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Priority Questions. - Foreign Conflicts.

Wednesday, 27 March 2002

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 551 No. 3

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 24. Mr. M. Higgins Information on Michael D. Higgins Zoom on Michael D. Higgins  asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs Information on Brian Cowen Zoom on Brian Cowen  the initiatives Ireland is prepared to take at Security Council level of the United Nations and within the EU to halt the drift to war in Iraq and the Middle East. [10239/02]

 25. Mr. J. O'Keeffe Information on Jim O'Keeffe Zoom on Jim O'Keeffe  asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs Information on Brian Cowen Zoom on Brian Cowen  if the Government supports President Bush's plan to target Iraq in the next phase of the war on terror; and, if so, the extent of such support. [10347/02]

Mr. Cowen: Information on Brian Cowen Zoom on Brian Cowen I propose to take Questions Nos. 24 and 25 together.

As a member of the Security Council, Ireland has taken an active part in attempts to resolve the crisis in Iraq and to promote peace in the Middle East. Our contact with the US Administration has not led to an indication that the US is considering military action in Iraq in the near future. In his meeting with the Taoiseach, President Bush expressed grave concern at Iraq's defiance of Security Council resolutions, the threat posed by Iraqi efforts to develop chemical and biological weapons and its refusal to co-operate with the UN disarmament mission. Mr. Bush indicated, however, that the US has no immediate plans for military action.

The US has indicated that it is reviewing its policy on Iraq, but its efforts will continue to be focused on achieving Security Council agreement on the reform of sanctions and the return of UN arms inspectors. The Taoiseach made the general point that diplomatic options should be fully exhausted before engaging in an extension of the use of military force and that the primary responsibility for resolving international issues lies with the United Nations. Following the meeting, the Taoiseach said that President Bush wants to ensure that the justice, peace and well-being of the world is protected and that he is prepared to make every necessary effort to achieve that.

The Government continues to insist that Iraq abides by Security Council resolutions and allows the return of UN weapons inspectors as the [629] quickest and most appropriate way of achieving a resolution of the current situation. The Government believes that diplomatic options have not been exhausted and is seriously concerned by the possible use of military force. Primary responsibility for resolving international crises rests with the United Nations and in this regard I welcome the resumption of its dialogue with Iraq. The Government considers that multilateral co-operation in the UN on the application of sanctions remains the best approach in tackling the threat from Iraq.

The humanitarian situation in Iraq continues to be of deep concern. In addition to seeking Iraq's full co-operation with the United Nations, the Government will continue its efforts in the Security Council to bring about a reform of sanctions to address suffering and to eliminate restrictions on humanitarian and essential infrastructural goods entering Iraq. Ireland will work with its EU partners and others in the international community to ensure that tensions are resolved without recourse to military action.

Ireland was among the countries which voted in favour of Security Council Resolution 1397, which for the first time referred to a Palestinian state alongside Israel. We shall continue to work for an active role in promoting a just and lasting solution. The position of the European Union was stated most recently by the European Council at Barcelona on 16 March. The declaration sets out clearly the EU's expectations of both parties, outlines the steps necessary to achieve peace and expresses support for recent initiatives, including Resolution 1397, the ideas of Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and the renewed engagement of the US special envoy, General Zinni.

The EU continues to engage actively with the relevant major parties. It is disturbing that there is violence in the Middle East at a time when new initiatives are being considered by the UN, the EU and the Arab League, which is holding a summit meeting in Beirut today. I hold out hope for progress, however, and do not accept that the region is drifting towards war. I regret that the Israeli authorities have imposed conditions which resulted in President Arafat being unable to attend today's meeting. I assure the House that all efforts towards peace in the UN, the EU or other international fora will have Ireland's full support.

Mr. M. Higgins: Information on Michael D. Higgins Zoom on Michael D. Higgins I can only put a few brief questions to the Minister, as my time is limited. I used the phrase “the drift to war” in my question, as I believe that such a drift is evident. In his reply, the Minister made reference to Mr. Bush's suggestion during a meeting with the Taoiseach that the US is not contemplating military action in the short-term. Is the Minister aware that this was contradicted by senior spokespersons within 24 hours of the meeting? Is he familiar with Mr. Rumsfeld's statement that the inspectorate which will visit Iraq should be allowed open and uncon[630] ditional access to all installations, including palaces? The conditions are almost impossible to fulfil. Has the Government offered to compose the inspectorate in a manner that may be acceptable to all concerned, as a net contribution to Kofi Annan's talks with the Iraqi authorities? The Minister made detailed reference in his reply to the Taoiseach's discussions with Mr. Bush. Was the nuclear posture review raised at the meeting, bearing in mind that the nuclear non-proliferation treaty is one of the hallmarks of Irish foreign policy? What has happened to Javier Solana's initiative in the Middle East? Where has he gone? Is the Minister aware that there is a feeling in the Middle East that the European Union has deserted it yet again and left it to the United States to recover its interests?

Mr. Cowen: Information on Brian Cowen Zoom on Brian Cowen On the Iraqi case, unfortunately I did not attend the meeting with the Taoiseach and President Bush on the day, but my recollection from the reports of the meeting were that it concentrated mainly on Northern Ireland and on the war against terrorism. I do not recall in the reports, a reference to our well-established position on disarmament and our views on nuclear proliferation and the concerns we would have about any moves that would seek to modify the ABM treaty as a basis upon which we can ensure a strategic reduction in these weapons.

Mr. M. Higgins: Information on Michael D. Higgins Zoom on Michael D. Higgins But nuclear posturing is ruled out.

Mr. Cowen: Information on Brian Cowen Zoom on Brian Cowen I am aware of that. I am making the point that while there was a short time for these discussions there was only a short time for those discussions also and it was not possible to raise that issue. The US will be well aware of the Irish position on these matters and our traditional position on disarmament. In regard to the situation in Iraq, the Deputy referred to the fact that senior spokespersons contradicted what their own president had said. That is a matter to be taken up with the US Administration. We are reporting faithfully the conversation the Taoiseach had with the US President. We are satisfied from official contacts and others that there is not an imminent threat of military action on Iraq by the United States. There is a preparedness to allow the efforts of UN Secretary General to continue where the Iraqis have renewed contact with the Secretary General in relation to arms inspections. There will be a meeting of the Security Council in relation to these contacts before the UN Secretary General meets them again in April. We support this initiative by the Secretary General We will support any recommendation from him which he believes would help advance the issue, once it does not affect the independence of Hans Blix and his team. What we will seek is that the Iraqis comply with the resolution. That is the basis upon which the inspections must take place. A resolution of this matter, consistent with Security Council resolutions is the requirement of [631] international law regardless of anyone else's interpretation of it. If Hans Blix can satisfy the Security Council that he can complete his mandate, based on what one would hope would be a successful outcome to discussions between the Secretary General and the Iraqi regime, the Irish Government would be happy with that. From our point of view it is important that the initiative by the Secretary General has the full support of everyone and that he is given time and space in which to successfully conclude discussions with them. He has our support and I hope he is successful in his efforts.

Mr. J. O'Keeffe: Information on Jim O'Keeffe Zoom on Jim O'Keeffe In regard to Iraq, I accept there is no imminent military action planned by the Americans. They are obviously putting a strategy in place, establishing bases, looking at the situation in relation to the Kurds in the North and the Shi'ites in the South and how they can best put together a package to overthrow Saddam Hussein for whom I have no sympathy whatever. He is one of the worst tyrants the world has seen. I am concerned about where we stand in all of this. I do not believe we should mislead the Americans. If action is taken against Iraq will our support for any such action be based on whether such action is under a resolution of the United Nations? If that is so, did the Taoiseach make that clear to President Bush when he spoke with him? I have been trying to get an answer to that question and with all due respect to the Taoiseach, he seems to have evaded answering it.

In relation to the Middle East – this is linked because the Americans may have some interest in having a resolution of the Middle East problem before it actually moves on Iraq – where do we stand from the point of view of wholesale slaughter from the forces of Israel? Is there a danger that, because of historic and other reasons, the Prime Minister is being treated with kid gloves? That is not to say President Arafat and his people are angels either but certainly one expects from a State some adherence to international law. I do not see any such adherence by the forces of Israel at present. Is there any move to have the EU adopt a stronger role? This could be done from the point of view of the diplomatic and political level and, if necessary, by a threat of trade sanctions. Given that Mr. Sharon does not listen to reason from anybody, if there were trade sanctions against the country it might affect the issue. Will there be a tougher and stronger role to try to bring him to his senses and, in particular, in relation to disgraceful incidents such as refusing to allow President Arafat to go to the Arab League Summit. It is outrageous that they should carry on in that fashion.

Mr. Cowen: Information on Brian Cowen Zoom on Brian Cowen I do not accept that the special relationship between Israel and the United States precludes the US from playing an important and effective role in the region. It must not be forgotten that the US is a major aid donor to the Pales[632] tinian authority, Egypt, Jordan and Israel. The Palestinian authority itself wants greater US involvement.

Mr. J. O'Keeffe: Information on Jim O'Keeffe Zoom on Jim O'Keeffe And EU involvement.

Mr. Cowen: Information on Brian Cowen Zoom on Brian Cowen I welcome the return of presidential envoy, Mr. Anthony Zinni to the region to seek ways to bring the violence to an end and to restart negotiations. Mr. Javier Solana is in Beirut today. The objective reality is that while we are in a very difficult situation in the Middle East there is no doubt that in the past 12 to 18 months, particularly since his involvement on the Mitchell Commission which came forward with the Mitchell report – there were three Europeans on that commission – the European Union is seen as an important player in trying to help these two parties resolve this historic problem. The basic issue is that if there is no basis of trust between the Palestinians and the Israelis then no amount of outside facilitation will resolve that problem.

Mr. J. O'Keeffe: Information on Jim O'Keeffe Zoom on Jim O'Keeffe Pressure.

Mr. Cowen: Information on Brian Cowen Zoom on Brian Cowen Pressure will contribute.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon We have exceeded the time on this question.

Mr. Cowen: Information on Brian Cowen Zoom on Brian Cowen As regards sanctions, there is an issue in relation to disputes and arbitration which is taking place between the European Union and Israel in regard to products coming out of the settlements which are not in accordance with the rules of origin procedures. Commissioner Patten is pursuing that issue vigorously within existing regulations. In relation to Iraq, none of the existing UN Security Council regulations explicitly permits military action in the event that Iraq is considered to be in breach of the Gulf War ceasefire arrangements. In the view of the Government it would be desirable that the Security Council decide whether Iraq's continued non-compliance with the Security Council resolutions would permit the use of military action against Iraq. As regards any US action that would be taken, in the leader position there, it would be up to the United States Government to provide its own justification under international law for taking any military action. From our point of view, the European Union position on Iraq is that we are concerned at Iraq's non-compliance. At the meeting between the EU and the Gulf Co-operation Council on 28 February, the EU called for Iraq to implement fully and immediately all UN Security Council resolutions and to co-operate in all respects with the UN and its subsidiary bodies in order to allow for the suspension and, in due course, the lifting of sanctions.

Mr. J. O'Keeffe: Information on Jim O'Keeffe Zoom on Jim O'Keeffe I still do not know what the Taoiseach said to President Bush.

Mr. Cowen: Information on Brian Cowen Zoom on Brian Cowen It is on the record.

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