HL Deb 18 February 1991 vol 526 cc317-23

3.36 p.m.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (The Earl of Caithness)

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall repeat a Statement on the Gulf which is now being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary. The Statement is as follows: "Mr. Speaker, with the permission of the House I shall make a Statement about the Gulf.

"The announcement by the Iraqi Revolutionary Command Council on 15th February stated Iraq's readiness 'to deal with Security Council Resolution 660 with the aim of reaching an honourable and acceptable political solution, including with-drawal'. The announcement clearly and explicitly links an undertaking by Iraq on withdrawal to a series of conditions. These include the withdrawal of Israel from occupied Arab territory, the withdrawal of coalition troops from the Gulf within one month, reparations for damage done to Iraq, the cancellation of Iraq's debts, the repeal of all Security Council Resolutions passed after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait and the guarantee of Iraq's territorial claims.

"It is clear that the Revolutionary Command Council's announcement does not commit Iraq to unconditional withdrawal from Kuwait as required by the United Nations Security Council in Resolution 660 nor to the implementation of the other resolutions passed by the Security Council since 2nd August. The announcement was rejected by the meeting of Foreign Ministers of Egypt, Syria and the Gulf Co-operation Council in Cairo. It was also rejected by the overwhelming majority of speakers in the UN Security Council on 16th February. In the view of Her Majesty's Government, it was totally inadequate as a basis for ending the war.

"The aggressor cannot expect to set conditions for remedying the aggression.

"What the world now requires is an unequivocal commitment by Iraq to withdraw its forces fully and unconditionally from Kuwait. When the Iraqi government are ready to comply with the mandatory resolutions of the UN Security Council they should say so unambiguously and match their words with decisive and irreversible proof by ordering their troops to begin withdrawing as quickly as possible.

"Today, the Iraqi Foreign Minister, Mr. Tariq Aziz, is in Moscow. Mr. Gorbachev has made clear that the Soviet Union stands firmly behind the coalition and the Security Council resolutions. I hope that Tariq Aziz will take back to Baghdad the clear message that only Iraq can decide when the fighting will stop.

"The Security Council will continue its deliberations after Mr. Tariq Aziz's discussion in Moscow. I urge the Iraqi leadership quickly to put an end to the anxiety and suffering which their continued intransigence is causing to the people of Kuwait, to the people of Iraq themselves and indeed to the whole world".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

3.38 p.m.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Earl for repeating the Statement. It deals with the Iraqi offer of withdrawal from Kuwait, which momentarily raised our hopes on Friday morning but which also dismayed if not entirely surprised us when we heard the long list of conditions attached to the offer set out in the Statement. Some have pointed to the fact that this is the first time the Revolutionary Command Council has mentioned Resolution 660, or indeed Kuwait as a state. Do the Government think that there is any possibility that Saddam Hussein would contemplate withdrawal followed by negotiation on certain of these issues? I agree that this is a matter for considerable doubt, but would he be prepared to withdraw if, for example, the Palestinian problem was put on the agenda for a major conference?

The Statement goes on to mention the current talks in Moscow between President Gorbachev and Mr. Tariq Aziz, the Iraqi Foreign Minister. It states that it is most unlikely that Mr. Gorbachev would support any moves which departed from the Security Council resolutions. We hope that that will be the case.

Does the noble Earl agree that by now Iraq's infrastructure has been substantially damaged and that, while understandably concentrating on military targets, special care should now be taken to avoid bombing heavily populated locations? I make that point while not dissenting from the conclusions in the Statement itself.

Finally, is the Minister aware that we much admire the patience, common sense and courage displayed day by day by our forces in the Gulf?

Lord Bonham-Carter

My Lords, I too should like to thank the noble Earl for repeating the Statement made by his right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary in another place. I should also like to associate myself with much of what the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos, said. In responding to peace initiatives of this kind—and there may well be others in the future—we must bear in mind the whole time that, although we may be winning the military battle, it is not so apparent that we are winning the battle for men's minds, certainly the minds of men in moslem states. It is extremely important for winning both the military battle and the peace that will follow that we win the political battle and the battle for men's minds.

With that in mind, though I am aware that his right honourable friend is thinking about peace terms, does the noble Earl consider that the time has come to specify rather more clearly than hitherto the kind of peace terms which we hope to establish after the war? I believe that establishing clearly in people's minds what we are fighting for will help us win the battle for men's minds which is so important.

Those issues should include, first, the establishment of long-term stability in the area and, secondly (which is of the utmost importance), the establishment of the authority of the United Nations. It was to establish the authority of the United Nations that we went to war. Thus, it seems to me that this is a UN war and we must make it clear that we want a UN peace. Finally, one of our peace aims—perhaps the most difficult of all to achieve—is to resolve the Palestinian problem and at the same time ensure the security of Israel.

Those are ambitious aims. They will be difficult to fulfil but I feel that unless we make clear—I should like to know how the noble Earl responds to this suggestion—that it is for those that we are fighting, we may not win the battle for men's minds.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I am grateful for what the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition and the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, have said. It is debatable whether indeed any of the conditions would be negotiable if they were not linked so specifically, as they were by the announcement. But that misses what I believe to be the main point, which, as I am sure the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition will be the first to agree, is that Iraq must unconditionally leave Kuwait in line with the Security Council resolutions.

I agree with the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition that any killing or maiming of civilians by the bombing is to be regretted. But this was a matter which Iraq took into its own hands when Saddam Hussein committed the atrocity of going into Kuwait. Since 2nd August he has had the opportunity to look at the 12 resolutions mounted against him. He has had plenty of time to withdraw. He can still withdraw now. I saw on television this morning, as I am sure did many of your Lordships, that he was promised safe passage if he withdrew.

The noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, raised the point that we were winning the hostilities but not men's minds, certainly not the minds of the moslem nations. We have won many minds in the moslem states. The Gulf Co-operation Council was absolutely solid in rejection of the Revolutionary Command Council's announcement last week. However, I agree with him that with some of the media coverage it is difficult to get across the point.

I have spelt out clearly, as has my noble friend the Leader of the House, the aims of the action that we are taking. They are clearly set out in the Security Council's resolutions. As to the long-term planning, it would be wrong to suggest that we could insist on a solution from here. It can only be a lasting solution if it is worked out with all the countries in the area.

3.46 p.m.

Lord Mason of Barnsley

My Lords, is the Minister aware that any conclusions or recommendations that flow from the meetings between Tariq Aziz and Mr. Gorbachev must be within the mandate of the United Nations resolutions—briefly, unconditional with-drawal from Kuwait and no concessions to Saddam Hussein. Those are still our objectives and those of the 28 nations in the coalition.

I should like to ask the noble Earl a question about the Iraqi-controlled reporting of its propaganda to which reference was briefly made by the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter. Is he aware that public opinion declares that our newsmen in Baghdad are Saddam's stooges and that we now have a fifth column operated by the British media undermining the morale of our forces, giving succour to the enemy and aiding and abetting a split in the coalition? What good is such biased and slanted commentary? Does it not itself demean the British reporter, to the delight of Saddam Hussein? I ask the Minister what steps Her Majesty's Government have taken to bring this state of affairs to the attention of the heads of our newspapers and the broadcasting services?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, the first question referred to the meeting today of Tariq Aziz and Mr. Gorbachev. We look forward to receiving the details of the Soviet proposal. We welcome any initiative aimed at bringing this conflict to an end on the basis of the full implementation of the Security Council resolutions. We have absolutely no reason to doubt the Soviet commitment to the Security Council resolutions.

With regard to media reporting, the MoD has established reporting ground rules for journalists operating in that theatre. We hope that the media make clear the limitations of their reporting both in terms of Iraqi censorship and what they physically are allowed to see. We know that that puts a heavy responsibility on both the correspondents in the field and editors who are fully aware of the criticisms that have been made. We must remember that we have not seen any television reports of the atrocities in Kuwait.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, a few weeks ago President Bush made his usual State of the Nation speech. It was conveyed to the American forces in the Gulf. Apparently it did them the world of good. Would it be possible for the Secretary of State or indeed the Prime Minister also to make a public statement designed specifically to acknowledge the magnificent work that our services are doing in the Gulf?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has recently been to the area and made a broadcast while he was there. However, I shall draw the noble Lord's point to the attention of my right honourable friend.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, following the question put by the noble Lord opposite, will my noble friend make quite clear to the BBC and the other broadcasting media that broadcasts from Baghdad, which in the nature of things are trimmed to suit the Iraqi position, and are not free, ought not to be broadcast at all or at least not transmitted without specific and full-length warnings on every occasion that they are not full or balanced accounts? Is he aware that many people in this country, particularly those who have relatives serving in the Gulf, are becoming very angry indeed about it?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I am fully aware of the concern felt by people. I hope that the media and editors take note of what has been said and is being said by your Lordships today. The one aspect that would be very detrimental to press reporting would be for any reports to be made which put in danger the lives of our allies.

Baroness Phillips

My Lords, are the Government aware that many of us are extremely confused by the idea put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, that we must win the minds of the Moslems? Bearing in mind that they are under a vicious dictatorship, I cannot see how they can ever exercise their minds. It is only people like us, who are fortunate enough to live in a democracy, who can talk such peculiar rubbish about someone like Saddam Hussein and get away with it.

Is there any record in history of a pause occurring in the middle of a war? I was a historian and I must confess that I cannot remember one. Are we or are we not at war; or are we just playing at it?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I believe that there was a cessation of hostilities in the war between America and Vietnam which led to a regrouping of the Vietnamese. There is no such proposal now.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, will the noble Earl expand on a matter that he mentioned in his reply to the Front Benches? I assume that Her Majesty's Government wish to see the cessation of hostilities at the first possible moment, subject to the carrying out in full of Resolution 660 of the United Nations. That includes, above all, the total withdrawal of Iraqi forces from Kuwait without conditions.

However, there is a logistical problem to which I believe the noble Earl referred. If Her Majesty's Government wish Iraqi forces to leave Kuwait, it is obvious that those forces must be assured from the highest authority that they will be free to do so, and encouraged to do so, without being attacked. Will the noble Earl state categorically on behalf of Her Majesty's Government that that is the Government's policy? Are the Government ensuring, via leaflets or any other psychological means, that Iraqi forces know that they are free to move northwards back into Iraq without risk of losing their lives? Is it the policy of Her Majesty's Government that as soon as the withdrawal is seen to be accepted by Saddam Hussein, and is put into practice by his commanders, the Iraqi forces will move without being attacked?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, we have made plain on many occasions that should there be an unconditional withdrawal from Kuwait by the Iraqi forces—that is, fully out of Kuwait—then they will not be attacked. However, we first need confirmation of such withdrawal.

Lord Elton

My Lords, will my noble friend again revert briefly to the question of the media. Will he take note that it is not only in this country that the operations of reporters have effect? I have recently received a letter from Portugal asking whether some of the coverage provided by the British media is treasonable. I hope that my noble friend is aware of the considerable pressure of concern, on these Benches at least, not only about the source of the information brought from Baghdad but also the editorial handling of it. When the media, in referring to a recent event, does not report that the Americans represent that the killing of civilians was a result of Iraqi activity but that the Americans "try to suggest" that it is, that is a subliminal inference which I believe is propagandist in its nature.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I certainly take note of my noble friend's remarks. I assure noble Lords that I shall draw the whole of this short discussion on the problem to the attention of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, does the noble Earl agree that the BBC, before putting out broadcasts from Baghdad, always reminds viewers and listeners that the broadcasts are made under conditions which are very limiting. I believe that I am correct in saying that that warning is always given.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, yes. I have heard those warnings on occasions.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, the noble Earl did not fully answer my question. I do not believe that he can expect the Iraqi forces to move out of Kuwait before they are given an assurance that if they move out they will not be attacked. I understand that there is a report that General Schwarzkopf stated this morning that they would not be attacked. A clear declaration by the governments of the coalition is required if they wish the Iraqi forces to leave.

Is that the position of Her Majesty's Government? Once the Iraqi leadership states categorically that its forces will withdraw from Iraq, will the coalition say, "When we see your forces withdrawing from Iraq they will not be militarily attacked"?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I do not know the exact operational details of how the matter will proceed. However, I assure noble Lords that when we receive a firm commitment that there will be a total and unconditional withdrawal from Kuwait arrangements can then be made for safe passage.

Lord Mowbray and Stourton

My Lords, perhaps I may ask my noble friend one final question. Is it right to be allowed to withdraw not only with the equipment with which one went in, but possibly with loot which one acquired during the occupation?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, with regard to war reparations, that is covered by one of the 12 United Nations Security Council resolutions.