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Jack Straw Addresses British House of Commons

Aired March 17, 2003 - 15:25   ET


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Live now to the House of Commons, London. You're looking at the foreign secretary, Jack Straw, stating the case. Tony Blair and Great Britain.

JACK STRAW, BRITISH FOREIGN SECRETARY: ... 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've reluctantly concluded that a Security Council consensus on a new resolution would not be possible.

On my instructions, Sir Jeremy Greenstock therefore made a public announcement to this effect at the United Nations at about 3:15 p.m. United Kingdom time today.

Mr. Speaker, what we know about the Iraqi regime's behavior over many years is that there is the greatest chance of their finally responding to United Nations 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 honorable 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 cooperation of it demanded by the Security Council.

And significantly, Mr. Speaker, in all the discussions in the Security Council and outside, no one -- no one -- has claimed that Iraq is in full 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 which we sought on the further resolution. Sadly, Mr. Speaker, one country then ensured that Security Council could not act.

President Chirac's unequivocable announcement Monday last that France would veto a second resolution containing this or any ultimatum whatever the circumstances inevitably created a sense of paralysis in our negotiations. And I deeply regret that France has thereby put to a Security Council consensus beyond reach. Mr. Speaker, I need to spell out that the alternative proposal submitted by France, Germany and Russia for more time and more inspections carried 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 continuing stringing out inspections indefinitely, and he would rightly draw the lesson that the Security Council was simply not prepared to enforce the ultimatum which lies at the heart of Resolution 1441 itself; that in the event of noncompliance, Iraq, as is spelled out by operational paragraph 13, should expect serious consequences.

Mr. Speaker, as a result of Saddam Hussein's persistent refusal to meet the United Nations 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 military involvement in military action prior to the start of hostilities and on a substantive motion. The House will therefore have this opportunity tomorrow.

Copies of the motion, proposed by my right honorable friend the prime minister and cabinet colleagues, have been placed in the vote office. And in addition to dealing with military action, this motion states that, in the event of military operations, the House requires that on an urgent basis the United Kingdom should seek a new Security Council resolution that would affirm Iraq's territorial integrity, ensure rapid humanitarian delivery of humanitarian relief, allow for the earliest possible lifting of the United Nations sanctions, an international reconstruction program and the use of oil revenues for the benefit of the Iraqi people, and also endorses an appropriate post-conflict administration for Iraq.

In addition, Mr. Speaker, the resolution goes on to endorse the Middle East peace process as encapsulated in the imminent publication of their road map.

I understand, Mr Speaker, that you will be specifying the time by which amendments to this motion must have been received.

STRAW: And my honorable friend, the parliamentary secretary of the Privy Council Office will make a short business statement immediately after the proceedings on this statement.

Mr. Speaker, to inform the debate, I've circulated several documents to all right honorable members and honorable members today. These include a copy of the response from my noble and learned friend the attorney general to a written question in the House of Lords in which he sets out the legal basis for the use of force against Iraq, as well as a detailed briefing paper summarizing the legal background which I've sent to the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of this house. I've also made available a note summarizing Iraq's record of noncompliance with Resolution 1441. A new command paper comprising key recent United Nations documents, including the 173 pages of Dr. Blix's paper on unresolved disarmament issues, Iraq's proscribed weapons program, which itself was published on the 7th of March in the Security Council, is now available in the vote office.

Mr. Speaker, 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. 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, Mr. Speaker, that we shall tomorrow be asking the House to endorse and support the government's resolution.

MICHAEL ANCRAM, SHADOW FOREIGN SECY.: Mr. Speaker, may I thank the foreign secretary for his statement and for giving me early sight of it?

His statement is indeed a somber one.

Put bluntly, the talking is over, diplomacy is at an end, tonight we face the grim prospect of war.

We are where we are tonight because Saddam Hussein has contemptuously failed to take the final opportunity which Resolution 1441 offered him. Hopes that he might accept the inevitable this time and disarm have been dashed. Instead, he has chosen to take the international community to the wire.

There was a chance that a clear, unequivocal and united voice from the international community might yet have persuaded him to disarm or to go. Mr. Speaker, France put paid to that. And I hope that in Paris they will reflect tonight on what they have achieved.

Mr. Speaker, there will be many different and deeply held feelings in this house tonight and during the debate tomorrow. It would be very strange if there were not. But while we may not agree with each other, I hope and believe that none of us will do other than totally respect the sincerity with which these views are held.

Saddam Hussein in possession of weapons of mass destruction is a threat to international peace and security. No one, not even France, denies that. Not just a threat within the Middle East, but to the international community at large, including ourselves. And that is why we believe that action to disarm him can no longer be delayed.

We will, of course, debate all this tomorrow and we will vote on it. And I don't intend to preempt that debate or that vote tonight. But there are questions I must ask. What discussions has the foreign secretary had with his Turkish counterpart to ensure that action in Iraq will not provoke unrest between northern Iraq and Turkey? What preparations are in place to ensure a swift delivery of humanitarian aid and relief to the people of Iraq who have suffered for so long under the heel of Saddam Hussein? What discussions has he had with the secretary general of the United Nations, in accordance with the motion he's proposed for tomorrow, to ensure that a representative administration can swiftly be set up in Iraq under United Nations auspices to ensure the speedy rehabilitation of that country?

And again in accordance with the motion he has proposed for tomorrow, what steps has he taken to follow-up President Bush's statements on Israel-Palestine and in particular to ensure that there is a genuine and sustained momentum toward the two-state solution? What talks has he had with other members of the quartet, including Russia, to make real progress on this front? And what other steps would he take to reassure the Islamic community that military action in Iraq is not an attack on Islam, but can bring long-term benefit and stability to the Muslim world?

Mr. Speaker, our thoughts tonight must be with our armed forces as they face the prospect of conflict. We ask much on their behalf, and our prayers must be with them and their families. And they must know that from these benches they have our unqualified support.

We will offer the government our support in the decisions that must now be made. We will do so because they have reached the same conclusions as us on the threat posed by Saddam Hussein and the legality of taking action. We believe that they are acting in the national interest. And as long as that is the case, we will continue to support them.

Mr. Speaker, her majesty's opposition will do what in our hearts we know for our country is right.

STRAW: Mr. Speaker, I thank the right honorable gentleman for his remarks. Let me just deal briefly with the points that he's made.

And the first one I'd pick up was when he said that we should respect the sincerity with which a wide variety of views are held in this house, and that is absolutely right.

At the same time, I would say that we should also accept that nobody, that no one individual has a monopoly of wisdom or morality on this issue. People hold strong views from different points of view. And I think I can speak for myself, but I think I speak for the whole House when I say that for each of us the prospect of having to endorse and support military action for whatever cause is an extremely difficult one.

However, speaking for myself, I shall, of course, be voting for that motion tomorrow, as I have endorsed the idea of military action today in cabinet, because I believe that it is only now, by use of all necessary means, to quote Resolution 678 of the United Nations, that it is possible to secure the disarmament of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction.

I also entirely agree with the right honorable gentleman that had it been possible for the international community, through the Security Council, to speak with the same united voice as had been assembled when we passed Resolution 1441, we would not, I think, now be in this situation.

But I have to say that I believe that we have striven as hard as we possibly could for that kind of unity, and it's my great regret that it was not possible to achieve it.

The right honorable gentleman asked me a number of specific questions. One was in respect of discussions with my Turkish counterpart. I personally have not had discussions with my Turkish counterpart because who my Turkish counterpart was in a state of flux. And the foreign minister in Turkey changed from being Foreign Minister Yakis to Foreign Minister Gul just a few days ago. I am intending to talk to him in the next couple of days, but our excellent ambassador in Ankara, Peter Westmacott, has been in very close touch with the Turkish authorities.

He asked me about measures for swift humanitarian aid, and they are indeed spelled out in the text of this resolution, and we would seek -- we're not just talking about that, we would -- in the event of military action, we would seek an immediate and strong United Nations mandate for that.

He asked if I discussed the matter with Secretary General Kofi Annan. I did, indeed, discuss the matter at a face-to-face meeting with Kofi Annan when I was in New York on the 6th of March.

He asked about relations between Israel and Palestine. What I'd point out -- and I understand obviously from some quarters in this house that there is skepticism about the position of the United States in respect of Israel-Palestine, but I would just point out, Mr. Speaker, to the House, that it is under this administration in the United States, for the first time ever, that the United States, and through them with a consensus United Nations, has supported the concept of a two-state solution with a secure state of Israel and a viable and secure state of Palestine.

And that has been encapsulated in Resolution 1397. What we have been seeking to do is to ensure the implementation of that resolution.

I've spoken twice in the last two weeks to Chairman Arafat of the Palestinian Authority. We have, since the middle of January, been actively involved with the Palestinian Authority and assisting the process of reform with that authority. It's largely because of that it has been possible for Chairman Arafat to nominate, and hopefully the Palestine Legislative Council to endorse him, and for this then to be accepted maybe tomorrow or the next day the appointment of the (inaudible) Abu Mazen as the prime minister of the Palestinian Authority. And I hope then we can see the full publication of the road map.

And I hope that, Mr. Speaker, that the whole House will be united in its determination in the message we send, yes, to the Israelis and the Palestinians, but also, I have to say, to the members of the quartet, including the United States, that we are determined to see the full implementation of the road map as early as possible.

The last point the right honorable gentleman raises is about -- sorry, two last points. One in respect of support for the armed forces. And it goes without saying that, of course, our thoughts are with our armed forces. There cannot be a single member of this house who's not got constituents who have members of the armed forces in the Gulf or in the theater.

I've been talking to the parents of my constituents who are out there. I know the anxiety that this period will inevitably cause them. And of course, our hearts and prayers go to them.

The last point I wanted to raise is a very important point about the Muslim communities around the world. What needs to be remembered, as a leading Muslim said to me when I was discussing the matter with some of my Muslim friends in my own Blackburn constituency on Friday, is that, he asked some of his colleagues how many Muslims have been murdered by Saddam Hussein. And the answer came back, "Well over 1 million." How many countries Saddam Hussein had invaded. The answer, of course, is two sovereign nations, both of them Muslims.

And the simple truth is that Saddam Hussein has murdered and terrorized more Muslims than any other tyrant in our recent history. And the world, the Muslim world particularly, will be a great deal better when he's disarmed.

O'BRIEN: We have been listening to a slice of the debate, the House of Commons in London. You just heard from the foreign secretary, Jack Straw, preceded by the shadow foreign secretary, Michael Ancram, debating, but really agreeing on several points as they talked about the situation right now.

Jack Straw saying early on he has strained every nerve in the search for consensus, but one country, France, led by President Chirac and his unequivocal statement to vote down or veto any sort of U.N. resolution with an ultimatum, caused paralysis in the negotiation and led to the situation now. There will ne a vote in the House of Commons tomorrow. We'll of course be tracking that for you.


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