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Gordon Brown in an Interview with Asharq Al Awsat - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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British Prime Minister Gordon Brown

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown

• The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz, is ‎visiting the United Kingdom. How do you assess the relationship ‎between the two countries?‎

Saudi Arabia is an important partner and ally in the Middle East and recent ‎years have seen this relationship broaden and deepen. This is demonstrated by ‎the sheer range of our bilateral political, security and commercial discussions. ‎Our two countries have a long history of friendship and cooperation. This visit is ‎an opportunity to look ahead and plot the course of this relationship in the ‎coming years.‎

• This is the first state visit for King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia since ascending the ‎throne  what do you think his leadership and your new leadership means for ‎cooperation between your two countries?‎

This visit presents us with the opportunity to discuss innovative responses to the ‎challenges which face us today; promoting global trade, confronting extremism, ‎nuclear proliferation, conflict resolution, and climate change. These are all ‎challenges which require close international cooperation and I am pleased to say ‎that we have similar objectives to our Saudi partners. The question is how we ‎jointly use our assets and influence to effectively tackle these challenges to ‎achieve our shared aim of working towards a more peaceful, just and prosperous ‎future.‎

• There are many developments in the Middle East, the Gulf and elsewhere that ‎impact both countries, what are your priorities in the region today?‎

Tragically, the Middle East suffers from more than its fair share of crises and ‎conflicts. Saudi Arabia has on a number of recent occasions led the way in efforts ‎to create meaningful progress on these issues. The Arab Peace Initiative remains ‎an important framework towards a just and lasting peace. Saudi engagement on ‎the Iranian nuclear issue is critically important. I applaud Saudi efforts to ‎promote political reconciliation in Iraq, Lebanon and amongst the Palestinians.‎

These issues are also major UK priorities. We have benefited greatly from Saudi ‎views and initiatives on them. The coming months may well be critical, looking ‎forward to the Annapolis Summit, developments in the Iranian nuclear issue and ‎our changing role in Iraq. We regard a close working relationship with Saudi ‎Arabia in these areas as essential.‎

• You have announced troop reduction in Basra and hence indicated your desire for ‎complete withdrawal from Iraq- do you feel it is now time for disengaging from ‎Iraq?‎

This is not about disengaging with Iraq. I have made clear our longstanding ‎commitment to support the Iraqi people. However, there was never a desire on ‎either side for Iraqis to be dependent on our military support in the long term, ‎and therefore, as the conditions allow and Iraqi forces demonstrate their ‎readiness to occupy these roles  which they have in their rapidly developing ‎operational capabilities  it is only right that we gradually pass over control to ‎them. At the same time, our role has never been a purely military one. As I have ‎stated on several occasions, our vital work to promote political reconciliation, ‎institutional reform and economic growth are long-term commitments which we ‎certainly have no intention of disengaging from.‎

• How much of the UK’s focus have now shifted to ‘save’ Afghanistan rather than ‎Iraq  is that the ‘winnable’ war?‎

The circumstances in both countries are incomparably different and I reject any ‎suggestion that calculations for changes in troop numbers in Iraq are in any way ‎influenced by developing needs in Afghanistan. Experts I have spoken to who ‎understand the situation in Afghanistan, including President Karzai just a few ‎days ago, have made it very clear that the counter-insurgency in Afghanistan is ‎winnable, but we should not be complacent, because lessons in other parts of the ‎world have proved that what we need is sustained commitment. ‎

Our approach is that this is not primarily a military effort. Rather, success is ‎about creating the momentum towards development and progress so that the ‎backward-looking vision of the Taliban and their attempts to terrorize the local ‎population cannot gain a foothold. That is why the thrust of our approach is ‎more about reconstruction, reconciliation, counter-narcotics and economic ‎development.‎

• The UK is in favour of Turkey’s accession to the EU  however Turkey today ‎threatens to go into Iraq not heeding the pleas of the EU. How problematic are ‎these threats to efforts of bringing Turkey into the European fold?‎

We recognize Turkey’s security concerns and I discussed this in detail with ‎Prime Minister Erdogan last week. However, we also made very clear the ‎importance of Iraqi sovereignty and not doing anything which would adversely ‎affect Iraq’s stability  which is clearly not in the interests of Turkey. The UK ‎has been working hard with its other close partners in bringing about a solution ‎and ensuring that all parties  including the Iraqi government  do their utmost ‎to resolve this peacefully and diplomatically.‎

Clearly Turkey has a number of criteria to meet towards membership of the EU ‎‎– one element of which concerns the resolution of outstanding issues in the south ‎of the country. As one of the key advocates of Turkish membership to the EU, ‎Britain wants Turkey to demonstrate that it can meet such criteria in full.‎

• Iran is increasingly causing concern internationally  how concerned are you by ‎Iran’s commitment to develop its nuclear program?‎

It is clear to me that these are not just British or “Western” concerns as the ‎Iranian regime would like to claim, but represent the concerns of the entire ‎civilized world. The Saudi state visit will be an opportunity to raise this with a ‎leading regional actor as part of ensuring an international coordinated effort on ‎this issue.‎

• There is more of a focus now on Iran’s “sponsorship of terror” according to some ‎American and British circles  is this now the greater problem related to Iran?‎

Both nuclear proliferation and sponsorship of terrorism are both highly ‎significant and dangerous matters. In the case of Iran’s support for armed ‎groups working against stability and moderation we are merely echoing strong ‎regional concerns in this regard. We strongly urge Iran that instead of providing ‎military support for groups dedicated to violence or undermining domestic ‎stability, its interests would be much better served by working with the ‎international community to promote peace, reconciliation and moderation in the ‎Middle East. ‎

• Lebanon is one problem area  what role can the UK play in helping the political ‎process and upholding democracy in Lebanon?‎

In the context of the Saudi visit, Saudi Arabia has done more than most to ‎promote political reconciliation and dialogue between different Lebanese groups. ‎Needless to say, we fully support these efforts in assisting the Lebanese ‎themselves to overcome these various political differences.‎

• How do you view Syria’s role in this regard? Do you share the American view that ‎Syria is interfering in Iraq?‎

We have always made it very clear to Syria that the government faces a strategic choice; either wholehearted participation in efforts to work towards peace and ‎progress in the region, or continuing to isolate itself by support for those who ‎advocate violent solutions and an unpromising future for the region of continued ‎instability and under-performance. We look to President Bashar al Asad to take ‎the wise choice, beginning with a positive stance regarding the best opportunity ‎for moving the peace process forward in six years.‎

• Are you optimistic about the peace conference due to be held in the US in ‎November? What grounds for peace in the region with the turmoil in the ‎Palestinian territories?‎

We are working hard to ensure that the opportunity which this conference ‎presents is fully grasped by all sides. The Saudis have done more than many over ‎recent years to get us to where we are today. While and agree with their concerns ‎that this summit having a meaningful impact, we see an engaged Saudi role as ‎key to helping bring about the success of this.‎

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

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