Clegg: Britain may let US planes use its bases to target extremist forces in Iraq
Deputy prime minister discusses possible UK support for ‘well-judged and well-targeted’ action by US.
Britain may be prepared to let US war planes use British bases to target extremist forces in Iraq, Nick Clegg has said as he spoke of possible UK support for “well-judged and well-targeted” action by the US.
The foreign secretary, William Hague, said on Monday that Britain may provide counter-terrorism expertise to the Iraqi government, and it has emerged that he has also been in telephone talks with his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif to see how the Iranians can play a role in easing the conflict in Iraq.
But he indicated that Britain may be prepared to offer “passive assistance” to the US. This could involve allowing US war planes to launch missions from Britain or allowing US aircraft to overfly the UK.
Clegg said: “We will not be providing active frontline military resources to the action taken. But we are certainly not going to stand in the way of action that is well-judged and well-targeted. I am not suggesting we will rule out passive assistance even if we are not going to embark on our own active role.
“We are not going to start deploying British military forces in Iraq. We will equally not stand in the way of America, in particular, seeking to take well-judged, targeted action. That is why it is sensible of President Obama to take his time to assess options. Obviously we will be comparing notes.”
The deputy prime minister spoke out as Downing Street said there was a role for the countries in the region to bring about cooperation and unity in Iraq.
It is understood the British have been pressing the Iranians to persuade the Maliki government to adopt a less sectarian approach.
Hague is expected to confirm the talks with the Iranians in the Commons on Monday. It is a remarkable sign of the thawing of relations between the west and Iran that the phone contact occurred. It is also an implicit acknowledgement that a settlement in the region is going to be impossible without Iran. Previously the British have resisted a role for Iran at the Geneva peace talks on the future of Syria.
Downing Street has been openly critical of the way in which the Maliki government has rejected pleas from Europe and America to adopt a less sectarian approach to government and the security forces.
The foreign secretary earlier spoke of British plans to provide counter-terrorism expertise to the Iraqi government, though he declined to go into details amid fears that could make operations more difficult to operate.
Iraqi security forces needed to work with all forces in the region, including the Kurdistan regional government, Hague said. “It is really a time for cooperation and unity,” the foreign secretary told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, adding that recent events had shown the need for Iraqis – Sunni, Shia and Kurds – to work together.
Hague said: “The evidence is there for all to see what happens in the absence of cooperation. It leaves a political and military opening for extremists. We are not planning a military intervention in this situation. I cannot be clearer than that. The US is much more likely to have the assets and capabilities of any outside intervention than the UK.”
Asked whether Britain would ever intervene militarily, he said: “We did have a bad experience of being defeated in the Commons but I do not think … people should conclude from that that the House of Commons is never prepared to authorise military action. That would be a misreading of parliament.”
He rejected the accusation that the invasion of Iraq in 2003 was a mistake, saying: “I have always thought that many mistakes were made in the aftermath. It is entirely possible to say it was the right thing to remove Saddam Hussein, but that mistakes were made in the aftermath.
“It is possible to argue that western intervention makes things worse and it is possible to argue that the absence of western intervention makes things worse. Foreign policy is the fine judgment between those things. It is only right when it is a last resort or where it has limited objectives where there is a very comprehensive regional plan to go with it.”
Clegg was highly critical of Tony Blair. He said: “For him to claim that what is going on Iraq now would have happened anyway, even if the invasion of Iraq had not happened, is a completely pointless attempt to airbrush out what happened 11 years ago and somehow pretend it has got no connection with what is happening today.”