In his first visit to Syria since taking Office the Foreign Secretary met President Assad and Foreign Minister Muallem.
Speaking after his meetings he made clear that Syria was an important country in the Middle East and spelt out why the UK needed to “engage with Syria on the urgent and dangerous issues confronting the region” by building a greater understanding of how to address these and cooperate more closely in the future. He said:
“We believe in a frank and active dialogue between Syria and the United Kingdom, notwithstanding the issues on which our governments have disagreed in the past and of course we may disagree in some respects in the future. And so one of my objectives in my meetings today was to listen, as well as to make clear the UK’s position”.
During his meetings the Foreign Secretary stressed Britain’s backing for a two state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and its “support for all those truly working towards a peaceful and lasting settlement” which must be “based on 1967 borders and involve a just settlement for refugees as well as Jerusalem as the capital of both states”. He also reaffirmed the UK’s opposition to settlements, which is rooted in international law, and the need for a urgent return to direct talks between the parties in the near future. On Syria’s role he said:
“We hope Syria will support efforts towards a comprehensive peace with Israel. We support the return of the Golan Heights to Syria, but also the fundamental right of Israel to live in peace and security”.
On Lebanon, the Foreign Secretary expressed concern about the current situation:
“The UK looks for a government that is formed in accordance with Lebanon’s constitution; that commands the broadest possible support of the people of Lebanon; that upholds its international obligations including the Special Tribunal and an end to impunity for assassinations. Above all it should be a government that is committed to restraint and the principle of non-violence, as well as a sovereign and independent future for Lebanon”.
The Foreign Secretary raised Iran’s nuclear programme and the policies of the Iranian government:
“We were disappointed that Iran refused during the Istanbul talks to engage with serious proposals put to them. In the absence of a willingness by Iran to engage seriously over its nuclear programme, peaceful and legitimate international pressure on Iran will only continue and intensify”.
The Foreign Secretary made clear the British Government’s “constant belief of human rights and political and religious freedoms” and pointed to “an opportunity for closer relations between Syria and the UK over time, if we can build greater understanding on these and other issues”. He described the visit as “a useful start in this process” and looked “forward to further exchanges in the future”.