British PM denies Syria strikes climbdown
LONDON – Agence France-Presse
This is a Friday, May 22, 2015 file photo of British Prime Minister David Cameron as he speaks during a media conference at the conclusion of the Eastern Partnership summit in Riga, Latvia. AP PhotoThe British government on Nov 3 denied it was abandoning plans for a parliamentary vote to join air strikes in Syria as an influential committee of MPs advised against action.
Newspaper reports suggested Prime Minister David Cameron had abandoned plans to seek parliamentary approval to extend missions against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) jihadist group from Iraq into neighbouring Syria.
That came after an MPs' panel said Britain should not do so without a clear strategy to defeat the jihadist group and bring peace to the country.
But Cameron's office said his position had not changed and the premier would not seek a vote without broad support across the House of Commons.
"He's consistently said that we would only go back to the House on this issue if there was clear consensus," a Downing Street source said.
"Meanwhile, the government continues to work to bring the conflict to an end in Syria and we are working closely with our allies to inject greater momentum into efforts to find a political solution."
The Commons Foreign Affairs Committee -- a cross-party MPs' body which scrutinises Britain's foreign policy -- said in a new report that Cameron's focus on joining air strikes was "incoherent" and "a distraction".
"We are concerned that the government is focusing on extending airstrikes to Syria... without any expectation that its action will be militarily decisive, and without a coherent and long-term plan for defeating ISIL and ending the civil war," said committee chairman Crispin Blunt, a senior MP from Cameron's Conservative Party.
"There is now a miscellany of uncoordinated military engagements by an alarming range of international actors in Iraq and Syria.
"These forces desperately need coordinating into a coherent strategy and that is where our efforts should be focused."
Blunt urged the government to concentrate on supporting international diplomacy to end the conflict -- which has killed more than 250,000 people -- following last week's talks in Vienna attended by 17 countries.
Several newspapers reported on Nov 3 that Cameron had dropped his plan for a vote, in the wake of Russia's entry into the war by bombing to support the embattled regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Cameron assessed that airstrikes would not now have the support of enough MPs to pass, given the Conservatives' slim majority of 12 in the House of Commons, The Guardian and The Times reported.
The Times, citing government ministry sources, said the vote, widely expected before the end of the year, would not now go ahead.
The Guardian said Cameron thought he had not won over enough opposition MPs to compensate for Conservative rebels and acknowledged that Russia's intervention had complicated the picture.
The government has argued that it is illogical to conduct air strikes in Iraq and not neighbouring Syria, saying the two countries are "a single theatre of conflict".
In his response to the report, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said ministers would use "every tool available" to save lives in the region.
"Air strikes against ISIL are not the sole solution but military action, in coordination with our coalition allies, is having a substantial impact in degrading ISIL in Iraq," he added.
"It is right that we continue to use military force against ISIL while we use diplomatic power to work towards a political solution in the Syrian war."
Cameron's previous government, a coalition, was badly bruised by a Commons defeat over a plan to launch air strikes in Syria in 2013.
Jeremy Corbyn, the new leader of the main opposition Labour Party, is a leading anti-war campaigner who is opposed to extending air strikes, although some Labour MPs support the move.
For action in Iraq, Britain is currently part of a coalition of more than 60 countries and has eight Tornado jets flying missions plus an unconfirmed number of Reaper drones.
This was approved by parliament in September last year.