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Monday, 27 May, 2002, 13:09 GMT 14:09 UK
Together in a crisis
Jack Straw with Joschka Fischer
Mr Straw is in Berlin for talks with Joschka Fischer

Jack Straw and Joschka Fischer have very different views about how Europe should approach crises beyond the continent.

But as they spoke beneath the chandeliers in the German Foreign Ministry on Monday, both felt the same way about the dangers of the Kashmir conflict.

The UK foreign secretary is flying to Pakistan and India over the next two days as part of the international effort to avert a war which many fear could turn nuclear.

Mr Straw, speaking at a conference for German diplomats in Berlin, said he would be urging both sides to exercise restraint, warning that the tension, coupled with the build up of forces in the region, could indeed "spiral out of control into a conventional, and then nuclear conflict of a kind we have simply never witnessed."

Death and destruction

"But whilst we cannot be precise, the risks involved are all too easy to predict," he said.

"Death, destruction, disease, economic collapse, affecting not just the immediate war theatre, but many parts of the subcontinent and lasting for years."

Missile
Pakistan has been testing missiles
Mr Fischer offered a similar message. "It is true to say it sounds like a far away region, but the consequences would affect us directly," he said in relation to Kashmir.

Mr Straw said cross-border terrorism must end in the area, followed by "a de-escalation of military preparedness".

That must be followed, he said, by "a constructive dialogue to resolve this longstanding bilateral argument over this very beautiful but very benighted area of Kashmir."

Asked about newspaper stories over UK weapons sales to India and Pakistan, Mr Straw said there were a set of EU criteria on such sales to which Britain complies.

Mission possible?

He said decisions were made on each sale on a case-to-case basis.

The foreign secretary said he was realistic about what his mission to India and Pakistan could achieve but added: "Because we cannot do everything, that does not mean we should not do anything."

The crisis over Kashmir has overshadowed Mr Straw's visit to Berlin, where he is setting out his views on the future for Europe as the European Union prepares to welcome new members.

He said the key task now was for EU leaders to increase faith in the EU among "doubtful Europeans" and address fears about the loss of sovereignty.

It is a major challenge which the foreign secretary is putting high on his agenda as new states line up to join the EU.

Far-right

He said EU governments needed to persuade the public that enlarging the union will bring benefits in terms of jobs, political stability and economic growth.

Awareness of enlargement remains low, he said, while far-right parties had sought to capitalise on fears about crime and immigration

"We have to work together to convey a simple message; a united Europe will not be a superstate, but a Europe united across the old divide by common values and common identities," said Mr Straw.

The foreign secretary and his German counterpart are in agreement about the need for the EU to be more effective - "to redefine its place in the world," in Mr Fischer's words - but there are differences in approach.

In his speech, the German foreign minister spoke about "harmonising" the EU's approach to foreign policy - "a united Europe which speaks with one voice".

He said it would be wrong to "shy away" from harmonising EU foreign policy.

The UK foreign secretary opposes any move towards a common EU foreign policy formulated by the European Commission, a view put forward by commission president Romano Prodi last week.

Instead, Mr Straw sees the elected council of ministers as the key forum for decision-making on foreign affairs rather than unelected commissioners.

See also:

27 May 02 | South Asia
27 May 02 | UK Politics
16 Jan 02 | South Asia
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