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UK PM's Questions On Iraq War

From... Hansard 5th March 2003

PRIME MINISTER

The Prime Minister was asked—

Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green): Will the Prime Minister confirm that, even if Saddam Hussein destroys all his al-Samoud 2 missiles, he will still be in material breach of resolution 1441 because of his failure to disclose his chemical and biological weapons?

The Prime Minister: Yes, that is obviously right, since he has to disclose and destroy the entire chemical and biological weapons programme.

Mr. Duncan Smith: The Prime Minister confirms that Saddam Hussein is in breach of UN resolution 1441, so will he now confirm that, unless Hans Blix reports to the Security Council on Friday that Saddam Hussein has co-operated fully, including the full disclosure of his chemical and biological weapons, there will be a vote on the second resolution early next week?

The Prime Minister: The exact timing of any vote is a matter that is still under discussion, but yes of course it is the case that if Saddam Hussein fails fully to comply, there should be a vote in the United Nations. I hope very much that the United Nations supports the position that it set out in resolution 1441 last November, which called upon him to have full, unconditional and immediate compliance. It is plain at the present time that he is not in such compliance.

Mr. Duncan Smith: The fact that Saddam Hussein remains in material breach means that military action is more likely. Will the Prime Minister therefore spell out exactly what is happening in the no-fly zone? Is it not now the case that British and American planes are making pre-emptive strikes on targets that would threaten our ground forces rather than just our aircraft? Surely that represents a substantial change in existing policy. Would not the Prime Minister help his own case if he more frankly spelt out to the British people what is exactly and really going on?

The Prime Minister: No. The position on the no-fly zones remains exactly the same as that set out by the Defence Secretary earlier. Let me make a point in addition to those that I made a moment ago. Conflict could be avoided even now in one of two sets of circumstances. The first is that Saddam complies fully and unconditionally. Let us spell out what that means: accounting for the thousands of litres of anthrax, the hundreds of tonnes of precursor chemicals, the thousands of special munitions for chemical and biological warfare and the 1.5 tonnes of VX nerve agent, and giving proper access to Iraqi scientists and experts for interview. Thirty-four requests for such interviews have been refused. Of those granted, nine have been on Iraqi terms, not those that the inspectors set out. Saddam must therefore comply fully and absolutely.

The second alternative is that he leaves. Those are the only two ways of avoiding conflict, but either route could prevent it. To those who claim that we are hell bent on conflict, I say that it can be avoided if Saddam does what the United Nations and the international community demand.

Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Skye and Inverness, West): When the Prime Minister says that he hopes that there will be a vote at the United Nations on a second resolution, is he implying that if no vote is held, Britain will still go in with the United States and military action against Iraq will follow?

The Prime Minister: No. I simply say that it depends on Saddam's compliance. If he is not complying, a resolution will undoubtedly be put to a vote.

Mr. Kennedy: Will the Prime Minister clarify his comments last week? Can we have a guarantee that before any military action involving British troops is taken, there will be an opportunity for a debate and a definitive vote in the House?

The Prime Minister: The Foreign Secretary spelled that out clearly in the debate. He said that, subject to the caveat that we have always expressed about the security of troops, the decision should be put to the House. I accept that, but with the greatest respect to the right hon. Gentleman, it is a matter not of process or procedure, although that is important, but of whether he, as well as us, is prepared to uphold resolution 1441, which everyone said that we should uphold.

In the past few days, I have spoken to many world leaders and discussed the issue with them. Not a single leader or official of any Government disputes the fact that Saddam is not currently complying. Everyone accepts that he is not, that he is not co-operating properly and that he is a threat. Resolution 1441 stated that he had a final opportunity to disarm voluntarily and that he had to co-operate fully, unconditionally and immediately. Everybody accepts that he is not doing that. Surely the right hon. Gentleman should join me in urging people to vote for the second resolution.

Q10. [100643] Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak): Would at least nine affirmative votes in the Security Council for the so-called second resolution tabled by the US, UK and Spain give clear—I emphasise the word "clear"—legal authority for war against Iraq? What difference would the use of what my right hon. Friend describes as the unreasonable veto make?

The Prime Minister: First, let me assure my hon. Friend that we will always act in accordance with international law. Secondly, in relation to the resolution, we are confident of securing the votes for that resolution and we will carry on working to that end. We are doing that because we believe that it is important that the UN, having declared a position on Iraq, follows through and maintains that position. I know that my hon. Friend opposes our position on the matter, and I do not disrespect that—she is perfectly entitled to do so. However, I know that we both agree that the authority of the UN is important. If that authority is to be upheld, it is important that what we said last November is implemented. If it is not, the effect on the UN—apart from the effect on the international situation—would be disastrous.

Q11. [100644] Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park): Is the Prime Minister aware of the deteriorating situation in the occupied territories? Is he also aware that since 1980 the United States of America has vetoed 14 resolutions of the Security Council on the middle east? Does he consider those vetoes to be reasonable or unreasonable?

The Prime Minister: I simply point out to the hon. Lady that the UN resolutions are not just in respect of Israel, but of the Arab world and the Palestinians, too. In relation to the Palestinian territories, what is happening there is appalling, but the only way out of it that will maintain all the UN resolutions—not just those on Israel, but those on the Palestinians and the Arab world—is to get a peace process going again in the middle east. All I can say to her is that this country will play its full part in that, but in the end the only way to avoid the terrible tragedy that is happening to the Palestinians—and, indeed, to innocent Israeli civilians who are also dying—is to ensure that we get a proper peace process back on track. We will certainly do all that we can to facilitate that.

Tony Worthington (Clydebank and Milngavie): Three weeks ago in the United States the Under Secretary of Defense told the US Foreign Relations Committee how Iraq would be administered in a post-conflict situation.

5 Mar 2003 : Column 818

He said that an office of reconstruction and humanitarian assistance had been set up under General Garner. He invited contributions from UN organisations, aid agencies and coalition partners, and said that coalition officials would account to the US President through Donald Rumsfeld and General Franks. Is not it unacceptable that our aid agencies and UN organisations should respond to the US President? Is our policy that—

Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman should know how to ask a brief question. Will the Prime Minister try to answer?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend makes an important point. All sorts of people may have made statements about the matter, but I shall tell my hon. Friend exactly what is happening. At present, we are in intensive discussions, with the US and others. Indeed, part of my discussions with the Russian Foreign Minister this morning was about how we make sure, if there is a conflict, that we take the greatest care of the subsequent humanitarian situation in Iraq. I have no doubt that there will have to be a substantial UN involvement. That is what we are arguing for and what we want to see. I believe that that will be the outcome. Therefore, rather than speculate about what might happen, I assure my hon. Friend that we will declare those plans to people as soon as we have them properly worked out.

Q12. [100645] Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire): The Prime Minister has just told the House that everyone accepts that Iraq is a threat, but many of my constituents tell me that they are still unclear about the direct threat and risks to the UK as a result of not disarming Iraq. What would the Prime Minister say to them?

The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman is right to ask that question, as people do ask it. I think that the threat of leaving Saddam Hussein armed with weapons of mass destruction is two-fold. First, it is that he begins another conflict in his region, into which Britain as a country would inevitably be sucked, with all that that means. Alternatively—and I think that this is a powerful and developing threat that the world must face—the risk is that states such as Iraq, which are proliferating these chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction, will combine in a way that is devastating for the world with terrorists who are desperate to get their hands on those weapons to wreak maximum destruction.

The events of 11 September, of course, changed many American minds about the threat, but they should also change all our minds. Surely everyone accepts that, had the people involved been able to cause even more death and destruction, they would have done so? My worry is that, when there are nations that proliferate, trade and develop this stuff, and terrorist groups that are desperate to cause maximum destruction, the world has to stand firm. The matter has come to a point over Iraq. If we do not stand firm over Iraq now, we will never be able to deal with the next threat that encompasses us.

ENDS

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