Minister confirms Iraq contract help

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The Independent Online
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Alan Clark, the former trade minister, has confirmed that he helped machine-tool manufacturers to 'get round' the government guidelines for exports to Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war.

Asked whether he had tipped off the manufacturers as to how to frame their export applications to get round the guidelines, he said: 'Yes and I did it for two reasons.

'First, I was minister for trade, so it was my job to maximise exports, despite guidelines which I regarded as tiresome and intrusive. Second, Iran was the enemy - it still is - and it was clear to me that the interests of the West were well served by Iran and Iraq fighting each other.'

The export guidelines for the duration of the Iran-Iraq war from 1980 to 1988 banned the supply of any lethal equipment to either side, but 'subject to that overriding consideration', allowed existing contracts to be fulfilled.

They added: 'We should not, in future, approve orders for any defence equipment which, in our view, would significantly enhance the capability of either side to prolong or exacerbate the conflict.

'In line with this policy, we should continue to scrutinise rigorously all applications for export licences for the supply of defence equipment to Iran and Iraq.'

Mr Clark later became defence minister responsible for procurement and was questioned by the Commons Select Committee on Trade and Industry about the supergun contract. Mr Clark told the Independent that his remarks, made to the Sunday Telegraph, had nothing to do with the Iraqi supergun.

Richard Caborn, the Labour chairman of the committee, said Mr Clark had confirmed what had been supposed. It is unlikely the committee will reopen its inquiry. It is moving on to fresh inquiries into trade with Europe, the aerospace industry and energy prices.

In a separate development, Mr Caborn has written to Michael Heseltine, President of the Board of Trade, to ask about the role of the intelligence services in the supergun affair. One of the key questions posed by the affair was whether the intelligence services had advance warning of the Iraqi attempts to build the long-range gun earlier than the Government had admitted.