LONDON – British Foreign Minister William Hague said on Thursday he intends to act speedily to change Britain’s universal jurisdiction law and that this is agreed on within the coalition government.
At a briefing at the Foreign Office, Hague was asked by The Jerusalem Post if he has a timetable for a change to the law, which allows private complaints of war crimes to be lodged against military personnel even if they are not British citizens and the alleged crimes were committed elsewhere.
Before this month’s general elections, Hague said the Conservative Party would act speedily to change the law if elected.
On Thursday, Hague said he was committed to changing the law, as it was “completely unacceptable” that Israeli officials felt they could not visit.
“I hope we will make a decision fairly soon. I can’t say when; you can be assured that we are working on it and find it completely unacceptable that someone such as Mrs. [Tzipi] Livni feels she cannot visit the UK,” he told the Post.
“This is a country that wants to play a strong role in the Middle East peace process, and for that Israeli leaders and others have to be able to visit the UK. So be in no doubt that we will take action on this but as part of a coalition, we must discuss with our colleagues how to best to do it.
“I don’t have a timetable but it is absolutely my intention to act speedily to change the law. Of course we have formed a coalition so we have to examine together, and we are examining together, we are already doing that in some detail,” he said.
The foreign minister said the Liberal Democrat coalition partners agreed that the current state of affairs was not good.
“We start from the same position that the current situation is unsatisfactory. We cannot have a position where Israeli politicians, or indeed this will apply to many other nations as well, feel they cannot visit this country,” he said.
“So this has to be put right and that is well understood and agreed in the coalition government. So all we are talking about now is how we put this right. There are various options on the table.”
Hague said optimism would play a major role in the new government’s approach to foreign policy.
“We don’t want to have a gloomy or pessimistic vision of the world. Optimism and faith in human nature should always be present in our approach in foreign affairs and I argue that when we consider a region such as the Middle East, we should not just see threats and problems, although of course plenty of those exist, but we should see our common interests and the immense opportunities for trade, cooperation and partnership that are so abundant.”
The foreign minister said that in British politics, there was a strong thread of bipartisanship in many areas of foreign policy.
“[There is] unwavering support for a two-state solution that delivers a secure Israel alongside a sovereign Palestinian state with a capital in east Jerusalem and a just settlement for refugees, and the determination to buttress the efforts of the United States and the proximity talks.”
On Iran, Hague said, “We support a strategy of engagement and sanctions towards Iran where we are working intensively with our partners to agree a new UN Security Council sanctions resolution.”
Outlining changes the Cameron government would make, Hague said: “Where we do differ from the last government is that we do have a new vision of a distinctive British foreign policy that will be a departure from the approach of the previous government – both in its reach and in its ambition.
“First, we reject the idea of Britain’s strategic shrinkage or
inevitable decline. We think that Britain should do far more to engage
with the emerging economies of the world and to build up relationships
with countries in the Gulf, Middle East, Brazil, Japan, India, China.
This should be a long-term national effort that does not just involve
trade links but also increased cooperation in education, culture and
Hague said that foreign policy would be at the heart of the government.
“I told my cabinet colleagues of the need for foreign policy to run
through the veins of the entire administration, so the whole of the
government works to achieve national objectives.
“So we have created a new National Security Council to turn this
philosophy into action, so when we are looking at elevating our links
with other countries of the world, we do it across the whole of
government at the same time,” he said.
“We will promote what I call our ‘enlightened national interest,’ which
includes being a force for good in the world, as well as seeking the
best for our own citizens. So we will place human rights at the heart
of foreign policy, work to reduce global poverty and argue for free
trade and open markets,” Hague said.