London, Asharq Al-Awsat- Britain’s Minister for Middle Eastern Affairs Alistair Burt believes that Al-Assad’s latest speech reflected a disturbing denial of the facts of what was happening and inability to accept responsibility for the violence caused by Syrian security forces.
“When we see the courage of the people who took to the streets peacefully we support the right for peaceful protests. We have called on the Syrian security forces to stop killing the protestors and respond to what the people want”. Burt said in an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat conducted at the British Foreign Office.
The Foreign Office Minister also said it was necessary for national dialogue to continue to compensate the regime which has lost its legitimacy and credibility. He condemned the continuing violence. “We strongly condemn the killing of innocent people and call on the regime to respond to its people’s demands,” he said. “We completely reject what it says about external forces supporting the protestors. There is no evidence of these claims. What we see are only brave people who wish to see change in their country. We wish to see change in Syria.”
On Syria’s future, Burt emphasised that no one can tell what can happen in Syria in the future. “We are talking with various hues in the opposition and believe that it is important for the opposition to present to the Syrian people a unified view of what they are doing,” he said. He said Britain’s talks with the Syrian opposition focuses on how to ensure a democratic course and on their views on economic issues to present these to the Syrian people so that they would know what this new government would give them. “Even though the people are apprehensive about change they continue their protests. They want to understand how the minorities will be protected,” he said. “We repeat that there is a circle of violence the regime has caused and it can stop the violence by immediately pulling out its forces from the streets and allowing the observers to do their work.”
Regarding the Arab spring, Burt said that as Foreign Secretary Haig always says “it is the most important event in the twenty-first century, more important than the 2008 financial crisis. He added: “We want to see where matters are heading. It was splendid to see the people making the same demands and in many different countries, one after the other. I hope we are not mistaken in the United Kingdom in believing that all these nations are similar because they share the same historical heritage. But it was proven that they are different from each other and that they responded in different ways.” He said that one of the most important observations was “the bravery of people who were facing the same economic pressures”.
The British Foreign Office Minister also stressed that that the youth in these countries are looking for a better future economically and politically and that the cause was not only the social and popular networking but also television, especially television in the Arab countries “for the past 10 or 12 years through criticism and questions about the regimes”. He added: “We believe that what the people asked from their governments were the right to vote, more transparency, the right to assembly, and the right to information. All this is what will ensure stability for nations in the long-term. This means change, and it is not a bad thing.”
Burt said that it was not clear yet where matters will head. He said that developments will not be easy in all countries because they differ from one another. He said the matter was different in Tunisia which took the lead and was distinguished in organizing elections which were held in a short period. The situation is more difficult in Egypt where the elections are taking a longer period. On Britain’s position on the rise of the Islamic movements in the Arab spring nations, Burt said that he did not believe that names were what matters. “There are a diverse number of views,” he said. “What matters is ensuring the principles that guarantee democracy. We judge governments and political parties not only through their trends or names but through their deeds. We hope that the people who stood for freedom and transparency will stand for equality in rights between women and men.”
“Our relations with the countries will be according to what the governments do,” he said. “We are waiting to see the results. The Tunisians are now leading in the elections and have established their Government. We are waiting to see how they will carry out their responsibilities. They currently have a coalition which apparently provides the opportunity to all sides to put forward their visualizations on how they want their State to move ahead. This appears to be a good beginning. We are waiting to see what will happen in Egypt.”
On British support to the countries where there are revolutions, Burt replied: “Yes, we have a program of support called the Arab Partnership which provides the equivalent of 110 million pounds Sterling. The assistance is directed to economic and political support in order to bolster the enhancement of capabilities and the quest for democracy. It will be for the sake of all the nations that have seen changes at the present time: Libya, Egypt, and Tunisia. It is a program that runs for four years.” He added: “Of course the economic support will also be through several channels, for instance through EU support. We are aware that these States have problems in their budgets at present and that the people require a push to get back on their feet. Of course this assistance is provided in accordance with the needs and priorities defined by the people concerned. Our support will continue for a long time. We have stood on the side of the peoples who have expressed their support for change and we shall stand on the side of the governments that will serve these principles and bring about change.”
On the visit by Britain’s Prime Minister to Saudi Arabia, Alistair Burt said that his country had very strong relations with Saudi Arabia. He said that Prime Minister Cameron visited the Gulf several times during the past year within the framework of mutual relations to strengthen dialogue and bolster trade exchange and the national security of the two kingdoms.
On Iran, the minister said that unless Iran demonstrated openness on its nuclear program to the IAEA and the world it would be necessary “that we should continue the policy of economic sanctions with all firmness”. He added: “The sanctions until now prevent the travel of personalities that have ties to the regime and involve freezing of assets.” He said the world was worried over the nuclear program and wants concrete evidence that the enrichment is intended for peaceful purposes “but with the inability to meet the demands of the IAEA we have sufficient reasons to continue the sanctions”. He said that the pressures will continue. “We believe that the sanctions have started affecting the regime and we shall continue the same policy,” he said. “At the same time we shall give the Iranian regime the opportunity for negotiations. This is a very important proposal. We ask the Iranians to respond to the message addressed to them by Catherine Ashton who made the same request.”
On reports about British military reinforcements, the Minister said that the United Kingdom always considered the Gulf region as an important region. “We have always cooperated with a group of nations to ensure security navigation in the Gulf, and the matter is no different today from what it was yesterday,” he said. “We have good relations with the Gulf countries and with other countries who share our apprehensions about Iran and its threatening behaviour. There is no change at all in this phase in our policy to ensure safe passage in the Gulf and the right to free navigation.”