•  SyriaUK  •  info@syriauk.org  •  www.facebook.com/SyriaUKorg  •  @SyriaUK

Monthly Archive

Search Syria Solidarity UK

Monday 18 December 2017

Is Labour whistling Russia’s tune on Syria?

Photo: Syria Civil Defence recovering one of the victims of Sunday’s bombing of Khan Sheikhoun by suspected Russian warplanes. At least ten civilians were reported killed. Khan Sheikhoun was the site of the Syrian regime’s chemical attack on April 4th that killed more than 80 people.

Labour’s Shadow Foreign Secretary replied with denial and indignation to our recent letter concerning her remarks in the Commons on a deal to keep Assad in power in Syria.

Her reply addressed only Syria Solidarity UK, and ignored the co-authors of our letter, Labour Campaign for International Development.

Her reply failed to make clear either her own view or Labour’s policy on Assad, and it raised new questions.

To recap, on Monday 11 December, in reply to a statement by the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Boris Johnson, Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry said:

“Is Iran ready to accept, as an outcome of the Astana process, that it will withdraw its forces from Syria, and will Hezbollah and the Shi’a militias do likewise, provided that President Assad is left in place, that all coalition forces are withdrawn, and that Syria is given international assistance with its reconstruction? If that is the case, will the UK Government accept that deal, despite the Foreign Secretary’s repeated assertion that President Assad has no place in the future government of Syria?”

Together with the Labour Campaign for International Development, we wrote to Emily Thornberry to express our disappointment that she had proposed such a deal. We wrote:

“Assad’s regime has been responsible for extensive and systematic crimes against humanity, and for the large majority of civilian deaths during the war. Any implication that Assad has a place in the future of Syria is therefore deeply harmful, as is any suggestion that the UK might fund the reconstruction of Syria under his rule.”

And we concluded our joint letter with this call:

“We ask that you please clarify Labour’s position on the Assad regime, and re-establish the party as one that actively condemns those responsible for mass murder and genocide and seeks to hold them accountable. To do otherwise would be to let down those living under the regime’s bombs.We look forward to hearing from you.”

In her letter of reply, Emily Thornberry ignored the call for a clarification of policy. She asserted that:

“In response to a government statement on its talks with the Iranian regime, I asked what Iran was demanding on Syria, and how the government had responded. I advanced no proposals of my own, and endorsed none of Iran’s demands.”

This obscures what she actually said in the Commons, where rather than simply ask what Iran’s demands were, she asked if Iran and its allied Hezbollah and Shi’a militia would agree to a series of linked proposals which she herself set out in her question; she then asked not how the government had responded to any Iranian demands but how the government would respond if Iran would accept the package of proposals she herself had just described.

Emily Thornberry introduced this set of proposals into the exchange in the House of Commons. She did not at the time ascribe them to anyone else. Now in her letter she says the proposals are not hers.

Her remarks in the Commons did not present the set of proposals as Iran’s own; on the contrary, if they are Iran’s proposals then there would be no logic in her asking whether Iran will accept them.

But if these are not Iran’s proposals, and if as she says they are not Emily Thornberry’s own proposals, then whose proposals are they?

The Astana process which she referred to in her question in the Commons is the Russian-led talks process, as opposed to the UN-led peace process at Geneva which was established by UN Security Council Resolution 2254. Are we to take it that the set of proposals introduced into the Commons debate by Emily Thornberry is Russia’s set of proposals?

We have not seen this set of proposals publicly put forward by Russia, or by Iran, or by any other party to the Astana talks. The only place we can find them is in Emily Thornberry’s 11 December speech. If anyone has an alternative source for them, we would be very interested to hear.