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Middle East

Volume 889: debated on Wednesday 9 April 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he will make a statement on his recent discussions with Dr. Kissinger on the Middle East.

I would refer my hon. Friend to my full statement in the debate on foreign affairs on 25th March.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that Dr. Kissinger has not ruled out a possible resumption of the step-by-step approach which he has already used? Will he also state whether Dr. Kissinger confirmed to him that Israel, at any rate, was standing by either for a resumption of step-by-step negotiations, or to go to Geneva?

My conversations with Dr. Kissinger are confidential, but I understand that United States policy does not rule out either a resumption of what are called step-by-step negotiations, or a return to Geneva, depending on what seems to be the most likely way forward. At the time I met Dr. Kissinger he was naturally dispirited as a result of his most recent efforts. Nevertheless, I think that if there were an opportunity of bringing the parties together without returning to Geneva, and if that seemed to be the best course, it should be taken. If not, a return to Geneva should be the next step.

Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that, apart from the countries in the Middle East, no one would be more affected by a further outbreak of war than ourselves, and no country's economy is more vulnerable to tension in the area than is ours? Therefore, in the light of Dr. Kissinger's unfortunate failure, ought not the right hon. Gentleman to go to the Middle East to see whether this country, alone or in unison with our Community partners, can bring the parties together and take some form of initiative which might bring about a further step towards a settlement?

Of course, we are not uniquely affected by any development of tension in the Middle East, but our interests are affected substantially, as are those of others. However, I would rule out any prospect of the United Kingdom acting alone in this matter. That would seem to be to repeat the follies of 20 or 30 years ago, from which I hope we have learned lessons. There is a prospect of other nations apart from the United States and the USSR taking an interest in these matters, because we are all concerned, but this must be the subject of general agreement, and I do not know of any general agreement to that effect yet.

Did the right hon. Gentleman's discussions include a mention of Dr. Kissinger's statement, as endorsed by President Ford, that he would not rule out the possible use of force by his Government in the Middle East? If that matter were discussed, did the Foreign Secretary associate himself with it or dissociate himself from it, as a Minister in Her Majesty's Government?

That statement, which was made many weeks ago, has been overtaken by explanations and events on a number of occasions. I see no useful contribution to the cause of peace in the Middle East in resurrecting it now.

We do not underrate the efforts of Dr. Kissinger recently, even though they produced no concrete results, but does my right hon. Friend agree that time is slipping away and that if we wish to take advantage of the climate for peaceful negotiation it is urgent that the Geneva Conference be reconvened in the very near future?

I agree that time is slipping away. We should not lose sight of the fact that President Sadat said that the United Nations mandate would be renewed for a period of only three months instead of the normal six months. I believe that we should draw lessons from that, because in my view President Sadat is a man of his word in these matters and there is considerable significance in what he has said. I promise my hon. Friend that we shall lose no opportunity of taking any initiative in this matter. I hope that this may be one issue that I shall discuss with the other Community Foreign Ministers when I meet them in Dublin at the weekend, although the agenda is clearly a matter for common agreement between us.

My hon. Friend the Member for City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Tugendhat) referred not only to a British initiative but to a European one. If at any time the Foreign Secretary thought that a visit to the Middle East by himself might contribute to the possibility of a useful European initiative, would he keep his mind open on this possibility?

I have considered this matter and discussed it with some of our allies. At the moment, however, I do not think that there is anything that I can usefully do. If I thought that there was, I would undoubtedly go.