Cameron’s office overrules UK minister on Syria
BERLIN (AP) — Hours after Britain’s foreign minister said the country wouldn’t participate in any airstrikes on Syria, Prime Minister David Cameron’s office overruled the comment Thursday and stressed that the government hadn’t discarded the use of air power.
Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond told reporters at a news conference in Berlin: “Let me be clear: Britain will not be taking part in any airstrikes in Syria.” He said London won’t be “revisiting” the issue after Parliament decided last year against participating in airstrikes.
But a spokesman for Cameron’s office contradicted that position, saying Cameron had in fact not ruled out action related to the Islamic State group. A spokesman insisted Hammond was referring to a Parliament vote last year opposing airstrikes against President Bashar Assad’s regime.
British lawmakers are asking Cameron to clarify the government’s position and why there appeared to be a disparity between the politicians.
President Barack Obama on Wednesday authorized U.S. airstrikes inside Syria for the first time, along with expanded strikes in Iraq as part of “a steady, relentless effort” to root out the extremists.
Germany has decided to arm Kurdish forces fighting extremists, putting aside its usual reluctance to send weapons into conflicts. Asked about participating in airstrikes, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said: “We have neither been asked to do that, nor will we do that.”
Both ministers said a regional alliance is needed against Islamic State fighters, but they made no new commitments.
France has invited officials from Europe, the U.S., the Arab region and Russia to meet in Paris on Monday to discuss strategy against the group. Steinmeier has invited his Group of Seven counterparts to discuss the issue on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York later this month.
Asked whether Iran needs to be involved in the drive to stabilize Iraq and Syria, Steinmeier said he has long made clear that “in the long run, Iran’s participation will be unavoidable” in resolving Syria’s conflict.
Hammond said that “the Iranians have shown themselves willing to engage pragmatically” in Iraq, although differences with the West over its nuclear program persist.
The Middle East is complex and “there will be shifting patterns of cooperation around different issues, but I hope we will all see over the coming months a sustained improvement in relations with Iran,” he said.
Sylvia Hui reported from London.