UNITED NATIONS - British Prime Minister David Cameron held talks with Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani on Wednesday at the United Nations, the first meeting between the countries’ leaders since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
The meeting took place at the British mission office at the United Nations as the General Assembly got underway. Rouhani posted a photograph of himself smiling as he shook hands with Cameron. The British government says a key priority at the largest diplomatic gathering in the world is building broad-based support for the new government in Iraq and international action to confront jihadists in Iraq and Syria.
Cameron is due to address the UN General Assembly later Wednesday. Western powers are seeking to build support for the fight against the Islamic State jihadist group, which holds a large tract of territory in Iraq and Syria and which has beheaded two US journalists and a British aid worker.
The United States and Arab allies launched the first air and sea strikes against IS militants in Syria on Tuesday, expanding the action the US has been leading against the jihadists in Iraq since the start of August. Iran, which usually rails against any US presence in the Middle East, has been unusually accepting of the US action in Iraq, where it is also tackling IS militants. Rouhani has criticized the US for not sending in ground troops, and on Monday said the people in the region were ‘defending themselves against the terrorists’ and that Iran would help.
Britain and France have taken up the task of trying to win some form of other cooperation from Iran against IS. Cameron has promised to ask for parliamentary approval for any British involvement in the US-led military action against IS, but he appears wary of a repeat of last year’s humiliating defeat in the House of Commons over military action in Syria.
Moreover, The British parliament will hold an extraordinary session on Friday to vote on whether to join US-led air strikes against the Islamic State group in Iraq, Prime Minister David Cameron said on Wednesday.
He said he was ‘confident’ the House of Commons would approve the action requested by Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar Al-Abadi during a meeting between the two leaders at the UN General Assembly in New York. ‘I have been asked by the Iraqi government for our help and so I’ll be recalling the British parliament on Friday so that Britain can take part in international air strikes against ISIL (IS) in Iraq,’ Cameron told Sky News television. ‘What we are doing is legal, it is right, it does not involve British combat troops on the ground but as ever with our country, when we are threatened in this way, we should not turn away from what needs to be done.’
However, the prime minister made clear the debate was confined to air strikes against IS militant bases in Iraq, not in Syria, where the jihadists also seized swathes of territory earlier this year.
In August 2013, Cameron was humiliated when lawmakers voted to reject his call for military action to aid rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. But the mood in Britain has hardened in recent weeks following the brutal murder by IS jihadists of three Western hostages, including a British aid worker. Another British man, taxi driver Alan Henning, has been threatened with his life.
If MPs approve the action, Britain would join the United States and France in fighting the IS organisation in Iraq, while the Netherlands are sending F-16 fighter jets. A broader US-led effort involving several Arab states is involved in strikes in Syria, as Washington seeks to harness global support for the fight. In a sign of shifting priorities in the region, Cameron met Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in New York on Wednesday, the first such meeting since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
By convention, British governments consult the House of Commons before taking military action, and MPs were not due to return until October 13. Cameron will open the discussions on what Downing Street said would be a ‘substantive motion’ in the Commons, and it will be followed by a vote. The leaders of the main parties indicated their support. Opposition Labour leader Ed Miliband has made clear that while he was open to supporting air strikes in Iraq, Syria was a different proposition because of the civil war there.
‘ISIL (IS) is a threat that can’t be ignored,’ Labour leader Miliband told the BBC earlier. He added: ‘If a proposition comes forward for military action by the United Kingdom, obviously we are open to it and will look at it.’ However, Miliband said the UN Security Council should agree on any action in Syria.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, whose Liberal Democrats share power in Cameron’s Conservative-led coalition government, will close the Commons debate. ‘I think most people across the country want the British government to play our part in ridding the world of this vile threat,’ he said. Britain is already providing machine guns and ammunition to Kurdish forces fighting IS jihadists in northern Iraq. Six British Tornado jets and a refuelling tanker based in Cyprus have also been carrying out surveillance missions over northern Iraq in recent weeks.