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US-UK Discussions

Volume 564: debated on Tuesday 18 June 2013

I met Secretary Kerry in Washington last week. Our talks covered Syria, the middle east peace process, the G8 summit, Afghanistan and climate change.

At the start of his first term, President Obama said that he would close Guantanamo Bay within a year. Will the Foreign Secretary tell us how close the prison now is to closure, what is being done in the interim to ensure the health and well-being of Guantanamo detainees, what steps the Prime Minister has taken to secure the return of Shaker Aamer and whether it will be discussed during the G8?

The President has made a number of statements about Guantanamo Bay, including in the last few weeks reiterating his determination to close it. We welcome that. I have discussed with Secretary Kerry the position of the last remaining UK resident, Shaker Aamer, and expressed our wish to see him return to the UK. We will see after the G8 whether it has provided an opportunity for the Prime Minister to raise the issue with President Obama.

Will my right hon. Friend stress the importance of engaging with Iran? Recent developments there must offer some hope, as this remains a major power in a region with so much destabilising it.

Developments do offer some hope. We discussed the issue extensively yesterday on an urgent question. Positive statements were certainly made during the election campaign of Mr Rouhani, who has been elected as President of Iran. I am sure that the people of Iran will now look to him to deliver on those promises, and we will judge Iran by its actions over the coming months.

Within days of the UK and France pushing for the lifting of the Syrian arms embargo, the largest single contributing country to UN peacekeeping on the Golan heights announced the withdrawal of its forces. Will the Secretary of State confirm that in his discussions with Secretary Kerry, he stressed the importance of the United Nations for humanitarian and security aspects in and around Syria and affirmed that he would do nothing to undermine it?

The United Nations has an absolutely central role, and the hon. Gentleman can be assured that we believe in that and that we always make that case. Austria gave particular reasons, including recent trouble on the Golan heights, for its intended withdrawal, but we want to see that force continue there and be fully staffed and supported.

Aside from airing the possibility that western countries might arm the Syrian opposition, will the Foreign Secretary tell us what steps Secretary Kerry would like to take to bring Syria, and perhaps even Iran, to the negotiating table?

Secretary Kerry has been instrumental in trying to launch the “Geneva II”, as we might call it—a process of negotiation to come in Geneva between regime and opposition in Syria, supported by all of us. Work on that continues, and one thing the Prime Minister is discussing with other G8 leaders is our unity and determination together to bring about a transition in Syria through a conference in Geneva. I pay tribute again to Secretary Kerry’s efforts on this.

As we are witnessing the security handover to the Afghan authorities, may I remind the Foreign Secretary that we have been pressing him for some time to bring about greater involvement of the neighbouring powers—including Iran—in the maintaining of Afghanistan’s future stability and the securing of the gains that have been made, especially for women’s health and education? Has he made any progress on that during his discussions with Secretary Kerry?

A great deal of progress has been made on it recently, over a period of several years. As the right hon. Gentleman will know, neighbouring countries, including Iran, have regular meetings with Afghanistan. Relations between Afghanistan and Iran are reasonably good, and we do nothing to stand in the way of those good relations. It is important for Afghanistan’s neighbours to co-operate with it on security, on counter-narcotics, and, of course, on the economic development of the country.