UN summit: Cameron to discuss reviving Syrian peace process with Iranian president

(L-R) Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron © Carlo Allegri and Iran's President Hassan Rouhani © Carlo Allegri
Prime Minister David Cameron will meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Tuesday to discuss restarting the Syrian peace process. The meeting comes as the Labour Party calls for the Syrian government be referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Cameron and Rouhani are due to conduct talks at a United Nations summit in New York on Tuesday, with Cameron keen to bolster regional support for a diplomatic solution to Syria’s conflict. 

Tehran brokered a deal with six global powers in July aimed at stripping back its nuclear program, and reopened its British embassy in August. The PM’s decision to involve Tehran in the peace talks was likely sparked by this thawing of relations between Iran and the West.

A road to peace? 

In recent years, Iran has been a strategic ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad. However, Cameron has repeatedly criticized the Syrian president’s atrocities against the people of his country.
On Sunday, the PM accused Assad of “butchering his own people” and acting as “one of the great recruiting sergeants” for Islamic State (formerly ISIS/ISIL).

“He can’t play a part in the future of Syria and that position hasn’t changed,” Cameron said.

“Obviously conversations about how we bring about transition are very important and that’s what we need to see greater emphasis on.”

Asked if Assad should be charged for war crimes at the ICC, the PM added: “People who break international law should be subject to international law.”

Despite his outward opposition to Assad, Cameron is expected to back the Syrian president’s involvement in a transitional government. However, he has previously insisted Assad should not form part of Syria’s government in the long-term.

While Cameron had hoped to win support from Labour MPs to extend UK military airstrikes against ISIS from Iraq into Syria, veteran anti-war campaigner Jeremy Corbyn’s victory as Labour leader has cast doubt over this aim.

Labour is calling upon the government to secure a UN Security Council resolution that demands effective action to bring an end to the threat from IS, and the creation of buffer zones in Syria to offer shelter to refugees who have been forced to flee their homes.

The party is also calling for increased humanitarian aid for Syrian refugees who have fled to nearby states, along with a largescale effort, involving Russia, Iran, the Gulf States, the US and the EU, to carve out a post-war plan for Syria.

Speaking at Labour’s annual conference on Monday, Shadow Foreign Secretary Hilary Benn did not rule out backing airstrikes on Syria. However, he argued such action must form part of a broader objective of bringing about peace there.

“There’s been a lot of talk about airstrikes but to bring peace, stability and security to Syria we need a much broader, more comprehensive plan than just trying to deal with ISIL,” he said.

“This will require political, diplomatic and humanitarian will too.”

‘Desperate situation’ 

Cameron will attend several sessions at the UN conference, but will not join Rouhani, US President Barack Obama, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping in offering a keynote speech.

Benn condemned the PM’s decision to dodge the speech, saying Cameron should be staying on to secure a broad-ranging UN Security Council Resolution to address the crisis in Syria.

Echoing Benn, Corbyn also sharply criticized the PM’s decision to opt out of the speech.

“The situation in Syria is desperate with half the population displaced from their homes and 200,000 dead. Hilary and I are at one in agreeing that what matters now is a broad and comprehensive plan as the foundation for a political solution to the conflict and a new United Nations Security Council resolution,” he said.

“That’s why it is so disappointing that David Cameron isn’t showing leadership and unlike other world leaders won’t be speaking at the UN this week.”