[…] Members on all sides of the House will also be concerned about the grave situation in Syria which shows no sign of abating. Protests across the country are still being met by unacceptable violence from the regime, and the reports of Syrian troop movements near the Turkish border are of serious concern.
President Assad’s speech on 20 June speech was disappointing in its failure to take any concrete action to stop the violence and change the situation on the ground. It did contain some proposals for reform, including plans for a National Dialogue, constitutional reform and new laws on political parties, elections and the media. To be significant such changes would need to be implemented quickly and fully. The regime needs to show that these pledges are more than tactical calculations designed to buy time and appease the demonstrators, which so far it has not done.
The holding of a public meeting of opposition figures in Damascus on 27 June, the first of its kind in a decade, was a positive step. I hope further such meetings can be held. But without an end to the violence, the release of all political prisoners including those detained in recent demonstrations, and a guarantee of the right to peaceful protest, there can be no credible attempt at National Dialogue and the opposition meeting will have been a wasted opportunity.
Last week the EU imposed further sanctions against 11 individuals and entities associated with violent repression against civilians. The draft resolution UN Security Council Resolution that Britain has circulated remains on the table. We believe that the Security Council must speak out against repression in Syria, and that President Assad must reform or step aside.
I spoke yesterday to the Turkish Foreign Minister, who briefed me on Turkey’s efforts to persuade President Assad to change course and implement reform. It is important that we use all available channels to convey this message to President Assad. This week My Hon Friend the Member for Braintree travelled to Syria in a private capacity where he met President Assad. He told him that international pressure on Syria will only increase if it continues on its current path. Given that only a change of course in Syria will bring about an end to the violence we should welcome contacts that reinforce the need for urgent change.
Yesterday, my officials also made clear to the Syrian Ambassador our strong concerns about allegations that a diplomat at the Syrian Embassy has been intimidating Syrians in Britain. Any such activity would amount to a clear breach of acceptable behaviour. If such claims were substantiated, we would respond swiftly and appropriately.