Building a coalition to disarm Iraq - Jack Straw
'Building a coalition to disarm Iraq'
Speaking in an radio interview on 6 October, the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw described the purpose of his forthcoming trip to Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait and Iran as an opportunity to discuss general problems in the Middle East as well as the Middle East peace process and Iraq.
Asked if he was setting about creating a coalition to remove Saddam Hussein from power he said that this was not explicitly his intention.
'Each of these countries has reason to fear Saddam,' he said, but added only that, 'one of the objectives of the current efforts is to develop an international coalition to disarm Saddam of his weapons of mass destruction.'
What is the purpose of your trip to the Middle East tomorrow?
The purpose of my visit is to talk to the heads of government in each of these countries [Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Iran] and their foreign ministers about the general problems in the Middle East, about the Middle East peace process and of course about Iraq as well.
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But we are important and long-standing partners of Egypt, Jordan and Kuwait and I have been seeking to rebuild the relationship with Iran. This will actually be my third visit to Tehran in the space of less than a year.
You don't need to look at a map to know all these countries pretty well circle Iraq. Is this putting together a coalition to take on Saddam Hussein?
Not explicitly. The views or features of those countries are pretty well stated and they are these: each of these countries has reason to fear Saddam. Three of them - Jordan, Kuwait and Iran - have been the subject of military action by Saddam and two of them have suffered from wars from Saddam. Jordan has also received missile attacks from Iraq in the past.
Egypt is also worried about long-term instability in the region and the way in which Iraq also helps the underdevelopment of the Arab region. So they're worried about that. At the same time they do want to see better progress being made on the peace process between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
I was going to raise that because you're not going to Israel, but as you well know the Arab countries see the problem of Israel/Palestine as inextricably linked to the problem of Saddam Hussein. Or at least they see there must be progress on one if there is to be progress on the other. The prime minister has talked a great deal about the need to get the peace process in the Middle East started again, but he has recently received a rebuff from President George Bush who says there is no linkage.
Well, I don't accept that he has received a rebuff. That's what was reported in the Guardian newspaper but it's actually belied by the fact that earlier this year the United States agreed quite voluntarily to join the 'Quartet' - which consists of the United States, the European Union, the Russian Federation and the United Nations - as the key international unit to try and broker a peace deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians. And as late as the 17 September, which is only two weeks ago, the US signed up to a statement of the Quartet when it had a meeting in Washington, where amongst other things the Quartet and therefore the United States committed themselves to consider the establishment of an international peace-keeping conference on the Israel-Palestine conflict. And just to give you further indication of the United States involvement, Bill Burns, who's one of Colin Powell's deputies, who specialises in the Middle East, is due in Israel in the next few days.
Ah, but the State Department is more keen on this than the Pentagon and indeed the White House?
JACK STRAW: The whole of the United States government is signed up to the quartet and what we have to do in this very difficult and depressing situation is to try and identify those areas where progress can be made. Now, interestingly, there has been some progress on reform of the institutions of the Palestinian Authority in recent months. It's a very bleak picture for the Palestinians, but many of the leaders below Arafat understand that the way that Chairman Arafat has run the Palestinian Authority has not been satisfactory, either for the reputation of the Palestinians abroad, but above all for the quality and standard of life for the Palestinians themselves. So they are at a lower level getting on with that reform process. However, the humanitarian situation remains dire because the security situation is dire and we have to see action taken on those tracks as well. It's slow progress, but one other thing that's happening is that Xavier Solana, who's the EU's high representative and a permanent member of the Quartet, is in Israel at the moment and will be seeing Arafat tomorrow.
Just briefly, is it regime change or is it disarmament you want in Iraq and is there a disagreement between Washington and London on that divide?
No, I don't believe there is a disagreement between Washington and London. Both the Prime Minister and I, and the leaders of the American administration, have made clear that we would wish to see the back of the Saddam Hussein regime above all. So too would everybody in the region and above all that the Iraqi people, but one of the objectives of the current efforts is to develop an international coalition to disarm Saddam of his weapons of mass destruction.