Matt Chorley — Daily Mail June 16, 2014
The British government is in talks with Iran about finding a way to stem the threat posed by Islamist jihadists seizing control of swathes of neighbouring Iraq.
Foreign Secretary William Hague has spoken with his counterpart in Iran to discuss the ‘regional angle’ of the crisis.
It follows the emergence of an unlikely alliance between Iran and the US, to find a way to stop the rapid spread of the ISIS – Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria.
Iraq has been plunged into its bloodiest crisis since the withdrawal of US troops in 2011. ISIS rebels, led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, are said to have murdered 1,700 soldiers last week.
Today Downing Street confirmed that Mr Hague had also spoken to Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
It came amid reports that Tehran is considering military support to the Shia-led administration in Iraq.
Representatives of Iran and the Western powers are meeting in Vienna today to discuss international concerns about Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.
The Foreign Office declined to discuss the content of Mr Hague’s call. The Foreign Secretary will brief MPs on the latest situation in an oral statement to the House of Commons this afternoon.
Prime Minister David Cameron’s official spokesman indicated that the UK saw a role for regional powers such as Iran in supporting the Baghdad government, telling reporters at a Westminster media briefing: ‘In terms of the decisions around the immediate security response in Iraq, those are for the Iraqi authorities to take.
‘Is there a wider regional issue here and is there a role in the region supporting the Iraqi government in trying as much as possible to take a broad-based and inclusive approach going forward and avoiding some of the risks of a sectarian approach, as the Foreign Secretary was talking about? Yes.
‘We have contact with the Iranian government and I think one of the things the Foreign Secretary will say in the House today is that he discussed a number of bilateral issues, including this, with his Iranian counterpart over the weekend.
‘Is there a role for the region and the international community as a whole to support this approach of unity and co-operation – as the Foreign Secretary described it this morning? Yes, I think there is a regional angle to it.’
At the weekend Iran’s President Rouhani said: ‘When the U.S. takes action, then one can think about cooperation. Until today, no specific request for help has been demanded. But we are ready to help within international law.’
It is not clear how talks with Iran, which refers to the U.S. as the ‘Great Satan’, would take place, and other countries have expressed concern that any deal could damage negotiations on Tehran’s nuclear program.
Amid international outrage at the atrocity, President Obama is weighing up what help to give Baghdad to counter the land-grab by the al-Qaida-inspired ISIS.
The British government has ruled out any new military intervention, in part because the Commons last year voted against action in Syria.
‘But in this situation today, in Iraq, with what we’ve seen in recent days, are we looking at a British military intervention? No, we’re not. I can’t be clearer than that.’
Britain has already offered humanitarian assistance for the Iraqi people displaced in the north, and Mr Hague hinted that British special forces could be offered.
‘I’ve said that we might be able to help with counter-terrorism expertise. We are looking at that now,’ he said.
However, Mr Hague, who also voted for the 2003 war, denied that the invasion had itself been a mistake.
‘No, I don’t think the invasion itself was a mistake. I have always thought that many mistakes occurred in the aftermath of the invasion.
‘It’s entirely possible to say that it was the right thing to remove Saddam Hussein, but that mistakes were made in the aftermath of that.’
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said Britain would not attempt to ‘stand in the way’ of a well-judged US initiative to restore order in Iraq.
Mr Clegg told a Whitehall press conference: ‘We are not providing active, frontline resources to any action that is taken but of course we will want to talk to the United States and other allies about what can be done.
‘We are certainly not going to stand in the way of action that is well-judged and well-targeted in order to try to re-assert some semblance of order in Iraq. I think only the United States can deploy the kind of resources that may make a difference.’