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US Secretary of State

Volume 486: debated on Tuesday 13 January 2009

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary looks forward to a close working relationship with the incoming US Secretary of State following the President’s inauguration, which will of course involve face-to-face meetings in the US, the UK and elsewhere. He has already spoken to her by telephone.

When the Foreign Secretary first meets Hillary Clinton, will he stress to her that the closure of Guantanamo, the ending by the United States of extraordinary rendition of suspects to countries with dubious human rights records, and the total abolition by the United States of torture such as water-boarding as a US army interrogation technique, will restore to the US the moral leadership of the world, a leadership that has been sadly eroded over the last eight years?

I understand the force of conviction with which the right hon. and learned Gentleman puts forward those arguments. President-elect Obama has particularly made clear his intention to close Guantanamo Bay, something for which we have argued for a long time, and that will help to reinforce the legitimate leadership position that the US has within global affairs.

May I urge my hon. Friend when he meets the Secretary of State to raise the issue of Cyprus? I do so for a particular reason. [Interruption.] Wait until you hear it. Both communities are committed to a peace settlement, yet the negotiations have stalled, and they have done so because the other parties to such an agreement are not actively involved. Both the US and the UK have great purchase with those countries. I think particularly of Turkey and Greece. This would be an opportunity for the US to have an early win in the new Administration. May I urge my hon. Friend to raise that?

I know that my hon. Friend takes a genuine interest in these matters, and we continue to work with both communities for a resolution of the issue within Cyprus. This will be one of a long list of issues that President-elect Obama will have to address. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe will visit Cyprus in February when I am sure that the issue will be considered.

Can the Foreign Secretary remind the Secretary of State, if she needs reminding, of the enormous popularity and support that President-elect Obama has within the continent of Africa? Can the Foreign Secretary urge her to use that support and influence, particularly with the South Africans, to bring about the end of the terrible tyranny of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe?

I agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman. It is critical that the genuine crisis that is taking place in Zimbabwe is brought to an end. Regional neighbours within Africa have a particularly important role to bring to bear in making it abundantly clear to Robert Mugabe that the current conduct is completely and utterly unacceptable.

To paraphrase John F. Kennedy, rather than keep asking what America can do for us, should we not seek here in Europe to say what we can do to work with America to solve pressing problems on the economy, the environment, Russia, the middle east, Afghanistan and, indeed, Africa? To achieve that, can the Foreign Secretary work towards a more united, coherent Europe, because the last thing that President Obama needs is 27 nationalistic European foreign policies—the ideology of Opposition Front Benchers?

As on many issues, I very much agree with my right hon. Friend. There is a real risk in some quarters that people feel that, with the passing of President George W. Bush, all the difficult issues in the international community will disappear. There is an important necessity for the international community to work together on these issues, and that means that Europe needs to come together with the United States of America. That was one of the issues discussed at the General Affairs and External Relations Council last week.

Right at the top of the agenda with the new Secretary of State must be strategy in Afghanistan. Given the expectation that the United States will ask its allies to send more forces to Afghanistan, when will the House be informed of the outcome of the Government’s own review of Afghanistan strategy, which the Minister said in November would be completed in 2008, with the House informed of the implications of the assessment? Will he accept our calls for regular quarterly updates to Parliament on the strategy, objectives and progress made in Afghanistan so that, with thousands of our troops deployed and serious casualties being suffered, the nation gets the transparency from the Government and in Parliament that our commitment to Afghanistan warrants?

That review is ongoing, and we will report to the House at the appropriate time. We have regularly updated the House on the situation in Afghanistan. It does have a military component, but a military solution on its own will not succeed. That is why we are working in the way that we are, and this is one of the issues on which we will work exceedingly closely with the new Obama Administration.