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Volume 536: debated on Tuesday 29 November 2011

I speak regularly with my EU colleagues about Syria—most recently at the EU Foreign Affairs Council on 14 November, where we agreed a further round of sanctions on Syria.

This week, we have heard Turkey call for President Assad to step down. Will the Foreign Secretary give us an update on how secure President Assad’s position is in Syria?

It is not very secure. We absolutely agree with the Turkish Government. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister called in August for President Assad to step aside. We believe that the regime has lost all legitimacy, certainly in the eyes of the world, but clearly in the eyes of millions of its own people as well. So the regime should now understand that it has no future, that democracy should be introduced in Syria, and the regime should leave office.

What conclusions have the Foreign Secretary and his EU counterparts reached on Iran’s involvement in propping up the Syrian regime?

There is no doubt that Iran has been involved in trying to prop up the Syrian regime. Iran is a country that has supported popular revolution in other parts of the middle east but then has been happy to collude in trying to repress such revolution in Syria—its ally. It has helped with technical equipment, expertise and advice on how to help the regime to deal with the situation, and it shows a hypocritical approach to events in the middle east.

Turkey is a vital ally of the United Kingdom and, indeed, the European Union. What discussions did the Prime Minister have with the Turkish President last week on what further specific measures Turkey can take to exert additional pressure on the Syrian Government?

We discussed this at some length—the Prime Minister with the President—and I discussed it with the Turkish Foreign Minister in the margins of the state visit. We are all working closely—Turkey and the European Union nations—with the Arab League. Turkey is considering a range of measures that it could take on Syria, but, as the hon. Lady knows, the Arab League has led the way at the moment in announcing sanctions. I would not be surprised if further measures now follow from Turkey, on the basis of the discussions that we had last week.

I very much welcome the EU sanctions and, indeed, those from the Arab League, particularly in the light of the very grim UN report, showing that Syrian Government forces have killed at least 256 children. Following the recent visit to London by Syrian opposition representatives, what more can the UK and our EU partners do to support the development of a cohesive and peaceful political opposition in Syria?

Cohesive and peaceful are two very important words. I met two separate groupings of the Syrian opposition last week: the Syrian National Council and the national co-ordinating body—a different grouping of the opposition. I encouraged them to find a common and cohesive platform together—at this extreme moment in their nation’s history, it is important for them to work together—and to maintain non-violent resistance to the Assad regime, to maintain their support around the world.