The Government support and keep in close contact with the UN-led political process to end the Syrian conflict. We have used our relationships and convening power to encourage progress, including by hosting the then UN special envoy Staffan de Mistura and the Syria small group of like-minded countries. We are also engaging with the new UN envoy, Geir Pedersen, who has our full support.
Given the sensitivity at the Syria-Turkey border, what specific steps can we take to keep the US engaged in diplomatic solutions, if it is going to withdraw troops, and, crucially, to keep Turkey engaged in finding a diplomatic solution that does not involve attacking the Kurdish forces?
I think both states are extremely conscious of the impact of any of their decisions on Syria. We have engaged regularly with the United States as it works through its process of withdrawal to make sure it is manageable and to make sure that everyone remains focused on the importance of continuing the global coalition against Daesh. That contact is constant with Turkey and with the United States.
The actions of Iran in supporting the Assad regime and the way in which it has conducted a civil war against its own people have caused deep concern. Iran can improve its position only if it does not support such a regime and if it encourages a full part in the political process to see a reformed Syria.
I met the Prime Minister of Lebanon, as did my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, on his visit to the United Kingdom.[Official Report, 23 January 2019, Vol. 653, c. 4MC.] We work very closely with all parties in Lebanon to encourage the process of Government formation. We are acutely conscious of the pressure of 1.3 million refugees in Lebanon. We would encourage the return of refugees from Lebanon to Syria, but only when it is safe to do so. Support for Lebanon and its economy is a fundamental part of the United Kingdom’s engagement in the region.
The Minister will be aware that countries across the Arab Gulf are now reopening their embassies in Damascus. What work is the Minister doing with some of our Arab allies and partners to do more to get back to rebuilding and to getting peace and consensus across Syria?
There seems to be a mixed view among Arab states about normalising relations with Syria, and that is certainly not the view of all states. Arab states are understandably worried about the influence of others in Syria, but there is a recognition—certainly by the United Kingdom, the EU and others—that there can be no normalisation of relationships and no return to embassies unless there is clear evidence that the regime in Syria has learned from the terrible costs it has inflicted on the Syrian people and there is a political settlement to demonstrate that.
Given the huge shifts in policy on Syria emerging from the United States Administration, will the Minister provide some clarity on three related issues: when US troops will be withdrawn, what the preconditions are for that to happen and how America’s Kurdish allies will be protected after that withdrawal?
With respect, Mr Speaker, they were good questions all. It is clear that the United States has made a serious appraisal of the impact of its troop withdrawal so as not to affect the global coalition against Daesh, and it is in close contact with its neighbours. We do not know the precise details. It is important that this does not disturb the work against Daesh, but the United States has also made it clear, as have others, that the Kurdish community must not be affected by any untoward incursion by Turkey or any others. It is important that the stability of north-east Syria is not affected by American decisions.