William Hague has this lunchtime spoken to a meeting of Michael Ancram’s Global Strategy Forum.

This post republishes some key extracts from the Shadow Foreign Secretary’s speech.

I will mention first of all that I did ask William Hague during the Q&A period if the Conservative party had a strategic sense of the necessary future size of our armed forces.  A recent poll said that defence was the top spending priority of Tory members.  William said that he could not make any commitment on the future size of our armed forces without upsetting the Shadow Chancellor.  Given that our armed forces – both in personnel and equipment terms – were currently overstretched, however, he said that there was no short-term sensible alternative to some reduction in commitments.

The current importance of foreign policy: "The foreign policy challenges which they face now, and which those of us in her Majesty’s Opposition may well face after the next general election, are perhaps more complex and difficult than any faced by their predecessors at any time since 1945. As a country we are engaged in extremely challenging NATO operations in Afghanistan, in stabilising Iraq, in trying to breathe new life into the stalled Doha trade round, in pushing forward international action on climate change, in trying to bring peace and stability to the tragedy-struck people of Darfur, and, wrongly in my view, trying to get away with a new European Treaty without honouring the pledge to consult the people of this country in a referendum."

Conservatives seek a bipartisan foreign policy: "Our foreign policy is more effective and better understood abroad when it is bi-partisan and pursued consistently over the long-term by both main political parties. As the Opposition, we welcome it if the themes and ideas we have developed are taken up by the government: it will make it that much easier for us to pursue those ideas when it is our own job to do so. This is a timely moment to give an up-to-date view of the actions we believe the government should take in relation to the Middle East and to invite it to take them."

Both sticks and carrots for Iran have to be more meaningful:
"The EU should adopt measures that the US has taken to deny certain Iranian banks access to the US financial system, which have had more impact on Iran than any of the sanctions agreed by the UN so far. It should ban new European export credit guarantees to Iran, and begin targeted action to restrict European investment in Iranian oil and gas fields. Merely setting out a clear European willingness to implement a graduated programme of economic and diplomatic sanctions over time would cast the costs to Iran of continuing on its current path in the clearest possible light.  In exchange the US could state its willingness to revisit some of the terms of the incentives put to Iran, many of which currently begin with the word “possible”, and it could improve the prospect of exploratory talks with Iran."

We must engage with Syria: "Syria, a secular dictatorship with questionable human rights records, has been accused of supporting Hezbollah with substantial amounts of financial, training, political, and organizational aid. Iranian arms bound for Hezbollah regularly pass through Syria. Hezbollah’s July 2006 strikes on Israel prompted allegations that Syria and Iran were using the group to deflect international attention from other issues, such as Iran’s contentious nuclear program and in the case of Syria, the Hariri inquiry.  It is therefore clear that any contacts with Damascus are currently based on a low level of trust.  But this does not preclude us from having a dialogue with Syria and developing a long term ‘acquaintanceship’ with Damascus at a high political level. We in the Conservative Party have embarked on this, and call on the Government to do the same – diplomacy and dialogue with adversaries are necessary when trying to resolve conflicts and differences.  If the West seeks to engage Syria, it needs to adopt a clear and long-term dialogue."

More scrutiny of operations in Iraq: "We believe the new government should declare its intention to provide the clarity and transparency regarding British plans and objectives in Iraq that has been so lacking. Firstly, by committing to undertake a review of the progress of British strategy in Iraq. When the former Prime Minister announced this strategy on 21st February, he made it clear that the UK and US strategy had three goals: securing Baghdad, training the Iraqi forces, and achieving political reconciliation. Yet the government has been far less willing than the US administration to commit to measuring progress made on these goals, and to explaining how UK troop withdrawals fit into this strategy.  Secondly, by committing to submit a quarterly report to Parliament on progress achieved in Iraq towards meeting goals for: political stability, economic progress, and achieving a stable security environment in Iraq; and to provide indicators of the training and development of the Iraqi Security Forces.  The Government should also hold a full inquiry into the origins and conduct of the war. For this government and those to come it is crucial that the lessons of Iraq are learnt – not only for some future contingency but also to guide our ongoing operations too.  While Afghanistan and Iraq are two different theatres, lessons learned from Iraq will benefit our efforts in Afghanistan."

Economic assistance to the Palestinians is not enough:
"The EU provided over €680 million to the Palestinian people in 2006, more than in any previous year. The UK alone gave £70 million. However despite this huge injection of aid poverty rates in Gaza and the West Bank doubled last year, so that even before Hamas seized Gaza, 56% of the West Bank population was living in poverty – and 87% in Gaza. Therefore aid alone is clearly not the answer."

Download a PDF copy of William Hague’s full speech.

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