Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100-106)|
7 MARCH 2007
Q100 Mr. Purchase: This is the last
question that you want from me on this, Mr. Chairman. Thinking
of the wider middle east and the number of different aspectsPalestinians
and so ondo you think that Iran and Syria have different
priorities, or are there a lot of similarities in the way that
they view their priorities in the middle east as a whole?
Patrick Seale: They are strategic
partners, as I mentioned, going back a long way. Of course their
geographic location means that they have different priorities
and different vital interests. Iran looks towards central Asia
and Afghanistan; it is interested in Pakistan. Syria is a Levant
state; its enemy is Israel. Iran's enemy for a long time was Iraq;
in fact, those two countriesIraq and Iran, or the empires
that were there beforefor the last 500 years have fought
countless wars and signed countless treaties. Of course Iran and
Syria have somewhat different priorities, but they are at one
today in responding to what they consider the pressures and threats
facing them from the Israelis and the United States.
Have we time to say a word about British
Chairman: We were going to come on to
that in the five minutes that we have left. I want to bring in
John Stanley briefly, then Fabian and Sandra.
Q101 Sir John Stanley: Do you think
that the Syrians militarily are out of Lebanon for good? Or do
you think that there are circumstances in which they could come
back in again?
Patrick Seale: I think that they
are out of Lebanon for good. I absolutely agree with what my colleague
said. Over the past six, seven or eight years the Syrians have
allowed the relationship with Lebanon to degenerate into criminality.
Now that needs to be cleaned up. They have got to put their relationship
with Lebanon on a sound and healthy basis. It does not mean that
they can be excluded from Lebanese affairs, but they do not need
their army there. They should have diplomatic relations, as Mr.
Shehadi mentioned, but the Lebanese in turn should recognise that
the Syrians have a vital security interest in Lebanon too. This
should be the basis of future relations.
Q102 Sir John Stanley: Out for good
or not, Mr. Shehadi?
Nadim Shehadi: I certainly do
not think that there is a possibility of the Syrian army going
back to Lebanon, but the criminality and corruption that we have
seen in the last six or seven years is continuing. The rule of
the Mukhabarat, the security services, which was continuous in
both Lebanon and Syria, has collapsed in Lebanon and remains in
Syria. I think that Syria feels threatened by this event, because
it can influence developments inside. What is now preventing that,
in a way, is the outside threat and the example of Iraq. The people
look at Iraq and see the chaos; they think that if there is any
change in the regime then this would happen in Syria in the same
way. That is right, but there is no doubt that the collapse of
that joint system in one place has sent a message in the other
direction that is a threat to the system in the long run.
Q103 Sandra Osborne: Can I ask you
about the role of the United Kingdom in relation to Syria and
Lebanon? How do the populations of Syria and Lebanon, and the
politicians, view the UK Government currently?
Patrick Seale: I am sorry to say
that Britain has been largely absent from the region politically.
You know better than I that the UK has focused much more on trade
relations and arms sales than on having a direct political influence
in these countries. There has been a very steep decline in British
influence. Of course, the fact that the Blair Government chose
to ally itself with the United States also means that they are
excluded from the region to a large extent. There is a fundamental
contradiction at the heart of British policy. Although Prime Minister
Tony Blair spoke repeatedlyso did Jack Straw when he was
Foreign Secretaryabout support for a Palestinian state,
living side by side with Israel and so forth, nevertheless Mr.
Blair allied himself with the neo-cons in America, close to the
Likud and totally against any form of Palestinian self-determination.
This is the contradiction at the heart of British policy.
Nadim Shehadi: I largely agree
with what Dr. Seale said, especially with regard to the blunders
that the Blair Government have made. It was a big mistake to stand
with the United States against the ceasefire in Lebanon in the
summer. On Prime Minister Blair's last trip to the region, Abu
Mazen, the President of the Palestinian Authority, tried to trigger
a double election for Parliament, which everybody knew was completely
illegal and unconstitutional and would be rejected outright. Mr.
Blair supported the idea too soon, when he was still in Cairo.
By the time he arrived, the idea had collapsed completely. It
did not seem as though he had a real agenda; it looked as though
he was trying to save himself instead of the middle east.
Q104 Sandra Osborne: When the Prime
Minister sent his senior foreign policy adviser, Sir Nigel Sheinwald,
to Damascus in October, did that not have any positive outcome?
What do you feel the UK Government's priorities should be now?
Patrick Seale: I have here a list
of things that I think the British should do.
Chairman: I hope that it is a short list.
There are other witnesses to come after you.
Patrick Seale: I am sorry to have
gone on too long. First, Britain should announce a firm date for
the withdrawal of its troops from Iraq. Secondly, it should make
a substantial contribution to the resettlement of the more than
4 million Iraqi refugees and displaced persons. Thirdly, it should
declare, as Norway and France have already done, that if Hamas
and Fatah form a national unity Government on the basis of the
Mecca agreement, it would favour lifting the embargo on the democratically
elected Hamas Government. Fourthly, Britain should declare its
firm support for the Arab peace plan of March 2002, which offers
Israel normal relations with all 22 Arab states if it withdraws
to the '67 borders. Finally, it should join other European states
in putting maximum pressure on Israel to negotiate peace with
the Palestinians and with Syria on the basis of UN resolutions
242 and 338. None of that has been done by the Blair Government.
Nadim Shehadi: I have one thing
that the UK should not do, which is do a backroom deal again with
the Syrian regime in the interests of stability in the region.
It has been tried before and it worries the Lebanese a lot that
the Syrian regime could offer the UK a lot of incentives in Palestine,
where it is blocking progress, in Iraq and in relation to Iran.
The only concession that the Syrian regime wants is a very minor
one: "Please forget about the tribunal and give us back our
influence in Lebanon. It is important for our security and it
is not a viable country in any case, so why should you care?"
That should be an absolute red line for British policy. My feeling
is that it will not happen.
Chairman: Thank you very much.
Q105 Mr. Hamilton: I should like
to pick you up on a point that you made earlier in relation to
Syria, Dr. Seale. You said that until 1993, Syria's No. 1 policy
was Palestine and help for the Palestinians. I think that that
is what you said.
Patrick Seale: I did not say that
it was to help Palestinians. I said that it was to put Palestine
at the top of its agenda.
Q106 Mr. Hamilton: Could you tell
me what Syria did to help the Palestinians and the possibility
of a state of Palestine, apart from supplying terrorist groups
Patrick Seale: It took in some
400,000 Palestinian refugees; it gave them access to education
and jobs; it treated them like ordinary citizens and put some
of them in the army; it defended the Palestine cause in every
international forum; it pressed for a resolution of the conflict;
and it started the negotiations at Madrid in 1991, as you know.
In a sense, that support stopped in 1993, when the Palestinians
did their separate deal, which, alas, came to nothing, as the
Syrians predicted. But now Syria is once again pressing for an
international conference to negotiate peace on all tracks, including
a negotiated peace between Israel and the Syrians, Lebanese and
Palestiniansno more playing one track off against the other,
but advancement towards a global settlement as provided for in
the Arab peace plan.
Mr. Hamilton: Thank you.
Chairman: Thank you very much, gentlemen.
I am afraid that we must stop there because we have another session
with our other two witnesses, who have been waiting patiently.
Patrick Seale: Thank you for inviting