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Wilson's famous parliamentary answer

The famous parliamentary answer and a BBC interview with Wilson about it.
Ministerial sources quoted in the Independent newspaper claimed that this
parliamentary answer signalled a 'significant shift' in UK policy 'in
response to Labour MPs' concern over the impact of sanctions on Iraqis.' (20
Feb., p. 1)

1) Written parliamentary answer given on 15 February 2001 by Brian Wilson
column 260 running on to 261


Mr. Llwyd: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth
Affairs if the Government will make representations to the UN Sanctions
Committee for the early release of (a) food-testing equipment and (b)
equipment to combat cancer, which is being held from entry into Iraq.

Mr. Wilson: The UK works consistently in the UN Sanctions Committee to
facilitate the export to Iraq of humanitarian goods such as those described
by the hon. Member. We will continue to do so.

If the hon. Member, or any other hon. Member, is aware of any specific
examples of such goods on hold by any member of the Sanctions Committee, we
are prepared to look into the matter and, where appropriate, make
representations bilaterally and in the Sanctions Committee.
The UK only place holds on goods where there is insufficient information
about the goods or their intended end-use or because the goods have military
as well as civilian applications. The hold is lifted as soon as we receive
the information required to reassure us that the goods will not be used for
purposes prohibited by Security Council resolutions.

15 Feb 2001 : Column: 261W

I am anxious further to refine this process in any way which is consistent
with UN Security Council resolutions and also the humanitarian interests of
the Iraqi people.

Mr. Alan Simpson: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth
Affairs if he will provide details of the current contracts on hold in
respect of permitted supplies to Iraq; and for what reason 26 per cent. of
goods under agreed oil spares contracts to Iraq have so far been received.

Mr. Wilson: The UN Sanctions Committee has approved 82 per cent. of the
contracts submitted for the export of goods to Iraq under the UN oil for
food programme. The UK puts on hold only about 2 per cent. of all contracts
submitted to it for approval and then usually only on a temporary basis
until concerns about the nature or end-use of the goods have been met.
Details of all oil for food contracts are available on the UN website at

The UN continues to streamline its procedures to accelerate the export of
goods to Iraq. The Sanctions Committee has therefore agreed lists of items,
including oil spare parts, which no longer need to be referred to the UN for
approval. At the same time Iraq continues to hamper the UN's efforts. Delays
in the issue of letters of credit by the Central Bank of Iraq, for example,
have prevented the delivery at one time of up to $1.1 billion worth of goods
already approved by the UN.


>From the FCO Website

Let me ask you about sanctions on Iraq. There was a suggestion just before
the air strikes happened that you were thinking of relaxing them, or
bringing in so-called 'smart sanctions'.

What I said, and what I am very happy to repeat, is that if anyone can
produce evidence that the sanctions result in, for instance, cancer
treatment equipment, food-processing equipment, anything like that, is being
held up, then of course we will do something about it. What I said in answer
to a Parliamentary Question (on Thursday 15 February), and I say again: if
we can be more flexible and at the same time act compatibly with the United
Nations Security Council resolutions - which are intended to prevent Saddam
Hussein rearming and becoming a threat to the region again - and also
humanitarian concerns, then of course we will do it. That is a statement of
common sense and, I think, of common humanity.

Your Parliamentary Answer came just hours before the air strike on Iraq, so
it looks as though there's the Foreign Office having this longer view on
sanctions and suddenly the Defence Secretary is called in to take part in
these air strikes.

No, that's completely wrong, with respect. The answer could have come hours
before, hours after. The two things are entirely compatible.

Did you know they were going to happen - the air strikes - when you wrote
the Parliamentary Answer?

I came into this job just under three weeks ago. Literally the first
meetings I was involved in were about the increased threats to our air crews
over the southern no-fly zone, and the measures which were being discussed
in order to meet them. And that then flowed through to the action that was
taken last Friday. So, all of this - the attempt to drive wedges, the
attempt to suggest people didn't know this, didn't know that, or of this
lack of cohesion - is just untrue.

But why put down the Parliamentary Answer suggesting a long-range look at
sanctions when the Ministry of Defence is planning the air strikes?

The two strands of policy are not only compatible, they are essential. On
the one hand, what we are saying with absolute resolution is that - in the
interests of the peace and security of Saddam Hussein's own people, of the
region and of the wider world - he is not going to be allowed to rearm, he
is not going to be allowed to do what he was doing 10 years ago, which was
bombing the Kurds with chemical weapons, attacking Kuwait and so on. But on
the other hand, it must be true in substance and also in perception, that
the measures we are taking are not directed at, are not hurting, the
ordinary Iraqi people.

It seems as if there are two different approaches here?

No, not at all, not at all. One enhances the other. What Saddam Hussein
tries to do is to bundle them both together, and to say that if you're
stopping him manufacturing weapons of mass destruction, if you're preventing
him from attacking the Kurds and the Shias with chemical weapons, then
somehow, intrinsically, inevitably you are also responsible for the
humanitarian damage to his own people. Now that is grossly untrue and it has
to be seen to be grossly untrue, and we have to separate these two strands
much more clearly.

Milan Rai
Joint Coordinator
Voices in the Wilderness UK
National Office
16B Cherwell St, Oxford OX4 1BG

Personal contact details
29 Gensing Road, St Leonards-on-sea TN38 0HE
ph 0845 458 9571 (local rate) pager 07623 746 462

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