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The following is brief exchange which took place between a Foreign Office representative and the House of Lords yesterday. It covers why the FCO declined to meet with Denis Halliday while he was in the UK, and how the lifting of the food-for-oil ceiling would help the situation in Iraq. Notice the FCO rep. says "the Government is well aware of Mr Halliday's views", but when questioned in more detail says "We have not seen the details of the source of Mr. Halliday's claims.", something they could presumably have asked him had they agreed to meet him. She is also clearly unaware of the irony of using the example of the Iraqi govt. spending money on a bank-note counting machine given the hyperinflation caused by sanctions! With regard to her other example of Iraqi mis-spending, "telecommunications": is the Iraqi government expected to run a food distribution system for the majority of its 22million population without telephones? **** source: Hansard : House of Lords, 4th Feb 1999 Dennis Halliday: UK Visit 3.26 p.m. Lord Rea asked Her Majesty's Government: Whether any Minister or other representative of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office met Dennis Halliday, the former United Nations Assistant Secretary-General and Humanitarian Co-ordinator for Iraq, during his recent visit to the United Kingdom; and, if not, why not. 4 Feb 1999 : Column 1613 The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, the Government are well aware of Mr. Halliday's views as he is of the Government's. We did not believe that a meeting between Mr. Halliday and a representative of Her Majesty's Government would bring our positions any closer. We share Mr. Halliday's concern for the well-being of the Iraqi people, but we do not share his view that sanctions are the cause of their suffering. Rather, Her Majesty's Government agree with the Gulf Co-operation Council communique of 9th December which held the Iraqi government fully responsible for the suffering of the Iraqi people. We continue to discuss possible improvements to the oil-for-food programme in the UN Security Council with Mr. Halliday's successor, Mr. Hans von Sponeck, and we are pursuing a possible humanitarian initiative with our EU partners. Lord Rea: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer, which is very much as I expected. Might it not have been useful and indeed courteous for Her Majesty's Government to have heard the testimony of Mr. Halliday, who is a former high official of the United Nations and a man of great integrity? His views contest with considerable evidence the explanation that my noble friend has given. Is she aware that the oil-for-food programme, even when it is working effectively, is still insufficient to reverse the serious malnutrition and high mortality of Iraqi children--that has been confirmed by the World Health Organisation--let alone repair the wrecked state of the civil infrastructure in Iraq? Is it not time to review our policy towards Iraq, which has now reached stalemate, and join with the rest of the world in favouring a policy that will reach a solution which will involve lifting sanctions in return, it is to be hoped, for a carefully policed arms limitation treaty affecting the whole of the middle east? Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I hope that I have explained to the House why Her Majesty's Government did not think that such a meeting would get anywhere and why it was not appropriate. My noble friend raises two issues. One is the question of the suffering of the Iraqi people. We have not seen the details of the source of Mr. Halliday's claims. We know, from the UN Secretary-General's report in November 1998 that infant malnutrition is decreasing in the northern governorates and that 2.5 billion dollars' worth of foodstuffs has been arriving in Iraq. But that still begs the question, even if there is suffering in Iraq, as to why that is the case. I am afraid that Her Majesty's Government take a different view from that expressed by Mr. Halliday, which I suspect is supported by my noble friend. The Government take the view that it is because of the intransigent position taken by the Government of Iraq. Let us consider that the latest distribution plan put forward by Iraq on the oil-for-food issue includes an allocation of 25 million dollars' worth to a machine that will count banknotes and 100 million dollars' worth for the purchase of telecommunications. That does not strike me as a regime that is interested in the suffering of its own people. 4 Feb 1999 : Column 1614 Lord Moynihan: My Lords, since we cannot force Iraq to sell oil and buy food and medicine--a fact so clearly demonstrated by the Minister--given the current oil-for-food programme, under which Saddam Hussein plans to order less food and medicine for the Iraqi people than in the previous phases, and given the large amount of medicine that is still sitting, undistributed, in ministry of health warehouses, how does the Minister anticipate that the expansion of the oil-for-food facility, which would eliminate the 5.2 billion ceiling on funds from oil exports, will succeed in easing the humanitarian situation in Iraq, which must be our first priority? Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his support on the matters of fact in relation to the reductions that the Iraqis want and the calorific content of the food. Iraq is selling food to its neighbours--it is certainly selling to Syria and attempting to do so to Jordan. How can we address the matter? An important step was taken at the UN Security Council on 30th January in the setting up of three panels, one of which will examine the humanitarian considerations; another the problem of the missing Kuwaiti prisoners of war; and the third the issues of weapons of mass destruction. Those issues are being considered, not only at United Nations level with the support of the full Security Council, but also with our EU partners. We are alive to the difficulty and are attempting to address it in the fora that are open to us. Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, will the Minister accept that the whole House agrees that Saddam Hussein is, by any standards, one of the most evil and dangerous men in the world? That said, will she also accept that, up to now, our sanctions policy seems to have affected the ruling government in Iraq very little and the people of Iraq very much. In the light of that, in the negotiations that are to take place will she bear in mind ways in which sanctions could be more directly targeted at the elite group in Iraq, thus avoiding some of the suffering of the people? Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: Yes, my Lords, I hope that I have addressed those concerned by pointing out to the House ways in which Her Majesty's Government are endeavouring to do this, both through the European Union and the panels set up on 30th January by the Security Council. We should not, however, write off some of the successes of the oil-for-food programme. For example, the sewerage system in Baghdad has directly benefited from the programme. Improvements of some 20 per cent. have been recorded. We have seen 56 million dollars' worth of food and goods arriving in the agricultural areas of the country. We have also seen an improvement in some of the very distressing infant mortality rates in the northern governorates. Those reports came from the UN Secretary-General as recently as November last year. So, while improvement is needed, it is not all bad news in relation to aid getting through in the oil-for-food programme. -- ----------------------------------------------------------------------------- This is a discussion list run by Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq. To be removed/added, email firstname.lastname@example.org, NOT the whole list. Archived at http://linux.clare.cam.ac.uk/~saw27/casi/discuss.html