Baroness Cox, a member of the House of Lords, shared her views on the future of Syria, highlighting Russia’s success in “expelling” terrorist groups from the country and giving the Syrian people the right to choose their own future. At the same time in a revealing interview to Sputnik she expressed her concerns (and hopes) with UK policy in Syria.
Sputnik: What I understood from the report based on your and your colleagues’ visits to Syria is that your views were very different from the official position of the UK government on some key issues such as future of Bashar Assad and attitude to the so-called moderate opposition. So, I would be very grateful if you could describe briefly your views on that and also if you could share your views on what would be the right way forward for Syria.
Cox: Certainly. I think there are three concerns that I have expressed in Parliament.
Having been in Syria twice we met a wide range of people from the faith leaders the Syrian Patriarch, the Grand Mufti and other faith leaders in different parts of Syria and also local people like professionals, like doctors and intelligentsia, and musicians and artists, and writers, and politicians including members of the opposition parties. And they have got a very consistent concern over British foreign policy. British foreign policy has been committed to regime change and that’s the thing that people inside Syria really are very afraid of because they fear there is no moderate opposition left. Forced regime change would just lead to another catastrophe like Libya or Iraq. So that is the first concern that I raise quite often in the British Parliament.
The second concern is the funding that the British government has been giving to opposition groups and as we highlighted again there are no moderate armed opposition groups left so that is really just prolonging the war, prolonging the suffering of Syrian people. There was an interesting “Panorama” program which is one illustration of British taxpayer’s money being given to the jihadist group in Syria and it showed the police and organizations involved or complicit with barbaric practices like stoning individuals.
And the third concern which has been raised wherever we went is the very devastating effect of sanctions on people which makes it very hard for them to get the medical supplies they need, the food they need and other things they need to begin rebuilding their land as they hope for the war to finish in the not too distant future.
And the fourth point that I would like to make particularly to you is the very real appreciation that is expressed by everyone in Syria of the support by Russia to help get rid of ISIS [Daesh] and get rid of all the other Islamist religious groups. That is really appreciated and I respect it. I think that Russia has done absolutely right thing there giving the priority to expelling from Syria ISIS [Daesh], Jabhat al-Nusra and all other Islamist terrorist groups.
Sputnik: What would you consider as the right way forward for Syria? Russia and the UK and other countries have very different, I would say, polarized views on that. So what would be the right thing to do for both UK and Russia, and for Syria itself?
Cox: As I understand it, Russia’s proposals for the future are good: to bring together the different groups and I think the meetings in and in Sochi have been very important to help the Syrian people to move forward with a new constitution, with democratic elections, internationally supervised, and to invest very significantly in reconstruction, the reconstruction of schools, hospitals, infrastructure, factories to enable the people of Syria to return to their own country. And I think that is very much Russia’s, as I understand it, policies and vision. And I feel very strongly that it is particularly important to respect the rights of the people of Syria to choose their own future. And again I think that Russia is helping that in political dimension as well as having helped to expel the Islamist groups from the country.
Sputnik: And what could be the role of the UK government in that?
Cox: The UK government has to respect the right of the people of Syria to choose their own future, to stop funding Islamist opposition, to invest in the rebuilding of Syria and to enable people to return to their own country. So that is very much what we have been pressing the British government to do.
Sputnik: Do you feel that the British government is somehow changing its point of view? I mean do they actually listen to you?
Cox: Well, they have to listen. And another recommendation we do make to the British government, which so far they have not responded to sympathetically, is to reopen an embassy in Damascus. I think the French are doing so. I think if Britain reopens an embassy in Damascus then we will get first-hand information rather than relying on information coming in from other sources, such as those in Turkey. So that is another recommendation which we make very strongly to the British government.
Sputnik: But I guess they think that it’s not safe for now there to open an embassy.
Cox: Well, maybe. But we certainly urge them very strongly. I would say and have said that Russia is doing the right thing in Syria and I really commend the Russian position and Russian policy.
Sputnik: Do you think that many Lords and MPs share this point of view or only a minority of them sees Russia’s actions as good ones?
Cox: There’s an increasing number of Members of House of Lords particularly, not so conscious of what’s going on in the House of Commons, but there are Members of House of Lords who are very supportive of this. Three former British ambassadors to Syria wrote a letter, endorsing what I’ve just been saying that the British government should not impose regime change because that would lead to the potential disaster like Iraq or Libya and to respect the rights of the Syrian people to decide on their own future. So, there is a growing support for the views that I’ve been describing in the House of Lords and among some members of the House of Commons.
Sputnik: I cannot avoid asking you about Brexit…
Cox: All I would say I support it 100 percent because I believe in sovereignty. And I don’t like 90 percent of our laws being made in Brussels are coming to us irreversibly. And I believe in accountable politicians and I’ve been supporter of that. And in terms of all the debates and discussions and time frames, I spend my time trying to help people who don’t have a voice, like people of Syria or people of Sudan. And Brexit has so many voices so I will let them do their job.
Sputnik: What the UK government is doing now in terms of negotiations with the EU on Brexit, do you think they are capable of delivering what they promise to deliver?
Cox: All I can say – I hope so. But it’s highly complex and immensely time-consuming process, so I cannot give you an update because I am not involved myself in those negotiations.
Sputnik: What do you think — are there any perspectives for the Russia-UK relations now?
Cox: I hope very much there are some, certainly on the Syrian issue, I hope very much the UK will listen to the Russian position and understand it. And I would hope to shift our position to be more compatible with the state of the future of the people of Syria. So I hope that there will be a very productive outcome of the recent visit of the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson to Moscow and I hope very much that it will also help to improve relations between Russia and the UK. It makes me very sad that our relations have deteriorated so much and I think there is so much we can do in cooperation. I hope it will move forward very positively.
Sputnik: What do you consider as the most perspective areas of the cooperation between Russia and the UK?
Cox: Culture. I mean Russia has such a wonderfully rich cultural tradition and cultural resources. Russia has so much to share and benefit from. Another area is trade relations. Regarding Iran and DPRK – well, I believe Russia and UK share same interests and concerns. So it could be possible to work together to improve that situation. Britain has maintained an embassy in Pyongyang, that good for us. Britain does have a certain amount of influence there. And I would hope very much that Russian relations with the DPRK would be mutually compatible with the UK position.
The views and opinions expressed by Baroness Caroline Cox are those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.