LONDON – A Conservative member of parliament has been given the Middle East portfolio at the Foreign Office, it was announced on Monday.

Alistair Burt, MP for North East Bedfordshire, was appointed parliamentary undersecretary of state at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. His areas of responsibility include the Middle East and North Africa.

Born in 1955, Burt studied at Oxford University and trained as a lawyer. He has been an MP since 1983 and is a strong friend of Israel and a former member of the Conservative Friends of Israel’s parliamentary group.

He will also have responsibility for counter-proliferation and counter-terrorism.

Speaking on his appointment, Burt said: “I'm honored to have been asked to serve in David Cameron's Coalition Government. To be asked to join the Foreign Office is one of the highest honors a parliamentarian can aspire to and the chance of working in the UK's interests abroad is one which I will relish.

“The Coalition Government has much to do in dealing with the domestic financial crisis as well as with our commitments oversees, particularly our forces in Afghanistan. My brief will cover the Middle East and Afghanistan and I am aware how important these areas are.”

Commenting Monday on the report that Iran, Turkey and Brazil had struck a deal in which Iran would ship 1,200 kg. of low-enriched uranium to Turkey in exchange for 120 kg. of higher enriched nuclear fuel to power Teheran’s medical reactor, Burt said that Iran’s actions remained a “serious cause for concern.”

“[Iranian] Foreign Minister [Manouchehr] Mottaki told UN Security Council ambassadors last week that this enrichment would continue regardless of any deal to resupply the Teheran research reactor,” Burt said. “There is no apparent civilian use for this material and it underlines Iran’s disregard for efforts to engage it in serious negotiation. Iran has an obligation to assure the international community of its peaceful intentions.”

In 2008, Burt attended the European Friends of Israel conference in Paris and spoke on a panel that looked at ways to create new opportunities to promote a more effective partnership between Israel and Europe. At the conference, Burt met with the father of captured IDF soldier Gilad Schalit.

In December 2008, he led a delegation, with representatives from the major parties, to the Red Cross, where he met with the international director to discuss Schalit’s plight and the refusal by Hamas to grant the Red Cross visitation rights.

“We appreciated the opportunity to meet with the international director in London, and welcome the assurance we were given that Gilad Schalit’s case remains a very high priority for the Red Cross,” Burt said at the time. “We understand the careful boundaries in which they must work, but share the deep frustration that more has not yet been achieved.

Stuart Polak, director of the Conservative Friends of Israel, called Burt’s appointment “excellent news.”

“I have traveled to Israel with Alistair on numerous occasions,” Polak said. “He has an excellent knowledge and understanding of the complex issues of the region and is well-placed to approach the brief with the balance and fairness it requires.”

Speaking on his appointment, Burt said: "I'm honoured to have been asked to serve in David Cameron's Coalition Government. To be asked to join the Foreign Office is one of the highest honors a Parliamentarian can aspire to and the chance of working in the UK's interests abroad is one which I will relish.

"The Coalition Government has much to do in dealing with the domestic financial crisis as well as with our commitments oversees, particularly our forces in  Afghanistan. My brief will cover the Middle East and Afghanistan and I am aware how important these areas are," he said.

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