2014: Making the Wheels of Diplomacy Turn

The Foreign Secretary, William Hague, gave a keynote address in Bahrain on 6 December at the opening dinner of the Manama Dialogue.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

The Foreign Secretary said:

“Your Royal Highnesses, my fellow Ministers, Your Excellencies, my Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen, it is a great pleasure to be here, for this the 7th Manama Dialogue that I have attended. I am very grateful to John, IISS and the Government of Bahrain for bringing us all together once more.

“I particularly thank His Royal Highness the Crown Prince of Bahrain. You have our warm and sincere respect not only as a great friend of the United Kingdom, but also for your leadership in your own country. As you, His Majesty and your colleagues work to build the long-term stability that Bahrainis deserve we will be a staunch friend to you: supporting the sustained, comprehensive reform you are seeking, and calling on all sides to play a constructive role in political dialogue.

“The relationship between the UK and Bahrain is historic, it goes back nearly 200 years to the East India company in 1816. It is deep, since thousands of British nationals call this country their home. And it has a great future, with new areas of cooperation developing all the time, such as the affinity between London as a global financial capital and Bahrain as a major centre of Islamic finance.

“One of our first decisions as a new Government in Britain in May 2010 was to reinvigorate British diplomacy in the Gulf and to reverse what we saw as the neglect by previous ministers of crucial relationships.

“It is my strong view that the UK and other Western countries must retain and also strengthen our commitment to stability in the Gulf. We demonstrate that commitment here in Bahrain, where thanks to your hospitality our Royal Air Force has flown from your skies for 70 years, our Royal Navy has patrolled in these waters for nearly 80 years, and British minesweepers, some of the most advanced in the world, are stationed here now, ready at all times to confront threats to the security of this region. We are extending our cooperation on defence and security with countries in the Gulf, deliberately and for the long term, encompassing cyber security and counter-terrorism as well our Armed Forces working together. We will remain solidly committed to intensifying and building up these links, based on common interests and the deepest possible mutual understanding.

“Today in Britain we now have far greater consultation with governments in this region on foreign policy, many more visits in all directions and a much more coherent effort to build up our economic links. Our bilateral trade in goods with the Gulf has increased by 30% in the last two years alone. Many people characterise the Middle East as a region of problems, but we know it as a region of immense achievement and opportunity as well. That is why we supported Dubai’s bid to host the World Expo 2020, and I congratulate His Royal Highness Sheikh Abdullah for the stunning and inspiring campaign that Team Dubai ran.

“Our stronger emphasis on the Gulf is part of our wider foreign policy in which we are building up and expanding Britani’s global presence: we are opening up to twenty new Embassies, we are forging new ties with the emerging powers, we are rediscovering old friendships, we are strengthening our Foreign Office and placing renewed emphasis on diplomacy and conflict prevention. We remain at the forefront of the vital discussions in the United Nations Security Council, where we will look forward after tonight’s vote to working with Jordan, and I congratulate our Jordanian friends on their election to the Security Council.

“2013 has been a year in which the importance and the value of diplomacy has been fully demonstrated. Together this year we have done our utmost to turn the wheels of diplomacy on the Middle East Peace Process, on Syria, and on Iran, all of which had been seized up and immobilized for years, and in the case of Iran for nearly a decade.

“Of course we all have different ways of contributing to these efforts and our own constraints, but that does not stop the overall impact we achieve together from making a huge difference. The ups and downs of decision-making in our own countries, such as in our own fierce Parliamentary debate over Syria in August, do not stop us playing our part in turning these diplomatic wheels, nor should the controversies of any one particular moment be thought of as a change in strategic direction.

“My message tonight is that having got these wheels turning after immense effort by so many nations in 2013 we must put our shoulders to them and keep them moving strongly in 2014.

“First, 2014 must be the year in which the promise of a two state solution is brought decisively within reach. I pay tribute to Secretary Kerry for his outstanding leadership in making the resumption of negotiations possible, and to Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas for having the courage to begin the process. Now it must not be allowed to falter, for if it does and facts on the ground continue to be created then the possibility of a two state solution could be gone forever. Courage and decisiveness is called for by both sides, and European Union and Arab nations must be ready to play our part, in providing incentives needed to reach a settlement.

“Second, we must make 2014 the year in which we turn the corner on the conflict in Syria. The agreements to eradicate Syrian chemical weapons and to set a date for the Geneva II Peace Conference on 22nd January have opened up a chink of light.

“Ending the Syria conflict will be an extraordinarily difficult task. It requires the parties themselves to decide that they have more to gain from negotiating than from fighting.

“But we have to try to make this a decisive year, for if we do not, we could face a humanitarian crisis of potentially unmanageable proportions. If current trends continue, over 4 million Syrian people could be refugees by the end of next year. That would mean a fifth of the population of the entire country out over its borders, ever more deaths, greater damage to Syrian society, more pain for women and minorities, and an even greater mountain to climb in ending the conflict. As it is, the international community is not keeping pace with the crisis. The UN appeal for Syria is 40% under-funded now, and is about to be increased again. We in the UK have donated £500 million in humanitarian aid and I call on other countries to play their full part at the donor conference in Kuwait in the middle of January.

“Moreover, if the conflict continues on its current trajectory, Syria itself could disintegrate and with extremism growing, creating ungoverned space in the heart of the Middle East, as well as further refugees and a greater risk from terrorism. Syria’s neighbours would be in the frontline of such a catastrophic deterioration in the conflict, but it would pose a serious potential threat to security in other parts of the world including Europe.

“Faced by these risks of the destruction of Syria and a regional humanitarian catastrophe, a political solution is overwhelmingly in the interests of the Syrian people and of the world. It would enable Syrians to unite and reclaim their country from those who are hijacking this conflict. It would create the basis for the recovery of Syrian society, with its roots in antiquity and its strong traditions of secularism and tolerance. It would mean the international community could put its resources into helping to rebuild Syria, rather than simply mitigating the refugee crisis without ever ending it.

“Because success ultimately depends on the parties themselves, pressure to make Geneva work needs to come from inside Syria as well as outside Syria. So on 22nd January both the regime and the Opposition have to go to Geneva ready to make the necessary compromises to start to negotiate an end to the conflict on the basis last year’s Geneva communiqué: the establishment of a transitional governing body with full executive powers, made up of the regime and of the Opposition, formed by mutual consent - which make it inconceivable that Assad and his close associates could play any role in the future of Syria.

“And third, 2014 should be the year in which we implement the Joint Action Plan we have agreed with Iran and succeed in negotiations on a comprehensive agreement.

“We recognise and welcome the change in tone and substance from the Iranian government on the nuclear issue. In my dealings with him, Foreign Minister Zarif has been sincere in his desire to reach a diplomatic agreement. We have to test the power of diplomacy to the full. The alternatives are Iran’s nuclear programme proceeding on its current path, or a serious risk of conflict with unknowable consequences for the region.

“What we agreed in Geneva last month was a strong interim agreement that halts and in some respects rolls back Iran’s nuclear programme in return for limited sanctions relief, and it sets out the principles of a final comprehensive agreement.

“It is only a first step, and we understand why some people have concerns. But it is undoubtedly a significant step towards enhancing the security of the whole Middle East. It is absolutely vital now that we ensure that the monitoring and implementation is strictly upheld on all sides, that we maintain the rigour of the bulk of sanctions that remain so that Iran has every incentive to reach a comprehensive agreement, and that we work hard on finding the solutions that will ensure that Iran does not build nuclear weapons and that its neighbours and the international community can trust the arrangements that will be put in place.

“I assure you that the agreement does not for us in the UK imply any diminution in the commitments of external powers to our alliances in the region, or to the security of its vital sea lanes, or to the struggle against terrorism. Engagement on the nuclear question should not mean a free pass for Iran on other issues in the region.

“Of course, none of these three issues should distract us from the wider challenges in the Middle East.

“In Libya, Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen, achieving stable political and economic reform, including representative and accountable governments, could be the work of a generation. The sickening attack in Yemen yesterday illustrated the extent of the security challenge. Those who aim to destabilise Yemen’s political transition must not be allowed to succeed. We have to continue to help our Yemeni friends through this, showing the same spirit of cooperation between Gulf and West, and going with the grain of local leadership and ideas. And I pay tribute to the work of the GCC and the leadership of Saudi Arabia.

“There is no alternative to the slow, painstaking process of building up independent institutions, creating economic opportunity and improving human rights and political participation in all these countries. We will continue to give practical support to these countries which have experienced revolution, while respecting those changing through evolution.

“This region of immense economic and social opportunity - a future powerhouse of the world - can only shine brighter if these wheels of diplomacy turn. So we must hope to make 2014 a year in which we turn the corner on the Syria conflict, bring a two-state solution to the Middle East Peace Process within reach, and make every effort to negotiate a comprehensive settlement with Iran on its nuclear programme. If we do all of these things, we will widen the chink of light that I spoke of earlier, and make a hugely significant impact on the future prospects not just for this region and all our friends in it, but for the peace and security of the whole world.

“Thank you very much indeed.”

Published 7 December 2013