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Iran-Iraq War

Volume 130: debated on Wednesday 30 March 1988

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To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what is the current situation at the United Nations concerning his efforts to secure action to help bring the Iran-Iraq war to an end; and what representations have been received on this subject by (a) the Secretary-General of the United Nations and (b) Her Majesty's Government from the Islamic Republic of Iran.

The recent deplorable escalation in the Iran-Iraq conflict, involving missile and chemical weapon attacks on civilians, has made the immediate implementation of Security Council resolution 598 all the more essential. We keep in touch with both parties in New York and elsewhere, and welcome the Secretary-General's latest efforts to bring them together. Meanwhile, it is vital that work should continue on possible enforcement measures.

I applaud any efforts by my right hon. and learned Friend and the Government to bring this deplorable war to an end, but is he aware that Western policy, whatever its intentions, is not seen to be evenhanded? One result is that it has given Iraq the chance to escalate the war, sometimes in the most ghastly circumstances. The Iranian Government, as my right hon. and learned Friend knows, have made responses to the Secretary-General on Security Council resolution 598. What consideration has been given to those responses, what test has been put upon them, and, if necessary, has any opportunity been given to call the bluff, if there be a bluff?

I assure my hon. Friend that British policy in this matter is unchanged and strictly impartial. We want the earliest possible negotiated settlement of the conflict. Iraq has said that it accepts and will implement Security Council resolution 598 if the Iranians do so. Iraq wants a sequence to be followed. Iran has neither accepted nor rejected the resolution, but has engaged in delaying tactics. Since then both sides have taken actions that have contributed to an escalation of the conflict. In those circumstances, the Secretary-General has been seeking contact with representatives of both sides in New York. The only way of trying to bring the matter to a conclusion is by pressing ahead with an even hand to secure enforcement of the resolution as it stands.

In view of the most appalling atrocity committed against the civilian population in the Kurdish regions, is it not time for the Government to initiate further action, at European Community level, too, to ensure that no material that could be used in chemical warfare is supplied directly or indirectly from Europe for either side in this appalling conflict?

I am sure that the whole House will sympathise with the hon. Gentleman's point. We have read with the greatest concern reports of Iraqi use of chemical weapons against villages in Kurdistan If confirmed — I have no reason to suppose that they will not be — they represent a significant increase in the use of these abhorrent and inhuman weapons. We have repeatedly made clear our condemnation of them and made representations specifically to the Iraqis by my hon. and learned Friend, the Minister of State, on his visit to Baghdad at the end of February, by myself in a conversation with the Iraqi Foreign Minister on 15 March and to the Iraqi ambassador in the Foreign Office only yesterday. Beyond that, we have worked within the European Community — we initiated this — to impose strict export controls on chemical weapons and on civil chemicals that might be used to produce them. The hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to that matter. I think that the whole House will share my sense of abhorrence at the use of these weapons in any circumstances in this or any other conflict.

What are British interests in relation to this war, and how do they differ from the American interests in that area?

This conflict is almost the only issue in international affairs which I discuss with representatives of almost every nation and find an instant response to the proposition that this bloody conflict must be brought to an end. That is Britain's interest and it is the interest of every nation.

If the Foreign Office or any Government with whom we are in association learns or knows of the origin of chemical material, does the Foreign Secretary accept that that information should be made public?

I am sure that that matter should certainly be given the most serious consideration, because we have worked tenaciously to secure a comprehensive, verifiable worldwide ban on chemical weapons, specifically in this context, and have energetically taken up any cases that have been reported.