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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 13 December 2018

Former ambassador to Syria says UK must ‘swallow our pride’ on Assad

Lord Green said the government lacked a sensible strategy in Syria

<p>Sana / EPA</p>
Sana / EPA

A former UK ambassador to Syria has warned the government to “swallow its pride” and come to terms with the reality that the Assad regime is “here to stay”.

Writing in a publication for British lawmakers, Lord Green of Deddington, who served as ambassador in Damascus from 1991 to 1994, criticised the recent military strikes in Syria by the UK, US and France saying it showed there was no “longer-term strategy”.

Lord Green suggested that reopening the embassy in Damascus would be a “useful” place to start regaining relations with Bashar Al Assad.

Supported by Russia and Iran, the Syrian president has clung onto power throughout the seven year war and has regained control of much of the country.

“His forces have made decisive progress on the ground, strongly supported by Russia and Iran, both now key players in the region,” Lord Green wrote. “Even the Israelis have long learnt to live with the Syrian regime.

“As for ourselves, we will not get a sensible strategy for Syria unless we come to terms with our instinctive rejection of the Assad regime. Certainly, it is a very tough police state and has been so for decades.

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“Surveillance of any possible opposition by six secret police services is intense and their treatment of prisoners hardly bears thinking about.

“This is not due to Bashar Al Assad alone - he is more a figurehead than a dictator. Rather it is the result of the seizure of power by a minority sect, the Alawites, who have held on to it for two generations with ferocious determination.”

In announcing the military strikes on Syria’s chemical weapons infrastructure last week, UK Prime Minister Theresa May said the decision had not been about regime change but rather a response to a chemical attack in Douma on April 7.

Lord Green said the UK had been “bounced” into the attack and warned of further escalation.

“What happens if there is another such incident? Do we bomb again but on a heavier scale? Do we take a further and probably more serious risk of a confrontation with Russia?” he asked.

“More importantly, where is all this heading? Do we seriously wish to re-engage militarily in Syria with our own armed forces? Have we learnt nothing from Iraq and Libya?”

The former diplomat said the UK’s major interest should be denying Syrian territory to ISIS, who he described as “the greatest threat to our own society since the Second World War”.

Since leaving the diplomatic service, Lord Green has been the chairman of MigrationWatch UK, a right-wing pressure group he co-founded in 2000, which aims to reduce immigration to Britain.