Syria – Transitional Government

Mr Peter Hain (Neath) (Labour): If, in the right hon. Gentleman’s answers to questions, I have detected a change of tone from the previous insistence on regime change above all else, may I welcome that? Will he explain his own view that what we are faced with is a civil war—a civil war not just at the present time, with around a third of the people backing the barbarity of Assad out of fear of something worse from Sunni domination, but the continuation of a civil war following a simple collapse of the regime? What we therefore need is his insistence on a transitional Government.

Mr Hague: Since I agree with the right hon. Gentleman about the need for a transitional Government, I do not want to disappoint him too much in respect of the start of his question. It is not that the western world has set out on regime change in Syria, but it is certainly our analysis, and it has been for a long time, that peace cannot be brought to Syria without the departure of President Assad. There is no viable peace; there is no peace that the people of Syria would accept without that. I am not changing tone or policy on that. The right hon. Gentleman is quite right about the need for a transitional Government. We agreed in Geneva at the end of June—with Russia, China and all other leading nations—about the need for that. What we do not have is the active participation of Russia in bringing about such a transitional Government.

Western policy on Syria is failing on a monumental scale

The only way forward for Syria is to broker a political settlement, in consultation with Russia and Iran.

Peter Hain The Guardian 22/10/12

Russia and Iran have been culpable, there has been a catastrophic failure of diplomacy by the west and its allies. UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon’s call for a ceasefire and an arms embargo is a welcome challenge to the west’s floundering policy. Britain, France and the US, as well as their allies, Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, need to recognise that neither side is going to win the civil war engulfing Syria. Nor will the Turkey’s call for western military intervention to halt the humanitarian disaster resolve the crisis. A political solution has to be the priority.

The Syrian leader, Bashar al-Assad, is reported to be willing to consider the proposal by the UN-Arab League envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, for a ceasefire for the four-day Eid al-Adha holiday on 26 October. The western powers and the Arab arms suppliers should urge their friends in the opposition to declare they will reciprocate if Assad makes good on his tentative promise.

Western demands for regime change were never going to work because this isn’t simply a conflict between a savage regime and the Syrian people. Assad and the ruling Shia-aligned Alawite minority form a tenth of the population and fear being oppressed by the Sunni majority. Christians and other minorities are similarly nervous. Together, those behind Assad constitute nearly a third of Syrians.

The war has also become a wider proxy for Sunni versus Shia, and Saudi Arabia versus Iran. There is also bitter suspicion at the west’s real intentions from Russia and China and their allies. They insist that they never authorised UN backing for military force to depose Muammar Gaddafi last year, and refuse to be “tricked” again. The Iraq invasion also poisons trust of the west. Libya today – its people at the mercy of warring militias and jihadist opportunists, the US ambassador assassinated – is hardly a good advertisement for repeating that regime-change recipe in more complex Syria.

David Cameron’s recent high-minded rhetoric at the UN general assembly ignored the presence of al-Qaida fighters among the west’s favoured rebels.Assad and the minorities and other popular forces that support him fear becoming victims of genocide, so will fight on. If the Syrian regime was somehow toppled without a settlement being in place, the country would descend into even greater chaos.

Russia is determined not to allow that anarchy, mainly because Syria provides its only Mediterranean port in the region. Iran also has key interests, malevolent or otherwise. Syrian refugees have already flooded into Turkey and Lebanon, the latter destabilised, with its police chief assassinated, and now plunged into a political crisis.

The only way forward is to broker a political settlement, with Russia using its leverage to ensure that Assad negotiates seriously. Without pandering to Vladimir Putin’s ruthless rigidity, engagement with Russia is critical – as is consultation with Iran. Otherwise a settlement will not happen.The guidelines for a political transition approved by the five permanent members of the UN security council at the Geneva conference in June still provides the best road map – but only if the US, the UK, Saudi Arabia and their allies drop their current stance and help to implement it.

However unpalatable, Assad may have to be granted immunity in order to get him to sign up and stop his barbarity. All state employees, including those in the armed forces, must be allowed to keep their posts, to avoid a repeat of the chaos caused by America’s de-Ba’athification in Iraq. A Yemen-type process may even figure. There, a hated president did not resign but did not stand for re-election. A coalition government of national unity could then prepare for Syrian elections, due in 2014.

The current British-American policy is failing on a monumental scale. Unless there is a radical change, all the hand-wringing and condemnation is either empty or hypocritical – or both.

UN recognition of Palestine

Peter Hain has joined a cross party group of other MP’s including the former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, who are campaigning in a move to see Palestine recognised as an independent state by the United Nations General Assembly due on September 27th.

Peter is an ardent supporter of a peace process where Israeli and Palestinian needs are addressed with equal measure, and a settlement is reached.  With a long standing record of working in politically divided nations such as Northern Ireland and South Africa under the apartheid, Mr Hain has with personal impetus witnessed the outcome of negotiations and peace settlements.

The parliamentary motion EDM 502 on UN Recognition of Palestine was tabled on Tuesday 11th of September and already has 64 signatures.  More are expected to sign before Parliament goes back into recess next Tuesday. It was conceived by Labour MP for Birmingham Northfields Richard Burden, and is designed to persuade the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, to back the motion for Palestinian statehood.

Labour leader Ed Miliband has already declared that he will support statehood for the Palestinians at the UN and there is widespread support among Liberal Democrat MPs.

Whilst Northern Ireland Secretary (2005-2007), Peter was instrumental in creating lasting political working relationships, which would pave the way to the decommissioning of the IRA’s armoury and military campaign.  He worked ceaselessly with both factions and found common ground through which both interests were represented.

‘I have long believed that the solution to the Middle East conflict is a settlement which both guarantees the security of Israel and enables an independent state of Palestine.  As a Minister I worked to support that objective.  But now uncompromising belligerence from the Israeli government coupled with intransigence and hostility elsewhere in the region, including from some Palestinian extremist groups, means such a settlement seems unlikely.  The world should therefore move to officially recognise Palestine as a state.  I am glad that the British Labour Party leadership takes the same view.’



Syria – Negotiated Settlement

Mr Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab): Instead of an obsession with regime change, why has the Foreign Secretary not been promoting a negotiated settlement, based on compromise, as all such conflict resolution is? This is not about appeasing Assad’s butchery, Iranian malevolence or Russian self-interest; it is about ending an horrific and deepening civil war, which is reverberating beyond Syria’s borders. Is this not the time to admit that there has been a catastrophic and monumental failure of western policy, and to change course?

Mr Hague: The right hon. Gentleman may wish to familiarise himself with the positions that we have been taking, in common with not only western Governments, but the majority of Governments in the world. Our position was the position of the 133 nations in the UN General Assembly that voted for the resolution of 3 August, with only 12 votes against. That position is to have a transitional Government in Syria, including members of the current Government and the current opposition, based on mutual consent. That is the compromise solution. If he wants us to make a further compromise with forces who have killed indiscriminately and oppressed the people of their country with appalling human rights violations, I can tell him that that we are unable to do.

EU Council

Mr Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab): Is the Prime Minister concerned that on Europe and the referendum he sounds more like John Major by the day?

The Prime Minister: What matters is doing the right thing. I think that there are two positions that do not make sense. First, unless you actually want to leave the European Union now, and some people do, an in/out referendum now is not the right answer. But ruling out, for ever and a day, any form of getting the consent of the British people for what I would call a fresh deal and a fresh settlement in Europe also does not make sense. This is a question that all party leaders are going to have to answer. We are providing the answer—the right hon. Gentleman’s party leadership will have to do the same thing.