The Liaison Committee of British Parliamentarians posed multiple questions to Prime Minister David Cameron this week, focusing primarily on UK’s intervention in Syria, immigration measures relating to “potential extremists”, Britain’s inadequate flood defences and how Britain’s domestic energy policies will contribute towards the overall objectives of COP21.
Cameron was optimistic about the upcoming UN-sponsored Syria peace talks on 25 January between the Syrian Opposition and the Bashar Al Assad regime, but he also warned that to get “Iran and Saudi Arabia in the same room” was difficult.
MP Crispin Blunt asked if Saudi Arabia was seeking to drive Iran out of the International Syria Support Group and out of the more constructive place that it is trying to find in the international community. Cameron replied that Saudi Arabia had “a great interest in a more stable Syria and in a Syria that can have a government which represents Sunnis as well as Shias”.
Blunt continued to ask if the Syrian Kurds, in the form of the Syrian Democratic Council, who co-operate most closely in military terms but do not have a seat at the table, would be included in the talks. He also expressed concern about the Turkish government’s fight with the PKK in the wider interest establishing the framework to effectively take on the Islamic State of Syria and Iraq (ISIS), or Daesh. He asked the PM for his reading of Turkish policy and Turkish intentions, just how much good faith should the UK place in Turkey’s commitment to getting talks and a settlement underway. Cameron insisted that Britain would do everything to convince the Turkish government that the enemy is Daesh and that the Kurds have a great role to play in Iraq and Syria.
Cameron also said that Turkish Prime Minister Ahmed Davutoglu and President Recep Tayyep Erdogan have concerns about past, present and future Kurdish-inspired terrorism, but to say that they are not fully committed to ridding Syria of ISIS was not fair.
MP Dr Julian Lewis asked the Prime Minister about the government’s determination to see Assad and his regime removed and if the invasion of Iraq and the removal of Saddam Hussein was a terrible mistake. The PM agreed that there were important lessons to learn about what had happened after the Iraq invasion.
Lewis suggested: “The lesson is that sometimes you can remove a very brutal dictator and end up with a worse situation. Arguably, some might say, the same thing has happened in Libya.” Lewis went on to ask whether Cameron accepted in principle, if there isn’t a choice between a brutal secular dictator and a totalitarian Islamist alternative, it can make sense to leave a brutal secular dictator in place. Cameron said “…it is impossible, in my view, to envisage a situation in which Assad stays in power and Syria is not a threat to our national interest.”
There followed a lengthy debate about the identity of the “70,000 moderate rebel fighters” being withheld. Lewis wanted details about the composition of the allegedly moderate forces that UK is conducting air strikes to support. Cameron said on this that all the representatives of these said rebel groups had turned up at the Riyadh conference held recently and that they had also signed up the Geneva principles. But some, said Cameron, did belong to hardline Islamist groups, nonetheless, they were the best estimate of the people that the UK has to work with. Cameron is intent on looking for “…a third way. It should involve of course people, perhaps Alawites, perhaps even who have taken part in the state run by Assad…”