Kerry affirms UK 'special relationship'

Foreign secretary William Hague (R)  and US Secretary of State John Kerry shake hands as they leave 10 Downing Street today. Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Foreign secretary William Hague (R) and US Secretary of State John Kerry shake hands as they leave 10 Downing Street today. Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Mon, Feb 25, 2013, 00:00

New US secretary of state John Kerry reaffirmed the “special relationship” between Britain and America today as he made London his first overseas destination after being appointed Barack Obama’s foreign affairs head earlier this month.

Mr Kerry held breakfast talks with Prime Minister David Cameron at 10 Downing Street before meeting Foreign Secretary William Hague at the Foreign Office.

Top of the agenda were efforts to restart the Middle East peace process, along with a proposed EU/US free trade agreement, as well as the Syrian civil war and ongoing tensions over Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

The pair also discussed Britain’s row with Argentina over the future of the Falklands, but Mr Kerry declined to comment on the upcoming referendum of islanders on whether they wish to remain a UK overseas territory.

Speaking alongside Mr Hague at the Foreign Office, Mr Kerry said Washington’s position on the Falklands had not changed, adding: “We continue to urge a peaceful resolution of this critical issue.”

It was “no accident” that he had chosen America’s “remarkable partner” the UK as the first stop on an 11-day tour of Europe and the Middle East, just weeks after taking office, said Mr Kerry.

The former presidential candidate said: “When you think of everything that binds the US and Great Britain — our common values, our long shared history, our ties of family and friendship, there is a reason why we call this the special relationship, or as President Obama and Prime Minister Cameron wrote, ‘a partnership of the heart’.

“In the 20th century our countries fought for freedom side by side and fought for survival together in war, we thrived together in peace and we stood together time and time again in order to meet the world’s great challenges.

“In the 21st century, we may face a new and more complex set of challenges, but I absolutely know that we face them together just as we did in the last century. And together, it is absolutely clear that our partnership remains stronger than ever.”

Asked if the democratic will of the Falkland islanders should be respected once a national poll has been held, Mr Kerry said: “Let me be very clear about our position with respect to the Falklands, which I believe is clear.

“First of all, I’m not going to comment, nor is the president, on a referendum that has yet to take place, hasn’t taken place. Our position on the Falklands has not changed. The United States recognises de facto UK administration of the islands but takes no position on the question of parties’ sovereignty claims thereto.

“We support co-operation between UK and Argentina on practical matters.”

Mr Hague described the relationship between the UK and the US as an “indispensable alliance” and said today’s talks were “detailed and very thorough”.

“Top of our agenda was the Middle East, including the importance we both attach to ending the Israeli/Palestinian conflict,” said Mr Hague.

“I welcome the focus that he has brought to bear on this issue since his appointment. There is no more urgent foreign policy priority in 2013 than restarting negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.

“The region and the world can’t afford the current dangerous impasse in the peace process. If we don’t make progress very soon, then the two-state solution could become impossible to achieve. There is a burning need for the international community to revive the peace process in efforts led by the United States and supported by European, Arab and other nations. My promise to Secretary Kerry today was that the United Kingdom will make every effort to mobilise the European Union and Arab states behind decisive moves for peace.”

Mr Hague said that he and Mr Kerry will attend a Friends of Syria summit in Italian capital Rome on Thursday, and said that the UK wants to “significantly” increase the assistance it is giving to opposition forces taking on president Bashar Assad’s regime.

“An appalling injustice is being done to the people of Syria, which the world cannot ignore,” said Mr Hague.

“We discussed the vital need for a political transition and our firm support for UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi.

“We agree that for as long as a political solution to the conflict is blocked off, the international community has a responsibility to take steps to help prevent the loss of life in Syria, including the terrible loss of life that we have just witnessed in Aleppo. That is why in the United Kingdom, we believe we must significantly increase our support for the Syrian opposition, on top of our large contributions to the humanitarian relief effort, and we are preparing to do just that.

“In the face of such murder and threat of instability, our policy cannot remain static as the weeks go by, and it is an important opportunity in Rome on Thursday to discuss this with our allies and partners.”

Mr Hague said he and Mr Kerry agreed that Iran’s nuclear programme “poses a threat to the peace and security of the world” and were hoping for progress in talks between the Tehran regime and the international P5+1 group - the US, UK, Russia, China, France and Germany - in Kazakh capital Almaty this week.

“We approach these talks in good faith,” said the foreign secretary. “But Iran should not doubt our resolve to ensure that nuclear proliferation in the Middle East is prevented.”

Mr Hague and Mr Kerry also discussed Afghanistan, Mali, Somalia and the need for a “robust and intelligent” response to international terrorism.

They also reiterated their commitment to a EU/US trade agreement, which Mr Hague said would “not only support jobs in Europe and the US, but would be a much-needed boost to the world economy”.


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