HL Deb 28 March 1984 vol 450 cc227-30

2.43 p.m.

Lord Chelwood

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows: To ask Her Majesty's Government whether in default of the United States being willing to discuss with the Soviet Union, urgently and at the highest levels, ways of ending the Arab-Israeli dispute and the war between Iraq and Iran, they will, in co-operation with our European Community partners, take such an initiative, urging the United States to take part.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Young)

My Lords, we are always ready to co-operate with our European partners in supporting constructive moves by the parties directly concerned towards negotiated settlements of both the Arab-Israel dispute and the Iran-Iraq conflict.

Lord Chelwood

My Lords, is there not an unspoken agreement between the Soviet Union and the European Community, first, about the need to find a solution to what has so rightly been called the tragedy of the Palestinian people; secondly, about Israel's absolute need for security broadly within the pre-1967 armistice lines; and, thirdly, about the importance of trying to stop the Iran-Iraq war spreading either north or south? Would not dialogue with the Soviet Union be entirely consistent with the Prime Minister's determination that the European Community should play a more forthright role on the world's stage?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that supplementary question. He is not aware, perhaps, that a statement was issued yesterday on behalf of the Foreign Ministers of the Ten which reiterated the basic principles; namely, Israel's right to existence and the Palestinians' right to self-determination. The statement goes on to say that the parties must take steps towards negotiations and that Europeans stand ready to help in this matter. We are also in close contact with our partners in the Ten on the Iran-Iraq conflict. Yesterday, again, they indicated collectively their wish to see that war brought to a swift end. That point was made in the statement issued by Ministers after their meeting in Brussels.

Lord Grimond

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that there will be widespread sympathy with her noble friend's suggestion? Is she aware also that many people feel that the Foreign Ministers ought to go a great deal further than they have gone so far? Is it not rather alarming that neither the great powers nor the United Nations appear to be able to do anything in the Iran-Iraq war, or to stop the fighting in the Lebanon? Is it not out of this kind of confrontation that nuclear war may easily arise—rather more likely, I would have thought, than out of direct confrontation between America and Russia? Would this not be an admirable time for an East-West initiative, and for bringing the Russians back in a constructive way to act with the Europeans and the Americans to end this appalling tragedy in the Middle East?

Baroness Young

My Lords, we have of course made clear the importance of broadening the East-West dialogue to include the Middle East. President Reagan has also spoken recently of the need to work with the Soviet Union to defuse tension and regional conflicts. The noble Lord will be aware that Mr. Konienko, the Soviet First Deputy Foreign Minister, is currently visiting the United Kingdom, and we shall take this opportunity to exchange views on a wide variety of issues, including Middle East questions.

Lord Glenamara

My Lords, in remembering the tragedy of the Palestinian people, which the noble Lord, Lord Chelwood, mentioned, will the noble Baroness and the Government never forget the tragedy of the Jewish people, which defaced European history for many centuries? Will the Government please not take any action which may undermine the security of the Jewish state?

Baroness Young

My Lords, the position of Her Majesty's Government on this matter is quite clear. It is a balanced policy on the Arab-Israel dispute. We seek a negotiated settlement on the basis of the two principles I have enunciated; namely, Israel's right to a secure existence and the Palestinians' right to self-determination.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, can the noble Baroness say whether there is any hope for a settlement as a result of the talks held between Mr. Chamoun and Mr. Jumblatt in London recently? Could she go a step further and say whether the Government intend any positive initiative? She indicated what was said at the summit meeting, but that was merely a statement of good intention. Does she not agree with the noble Lords who have already pressed her on this point that some positive initiative is required now in view of the appalling consequences of the Iran-Iraq war and the sufferings and losses which have taken place there?

Baroness Young

My Lords, we do agree with the last point made in the noble Lord's question concerning the appalling suffering in the Iran-Iraq war. We have deplored the continuation of the fighting and have urged both sides to avoid any moves that could lead to an escalation of the war. We have repeatedly urged both sides to accept mediation.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, does the noble Baroness not agree that the appalling and terrible machinations which were organised against the Jewish people occurred in Europe; that some of our allies were desperately involved in that horrendous affair, and that not many Arabs were in any way concerned? Would the noble Baroness not further agree that the Government should be prepared to consider that the United States of America, as the leader of the West, has been particularly hapless and helpless in all Middle East affairs, and that Great Britain, with her background knowledge, could give a lead to the EEC to implement the recommendation described by the noble Lord, Lord Chelwood?

Baroness Young

My Lords, we recognise that the United States is indispensable to the peace process in the whole of the Arab-Israel dispute; and we support, of course, President Reagan's initiative of just over a year ago. On the question of the Iran-Iraq war, we support realistic attempts to bring this war to an end, especially the efforts of the United Nations Secretary-General. One of the difficulties is that there is no harmony of views between Iran and Iraq as to how further mediation could help to bring an end to the conflict.

Lord Oram

My Lords, in pursuing the balance in these matters to which the noble Baroness referred, will the Government recommend to Her Majesty that she should accept the invitation to visit Israel as a balance to her visit to Jordan?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I should like to make it quite clear that there is no discrimination against Israel. There has been a long-standing friendship with the Jordanian Royal Family, and the programme was arranged some years in advance. President Herzog will see the Queen on 2nd April.

Lord Chelwood

My Lords, while accepting, naturally, that the United States holds the key to peace in the Middle East, should we not honestly face the fact that their failure to be evenhanded in their Middle East policies has led to the total collapse of those policies? Does this not make it doubly imperative that the European Community, instead of merely repeating over and over again the principle of the Venice Declaration, which was excellent in itself, should actually do something about it and give a lead?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I have indicated that the Ten issued this communique yesterday at the end of the meeting of the Foreign Ministers. On the question, once again, of the Iran-Iraq conflict, many would-be mediators have tried to help, so far without any success. Consultations are continually in progress with other members of the Security Council in New York. At the present time we see no independent role for the United Kingdom to play in the mediation process.

Lord Caradon

My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that in view of the great urgency for a new initiative, which has been emphasised on all sides of the House and I am sure is widely supported, it is essential that that initiative should be taken through the Security Council of the United Nations so that approval and acceptance by the United States and the Soviet Union can be obtained?

Baroness Young

My Lords, we would not rule out, in fact, an international conference at some stage. It is not a new idea, but we believe that progress must first be made in bringing the parties together on the main issues Each side must accept that the other has rights which will need to be protected in any agreement.