Arming Syria rebels an option - Hague

VERNON SMALL
Last updated 05:00 16/01/2013
William Hague
TOURING: Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague.

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British Foreign Secretary William Hague has thrown his support behind moves that would open the door to arming Syrian rebels.

Answering questions in a live chat with Stuff.co.nz readers yesterday on his first day of a visit to New Zealand, Mr Hague said his government did not exclude any options in Syria, because so many people were dying.

"Our efforts are directed at a peaceful political solution. We are sending some practical help to opposition groups, but not arms, and we have taken no decision to change that, but we do want the flexibility to change that if necessary," he said.

Before leaving Britain for New Zealand, Mr Hague said he would ask the European Union to lift its arms embargo over Syria, seen as clearing the way to arm rebels opposed to President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

On Mali, where Britain is backing an intervention by French troops against Islamist rebels, he said the aim was to "support the legitimate government of Mali, who are faced with an insurgency that is a danger to the people of Mali and surrounding countries".

"The government of Mali wants to arrive at a political solution but needs our help in an emergency. By contrast the regime in Syria has refused all reasonable political solutions and we are supporting huge numbers of people who simply want freedom and dignity for their country and themselves. We do not support extremists in Syria or Mali."

Mr Hague also said he strongly supported a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine.

"I fear that time is running out to achieve this, mainly because of Israeli settlement expansion, and I am urging the United States to launch this year a major new effort to achieve a two-state solution before it is too late."

Asked if, like US President Barack Obama, Britain was refocusing on Asia and the Pacific, he said it was reinforcing its diplomatic network around the region and there had been a sharp increase in ministerial visits.

"I am the first British Foreign Secretary to visit New Zealand twice in office but I also visited six of the 10 Asean countries in 2012."

Trade with the Asia Pacific region was growing strongly, he said. Britain was boosting its presence around the world, opening 20 embassies and consulates.

On a lighter note, he said he did not know if the Duchess of Cambridge's unborn baby was a boy or girl. But either way it seems he would like to see the baby become the sovereign of New Zealand.

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It was up to New Zealand and Australia whether they became republics, Mr Hague said. "Personally, you will not be surprised to hear that I am a 100 per cent supporter of the monarchy and during the Diamond Jubilee last year I felt very sorry for people who lived in mere republics."

Mr Hague held talks with Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully and Labour leader David Shearer yesterday and will visit Christchurch today, including viewing quake-damaged areas.

- Fairfax Media

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