Milliband webchat

November 30th, 2007 § 0 comments

Well, late arriving, and not much substance.

Justin managed to get a question answered about the Iraq employees, the answer also included a link to a statement, which contradicted him. I pointed this out asking for clarification and didn’t get it, obviously.

The webchat went like this:

Moderator says: David Miliband will be here answering your questions on the UK’s foreign and international policies on Friday 30 November from 13:45 GMT.

Moderator says: Good afternoon and welcome to today’s webchat with Foreign Secretary David Miliband. David’s running slightly late, but he’s on his way and we should start shortly.

David says: 1.52pm is not bad! Anyway, I am here now and looking forward to this session. Lets see if I can beat my record for questions answered.

Andrew: Will the British Government be joining the British Council of Moslems in condemning as ridiculous the arrest and charging of the British School teacher in the Sudan?

David replies: We are convinced that the whole case was an innocent misunderstanding. Now, it is a very distressing situation for Mrs Gibbons and her family and she, and her welfare, are our number one priority. Our staff in Khartoum have visited her today and we are doing everything we can to resolve the case as quickly as possible. The statements from the Muslim Council of Britain has, I think, been very helpful in showing that across religious lines in Britain there is support for Mrs Gibbons.

Graham P. Thomas: I should like to ask the Foreign Secretary what action he will take to convey to the government of Sudan the outrage felt by the British people at the jailing of Mrs Gibbons and what he will do to obtain her immediate release. What has he done to seek diplomatic, political and economic assistance from Britain’s allies and other countries?

David replies: I certainly did convey both to the Ambassador yesterday, twice, and to the acting Foreign Minister, very strong feelings of the Government and the people of Britain. These contacts are mirrored by high level contacts in Sudan itself. This is a consular case where the interests and welfare of a British citizen are at stake. All our actions are driven by the need to protect her welfare and bilateral contacts at the highest level are, at the moment, the best way of securing a resolution of the case.

Jake Menashi – Newton: We’re following your foreign policy role – Did the Annapolis conference accomplish what you hoped it would? Thanks from Newton South.

David replies:

Global diplomacy indeed – I went to junior high school in Newton, US (where I presume this is from). The Annapolis conference did not address the outstanding issues standing in the way of a two-state solution in the Middle East, but it did launch a process with very strong international support, to address those issues and deliver a viable Palestinian state alongside a secure Israel through discussions over the next year.

Britain is determined to play its part, as I explained to the House of Commons in my statement on Wednesday, through economic aid to support Prime Minister Fayyad’s reform plan, investment in training up the Palestinian security force and of course political support for the newly created peace process. There are few things more important in 2008 than to reverse the drift away from the only possible solution to the insecruity felt by Israelis and the suffering of Palestinians.

Marc: Do you agree with Ehud Olmert’s statement that Israel’s existence will be under threat if a peace deal with the Palestinians is not agreed by the end of 2008?

David replies: I have said many times both that a two state solution is the only long term security for Israel, and that the window of opportunity for a two state solution is closing. The stark warning from Prime Minister Olmert shows how high the stakes are, and his commitment and vision is vital to success.

tahir ishaque: Referring to Annapolis summit, whether we like it or not Hamas is a major ground reality in Palestine. In view of this and our experience in Northern Ireland as a positive example of engaging all sides, will serious efforts be made to bring Hamas to the negotiation table for the sake of sustainable peace in the region?

David replies: It is a fair question but I would say three things – first, President Abbas is the elected leader of all the Palestinian people, second the Northern Ireland peace process was marked by a split between the provisional IRA who eventually embraced negotiations and the real IRA who did not, and third, the most productive period of peace making occurred afater the PLO went through a hugh internal debate about peacful progress between 1988 and 1993.

Tristan Fletcher: According to senior American military officials cited in the New York Times (22/11/07), Iran is much less responsible for many of the insurgency attacks in Iraq than initially claimed. How does this change the causae belli with respect to Iran from the FCO’s perspective?

David replies: Any support for violence and insurgency in Iraq is obviously too much, and I met the Iranian Foreign Minister at the UN in September to make this point. I also emphasised that the UK was committed to the idea that Iran could have a secure and valued place in the region but that both in Iraq, and in respect of its refusal to abide by unanimous resolutions in respect of uranium enrichment, it was not living up to that role. It has a clear choice and the offer from the international community is full economic support as long as it abides by international rules.

Jack Doolan: hi i will be at school when this is on :( but i would like to say since i heard David was from South shields it has made me want to come in to politics, im 14 from North shields and just like to ask how did you get into politics.Are you going to sort out the problem in Zimbabwea.

David replies: I promise this is not a plant and I am glad you are at school at 2.00pm on a Friday afternoon! The descent of Zimbabwe into economic and social ruin is a massive blot on the African landscape. The UK has been trying to be part of the solution but in the end it will need to be Africans who lead reform in that country.

Natalie Hicks: Do you feel there is anything more the government can do to help people in Zimbabwe? So many people are suffering out there and very little seems to be done by Britain to stop this. Does Britain actually have any responsibility towards Zimbabwe as the former colonial power?

David replies: We are providing humanitarian aid but I agree that the suffering is terrible. Our former colonial status is actually used by President Mugabe to attack his opponents, but we remain committed both to humanitarian support and to eventual support of a government in Zimbabwe that takes decisions in the interests of all its people, and is a responsible part of the international community.

sue clement: Why on earth do you want Russia, North Africa and the Middle East to become part of the EU?

David replies: I think this refers to my speech where I said that the EU needed to improve its economic ties with its neighbours. Russian entry into the WTO for example would be a step towards this. But I am convinced that the future of the EU lies in addressing the sources of insecurity beyond its borders – from climate change to migration and instability.

David White: Now that Denmark has decided to hold a referendum on the EU Treaty, why can’t we have an EU Membership Referendum?

David replies: The Danish referendum is on whether they should join the Euro and the government has said that any such proposal in Britain would need to be ratified by the people here as well. But the proposed reform treaty, which we do not believe represents a fundamental shift in the constittuional balance of power, should in our view be addressed by Parliament, just like previous treaties.

anthony watts: How is the government to ensure that Britain really helps lead European development, whilst ensuring we and others member states keep their individual identity, the essence of what Europe is.

David replies: In simple terms, by ensuring that Europe performs those tasks that cannot be done by nation states acting alone. I have never bought the argument that we sacrifice our identity by co-operating with other people – surely we propound our values in that way.

John Tomlinson: What are you hoping to do to win the argument in favour of the EU in the UK?

David replies: Above all by explaining our position – and by having a good case. European co-operation can help Britain. It is as simple as that. But Europe needs to change because the problems have changed. That’s what the Prime Minister and I argued in our pamphlet “Global Europe”(pdf 608kbs) and that is what my speech in Brugge at the College of Europe argued.

Steven Swainbank: I appreciate that you want to address as many topics as possible, but could I please ask that David Milliband provides a far better answer to the Gillan Gibbons affair than he has thus far. Why, for instance, has he not expelled the Sudanese Ambassador and Embassy staff. Why, for instance, hasn’t he stopped all aid to the Sudan. I could go on……go on David, do something.

David replies:

Fair enough – let me have another go because it matters that people understand what we are trying to do.

The goal is to resolve the case as quickly as possible to protect the welfare of Mrs Gibbons. The test for any action is whether it makes that more or less likely. All of our experience and judgement is that political gestures can rebound but forceful concern about consular cases expressed at ministerial and official level is the best way to secure the outcome. I can understand the frustration. The Prime Minister has spoken to Mrs Gibbon’s family and I will speak to them later today, but no-one will thank us if actions we took rebounded.

n a matambanadzo: How difficult is it to have Mugabe put before an international tribunal?

David replies:

Interesting point. The cases they take on are a matter that the tribunals themselves need to address according to their own statutes. By definition they are independent of individual nations.

Sumera Rizwan: In relation to the United Kingdoms stance on the emergency rule in Pakistan, although the situation has changed in recent days, would you not agree that the judiciary should be restored to it’s former position as an independent institution. I know that you might argue that this is an internal issue – however, if the judiciary is not ‘free’ then this is hardly a democratic country.

David replies: It is vital that the state of emergency is lifted and free and fair elections – genuinely fair and free elections – are held on the 8th of January. An independent judiciary is vital to that.

Justin McKeating: Hello. I would like to ask the Foreign Secretary why the assistance being offered to locally employed staff in Iraq, who are being threatened with reprisals – including torture and death – from local militias, is being rationed according to length of service. Isn’t it perfectly possible for an Iraqi employee who has only been employed for five months to face the same dangers as a colleague who has been employed for twelve months or longer?

David replies:

The scheme is open to all existing staff whatever their length of service. For previous staff who no longer work for us, there is a 12 month criteria. I think this gets the balance right. The fortitude of civilian staff alongside military forces has been amazing on the part both of British staff and locally employed staff. The new scheme tries to recognise this.

Read the Written Ministerial Statement from 30 October 2007.

Saroushka: Could you please explain why not more is being done to address the ‘elephant in the room’ as to obstacles in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – namely the continued construction of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories, at the expense of any viable two-state solution.

David replies: This issue is vital and must be addressed to achieve a two state solution. The commitment of the Israeli Prime Minister to address all its responsibilities under the 2003 “road map” is an important step and follow through is going to be vital. Movement and access questions are also vital alongside Palestinian action to improve security in the occupied territories.

Philip: Mr Milliband,
what is the government’s policy on the Falkland Islands?

David replies: Their future must be in the hands of Falkland Islanders.

abdi younis: I would like to ask the secretary of state about the current genoside in Ogaden. What is the British position?

David replies: There are worrying reports of human rights abuses in Ogaden, and when I met the Ethiopian Foreign Minister recently I raised our concern about the humanitarian situation.

brian stapley: Why is it that we think that we can win a war in Afghanistan when they have kicked out almost every invasion over hundreds of years.?

David replies: I don’t think its a debating point to say that we want the Afghan government and the Afghan people to “win” by ensuring that they have the support to ensure that their country does not become, again, the home base of Al Qaeda. There is hugh development challenge in Afghanistan – it is a massively poor country. Only with international support will the Afghan government be able to get on with it.

Lauren: What do you think has been your greatest challenge since becoming Foreign Secretary?

David replies:
I got asked this last time! I hope this is not a test of consistency. If it is then the answer is getting through such a variety of questions in an hour. If it isn’t, then it is the variety of the job – the problems, and the mechanisms to address them, both of which span most conceivable angles.

I came here from a meeting with 500 foreign office staff on the priorities for 2008 and I am leaving here to brief key members of the Palestinian community about the Middle East peace process. I hope people understand why I describe this as an absolutely fantastic job and a real privilege.

David says: I’m really sorry I only got through 20 questions – that partly reflects the importance of the issues raised. I look forward to returning on another occasion to answer more of your questions.

Moderator says: Thanks for all your questions. Next up in the hot seat here in Downing Street will be the Health Secretary Alan Johnson. Alan will be here on Thursday 6th December from 17:00 GMT.

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