British foreign secretary calls for ‘political and economic stranglehold’ on Syria, as bombing continues for a 20th day
William Hague, the foreign secretary, has signalled plans to “step up” sanctions in a bid to bring down the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad, amid a rising toll of civilian victims.
The day after Sunday Times journalist Marie Colvin and French photographer Rémi Ochlik were among the 80 killed in an artillery assault on Homs, Hague said he believed president Assad should go, and called for “a diplomatic and economic stranglehold” to be imposed on the regime.
“Time is against the Assad regime,” he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme on Thursday. “I wish it were faster”.
The besieged district of Baba Amr in Homs has been under daily attack by the Syrian army for three weeks.
As bombing continues for a 20th day, UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos is travelling to Syria in an attempt to secure access for aid workers seeking to deliver emergency relief to people trapped in the country’s conflict zones.
Hague insisted that the British government was not sitting on the sidelines but playing a “leading role” in trying to put pressure on the Assad regime.
He said no one should underestimate the cumulative effect that tough sanctions can bring to bear. None of their own were the solution, but he said the international community was operating under many more constraints than they were in Libya last year.
He said any move towards military intervention in Syria would be vastly more complex than the one in Libya last year, due to the lack of a UN resolution, the fact that the Syrian armed forces “are on a vastly greater scale than those of Libya”, and the consequences of any outside intervention are “much more difficult to foresee” in light of its geographical neighbours.
The foreign secretary will be speaking to Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, and Arab league leaders attending a summit on Somalia in London. Clinton is also attending a 60-nation Friends of Syria meeting to be held in Tunisia on Friday.
Hague told the BBC: “The Assad regime has continued to act seemingly with impunity. But I think we can agree a wider set of measures across a large group of nations. I think we can tighten the European Union sanctions on Syria when we meet on Monday – and don’t underestimate the cumulative impact of that over time – and of course there is a desperate need to get humanitarian assistance to people affected.”
Pressed on whether Britain’s diplomatic relations with Syria would continue in light of the worsening situation, Hague said the British embassy’s presence in Syria was “under constant review”, but had been maintained to date because it had increased the government’s understanding of events. “I don’t rule out, of course, withdrawing our embassy given the gravity of the situation.”
He said Britain was engaged at all levels, from economic sanctions to humanitarian aid and rallying the international community.
“We want Assad to go,” he said. “Clearly the economic measures we are adopting make life much more difficult for the Assad regime. We have cut out a quarter of all revenues for instance, by stopping all oil imports into Europe.”
from Hélène Mulholland