London, Asharq Al-Awsat- British Foreign Office Secretary Jack Straw spoke to journalists on return from his visit to Bahrain about Syria, his recent visit to Iraq and the failure of the signing of the Bahrain Declaration at the end of the Forum for the Future.
Speaking to correspondents from the Middle East, Straw said, "A military strike against Syria is not on anyone”s agenda. Syria must be given time to implement Resolution 1636, before judging the level of its cooperation with the international inquiry commission", in charge of the investigating former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri”s assasination.
Asked about his visit to Iraq, Straw said that the main objective of the visit was his meeting with leaders representing the Sunni parties who decided to take part in the upcoming elections. He added, "We appreciate their decision to take the risk of participation".
Secretary Straw emphasized that the few weeks after the passing of the international resolution is not enough time to judge Syria. He added that it is the chief UN investigator, Detlev Mehlis, who will decide whether Syria is cooperating with the inquiry commission.
He dismissed reports that he encouraged a meeting of the UN Security Council at the end of this month to discuss Syria”s cooperation. He said, "I am not pushing for a Security Council meeting." However, he noted, "Syria said it will cooperate, and I believe that cooperation is possible."
Commenting on his most recent visit to Iraq, Straw said that the visit focused on a meeting with two groups of Sunni leaders in Iraq, in addition to what he termed "routine meetings with commanders of the multinational forces, Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jafari, and UN Envoy to Iraq Ashraf Qazi."
The British Foreign Secretary refused to name the Sunni parties with which he had met, only stating that they represent those that have decided to take part in the upcoming Iraqi elections.
He added, "We expressed our appreciation for their move to take the risk of participation. I asked them about what they can do to make their involvement more effective."
Speaking to journalists, he said that he told Iraqi officials, "Democracy means giving the majority a greater voice, while preserving the rights of minorities at the same time."
He said that his country will not intervene in the holding of the preparatory meetings in Cairo for the Iraqi national accord conference that will begin today, but it will send observers there.
He expressed hope that "the largest possible number of representatives of the groups that do not resort to violence" will attend the conference. However, he noted that the decision concerning who attends the meetings is the responsibility of the Iraqis and the Arab League.
Secretary Straw visited Bahrain, where he attended meetings of the Future Forum, which ended without the signing of a final declaration as had been anticipated.
Straw sought to play down the disagreements that prevented the signing of the Bahrain Declaration. He said, "Historically, the organization of such an event in itself is as important as any conclusions it could come up with".
He said that there were not many disagreements at the forum, which was chaired by the United Kingdom and Bahrain. Nevertheless, he admitted that a few disagreements did arise. He said, "A statement containing warm words could have been signed. However, it is better not to say anything until the disagreements have been resolved".
Straw said that the presence of all Arab foreign ministers at the forum of the G-8 states and the Middle East was an accomplishment in itself. Only five foreign ministers attended last year”s meeting in Rabat, Morocco he added.
He said this level of participation was an indication that "the Arab states and the West have passed the problem of the claim that the reform agenda is imposed from outside."
Emphasizing the importance of reform, Secretary Straw referred to "devestating statistics of the UN Development Program”s report that showed a lack of cultural development in the Arab world."
The British foreign office secretary praised the "great openness from Arab leaders in discussing reform."
A correspondent of Asharq al-Awsat newspaper asked about the objection by some Arab states led by Egypt to the funding of unregistered non-governmental organizations (NGOs) by the "Foundation for the Future", which was declared in Bahrain. In response, Straw admitted that "while states are in the transition to democratic regimes, they usually request the registration of NGOs." He said this is the right of every state. However, he added, "The NGOs should be given permission to act in a simplified manner in the framework of an open society."