Foreign Sec Boris Johnson discusses changes in the Middle East with the Lords

Changes in the world right now.  A new US Prez, Brexit,  a resurgent Russia, terrorism, all mean the Middle East is more fragile.  These things affect the UK and the new International Committee want to know what Boris thinks.borislords2Global Britain.  Things have changed since Britain conquered 171 countries out of 198 in the UN.  Lord Curzon ran an empire 7 times bigger than Rome.

In 2017, we are going global and our vision is widening.  UK armed forces are deployed in 80 countries around the world, the French in only 8.  We leave a huge global footprint: “of the diplomats, traders, business people,  teachers, artists, aid workers born in Britain 1 out of 10 is living abroad. ” a)  We are in the front of the line with the Trump Administration,  Theresa May is the first PM to be received by the US Prez, and his affection for Britain bodes well for the relationship.borislords3b) Free trade has lifted billions out of poverty, Boris said, and Brexit means we have the potential to be the number 1 agitator and campaigner for free trade.

c)  We  have huge “soft power”. Our country has huge cultural influence.

Lord Hannay then raised questions about the attitude of the new Prez to torture, the UN and NATO. BJ replied, there were no official policy changes or announcements and our PM has made our position on torture very clear.

Situation in the Middle East.  The Foreign Secretary said the ME is in turmoil, with each area having individual problems.

Syria and Russia.  Russia is not resurgent economically nor is the population growing said Boris.  But Russia has interfered a lot in Syria, supporting Bashar al-Assad, leading the talks and causing the current ceasefire, to their credit.  They have facilitated or even taken part in many brutal bombardments.  In 2013, the House of Commons refused to honour its commitment on chemical weapons, leaving the field open to Russia.

Boris said the way forward would be a political solution, involving a democratic election.

Baroness Helic then raised the question of the Dayton Peace Accords, for details see Q137 of the record of this meeting.

East of Suez.  We are back East of Suez, said Boris and military investment in the Gulf region alone is the second biggest outside NATO.  3 billion over 10 years.  The Gulf is our biggest growth market.  There is also a British presence in the Far East and in S E Asia.

Growth of Russian influence.  Lord Reid pointed out that the Russians, as well as in Syria, are also in Libya. They played a brokering role between Saudi Arabia and Iran over the oil discussions. How will increased Russian influence affect us in Syria, Libya, the Gulf States and Iran?

Boris replied the House of Commons decision in 2013 not to take action against Asssad re. chemical weapons was a game changer.  It persuaded the US not to take action against Assad, which allowed in the Russian intervention.

The need for balance.  The Russians are involved in cyberwarfare, even a possible assassination in Montenegro, have taken over the Ukraine and been involved in brutal action in Aleppo.

But we are not in a new Cold War.  We cannot demonise the Russians, push them away and not talk to them.  We need to accept they achieved a ceasefire, that could lead to a political settlement that might lead away from Assad.  It’s vital to be open minded.

In Libya, the two sides, east and west need to come to a solution for the good of the country.  It is hoped that General Haftar could be persuaded he could be part of Libya’s future without having to be the new jefe.  Talking to the Russians and the Egyptians about it could be a way forward.

Putin and Russia.  We must be vigilant about Russia plainly Putin has revanchist feelings.  He believes the end of the Soviet Union was “the biggest catastrophe of the 20th century.”  Boris sees the liberation of Eastern European people as a triumph.  We need to show vigilance, toughness, firmness to Russia, particularly re. Article 5 of the NATO treaty and in defending other NATO members, but we also need to keep communicating.

Boris accepts the Russians and Putin want respect, but believes they should still be treated with caution and firmness when they behave very badly indeed.

Ban on refugees.  The Foreign Secretary said he was not aware of any such order and rather than get into a hypothetical discussion,  better to see what the proposals are.

FO budget.  Boris said that his predecessor, Philip Hammond,  agreed that the FO budget was too low and as he was now Chancellor, an increase was likely.

How will Brexit affect NATO. Boris said we are the second  biggest funder overall and even one of the biggest per capita funders of our defence. We believe strongly in NATO as a defence of the West.  NATO needs to keep refreshing its game.  The French say there should be no Euro army, nothing to undermine NATO and nothing that could be construed as protectionist or putting up barriers in any way.

Boris is considering foreign policy co-operation with the EU in a completely new way.  We are such a mass contributor to the European defence and security economy, all 27 members can see advantages in staying closely plugged in.

Israel.  In December,  Britain supported the UN resolution, which amongst other things, called for a halt to Israeli settlement activity.  This week, Israel approved 2,500 new settlements on the West Bank.  Prior to that, 566 settler homes in Jerusalem were approved.  Toby Ellwood says these decisions were contrary to international law.  What steps should the British Government and the international community take to try to get the peace process back on track.?

Boris thought that Resolution 2334 was balanced. He pointed out that the settlements do make things more complicated, and impede a resolution.  Boris thinks that 2334 does include important new language about the effect of Palestinian terrorism and the very real fears of the Israelis.

The Palestinians need to stop terrorism and bring their radical groups under control.  People have known for some time what the broad outlines of a settlement could be and how land swaps could produce a two state solution.

A new approach from the Trump White House might break the logjam.

Lord Grocott said “At the moment, PM Netanyahu and the Israeli government can do anything  They basically suit themselves about what they do and know they will suffer no penalty at all.”

Boris said he was a supporter of the state of Israel and did not believe that was true, because the Israeli people live daily with the threat of terror.

Lord Wood asked why Britain refused to support the two state solution in Paris last week. Boris replied that Res. 2334 more acclaimed in Gaza than in Israel. Diplomatic posturing was aimed at the runup to various elections at the time.

Syria and Assad. Prez. Trump wants to eradicate Daesh.  He intends to prioritise the defeat of ISIS, possibly with the aid of the Russians. Boris said we are already heavily engaged with the US, in attacking Daesh in Iraq.  Almost 1,200 sorties have been flown. The aim is to remove Daesh from Raqqa.

Assad managed, with the Russians to get Daesh out of Palmyra.  However Assad is not strong enough to maintain his position there and Boris thinks this is one of the tragedies for humanity.

Boris wants a negotiated solution, he wants Assad deposed, but is open minded how and when that happens. We are not involved in current peace talks in Astana, because we opted out of the action in August 2013.

Fighting in Syria with the  Russians and Assad.  When asked if Britain would consider fighting Daesh in Syria with Putin and Assad to get rid of Daesh, the Foreign Secretary said this might look like they were switching sides. Were Britain to forge an alliance with Putin and Assad, it would have very grave consequences for Britain’s reputation.

Boris said the position in Syria has catastrophic and British failures can be traced back to our failure to get involved in 2013. We played ourselves out of the game.

Baroness Smith said Do I understand you are saying that the Government’s position is that they are keener to get rid of Assad than to defeat Daesh?

The Foreign Secretary said No, he did not mean that, but no alternative right now looked very hopeful.

The alternatives that Boris outlines are explained under Q144.

The JCPOA Iranian nuclear deal.  President Trump has described this as the worst deal ever made.  The Lords would like Boris to persuade the President not to renege on this deal.  Boris has already made his opinion clear to the Trump Administration.  Improving relations with Iran is a good thing, and this deal is regarded as one of the achievements of the Obama administration.  Boris said he was prepared to make the case to Congress.

Suspending arms exports to Saudi Arabia. Boris said “To be fair, while there have been some atrocious incidents, the Saudis have been very heavily scrutinised and they have done a great deal to try to satisfy us that they are taking steps to make sure that nothing of that kind can happen again. For instance, on the use of cluster munitions, the BL755s, we have not exported one of those for a very long time. Since the admission by the Saudis that they had been used, they have undertaken not to use them again.”

Yemen:  Lord Wood pointed out there have been 10,000 civilian deaths in Yemen.

Boris replied:  “You are absolutely right to draw attention to the scale of the humanitarian suffering in Yemen. We want that suffering to stop. It is also the case, however, that there is an illegitimate Government, supported by the Houthis, in Sanaa. The coalition is widely drawn and has our support in trying to restore the legitimate Government of President Hadi. Yes, we want peace in Yemen and, yes, I think that it is a catastrophe, but I do not believe that any UK action on export licences will affect that process. That process needs to be driven by dialogue between the Houthis, the Saudis, the Emiratis, the Americans and ourselves, as it has been. If you ask me whether I am deeply concerned about the humanitarian situation in Yemen, yes, I certainly am.”

Daily Telegraph article says Saudis are in Yemen to bring peace to the region.

Conclusion:  The Chairman: Foreign Secretary, you have been very patient. You have answered our questions extremely clearly. We value your visit to us enormously. We hope that this new Committee will have the pleasure of seeing you over the years on a regular basis in view of your grasp of these matters, which is exceptional.  We would appreciate that. Thank you for coming.

Rt Hon Boris Johnson MP: My pleasure. If you thought that I was speaking clearly, then I have obviously totally failed in my mission.

One response to “Foreign Sec Boris Johnson discusses changes in the Middle East with the Lords

  1. Pingback: Boris Johnson is a fighter. His rivals hide in the dark | CYBERBORISjohnson

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