Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague. REUTERS/Neil
The longer Syria's conflict goes on, the greater the risk
it will breed a new generation of battle-hardened militants who
will pose a threat to Britain and other countries in Europe,
British Foreign Secretary William Hague says.
Hague aimed his comments at Russia, which has had its own
problems with attacks by Islamist militants, and has along
with China repeatedly blocked U.N. Security Council action
against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Assad is locked in an almost two-year war with rebels that
has killed nearly 70,000 people and has become a magnet for
foreign jihadists intent on replacing Assad's mostly secular
rule with a radical Islamic state.
Hague said Britain had not lost faith in the Arab Spring
revolutions that in the last two years have deposed four
autocratic leaders, but warned that Syria was the most acute
case of the movement being "hijacked" by militants.
Hague, in a speech outlining British counter-terrorism
strategy, labelled Syria the "number one destination for
jihadists anywhere in the world today".
"This includes a number of individuals connected with the
United Kingdom and other European countries," he told
reporters at London's Royal United Services Institute (RUSI)
"They may not pose a threat to us when they first go to Syria
but if they survive some may return ideologically hardened
and with experience of weapons and explosives," he said.
"The longer the conflict continues, the greater this danger
will become, a point that should not be lost on policymakers
in Russia and elsewhere," he added.
Hague urged Russia and China to back U.N. Security Council
efforts for a negotiated solution to the conflict involving
the opposition and "elements of the regime", or face the
growing risk of the use of Syrian chemical or biological
Syria sits in a volatile region of Middle East conflict, with
neighbours including Iraq, Lebanon and Israel.
At an EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels next week,
Britain will urge counterparts to review an EU arms embargo
on Syria, which rolls over on March 1, to allow more help for
the Syrian opposition seeking Assad's ouster.
RIGHTS AND INTELLIGENCE
Hague highlighted the potential risk from Syria in the
context of a new policy framework on how to cooperate on
intelligence with countries suspected of human rights abuses.
Britain has long wrestled with how to uphold its opposition
to all forms of torture while ensuring it can gather
information about planned attacks by militants, some of which
might have been obtained through ill-treatment of suspects.
That has led to accusations of collusion in torture and a
number of embarrassing legal defeats.
In December Britain agreed to pay more than 2 million pounds
($3.1 million) to the family of a leading opponent of late
Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi who said Britain was involved
in his rendition to Tripoli where he was tortured.
Setting out the government's counter-terrorism strategy,
Hague argued that Britain faced a dilemma over whether to
work with states unable to guarantee suspects won't be
He said many countries would be able to give "credible
assurances" that they will not mistreat suspects.
"Where this is not the case, we face a stark choice. We could
disengage, or we can choose to cooperate with them in a
carefully controlled way while developing a more
comprehensive approach to human rights adherence.
"This approach brings risk, but I am clear that the risks of
the first option, of stepping back, are greater still,
placing our citizens at greater risk of terrorist attack," he
Hague outlined formal safeguards and conditions for
cooperating with countries with poor human rights records, a
plan experts say is a way of trying to avoid the legal
battles and controversy such collaboration has resulted in
"There's an awareness that we have to have our legal back
covered somewhat more, that we have to have a framework in
place that will not leave us firefighting after the fact,"
said Shashank Joshi, security expert at RUSI.
"There's no choice. In every serious theatre of
counter-terrorism, you always have regimes that will never
meet the human rights standards William Hague has outlined."