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Middle East

Volume 894: debated on Wednesday 25 June 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth affairs what consultations are currently taking place between himself and Dr. Kissinger designed to secure a permanent peace settlement in the Middle East.


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent discussions he has had with the United States Secretary of State about the Middle East; and if he will make a statement.

Dr. Kissinger and I are in constant touch through diplomatic channels concerning the Middle East. We last discussed the subject in person when we met on 30th May. We continue to encourage the United States to play a major rôle in the search for a just and lasting settlement.

In these consultations will my right hon. Friend stress that one at least amongst the many major factors in this situation is that the State of Israel should define the borders within which she constantly tells the world she wishes to live in peace but which so far she has refused to delineate?

That is a question of timing. Obviously that moment will come, but I doubt whether this is the right psychological moment to press Israel to take a definitive step of that kind. There is much more prospect of another round of negotiations on a limited basis providing a lessening of further tension.

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that the State of Israel has already withdrawn some troops from Sinai and stands fully prepared to discuss the future of the Gidi and Mitla Passes, and is willing to engage in further discussions on the political status of the West Bank, possibly as part of a wider confederation? Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind also the need to keep the momentum of the present initiative going, and will he stress to Secretary of State Kissinger that he endorses all that he is doing to encourage that momentum?

I agree with the last part of my hon. Friend's question about the need to keep the momentum going. If, as he says, Israel is willing to consider the matters that he has enumerated, there is some prospect of a further step towards peace.

Quite apart from his conversations with Dr. Kissinger, has the Foreign Secretary been able to discuss this matter with his EEC colleagues in Luxembourg, and does he accept that, now that the referendum is over, Middle East countries are expecting Britain and France to take the lead in formulating an independent European policy and perhaps an independent European initiative in the area?

Over the past few weeks I have had discussions with Mr. Rabin, Mr. Allon and Mr. Fahmi, the Foreign Minister of Egypt, and Mr. Khaddam, the foreign Minister of Syria. We touched on these matters in Luxembourg yesterday, but we did not go into them in depth, although I remind the hon. Gentleman that a meeting of experts took place in Cairo on the Euro-Arab dialogue on Monday 15th June. We can all construct further initiatives. There is no difficulty about that. The problem is to ensure that the initiatives now taking place come to sucessful fruition.

In my right hon. Friend's consideration of the Middle East problem will he bear in mind that the stage-by-stage process favoured by Israel and the United States merely serves, both in the passage of time and in Israel's expansionist settlements, to consolidate Israel's occupation of Arab territory? Many of us are becoming increasingly unprepared to accept this and would welcome a speedy move to Geneva, at which both Britain and France should be represented, in response to Arab requests.

That is a partial statement of the situation which I do not wholly accept. There are great merits in a step-by-step approach when there is no complete trust between the two sides and when an intermediary such as the United States is playing its part. I believe that this is still the best way forward. It services the cause of peace rather than any individual State in the area.


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if, in order to encourage the current Middle East peace negotiations, he will prohibit the proposed arms supply to Egypt and future arms supplies to Israel, and take the initiative for a joint embargo on arms supplied to both sides in the Middle East by Great Britain, the United States of America, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and France.

No, Sir; an effective agreement on some measures of arms limitation in the Middle East is likely to be possible only with the support of the parties to the dispute and in the context of a general settlement.

I understand that our explanation is that we want to maintain the military balance. Has not the same argument been used as an excuse by arms exporters for a century, with fatal results? Whatever the cost to Britain in lost exports, would not it be far, far less than the cost to Britain and to all mankind of a third world war, resulting from the escalation of the resumption of fighting in the Middle East?

The answer to the last part of my hon. Friend's question is, "Yes, it would". No one wants a third world war. As regards the first part of my hon. Friend's question, arms exporters may send arms only under licence, and the British Government have laid down a clear policy on these matters, to which we adhere. But the situation at the moment is that if Britain did not meet minimum requests from these countries, not only would these countries themselves feel that Britain was unwilling to assist; they would turn elsewhere, and perhaps to quarters to which my hon. Friend would not wish them to turn.

Can the right hon. Gentleman think of any agreement controlling the supply of arms in the Middle East or anywhere else which has not been immediately broken by the Communist countries concerned, almost as soon as it has been signed?

The USSR is playing a restrained rôle in the Middle East at present. In those circumstances, I do not wish to engage in a propaganda battle with her.

Will my right hon. Friend think again about his answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun) and accept that, if the four countries named in the Question agreed not to supply arms to the nations in the Middle East, at least the attempt might be worth while? If they do not have the means with which to wage war it makes the waging of war unlikely, if not impossible.

That is an ideal situation, but I live in a world of reality, and there is not the faintest chance of that being achieved.

Does my right hon. Friend recognise that the Secretary of State for Defence has been extremely skilful at concealing some of the details of the reported arms deal with Egypt? If the reports of a £450 million arms deal are true, bearing in mind the present initiatives being undertaken by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, is not this the wrong moment at which to be selling arms, and is not the amount too large?


asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will seek to pay an official visit to the Middle East.

I have accepted invitations to pay official visits to Egypt and to Syria. No dates have yet been fixed.

Is the Foreign Secretary aware that that is a most welcome reply, but that he has a lot of ground to catch up when he visits the Middle East, because he is the only Foreign Minister from a major Power in the Western World not to have been to the Middle East in either 1974 or 1975—a record which compares unfavourably with the active visits by other Foreign Ministers? When he makes these visits, will the right hon. Gentleman please reassure people that Britain does not want to opt out of peace making in the Middle East?

The hon. Gentleman forgets that, with remarkable prescience, I went to the Middle East in the weeks before I became Foreign Minister in 1974, and returned from there on the day that the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) declared a General Election, having had conversations with President Sadat, Israeli leaders and many others, so that there was no great need to return, quite apart from the fact that we have had two General Elections. I do not complain about this. We are fortunate in being a staging post, which means that leaders of Arab countries as well as leaders of Israel frequently come through London. I imagine that if we were to do an arithmetical totting up, for what it is worth—it would not be worth very much—I probably would be found to have had more contact with Arab leaders than have many other Foreign Ministers.

Does the Foreign Secretary agree that despite all the wheelings and dealings that are taking place—with which I would not necessarily disagree—the crux of the situation in the Middle East is that the Palestinians have been displaced from their homeland? Does he agree that in any future settlement it is their interests and their welfare which must he given the first consideration?

There is no doubt that the future of the Palestinians is one of the very difficult matters that will have to be settled if there is to be an overall peace settlement. That is one reason why there is still much to commend a step-by-step approach, although there is also no doubt that some people want a return to negotiations in Geneva. However, despite public protestations about the desire of a return to Geneva, I am not at all sure that those protestations are matched by private desires.

Does the Foreign Secretary not agree that my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet East (Mr. Aitken), has a point? I appreciate that the right hon. Gentleman has been heavily involved in European negotiations, and I realise also that other Ministers have been to the Middle East. I believe, from personal experience, that a visit by the Foreign Secretary at this time would be opportune and would assist in the development of our trade and diplomatic efforts in the Middle East.

I recognise that. As I said in my original answer, I have accepted invitations to pay official visits to Egypt and Syria, and I have other areas in mind to visit. The hon. Gentleman will also know that there are many other problems also which are engaging our attention from day to day.

Does the Foreign Secretary have any intention of meeting the leaders of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation? It appears that that organisation is the key to the whole situation, and it would be as well to have direct consultations and talks with it.

The leaders of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation have not yet recognised the existence of the State of Israel. In those circumstances, I find it difficult to meet them.