Mr Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab): Will the Foreign Secretary correct me if I am wrong about the tortuous diplomacy over Geneva II? Iran’s participation is clearly essential to getting an agreement to end the catastrophic war. Iran knows that a transitional Government is the only way of doing that. On the other hand, it does not want to be seen to be abandoning its long-term ally, the barbarous regime in Syria. As we know from Northern Ireland, preconditions often kill the prospect of any negotiated solution. How will we resolve that impasse?
Mr Hague: The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right about it being a tortuous process, including over the past few days, but it should be possible for Iran to say what others, including Russia, are able to come to Geneva II and say—that our aim is to implement the objective of the Geneva I communiqué: a transitional governing body by mutual consent. It was not a precondition, but it was fair to expect Iran to come to the conference on the same basis as all other foreign states. The practical reality is that if it was not prepared to say that, it would have led to the collapse of the conference. It was clear that if it did not do that, we would not be going to Geneva II tomorrow.
Mr Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab): Does the Foreign Secretary agree that although his hard-headed but constructive response to the Iranian negotiations is the right one, if they do not succeed and the Iranians go back to Tehran without a deal, that will strengthen the Ahmadinejad-type hawks in Iran, so every opportunity must be taken to get that agreement while preserving the vital interests at stake? May I also ask about the Syrian situation? I worry about an apparent veto in advance as a precondition being struck by the opposition. Yes, they are willing to take part, but they seem to have imposed a precondition on that. Whatever the transition agreed—if there is one—I find it inconceivable that there will not be some elements of the existing regime in place, like it or not, in order to get an agreement
Mr Hague: On the latter point, let us remember that what is envisaged in the communiqué of Geneva I is a transitional authority formed from the opposition and the current regime, but by mutual consent, so when the right hon. Gentleman refers to elements of the regime in a transitional Government, yes, that is accepted in the transitional Government, but the composition has to be by mutual consent. As I was just saying to the shadow Foreign Secretary, I do not believe that the opposition, in setting out their view of that, are setting preconditions or an unreasonable position ahead of Geneva. It would be very, very surprising if they adopted any position different from that in the run-up to these negotiations.
On the first part of the question, I do agree broadly that there is a window of opportunity here for negotiations with Iran to succeed. That is why we are maintaining this pace of negotiations. With three meetings in the past month and another one planned for next week, we are not losing time in pursuing these negotiations.
Mr Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab): I support the Foreign Secretary in his efforts to build on the success on chemical weapons that has been achieved through negotiations by securing an early Geneva II conference. It is crucial to get the Russians, the Iranians and the Syrian Government there, along with our international allies and the moderate opposition. He may have to refuse to accept that recalcitrant, let alone jihadist, opposition groups can exercise a veto.
May I also ask the Foreign Secretary to schedule a full day’s debate on Syria on a substantive motion, because we have not had a chance to discuss Syria policy in detail, despite his admirably regular updates? A pre-agreed motion might afford the House an opportunity to unite around Syria policy, when in August we were divided on military action.
Mr Hague: Personally, I am entirely open to such a debate. The Leader of the House is here. I do not know whether he is open to it, given all the pressures on him, but he will have heard the legitimate point that the right hon. Gentleman has made.
The progress that we have made in setting an ambition to convene the Geneva II peace conference has involved working closely with Russia. It is the product of the five permanent members of the Security Council working together during the General Assembly. That is an important and welcome step on Syria, given the history of the past two and a half years.
Mr Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab): May I wish the Foreign Secretary every success in the attempt to remove chemical weapons from Syria? I am sure he will acknowledge, however, that they account for just 1% of all the casualties in this awful civil war. Will he use his influence to persuade the whole of the opposition, a significant part of which is opposed to the process now going on in the United Nations to resolve the chemical weapons issue, to come to the negotiating table, because it takes two to tango? It will be difficult enough getting Assad and the Russians and the Iranians lining up; it is essential that he use his influence to get the opposition willing to negotiate as well.
Mr Hague: I agree with the right hon. Gentleman. It is very important that the regime and the national coalition are ready to negotiate in a second Geneva conference on the basis of what was agreed at Geneva last year. A large part of the discussions that I had with the national coalition last week was that they must be ready to do that at any time, and that their own dissociation from the use of chemical weapons must be made as clear as possible. They received that message very, very strongly from me last week, and they will continue to do so.
Mr Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab): Can I take it from the Prime Minister’s statement that he now agrees that the Syrian civil war can only be ended not by military action but by a negotiated settlement, however difficult, involving the Iranians, the Russians and, yes, Assad too? Will he use his influence with the opposition forces, which have so far been unwilling to come to such a negotiation, to say that they must have ceasefires locally and access to humanitarian relief, and nominate people who will serve as Ministers alongside existing Government Ministers in a Government of transition to prepare for elections?
The Prime Minister: We would certainly encourage all parties to take part in the Geneva II talks when a date is set and they get moving. It is obviously in all our interests to see that political process work. The only point that I would make to the right hon. Gentleman is that at the same time it is absolutely right for the British Government and other like-minded Governments to stand up for the millions of people in Syria who want a future free from terror—a future free from Assad. We need to make sure that there is a Syrian opposition who are strong enough, both on the ground as well as diplomatically and politically, to do that.