Ceisteanna – Questions (Resumed). Priority Questions. - Foreign Conflicts.

Gay Mitchell

Question:

108 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will make a statement on the Government's position on Iraq. [6735/03]

Ireland's approach is based on the need to respect the role of the United Nations. From the outset the Government has made clear its belief that this crisis should be resolved through peaceful means. We have supported, and during our term on the Security Council worked hard to further, the efforts of the international community to arrive at a solution to this issue which will compel the Iraqi authorities to meet their obligations without the need for resort to the actual use of military force.

Ireland, as a member of the Security Council, played an active and constructive role in building the unanimous support for UN Security Council Resolution 1441. Ireland believes that Resolution 1441 offers a genuine prospect of securing peaceful disarmament and of avoiding war. It offers the most likely means of obtaining Iraq's compliance with its disarmament obligations, avoiding a military conflict and preserving primary responsibility of the Security Council for the maintenance of international peace and security. We continue to believe that this solution is attainable. We recognise that time is now very limited and we call upon the Iraqi regime to respond promptly and effectively.

The Iraqi Government must fulfil without delay and in every respect its disarmament obligations, and fully co-operate with the UN inspectors. The Government believes that inspections should continue for as long as the inspectors and the Security Council believe that they are productive, but that they cannot continue indefinitely in the face of Iraqi non-compliance. Should Iraq continue with its lack of full co-operation, I would see a political need for a second resolution. While there is no international legal consensus on the need for a second resolution, it would signal the unity and resolve of the international community and reinforce the legitimacy of any subsequent military action.

A unified and coherent approach within the Security Council is most likely to succeed in convincing Saddam Hussein to comply with Iraq's obligations. Only full compliance with these obligations can secure the peaceful resolution of this crisis.

I thank the Minister for his reply. Will the Minister confirm in unambiguous terms that the Government will only support multilateral action on Iraq duly authorised by the UN Security Council, that he rules out support for action other than multilateral action duly authorised by the UN Security Council? Will he give the House his view on the most recent British-Spanish resolution to the Security Council?

As I stated in my reply, we regard it as politically important that there is a second resolution on this matter in the interests of ensuring that Saddam Hussein gets the message that the international community seeks his full compliance for the peaceful resolution of this crisis on that basis. We note that a resolution has been tabled. The Security Council has yet to discuss the substance of that resolution. There is also a Franco-German proposal. What we have been saying throughout this, and at the European Council meeting, is there is a need for the Security Council to debate these issues and come forward with a common position. The international community is not best served if the Security Council cannot come forward with a common position.

Basically we are now seeing the tabling of resolutions and the distribution of papers which will enable the debate to take place in that context. We watch carefully and exhort and encourage all members of the Security Council to address that debate constructively and try to find a solution to this problem. We will of course support the Security Council in whatever it decides in that respect.

I cannot go further than that except to say that we hope the Security Council can come forward with a common position based on the fact that differing views are being expressed at present. We need to see that synthesised into a coherent position by the Security Council and that would have the support of everyone in the international community.

Will the Minister specifically rule out support for unilateral action or for action taken against Iraq without a further UN Security Council resolution?

As I have stated, if military action were to take place in the absence of a second resolution, it would be characterised by those who would support it as not being unilateral action but one which has a basis already in prior resolutions?

How would the Minister categorise it?

I would categorise it as I have stated, that we believe that there is a political need, regardless of the legal debate on this issue, for a second resolution and that is what we want to see. That is a clear position and in the meantime we are encouraging all the members of the Security Council to come forward with that solution on that basis.

Michael D. Higgins

Question:

109 Mr. M. Higgins asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the Government's position on a pre-emptive strike against Iraq; the reasons for the Government's support for a second resolution of the Security Council of the UN before Resolution 1441 had been concluded; if the Government supports the French and German proposal for greater resources and additional time to enable the UN inspectors to complete their task; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6395/03]

The Government has, from the outset, favoured resolution of the current crisis by the UN through peaceful means. It remains our strong hope that this will be possible and we are encouraging the efforts being made by the international community to ensure this outcome.

As the Deputy will be aware, the UN Security Council has been trying for the past 12 years, with limited success, to relieve Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction. Saddam Hussein has stubbornly defied all efforts to achieve Iraq's disarmament by peaceful means. He has been willing to see his people suffer the hardship of UN imposed economic sanctions rather than comply with the Security Council's demands. Resolution 1441 gave Iraq a final opportunity to meet its disarmament obligations or face serious consequences. It did not contain a deadline for completion. Immediate and unconditional compliance was required.

The weapons inspectors will be reporting to the Security Council on Friday on whether and to what extent Saddam has seized that opportunity. I will not pre-empt or speculate on what they might say. The Government has made its position clear, that the arms inspectors should be given as much time as the inspectors and the members of the Security Council believe is necessary to carry forward their task. We would fully support a resolution to that effect. Nevertheless, as is widely accepted, and Hans Blix has made clear, inspections and suggestions for their improvement can only be effective if the Iraqi authorities comply fully with their obligations under Security Council resolutions.

If the Security Council should decide to adopt a resolution concluding that Iraq has failed to meet its obligations and that it must now face the serious consequences, we would also support that position, as we are bound to under the UN Charter. I cannot see how subsequent military action on foot of such a resolution could be described as "pre-emptive". Under Article 42, the Security Council is authorised to sanction military action to maintain or restore international peace and security, where lesser measures such as economic sanctions have proved to be inadequate. Twelve years is surely long enough to establish that fact. In sanctioning military action against Iraq, the Security Council would be acting in full accordance with the role and responsibilities conferred on it under the charter.

I would see a political need for a further resolution, should the use of force become necessary as a matter of last resort. I would do so for two reasons, first, because I believe that military action would be best conducted by a united international community and, second, because a further resolution would reinforce the legal basis for military action and help overcome the legal uncertainty which surrounds the question of whether there is an existing mandate for the use of force.

Not all resolutions in the past 12 years have dealt with the elimination of weapons of mass destruction. Resolution 688, for example, is not a Chapter VII resolution. It deals with no-fly zones. Six people were killed because of it. Does the Minister agree that there is no legal basis for the no-fly zone? The original participating countries in this resolution were the USA, the UK and France, the latter of which withdrew. No customary international law was invoked in any of the discussions. What is the position of the Government in relation to this resolution?

The Minister gave his usual reply about Saddam Hussein's compliance, with which I agree. However, who is to judge that compliance? In the resolutions in which we participated, including the ones over the past 12 years to which the Minister referred, the Security Council states that it will stay seized of the matters. It is the Security Council that is empowered to judge. What is the Minister's opinion of the US and the UK taking it upon themselves to judge whether there is compliance and shifting the goalposts from access for inspectors to destruction of weapons to regime change? Where does the Minister stand in relation to participating in or being bound by a resolution dealing with regime change which is in flagrant violation of the UN Charter?

I asked in my original question how the Minister had moved the Government's position from unequivocal support for Resolution 1441 to support of a second resolution, as announced by the Taoiseach. Is it supporting the second resolution to avoid war or is it willing to support it to defeat the purposes of Resolution 1441 and provide a facade for war? Resolution 1441 does not contain an automatic trigger, nor do any of the resolutions to which the Minister referred. Yet he says the only issue is Saddam Hussein's compliance. I put it to the Minister that he is silent on pre-emption and on the fact that the USA and the UK have taken it upon themselves to interpret resolutions. He is silent on the issue of whether the mandate of the Security Council is being frustrated. If the Government is faced with a choice between political unity within the Security Council and supporting the UN Charter, on whose side will it fall?

The Deputy has asked a number of questions, with which I will deal as best I can. Resolution 1441 is silent on whether a legal basis exists for military action from previous resolutions simply because we were incapable of obtaining unanimity on that point.

There is no unanimity.

What that means is that it does not explicitly require military action because there were different views within the Security Council when the resolution was being formulated on whether the legal basis for military action already existed. That difference has not gone away. In the event of parties taking military action in the future, it will be characterised not as unilateral action but on the basis of the legal mandate for action they claim still exists in the earlier resol utions. That is a legal point in international law on which there is not unanimity.

What is the Minister's opinion? What is our position?

I am trying to answer the questions asked by the Deputy and I will answer the next round of questions when the Deputy asks them.

The Deputy mentioned Resolution 688. The no-fly zones in Iraq were originally established to protect the vulnerable Kurdish populations in the north of the country and the Marsh Arab population in the south from attack by the forces of Saddam Hussein. Those populations remain vulnerable to threats of force from the Iraqi regime. In debating the legality in international law of the no-fly zones and the recent military action in Iraq by the US and the UK in support of these zones, this reality needs to be taken into account. Unfortunately, there is no agreed view in the Security Council on this issue. The USA and the UK argue that the establishment of the no-fly zone arrangements is legally justified on the basis of the provisions of a series of Security Council resolutions: Resolutions 678, 686, 687 and 688. Other members of the Security Council contest that interpretation.

On the basis of the legal advice available to my Department, none of the Security Council resolutions concerned unambiguously addresses the question of the legal legitimacy of the no-fly zone arrangements. Similarly, the basis in international law for the recent attacks by the USA and Britain on Iraqi military installations carried out during patrol of the no-fly zones is also unclear. The matter should be addressed as quickly as possible by the Security Council in its deliberations regarding the present evolving situation. That is the responsibility of the council. As for its responsibility regarding the need for a second resolution, it is open to it to adopt a second resolution if it so wishes – if that is the decision of the Security Council under international law, we will abide by it.

We see our role in all of this as encouraging the Security Council to muster the collective political will to adopt a position that will increase the pressure on Saddam's regime to disarm voluntarily so that we can try to avoid what is available under the Chapter VII resolution, which is enforcement by military force. That is what we are trying to do. The Deputy has asked me what my position will be in advance of any deliberation or continuing discussion and in advance of Dr. Blix's report next Friday and its impact on present proposals and future discussions. We will deal with those questions and I will be answerable and accountable to the House once the decisions are taken, if they are taken.

In the meantime, I am not here on the basis that we have decided upon the date, time and approach for military action. Rather, we are trying to avoid it. In every forum, including the UN and the EU, we are putting forward our view that the Security Council should come together, although there are differing views, and try to solve this matter in a coherent way on behalf of us all so that Saddam Hussein gets the message that the international community will robustly defend its charter and resolutions in terms of giving him a final opportunity to disarm. We are also trying to make sure that this is resolved peacefully, if at all possible, through the multilateral process.

Does the Minister not agree that his reply is singularly one-sided? He did not answer any of the questions on his feelings on how the USA and the UK have decided to interpret Saddam's compliance for themselves and are building up an armed threat in anticipation of any resolution.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle

We must go on to the next question. The time allotted for this question has been exceeded by many minutes.

We are getting tired of the Minister's lectures. We are all in favour of Saddam's disarming but what we want to hear is whether he is against unilateral action and illegal pre-emptive action. On that he is staying silent.

I do not know whether the Deputy calling me a lecturer is a compliment, considering his profession. I am sorry, but in the context of Priority Questions it is difficult to answer a multitude of questions. We will have the opportunity when we move away from Priority Questions to come back to the issue of Iraq.

Does the Minister agree that Resolution 688 is not a Chapter VII resolution? It is illegal.

We will discuss all of this in a moment.

John Gormley

Question:

110 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the Government's position regarding the recently proposed US-UK resolution on Iraq; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6628/03]

The Government has consistently favoured a peaceful solution to this crisis through the United Nations and we have urged the use of diplomatic means in every forum available to us. As a member of the Security Council we worked for the adoption of Resolution 1441, which provides an opportunity to avert military action by achieving Iraqi disarmament through arms inspections. We believe that the arms inspections should continue for as long as the inspectors themselves and the members of the Security Council consider necessary and worthwhile.

A draft resolution has been tabled in the Security Council by Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States. The clear thrust of this text is that Iraq has been warned that it would face serious consequences if it continues in violation of its disarmament obligations, that Iraq is in further material breach of these obligations and has consequently failed to seize the last opportunity offered by Resolution 1441 to comply with its disarmament obligations. The draft resolution does not speak of continuing arms inspections, nor does it specify what should happen next. Both that and the intention of the Security Council will become clear when the draft is introduced by the sponsors, is placed in context and is followed by a debate.

At the same time, the Council has a memorandum before it, prepared by France, Germany and Russia, which foresees the continuation of inspections for a certain period. The arms inspectors are due to deliver their next report on 7 March, which will have an important input into the debate in the Security Council on the draft resolution likely to take place next week. It is not known when or if a vote on the draft resolution, on an amended text or on some other text will take place. The Government will decide its own view in the light of the inspectors' report and the considerations of the Security Council. Should the Security Council adopt a resolution, Ireland would be bound under the Charter of the UN to accept and carry out the decisions of the Security Council.

I will attempt to get some answers because the Minister has not answered my colleague's questions. Will the Minister outline the Government's position? I noticed the Chilean Ambassador in the Distinguished Visitor's Gallery this morning. What would the Minister say to him, given that his country has to make a decision on this matter? What would he say Ireland's position is? Would he urge him to accept the French, German and Russian proposal – they have no difficulty outlining their position – or would he urge them to go with the resolution as outlined by the American and the British Governments? Will the Minister give the House a direct answer?

Does the Minister further agree that this conflict has already begun? Washington has already said that it has extended the range of targets to include weapons which could hinder a ground invasion. On that basis, is it not time that we had another debate in the House and that the Minister ceased permission for the use of Shannon Airport to the Americans?

I do not agree with the Deputy's final point, until such time as the Security Council has made a decision on this matter. I have stated clearly the circumstances in which that matter will be debated in the House again. Second, the Deputy's analysis about the way to resolve this problem is more like the film "Gangs of New York" than the Security Council in its adherence to one approach or another.

That is not a bad analogy.

It is better than Homer.

It is for the purposes of illustration. It relates to the film and not to anything else.

Perhaps the Minister could nominate the stars too.

We should return to the point, given that this is a serious issue. If one adopts that approach, the Security Council will not be able to resolve the problem. We used this approach successfully when we were on the Security Council – when we had the unanimous adoption of Resolution 1441. We used it on the European Council when we sought a common position and we will continue to seek to influence the situation on this basis. How does one get to have a common position adopted? If the Deputy's view is that one does not get involved in those discussions and decide to take one side or the other, on the basis of how things currently stand, I am afraid we will not get a resolution to this matter in a way that will forge a united international community position. The purpose of the Security Council is precisely to engage in that debate now on the basis of what will emerge from the Blix report, what recommendations he makes and his analysis on 7 March in his discussions with the Security Council. That is what the Government intends to do. I do not intend to be committed to "what-if".

What now?

The Security Council must now discuss the two positions before them and try to come to a common position on the basis that they share objectives.

What is the Minister's position?

My position will be that if the Security Council is able to discharge that responsibility, we will support it. That is the requirement under the UN Charter.

The Minister is hiding. He is refusing to come out with his position and it is frustrating to sit on this side House and listen to him. We are asking direct questions, to which we are not getting answers.

Will the Minister give his legal opinion on the second resolution. An opinion has been given in Britain by Ms Cherie Blair's law firm which said that the UN resolution sponsored by the US and UK does not authorise the use of force against Iraq and that any military action without UN Security Council authorisation would be a clear violation of international law. Does the Minister agree with that analysis and does he further agree with the opinion given today by Irish lawyers which states that the Government is in breach of international law and that this is an indictment of his position?

As a poor small-town lawyer myself, I am afraid I must humbly disagree with whatever Irish lawyers are talking to the Deputy about our breach of international law. I would not be as eminent as the people to whom the Deputy speaks.

Regardless of the legal debate – and law is an inexact science – the Government's position is that we want to see a second resolution. We regard it as politically important that happens so that we can ensure this regime understands that the resolve of the international community is such that he will have no option but to comply with these resolutions. It would also ensure that the message is sent loudly and clearly and that there is no miscalculation by the regime in relation to our resolve as an international community. As a Minister, I make no apology for discharging my responsibilities by taking our position as to what we feel should be happening, as we try to resolve this matter peacefully in the context of the closing window of opportunity. We will do all we can to get it done that way and get the people who have the responsibility on the Security Council, however burdensome and difficult it is, to try and come forward with a common position on that basis. There is a need for both sides to try and take into account both perspectives to achieve a united position.

I do not know what the terms of any resolution will be, what amendments will be put or what the final outcome will be and I would like to see what the explanations of the vote are if there is one. When I have all of that information, taking into account our interests and the principles that inform our policy, I will then be in a position to give a recommendation or advice to the Government. The matter will come before the House for debate and the Government will then make a decision. That is the process of accountability involved and I am not in the business of pre-empting that process, given the gravity of the situation for the international community and the seriousness of the situation for our own interests.