UK seeks to engage Iran and Syria
LONDON: Britain said on Thursday it was continuing to engage with Syria and Iran, a message that cut across hardline warnings to both states from hawks in Washington.
“It is important to maintain the dialogue with both these countries,” Foreign Secretary Jack Straw told parliament. “Syria and Iran now have the chance to play their part in building a better future for Iraq.”
Straw said Foreign Office Minister Mike O’Brien would visit both countries shortly.
His statement jarred with those of hawkish US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who warned Syria and Iran last month not to meddle in the Iraq war and said on Wednesday that the United States had evidence Damascus might be helping relatives and supporters of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to flee.
Straw, who himself will visit the Gulf next week, said he had maintained a dialogue with Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi throughout the Iraq conflict.
“As for Syria, we hope that they will now take the opportunity to make a decisive break with the policies of the past and so contribute to a better future for the entire region,” he said.
US Vice President Dick Cheney said in a speech on Wednesday that the United States must “do whatever it takes” to defeat terrorism and must confront nations that support it. Iran and Syria are among seven nations listed by the State Department as state sponsors of terrorism.
Straw insisted that both Britain and the US would seek new United Nations resolutions to affirm Iraq’s borders, ensure fast humanitarian aid and endorse a postwar administration.
“We support the early formation of an Iraqi interim authority which progressively will assume the functions of government,” he said. “The coalition will need to work with the UN in establishing this body.”
Apparently unsatisfied by President George Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair’s pledge that the UN would play a “vital role” in post-war Iraq, Europe’s anti-war leaders France, Germany and Russia are holding a summit in St Petersburg at the weekend to discuss their next moves.
Critics fear an interim Iraqi government will be dominated by US officials and US-groomed Iraqi exiles, giving Washington undue influence.
“It is our guiding principle that as soon as possible Iraq should be governed by the Iraqi people themselves,” Straw said.
British troops are trying to keep the peace in Basra. Straw said his government was actively considering sending police advisers to help them. —Reuters