Britain 'must forge better Middle East links'

William Hague says Britain must have better links with Middle East
William Hague says Britain must have better links with Middle East

William Hague will tonight call for British foreign policy to turn towards the Middle East, saying there must be a "concerted national effort" to engage with Muslim states.

The shadow foreign secretary will accuse the government of neglecting some Gulf countries, noting that Tony Blair's visit to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) before Christmas was his first in almost ten years in power.

He will also call for greater emphasis on forging links with countries in the Asia-Pacific region, saying: "Britain has not yet been sufficiently successful at promoting trade with China and India, and has sometimes lost out to other European nations as a result."

Mr Hague will blame the government's focus on events in Brussels and, in particular, in Washington, for its "slow" reaction to the changing balance of world power.

In a keynote speech to Chatham House this evening, the shadow foreign secretary will argue that events in Iran and Iraq, relations with Syria and the state of Israeli-Palestinian relations mean ministers should be "steeped in knowledge of Middle Eastern affairs".

"The potential dangers that lie ahead call for the maximum understanding of Middle Eastern societies as well as the firm anchoring of the friendships between countries of the Middle East and of the wider West," Mr Hague will say.

"While we are certainly engaged in a struggle against international terrorism, we are most certainly not engaged in a clash of civilisations."

Although he will make clear the Tories still believe the US is Britain's "indispensable ally" in diplomacy and intelligence, he will continue his criticism of what some see as Labour government's slavish support for White House policies.

"We intend our relationship with American leaders to be one of friendship coupled with honest criticism," he will say, adding that the reaction from across the Atlantic was that this was an "entirely appropriate and normal" approach to the special relationship.

"We should not overstate our influence on the world's only superpower, but we should not under-use the influence and leverage we have," he will say.

It was "surprising" the US took so long to agree to share with Britain the technology for the joint-strike fighter, and that the government "appears to have had so little influence on President Bush's recent redefinition of his strategy in Iraq", Mr Hague will say.

"The effect of ten years of the Blair government is that Britain has never seemed so uncritically aligned with the United States yet seldom found it so difficult to get its way," he will add.


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