CONSERVATIVE
New Forest East

PRIME MINISTER – 'IS' AND SAUDI ARABIA – 8 September 2014

Sir Nicholas Soames: The whole country will be delighted to see a NATO restored and newly vigorous after the summit, but will the Prime Minister tell the House specifically what assistance he is seeking from the Sunni Gulf states, without which this coalition will find it hard going?

The Prime Minister: First, my right hon. Friend is right that what was interesting about this NATO conference was that it was one of resolution and unity in purpose. There were none of the sort of debates that might have been had in previous discussions about Iraq. There was real unity about what needed to be done, and part of that unity was not just about the Iraqi Government that was required, but the support – the active support – that would be needed from the regional players, in particular Sunni countries that can provide not only resources, diplomacy, aid and even military support, but real insights and input into the thinking of the Sunni tribes in Iraq, whom we need to rise up against this appalling regime. [...]

Dr Julian Lewis: In support of what my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames) has just asked, may I draw the Prime Minister’s attention to a very important article by General Jonathan Shaw, a former Director of Special Forces, in the Evening Standard on 5 September, in which he wrote:

"Deploying the Western military without a Muslim political plan would be folly"?

What approach will we be taking to Saudi Arabia, which has a habit of looking both ways on these questions, and where the Government appear to be friendly but sources inside Saudi Arabia supply funds to organisations like IS?

The Prime Minister: I shall certainly look at the article my hon. Friend mentions. It is sometimes hard to keep up with all the contributions and advice that retired military figures are given to offer, but I do my best. The point my hon. Friend makes is absolutely right: were there to be a military element to the strategy, it would work only if it was in conjunction with all the other parts of the strategy. As I put it, we cannot intervene over the heads of local people and leave them to pick up the pieces; it has to be part of a strategy and a plan. [...]

Fiona Mactaggart: In response to the right hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames) and the hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis), the Prime Minister confirmed that the response to ISIL must involve regional Governments more effectively. In view of the fact that the British military has trained many people in those regional Governments, and certainly in the militaries of those countries, what is our Army doing to ensure that its counterparts are on board?

The Prime Minister: The hon. Lady makes a spot-on point. We have good relations with, for instance, the Saudi military, the Qataris, the Emirates and the Jordanians, partly because many have trained here alongside our armed forces. We should maximise those relationships and that defence engagement. That should be part of the comprehensive plan that has been put in place – we should work with them to squeeze ISIL. One thing we decided at NATO was that we need to do even more to build the capability of those militaries because, increasingly in our dangerous world, we are confronting problems, whether in Syria, Mali or Somalia, where it would be good if the regional players had the military capabilities better to deal with the problems – with our assistance and help, but not always with our direct interaction.

Conor Burns: Jim Dobbin campaigned with gentle tenacity about the plight of minority Christian groups in the Middle East. When even Pope Francis has indicated that he supports limited intervention to stop the massacre of the innocent, may I press my right hon. Friend on the two previous questions he has been asked about Saudi Arabia? Saudi Arabia is allegedly our ally. We train Saudis and supply them with military wares. Will he tell me specifically what interventions he and his Foreign Secretary have made with the Saudi Government to ask them whether they will be part of the solution in their back yard?

The Prime Minister: Engagement is certainly taking place. I spoke to the King of Saudi Arabia around 10 days ago about how we should best work together to confront the threat, which the Saudis see very much as a threat to them. John Kerry, the US Secretary of State, is currently in the region and talking to a number of the important regional players. That process needs to continue.