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Don't be harsh on Hammond - Clegg

Critics should not be "too harsh" on Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond over his handling of the Islamic State (IS) terror crisis, according to Nick Clegg.

The Deputy Prime Minister defended his Cabinet colleague after he candidly revealed that British forces did not know where IS was holding hostages including Briton Alan Henning.

Mr Hammond also caused confusion by appearing to rule out air strikes against IS in Syria, only to be overruled hours later by Downing Street.

The Deputy Prime Minister, who said IS would be "squeezed out of existence" and the UK would do "whatever we need" to take on the terrorists, insisted that any air strikes would be debated and voted on by MPs.

Asked about Mr Hammond's performance, the Liberal Democrat leader told LBC Radio: "It is always very difficult for a foreign secretary in this situation."

Mr Hammond had been asked to comment on a situation which involved a lot of classified information and at a time " when you are assembling a vast coalition of other countries".

Mr Clegg said " I would urge you not to be too harsh on Philip Hammond" who was being asked to "provide a running commentary and be asked a thousand questions on a very fluid, fast-moving situation, much of which quite rightly needs to be cloaked in secrecy".

World leaders including David Cameron will gather at the United Nations in New York next week, where further steps will be taken to assemble an alliance and agree a strategy to take on IS.

US president Barack Obama has already authorised air strikes against IS targets.

If the UK is also asked to participate in air strikes Mr Clegg made clear that MPs would have to be able to debate it - which could mean a recall of Parliament as the Commons is in recess until after the end of the party conference season on October 13.

"The Prime Minister has been clear, I have been clear, and this will of course have to be debated and voted on in Parliament, if Britain is ever asked to actually participate in military action, even air strikes.

"We will then have that debate when we know exactly what is being proposed to us.

"At the moment nothing specific and concrete has been put to us."

Responding to the murder of British aid worker David Haines and the threat to Mr Henning, the Deputy Prime Minister said he acknowledged a desire for an immediate response but insisted that taking time would ensure a "fatal blow" to IS, the group formerly known as Isil.

Mr Clegg said: "We cannot have our strategy determined by the grotesque and evil acts by this group.

"We have got to be tough, we have got to be smart, we have got to be uncompromising.

"These people will be hunted down. Isil will lose, Isil will be squeezed out of existence."

He added: "The United Nations will be debating this next week and I think we will then, given that (US president Barack) Obama and ourselves, the French and the Australians have all been quite open about the fact that we will do whatever we need to hunt these people down and to squeeze Isil out of existence, it will happen."

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