Ukraine, Syria and Iran

Part of New Member – in the House of Commons at 3:46 pm on 24th February 2014.

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Photo of Douglas Alexander Douglas Alexander Shadow Foreign Secretary 3:46 pm, 24th February 2014

I thank the Foreign Secretary for his statement and for advanced sight of it.

On Syria, I join the Foreign Secretary in welcoming UN Security Council resolution 2139. Despite the progress made in securing this resolution, however, the UN’s humanitarian appeal sadly remains chronically underfunded. Will the Foreign Secretary join the calls we have made for a fresh donor conference to urgently secure additional funds? If not, will he set out for the House the mechanism by which he judges the funding gap can be better closed? The Foreign Secretary acknowledges that those supporting the regime’s side, including the Russian and Iranian Governments, need to do far more to press the regime to take the process seriously and to reach a political settlement. Will he therefore explain his continued opposition to the establishment of a Syria contact group that could get these Governments around the table?

On Iran, we welcome the agreement on a framework for negotiations on a comprehensive deal in Vienna last week, but progress on a comprehensive deal must be made explicitly contingent on Iran adhering to the terms of the interim joint action plan signed up to in November. Iran is reportedly still operating more than 10,000 centrifuges, yet the interim deal sets out a much lower target. Will the Foreign Secretary set out what ongoing steps are being taken to bring Iran into line with the existing demands of the deal it has already signed up to? Will the Foreign Secretary set out the Government’s most recent estimates of the benefits that limited sanctions relief has so far brought to the Iranian economy, and whether the UK has any plans to push for extending, or indeed limiting, the existing relief package agreed by the P5+1, so as not to undermine the twin-track approach supported on both sides of the House?

Turning now to the events in Ukraine, may I join the Foreign Secretary in offering condolences to the families of those killed and injured during the latest violence? Recent days have seen protest, tragedy and change on the streets of Kiev. The first priority must of course be to ensure that the transition to an interim Government is peaceful and that further bloodshed is avoided. We welcome the work already done by the EU High Representative, including on her most recent visit to Kiev today, to try to facilitate this transition, but does the Foreign Secretary believe that the EU should now appoint a dedicated special envoy to support these efforts?

Alongside political turmoil, the Ukrainian economy has been in a long decline and is now on the verge of collapse. Will the Foreign Secretary confirm whether he has established, during his call with Foreign Minister Lavrov, whether the Russian offer of financial support, which was previously made to the Yanukovych Government, has now been withdrawn? In December, I asked the Foreign Secretary about his readiness to call on International Monetary Fund reserves to be used to help to stabilise the Ukrainian economy. At that time, he said:

“If Ukraine is to make use of that facility, it is necessary for it to engage in important structural reforms.”—[Hansard, 3 December 2013; Vol. 571, c. 764.]

Yesterday, two months since I first raised the issue, the Foreign Secretary confirmed that he believes the IMF should be prepared to act. We have all seen in recent months the geopolitical risks of delay in delivering effective financial action, so does the Foreign Secretary recognise that while conditionality is of course necessary, there are potentially urgent issues around solvency that may need to be addressed? If he does accept that, how does he propose that they should be addressed?

The European Union association agreement which sparked the recent crisis could still prove vital in helping to revive the rebalancing of the Ukrainian economy in the long term. Will the Foreign Secretary be pushing for negotiations on the reopening of the agreement, and should the terms of the deal itself be kept closed or be revisited? President Obama was right to say that Ukraine could no longer be seen simply as a “cold war chessboard”, but will the Foreign Secretary tell us whether he was aware of any guarantees from Foreign Minister Lavrov that Russia would not encourage southern and eastern regions of Ukraine to break away from the rest of the country? Of course Ukrainians have divergent views on the future of their country, strongly shaped by geopolitics, language, economics, and indeed geography, but the territorial integrity of Ukraine remains a matter of significance not just to Ukraine itself, but to the whole wider region.

The Foreign Ministers of France, Germany and Poland, alongside Catherine Ashton, have done vital work in recent days, and the Foreign Secretary was right to praise their efforts. Indeed, recent events in Ukraine have made it clear that—as in other instances—the influence of the United Kingdom Government, acting alone, would have had much less impact without our ability to amplify our influence through our membership of the European Union. However, although that important work has been done in recent days, all of us in the European Union and the international community should acknowledge that much work still lies ahead in relation to this troubled but important country.