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North Korea

Volume 451: debated on Tuesday 31 October 2006

I have spoken to the US Secretary of State on a number of occasions over the past few months on the handling of North Korea, including in the wake of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s claimed nuclear test. We agreed that the test was a clear threat to international peace and security, and that there must be—as there has been—a robust response from the United Nations Security Council. I am delighted to be able to tell the House that it has just been announced that the DPRK will return to the six-party talks.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that response, but given that there is a long and well-documented history of North Korea illicitly obtaining nuclear material and exporting weapons systems that it has developed, can she give us further information on what will be done to enforce the embargo requirements of the United Nations resolution if North Korea does not come up to scratch at the talks? In particular, what will be the United Kingdom’s role? Will any Royal Navy assets be involved, for example?

We are not at present in a position to answer that—and especially the last part of the hon. Gentleman’s question, as he will appreciate. Obviously, everyone will now have to assess what the new position is, but I think that the whole House will take some comfort and reassurance from the fact that North Korea has decided to return to the six-party talks.

When the Foreign Secretary next meets the US Secretary of State, will she ask what contribution it is thought is made to peace and stability by the flotilla of US nuclear-armed warships in the waters around Korea? Does she agree that a non-nuclear and reunified Korea is in the interests of all the people of that part of the world, and should not the US and other Governments withdraw troops and weapons at a very early date from the Korean peninsula?

It is the wish of the international community to see de-nuclearisation of the Korean peninsula. Although I understand the legitimate concern that lies behind my hon. Friend’s question, we should recognise that it was pressure from the whole international community on North Korea that brought about this result.

I am sure that the Foreign Secretary was very pleased to hear the news from North Korea, and that the whole House hopes that it proves to be the case. But given that North Korea signed an armistice at the end of the Korean war with the United Nations, not the Republic of Korea, and that Great Britain holds the deputy command of the UN forces in South Korea, can the Foreign Secretary assure the House that, following her discussions with the US Secretary of State, there will be no withdrawal of Britain’s commitment to UN forces in South Korea as part of that role, which some in the Ministry of Defence would like to see happen?

If I may say so, the hon. Gentleman raises a rather different issue, but in the aftermath of the decision that has just been announced, everyone will be reassessing their involvement and addressing the question—properly raised by the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill)—of where we go from here. But let us take at least a brief moment to say thank goodness that the six-party talks are on again.

Is the Secretary of State aware that, despite China’s public lack of enthusiasm for sanctions, it has privately refused to sell a single tonne of crude oil to North Korea in the month of September and sold all its available crude oil to the United States? As that may have had a very impressive impact on Kim Jong Il, will she encourage China to continue that policy not just until North Korea returns to the talks, but until it abandons its nuclear aspirations?

I am indeed aware of this issue and I have had a number of conversations with the Chinese Foreign Minister on exactly that. He has always assured me not only that China takes this issue just as seriously as the rest of us, but that it was doing everything that it could to put and maintain pressure on North Korea. We should all welcome China’s behaviour in this respect as a member of the international community—sharing and exerting its responsibilities.