Evidence heard in Public

Questions 1 - 97



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Oral Evidence

Taken before the Foreign Affairs Committee

on Tuesday 16 July 2013

Members present:

Richard Ottaway (Chair)

Mr John Baron

Sir Menzies Campbell

Ann Clwyd

Mike Gapes

Mark Hendrick

Mr Frank Roy

Sir John Stanley

Rory Stewart

Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Rt Hon William Hague MP, First Secretary of State and Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Sir Simon Fraser, Permanent Under-Secretary, Foreign and Commonwealth Office and David Quarrey, Director, Middle East and North Africa, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, gave evidence.

Chair: May I welcome members of the public to a sitting of the Foreign Affairs Committee, one of our twice yearly evidence sessions with the Foreign Secretary? We last held a session with him in this series in September 2012. Since then, much has happened, and we want to focus today on developments in the Middle East plus Afghanistan. In the Middle East, we have seen the overthrow of the Government in Egypt, the presidential election in Iran as well as the ongoing conflict in Syria. Foreign Secretary, welcome. Thank you very much for coming today.

Mr Hague: Thank you.

Chair: May I also welcome your two colleagues, David Quarrey, who is the Director of the Middle East and North Africa, and Sir Simon Fraser, who is Permanent Under-Secretary in the Foreign Office? On behalf of the Committee, Sir Simon, may I congratulate you on your honour?

Hon. Members: Hear, hear.

Q1 Chair: Foreign Secretary, compared with the situation a year ago, when we completed our Arab Spring report, have you had to expand or reorganise your Middle East directive because of the ongoing crises in the region?

Mr Hague: Yes, we have brought in a lot of expertise on the Middle East and North Africa. From time to time, we have to reinforce that. In fact, David Quarrey’s holding of his position-I will try to spare his blushes, but he is a highly regarded civil servant-shows the importance that we give to this, and we are taking steps at the moment to increase the number of senior diplomats who are working on these issues in the Foreign Office. I think this is an area that has occupied a large proportion of ministerial time over the last year, and an increased proportion of official time.

Q2 Chair: May I turn to the situation in Syria? I hope you have had a chance to look at the article in The Daily Telegraph this morning, which is tucked away on page 14. It is a report from Syria of the top rebel commander accusing the Government of betrayal after the Prime Minister abandoned plans to arm the Syrian opposition. The report says, "Downing Street confirmed last night that Mr Cameron had ruled out arming the opposition on advice from the British military." Is that an accurate report?

Mr Hague: No. There has been no change in the Government’s policy on this. As you know and as I have said to the House many times, we have made no decision to send arms to the Syrian opposition. As I and the Leader of the House have made clear, if we did, we would present it to the House for a vote on a substantive motion. Equally, we have not ruled out any option. None of us can foresee exactly how this crisis will develop. We have not ruled that out. We have taken no decision, but we have not ruled anything out. Any reports that say we have ruled anything out are not correct.

Q3 Chair: On those last two words, "not correct", as far as you are concerned, Downing street did not confirm that-that you had ruled out arming the opposition on advice from the military?

Mr Hague: Well, reports that we have changed our policy are not correct, and if they were confirmed by Downing street, that is not correct.

Q4 Chair: That is helpful. It means that we have a long line of questions for you. Can we look at the nature of the opposition? In your understanding, is the interim Government of the Syrian national coalition providing security, services and governance on the ground in areas of Syria controlled by the opposition? As you realise, that is a legal requirement before any intervention can take place.

Mr Hague: They are trying to do so-David Quarrey may want to come in on this-in very difficult circumstances, as the Committee will appreciate. They are trying to make sure that people can have access to services, that humanitarian supplies can be given out, and that structures of local government and policing are established in areas where the regime no longer has any effective control. We are going to give them additional support to do so. As you know, we have announced several packages of practical assistance to the national coalition. We will give them further packages of assistance, adding up to about £20 million in the coming financial year. One of the things I wanted to say to the Committee is that we will enlarge that part of the conflict pool that is dedicated to the Middle East and North Africa from £39 million last year to £81 million in this financial year.

That is partly to help with civil society and the activities of the national coalition in Syria. It is also partly to provide funding to help stability on the Lebanese border, which I know the Committee has looked at, and for Jordan as well. The total funding package is quite substantial. That will include assistance in these areas, which they try to do but with which of course they sometimes struggle. David, would you like to amplify that?

David Quarrey: It is exactly as the Foreign Secretary says. It is a mixed picture across different parts of, particularly, northern Syria. In some areas, the national coalition has had a greater ability to deliver on the ground, but they are doing so under very difficult circumstances and under great military pressure from the regime, and also with extremist groups operating in some of those areas too. We have tried to expand our support through the coalition’s assistance co-ordination unit, which is based in southern Turkey, and which is the part of the coalition that is trying to improve its delivery of basic services on the ground, but it is a very mixed picture still.

Q5 Chair: For the record, Foreign Secretary, we discussed your latest supply of equipment to the Syrian opposition, and I can confirm that we will not be objecting to it, although there were one or two reservations-

Mr Hague: This is the assistance with chemical attacks.

Chair: Yes, and I am grateful for your letter, which we had this morning. Sticking with what is going on on the ground, does the involvement of Hezbollah fighters on the pro-Assad side make a difference to the balance of military forces in the region?

Mr Hague: It has made a difference. We saw that very visibly make a difference in the regime-sponsored attacks on the town of Qusayr, near the Lebanese border. These were, we believe, thousands of Hezbollah fighters, probably under Iranian command, and they made a difference to the situation on the ground. After all, Hezbollah has a large number of disciplined and sometimes experienced fighters. So there has been foreign intervention in Syria, but that intervention is by Iran and by Hezbollah. That is not to say that it makes a decisive difference in all parts of Syria. The regime has, with Hezbollah support, attacked in that particular area, on the Lebanese border. As is well known, they are currently attacking in Homs.

There have been reports of military manoeuvres around Aleppo and preparations for fighting there, but in other parts of Syria, it is the opposition that sometimes make progress on the ground or launch counter-attacks. In many other parts of Syria, the writ of the regime no longer runs, as we have just been discussing, so the intervention of Hezbollah, with Iranian support, has certainly assisted the regime on the ground, but we should not conclude from that that the fighting is near an end or that the regime is near to victory in all areas.

Q6 Chair: Do these interventions strengthen your resolve to intervene?

Mr Hague: Our resolve is to promote a political solution, to save lives where we can and to protect the national security interests of this country. We have not made any decision about our own intervention, as we have just been discussing. It should strengthen our resolve to do what we can in different ways with different countries to ensure that a legitimate, non-sectarian, democratic opposition cannot simply be eradicated. The United Kingdom is trying to assist with that in the range of assistance that has come through this Committee and which we have announced in Parliament-a range of non-lethal assistance and technical assistance and advice. Clearly, there are other countries that are providing direct military-direct lethal-support. I think it is right for us to do what we can to bolster the opposition and to save lives in a situation where, otherwise, they are up against a regime using every possible weapon and foreign intervention against them.

Q7 Mike Gapes: I want to take you back to the letter that you have sent to us and the report in The Daily Telegraph, which you said is not accurate. According to your letter, you are going to supply chemical protection equipment to the Supreme Military Council. This is the first time, I think, in any Government communication, that you have talked about giving assistance to the Supreme Military Council, rather than more general Syrian opposition or the national coalition. I know it is the Supreme Military Council of the Syrian national coalition, but is the fact that you are specifically supplying it of any significance?

Mr Hague: It is not a change-I would not read too much into that. This is a part of the national coalition, so there are alternative ways of expressing it if given to the national coalition. If we are giving them this equipment, it is bound to be allocated by the national coalition through their Supreme Military Council. I do not think there is any reason for us to hide that or phrase that differently.

Q8 Mike Gapes: Is the person in charge of the Supreme Military Council General Idris, a head of the Free Syrian Army, or is it somebody else?

Mr Hague: Yes, General Idris is the head, and is their commander.

Q9 Mike Gapes: And it is General Idris who is quoted in The Daily Telegraph denouncing the British Government for betraying them in a story this morning. Is the decision to supply this chemical protection equipment some kind of sop or gesture to the Free Syrian Army, pending an imminent decision to supply them with more lethal equipment, or as an alternative to supplying them with more lethal equipment?

Mr Hague: No. In my statement in the House last week, I referred to the fact that we were looking at assisting with this sort of thing. As you know, we have given them a whole range of help, all of it declared to Parliament: armoured 4x4 vehicles, body armour, generators, communications equipment, water purification kits, training for human rights activists and so on. This is the latest equipment that we can provide that we think can help save lives and help that legitimate opposition, as we regard it, not to be eradicated by the regime activities we have just described.

It is not related to any article in any newspaper, The Daily Telegraph or otherwise. Whatever the general is quoted is saying in newspapers, he is also very appreciative, I can tell you, of the help that the United Kingdom has provided, that has saved and will save many lives in future.

Q10 Mike Gapes: Can I take it then that this chemical protection equipment is supplied because you believe that there is a good chance that there will be a war-fighting situation within a chemical environment? If so, is that because you believe that the Assad regime is using, or has used, or will use, its massive chemical weapons stocks? Or do you think that perhaps some of the rebel forces have captured some of those chemical stocks, so you need to provide protection to those rebel forces who might be using chemical weapons themselves?

Mr Hague: It is because of the former in your two-part question. From everything that we have seen, we believe that the Assad regime and its supporters have used chemical weapons. You will also have seen the comments by the French and American Governments on this. Indeed, we and others have asked the United Nations to investigate, and we believe sarin has been used on a number of occasions. It is impossible for us to say how many. I believe that the Assad regime, given the pattern of events, has at some stage over the last six months or a year given authority for the use of chemical weapons in a small-scale, localised way, but in a repeated way.

Q11 Mike Gapes: Do you have evidence for that, or is it just a belief?

Mr Hague: This has clearly happened on quite a number of occasions, in a system where people do obey orders. Indeed, it seems unlikely to us that it would happen on a number of occasions without the order being given.

Q12 Mike Gapes: You are saying that Assad himself and the top military have given authorisation for the use of chemical weapons on a systematic basis. Is that what you are saying?

Mr Hague: I think the regime has. I am not able to identify who in the regime, but we have evidence of the repeated but small-scale use of chemical weapons, particularly sarin. So yes, I do think that. I think it is important for the UN investigation team to have access to all potential sites in Syria, and to be able to look at all allegations. On the second part of your question, we in the British Government have not seen any evidence of the use of chemical weapons by any opposition groups. Of course, we cannot know what has happened in all parts of Syria, but we have not seen any such evidence of that. Given our emphasis on saving lives if we can in this conflict, I think-and I am grateful to the Committee for giving their approval for this-that it is appropriate to provide some defence against the use of chemical weapons.

Q13 Mike Gapes: One final question on this. The giving of chemical protection equipment to soldiers on the battlefield could of course act as some kind of false multiplier of impact if they have already been receiving weaponry, either from the Qataris or the Saudis, or if they are using captured weaponry from the Syrian Government’s stocks. In a way, are we not already making a shift towards involvement on the battlefield, by assisting people who have got the lethal equipment from elsewhere, but giving them the ability to use it in a chemical environment?

Mr Hague: No. Of course, I can see how one could make that argument about a range of things that we have provided: body armour or armoured 4x4s. Those are all types of equipment that save lives. David, did you want to comment on that?

David Quarrey: This equipment allows people to leave a battlefield where it is assumed chemical weapons or agents have been used. It is not kit that will allow people to remain in a situation like that and continue fighting, as I understand.

Mr Hague: These are escape hoods. They are different from gas masks that you would expect forces attacking with chemical weapons to use. Back to my earlier answer, given that we have seen no evidence that chemical weapons have been employed by the opposition and that in the meetings that I have had with opposition leaders, including recently in Istanbul and Amman, they have declared and committed themselves to a dramatically more responsible policy on chemical weapons than the Assad regime-indeed, that a future Syria should abide by international responsibilities on chemical weapons-I think it is appropriate to provide equipment of this kind.

Q14 Mr Roy: Foreign Secretary, today we learned that the Prime Minister’s election strategist and co-ordinator, Lynton Crosby, has links to the Syrian National Council through lobbying work done by his company, Crosby Textor Fullbrook, on its behalf. Is it not worrying that that has been allowed to happen? Can you confirm to the Committee that neither you, the Prime Minister nor any official has spoken to Mr Crosby about Syria?

Mr Hague: I think you are way off the substance of the matter with a question of that kind, Mr Roy. I have not discussed this with Mr Crosby ever in any way. We have plenty to discuss about defeating the Labour party at the next general election. We have not discussed Syria policy; that does not feature in that. This is part of our foreign policy, not our election strategy. Our policy on this is made by Ministers in the National Security Council or in other ministerial meetings, all of which are minuted and recorded for the future. Even if it just the Prime Minister and I discussing it together, it is properly minuted, a departure from the practice of the previous Administration.

Q15 Mr Roy: Does it not worry you that Mr Crosby’s company worked for the Syrian National Council for six months, and lobbied the media? Do you not see any correlation or worry between Lynton Crosby, his company, the Syrian National Council, and now finding out that extra money has been given to Syria in relation to this?

Mr Hague: No, is the blunt answer. First, I am not aware of any such links. I am not saying there are not but I am not aware of them. They would not feature in my decisions as Foreign Secretary at all, and they have not featured in my decisions as Foreign Secretary. Remember, I support-and this country supports-the legitimate, democratic, moderate opposition in Syria. We want there to be a legitimate, democratic opposition.

Q16 Mr Roy: I do not doubt that. No one in this room will doubt you on that. I certainly would not disagree with you. What does worry me is the fact that such an important strategist to the Prime Minister has this relationship with the Syrian National Council at a time when we are now giving more money, and you were not even aware of the background to the companies that were lobbying on behalf of the Syrian National Council. That is very worrying, if you say that you were not aware of it.

Mr Hague: I don’t think it is remotely worrying. It is not a factor in our decision making. I can only assume that raising such issues is to distract attention from the trade union funding scandals of the Labour party.

Q17 Sir John Stanley: Foreign Secretary, as you know, the recent final report by the panel of UN experts reporting on the implementation of the resolution on Libya reported on the extent of the dispersal of the Gaddafi Libyan arms stockpile. It reported that since security in Libya broke down, that stockpile has now been dispersed over a huge area ranging from West Africa to North Africa, through the Sahara and into the Levant and specifically to Syria. Given the experience of what happened to the Gaddafi Libyan stockpile to which the UK made a contribution-and given also that in this part of the world arms are seen not merely for their military value but also for their monetary value and are seen as tradable items-is it not the case that if the British Government undertake the supply of lethal military equipment to the opposition in Syria, there can be absolutely no certainty that that equipment is going to remain in the hands of those to whom it is sent?

Mr Hague: This would be one of the factors to consider. If the Government were to make any decision to try to do so or Parliament was to debate it, which it would have every opportunity to debate, I imagine those concerns would be part of the questions that would then be raised about that and part of the arguments against giving any arms to anybody. It has not been our approach so far to send arms into any of these conflicts in the Middle East. We intervened directly ourselves in Libya under a UN resolution, but we did not supply arms during the Libyan conflict to any of the parties to the conflict.

Q18 Sir John Stanley: But a substantial amount of British arms were supplied by the previous Government and by the present Government, right up to the start of the Arab Spring.

Mr Hague: Before the conflict, yes, absolutely, but as distinct from during the conflict. We haven’t supplied arms to anybody during any of these conflicts and we have taken no decision to do that in Syria. As I have said to the House, it is a classic foreign policy, and indeed ethical, dilemma. In the argument about arms supplies there are perfectly legitimate arguments on both sides and, partly in recognition of the force of these arguments, our support is of the nature I have described earlier to the Committee, and that we have reported to Parliament. So we have taken no decision about arms. Of course, the argument that it is hard to control what happens to them is one of the arguments against and I have said that if we were to do so it would have to be in conjunction with other countries, in carefully controlled circumstances and in accordance with national and international law. I think all of those things would be very important criteria.

Q19 Sir John Stanley: On another dimension on Syria, I was with the NATO Parliamentary Assembly’s Defence Committee in Washington last week and we were told that members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard are being flown into Syria in support of Assad’s military forces. Can you confirm that that is the case?

Mr Hague: I think we can confirm that Iranian personnel are deployed inside Syria. We may not be able to say of which unit, although it would seem highly likely that some of them would belong to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard corps. I referred earlier to how we believe that the Hezbollah fighters deployed recently were probably under Iranian command. So, I wouldn’t disagree with the assessment that you were given in Washington.

Q20 Sir John Stanley: Finally, on another aspect-of course I do not expect you to reply in any detail whatsoever-are you able to assure the Committee that if the circumstances made it necessary, the British Government, in conjunction with the Russians and no doubt with the US as well, would take all necessary steps to safeguard the security of Assad’s substantial chemical weapons stocks?

Mr Hague: You are right to anticipate that I don’t want to reply in any detail about that, but of course, in various combinations, we or our allies have contingency plans to deal with a wide range of military emergencies. We don’t really go into what all those emergencies might be, but it is part of our job to make sure we have contingency plans or to be assured that others have such plans.

Q21 Mark Hendrick: So far, 79 states have signed the international arms trade treaty, which, subject to ratifications, is enough to bring it into force. If Russia were to sign and comply with the treaty, do you believe that that would prohibit its arms supplies to Syria?

Mr Hague: I do not think the Russians would think so. I am very pleased-as no doubt you are-that so many states have signed. We signed on the first day. Under successive Governments we have promoted the arms trade treaty and our diplomats did a great job of helping to bring about agreement on it.

The Russians would argue-it is not normally my job to present the arguments of the Russians-that they are providing arms under existing contracts to what they see as a legitimate Government in Syria. That would be their contention-David, correct me if you think that I am wrong.

David Quarrey: No, I am sure that that is exactly what they would argue.

Q22 Mark Hendrick: Do you think that the conflict going on in Syria is affecting Russia’s willingness to sign the treaty?

Mr Hague: I do not know. You are right to point out that Russia has not signed the treaty. We have recommended that they, and, indeed, all countries in the world, do sign it, but to say that that was the reason would be speculating. As I said, even if they signed the treaty, they would argue that they would be within their rights to supply the Assad regime with weapons and that would not change, so I am doubtful that that is the reason why they have not signed the treaty so far.

Q23 Mark Hendrick: What is preventing a Geneva II peace conference taking place?

Mr Hague: What is really preventing it is that, to be successful, a Geneva II conference has to be able to build successfully on Geneva I. That took place on 30 June last year; I was there and David Quarrey was also there. That, as you will recall, agreed on the creation of a transitional Government in Syria, with full executive authority-that is a very important piece of description-drawn from regime and opposition by mutual consent.

In our view, and in that of the vast majority of countries involved in the diplomacy on this, the purpose of a second Geneva conference would be to implement that objective. That is the starting point: how we implement Geneva I is the only agenda item.

Therefore, for such a conference to get going there has to be a reasonable degree of confidence that the relevant parties would be coming to it with that objective in mind. As things stand, we cannot be confident that the Assad regime would arrive at such a conference in that frame of mind; the opposition, to be frank, have also had their divisions or disagreements with the international community about whether they should attend such a conference.

So, in the current situation the incentives are not there for the parties to come to the table. That does not mean that we should give up on this; we are continuing our work to try to bring such a conference together. What removed those incentives in the last few weeks-hopefully not finally-is the regime offensive on the ground, the situation I was describing earlier in relation to Quseir and Homs. The regime feel that they have been getting tactically into a stronger position, and that has reduced further their incentive to come to a Geneva conference.

Q24 Mark Hendrick: Do you feel that the opposition national coalition would be prepared to take part in peace talks, given that they are already committed to a military defeat of the Assad regime?

Mr Hague: In principle, yes they would. As you can image, we have discussed this with them at some length. Secretary Kerry and I and many western and Arab Foreign Ministers have discussed this with them and told them that it is very important to be prepared to come to such a conference. But they have to be confident that they are coming in the expectation that that conference will lead to something, not that they will be invited to a conference that will make no progress, where the regime will say, "We have tried" and the opposition are left with no progress while more people are being killed on the ground.

I think we can all appreciate the difficulty that they are in on this, but they are, in principle, in favour of a political solution and the negotiations to bring it about. They made an important declaration at our meeting in Istanbul in April, at the request of Secretary Kerry, me and the other Foreign Ministers, making clear their commitment to a political solution, the commitments on chemical weapons that I mentioned earlier and their commitment to a democratic, non-sectarian Syria. All of those are important and welcome commitments.

Q25 Mark Hendrick: At the G8 summit in June, the Prime Minister stressed the G8’s agreement that Syria’s military and security services would be preserved in any post-Assad scenario. To what extent does the opposition national coalition accept that position?

Mr Hague: They do accept that position. In fact, we have explicitly discussed with them that, if you like, the lessons of Iraq should be learned. I hesitate to call it that only because we still await the Chilcot report, and I do not want to go into too many of what might be the lessons of Iraq. I think that a commonly accepted lesson is that the dismantling of state security structures can leave a vacuum. The opposition in Syria are very conscious of that, and they do not want to do that. Of course, they would want such security structures and forces to work faithfully for a non-sectarian, democratic Syria, and it would be quite a task to bring that about. But they are not looking for a de-Ba’athification on the model after the invasion of Iraq.

Q26 Mark Hendrick: If all those structures remain in place, can you imagine some post-Assad scenario where perpetrators of abuses during the conflict would therefore remain in place?

Mr Hague: I hope that it would be part of a settlement in Syria that crimes against humanity would be pursued, but it is impossible to speculate without much more information how many people that would involve in those security forces. In a situation like that, we know-or we strongly suspect, as I was discussing with Mr Gapes-that there are people in the regime who have given orders that would amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity. There will also be people working for the regime who are caught up in doing so, and who are not issuing such orders.

David Quarrey: We held a conference at Wilton Park earlier this year to talk about the coalition’s transition planning, and this is one of the issues that we discussed at length with them. I think they recognised exactly the point that the Foreign Secretary made about the importance of continuity and state structures, and the need to balance that against justice for those who have been involved in the worst crimes. This is difficult politically for many in the coalition, because there will be people who would be staying in state structures, but they recognise the importance of that continuity in securing the future stability and security of Syria, including, for example, its chemical weapons. I think that they very much recognise the importance of both, and that this would be one of the most difficult issues to work through a transition. It is encouraging that they are thinking about that and have been planning for it.

Q27 Mark Hendrick: Finally, Foreign Secretary, what is the difference between the transitional national Government that you would like to see in Syria and what the Iranians are proposing? As you know, the Iranians have put forward their own six-point plan.

Mr Hague: The Iranians have not committed themselves to supporting this kind of transitional Government. The transitional Government envisaged at Geneva is formed from regime and opposition by mutual consent. Of course, that means that each side would have an effective veto over the representatives of the other in a transitional Government. It also has to have full executive authority, and, in our view, full executive authority includes authority over the security forces. For all of us as politicians or officials, part of our common-sense understanding of full executive authority is control over the security structures. These points are different from anything the regime has contemplated or any Iranian proposals.

Q28 Mark Hendrick: What would Iran have to do to be invited to the Geneva II peace conference?

Mr Hague: A good starting point would be acceptance of Geneva I. If it is true, as I asserted earlier, that the purpose of the conference is to build on what we agreed at Geneva last year, it ought to be possible for any nation or group that attends the conference to say they are operating on that premise. That is something we have not heard from Iran yet.

Q29 Sir Menzies Campbell: May I press you for a moment or two on that, Foreign Secretary? Were a settlement reached, it would obviously rely on the co-operation and the support of other countries in the region. It is said that President Ahmadinejad’s successor has given indications of being more susceptible to engagement than his predecessor. Wouldn’t one of the ways of testing that, which could have long-term implications on a whole raft of other policy areas, be to encourage the idea that Iran could take part, without insisting on its unqualified acceptance, in Geneva I?

William Hague: There will be ways of testing that. As I have said in the House, we have taken full note of President-elect Rouhani’s positive remarks during and since his election. I am sure there will be opportunities to test what that means in practice. Of course, he has not taken office yet. He will take office on 5 August. His Government has not yet been formed or appointed. It is therefore very difficult to test at the moment.

I feel that this subject-the biggest subject at the moment in international affairs, and a huge item in relations with Iran, although the nuclear programme is our greatest item of difficulty with Iran-will be a big issue on which to mount a test, given our assessment at the time of last year’s Geneva conference that had Iran been present then, we would probably-I would say almost certainly-not have been able to make even the agreement that we did make. Of course, there is a balance in these things, as there is in any international negotiation, between on the one hand having enough participants around the table so that an agreement is sustainable and means something, and on the other hand having the right combination of people round the table and being prepared to exclude one or two who would make an agreement impossible.

Q30 Sir Menzies Campbell: But one of the consequences of that approach might be that an important member of the region surrounding Syria is permanently excluded. As we know, diplomacy is as much about the politics of the possible as it is about anything else. Would you agree with the proposition that Iran’s acceptance, if not its blessing, could be of enormous importance in finding even a temporary arrangement to bring an end to the fighting?

William Hague: Of course its acceptance of a settlement, if we can arrive at a settlement, will be an important factor. I am not arguing that there should be no contact or diplomacy with Iran. I am proceeding on the basis that the question is about attendance at a Genera conference. That is a slightly hypothetical scenario at the moment because we do not even have a Geneva conference, so we are arguing about a couple of hypotheticals. I am not arguing that there should be no discussion or diplomacy with Iran on this subject.

I want to be very clear that if the new President of Iran is able to implement in practice some of the positive indications that he gave in his election campaign, we will be ready to reciprocate. We have no quarrel with the people of Iran. We hope that Iran, one day in the future, will have a major, constructive, positive role to play in its region as the major nation that it is and has been for thousands of years of history. We want it to be able to do that. However, for that to happen, we have to be able to settle our concerns about Iran’s nuclear programme.

Sir Menzies Campbell: Thank you for that. For the record, I was not suggesting you are immune to all questions of diplomatic exchange with Iran.

Q31 Chair: It is still the Government’s position that President Assad should go?

Mr Hague: It is hard to see peace in future in Syria with President Assad. Even if it were possible-as I have said earlier, this is not what is happening at the moment-for him to reconquer by force the entire country, his writ would never really run in large parts of it. There would never be an acceptance of such a regime. Now that 100,000 people, or a number of that order, have been killed-many of them brutally-and tens of thousands tortured and abused, I do not think it would ever be possible for this to be a legitimate and respected Government again, in the eyes of millions of Syria’s own people, never mind the eyes of the world. So any settlement in Syria involves, in my view, the departure of President Assad.

We are not saying that in order to get a Geneva II conference together he has to depart in advance, but if a transitional Government is to be formed by mutual consent and a political settlement arrived at in Syria, it is hard for even a dispassionate observer to see him continuing as President of Syria.

Q32 Chair: If there is a Geneva II and if there is a settlement, it is conceivable you might go along with his staying in control of a transitional Government.

Mr Hague: That is up to the people of Syria. Remember the transitional Government that we, including Russia, agreed on at Geneva is one formed by mutual consent. One would have to assess that the chances of opposition groups agreeing by mutual consent to his being part of that Government would be vanishingly small.

Q33 Chair: Do you see the support that we have been providing up to now as support to one side in a civil war?

Mr Hague: Most of our support is for humanitarian purposes.

Q34 Chair: Outside humanitarian support.

Mr Hague: We have now committed £348 million of humanitarian support. This is the largest ever British response in financial terms to any humanitarian crisis. I point that out because I think everything has to be seen from that perspective and in that proportion. The amount that we are providing to strengthen, maintain or assist the opposition, the national coalition, is less than a tenth of that, so the great bulk of British effort on the Syrian crisis is humanitarian.

Would we rather the legitimate democratic opposition, the national coalition, succeeded, rather than extremists or a brutal regime? Yes, we would. I do not think we have any hesitation in saying that. Indeed, we regard them as the legitimate representatives of the Syrian people. We fully sympathise with their ideals and their commitment to a democratic, free, non-sectarian Syria.

Q35 Chair: Is it a civil war?

Mr Hague: In most practical respects, it is a civil war. I don’t think we need quibble about the words.

Q36 Chair: As you know, the EU arms embargo was not renewed at the last EU Foreign Ministers meeting. Has that damaged your relationship with any of our European partners?

Mr Hague: No, they are used to quite robust arguments, either with me or with each other. There was a variety of views around the table. We and France were very much of the same view, and several countries advocated the position we ended up with. In fact, Germany was very helpful in bringing that about. So, no, it has not in any way damaged relations. We expect robust exchanges at the Foreign Affairs Council.

Q37 Chair: Has the lifting of the embargo made a difference to the negotiating position or to your approach?

Mr Hague: It has simply provided the flexibility for nation states to make their decisions in future, and that was our objective, as well as to demonstrate that in our view there is no moral equivalence. It goes back to your earlier question, Chairman, of whether we prefer one side to another. Yes, we do prefer these people who are sincere in what they want for Syria to some of the alternatives. I do not think it was right to have an arms embargo that placed them in the same bracket as the Assad regime or as extremist terrorist groups. They are different in their nature. So it has done those things, and it is important to remember that the EU sanctions system on Syria is now agreed for 12 months. It is important over a 12-month period to have national flexibility. That is what we secured at the end of May.

Q38 Mike Gapes: Can I probe this question on the lack of a decision to arm elements in the Syrian opposition? Throughout this session and previously, you have emphasised that no decision has yet been taken. Why not?

Mr Hague: Well, because we are assisting in all the others ways that I have described and because there are strong arguments. Sir John Stanley, who is not in his place at the moment, was illustrating the arguments about these things. Such a decision would be, and is, difficult. I described it earlier as a classic foreign policy and ethical dilemma. We have concentrated on the elements that I described earlier: promote a political solution, save lives and protect our own national security.

Q39 Mike Gapes: Is there not also a problem-if we can quote the criteria used by the Prime Minister on Libya-that you have to have demonstrable need, which clearly there might well be; regional support, which you might get from the Arab League; and a clear legal basis? Is the problem that you do not have a clear legal basis because you are not arming a state-you are arming a faction within a faction within part of an opposition where you have, as you previously admitted, I think, to the Chairman, a civil war? Does that not raise some difficult legal questions?

Mr Hague: There are difficult legal questions, although in the end our assessment of international law is that extreme humanitarian suffering can be an overriding consideration, but we would have to come to that view. There are many complexities to the question and you are pointing out some of them. By some distance, it is the most complex of the crises that we have seen in the Middle East over the past couple of years. Decisions should be taken very carefully, and we therefore feel that it is right to do what we have announced so far. Clearly we are providing the budget to be able to do more. As I said to the Committee earlier, we have not taken any decision about arms.

Q40 Mike Gapes: Are you also waiting for President Obama and the United States to start doing their own arming of the Syrian opposition, and then you will go along with it?

Mr Hague: President Obama and the White House have made their position clear. Discussions are currently going on in Congress and within the Administration on how to implement that. Our decisions will not necessarily be exactly the same, although we of course work closely with the United States and many other countries on this. Our work is hopefully complementary, but it does not have to be identical.

Q41 Mike Gapes: So it is possible that the UK and France could go ahead without the Americans in arming elements in the Syrian opposition with lethal equipment. Is that what you are saying?

Mr Hague: We have not taken any decision on that.

Q42 Mike Gapes: I know that you have not taken any decision-

Mr Hague: It is possible for countries to make different decisions. Is it possible? Yes, it is, in any combination, but if I were to answer that question in exactly that way, I think you would take it as an indication that that was what was going to happen, and I am anxious to not give you that indication, because that would not be the reality of it.

Q43 Mike Gapes: Were the decision to be taken, do you know what lethal equipment it would be necessary to supply to the elements within the opposition that we are prepared to arm? Do we know what they need and, if so, could we supply it? Would it have to be supplied by other countries as well?

Mr Hague: We have not prepared a package of lethal equipment to send to them or worked out what that would be. We have not taken a decision to do so, nor is any such decision imminent. Any such decision, as I said earlier, would be brought to the House of Commons. We would be getting ahead of ourselves if we did that.

Q44Mike Gapes: But presumably as you look at the situation in Syria and you see the setbacks that the opposition have had in a number of places where the Assad forces and Hezbollah and others have been pushing them back-we see reports today of a potentially similar situation arising in Homs-there must be assessments of what the forces of the opposition would need if they were to change significantly the balance on the battlefield and presumably then get a scenario which would mean that the regime would be more prepared, or the opposition would be more prepared, to go to Geneva. Have you seen any assessment of what would be needed?

Mr Hague: The opposition make public statements about these sorts of things. They say that they would like to be sent more sophisticated equipment and so on, whether it be anti-tank weapons or anti-aircraft weapons and so on. But if your question is has the United Kingdom prepared a list of what we could send them, well, no, we have not taken any decision to do that. There is no imminence to any decision to do that. I think you are trying to lead me into saying things that we would not have had a reason to do.

Q45 Mike Gapes: I am not trying to lead you anywhere. I am trying to clarify where you are rather than all your public statements so far.

Mr Hague: We are exactly in line with our public statements.

Q46 Mike Gapes: Parliament, as you know, is very concerned about the process that is going on and the democratic accountability of any decisions. We have Committees on Arms Export Controls where we have accountability when you give weaponry or you sell to other states, but we are not talking about a state relationship here. We are talking about supplying lethal equipment to factions or groups within an opposition, which is slightly different.

Mr Hague: We absolutely should have accountability on these things and do. As you know, any gift of equipment from the Government of more than £250,000 is notified to Parliament. There is a scrutiny process. In fact, the gift we were talking about earlier of the equipment for escaping a chemical attack is in that category and is notified to Parliament. The Under-Secretary of State, Alistair Burt, and I in our comments in Parliament last week both gave a broad description of the sort of assistance we give to the national coalition, so there isn’t any mystery to it. There is no secret list that we are somehow preparing to send at the moment.

Q47 Mr Baron: May I reinforce, Foreign Secretary, your suggestion that no decision can be implemented about arming rebels until the prior consent of Parliament has been sought? I very much welcome that, but I don’t think it can be denied that the option of arming the rebels has at least been discussed in Government circles. Can you do us all a favour and answer the one question that so far those who believe we should arm the rebels have been unable to answer and that is how, if ever that decision were taken and supported by Parliament, one could track and trace the weapons to stop them falling into the hands of extremists on the rebel side, given that it is a very fluid situation on the ground and everything is tradable?

Mr Hague: I suppose there are several aspects to that. Again, I stress we have not taken any such decision.

Q48 Mr Baron: We have got that.

Mr Hague: I just want to be clear. The cameras will helpfully replay a little extract of what the Foreign Secretary said, which does not include that so I keep adding it to every sentence. We have not taken any such decision.

I said earlier that if we were to do so, as I have said in the House, it would have to be in carefully controlled circumstances in conjunction with other countries and in accordance with national and international law. That would include a very high level of confidence about who was going to be able to come into the possession of such weapons. That would mean that you have to be very confident about the command structures and the nature of the organisations they were being given to. You would have to be fairly confident that you would hear about it if they weren’t used by that group and were used by other groups. I don’t want to go into a lot of details about weapons, but there are ways of tracking weapons or of limiting their use.

Q49 Mr Baron: Do you have that confidence at the moment?

Mr Hague: If we were to take such a decision we would have to have such confidence, but as we have not taken such a decision we do not need to make that assessment. I am not going to move off that, following the most ingenious variety of ways of asking that in this Committee.

Q50 Mr Baron: May I come back to you on diplomatic efforts? I suggest to you that it is almost inconceivable that a diplomatic solution or effort can be truly made without the involvement of Iran, a key regional player, over the longer term. I think I heard you say-I would appreciate clarification-that Iran cannot be involved in any discussions or meaningful talks until the West’s nuclear concerns have been assuaged. Is that the case? Is Iran’s involvement in the talks with Syria conditional on ticking the box on the nuclear front?

Mr Hague: No. What I was saying was that our principal issue with Iran is the nuclear programme, an issue that began long before the Syrian crisis. It is independent of the Syrian crisis, so I am not linking the two. Solving the nuclear issue with Iran would make a vast difference-

Chair: We have a whole range of questions on this very subject.

Mr Hague: Let me answer briefly, and we can come back to it. Solving the nuclear issue would make a huge difference in every way to relations with Iran. Of course it would make it easier to deal with them on other issues, but I am not saying that the two are linked. It is open to Iran to signal that it can play a constructive role in resolving the Syrian crisis, rather than exacerbating it as it is at the moment by sending people as well as materiel and weapons to aid the regime in Syria.

Q51 Ann Clwyd: To what extent are the UK Government prepared to hold the opposition as well as Assad to account for serious human rights abuses, war crimes, crimes against humanity and so on?

Mr Hague: This is an important point. We must be prepared to do so. It is a point that we constantly reinforce to the leaders of the national coalition. Clearly, terrible acts have been committed by both sides. What we have to remember is that there are not really just two sides; there are some extremist groups operating, as well as those that are supportive of the national coalition. It is important that we do not just accept that anything that is done on behalf of opposition groups is necessarily done in the name of the national coalition. This country will always have a position that war crimes and crimes against humanity must be rooted out and their perpetrators prosecuted, and it doesn’t matter who did it.

Q52 Mr Roy: Foreign Secretary, can I spread it out wider? Last week in the House, in your statement in the context of Syria, you said, "It would be a major strategic error for our country or our allies to turn away from the region." Which allies were you thinking of?

Mr Hague: Principally the United States and our other Western allies in the European Union. I am glad to say that they are not turning away from the region. I think sometimes the view is put-perhaps not so much in our Parliaments, but we hear the view sometimes in our media-"Why do we bother with Syria? Why are we engaged in Syria at all?" It is very important for us to answer that question, to explain to the public why we are involved and why we are giving this humanitarian help and sending life-saving equipment. There must be a British national interest in it, and there is.

Q53 Mr Roy: Are you happy with where our allies are?

Mr Hague: Yes, broadly. They do different things and help in different ways, but there is a grouping of Foreign Ministers that meets fairly regularly-we have met four times this year, in Rome, Istanbul, Amman and Doha. The Foreign Ministers of the US, the UK, France, Germany, Italy, as well as Turkey and some key Arab countries are part of that group. As I was indicating earlier, we do not all do exactly the same about the Syria crisis, but we come from broadly the same perspective: we want a political solution and we do not want the legitimate opposition to be exterminated. Some of us take different actions, but they are complementary to each other.

Q54 Mr Roy: Can I turn to Lebanon? How does your wish to see the EU designate the military wing of Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation fit into your broader policy on Lebanon?

Mr Hague: It is an important part of our counter-terrorist policy. When a terrorist attack takes place on European soil, the countries of the European Union have to show that there are consequences. That is still being discussed in the European Union, and we might have a further discussion about it among European Foreign Ministers next week.

On your exact point, the concern has been expressed that such a designation would have a damaging effect on the stability of Lebanon, but that is not our assessment. Lebanon is in a state of political paralysis, seemingly largely as a result of the Syria crisis, and sadly it has been unable to hold its elections on schedule. However, I do not believe that the designation of the military wing of Hezbollah by the EU would have a damaging effect on the politics of Lebanon.

Q55 Mr Roy: So do you estimate that there will be change next week? What are the chances of you changing the designation?

Mr Hague: There is a strong majority support in the European Union on this, but, as you know, on these issues, unanimity is required, so I cannot guarantee the outcome.

Q56 Rory Stewart: To move on to Egypt, why have the Government not condemned the military coup and been more vocal and demanding about the treatment of the democratically elected President?

Mr Hague: We have said that we do not support military interventions into democratic processes, and one of the clearest statements of that came from the United Kingdom. I reiterated that yesterday to the new vice-president, Mr ElBaradei, whom I telephoned yesterday. As you know, he was one of the people instrumental in the events of 3 July. I also reiterated to him that we believe that the political leaders who have been imprisoned during this change in Egypt should be released unless there are legitimate criminal charges to bring against them.

We want everyone to be treated fairly in a democratic Egypt. We think that a military intervention sets a difficult and dangerous precedent. At the same time, we, like all other countries, will need to work with the people who are running Egypt over the coming months and encourage them to create such a democratic process and a constitution that is accepted by all.

Q57 Rory Stewart: How does Britain and its allies ensure that, having seen the Muslim Brotherhood being pushed out, we do not end up in a situation in which the Brotherhood is further radicalised, and feels victimised and that the West is conspiring against it? What active steps are we taking to reassure the Brotherhood and the democratically elected leader that we are not taking sides?

Mr Hague: That is exactly the danger. The greatest danger here is that the Muslim Brotherhood could be driven out, or consider itself driven out, of democratic politics, or decide that it is not going to come back into democratic politics. That would be a long-term danger to stability and democracy in Egypt. Currently, the best way we have of trying to avoid that is to persuade those who have now come into authority in Egypt that they need to govern in a way that is fully cognisant of that fear. They will need the Muslim Brotherhood to take part in a democratic Egypt. That is exactly the argument that I was putting yesterday to Mr ElBaradei, who, by the way, I believe accepts the argument.

Q58 Rory Stewart: What do you make of the road map the interim Government have proposed? What are its chances of success, and what can the British Government do to encourage its success, if that is something you support?

Mr Hague: The British Government cannot lay down for Egyptians what their constitution should look like. Clearly we do want them to hold elections and to have a successful democratic process, so the basic concept of trying to arrive at a constitutional settlement and hold parliamentary and presidential elections has to be one that we want to see succeed, even from these very difficult circumstances.

It is not for us to try to lay down exactly what form those elections and that constitution should take; that is for the various parties in Egypt. The difficulty of doing that has been illustrated by the fact that the details of the initial decree of the new President on this subject were rejected by virtually all political forces in Egypt, including those that had supported the military intervention. It is a very difficult process.

Q59 Rory Stewart: Just to understand a little bit more: naively, the public might think that in a situation like this, where there is a military coup against a democratically elected Government, Britain and the United States would respond very firmly and aggressively. They might impose sanctions, or suspend assistance. We have done that with other countries around the world. Why have not we done so in this case?

Mr Hague: When one looks at the practical politics of Egypt, however much one may disapprove of a military intervention in politics-and we have made that very clear-the Morsi Government is not going to be restored in response to any international pressure. We have to recognise that the military intervention, however much we disapprove of those things, was nevertheless very popular in Egypt. So it is right for us to warn against the precedent set and the dangers of using those methods, but we do need those now in authority in Egypt to make a success of what they have taken on. They need-hopefully they will sometimes accept-our advice. They need economic co-operation from the rest of the world. The stability and future of Egypt is so important that we do have to deal with those in power there.

Q60 Rory Stewart: On the issue of economic co-operation and assistance, and Deauville and IMF loans, we failed, really, to get Mubarak to take IMF assistance; we failed to get the post-Mubarak military-dominated Government to take it; the West failed to get Morsi’s Government to take it, and the current Government also reject this assistance. What is going wrong?

Mr Hague: Here we have to understand and respect the history of Egypt. On several occasions in the last couple of hundred years, the Egyptians regard themselves as having been on the wrong end of financial assistance from the Western world, whether it be arrangements about the Suez canal in the 19th century or post-war assistance, so there is an aversion to this in Egypt-to conditions being set from outside.

Rory Stewart: Does that imply, perhaps in retrospect, that we set conditions that were too tight? Given, as you say, the enormous interest of the whole world in ensuring economic stability in Egypt, could we not have been a little bit more relaxed around the conditions to ensure stability?

Mr Hague: These things are a balance. We are one of the countries that has an influence over the IMF, but we do not set the conditions of the IMF, and against that historical Egyptian aversion to these things we have to balance the need for people to know that their money is not just going to go down the drain. There is a balance, so I am not going to criticise the IMF for setting those conditions.

I think that, despite the difficult history, Egypt needs an IMF programme that then unlocks other international financial loans and assistance. They have been assisted, of course, by a number of the Gulf states, both when President Morsi was in power and now, immediately, under a different Government, but unless they take urgent economic steps to encourage investment, to tackle corruption and to liberate their economy from the burdens such things impose, they will continue to face huge difficulties. An agreed IMF programme would be part of overcoming those difficulties.

Q61 Rory Stewart: Finally on that, is it not a little dangerous-this is exactly what you have just pointed to-that the IMF’s conditions have essentially resulted in Egypt deciding to take assistance without conditions from Gulf states, instead of relying on a more conventional relationship with international financial institutions?

There might be an argument that that is exactly the kind of world we do not want to encourage. What we should have been doing over the last two years was making sure that Egypt was properly part of conventional international funding systems; we should have made a lot of concessions to make that possible. Creating a world in which people go for easy money from Gulf states is not exactly in the UK’s or, indeed, the West’s interests.

Mr Hague: I will let David comment on that.

David Quarrey: I do not think these are entirely either/or options. For much of the last year, we have been encouraging the Egyptians to engage with the IMF, and the IMF to engage with Egypt, to find the basis for a programme, but we have also been encouraging others to provide support as well. The fundamental obstacles to Egypt reaching an agreement with the IMF have been political rather than economic. That brings us back to what has happened recently. Our role in this is not to support individuals or parties, but processes and principles, and one of those is that the parties need to come together to discuss, across all political actors, how urgently Egypt needs an economic reform programme supported by the IMF. That is what they have failed to do in the last few months-to find any national consensus on the kind of difficult reforms that Egypt needs.

Q62 Mark Hendrick: Foreign Secretary, you highlighted the importance of elections, respect for elections and respect for democracy and that democracy is something that should help with stability. Is it not the case, though, that democracy is not just about elections every four or five years, but about how you govern in between? In the sort of "winner takes all" democracy we have seen in Egypt-and in Turkey-the Government get on with what they want to do between elections, irrespective of the opposition, who may have helped to get rid of Mubarak’s regime. Is that not the problem?

In many liberal democracies in the West, even though a party has won an election, it still listens to the opposition and to alternative views throughout the time after the election. What are you doing to put across the message that, yes, democracy is important, but not just every four years; it has to be practised throughout a party’s period in office?

Mr Hague: That is a very important point. Again, it is reflected in all our conversations with new Egyptian leaders-it was reflected in our conversations with the old Egyptian leaders, but of course one of the objections raised about them was that they had not bought into that view. In the view of those who demonstrated against President Morsi in their millions, they were demonstrating to save democracy, and their argument was more closely related to the one you have just been putting-that the Government, however much it had been elected, was not providing an inclusive democracy accountable to many different shades of opinion during its term of office. That is their argument.

I do not think it is always for us to judge who is right and wrong in the politics of other countries. It is vital that a new Government in Egypt does not fall prey to that same criticism, which, in turn, makes it vital that, as soon as they can, they release people who have been imprisoned for political reasons; it is vital that they do that straight away. Otherwise, the same charge will start to be made against them, just as it was against their predecessors. It is very important that they do that; that is why we are urgently advocating it.

Q63 Mr Baron: May I push you on this a bit, Foreign Secretary? If a democratically elected Government friendly to the West had been overthrown in a military coup, or whatever, the condemnation from the West would, quite rightly, have been much more robust than we have seen so far with regards to the situation in Egypt. Has there been a change of thinking in the Foreign Office, from a focus on the importance of democracy to one that attaches more importance to stability?

Mr Hague: Those are not mutually exclusive, in our view and probably in the view of all of us as parliamentarians in a stable democratic country. Democracy and stability go together. We have to recognise that in what we call the Arab Spring, the Arab revolutions or whatever we want to term it, there are going to be a lot of bumps in the road. There are going to be a lot of crises along the way. They make the point to us that our own journey to what we now understand as our democracy, including the arguments that we had about the role of religion in the state-a central argument about the identity of these countries that is going on now-was played out over hundreds of years. It is unrealistic to expect that they will have resolved all constitutional questions within a very short time. This will throw up many crises. We have to balance our clarity that democracy is the best form of Government-

Q64 Mr Baron: Of course there will be bumps in any road, and you are right to say that we have had more than our fair share in the past, but because of those bumps, is it not important that the West puts out a consistent message when it comes to the importance of democracy?

Mr Hague: Yes.

Q65 Mr Baron: A message that we can all buy into? There is a feeling that we have not responded as robustly as we should have done to what is, essentially, a military coup in Egypt.

Mr Hague: In the UK, we have responded by saying that we do not support military interventions in democratic processes.

Q66 Mr Baron: Not as robustly as if it had been a democratically elected Government that was friendly to the West. I put it to you, Foreign Secretary, that I do not think that we have responded as robustly as we might in those circumstances.

Mr Hague: Remember that it is only two years since a Government that was very friendly with the West was overthrown in Egypt-the Mubarak administration. The reaction from most western countries has been to try to work with those who came to power as a result. Going back to the answers I was giving to Mr Stewart, the fact is that the relations of Egypt with the international community-not necessarily just with Britain-are so important, and the work of the international community to support stability in Egypt is so important, that the world is not in a position to say, "We are not dealing with whoever has come to power in Egypt."

We have to recognise, at the same time as we explain that we do not support military interventions, that what happened in Egypt two weeks ago was very popular with the people of Egypt. Now the challenge for those who are in charge is to harness that and, as soon as they can, solidify a genuine democracy of the sort that Mr Hendrick was talking about. That needs them to make some brave decisions. If our response was, "We are not dealing with any of you. There has been a military intervention, so we cannot deal with any of you. Egypt is now persona non grata in the world," I do not think that would help the future stability of the region.

Chair: I call Mr Gapes, if you would like to finish on Egypt and continue with Iran.

Q67 Mike Gapes: The contrast between your position on Egypt and that of one of your predecessors, Robin Cook, in 1999 on the Musharraf coup in Pakistan is quite interesting. That coup was very popular; I did not meet one British Pakistani who was against the coup to get rid of the Nawaz Sharif Government at that time, and yet it led to sanctions, Pakistan’s suspension from the Commonwealth and so on. It seems to me that our criticism of this military coup is very moderate.

I can see the arguments why, if you believe that it is part of a broader strategy to make sure that the Egyptian Government is a more moderate one than might otherwise arise, but is there not a danger that we could get to the Algerian scenario? What happened in Algeria in 1991 led to 10 years of civil war, to the radicalisation that Mr Stewart touched on of the Muslim Brotherhood, and to more extreme forms of Islamism that became very violent. In Algeria, 200,000 people died.

Mr Hague: There is a danger. I think the actions of the Egyptian authorities over the coming weeks will be very important in determining the extent of that danger. It is crucial now that they do what we were talking about a moment ago: release political leaders and journalists and make sure that human rights are respected. That is crucial. If they do not do that, the dangers of what you are describing become great.

Q68 Mike Gapes: I will now move on to Iran. The Committee Chairman wrote to you in April asking for clarification of the UK position on the so-called red lines that Iran must not cross with regard to weaponisation of nuclear material. In your reply you did not set out any criteria related to weaponisation. Instead, you referred to the stockpile of enriched uranium being suspiciously high. Is it the position of the Government that Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium is proof in itself that Iran is seeking to have a nuclear weapon?

Mr Hague: Iran has not succeeded in explaining it in any other way. That is the problem with Iran’s nuclear programme; it is impossible to explain for purely peaceful purposes. You are right about the importance, and the importance I have attached to Iran’s stockpile of near 20% enriched uranium, which continues to grow since we had that correspondence. It now stands at something like 182 kg, we think. There are also the issues of installing more advanced centrifuges, of operating the heavy water production plant at Arak. Iran’s nuclear programme cannot be explained in civilian terms for civilian purposes. I think I would put it that way.

Q69 Mike Gapes: Can I take it from that answer that, even though it is a matter of great concern, having a large stockpile of enriched uranium is not in itself a red line-it only becomes a red line when they actually weaponise that highly enriched uranium, by which time it is too late?

Mr Hague: It is not the Government’s approach to set red lines on this issue. I do not think that is helpful. Any assessment-

Q70 Mike Gapes: So you do not agree with President Obama, when he talked about red lines.

Mr Hague: The United States has not set exact red lines.

Q71 Mike Gapes: Not exact red lines; just red lines.

Mr Hague: Our policy is not significantly different from that of the United States. We have to look at all of these things in the round. It is the multiplication of difficulties with the Iranian nuclear programme that demonstrates the difficulty. To set a red line in one place and then say, "That is the decisive thing, even if improvements are being made in many other areas," would not help us reach a negotiated outcome, and that is what we are trying to do.

Q72 Mike Gapes: So talk of red lines is unhelpful.

Mr Hague: We do not choose in the United Kingdom to set red lines.

Q73 Mike Gapes: Can I take you to the European Union and US 3+3 negotiation? There has been a recent offer. The parameters of that offer seem to be slightly different from previous positions that we have taken. Can you clarify in what way the current negotiating position that we are supporting is different from what there was in 2012?

Mr Hague: I do not really want to draw a distinction between different packages and offers that have been made at different times. They are all seeking to bring about a successful negotiating process, in this case offering some relief from sanctions and commitments not to pursue additional sanctions, in return for certain assurances about the 20% enrichment. That is very similar to what has been discussed before, but it had some elements added to it.

Q74 Mike Gapes: Can I put it to you that we have spent seven years in various forms of offers or proposals to the Iranians, and throughout that whole period they have systematically, steadily increased the stockpiles to the level that you just referred to? Is that not an indication that the strategy we have pursued has failed, and in fact we need a new approach? Maybe the plan of ratcheting up the sanctions indefinitely or marginally changing them is not going to change the fundamentals here. Do we need a new approach to this issue?

Mr Hague: Clearly, the strategy for alleviating all concerns about the Iranian nuclear programme has not yet succeeded. I think I would say that, rather than say that it has failed. We regularly review our policy on this. It is a legitimate question. Is there a different policy that could succeed? From all my evaluation of it I have not seen one with a better chance of success than our twin-track approach, including sanctions that have been intensified over time and realistic offers and negotiations on the nuclear programme.

The demand is that Iran is transparent over its nuclear programme and meets our concerns about some of the things that we have just described. That is not only my view but also that of the British Government. Of course the E3+3 negotiations also include China and Russia, as well as the United States and the European countries. It is our collective view that this is the right approach. We are open to suggestions for resolving the issue if you have any others.

75 Mike Gapes: It is not my responsibility to do that at the moment. I will turn to my colleagues.

Q76 Mr Baron: Speaking of suggestions, you have been understandably cautious about President-elect Rouhani, but he is seen as a moderate. You talked about actions speaking louder than words, for perfectly understandable reasons. However, I suggest that there is perhaps an opportunity here to unlock the process. Although one can accept that you cannot admit this, I think that there have been mistakes in this relationship on both sides.

I ask you whether his election presents us with an opportunity to introduce a measure of good will and an act of good will, to try to build on the positive momentum that he may bring to the process. Would that be naive? Whilst understanding all the difficulties, there may be an opportunity here for the West, as a gesture of good will, to unlock what has been a pretty static process so far. Is the Foreign Office giving that any thought?

Mr Hague: We are giving that some thought. There could be such opportunities. They need to be reciprocal, of course. But there could be such opportunities, and we will respond in good faith to positive action by Iran. To sound a cautionary note-and you are very familiar with these matters-we do have to have an eye on the very complex power structure in Iran.

To most of the world, the President might sound like someone who will be responsible for all aspects of policy. That is not the case in Iran, given the role of the Supreme Leader. So it remains to be seen exactly how much authority a new President of Iran will have or will develop. We would generally assess the presidency as an institution in Iran to be weaker in the country’s power structures than at the time eight years ago when President Ahmadinejad took office.

That introduces a cautionary note to our considerations, but we are ready to improve our relations on a step-by-step basis. No one should doubt our resolve to prevent nuclear proliferation. If Mr Gapes is asking about a red line, that is a broad red line, including the use of international sanctions. But we are ready to improve our relations. For instance, we review Foreign Office travel advice on a continuous basis. We have previously advised against all travel to Iran. As of today, I am changing that advice. We assess that the risks to British nationals have been reduced. Several Iranian officials have made statements regretting the attacks on our embassy compound in 2011. Anti-British rhetoric has been lessened. So on this basis we will change our travel advice, and from today we will advise against all but essential travel, rather than all travel to Iran.

Q77 Mr Baron: A welcome and positive step. I agree with what you say about being careful. Iran has multiple centres of authority and, the presidential election notwithstanding, somebody once said that the clue was in the title of Supreme Leader-I think that that might have been you.

Mr Hague: That was me.

Q78 Mr Baron: You have suggested that we should wait for positive action. Might it be worthwhile for us to instigate some positive action to try to reinforce the position of President Rouhani in what is a complex political system where factions often compete against each other? To try to reinforce the position of the moderates against the hard-liners could be to everybody’s advantage.

Mr Hague: We are open to taking positive steps and there may very well be positive steps that we will take, but we will watch carefully for Iran’s ability and willingness to reciprocate those steps. For obvious reasons, I am reluctant to characterise our policy as one that will strengthen moderates against hard-liners. Hard-liners in Iran might notice if that became how I described British foreign policy and that might become counter-productive: they will be on their alert for that. But whoever is in power in Iran, and however we categorise them-moderates, hard-liners or whatever labels we give them-we are open to an improvement in relations and we will look for their steps as well as being ready to take some ourselves.

Q79 Mr Baron: Could the key be the embassy itself? For understandable reasons, we closed it as storming the embassy contravened all diplomatic courtesies and so forth. We know that, and there was no excuse for it. Having said that, there have been positive noises out of Iran about regret. Would one such step be to look at the possible reopening of the embassy and try to establish a more normal diplomatic relationship? Of the three stated enemies of Iran: Israel, the US and the UK, as you are well aware it is only the UK that has any form of diplomatic relations with Iran at the moment and we need to open those up a little bit more if we are to make any progress.

Mr Hague: It was not what we sought to do with our embassy, as you appreciate in your question. Given that the new President has not even taken office yet, and all the cautionary points I made earlier, it is too early to come to any decision about this. To send a British diplomatic staff back into Iran would be a major decision, given what happened before. We have no problem doing that in principle and there are many very good arguments in favour of diplomatic exchange and discussion being made easier between our countries, but we would have to be confident that it was safe for our staff to operate there.

What happened before was a flagrant breach of the Vienna convention. We have to bear in mind not only that terrible incident in November 2011, but the mistreatment and harassment of our staff even before that, including the arrest, show trial and imprisonment of one locally engaged member of our staff. I do not take lightly a decision to send diplomatic staff back into that situation. We would have to be confident that the situation had changed.

Q80 Mr Baron: Finally, one accepts that robust assurances would have to be given before you took that move, but I come back to the fact that Iran has multiple centres of authority in its political system, with constant power struggles. Our challenge is to try to influence those. While not trying to make it obvious that we are reinforcing the position of the moderates against the hard-liners, if we are not to go down the embassy route, can you give any indications to the Committee of what gesture of good will we could implement to try to foster a slight thawing in relations and make progress in what has been a long-running stand-off?

Mr Hague: We will have to develop this, if appropriate, over time. I do not have other things to set out to the Committee. I have indicated an openness to improved relations and a recognition of positive remarks, and I have made one small announcement to the Committee based on the facts of the case: the travel advice. I have chosen to make that clear now. Over time, we may be able to develop a picture of improving relations, but we will be looking for a commensurate response if we are to succeed. I do not have any other announcements to make today.

Q81 Mark Hendrick: Is it not the case, though, that however much our relations with Iran improve, they seem to be hellbent on developing their nuclear capability? As Mr Gapes put it, this has been going on for seven years now. To me, it looks like a rerun of North Korea. Are they not going to get to the point where, like the North Koreans, they say, "Hey presto, we’ve now weaponised our nuclear systems"? At that point, there seem to be only two alternatives in how things will progress: either the Israelis will decide to take matters into their own hands, or Iran will get away with it like the North Koreans have, and Egypt, the Saudis and others in the region will start to develop their own nuclear weapons. How are we going to get around that?

William Hague: You have stated exactly the problem. It is in order to avoid reaching that fork in the road that we are committed to our twin-track policy of negotiations and sanctions. If they do not succeed, ultimately we face that very fork, although of course it is possible that others would take military action on arrival at that point, or before. We have not ruled out any options in that situation, as we have often debated in the House. We are not calling for or advocating military action. We believe it is important to persist in the approach of sanctions and negotiations, but that is the strongest policy that we can assemble. Our sanctions are having a big effect on Iran, and our negotiating offer is reasonable.

I believe that that is the approach in which we must persist, and it must be tried out on the new Administration in Iran, which we have just been talking about. At the moment, there is no new round of negotiations fixed, but such a round is envisaged with the new Iranian Ministers in whatever combination they come together. How they react to the negotiating offer of the E3+3 negotiations will be very important in determining the attitude of the world towards them.

Q82 Sir Menzies Campbell: I have some questions for you on Afghanistan, Secretary of State, but I wonder if you would indulge me for a moment while I raise again the question of Jordan. You may recall from some of our exchanges in the House that I have taken a particular interest in the impact on Jordan of the crisis caused by refugees. First of all, I think it is a matter for congratulation that we are the highest contributor to the humanitarian effort, but have you had any conversations, discussions or contacts with Jordanian officials about the economic and perhaps even political consequences of the extraordinary strain caused by a wave of refugees who, on some assessments, might in the not too distant future exceed the population of Jordan?

William Hague: We have a lot of those discussions. I have discussed it several times, including in the last few weeks, with His Majesty King Abdullah of Jordan. The Jordanian Foreign Minister, Nasser Judeh, is one of the Foreign Ministers I speak to most often. Of course, this is one of their principal concerns.

You are right: we are a leading nation in the world in contributing to the humanitarian effort, and in particular to Jordan. So far, we have contributed over £27 million, and we have earmarked a further £50 million to assist Jordan specifically with its humanitarian situation. In addition, we have sent military equipment that they have asked for-trucks to help the Army cope on the border and things of that kind to assist the Jordanian armed forces-and we are open to giving further equipment.

I have asked the Jordanians specifically in the last couple of weeks to let us know if they would like us to give further assistance. The door is open to that. They are concerned about the impact on their country, but we should pay tribute to the people and Government of Jordan, and to other neighbouring countries to Syria, for their hospitality. There are over half a million officially registered refugees in Jordan, although the Jordanians say there are hundreds of thousands of others living with families in Jordan, and it is possible that the real total is about 1 million.

Q83 Sir Menzies Campbell: Apart from our close historical association with Jordan, there is a dimension of immense importance in the Middle East, which is that Jordan entered into a peace treaty with Israel, to which it has kept. So far, Egypt has also kept its side of that simultaneous bargain. Anything that has the effect of destabilising Jordan could have an impact on what, up to now, has been a well regulated relationship as a result of the peace treaty.

William Hague: That is true. There is also an important internal reform process taking place in Jordan, which we should welcome and encourage. I think the commitment of the King to bring about a constitutional, multi-party democracy in Jordan is sincere, and it is to be welcomed. Amid the crises and violence of the Arab revolutions that we have discussed here, it is important for us to recognise that in countries such as Jordan and Morocco, Governments and monarchs have set about enlightened reform.

The elections took place in January in Jordan. There are now further discussions on revisiting the elections law, implementing economic reforms. At all stages, we will provide advice and expertise to Jordan whenever it is requested. The stability and future prosperity of Jordan is a major factor in British foreign policy.

Q84 Sir Menzies Campbell: I am grateful for that. You have provided me with some comfort. Now we are on a roll, I wonder whether you can do the same for Afghanistan.

William Hague: I will try.

Q85 Sir Menzies Campbell: How do you assess the prospects for a political settlement in Afghanistan? Are they better this year than they were last year?

William Hague: I am not sure we have put a percentage on them last year or this year. It is possible. We have been building up the Afghan National Security Forces and the Administration of Afghanistan in such a way that they will be resilient in the absence of a political settlement. Of course, in the long term, for its future stability, Afghanistan needs a political settlement, and we have been promoting that in various ways.

We, including the Prime Minister, have been active in a trilateral process of dialogue with Afghanistan and Pakistan that is designed to do that. We agree with and support the establishment of a Taliban political office in Doha. The recent events surrounding that, particularly the Taliban presentation of that office when it was opened, which led to negotiations with it being stalled, illustrate the great difficulties that a political settlement encounters.

Q86 Sir Menzies Campbell: What about Pakistan? Are you convinced that Pakistan’s co-operation is at the right level and with the right degree of commitment, as part of the effort towards a political settlement?

William Hague: With reference to your earlier question, that is something that has changed positively over the last year or two.

Q87 Sir Menzies Campbell: As a result of the recent election?

William Hague: No, over the last year or two. We hope it will be sustained after the recent election. I think Pakistani leaders in general have clearly understood-they probably understood this before, but they are more prepared to act-that Pakistan needs stability in southern Afghanistan, and they should be prepared to do what is necessary to bring that about. The Prime Minister, two weeks ago, was the first western leader to visit Pakistan. I will be visiting in the near future to take forward, with the new Government, all our discussions, seeking co-operation of the whole Pakistani state, including military and intelligence elements for supporting a political process.

Q88 Sir Menzies Campbell: The Prime Minister told me and, indeed, the whole House in his statement following his visit that he had discussed the issue of the historic tribal areas. Is that an issue that you will raise when you next go there?

Mr Hague: Absolutely. That is always a factor in our discussions. It is one of the many reasons why good relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan are important. So, yes.

Q89 Sir Menzies Campbell: I don’t expect you to give me any numbers, but can you give me some indication of what factors we will take into account in determining the extent of our military presence in Afghanistan following the withdrawal of combat troops at the end of 2014?

Mr Hague: This will depend on discussions in NATO and with other countries, and those have yet to be concluded. We have made certain commitments, as you know, about leading the officer training academy in Afghanistan, although the numbers of British troops involved in that are relatively small. But we are committed to doing that. We are committed to providing £70 million of assistance to finance the Afghan National Security Forces and, of course, all our development aid. But beyond that we have not made any decisions yet. Those will be made in the National Security Council, depending on an overall approach in NATO, including the decisions to be made by the United States on this, so we have not made those decisions yet.

Q90 Sir Menzies Campbell: Subject to the question of keeping classified information close, will you make announcements about that? Is that something you would tell the House?

Mr Hague: Yes, absolutely. We will announce, as we have throughout the drawdown of British troops in Afghanistan, what presence we intend to have after the end of 2014.

Q91 Sir Menzies Campbell: Any idea when that might be?

Mr Hague: Not yet.

Q92 Sir Menzies Campbell: Normally people say on these occasions, as soon as possible.

Mr Hague: Well, "in due course" is the other answer. So I will use "in due course" at the moment.

Sir Menzies Campbell: Perhaps you have spent too much time with civil servants. Thank you very much.

Q93 Mr Baron: Foreign Secretary, we were briefly discussing the rocky road to democracy. There was mention of it earlier when we were talking about Egypt. What do you think are the key lessons to be learnt from our involvement in Afghanistan? Most of us supported the mission to get rid of al-Qaeda. Some of us opposed the idea of nation building, which meant taking on the Taliban. Across North Africa the seeds of democracy are stuttering into life. We have poured in relatively few resources. That is quite a contrast to Iraq and Afghanistan. Do you think there are any lessons to be learnt?

Mr Hague: That is quite a broad question. It may be a very good question but it is a broad one. I will try not to speak for half an hour in response.

Chair: I would be grateful if you didn’t.

Mr Hague: I am sure you would be, Chairman. It is an important lesson that sometimes a military intervention is necessary in order to destroy very clear threats to this country and our allies. That has been achieved in Afghanistan. Al-Qaeda bases were operating from there. The senior leadership and core of al-Qaeda have been severely damaged. Of course, there is still a lot of work to be done for the future. Taking the issue more broadly, sometimes it will be necessary to do that.

There will be other situations in which we can work in different ways. What we are doing in Somalia now or Mali are examples of an alternative approach. I am not saying that this could have been done in Afghanistan, because there was a problem of al-Qaeda operating bases and launching international terror campaigns from them. In Somalia and Mali we are emphasising the need for legitimate government from the outset. We are helping to finance and train troops from that region to do the job on the ground of bringing about security and then giving diplomatic and developmental support. Whenever we can make that model work, rather than put, in the cliché, western boots on the ground, we should seek to do so. That is as brief as I can put that.

Q94 Mike Gapes: May I take you back to Pakistan? Clearly the United States is in negotiations with the Afghan Government about whether there will be some permanent American presence. Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that the American presence in the region will be significantly reduced. We clearly have a different interest in Pakistan than the US, because we have more than 1 million British Pakistanis with intricate family connections. Do you believe that the withdrawal from Afghanistan will make our relationships with Pakistan and the region easier for us, or could it make our life more difficult because of the potential for Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan and the concomitant Pakistan-Taliban relationship?

Mr Hague: In a way, you have answered the question. It will depend on the course of events. If we have succeeded, as we hope and believe we have, in providing strong enough Afghan National Security Forces so that the Afghans can sustain their constitution and resist the growth of insurgency, it will be a far better scenario for relations with countries in the region. I think you are right to point to the fact that, for the UK, relations with Pakistan must be a constant factor in our foreign policy and must be a major consideration for us, whatever the situation in Afghanistan, but that relationship will become easier. It will be easier to focus on the immense commercial potential for both countries in that relationship if national security concerns are reduced. I am hopeful that, over the coming decades, the British relationship with Pakistan will be able to focus on the commercial, people-to-people relationships, rather than be dominated by security concerns, as it has been in recent years.

Q95 Rory Stewart: Foreign Secretary, you focus quite rightly on traditional diplomatic skills and knowledge, and on building them up within the Foreign Office. You have clearly gone through a first-phase process that has ranged from restarting the diplomatic language school through to creating more language posts. If you were to remain in your post for another few years, what would be the second phase? What reforms would you hope to introduce to ensure that the Foreign Office is all that you would like it to be in 20 or 30 years’ time?

Mr Hague: We have set a lot of this going, as you say. We haven’t got the language school open yet, but it will open in September. I was looking around the emerging classrooms this morning. Simon hasn’t had a chance to speak in the entire session, so perhaps he could say a few sentences, particularly about our diplomatic excellence programme. One of the things that we now need to add to that, and we are doing some thinking about this, is the necessary skills for the future. Languages, of course, are among those skills, but many other diplomatic skills are required, so we are giving some thought to how we can ensure those skills are acquired during a diplomatic career, and how we then ensure that we make the best use of those skills.

I am glad to say that the Foreign Office has just been applauded, in The Guardian no less-Labour Members will be very pleased about that-for being the best Department at talent management, but we need to ensure that skills are acquired, and they are sometimes acquired in difficult places, and that the Foreign Office makes the most of them. We also need to ensure-"grade" may be the wrong way of putting it-that we have the necessary gradings of those skills. That is the sort of thinking, in very general terms, about where we might go next. Simon, do you want to add anything?

Sir Simon Fraser: I do not have a great deal to add. I agree, of course. The diplomatic excellence programme that we have been running is trying to bring together all those strands in a coherent way, so we are focusing on all those skills, including language skills. We are linking that to our consideration of the shape of the work force and where the work force needs to be.

We are effecting a network shift to ensure that we are focusing our resources in countries that will be more important to us in the future. All those things come together, and I believe we are making progress. Some of the commentary on what we are doing has been positive in that sense, but as we explore things and make one step forwards, we discover further things that we want to do. We will therefore keep it going, and after we have the language school open we are, as the Foreign Secretary said, already thinking about tangible next steps to maintain that momentum.

Q96 Rory Stewart: We have in the past discussed core competencies and the possibility that the Foreign Office might have a different core competency framework retained and developed so that you’re not being assessed on the same core competencies. In other words, do you continue to commit not to be assessed on the same core competencies?

Sir Simon Fraser: As we have said before in this discussion, I believe that actually having a basic set of core competencies against which all people in the organisation at its different levels can be assessed on a level playing field is a good thing, but I don’t think it should be an absolute judgement. Therefore, we have been taking steps to make sure that while we look at people’s competencies, we also look at their skills and their experience, particularly when appointments are made. In that way, appointments are not made on the basis of an abstract judgement of competence, but people’s ability to do a particular job in an excellent way is also looked at.

One particular point on this. We have recently introduced a new appraisal form for doing our performance management, which, whilst retaining some reference to core competencies, explicitly places more emphasis on people’s skills and experience as well. So I think that we are moving to balance this in a way which I hope you would appreciate.

Mr Hague: Keep competence and add skills is the summary.

Q97 Sir John Stanley: I have a registered interest in the Republic of Korea, having recently attended the annual meeting of the UK-Korea forum in Seoul, founded by the UK-Korea forum and by the Korea Foundation. Foreign Secretary, you will be aware that the British Government have a very significant responsibility in relation to the Korean peninsula by virtue of the membership of the British Government as one of the only four permanent members of the Military Armistice Commission established at the end of the Korean war in 1953. There are four permanent members plus a rotating member, those of course from the South, and the other permanent members with us are the United States, the Republic of Korea and the UN itself. You will also be aware that under Article 24 of the armistice commission it states:

"The general mission of the Military Armistice Commission shall be to supervise the implementation of this Armistice Agreement and to settle through negotiations any violations of this Armistice Agreement."

You will further be aware that following the relatively recent so-called "provocations" from the North, the present South Korean Government-Madam President Park has, like her predecessor, made an unequivocal commitment to making a military response if there are any provocations from the North. As we know, this term "provocations", which is used hugely euphemistically in this particular context, extends to the deliberate torpedoing of the other side’s naval vessel, in this case by a North Korean torpedo into the South Korean naval vessel Cheonan leading to the death of 42 Korean sailors, and extends the term also to the artillery shoot on to a populated island, Yeonpyeong island, which led to both military and civilian deaths.

This is my question to you, Foreign Secretary. Following those last two so-called "provocations", I would suggest that the British Government were more or less conspicuous by their visible absence from discharging their responsibilities as a member of the armistice commission, leaving that very much to the United States and the South Koreans. I ask you if, by any mischance-and we all earnestly hope that this will not happen-there be a further so-called "provocation" leading to the guaranteed military response from the South Korean Government, will the British Government take their duties and responsibilities to proceed to settle the violation by negotiations most seriously?

I trust that you can assure us again that you have a contingency plan for the action that the British Government will take in such circumstances and I am sure that you would entirely accept the critical importance of the guaranteed military response from the South not leading to a spiralling escalation, with potentially disastrous consequences on both sides of the 38th parallel.

Mr Hague: This is very important and we have been in close touch with the Republic of Korea, including in recent events this year, and took our responsibilities in the Security Council extremely seriously. Your question is partly devoted to the armistice commission, but as a member of the Security Council, we are involved in the decisions of that body and indeed we were very active as one of the biggest supporters of the Republic of Korea’s case and in trying to bring about a Security Council decision on these matters, which we did successfully. If there are further provocations, which would be an extremely serious scenario, we will discuss that with the Security Council of course and work closely with the United States and with South Korea. It would be premature to comment further before such an incident or such consultations have begun, but you can be sure we will take that very seriously.

Chair: Foreign Secretary, thank you very much. You have been very forthcoming. I trust that you will get some time for holiday during the coming recess.

Mr Hague: Depends on events, Mr. Chairman.

Chair: With so much going on, we wish you well in whatever difficult decisions you have to make.

Prepared 18th July 2013