|Debate on Iraq: 'The Most Important in the House for Many Years'|
Debate on Iraq: 'The Most Important in the House for Many Years'
In a statement to the House of Commons on 17 March 2003, British Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, explained that 'As a result of Saddam Hussein's persistent refusal to meet the UN's demands, and the inability of the Security Council to adopt a further Resolution, the Cabinet has decided to ask the House to support the United Kingdom's participation in military operations should they be necessary'. Mr Straw said that attempting to disarm Saddam without the threat of force 'cannot produce the disarmament of Iraq; it cannot rid the world of the danger of the Iraqi regime. It can only bring comfort to tyrants, and emasculate the authority of the United Nations.' He described the debate, which will take place tomorrow, as 'the most important in the House for many years'. Source: FCO, London..
With permission, Mr Speaker, I should like to make a statement in respect of Iraq and the debate which will be held in this House tomorrow.
As the House will be aware, in the Azores yesterday my Right Honourable Friend the Prime Minister, President Bush of the US, Prime Minister Aznar of Spain and Prime Minister Barroso of Portugal called on all members of the Security Council to adopt a Resolution – which would have been its eighteenth on Iraq – to challenge Saddam to take a strategic decision to disarm his country of his weapons of mass destruction as required by Security Council Resolution 1441. Such a resolution has never been needed legally, but we have had a preference for it politically. There has been intense diplomatic activity over many months culminating in the last 24 hours, to secure this end. Yesterday evening, our Ambassador to the United Nations, Sir Jeremy Greenstock, consulted his fellow Permanent Representatives from other Security Council member states. Just this morning I spoke to my Spanish, American, Russian and Chinese counterparts.
Despite these final efforts, I regret to say that we have reluctantly concluded that a Security Council consensus on a new resolution would not be possible. On my instructions, Sir Jeremy Greenstock, made a public announcement to this effect at the United Nations at about 3.15pm UK time today.
What we know about the Iraqi regime's behaviour over many years is that there is the greatest chance of their finally responding to the UN obligations on them if they face a united Security Council. So, over the months since Resolution 1441 was unanimously adopted by the Security Council in early November, my Right Honourable Friend the Prime Minister and I, and our Ambassador to the United Nations have strained every nerve in search of that consensus which could finally persuade Iraq by peaceful means to provide the full and immediate co-operation demanded by the Security Council.
Significantly, in all the discussions in the Security Council and outside, no-one has claimed that Iraq is in compliance with the obligations placed upon it. Given this, it was my belief, up to about a week ago, that we were close to achieving the consensus we sought on a further resolution.
Sadly, one country then ensured that the Security Council could not act. President Chirac's unequivocal announcement last Monday that France would veto a second Resolution containing this or any ultimatum, 'whatever the circumstances', inevitably created a sense of paralysis into our negotiations. I deeply regret that France has put Security Council consensus beyond reach.
The alternative proposals submitted by France, Germany and Russia for more time and more inspections carry no ultimatum and no threat of force. They do not implement 1441 but seek to rewrite it. To have adopted such proposals would have allowed Saddam to continue stringing out inspections indefinitely. And he would rightly draw the lesson that the Security Council was not prepared to enforce the ultimatum which lies at the centre of Resolution 1441: that in the event of non-compliance, Iraq should expect 'serious consequences'.
As a result of Saddam Hussein's persistent refusal to meet the UN's demands, and the inability of the Security Council to adopt a further Resolution, the Cabinet has decided to ask the House to support the United Kingdom's participation in military operations should they be necessary with the objective of ensuring the disarmament of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, and thereby the maintenance of the authority of the United Nations.
From the outset of this crisis the Government has promised that, if possible, the House would have the opportunity to debate our involvement in military action prior to the start of hostilities, and on a substantive motion. The House will have this opportunity tomorrow. Copies of the motion, proposed by my Right Honourable Friend the Prime Minister and Cabinet colleagues, have been placed in the Vote Office. I understand, Mr Speaker, that you will be specifying the time by which amendments must have been received. My Right Honourable Friend, the Parliamentary Secretary of the Privy Council Office, will make a short Business Statement.
To inform the debate, I have circulated several documents to all Right Honourable Members and Honourable Members today. These include a copy of the response from the Attorney General to a written question in which he sets out the legal basis for the use of force against Iraq, as well as a detailed briefing paper summarising the legal background which I have sent to the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee. I have also made available a note summarising Iraq's record of non-compliance with Resolution 1441. A Command Paper comprising key recent UN documents, including Dr Hans Blix's paper on 'Unresolved Disarmament Issues: Iraq's Proscribed Weapons Programmes' which was published on 7 March, is available in the Vote Office. [see below]
The debate tomorrow will be the most important in the House for many years. Some say that Iraq can be disarmed without an ultimatum, without the threat or the use of force, but simply by more time and more inspections. But that approach is defied by all our experience over 12 weary years. It cannot produce the disarmament of Iraq; it cannot rid the world of the danger of the Iraqi regime. It can only bring comfort to tyrants, and emasculate the authority of the United Nations. It is for these reasons that we shall be asking the House to support the Government's motion tomorrow.