Syria — Question

– in the House of Lords at 2:52 pm on 12th January 2016.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Soley Lord Soley Labour 2:52 pm, 12th January 2016

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress has been made towards a settlement of the conflict in Syria.

Photo of Baroness Anelay of St Johns Baroness Anelay of St Johns Minister of State, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, as a result of efforts by the International Syria Support Group over the past three months, on 18 December the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 2254 requesting the UN to convene the Syrian Government and opposition for negotiations on a transition process. These negotiations are due to start on 25 January and will be a welcome step towards ending the conflict, but clearly there is still a long way to go.

Photo of Lord Soley Lord Soley Labour

I welcome that Answer and the progress, however slow, that is being made. Can I ask the Minister to say a bit more about Russian policy, which has always troubled me? It seems that Russia is determined not to let Assad or his party lose power. If that is the case, I am afraid that sooner or later, and difficult though it will be, we may have to reassess whether we have relations with that part of Syria and the Government of Syria as it was.

Photo of Baroness Anelay of St Johns Baroness Anelay of St Johns Minister of State, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

The noble Lord is right to point to the concern we have had that Russia’s military tactics appear to have been aimed more at keeping Assad in power than at attacking Daesh. I hope that Russia will consider that carefully and aim its attacks on Daesh instead, and that it will use all the levers in its power which it has with the Assad regime to persuade Assad to come to the talks and make sure that his team is engaged in true negotiations about peace in order to achieve a transition process. But the noble Lord is right is point to the difficulties involved.

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Conservative

My Lords, can my noble friend tell us what importance and significance the British Government assign to the plan for Saudi Arabia and the GCC countries to form a 34-nation alliance to tackle Daesh? Are we supporting that and, if so, in what way? Can she also say what support we are giving to the Jordanians in their attempt to build a northern buffer zone in Syria and from that to drive into the Daesh heartlands? Is that something which we are also supporting?

Photo of Baroness Anelay of St Johns Baroness Anelay of St Johns Minister of State, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, Saudi Arabia has been involved in convening a meeting of all those moderates who have been fighting against Assad’s oppression in Syria. We commend the advances that they have made with regard to that to ensure that there should then be a group of moderates who are able to come to the peace talks. With regard to Jordan, I have to say that it is too soon to be able to give a full answer to my noble friend. However, I will say that talks are progressing on ensuring that there may be a way of having a zone in the north of Jordan which enables those who have fled from Assad’s tyranny to rebuild their lives. But I would not wish to go further than that at this moment. I will do as soon as we are able to confirm details.

Photo of Lord Wright of Richmond Lord Wright of Richmond Crossbench

My Lords, in his earlier reply to the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, the noble Lord, Lord Bates, drew attention to the role of the embassy in Eritrea in handling the problems of that country. Does the noble Baroness agree that it is high time that we re-establish a diplomatic presence in Damascus?

Photo of Baroness Anelay of St Johns Baroness Anelay of St Johns Minister of State, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, the noble Lord is right to point clearly to the value of all our ambassadors and those who work with them around the world. At this point, it is important that we see Assad’s regime take seriously the peace negotiations that are just within grasp. If we are able to see that he comes constructively to those negotiations to achieve the transition, I feel that we would look very positively at how we might engage further. We need to see how Assad reacts to the peace process first.

Photo of Baroness Stowell of Beeston Baroness Stowell of Beeston Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal

My Lords, on this occasion, we have not heard from the Lib Dems, so I suggest we go there first.

Photo of Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon Liberal Democrat

I am grateful. My Lords, we dropped food to besieged and starving Srebrenica and to besieged and starving Yazidis. If, after Madaya, local forces of whatever nature should block the legal access of UN convoys bringing aid to besieged communities, will the Government with others seriously consider the possibility of dropping food aid to them?

Photo of Baroness Anelay of St Johns Baroness Anelay of St Johns Minister of State, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, the noble Lord is right to point to the appalling position for those who find themselves being starved out by Assad. Of course, some areas are under siege by Daesh and some by opposition groups, but mostly by Assad and Daesh. For the RAF to operate in the area of Madaya would have caused great—perhaps I may say—peril, in security terms. The right way to go forward is for Assad to grant the applications by the UN to have safe progress through. He has agreed so far only to 10% of those requests.

Photo of Lord Anderson of Swansea Lord Anderson of Swansea Labour

My Lords, the Government’s initiative on convening and hosting the pledging conference is most welcome but first there has to be a settlement. Reverting to the Question posed by my noble friend Lord Soley, does the Minister agree that the Russian intervention has bolstered the position and strength of President Assad and can only complicate the search for a settlement? Does Russia recognise the effect of its intervention?

Photo of Baroness Anelay of St Johns Baroness Anelay of St Johns Minister of State, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

The danger is that Russia’s action may well have strengthened Assad’s hand and makes it more difficult, perhaps, for Assad to see the benefit of a peace process. That is why I call on Russia to use its levers of influence with Assad to make sure that he takes the transition process seriously and comes to the table on the peace negotiations. I believe that the Syria crisis conference can go ahead even before that peace has been achieved. It can show the way that we can achieve stabilisation in Syria in the future.

Photo of Lord Naseby Lord Naseby Conservative

Has my noble friend seen the report from the respected Carnegie Institute, which suggests that the southern front is the last key point for the Syrian rebels? As that front appears to be crumbling, does that not reinforce the point that somehow or other Assad has to be involved in the solution so that everyone can then concentrate on ISIS?

Photo of Baroness Anelay of St Johns Baroness Anelay of St Johns Minister of State, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My noble friend points to the instability in the south of the country. This is really what was being referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, with regard to the fact that Russia has been involved in attacking civilians in opposition-held territory that is not Daesh. Assad is not part of the solution. It is certainly the case that he is a recruiting sergeant for Daesh. However, it is important that he sees the value for his regime to take part in the peace negotiations.