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.

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.

Syria – We Don’t Want To Repeat The West’s Failure Over Bosnia

Mr Peter Hain (Neath) (Lab): We are all caught between horror at what is going on, and Britain’s and the west’s failure over Bosnia and not wishing to repeat that, but the only hope is to redouble the efforts that the Foreign Secretary has indicated he is pursuing with the Russian Government. Their strategic interests through their Mediterranean port in Syria and their other interests in Syria hold the key. Whether we like it or not, we are not going to achieve any progress by on the one hand encouraging the Russians to think that western intervention is yapping at their heels, and on the other hand thinking that just by berating them we are going to get any progress. The truth is that, whether we like it or not, we have to engage them and make them see that their own strategic interests will be advanced by resolving this problem, which probably only they can do.

Mr Hague: That is entirely the case that we are making. Of course we often make some criticism of their position, as they do of ours, in public but we have a good working relationship with the Russian leaders. I have discussed this many times and at great length, as the House can gather, with Sergei Lavrov and will no doubt do so again over the coming days. We will keep making exactly that case because, as we have been discussing over the past few minutes, all the alternatives to bringing about the full implementation of the Annan plan or something very close to it are extremely bloody and have unknowable consequences.