Dr Fox visited Bahrain this weekend where he gave a speech at the International Institute for Strategic Studies Manama Dialogue 2010 summit during which he also reinforced that the UK Government and the international community would not tolerate an Iranian nuclear weapons capability.
Dr Fox said:
What happens in the Gulf region can have a direct impact on the national security of the United Kingdom, our prosperity and the safety of our citizens.
We have long historical connections with many countries in the Gulf but even the best friendships need to be supported by mutual self-interest. We must look forwards to a shared future.
The successful nations of today will be those facing outward and forward, not inward and backward. With economic security and national security inextricably linked, our approach must be one of necessary and beneficial partnership, not optional isolation.
Fortunately, we have many overlapping self-interests - in trade and energy security, in tackling terrorism and nuclear proliferation, in regional stability and a successful Middle East peace process. These are a strong basis for our future partnerships and why the United Kingdom is committed, and will be committed, to our engagement in the Gulf.
As head of the UK delegation, Dr Fox’s speech to foreign and defence ministers and chiefs of defence from around the world was just one element of his wider diplomatic engagement.
In addition to an audience with the King of Bahrain and many bilateral meetings, Dr Fox took part in a televised debate alongside Saudi Arabia’s Prince Turki Al-Faisal and Foreign Affairs Ministers from Bahrain and Yemen.
Iran featured heavily in discussions throughout the Dialogue, and Dr Fox set out clearly the UK Government’s position on the matter:
The UK Government and the international community do not have a dispute with the people of Iran but with a Government that seems intent on following a course which is in breach of international law.
Iran has a rightful place among the proud nations of this region, and indeed as a responsible member of the international community. But that role must be as a partner, not a problem.
Dr Fox welcomed next week’s talks in Switzerland of the permanent five members of the UN Security Council plus Germany, which are aimed at making a serious start towards resolving the concerns of the international community about Iran’s nuclear programme.
Dr Fox went on to emphasise that while an Iranian nuclear weapons capability would not be tolerated by the international community, a military solution was not the way forward. He said:
We want a negotiated solution, not a military one, but Iran needs to work with us to achieve that outcome. We will not look away, or back down.
Dr Fox also took time to visit the crew of HMS Enterprise, which for the past year has been working alongside the Omani Naval Survey Branch in the coastal waters of the Gulf of Oman to ensure safe passage for merchant vessels.
In his address to the crew, Dr Fox paid tribute to the 1,500 UK Service personnel working in the region, most notably those who are part of the UK’s sizable presence in the Gulf region. He said:
Our commitment to security in the Gulf is undiminished and is underpinned by the maintenance of our significant military contribution which enhances reassurance and deterrence in the region.
Working closely with our Gulf allies and the United States we will maintain the political will and military capability required to deter regional aggression and assist in the free movement of shipping up and down the Gulf.
The UK’s Maritime Component Commander in Bahrain, Commodore Tim Fraser, provides command and control for all UK naval assets in the region and is also the Deputy Commander of the Combined Maritime Forces under the US Navy’s Vice Admiral Mark Fox. Dr Fox met with both commanders and discussed the current security situation in the region. He said:
This level of engagement and involvement on the military and security front shows the priority we place on the Gulf and the region.
Undertaking training and exercises with our partners demonstrates our capabilities and forges trust, and here in the Gulf the UK has robust bilateral defence relationships. We will continue to enhance those relationships, and forge new ones, wherever we can. We cannot afford to disengage with one of the world’s most important strategic areas.