This is CASI's copy of a speech posted on the FCO website.



I welcome this opportunity to speak about Britain and the Gulf. It is particularly timely as I have just returned from a further visit to the region and was again struck by the amazing juxtaposition of the ultra-modern with the traditional. The skylines of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, like a time-lapse film sequence, appear to grow overnight. This is all the more extraordinary when you compare photographs of the Gulf States now with the way they were not so very long ago. And the dynamic growth of the infrastructure has been accompanied by an equally dramatic shift in worldview. This is partly due to oil wealth and easy travel, but also to the growth in instant communication, the ubiquitous mobile phone, satellite television, the Internet, e-mail. The wealth, regional influence, involvement in the global markets and oil resources of Gulf states brings with them a responsibility to play an active and stabilising role in world events and makes our continuing and evolving relationship of paramount strategic importance.


In 1999 UK exports to the GCC countries were worth over 3.75 billion. Imports were over 1.8 billion. It is our most important market outside the OECD. The figures do not, of course, include invisibles. Our exports span the spectrum: equipment for the oil and gas industry, construction, soft furnishings, food, aircraft, vehicles, books. I am also told that our Scottish expatriate communities there have little difficulty in tracking down the odd haggis or two. The UK is also a major investor in the region and over 86,000 British citizens live and work in the Gulf. The region contains 64 per cent of the world’s known oil reserves and Britain’s Armilla Patrol has maintained its presence in the Gulf ever since the 1980s. Our allies in the Gulf welcome our presence as a symbol of our commitment to the security of the region. It remains our largest military commitment outside NATO.


Britain has consistently defended the independence and territorial integrity of our friends and allies in the Gulf, most recently when Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990. That commitment remains as strong as ever. All three elements of our armed forces are in the Gulf. Our aircrews risk their lives patrolling the skies above southern Iraq. Our sailors are involved in activities to curb the illegal export of Iraqi oil. Our soldiers advise, train and exercise with their counterparts from the GCC. This commitment costs, politically, economically and tragically occasionally with lives. But the security and stability of the Gulf is vital not only to the region but also to the rest of the world.

Although the invasion of Kuwait was reversed, the biggest long-term threat to the Gulf remains Saddam Hussein. He has demonstrated over and over again his ambition to dominate the region and at the same time has shown a callous disregard for the lives or welfare of his own people. Hundreds of thousands died in a ten-year war with Iran, which achieved absolutely nothing. He invaded and looted the country of his Arab brother and continues to refuse to give any information on those Kuwaitis taken back into Iraq. Not only did he develop weapons of mass destruction but also he has been prepared to use chemical weapons against his own people. In recent months he has repeated threats against Kuwait, insulted other Gulf rulers and continued to defy the UN. I firmly believe that he remains determined to develop his nuclear chemical and biological weapons capability, which could threaten the countries of the region and beyond. He should be in no doubt, however, that we remain equally determined that he should not succeed.

Of course we are deeply concerned about the humanitarian situation in Iraq. Last year we devoted eight months of painstaking diplomatic effort to bring together the UN Security Council to pass UNSCR 1284 which represents the collective will of the Security Council, and has the force of international law.

The resolution contained a raft of humanitarian provisions. Crucially, resolution 1284 removed the ceiling on the amount of oil Iraq is allowed to export to fund the purchase of humanitarian relief. Iraq’s oil reserves are second only to those of Saudi Arabia. And recent increases in production mean that Iraq is now back among the world’s top oil exporters with its oil revenue now at an all time high of almost half a billion dollars per week. All of this means that that over $16 billion will be available for the ‘oil for food’ programme this year alone.

With this large amount of revenue available, one cannot help but ask why we still see pictures of malnourished and sick Iraqi children - pictures which rightly provoke our sympathy and compassion. There is absolutely no need for these children to want or for them to suffer. So why do they? With the $16 million Saddam has available - three times the amount per head that every Egyptian spends on food and medicine each year? It is an outrage that the Iraqi Government wilfully denies food and medicine to those children and plays politics with their suffering. It hopes that by doing so, it can play on our emotions until we abandon the Security Council’s resolutions and lift sanctions, leaving Iraq free to redevelop its weapons of mass destruction and once more pose a threat to the region.

Contrast the situation with northern Iraq, where the same sanctions apply but Saddam’s writ does not run. That is because in northern Iraq the UN is implementing the ‘oil for food’ programme, not the Iraqi authorities. And it is doing so in a manner designed to bring maximum benefit to the Iraqi people. As a result, the programme is making vast improvements to people’s lives. Life is better in the North than it was even before sanctions were imposed. New homes and hospitals are being built. School attendances are up. Minefields are being cleared. Food and medicine is being delivered. All this could be happening in the centre and south of Iraq too. If only the Government in Baghdad wanted it to.

The truth is that Saddam Hussein has no interest in putting his people’s needs first. He chooses to reject offers of humanitarian assistance from other countries additional to the ‘oil for food’ programme, including assistance specifically targeted at children’s needs. And this at a time when he is encouraging journalists and campaigners to come to Baghdad to tour the children’s wards in its hospitals. It is a scandal that the doctors cannot get the drugs they need. But the fault lies with the Iraqi Government. They fail to order enough medicines under the UN programme. Then they fail to deliver them. We have even recently discovered hundreds of emergency asthma inhalers consigned to Iraq under ‘oil for food’ on sale in Lebanon for the benefit of the Iraqi regime and its stooges. Right now there is over $5 billion in a UN account available for civilian goods if Iraq only ordered them.

I am extremely impressed with Hans Blix, the Executive Chairman of the new arms inspection body, UNMOVIC. His UNMOVIC is a new, independent body made up of UN professional staff drawn from a wide geographical base. There is no hidden agenda. We have been encouraging those who have contacts with Baghdad to urge Iraq to take the genuine opportunity on offer here for afresh start, and to work with Dr Blix and his staff. The Iraqi Government is fond of claiming that it has given up its weapons of mass destruction and has nothing to hide. If that is so, then it has everything to gain by allowing UNMOVIC in. I call on it to do so. I must say at this point that we have been very encouraged that some of our friends in the Arab world are working with us in our efforts to encourage Iraq to co-operate.

Were Iraq to allow UNMOVIC into Iraq today sanctions could be suspended in a matter of months. We want to see that happen. Suspension would offer Iraq an enormous advantage, opening the door to the reintegration of Iraq into the international community and allowing economic regeneration to begin. This is a real opportunity to which, I repeat, we are wholly committed, and we urge Iraq to take it. For as long as it does not, there can be no progress on sanctions. And Iraq must be left in no doubt that there is no room for initiatives outside the resolutions. To suggest otherwise only encourages Iraq in its intransigence, thereby prolonging sanctions even further.

That is not what we want. We want to see sanctions lifted as soon as possible. We want a law-abiding Iraq, respecting its international obligations and pursuing good relations with all its neighbours. We recognise the historic and cultural importance of Iraq in the Arab world, and its enormous potential. We understand the strong desire in the Arab world for it not to be excluded indefinitely - but the fact is that the present regime’s refusal to co-operate with the UN and meet its obligations and its repeated challenges to the international community are the major obstacle to this.

Compliance would bring major benefits. Governments, international financial institutions and companies would be ready to help Iraq rebuild its economy and infrastructure. The institutions would, I am sure, look creatively at the help that might be given. Many of the thousands of patriotic and talented Iraqis who have fled Iraq would return. Iraq could return to its rightful place in the international community. Regional stability would be put on a sounder foundation. That is an aim, which I believe we should all endorse.


In all my travels around the Gulf and the Middle East, I have heard plenty of people express their sympathy with the Iraqi people and I agree with them. But I have never heard anyone in any position of authority show any sympathy for Saddam Hussein or his regime. Quite the opposite. They distrust him and despise what he has done to the Iraqi people. They even tell me that their support for the Iraqi people does not suggest support for Saddam. I have to say that however unwittingly, there are those who are giving great comfort to Saddam by undermining sanctions and challenging the authority of the UN. Some have become instruments of Saddam’s manipulative propaganda.

So-called humanitarian flights to Baghdad in contravention of the relevant UN Security Council resolutions do little to bring humanitarian help to the Iraqi people. They do a lot to support Saddam’s policy of sowing discord amongst the members of the UN and undermining international law. We do not object to flights that go through the proper procedures, and most that do so are approved by the 661 Committee. We acknowledge that there may be different understandings of what is required under the resolutions, but the answer is not a free for all which only gratifies Saddam’s long term aim of achieving sanctions lift without compliance on his part. We are working with our partners on the Security Council to find a mechanism agreed by all in accordance with existing resolutions which will allow bona fide flights to Iraq. In the meantime I would urge those who are tempted by commercial gain or gesture politics to consider seriously the damage to the credibility of the UN that they are risking.

The same applies to those who turn a blind eye to the smuggling of Iraqi oil. Revenues from the sale of Iraqi oil under the ‘Oil for Food‘ programme go to provide humanitarian aid to the people of Iraq. Revenues from oil smuggled out of Iraq go straight into the pockets of Saddam Hussein and his cronies. Those who ignore this trade or encourage it when they could take action to prevent it are contributing to Saddam’s ability to ignore his international obligations. With no control over the illegal revenue, there is a strong risk of it being channelled into Saddam’s arms programme, conventional or otherwise. Those who tolerate his actions now may have cause to regret them later.

For those who don’t know, it is instructive to see how the illegal oil revenues are spent. None of it is spent on food or medicine. It is spent instead on luxury items for those closest to Saddam, whose loyalty he wishes to retain. It is spent on building new palaces and theme parks. For example, Saddam City is a massive luxury resort complex for Saddam’s cronies contains stadiums, an amusement park, and 625 homes for Saddam’s favourites. Some reports even suggest the resort has a safari park with deer and elephants which graze on lush vegetation grown with the latest irrigation systems. For his birthday this year, Saddam held spectacular celebrations. His birthday cake was three metres high and its ingredients could have fed 100 orphans for 30 days. In a typical month Iraq imports over 300 million cigarettes, 28,000 bottles of whisky, over 115,000 litres of beer, 40,000 litres of vodka and 19,000 bottles of wine. By our estimates, illegal exports of Iraqi oil outside the UN programme will reach an estimated half a billion dollars this year. We and other members of the Security Council are making serious efforts to limit this trade. I want to encourage all the States in the region to do the same.


Iran has traditionally been seen by Gulf countries as a threat. Historical suspicion of Iran cannot be overcome overnight. But I believe that the only way to address these concerns is through dialogue and constructive engagement. Experience has shown the benefit of being able to raise our concerns, however difficult and sensitive, quietly and directly and well away from the forum of megaphone diplomacy. Three years ago it would have been hard to imagine the progress that we have made in our bilateral relationship. This has been made possible by the reformist policies of President Khatami and Iran’s desire to reintegrate with the international community, including her Gulf neighbours. I believe that President Khatemi recognises that it is not in Iran’s interests to provoke instability in the Gulf or the wider region. However, the path of reform has not been smooth in Iran and there are many who continue to argue against engagement. But I believe that it is right to respond to the overwhelming majority of the Iranian people who have time and again at the ballot box shown their support for reform. The reintegration of Iran into the international community can only be to the further benefit of regional stability. It is encouraging to see a number of the countries in the Gulf responding to Iran’s overtures.


The recent terrible clashes between Israel and the Palestinians are another major source of potential instability in the region. The easy availability of CNN, Sky News, BBC World and satellite television in the Gulf mean that, for the first time, ordinary men, women and children in the Gulf are seeing live, round the clock coverage of the violence. And they are appalled. In the past it was possible to filter their access to what was happening, and therefore to an extent control their reaction. This is no longer the case.

There have been unprecedented demonstrations in, amongst others, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Kuwait, Bahrain. Moderate Gulf Governments are being put in positions where their natural inclinations and aspirations for peace in the Middle East are being challenged. There is a risk that they will have to adopt a more radical stance than they would want, because of pressure from the streets. This in turn can only add to the circle of rhetoric and violence and risk instability spreading. Saddam Hussein’s posturing as a champion of the Palestinians is a further unsettling ingredient. No one should be taken in by that. Saddam’s disregard for his own people makes him a wholly unreliable and dangerous partner for the Palestinians. True to form he is cynically manipulating their own sufferings in an attempt to rehabilitate himself with the rest of the Arab world.

I would like to pay tribute to the Arab League Summit in Cairo, which backed the peace process. But history has shown that peace between Israel and the Palestinians will not be easy to achieve. It came tantalisingly close before this recent descent into violence. But despite the renewed commitment on 2 November to implement the Sharm Agreement, we remain close to the brink. A further upsurge in violence could take us over the brink and into more years of instability, terrorism, economic downturn and suffering. Too many people have died.

Britain supports Palestinian rights to self-determination, including the option of a state. However, any Palestinian state declared in defiance of Israel and outside negotiations would be severely handicapped.

Britain has been working to encourage the parties to end the violence and return to the negotiating table. In contacts with the Israelis, Palestinians and Arab states we have sought to concentrate on the way forward rather than apportioning blame for recent events. We have throughout worked closely with EU partners, the US and the UN Secretary-General.

The UK played a leading and constructive role in helping to shape United Nations Security Council Resolution 1322 adopted on 7 October, and the EU statements of 9 October in Luxembourg and 13 October in Biarritz. We have made statements appealing for an end to violence and urging restraint. Robin Cook visited Israel, the Occupied Territories, Egypt, Syria and Jordan from 11-13 October for intensive talks with regional leaders as well as with the UN Secretary-General and the EU High Representative. I also visited Egypt on 16-18 October.

There is a role here for our friends in the Gulf. Continuing violence and instability in the Middle East risks spreading. It is also holding back the social and economic development of the whole region. I believe that there will be a peace dividend. New markets will open up and the concerns of potential investors allayed. It will not just be those the parties to the Peace Process that will benefit. The Gulf countries need to exert any influence they have to avert further bloodshed.

Lebanon and Syria also hold keys to peace and have improving relations with the Gulf. We should not underestimate Israel’s resolve to defend herself. We should all urge Syria and Lebanon to show restraint and curb the activities of Hizbollah and others whose activities are opposed to peace. Iran should do the same.


There are, of course, those who regard protection and promotion of economic interests as being incompatible with promoting human rights. But we live in a global community that needs universal values. Creativity and innovation, which are so necessary for a modern, knowledge-based economy, flourish in societies, which make full use of the resources of their people across the board. We support human rights, transparency and accountability for other people because these are the values we demand for ourselves. Increasingly we are able to work on human rights in close co-operation with the countries of the region, whether bilaterally or with those on the UN Commission on Human Rights. Not by shouting, but by dialogue. There has been progress, the establishment of consultative councils, the formation of human rights committees, and the increasing rights and involvement of women in public life. I believe that together we can improve the human rights situation not only in the Gulf, but also throughout the world.

We will continue to work together with all our friends across the Gulf for peace, justice and prosperity.