John Redwood’s intervention in the G8 Foreign Minister’s Statement

Mr John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): I share the Foreign Secretary’s loathing of the violence of the Syrian regime, but will he comment briefly on the opposition forces? To what extent do they believe in democracy, freedom and human rights, and how well armed are they already?

Mr Hague: The answer, of course, is a mixture. I believe that the National Coalition, which we met last week—we met the Prime Minister designate, two of the Vice-Presidents and, indeed, the President, Mr al-Khatib, whom I talked with on the phone—is sincere in its commitment to democracy and human rights and to the inclusion of Syria’s very varied communities in the country’s future. I have met them and discussed that a sufficient number of times to be sure of that answer. There are extremist groups, however, and the longer this goes on the greater the risk that they will gain more support. Estimates of the number of fighters in the al-Nusra Front, which the shadow Foreign Secretary referred to, are in the low thousands, but that is still thousands. The number of fighters supporting various opposition groups is likely to be in six figures—more than 100,000. Although that is proportionately small, we must nevertheless take that seriously, which is why we argue that we have to give more practical support to the moderate democratic opposition so that the focus of opposition in Syria does not become the more extreme groups.