British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond stressed in an interview with Al Arabiya’s sister channel Al Hadath that the United Kingdom will not abandon its commitments to protect its allies in the Gulf Arab states and that it would stand against any threats that destabilizes the security of the GCC countries.
Hammond’s comments came after the Iranian deal was approved last month and Monday’s GCC talks with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Doha where GCC leadership gave their first public approval of the deal after several reservations and concerns regarding the agreement.
Q: Despite declaring the Iranian nuclear deal a success, there are concerns from your closest allies in the region, what assurances are there to address their concerns and in particular to security?
A: First of all nuclear deal with Iran is a good one, I am confident that it will put nuclear weapons beyond Iran’s reach, that was always our primary intention. But I also completely understand our partners and allies in the Arab Gulf who have a range of concerns about Iran’s behavior which go way beyond the nuclear issue.
I want to emphasize our commitment to standing with our allies and partners in the protection of their security and their territorial integrity against threat from wherever they come, including threats by state sponsored terrorists to their own territory.
Q: Can you really trust the Iranian regime bearing in mind what has been happening in the last few years with their interference in many countries in the GCC?
A: We have been very clear throughout these negotiations with Iran that there is a huge deficit of trust on both sides and that is why the agreement needed to be structured in a way that gave complete transparency to the inspection arrangement and strong reassurance about the verification provision.
But Iran’s historic pattern of supporting and sponsoring terrorist acts in the region has undermined any confidence in them as a partner and that confidence can be rebuilt over time by Iran taking a different tact.
Now, I cannot predict whether that happens or not, there are clearly voices inside Iran but we hope that as Iran re-engages with the international community as it becomes more of a player with more of a stake in the international community.
In doing so, it will hopefully modify its behavior in the region but we are not taken that on trust, we have reasserted, as have the Americans, our strong commitment to the defense and security of our GCC partners and we are backing that up by reinforcing and increasing the permanent presence of our military in the gulf.
Q: Do you envisage a wider positive role across the region, especially the conflicts in Iraq, Syria and Yemen, where Iran could offer a helping hand?
A: In time, if Iran chooses to re-engage with the international community and behaves as a responsible regional power, then of course Iran could be important and a positive influence in the region.
In the short term, there are areas where the campaign against ISIS in Iraq and Syria where our interests and Iran’s interests happen to coincide. That does not make us allies or partners but it does make us focus on seeking to achieve the same outcome in those particular conflicts.
Q: The U.K. believes in the national dialogue to get all factions in Yemen to sit together to get the country back to its feet, but can this be done while the Iranians are still supporting the Houthis while the country is facing chaos?
A: First of all, we do support the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen and we have continued to support the role of the Saudi air force through the network of long term agreement that the UK has with the royal Saudi air force, but there must also be a political dimension to this a lasting solution in Yemen that underpins the security of the Arabian peninsula.
There has to be a political solution and that has to involve all the legitimate political groups in Yemen, including the Houthis, but clearly that can only happen when external influences supporting insurgent groups are removed.
We understand why the coalition has acted in the way it has, but the urgent need now is to get everybody back around the table looking for a political way forward and in parallel, enacting immediate humanitarian aid to the crisis in Yemen because if Yemen descends into a humanitarian disaster, then we have instability on the Arabian peninsula for a generation or more and that is not in anybody’s interest.
Q: The international community and the U.K. has been criticized for allowing the situation in Libya to descend into chaos and that has allowed ISIS to have a foothold in North Africa. Do you still believe that the U.K. did the right thing to get rid of Qaddafi?
A: Yes I do, the Qaddafi regime was in the process of planning and executing genocide in Libya, the regime was despotic and it had harbored and supported international terrorists over many years. That regime had to go.
It is taking longer and it has been much bloodier than we would have liked or hoped to have moved to. What I hope now is going to for a better solution for Libya in the future with a government of national accord and we and our national European partners stand ready to provide technical, financial and security resources to support to that government as soon as it is in place, hopefully over the next couple of months to insure that it can secure control of the whole of Libya’s territory and start to tackle the problems that country is facing and to exploit the natural wealth which Libya has for the benefit of all Libya’s citizens.
Q: It has been five years now since the fighting started in Syria. Do you still maintain that Bashar al-Assad was responsible for letting ISIS grow and spread in Syrian and Iraq?
A: Yes, it is the brutality of the Syrian regime that Assad gave birth to ISIS and that regime must be removed if we are going to see a political transition that will allow peace and security in Syria in future and allow all those who oppose Islamist extremism to fight the real enemy Daesh.
Q: ISIS is a huge threat in the region, to the U.K. and the west in general. But why has the international coalition not achieved much?
A: The international community is doing a great deal but it needs to work with the Iraqi government with the gulf countries in the coalition to achieve this, it is not something that we can do on our own and it has to be a collaborative effort. We need to recognize that Daesh is an Islamist extremism threat generally and a threat to our security as well as a threat to the security of the gulf states and that is why we are working so closely together not only on conventional defense but in counter terrorism, counter cyber terrorism and other areas of security to strengthen our partners so we can work together in defeating the scourge of the Islamist extremism.SHOW MORE