Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

Hague calls for reforms in Syria

Foreign Secretary William Hague denied the UK's language on Syria had been 'gentle' compared to its hardline approach to Libya

It is "not too late" for Syrian president Bashar Assad to abandon brutal repression of his people, Foreign Secretary William Hague has insisted.

Mr Hague said it was still possible that the British-educated leader could follow through on democratic and civil liberty reforms he has promised. But he also cautioned that Assad may not be "free" to pursue such changes, even if he wanted to.

The comments came as a statement condemning violence in the Middle East state was being negotiated at the United Nations in New York.

Interviewed on BBC Radio 4, Mr Hague repeated his view that Syria was at a "fork in the road".

"President Assad has made two major speeches on reform in Syria," he said. "It is not too late for him to say he is really going to do these reforms, and additional reforms."

Mr Hague went on: "It is not too late for him to do these things, to say that the death that has occurred will be investigated. There is a major diplomatic effort going on to persuade the Syrian authorities to go down that prong of the fork, the right way."

Mr Hague said he believed President Assad was "interested" in making changes and he could "imagine him as a reformer".

"The difficulty, one of the difficulties, in Syria is that President Assad's power depends on a wide group of people in his own family and, of course, other members of his own government," the Foreign Secretary said. "I am not sure how free he is to pursue a reform, even if he wanted to do so."

Mr Hague denied that the UK's language on Syria had been "gentle" compared to its hardline approach to Libya. He said he condemned "utterly" the way peaceful protests had been put down.

Defence Secretary Liam Fox played down the prospect of a Libya-style military intervention in Syria on Tuesday night after holding talks in the US with counterpart Robert Gates. He urged the regime in Damascus to "pause and reflect" about the consequences of its actions amid widespread criticism and the threat of sanctions.

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