PRIME MINISTER – SYRIA – 18 June 2003

Dr Julian Lewis: If he will make a statement on UK relations with Syria?

The Prime Minister: The UK is committed to a policy of constructive and, where necessary, critical engagement with Syria. This allows us to support reform while maintaining a robust dialogue on issues of concern.

Dr Lewis: The Prime Minister will be well aware of a statement by the Foreign Secretary on 6 May that Syria gives support to what he described as "rejectionist terrorist organisations". Bearing in mind the fact that it was possible for me to compile in less than half an hour this not-so-dodgy dossier on the long record of Syria's chemical and biological weapons programmes, does the Prime Minister believe – he ought to, because this information came straight from the internet – that we should be worried by any threat that terrorist groups might obtain chemical or biological weapons from the Syrian régime?

The Prime Minister: Syria's support for terrorism is an issue that we have raised constantly. The closure of the offices of rejectionist groups such as Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad is a step in the right direction, but we have to go far further. Issues to do with weapons of mass destruction are also concerning – the hon. Gentleman is right about that – but we believe that the best way to pursue those concerns is in dialogue with the Syrian Government, and that dialogue is of a frank and critical nature. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we will continue to raise those issues with them. I have done so personally at meetings with President Bashar. I have no doubt that, if we can get a peace process going in the Middle East, it will be essential that Syria, and indeed other countries, cut off all support for these terrorist groups, otherwise they will derail the whole process.