Britain urged to push for arms trade curbs

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AN INFLUENTIAL foreign affairs think- tank has called on Britain to use its European Community presidency to restrict the international arms trade after an investigation by the Independent revealed that senior government officials knew about illegal arms transfers to Iran during the Gulf war.

Saferworld, which is supported by the Labour peer Lord Healey; a former British ambassador to the United Nations, Sir Anthony Parsons; a former Irish premier, Garret FitzGerald and the Liberal Democrats' foreign affairs spokesman, Sir David Steel, brought forward the publication of its eight- point code of conduct, because of the Independent's investigation, a spokesman said yesterday.

The code's publication also comes after the call by Sir Anthony for the five permanent members of the Security Council to vet all major arms transfers to the Middle East.

The group plans to lobby Conservative and opposition MPs at this autumn's party conferences to put pressure on the Government to place the code on the agenda at the EC Edinburgh Summit in December.

It believes Britain should use its presidency to persuade other member states to adopt the code as EC policy.

The German and Dutch governments have expressed support for the code, which researchers have been preparing for 12 months, a spokesman said last night.

The group also believes the code could be used to restrict arms transfers by eastern European countries hoping to join the Community. Czechoslovakia and Austria are leading weapons manufacturers that could be influenced in this way, Mr Stevenson said.

The code states that arms should not be sold to: any country or group at war, unless it is recognised by the United Nations as defending itself against aggression; any party which refuses international mediation; countries which threaten the security of their own people; sponsors of international terrorism; and countries which re-export to third countries in violation of end-user


The Independent investigation revealed that British companies exported arms to Iran via Portugal, falsely stating Portugal as the end-user of the weapons.

A Saferworld spokesman praised the role of John Major, saying the Prime Minister was the 'driving force behind the UN Arms Transfer Register, the most positive step taken so far towards co-ordinated action', but said more action was needed.

'The current crisis in the Balkans and the renewed tension in the Gulf present the UK with a telling backdrop for launching the code of conduct at the Edinburgh Summit in December. It would confirm Britain's place at the heart of Europe,' he added.

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