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William Hague: A time to toughen sanctions on Iran

I am most grateful to Chatham House for hosting this event and asking me to speak about the development of the foreign policy of the next Conservative government. For me, returning to frontline politics has been a rather more refreshing and encouraging experience than I expected - at least so far - for several reasons.

First of all, British politics has become fully competitive again, thanks to a combination of David Cameron's highly effective leadership of the party and a spreading disenchantment with the Labour government.

When I used to assert in 2001 that the Conservatives could win the election of that year, everyone understood that that assertion was somewhat theoretical, technically true but very unlikely. The position with regard to the next election is quite different, and is understood to be so not only here at home but throughout the world, with important implications for the access we have to governments around the world and for the interest their leaders have in talking to us now.

Second, the leadership team in the Conservative Party is the most cohesive and mutually supportive that I have known at any time in the last two decades.

I am the only Member of the Shadow Cabinet who served in the last Conservative Cabinet, and I can tell you that the unity of purpose and readiness to work together today is a vast improvement on what I experienced then.

Thirdly, and perhaps as a result of the factors I have already mentioned, we tend to ask ourselves each day as we consider the issues before us, 'What would we actually do if we were the government?' rather than just, 'How can we embarrass or outmanoeuvre the government of today?'

This approach means that we support the government when we think they are right - for instance over greater independence for schools - although we oppose and challenge them when they are wrong, for instance with regard to the unremitting incompetence now displayed in the Home Office.

This approach is very much reflected in our attitude to foreign policy. We are not looking for differences from the Labour government for the sake of it. Indeed, we are mindful that any country's foreign policy becomes more effective, credible, and well-understood when it enjoys a degree of consensus across parties and continuity between governments.

When the government makes long-term decisions which we believe are in the interests of the country, for instance, on the decision to replace Trident, we therefore give straightforward support but equally, our time in opposition is our best opportunity to think afresh: we must not shy away from the shifting of priorities and the changing of policies when necessary.

And to some extent we can try, even in opposition, to lay the groundwork for a fresh consensus. For instance, I and my colleagues were treated rather like voices in the wilderness when we declared our opposition to Britain joining the euro nine years ago, but today there is no substantial body of political, economic or business opinion in this country in favour of joining the euro in the foreseeable future.

It is against this background that I would like to use this speech to describe the work we have done so far on our future foreign policy, making the point as I do so that an enormous amount of work remains to be done. It is therefore a good time to react to and influence that policy, but you may be helped in doing so by hearing a stock-take or summary of what we have so far arrived at, and what the implications are for one or two of the immediate crises we face today. It may be useful if I summarise the main pointers to our approach so far.

Our first action was to appoint a policy commission, one of the six principal commissions established by David Cameron, to consider international and national security linked, crucially, with the cohesion of our own society.

Dame Pauline Neville-Jones is chairman of this commission and the former Defence Secretary, Lord King, is deputy chairman. They produced an interim report in December which I will mention in a moment.

In February I went to Washington to re-establish our connections there and set the tone of our approach to relations with America, accompanied by the Shadow Chancellor, George Osborne, and the Shadow Defence Secretary, Liam Fox.

We reaffirmed in Washington the broad and historic alliance of our countries, in which vast and mutual sacrifices have added to a sense of special partnership. But we also pointed out that that relationship should be solid but not slavish, firm but also fair. In my speech on that visit I regretted that much of the world no longer sees America as a great but compassionate power.

I said that reports of prisoner abuse by British and American troops - however isolated - and accounts, accurate or not, of the mistreatment of detainees at Guantanamo and extraordinary rendition flights leading to the torture of suspects, had led to the critical erosion of our moral authority, and that this had resulted in a loss of goodwill towards America which could be as serious in the long-term as the sharpest of military defeats.

In June, in London, I set out comprehensively our approach to the European Union, pointing out the opportunity, with the Constitution becalmed, for a British government to set out a positive agenda of a different kind, incorporating genuine completion of a single market and the creation of an outward looking Europe characterised by freedom and flexibility rather than ever-closer political integration characterised by bureaucracy and fossilisation.

On September 11th, the fifth anniversary of the terrorist attack on New York, David Cameron made his most extensive speech to date about foreign policy, reaffirming the 'solid but not slavish' approach to America, acknowledging that fighting terrorism is the most consuming concern for modern government, and calling for humility and patience in the reassessment in foreign policy.

He defined our approach as 'liberal conservatism' based on five propositions: that we should understand fully the threat we face; that democracy cannot quickly be imposed on other countries from outside; that our strategy needs to go far beyond military action; that we need a new multilateralism to tackle the new global challenges we face; and that we must strive to act with moral authority.

More recently, I have written about the paradox that global institutions are the ones finding it particularly difficult to cope with the effects of globalisation and that British leadership is required in putting that right.

We have also called for the extension and deepening of our alliances, particularly in the Persian Gulf.

The interim report of our policy commission has set out proposals exactly on that theme, involving a Partnership for Open Societies, a strategy of re-engagement and reform to reduce the appeal of terrorism, fundamentalism and revolution as a method of change in Muslim societies. It also called for the creation of a United Kingdom National Security Council, on the basis that current methods of policy making do not take into account the important interactions between domestic security, foreign policy and defence requirements.

My colleague Liam Fox has set out in detail the over-stretch of the armed forces in the light of current commitments, and has drawn attention to the current strains on NATO and the emerging importance of energy security.

Shadow International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell has staked out a distinctive Conservative position on our efforts to tackle international poverty and the huge discrepancies of wealth and opportunity which exist in our world today.

He has made clear that a Conservative Government will focus far more than currently on results, outputs and effectiveness in aid spending, and has recently announced that in Government we will set up an Independent Aid Watchdog to provide objective monitoring of British aid and reassure taxpayers that their money is being well-spent.

Hilary Benn recently indicated that he may take up this idea - it is always encouraging when Ministers offer to steal our ideas.

These have been our major pieces of work so far. I want to use the remainder of my speech to re-emphasise and expand on some of these points, and to show how they fit together. And a good starting point for that is our determination that under a Conservative government, consideration of these issues will always fit together.

We are far from alone in considering that in relation to foreign policy the machinery of government has broken down.

In the words of the former Foreign Secretary, Lord Owen: 'I can think of no other occasion - certainly since the First World War -where the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Deputy Prime Minister, to say but two, have not been members of a war Cabinet which would have the independent advice of the chiefs in the Ministry of Defence; the full flow of information coming back from the field from commanders; the full flow of information from a Foreign Secretary who was reporting not just to the Prime Minister but to the Cabinet and the war Cabinet. The issues should be evaluated and the decisions taken in a properly balanced way with documents and minutes, and reported back from the war Cabinet to the full Cabinet.' .

This is an opinion we share. The sofa-style decision making of Blair's Downing Street may be pleasingly chatty and informal in its own way but it does not encourage the full flow of information and decision making across Whitehall or facilitate the inclusion of Cabinet Ministers whose departments are not directly involved. Collective discussion appears to have been weak and last minute.

It is in the light of this that David Cameron, who I can testify as Shadow Foreign Secretary is collegiate in his style, has declared his utter determination to restore the principles of Cabinet government.

And it is also in this light that we are studying the proposals for the creation of a National Security Council.

The experience of Iraq, with too much weight being placed not only on intelligence that was not known to be flimsy but on intelligence that was known to be flimsy, and with inadequate attention given to plans for the occupation for the entire country, suggest that the opportunities for experienced people to ask intelligent questions were insufficient. The great expertise of the Foreign Office appears, sometimes, to be sidelined.

In the conflicts of recent years our Armed Forces have never let us down. It is therefore vital that the machinery of the Government does not let them down.

Such a failure needs to be put right in general, but also learnt from in particular. That is why we give full support to the idea of a Privy Council inquiry into the origins and conduct of the Iraq war and its aftermath, based on the model of the Franks Committee that considered the Falklands war.

It is argued in response that such an inquiry should only begin its work when the Iraq conflict is over, but it seems to us that an inquiry into events in 2003 must begin its work before the end of 2007 if memories are not to fade, that the Dardenelles Commission sat while the First World War was raging, and that defining the end point of the Iraq conflict may not in any case be easy.

The proper management of the processes of government, and learning from mistakes is therefore one important theme. A second theme is related to that: the effective management of the relationship with the United States of America. I have already illustrated that we intend our relationship with American leaders to be one of friendship coupled with honest criticism.

From everything we have seen of their reaction, they consider this to be entirely appropriate and normal - indeed, this was very much the tone of the friendship at some of the high points of UK-US strategic co-operation under Churchill and Roosevelt or Thatcher and Reagan.

We do not see this as a distancing ourselves, but simply as recovering the art of managing the relationship well, admittedly as the junior partner. The loss of moral authority can be put right, and the US remains the world's only arsenal of democracy. Current trends in population and economic growth suggest we are not at the end of an American century but perhaps only mid-way through it. To any British government, it will remain an indispensable partner in diplomacy and intelligence, crucial to our national security.

We should not overstate our influence on the world's only superpower, but we should not under-use the influence and leverage we have. It is surprising, after the closeness of our co-operation on Iraq and Afghanistan, that is has taken so long to secure American commitment to share with Britain the technology for the Joint-Strike Fighter. It is also surprising that the British government appears to have had so little influence on President Bush's recent re-definition of his strategy in Iraq. The effect of ten years of the Blair government is that Britain has never seemed so uncritically aligned with the United States yet seldom found it so difficult to get its way.

If America's continuing economic and military weight in the world means that it remains our indispensable ally, that does not mean that we should be blind to the increasing economic, diplomatic, and sometimes, military weight of many other countries of the world.

Indeed, it can be argued that Britain has been slow, given its concentration on affairs in Washington and Brussels, to adapt to the rapid changes taking place in newly industrialised countries.

We have reached the end of what has been called the hub-and-spoke age in the Atlantic area. Daily flights now fill the skies between Shanghai and Dubai and São Paulo, between Beijing and Cairo, between Tokyo and Mumbai, Delhi and Sydney. Most oil from the Middle East now goes eastwards. China and India are at the front edge of high tech innovation.

Decades of Chinese passivity in international affairs have come to an end - with China emerging an active player in the international arena. Last year as the missile crisis in North Korea intensified, most eyes were focused on Washington. Less noticed, but more important was the role of Beijing.

We will need to shift more of our political weight to the relationships of the Asia-Pacific region. The focus of our activities in opposition has already recognised this: last September David Cameron, George Osborne, Liam Fox and I paid simultaneous visits to India, China and Japan. Britain has not yet been sufficiently successful at promoting trade with China and India, and has sometimes lost out to other European nations as a result. In Shanghai I met a city councillor who was proud to say that he had met our Prime Minister once in recent years. However, it turned out that he had met the German Chancellor three times in the same period, always on missions to promote German exports. The deepening of our relationships with these countries and other Asia-Pacific countries, as well as the leading nations of Latin America, will be important to us.

In parallel, and perhaps most important of all from the point of foreign policy, defence and security, we need to focus much increased attention on the many friendly nations of the Middle East. The combination of events in Iran and Iraq, the difficulties we are experiencing with Syria, and the state of Israeli-Palestinian relations means that we must come to office steeped in knowledge of Middle Eastern affairs.

In recent years, some of the Gulf countries have felt that they have not received attention from senior British ministers.

Belatedly, the Prime Minister visited the United Arab Emirates just before Christmas for the first time in his life and, rightly, established an improved level of bilateral co-operation.

This, however, should only be the beginning of a concerted national effort, pursuing consistently over many years and across parties, to elevate our cultural, economic, diplomatic and parliamentary links with many of the countries of the Gulf, and possibly of North Africa as well.

The potential dangers that lie ahead call for the maximum understanding of Middle Eastern societies as well as the firm anchoring of the friendships between countries of the Middle East and of the wider West. While we are certainly engaged in a struggle against international terrorism, we are most certainly not engaged in a clash of civilisations.

I earnestly hope that the government will call for and initiate this kind of national effort while they are still in office, and will not be put off it by the fact that it is the opposition that have proposed it.

It will be evident from this that our approach to foreign policy demands, as David Cameron put it on September 11th, 'a new emphasis on multilateralism'. It is vital to widen the circle of British influence, making more for instance of the recently under-used institution of the Commonwealth, to enhance our co-operation with countries to whom we have good historical cultural, political and economic ties.

Yet if we are to be effective multilateralists we must give urgent attention to the worrying state of leading multilateral and global institutions.

Odd as it may seem, the very institutions that globalisation most rapidly undermines are global. The nation state is alive and well, the continuing focus of loyalty and identity for the vast majority of the world's people. It is global organisations - the United Nations and the International Monetary Fund, global agreements such as the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and other multilateral bodies such as the EU and NATO that are finding globalisation harder to take.

One reason for this is that the shifting pattern of economic and political power soon leaves representative bodies out of date. The UN Security Council still reflects the outcome of the Second World War. The less its composition corresponds to today's real distribution of power, the less legitimate it will seem, and more open to challenge.

The IMF faces a similar problem of legitimacy; newly industrialising nations are building up large foreign currency reserves, unwilling to rely on a organisation where they see little attachment or sense of ownership. Such institutions are showing their age. But to allow them to collapse and die would be a disaster: we need adaptable and effective nation states, but we also need global institutions that command respect. As Francis Fukuyama has written, 'they confer a unique legitimacy on international action and our multilateral alliances greatly enhance our ability to protect our own interests.'

Britain must therefore be a powerful advocate of the reform of these institutions, giving for instance Japan, India, Germany and Brazil permanent seats on the UN Security Council .

We also have to do our utmost to galvanise NATO into doing what is necessary to make a success of the deployment in Afghanistan, something that would have astonished its founders but is a justified recognition that the threat to its members' security now comes from more distant parts of the globe. That means other countries summoning the political will to make a major contribution and to do away with the dozens of national caveats and restrictions which bedevil attempts to use forces to best advantage.

As for the EU, its widening to include twenty-seven members is a truly historic achievement, with enormously beneficial results for the security and prosperity of the whole continent. That widening should continue in the future, with countries of the Balkans, Turkey and even the Ukraine in mind. But what Europe's leaders did not notice when they embarked on such widening is that they simultaneously made the deepening of European integration, even if it were desirable, highly impracticable. The recent referendum results in the Netherlands and France are symptoms of that.

Continued attempts to push for political centralisation, of which the European Constitution is an example, will not only fail, but will create division and distraction in the meantime.

It is highly regrettable that we have a government which, despite its complete lack of enthusiasm for the Constitution, cannot summon up the courage to say so.

In the meantime, the so-called Lisbon agenda to make Europe the world's leading based knowledge economy by 2010 has become a failure so serious as to be farcical, attempts to create a single market in services - 70% of the European economy - have proved disappointing in scope, and much of the continent is in danger of being overtaken in research and development and the quality of higher education institutions by the rest of the world.

Britain should be the advocate of Europe's urgent reform, and to that end, David Cameron and the new Czech Prime Minister, Mirek Topolanek have founded 'The Movement for European Reform', to create a focus and a momentum for Europeans of all nationalities to float the ideas and put the case for a positive but very different agenda - a flexible Europe that concentrates on practical solutions to today's challenges of globalisation and climate change, not the old , failed goal, of ever closer political integration.

It is, of course, essential that the reform of multilateral institutions and the improvement of our alliances around the globe are always based on the advancement and upholding of our basic values. It is notable that one of the motivating factors behind adherents of a group such as al-Qaeda is a contempt for Western society.

The huge efforts we have to make through intelligence agencies and security forces to combat such threats will therefore not be successful if we fail to uphold the strongest attributes of our own society and regard them as virtues ourselves. That means a strong attachment to human rights, a belief in the rule of law, the defence of political freedom, and the promotion of economic liberalism, and humanitarian intervention when it is sensible and practical.

All governments find that idealism in foreign policy has to be tempered with realism but it is important to remember that a world based on any other set of values will be without the means for the tolerance and acceptance of diversity which is of such critical importance in a globalised age.

And of central importance to any hope of harmony in the world will be the driving forward of international agreement and action on climate change, with Britain, together with our European partners, doing everything it can both by the force of its own example and the persistence of its own leadership and ideas. In recent days, China has recognised its shortcomings in this area and America seems at last to be awakening. In David Cameron, we would have a Prime Minster who would take his passionate advocacy on this subject to all the leading nations of the earth.

These, then, are the emerging themes of Conservative foreign policy.

But it is always useful to give meaning to a policy approach by applying it to a current and particular instance, rather than merely setting it out in the abstract.

As it happens, current relations with Iran represent a case in which many of these themes, the proper management of the American relationship, the sensible use of European solidarity, the deepening of relationships in the Middle East and the reinforcement of international institutions, come together.

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is one of the most important of all international agreements in the post-war world. As I have argued in another speech last July, it also needs reform, in terms of placing additional obligations on its signatories and giving greater powers to its inspectors. But if Iran proceeds with the development of nuclear enrichment and then the production of a nuclear bomb, this fundamental pillar of international peace and security would lie broken and ruined.

It is highly likely that other nations in the Middle East would follow suit. The dangers we and other nations face in future decades would multiply rapidly.

There is already discussion in the media as to whether a viable form of 'military action' is available. In the Conservative Party we are not advocating such action, although like our own government and leaders of France, Germany and the United States, we do not at this stage rule it out. Yet given the dangers posed by such military action, or by Iran's successful development of nuclear weapons, greater attention is needed now to the enforcement of the requirements that the UN Security Council and the Non-Proliferation Treaty place on Iran.

A combination of carrots and sticks has turned other nations, notably Libya away from a nuclear weapons programme.

The carrot of assistance with the development of civil nuclear power has, rightly, been presented to Iran by the permanent five members of the Security Council and Germany. The White House has declared, again rightly, its readiness for dialogue with Iran if it complies with international requirements.

The sticks, however, in the form of limited sanctions by the UN Security Council, have so far been insufficiently worrying to the Iranians.

It must now be time to step up the peaceful pressure on Iran to desist from confrontation with the international community. Iran's nuclear programme appears to have run into difficulties in recent months.

There are signs of discontent within the country about the implications of President Ahmadinejad's foreign policy and the risks it creates.

At the same time, raging inflation and a drop in oil prices have increased the pressure on the Iranian government. In years to come, we may look back on the next few months as a crucial time in which the international community showed, or failed to show, its resolve.

When the UN Security Council meets again next month to discuss the matter, we should advocate additional sanctions. In addition, EU countries could do much more to place peaceful pressure on the Iranians, particularly by adopting financial measures similar to those put in place by the United States.

EU action against investment in Iran's oil and gas fields and limitation of the access of the Iranian bank to the European financial system could have a significant effect.

One way or another, Iranian persistence in its nuclear activities will be disastrous for Middle Eastern and world affairs. The pressure placed on Iran should be multilateral, legitimate and peaceful, but unless it is intensified the opportunity to change its policy may be lost. For action on this crucial matter we look to our government and our allies now.

In the longer-term the objectives I have set out this evening - the strengthening of our processes of government, the proper management of our relations with the United States, the extension of our alliances and trading relationships elsewhere, the reform of the EU and of other multilateral or global institutions, and the upholding of our own highest values - will guide us in addressing the issues and crises faced by a future Conservative government.

This work is work-in-progress, and we await the future reports of our policy commission and the continuing advice of many experts, thinkers and friends at home and abroad. The themes I have highlighted, however, are ones that I believe will endure and will be a vital part of our thinking when we come to exercise our immense responsibility of determining the polices of our nation.

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