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My Lords, I start by declaring an interest as British ambassador to Syria from 1979 to 1981. The noble Earl may have read reports in the press that senior officials in Washington have described the Administration’s early attempts to get President Assad to leave as a “huge mistake”. Does he agree that the Government’s regular and continuing calls for President Assad to go are not only mistaken but reflect a false assessment of the extent of support which the Syrian regime, for all its faults, still enjoys—particularly, but not only, from the Christian and other minority communities living throughout Syria?
I hope that I may be allowed, not for the first time, to cite Hilaire Belloc in this House: remember to hold on to nurse for fear of getting something worse. There is something much worse available in Syria to take over.
Yesterday’s Statement about refugees and migrants included the claim that HMG are leading the way in trying to lessen the need for people to leave troubled regions. Without asking the Minister to elaborate on that claim, I suggest that the best way to achieve it and to pursue a political solution in Syria must be to do everything possible to encourage an effective ceasefire, which might allow some of the Syrian migrants to return to their homes.
Should we not also be doing more to dissuade our friends and allies from following policies that can only prolong the fighting and lead to a further flow of emigrants? I refer in particular to threats from our Turkish allies against the Kurdish forces in both Syria and Iraq and to threats from Saudi Arabia and other Sunni forces to launch a military invasion of Syria, as part of their stated policy to remove a secular regime effectively supported by Iran and Russia, and which still controls that part of Syrian territory where the majority of the remaining Syrian population live.
To cite the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in another place, the ultimate aim of our policy on Syria should be to end a war that has ripped apart the lives of millions of innocent Syrians and to unify the Syrian population against ISIL.