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Friday, 22 June, 2001, 12:05 GMT 13:05 UK
'Star wars threatens new arms race'

New Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has been pressed to tell US President George W Bush his "Son of Star Wars" defence plans would lead to a new arms race.

Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn made the claim about America's controversial National Missile Defence (NMD) plans as Mr Straw made his first Commons contribution in his new job.

National Missile Defence can only lead to an escalation of an arms race around the world

Jeremy Corbyn
Mr Straw said President Bush had made it clear he would consult on the plans and argued Britain should engage with the US to find solutions to the concerns raised.

The exchange comes a day after more than 170 MPs urged Prime Minister Tony Blair to challenge President Bush over the plans.

Arms race

Some 137 Labour MPs have so far signed an early day motion - a kind of parliamentary petition - saying the government should express "grave doubts" about UK sites being used for NMD.

The Conservatives accused the prime minister of "running scared" on the issue and said he faced "revolt among MPs".

A missile launch
There are fears NMD could cause a new arms race
Mr Corbyn, one of those who signed the motion, the plans would undermine 40 years of nuclear disarmament treaties and should be opposed by Britain.

"Would it not be far better if Britain used its position of some influence over the United States to say that it is a totally unacceptable development that can only lead to an escalation of an arms race around the world rather than an opportunity for peace," he asked.

Mr Straw said he understood his concerns but said President Bush - who is concerned about missile attack from "rogue states" - had made it clear there would be consultation.

"The United States has raised matters of concern to them and, they believe, of concern to the rest of the world, about the changed strategic threat which now exists," he said.

"I think, and this is a view shared by the rest of our partners, that we should sit down and engage with the US about those concerns and the solutions to them."

Global warming worries

Mr Straw also referred to the "clear disagreement" on the issue of climate change between the EU and the US, Jack Straw accepted.

New Foreign Secretary Jack Straw
Straw: I am a "practical European"
But he said last week's summit had secured a commitment that the United States would participate "constructively" in climate change talks in Bonn.

Europe was another issue addressed by the new Foreign Secretary, who attended his first European Union summit in his new role last week.

Irish treaty rejection

He was challenged over the rejection of the Nice Treaty on EU enlargement in the Irish referendum.

Mr Straw said it was technically true that enlargement could take place without the Nice Treaty, but not without any treaty.

"This was a democratic vote which hand produced a clear outcome," he said.

While the Irish government was looking at how to respond, British ministers would ask parliament to ratify the treaty.

Slow down

For the Conservatives, shadow foreign secretary Francis Maude called the Nice Treaty "integrationist".

Referring to the Irish referendum, he continued: "I do ask why the government is pressing ahead so rapidly with the ratification of the Nice Treaty when the Irish had made their disapproval so clear."

Mr Maude said he favoured enlargement but argued the treaty would hold back that process.

Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman Menzies Campbell - who has also voiced his concern about NMD - pledged his party's support for ratifying the treaty.

He insisted it made "necessary changes for the enlargement to be successfully undertaken".

Mr Campbell added that enlargement must be accompanied by a round of reform of the EU.

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See also:

22 Jun 01 | Europe
Prodi tackles Irish sceptics
20 Feb 01 | UK Politics
Bush to meet EU leaders
02 May 01 | UK Politics
Number 10 in missile row
13 Jun 01 | UK Politics
Blair urges US and Europe unity
01 May 01 | Americas
Bush's missile defence diplomacy
06 May 01 | UK Politics
Hoon defends missile defence stance
21 Jun 01 | UK Politics
'Confront Bush on Star Wars' - MPs
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