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UK cannot rely on US but needs new Middle East policy, politicians warn

26th May 2017
UK cannot rely on US but needs new Middle East policy, politicians warn

Hamed Chapman

The British Government no longer can rely on the US as a global leader in the Middle East but should work more closely with Europe to seriously consider recognition of a Palestinian state and ensure the Iran nuclear deal stays in place among other policies, a House of Lords Committee warned this month.

In a new report entitled ‘The Middle East: Time for New Realism’, it expressed fears following the election of Donald Trump, as his administration in Washington has the “potential to destabilise further the region.” The US President had “taken positions that are unconstructive and could even escalate conflict.”

“Overall, the new Middle East requires a new mindset in policy circles. First, it should no longer be seen as an area to exert power in the name of traditional interests. Second, it is not an area where the dependence on American predominance can any longer be assumed. Third, it is no longer a region of purely Western concern. The concerns are global; Russia has returned to the region and China’s involvement is growing.”

The British Government was also reminded that there was a period of continuing turmoil and upheaval and that the UK “can do little to shape the region on its own.” British policy “ideally, must still be to foster and pursue its national interests, but also to contain the threat of state conflict and encourage stability in the region while supporting democratic institutions where they emerge.”

“We need a new UK Middle East strategy and a set of policies that reflect the new reality in the region. We can no longer assume America will set the tone for the West’s relationship with the Middle East,” said David Howell, Chairman of the British Parliament’s House of Lords International Relations Committee, while also pointing out how important a time it is for the UK following the Brexit referendum.

“The Middle East has changed and UK policy in the region must respond to that. As the UK prepares to leave the EU, and we have a new and uncertain American policy in the region, we cannot assume our strategies of the past will suffice,” the veteran former Conservative Cabinet Minister warned

“One thing is certain: the UK cannot disengage from the Middle East. What happens there affects us and will continue to do so. From inward investment to the UK, the impact of refugees on the region and our continuing reliance on gas and oil exports, our interests will continue to be intertwined with those of the region and the Government must ensure it has the right plan for our relationship with it.”

The cross-group of parliamentarians cited in particular Trump’s approach to Iran as well as the Palestinian question. Trump has described the international agreement on Tehran’s nuclear programme as “the worst deal ever negotiated”, while he has tried to become even more pro-Israel than all previous US presidents.

Instead of attempting the scupper the deal and re-impose sanctions on Iran, the report said the UK should work with its European partners on steps to ease restrictions on banks lending money for investment in Tehran and to help develop new trade relationship with Iran a priority for post-Brexit trade.

It was not an option for Britain to reduce its engagement in the region as exports to the Middle East are worth more than to China and India combined and investment into the UK from the region was “extremely significant”. While Trump was unlikely to try to destroy the nuclear deal, failing to ease sanctions would push Iran towards more extensive trade relations with powers such as China and Russia, it warned.

The report also said Britain should distance itself from Washington’s “destabilising postures” on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and give serious consideration to recognising Palestine as a state to show it is committed to the two-state solution.

Trump has threatened to go further than any of his predecessors in support of Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine and move the US Embassy to Jerusalem in defiance of international law. He has also indicated he is prepared to tear up the two-state solution taken previously successive administrations as well as most of the international community.

“The resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute must remain high among British foreign policy priorities,” the report said. “The Government should be more forthright in stating its views on these issues despite the views of the US administration.”

It also warned that the balance of power in the delivery of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute “lies with Israel” and that the best way for the UK to show its determined attachment to achieving the two-state solution was to “now give serious consideration to recognising Palestine as a state.”

On other issues, the parliamentarians also voiced concerns the UK’s position of relying on assurances by the Saudi-led review process of arms used in Yemen was “not an adequate way of implementing its obligations for its risk-based assessment, as set out in the Arms Trade Treaty.” Lessons of intervention, and non-intervention, in Iraq, Libya and Syria must be thoroughly learnt, they further warned.

Report summaries

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