Posts Tagged ‘British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson’

EU sanctions 16 more Syrians over chemical attacks

July 17, 2017


© AFP/File | US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley holds photos of victims as the UN Security Council meets in an emergency session in April about a suspected deadly chemical attack that killed civilians, including children, in Syria

BRUSSELS (AFP) – The European Union on Monday imposed sanctions against 16 more high-ranking military Syrian officials and scientists over chemical weapons attacks on civilians, a statement said.

The move by the bloc’s foreign ministers brings to 255 people now facing a travel ban and an assets freeze over President Bashar al-Assad’s violent crackdown on civilians during a five-year civil war.

“The EU added these 16 persons for their role in the development and use of chemical weapons against the civilian population,” an EU statement said.

The EU will release the names of those hit by the sanctions on Tuesday, it said.

The UN’s chemical watchdog, the OPCW, last month concluded that sarin was used as a chemical weapon in the April 4 attack in the Syrian town of Khan Sheikhun that killed at least 87 people including children.

The sanctions decision “shows the resolve of the UK and the rest of our friends in Europe in dealing with those who are responsible for chemical weapons attacks,” British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson told reporters just before the decision was announced.

Syria is already subject to an oil embargo, restrictions on certain investments, a freeze of the assets of the Syrian central bank held in the EU, as well as export restrictions.

It also is under sanctoins on equipment and technology that might be used for internal repression as well as on equipment and technology for the monitoring or interception of internet or telephone communications.

EU to Increase Syria Sanctions, Targeting 16 More Officials

July 17, 2017

BRUSSELS — Britain says the European Union will sanction 16 Syrians it is convinced are involved in chemical weapons attacks against civilians there, targeting military and scientific officials.

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said ahead of Monday’s meeting of EU foreign affairs ministers that the 16 will face travel bans and asset freezes.

Johnson said “that shows the resolve of the UK and the rest of friends in Europe” in countering chemical attacks in Syria.

In May, the EU extended restrictive measures against Syria by a year because of its continued aggression against its population. The 28-nation EU already has 240 people and 67 organizations in Syria facing travel bans and asset freezes.

Trump UK State Visit to Go Ahead Despite Criticism of London Mayor: Foreign Minister

June 6, 2017

LONDON — British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said on Tuesday he saw no reason to cancel Donald Trump’s state visit to Britain after the U.S. president criticized Mayor Sadiq Khan’s response to the London Bridge killings.

Trump has lambasted Khan on Twitter, accusing him of making a “pathetic excuse”, for saying that Londoners should not be alarmed by the sight of additional police on the streets of the capital following the attack that killed seven people.

“He (Khan) is entirely right to say what he said to reassure the people of his city about the presence of armed officers on the streets,” Johnson said in a BBC radio interview in response to a question on whether Trump’s state visit should be canceled.

“The invitation has been issued and accepted and I see no reason to change that but as far as what Sadiq Khan has said about the reassurances he’s offered the people of London, I think he was entirely right to speak in the way he did.”

“I don’t wish to enter into a row between those two individuals who are I think are probably perfectly able to stick up for themselves,” he said of Trump and Khan.

(Reporting by Estelle Shirbon and Kate Holton, editing by Elizabeth Piper)

British FM Boris Johnson cancels Moscow visit over developments in Syria — “We deplore Russia’s continued defence of the Assad regime” — Rex Tillerson expected to go to Moscow on Tuesday

April 8, 2017


© AFP/File | British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson pictured during his joint press conference with his Greek counterpart on April 6, 2017 after their meeting at Athens’ Foreign Ministry


LONDON (AFP) – Britain’s Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has cancelled a scheduled visit to Moscow next week, his office announced Saturday, saying “developments in Syria have changed the situation fundamentally”.

“My priority is now to continue contact with the US and others in the run up to the G7 meeting on 10-11 April,” said Johnson, who was due to travel to Moscow on Monday.

“We deplore Russia’s continued defence of the Assad regime even after the chemical weapons attack on innocent civilians,” added Johnson.

He then called on Russia to do “everything possible to bring about a political settlement in Syria and work with the rest of the international community to ensure that the shocking events of the last week are never repeated”.

“I discussed these plans in detail with Secretary Tillerson,” Johnson said, adding that the US foreign minister would still visit Moscow as planned following the G7 meeting to “deliver that clear and co-ordinated message to the Russians.”

Johnson expressed his support to the United States on Friday after it fired 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at the Shayrat airfield near Homs in central Syria.

The move was in response to a suspected chemical weapons attack on the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhun earlier in the week which killed at least 86 people according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Russia, one of the main backers of the Assad regime alongside Iran, condemned the US strike, denouncing a “flagrant violation of international law and an act of aggression”.


Tillerson’s Moscow visit takes on fresh urgency in wake of U.S. missile attack against Syria

Secretary of state’s planned visit will come just days after U.S. missile strike against Syrian airbase

CBC News Posted: Apr 06, 2017 11:43 PM ET Last Updated: Apr 07, 2017 6:23 AM ET

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said after the strike that Russia has 'failed to deliver' on preventing chemical weapons attacks in Syria.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said after the strike that Russia has ‘failed to deliver’ on preventing chemical weapons attacks in Syria. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called the U.S. missile attack against a Syrian airbase Thursday “proportional because it was targeted at the facility that delivered this most recent chemical weapons attack.”

He said U.S. President Donald Trump considered a “wide range of options” before launching dozens of Tomahawk missiles against an airbase in the province of Homs around 8:45 p.m. ET.

​”I think the president made the correct choice and made the correct decision,” Tillerson said. “First, to be decisive in acting, acting against this heinous act on the part of [Syrian President] Bashar Assad but acting in a way that was clearly directed at the source of this particular attack to send that strong message.

Tillerson was speaking to the White House press pool from Palm Beach, Fla., where U.S. President Donald Trump had been meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping at his Mar-a-Lago estate earlier Thursday. 

The secretary of state said the presence of the kind of weapons that were used in Tuesday’s sarin gas attack — which the U.S. and other Western nations attribute to Assad — in the “chaotic circumstances that exist on the ground in Syria” posed a threat  especially given “the presence of a battle underway to defeat ISIS, the presence of Al-Qaeda elements inside of Syria and a civil war that is underway.” 

“Clearly, one of the existential threats we see on the ground in Syria, is if there are weapons of this nature available in Syria, the ability to secure those weapons and not have them fall into the hands of those who would bring the weapons to our shores to harm American citizens,” he said.

“So, there are a number of elements that in our view that called for this action tonight, which we feel is appropriate.” 

Tillerson said the U.S. “co-ordinated very carefully” with its international partners around the world before launching the missiles.

“I would tell you that the response from our allies, as well as the region and the Middle East, has been overwhelmingly supportive of the action we taken,” he said.

A spokesperson for the Kremlin, however, said Russian President Vladimir Putin saw the airstrikes as an act of “aggression against a sovereign state in violation of international law.”

Until Thursday, the U.S. had avoided striking Assad’s forces largely out of concern about being pulled into a military conflict with Russia.

Tillerson to travel to Russia next Tuesday

Tillerson is due to to travel to Russia next Tuesday, the first visit to Russia by a Trump administration official and one scheduled before Thursday’s missile strike as a test of the administration’s hopes for closer ties to the former Cold War foe.

Tillerson, speaking just after the strikes were announced, said Russia had “failed in its responsibility” to deliver on a 2013 deal it helped broker to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal.

“So either Russia has been complicit or Russia has been simply incompetent on its ability to deliver,” Tillerson said.

The State Department said Tillerson had spoken by phone to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov after the chemical attack to get Russia’s take on what happened. Russia has maintained that Syrian airstrikes hit a depot where anti-Assad rebels were building chemical weapons, a claim the U.S. has vigorously disputed.

Tillerson is set to arrive in Moscow next Tuesday after a brief visit to Lucca, Italy, to meet with counterparts from the Group of 7 industrialized economies. While in Russia, Tillerson plans to meet with Lavrov.

Attack comes amid investigations into Russia ties

Growing disagreements about Syria are just the latest obstacle to any plans Trump had to closer align the U.S. and Russia on the world stage. Trump and his associates are embroiled in mushrooming investigations into potential collusion between his presidential campaign and Putin’s government, accused by U.S. spy agencies of interfering in the election to help elect Trump.

Despite Trump’s much-hyped campaign talk about a Russia reset, there’s no appetite for that from either political party in the U.S. Skepticism about Russia’s intentions was only compounded by its defence of Assad after the chemical attack, which killed at least 70 people.


This photo provided Tuesday, April 4, 2017 by the Syrian anti-government activist group Edlib Media Center, which The Associated Press authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, shows a Syrian doctor treating a child following a chemical attack. (Edlib Media Center/Associated Press)

Even minor concessions to Russia during Tillerson’s trip would trigger immediate accusations from Trump’s opponents that the president — who has praised Putin generously and repeatedly — is beholden to Putin, a former KBG agent. Add to that Trump’s anger at Russia for violating a nuclear arms treaty and continued global outrage over Putin’s actions in Ukraine, and it’s difficult to see realistic chances for near-term rapprochement.

“I think the Russians have adjusted their expectations down as to the possibilities of a breakthrough, and what happened in Syria is going to add to that,” said Michael McFaul, the U.S. ambassador to Russia under President Barack Obama. Still, he said the Russians would likely treat Tillerson warmly in hopes his trip could smooth the path toward a Trump-Putin meeting.

Poster of video clip

‘Exploratory trip’

Tillerson may also meet with Putin, in what would be a reunion of sorts for two men who did business when Tillerson, the former Exxon Mobil CEO, was negotiating oil deals in Russia. Tillerson’s close ties to Russia — Putin once gave him the “Order of Friendship” award — drew serious concerns during Tillerson’s confirmation hearings, but he’s since emerged as one of the Trump administration’s more sober voices about Russia’s behavior.

Senior State Department officials described Tillerson’s visit as an “exploratory trip” aimed at determining any potential for co-operation, adding that no decisions to increase cooperation had been made. The officials briefed reporters on condition of anonymity despite Trump’s condemnations of the press for using anonymous sources.

Tillerson may or may not meet with pro-democracy activists in Russia, as members of Congress have urged, the officials said.

Relations with Russia have steadily deteriorated since 2014, when Russia annexed the Ukrainian territory of Crimea and then began arming and assisting pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine. The Obama administration and Western countries slapped Moscow with severe economic sanctions that Trump has so far vowed to keep in place until Russia gives Crimea back.


There are investigations underway in the U.S. into potential collusion between Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government. (Joshua Roberts/Alexei Druzhinin/Kremlin via Reuters)

Still, Putin’s government has been optimistic about Trump’s presidency. Until Tuesday’s chemical attack in Syria, Trump and his deputies said their top focus in Syria was fighting the Islamic State group — not ousting Assad — a position that aligned with Putin’s own publicly stated goal.

For Trump, who said Thursday that “something should happen” to Assad, the attack clearly was an inflection point that focused his administration on Assad’s atrocities and the support he receives from Russia, Syria’s most powerful ally.

In an Associated Press interview, Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia’s support for Assad is not unconditional, but also pushed back on the notion that Putin had unfettered influence over Assad.

“It is not correct to say that Moscow can convince Mr. Assad to do whatever is wanted in Moscow,” Peskov said.

James Carafano, a Heritage Foundation scholar who advised Trump’s transition team on foreign policy, said the notion that Trump would have a special relationship with Putin was always overblown.

“Nobody was talking about, ‘We’re just going to cut a deal with Russia and be done here,”‘ Carafano said.

With files from The Associated Press

Phones cut in eastern Ukraine as rebels seize firms — Pro-Russian separatists getting the upper hand?

March 1, 2017

A fifth of a million phone users in Ukraine’s rebel-controlled eastern city of Donetsk were cut off from the rest of the country on Wednesday after armed men took over the offices and equipment of the main fixed-line telecoms company, its director said.

Pro-Russian separatists had warned they would seize businesses in areas they control unless the Ukrainian government ends a rail blockade that has halted coal shipments from rebel territory.

The blockade and the rebel retaliation have highlighted the mutual economic dependence between the two sides, despite three years of simmering military conflict in which more than 10,000 people have been killed.

As a result of the takeover of its premises, Ukrtelecom director Mikhail Shuranov said “the company has cut off the Donetsk sector from the national network”.

He said on Facebook: “Around 200,000 of our citizens have lost a means of communication.”

Separatist leader Alexander Zakharchenko said rebels were following through on their ultimatum because Ukraine had not lifted the blockade.

“Today since midnight companies have been being taken under external control,” separatist website DAN quoted him as saying.

Ukrtelecom is part of a financial and industrial group owned by Ukraine’s richest businessman Rinat Akhmetov, whose power-generating and steelmaking businesses on both sides of the eastern front line have already been hit by the blockade’s squeeze on coal supplies.

On an official visit to Kiev, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson joined his Ukrainian counterpart in condemning the separatists’ latest acts.

“This expropriation, like the annexation of Crimea, like other aspects of the behavior that has been encouraged by the Russians, is unacceptable, it must stop,” Johnson said.

Both the Ukrainian authorities and separatist officials have warned of economic fallout from the blockade. Separatists say local industrial firms are suffering, while Ukraine says the country could be hit by rolling blackouts and lost foreign export income of up to $2 billion.

Russia said the rebels’ move to take control of the companies on its territory was partly understandable because the blockade had put the separatists in “an even more difficult situation”.

“The steps made by the administrations of these regions, … can be understood to a degree,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists.

A humanitarian group funded by Akhmetov that has been a major supplier of aid to conflict-hit areas also said on Wednesday it had been forced to halt operations in rebel-held areas after distribution points were blocked by armed men.

In rebel-held Donetsk, a Reuters witness saw one police car parked near the fund’s distribution center at a football arena. Signs on the building’s doors said the center was not operating and the entrances had been sealed with papers carrying official-looking stamps, but there was no armed presence.

Ukraine’s largest private power and coal producer, DTEK, which is also part of Akhmetov’s business empire, said the management of its operations in separatist-held territory had not been taken over.

It was not immediately clear if or how other Ukraine-registered businesses operating in separatist territory had been affected.

(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk and Alessandra Prentice in Kiev, Reuters reporter in Donetsk,; Additional reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic in Moscow; Writing by Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)

Berlin truck attack — “probable terror attack.”

December 20, 2016

Suspected truck driver is arrested; German authorities call incident ‘probable terror attack’

Police stand near the truck that crashed into a Christmas market in Berlin on Monday. Police said at least 12 people were killed and about 50 injured in the incident.

A black semitrailer truck plowed through a busy Christmas market in Berlin, killing at least 12 people and injuring scores more. Police said the truck was steered deliberately. Photo: Getty

BERLIN—German authorities on Tuesday were questioning the sole suspect in a truck attack on a popular Christmas market that left at least 12 dead, in what authorities described as a “probable terror attack.”

The suspect is from Pakistan, a person familiar with the investigation said. The man was born in the 1990s, the person said, noting it was not yet clear whether the man entered Germany as a refugee as some German media reported.

At about 8 p.m. Monday, a black semitrailer with Polish license plates drove onto the sidewalk at the market in front of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, one of western Berlin’s most famous landmarks, and plowed into revelers and market stands, injuring 48 additional people. The truck barreled more than 200 feet and the driver then fled the scene, the police said, citing witness reports.


A truck is seen behind police tape near the Christmas market. Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters

Soon after, police apprehended the suspected driver about a mile away, at the Victory Column in Berlin’s sprawling Tiergarten park.

Authorities said early Tuesday morning that the truck was driven into the market on purpose. “Our investigators are working on the assumption that the truck was steered deliberately into the crowd,” the police wrote on the force’s official Twitter account.

Officials remained guarded about releasing many details of the attacker, including the identity of the assailant. But it appeared that a long-feared attack on one of Germany’s many lightly guarded Christmas markets had transpired.

“I don’t yet want to use the word ‘attack,’ though there is much that points in this direction,” German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière said on German television late Monday night.

The Scania truck, loaded with steel beams, may have been stolen from a construction site in Poland, Berlin police said. The truck’s Polish owner hadn’t heard from his driver of the truck for some time on Monday, Mr. de Maizière said.

Berlin Christmas Market Crash: Police, Rescue Workers Rush to Aid Victims

A truck plowed into a crowd at a Berlin market on Monday evening, killing at least 12 and injuring about 50

Police secure the area around the crash site. The circumstances of the incident weren’t immediately clear, but a security official said authorities believe it was a deliberate act.
Emergency crew at the site where a semi-trailer drove onto the sidewalk near Breitscheidplatz in Charlottenburg, a tony district in West Berlin, at about 8 p.m.
Medics attend to an injured person after a truck crashed into a Christmas market in Berlin.
German police officers secure the site.
Rescue workers rush to help injured people.
Police guard a Christmas market after the incident. The crash took place at the site of the Christmas market in front of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, a popular site for tourists.
A truck is seen near the Christmas market in Berlin.
Police secure the area around the crash site. The circumstances of the incident weren’t immediately clear, but a security official said authorities believe it was a deliberate act.
Police stand near the truck that crashed into a Christmas market in Berlin on Monday. Police said at least 12 people were killed and about 50 injured in the incident.


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Police secure the area around the crash site. The circumstances of the incident weren’t immediately clear, but a security official said authorities believe it was a deliberate act. FABRIZIO BENSCH/REUTERS
Police stand near the truck that crashed into a Christmas market in Berlin on Monday. Police said at least 12 people were killed and about 50 injured in the incident. RAINER JENSEN/EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY
Emergency crew at the site where a semi-trailer drove onto the sidewalk near Breitscheidplatz in Charlottenburg, a tony district in West Berlin, at about 8 p.m. PAWEL KOPCZYNSKI/REUTERS
Police work at the site where a truck plowed into a crowd at a Christmas market on Breitscheidplatz square near the fashionable Kurfuerstendamm avenue in western Berlin. FABRIZIO BENSCH/REUTERS
Medics attend to an injured person after a truck crashed into a Christmas market in Berlin. ODD ANDERSEN/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES
German police officers secure the site. FABRIZIO BENSCH/REUTERS
Rescue workers rush to help injured people. PAWEL KOPCZYNSKI/REUTERS
Police guard a Christmas market after the incident. The crash took place at the site of the Christmas market in front of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, a popular site for tourists.MARKUS SCHREIBER/ASSOCIATED PRESS
A truck is seen near the Christmas market in Berlin. PAWEL KOPCZYNSKI/REUTERS
Police secure the area around the crash site. The circumstances of the incident weren’t immediately clear, but a security official said authorities believe it was a deliberate act. FABRIZIO BENSCH/REUTERS
Police stand near the truck that crashed into a Christmas market in Berlin on Monday. Police said at least 12 people were killed and about 50 injured in the incident. RAINER JENSEN/EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

A Polish man found in the truck was among the dead, Berlin police said, adding that he was a passenger in the cab of the truck. The owner, Ariel Zurawski, told Polish news channel TVN24 he had lost contact with the man who had been driving the truck earlier in the day—a cousin of his—in the early afternoon. He said that he believed the driver might have been assaulted and that he was confident his cousin wasn’t behind the steering wheel at the time of the attack.

If it is confirmed that the driver is from Pakistan, that could stoke tensions over a wave of migrants from Muslim countries that has fueled nationalist sentiment and roiled politics in Germany and across Europe.

Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church is known for the still-visible damage it sustained in World War II bombings.

Late Monday, the truck remained at the crash scene, its back-right wheels lodged next to a Christmas-market hut that said “Faszination Weihnachten”—“The Magic of Christmas.”

“It is just terrible to see all the people who came here to have a good time and now we are seeing dead and injured,” Berlin Mayor Michael Müller said, visiting the scene. “We always hope to avoid this sort of scenario in Berlin.”

Officials have warned about the potential for an attack on a Christmas market in Germany. These markets draw millions of locals and tourists to squares in small towns and big cities alike. In November, the State Department issued a travel alert warning that Islamic State and al Qaeda were planning terrorist attacks “in Europe, with a focus on the upcoming holiday season and associated events.”

Earlier this month, officials said that Germany narrowly avoided a suspected Islamist attack on a Christmas market in the city of Ludwigshafen. Authorities reported that a 12-year-old German-Iraqi boy twice planted an explosive device at a Christmas market there that failed to detonate.

Germany’s federal prosecutor-general will investigate the Berlin crash, Justice Minister Heiko Maas said on Twitter—a decision also indicating that authorities suspect the incident was a terror attack. German Chancellor Angela Merkel was staying informed of developments, her spokesman said, and the government sent its condolences to the victims.

If confirmed to be a terror attack, it would be the first in Germany to result in deaths in recent years. Two terrorist attacks struck Germany earlier this year—but no bystanders were killed in either of them. In one, a teenager registered as an Afghan refugee went on an ax rampage on a train and injured five people. In another, a suicide bomber struck an outdoor concert, injuring 15.

The Berlin incident recalled the attack at Bastille Day celebrations in Nice, France, in July that claimed the lives of 86 people. Islamic State claimed responsibility for that attack.

The crash prompted an outpouring of condolences and offers of support from governments across the West. Ned Price, the spokesman for the National Security Council at the White House, said the U.S. condemned “what appears to have been a terrorist attack.” He added: “We have been in touch with German officials, and we stand ready to provide assistance as they recover from and investigate this horrific incident.”

President-elect Donald Trump reacted to the truck crash and other violent incidents in the region Monday on Twitter: “Today there were terror attacks in Turkey, Switzerland and Germany—and it is only getting worse. The civilized world must change thinking!”

In France, President François Hollande expressed on his official Twitter account his “solidarity and compassion with Chancellor Merkel, the German people and the families of Berlin victims.” Tweeting in German, Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel wrote that “a Christmas market became a place of mourning.” while European Council chief Donald Tusk, representing EU governments, wrote on Twitter that “Europe stands ready to help.”

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson tweeted: “My thoughts & condolences are w/ the people of #Germany following tonight’s terrible tragedy in #Berlin, leaving so many dead & injured.”

Write to Anton Troianovski at, Zeke Turner at and Ruth Bender at


Berlin Crash Is Suspected to Be a Terror Attack, Police Say

BERLIN — The Berlin police said early Tuesday that the killing of at least 12 people and the wounding of dozens more when a truck plowed through a Christmas market on Monday night was “a suspected terrorist attack.”

In a statement, the police added that they were working swiftly and with “necessary care” in the investigation.

The truck jumped the sidewalk about 8 p.m. near the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, whose jagged spire, a reminder of the bombings during World War II, is one of the most symbolic sites in Berlin.

The police said they later arrested a man near the scene who was suspected of driving the truck, which had been stolen from a worksite in Poland about a two-hour drive from Berlin. A passenger, identified by the authorities as a Polish national, was found dead in the cab.

There was no claim of responsibility, but the episode immediately evoked the attack in July in Nice, France, when a truck driver ran over and killed more than 80 people during Bastille Day celebrations.

Several people were injured when a truck driver jumped the sidewalk and plowed into a crowd in Berlin.CreditFabrizio Bensch/Reuters

The impact scattered people who just moments before had been shopping and drinking mulled wine amid stands that sell Christmas gifts, sweets and sausages. At least 45 people were injured, including several with severe wounds, the authorities said.

UK’s Boris Johnson slapped down by PM Theresa May over Saudi ‘proxy wars’ comment

December 8, 2016

AFP and Reuters

© Tobias Schwarz, AFP | The former mayor of London is known for his tendency to go off-script.


Latest update : 2016-12-08

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson was not setting out government policy when he said Saudi Arabia and Iran were stoking proxy wars across the Middle East, a spokeswoman for Prime Minister Theresa May said on Thursday.

Johnson, known for his colourful use of language and tendency to go off-script, told an audience in Rome last week that the absence of real leadership in the Middle East had allowed people to twist religion and stoke proxy wars.

It is the latest in a series of gaffes by the foreign minister. Even May has jokingly said it is hard to keep Johnson “on message for a full four days”. He has been criticised by some EU officials for using less-than-diplomatic language in talks on Britain‘s decision to leave the bloc.

May’s quick response underlines the importance of Britain’s alliance with Saudi Arabia, which is a major customer for British defence companies.

“You’ve got the Saudis, Iran, everybody, moving in, and puppeteering and playing proxy wars. And it is a tragedy to watch it,” Johnson said in a video posted on the Guardian newspaper’s website.

“There are politicians who are twisting and abusing religion and different strains of the same religion in order to further their own political objectives. That’s one of the biggest political problems in the whole region,” Johnson said.

It is unclear from the video whether he specifically accused Saudi Arabia and Iran of twisting religion, though the Guardian reported that Johnson had accused Saudi Arabia of abusing Islam.

The spokeswoman for May said: “Those are the foreign secretary’s views, they are not the government’s position on, for example, Saudi and its role in the region.”

May, who visited the Middle East this week, met Saudi King Salman and “set out very clearly the government’s view on our relationship with Saudi Arabia, that it is a vital partner for the UK, particularly on counter-terrorism”, she said.

“We want to strengthen that relationship”, she added.

Johnson was a key player in the campaign for Britain to leave the European Union. May appointed him in July, after he failed in a bid to become prime minister, cementing her appeal to other Brexit supporters in the ruling Conservative Party.

Her spokeswoman said May still supported her foreign secretary, adding that Johnson would have the “opportunity to set out the way that the UK sees its relationship with Saudi Arabia” during a visit to the region.


China scolds Britain, tells it not to meddle in Hong Kong’s affairs

October 14, 2016


China has warned the UK against interfering when it comes to Hong Kong, telling London that the affairs of its former colony belong to Beijing. The remarks come after a UK report expressed concerns about the “integrity” of Hong Kong law enforcement.

Speaking at a daily press briefing in response to the half-year report on Hong Kong released by the British government on Wednesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang warned that “Hong Kong is China’s domestic affair. Foreign countries have no right to interfere.”

“We demand that Britain be discreet with its words and stop interfering in Hong Kong affairs,” Geng added, stating that Beijing is “resolutely opposed” to Britain’s report, and that it does not accept its “improper comments” and “unfounded criticism” of China.

Hong Kong’s government also rejected the report, reiterating that foreign governments should not interfere in its affairs.

In the report, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said he had specific concerns about the “integrity of Hong Kong’s law enforcement.”

He cited the case of Lee Bo and four other Hong Kong booksellers who specialized in gossipy books about China’s leaders, including its president. While such books are banned on the mainland, they are legal in Hong Kong. Despite that, the five went missing and were later found to be detained by China.

Referring to the case, Johnson said it was a serious breach of the “one country, two systems” arrangement under which Hong Kong returned to China in 1997.

China has denied any wrongdoing in the case, and Geng stressed that the “one country, two systems” policy has made remarkable achievements, noting Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy.

READ MORE: Hong Kong police clash with illegal street vendors (VIDEO)

The spokesperson also insisted that Beijing has strictly followed the Constitution and the Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) of the People’s Republic of China, Xinhua reported.

Hong Kong first became a British colony in 1842. It was occupied by Japan during World War II, until the UK resumed control in 1945. Negotiations between Britain and China resulted in the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration, which laid the path for the transfer of sovereignty of Hong Kong 13 years later.

The UK report by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office was the 39th in a series of reports published in six-monthly intervals, and covers January to June 2016. The reports began following the transfer of Hong Kong to China in 1997.