Middle East and North Africa

Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Prime Minister – in the House of Commons at 1:37 pm on 10th July 2013.

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Photo of William Hague William Hague The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs 1:37 pm, 10th July 2013

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. On most if not all of these subjects, there is strong agreement across the Floor of the House.

I absolutely agree with the way in which the right hon. Gentleman put the Opposition’s attitude on Egypt. What has happened may be a setback for democracy, but it need not be an irreversible trend. That is absolutely right. He is right to point out that some parties in Egypt have not agreed to the timetable of parliamentary and presidential elections set out by the new president in the constitutional declaration. In fact, worryingly, most of them have not agreed, including the National Salvation Front, which was one of the prime movers behind last week’s events. There were widespread objections to the details of the announcement. As he said, this cannot be resolved in any other way than an inclusive legitimate process inside Egypt. We therefore call on all parties to do that.

It would be a terrible mistake for the authorities in Egypt to act in a way that drives the Muslim Brotherhood, or any other legitimate party, out of democratic politics. That mistake must be avoided at all costs. It would also be a mistake, however, for the Muslim Brotherhood to now refuse, under all circumstances, to take part in democratic politics in the months and years ahead. All nations who hold dear the stability and future of Egypt, as we do, have to encourage people, whether the Muslim Brotherhood or the new authorities, to resolve these differences and counsel against making those mistakes. Part of that is about releasing prisoners. I agree about that and I made that point to the acting Foreign Minister of Egypt. The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire, pursued the point with the Egyptian ambassador just this morning. Prisoners should be released unless criminal charges are to be laid. The holding of prisoners for political purposes after these events does not help the process.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about the Deauville partnership. I am happy to provide to him, or to the Library, more details. The $38 billion was not a fund, but the total financing from all global institutions available to the countries of the region if and when they pursue economic policies that give them access to it. One of the problems of the outgoing Government in Egypt was that they did not agree an IMF programme, and therefore did not win international financial support. The part of the Deauville partnership that involves funds that can be given away is much smaller. We have been determined, during our presidency of the G8, to make a tangible difference, and this year the Deauville partnership transition fund has started to deliver practical support. Projects of more than $100 million have been approved, and these principally support the development of small and medium-sized enterprises. This is the part that is a fund, but potential international financing is vastly greater, if the right economic reforms are undertaken.

I welcome the right hon. Gentleman’s comments on Iran. Again, I think there is strong agreement across the House and support for a further round of E3 plus 3 negotiations with its new Government. There is also strong agreement on the middle east peace process. I have set out in the House previously that we have to be ready, in the UK and in other European countries, once negotiations get going, to offer incentives or even disincentives at times during the negotiations for Israelis and Palestinians to try to make it a success, working with the United States. First, we have to get the negotiations going. We have been urging Israeli and Palestinian leaders to take the opportunity to work with John Kerry, stressing that there is no alternative. No one other than the United States has the necessary authority to bring Israel to the necessary agreements, to enter negotiations and make a success of them. Working with John Kerry is essential, and we await further announcements in the coming weeks.

On Syria and a date for Geneva, there is no date at the moment. After the G8, a trilateral meeting was held between the US, Russia and the UN in Geneva on 25 June, which again did not produce a date. The fundamental problem is that while the regime is engaged in military offences, as it is now in Homs, it does not have an incentive to come to meaningful negotiations, and neither is the Opposition in a frame of mind to come to negotiations. Those military offences are making it harder for either party to come to Geneva.

Jordan was not an omission from my statement—I referred to our humanitarian assistance. I have also referred in the past to the other assistance we are giving Jordan. We have sent military equipment to help the Jordanian armed forces operate on the border, collecting refugees and bringing them to refugee camps. We have £1.5 million going to Jordan through our Arab partnership fund to support civil society. We are in regular contact with Jordan. I spoke to the Jordanian Foreign Minister earlier this week, in particular to thank him for Jordan’s assistance with the recent mutual legal assistance treaty. I also made it clear to him that we are happy to give further assistance from the UK, if the Jordanians ask for it.