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Middle East

Volume 888: debated on Wednesday 12 March 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent steps the Government have taken to secure an abatement of the Middle East arms race ; and if he will make a statement on the Government's own policy on sales of armaments to States regarding themselves to be in a state of belligerence.

We believe that the best way to secure an abatement of the arms race in the Middle East is by rapid progress towards a peaceful settlement, and we are accordingly giving our full support to Dr. Kissinger's negotiations. We are willing to consider requests from Middle East countries for arms the supply of which in our view would not endanger the achievement of a just and lasting settlement.

Bearing in mind that, thanks to Soviet munificence, Syria alone today disposes of very nearly twice as many modern fighter aircraft and over twice as many tanks as does Great Britain, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he is aware that it is difficult to imagine that peace can long survive this volume of arms flow? Is it not high time that the West sought actively to engage the Soviet Union in the quest for Middle East peace and put the good faith of the Soviet Union to the test by seeking to make the Middle East the proving ground of d├ętente?

My right hon. Friend is very much aware of the dangers of the arms build-up in the Middle East as well as the conflict which exists there. Certainly, in supporting Dr. Kissinger's initiative we also support his anxiety to get the Soviet Union involved and to ensure that there is consultation between the two Governments concerned.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that Resolution 242, which, in the words of the Prime Minister, should be taken as the framework for a settlement in the Middle East, remains 'the policy of the present Government?

I certainly confirm that we are committed to Security Council Resolution 242, which, as my hon. Friend knows, sets out the two principles of Israeli withdrawal and Arab acceptance of Israel within secure and recognised boundaries. We also recognise that any settlement in the Middle East must also satisfy Palestinian demands for a recognition of their legitimate political rights as well as the rights of the refugees referred to in Resolution 242.

Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that the overwhelming supply of arms to the Middle East comes from the United States and the Soviet Union and that, therefore, any great reduction by Britain would have no influence at all on events except to damage British industry?

It is certainly true, as the hon. Gentleman says, that the great bulk of weapons in the Middle East come from the United States and the Soviet Union. In replying to a Question on another occasion I made it clear that unilateral action by Her Majesty's Government would make little difference to the conflict, but we are watching very carefully the arms which are supplied to a very tense area.

Has my right hon. Friend offered any comment to the American and Russian Governments on the supply of Lance missiles to the Israeli Government and Scud missiles to the Egyptian Government, both of which are manufactured primarily to carry nuclear warheads?

It is not the custom, and I am not prepared, to make comments on particular proposals.