—Mr. Gromyko would be prepared to attend such a conference?

Lord Carrington

My Lords, I think that was one of the elements which was put forward as a reason for the European proposals being unrealistic. I would doubt whether a solution to that problem would necessarily tip the scales in the direction of an acceptance by the Soviet Union. But all of us are quite prepared to look at the composition if it would be of any value.

Baroness Gaitskell

My Lords, may I—

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, would my noble friend—

Several noble Lords: Order!

Baroness Gaitskell

My Lords, I was up before the noble Lord. May I congratulate the Foreign Secretary on the success of his visit to the Soviet Union? Anything more that he might have got would, to use Mr. Brezhnev's word, have been unrealistic. He might have been very hostile. He was not. He might have been almost rude and asked for a conference about Northern Ireland, but he did not. So I still maintain that the visit was extremely successful and helpful, and I once again would like to congratulate the noble Lord.

Lord Carrington

I think the visit was useful, my Lords. There were those who said before I went that the Soviet Union and Mr. Gromyko would not be prepared to discuss the problem of Afghanistan. In fact, we discussed it and nothing else for two and a half hours, and that in itself was useful. As to the results, I summed it up yesterday when I said that I was disappointed but not surprised.

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, did my noble friend point out that while the Soviet Union is deploying every single week an extra SS20 nuclear weapon in their area aimed at Western Europe, it is very difficult for us to take seriously any disarmament talk—

Lord Peart


Lord Orr-Ewing

—and that the West is compelled to deploy some cruise missiles unless the Soviet Union stops and withdraws those other SS20 missiles?

Lord Carrington

Yes, my Lords; my noble friend is absolutely right and that is the position which I explained to Mr. Gromyko.

Lord Shinwell

My Lords, may I ask whether the Foreign Secretary is aware that while we appreciate that his approach to Mr. Gromyko was animated by the best of intentions, he should have realised that the subject of the Soviet invasion of Aghanistan was of much wider-ranging concern than to only the European Council; for example, that the United States had made protests on the occasion of the invasion itself? May I ask whether, preparatory to his approach to Mr. Gromyko, he consulted the representative of the United States? Did the noble Lord obtain as much as he expected? Would it not have been more effective if, as representing the European Council, some of the foreign secretaries of France, Germany, Italy and the others (I need mention no more) had accompanied him and had informed Mr. Gromyko that they were there representing not only the Council but personally, being personally concerned on behalf of their respective nations, and even going the length of saying, "We shall not leave Moscow until we get a satisfactory answer"?

Lord Carrington

My Lords, I did not realise the noble Lord was so attached to Moscow. He is, of course, quite right in that we took preparatory action with all our friends, and long before the proposal was revealed we had discussed it with the Americans, Indians, Pakistanis, Iranians—with all our friends—and had got the go-ahead from and blessing of nearly all of them that the European Council, the European countries, should present this plan. That was right, because we had international opinion behind us, and I made that plain to Mr. Gromyko yesterday. The noble Lord asked me whether I was happy with what happened. I had hoped for more, but I could have got less, and that about sums it up. As for the powerful deputation to which he referred, I have a feeling that Mr. Gromyko, faced with 10 European foreign ministers, might have been inclined to be more brisk with us than he was with me.

Lord Bethell

My Lords, we are all anxious to hear further details of the Foreign Secretary's visit to Moscow. May I take it that he will be giving those details in another Parliament tomorrow? May I ask him to confirm that his visit to Moscow was a supreme example of the usefulness of political co-operation among the Ten?

Lord Carrington

I think that is right, my Lords; that it added to the weight of what we were doing, in that 10 important countries of Europe supported it and indeed initiated it. Yes, I shall be making a very long speech to another Parliament tomorrow, to which I hope my noble friend will be listening.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, would the noble Lord agree that while it is true that the Soviet Union has a preponderance in certain areas—for example, the SS20 and the so-called theatre nuclear missiles—all over the preponderance is with the West rather than with the Soviet Union, so that within that disproportion in that area the West is in fact more nuclear armed all over than is the Soviet Union? May I further ask the Foreign Secretary to say that he will not be put off by any suggestion that his work has not been valuable, and will he bear in mind Winston Churchill's dictum that "jaw-jaw is better than war-war" and persist in pursuing that?

Lord Carrington

I will certainly do the latter, my Lords. But the trouble with the first part of the noble Lord's supplementary is that there really is a difference of opinion about the figures. We in Europe think the Soviet Union have in theatre nuclear force weapons—that is, nuclear weapons in Europe—a superiority in warheads of something like 4 to 1, and the Soviet Union think we have a superiority of 1.5 to 1. Until such time as the parties can get round a table, talk about it and get a base on which they are all agreed, I really do not think it will be possible to get any solution to arms limitation in that particular sphere.

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords, in the first instance we must be grateful for what my noble friend the Foreign Secretary has done—he has put Europe more on the map than it otherwise would have been. Secondly, is he able to answer this question: the Soviet Union say that outside intervention is what caused them to go into Afghanistan. There has been absolutely no acceptable evidence of that to the outside world. Did Mr. Gromyko enlarge on that; did he convince my noble friend that there was any truth in it; and may I ask my noble friend to enlarge on it?

Lord Carrington

Not so much enlarge on it, my Lords, as Mr. Gromyko alleged outside intervention in Afghanistan. The object of the proposal put forward by the Community was, first of all, a conference on international aspects which would cover any allegations which the Soviet Union might make and which, of course, would also cover the occupation of Afghanistan by Soviet troops. The object of the conference was to get that out of the way first before tackling the internal problems of Afghanistan with the Afghan representatives. It was extremely disappointing that Mr. Gromyko was not prepared to accept that, since we had been led to believe on a number of occasions that the Soviet Union were prepared to accept a conference to discuss international aspects and not the internal aspects. Mr. Gromyko did not yesterday make plain why he refused it and what he was suggesting by international aspects if it was not what we were suggesting.

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