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Our reference: EMOP/2442/2013

15 August 2013

Dear Mr Nettleford,

Thank you for your email of 12 July to Alistair Burt, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office responsible for our relations with the Middle East, about the situation in Syria. I have been asked to reply.

The UK cannot escape having an interest in events in Syria, for a number of reasons. Peace and stability in such a volatile region is vital to the UK and the Syrian conflict now risks spreading beyond its frontiers with uncertain but worrying effects. The scale of the humanitarian impact within Syria – and now in neighbouring countries – has reached catastrophic proportions and is still growing. As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, the UK also has a responsibility to do all it can to ensure an end to conflicts, a task we have been working on tirelessly since the regime first began attacking its own cities. It is also clear that the conflict is drawing in fighters from all over the world who support an extremist ideology and are gaining training and experience which may be brought back to their home countries, including the UK. It cannot be in the UK’s interest for this conflict to continue, and we must actively pursue an end to it.

Our priority in Syria is to achieve a political settlement and to help save lives. We will continue to take action on every front, working with our allies, backing the moderate opposition, and increasing the pressure on the regime, to push for a political solution. We are therefore committed to supporting the US/Russian initiative for a Geneva II conference.

You have raised the issue of sending arms to Syria. I want to be clear the UK has not yet made a final decision to provide lethal equipment to the moderate opposition, though we will not rule out any option for the future that could contribute towards saving civilian lives if the situation continues to deteriorate. If we were to decide to provide lethal equipment to the moderate opposition then we would only do so in carefully controlled circumstances; and in accordance with our obligations under national and international law.

The Foreign Secretary has explained to Parliament that with every week that passes we are coming closer to the collapse of Syria and a regional catastrophe which will affect the security of the UK. We will therefore continue to increase our efforts to press for an end to the conflict, provide life-saving assistance and work to ensure that Syria achieves the political transition its people deserve. There are no simple solutions to the crisis, but we must help the Syrian people find a way to end the bloodshed and begin to build a new future.

Yours sincerely,

B.J. Griffiths

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