EC nations vote for controls on weapon exports

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The Independent Online
THE European Parliament has adopted a resolution calling for an EC code of conduct on arms exports after an investigation in the Independent revealed that senior British government officials knew about illegal arms transfers to Iran. The vote is a step towards the ultimate deletion of article 223 of the Treaty of Rome, which says the EC has no direct competence in the field of arms exports and defence matters.

Meanwhile, the Secretary of State for Defence, Malcolm Rifkind, is flying to the Middle East today for talks with Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain. It is his first visit to the area since he moved to the Ministry of Defence. Informed sources and the MoD yesterday denied speculation that he was likely to sign a deal to sell 48 Tornado aircraft to Saudi Arabia, but admitted that he would try to create a favourable climate for exports of British equipment.

The Treaty of Rome is not due for discussion until 1996 and the resolution cannot be incorporated in Community law until then. But it will form a voluntary code of conduct influencing not only present EC members but also east European and other states considering joining the EC.

The motion, adopted on Thursday night, was prepared by the UK think-tank, Saferworld; its publication was brought forward after the disclosures in the Independent at the beginning of this month.

Saferworld, based in Bristol, said yesterday the European Parliament's acceptance of the amendment to the Ford report to the European Parliament's Foreign Affairs and Security Committee was 'a huge step forward - an amazing breakthrough in attempts to co-ordinate political activity on arms exports'. They seemed surprised by the speed with which it had been adopted.

They feared that a single European market would mean that arms could move freely within the EC and gravitate towards the countries with the least strict export controls, and thence to conflict and crisis areas. The Independent investigation showed that Portugal, with the EC's laxest controls, was cited as the 'end user' of British weapons which were subsequently exported to Iran.

On Thursday it is understood that the Portuguese Defence Minister discussed the Independent findings with senior Portuguese journalists.

Struan Stevenson, the communications director for Saferworld, said: 'We were greatly concerned that the single European market would turn the EC into an arms haven.'

Saferworld has circulated a draft 8-point code of conduct to MEPs. Now a sub-committee of the Foreign Affairs and Security Committee will draw up the EC code. It suggests that arms should not be exported to unstable regions, to states which abuse human rights or have excessive military spending, which sponsor international terrorism or which allow re-export of arms in violation of an end-user certificate.