Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 30 August 2014

Wedding snub for Syrian ambassador

Syrian ambassador Sami Khiyami - pictured meeting the Queen - has had his invitation to the royal wedding withdrawn

The Syrian ambassador's invitation to the royal wedding has been withdrawn as the controversy over his planned attendance threatened to overshadow the big day.

Amid mounting criticism of the decision to include Sami Khiyami on the invitation list, Foreign Secretary William Hague decided the day before the ceremony that his presence would not be "acceptable".

His invitation, when Britain is at loggerheads with Damascus over the bloody crackdown on protesters against President Bashar Assad, had sparked fury, particularly among Labour supporters angry that former prime ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown were omitted from the guest list.

In a statement, the Foreign Office said representatives of all countries with which the UK had diplomatic relations had been invited. "An invitation does not mean endorsement or approval of the behaviour of any government, simply that we have normal diplomatic relations with that country," it went on.

"In the light of this week's attacks against civilians by the Syrian security forces, which we have condemned, the Foreign Secretary has decided that the presence of the Syrian ambassador at the royal wedding would be unacceptable and that he should not attend.

"Buckingham Palace shares the view of the Foreign Office that it is not considered appropriate for the Syrian ambassador to attend the wedding."

The ambassador said he found the withdrawal of the invitation "a bit embarrassing" but he was not surprised or disappointed. "I find it a bit embarrassing but I don't consider it a matter that would jeopardise any ongoing relations and discussions with the British Government," he told BBC Radio 4's The World At One.

Asked whether he understood the controversy surrounding his invitation, he said: "Well, I don't really understand it, but I understand the influence of media on government decisions."

The withdrawal of the ambassador's invitation came soon after former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said the authorities should have found a way to ensure he did not attend.

Mr Straw said he believed a way could have been found to avoid the attendance of Dr Khiyami, who was summoned to the Foreign Office on Tuesday to receive a dressing-down over his government's handling of protests.

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