TRANSCRIPT | Peter Mansbridge talks to William Hague

CBC's Peter Mansbridge speaks to British Foreign Secretary William Hague about a range of issues, including a new agreement with Canada to share space in embassies around the world, and diplomatic efforts to resolve the civil war in Syria.

MANSBRIDGE: Foreign secretary if we can start on the shared mission, I'm a little bit confused on this one. I can't tell whether this is a simple matter of sharing some basic consular services or whether it's something bigger, that it's some kind of shared diplomatic, strategic, anglosphere coalition in the works, what's happening?

HAGUE: It's not the anglosphere, it's a very practical thing. We want to be in so many of the same countries in the world, and we're countries that find it easy to work together for many many reasons, and that can include sharing the services of our embassies so that it costs the Canadian taxpayer less, or the British taxpayer less. It can include being located in the same offices, or set of offices and we do that already in some places. We do that in Burma, we make space for Canadian diplomats. In Haiti, Canada offer to do that for us. And so from a practical point of view we want to be able to do more of that. What is doesn't mean is that these countries are not having their own foreign policies or sharing ambassadors, it's nothing like that — I've seen it written up a bit too excitedly in some places

MANSBRIDGE: Well you could understand why it would be written up excitedly in this country, could you not?

HAGUE: Well absolutely, but people have to understand what it is, it's that sort of practical co-operation that is right for the taxpayers of both countries. In two countries that do co-operate very closely together. The U.K. and Canada are working very closely together on economic issues, security issues, foreign policy issues all over the world, but the sort of co-operation we're talking about here doesn't bind us to doing that — each country will have its own distinctive approach. I'm pleased to say that at the moment the way we approach Syria, Iran, the Arab Spring, nuclear proliferation, international trade, you know we have a huge amount in common. So let's have the practical co-operation as well.

MANSBRIDGE: Well get to Syria and Iran in a moment, but you do appreciate that there have been major issue in the past where our two countries have seen it differently. Iraq was one, South Africa for a time in the 80s...

HAGUE: Well yes.

MANSBIRDGE: …Bosnia. How would you come to terms with those kinds of issues if you were that different on a major international issue, would that be a problem?

HAGUE: No no. Those differences arise from time to time. I'm glad to say that we don't have such differences between our governments at the moment, but they will arise over the coming years and decades who can anticipate what all the global issues can be. I think as two countries that are in NATO together, in the G8, the G20, the Commonwealth, we're the only two countries in all of those things. We're often at the same meetings, often arguing from the same shared values that we have for support for democracy, for human rights and so-on, but will there be differences from time to time, of course there will be. And I think we should be relaxed about that.

MANSBRIDGE: Can you give me an example of consular officials we're talking about, if we're not talking about ambassadors, first secretaries, who are we talking about?

HAGUE: Well that depends on each country who they want to be working in any particular place…

MANSBRIDGE: But would it be more… I don't want to sound disrespectful of the positions, but at the lower end of a consular or embassy official, dealing with passports, dealing with concerns about travel restrictions. Is that the kind of thing that can be…

HAGUE: It can be any… in some places where particularly secure accommodations are needed it can make sense to share, which we do with other countries and which Canada does with other countries to say we're all in the same compound together and we've had many examples of that as you can imagine in Afghanistan and in Iraq. And in cases like that countries have their own ambassadors in the same compound, in the same building. That doesn't in any way affect their ability to pursue the policy of that country, be it the same, or be it different. But it does mean that co-operation is easy and it does mean it's not as difficult or as expensive for the foreign service of that country to be represented wherever it may be.

MANSBRIDGE: Well on that issue of expense, what kind of savings are we talking about, have you been able to sort of look at this, has your officials said you know we can save 100 million pounds by co-operating with these countries…

HAGUE: No because these things build gradually over time, what we're setting here is a direction, which as I say, already happens in certain countries and usually the opportunity for these things happens when a country opens new representation in another country and doesn't have its own premises, so it's suitable to share somebody else's for a time or on a permanent basis or where there's been a major change in a country, Iraq and Afghanistan are examples again, that gives rise to opportunities to share premises, to co-locate, to share services, even if you're in different premises, to share the overheads, to some extent. Those sorts of things. So you can't quantify… you can't say next year this will save us all a huge amount of money but in most governments in the world we're trying to make the taxpayers money go further. We're certainly doing that in the foreign office, we're expanding the number of embassies and consulates in the world, we just opened one in Calgary for instance, while saving money overall. And that requires these sort of innovative ideas, working with other countries to make things run in a more efficient way.

MANSBRIDGE: When you see some of the criticisms that have been leveled in Canada at this idea. You know, Canada's becoming a sidecar hitched to the old colonial state in some areas of the world that we may not want to be. Do you appreciate those kinds of concerns, do you understand why…

HAGUE: Well there would be no basis for those concerns and I think if they listen to what we've just been talking about no one would have any of those concerns, and no Canadian government would enter into an arrangement that led to those concerns.

MANSBRIDGE: OK, last question on this issue. I was surprised the number of former diplomats and Senior Public servants who we talked to in the last 24 hours who raised this one: "ask what's going to happen with the flags on these joint missions — will they be of equal stature, will they be the same size, flying at the same height, or will the one be sort of like kind of a window shop inside?"

HAGUE: I don't think we will worry about that. I think wherever there are, whatever we do, what we do whether it's shared premises with the nations involved can fly their flags and we're not going to have any hierarchy about anything like that. I think those days are gone.

MANSBRIDGE: Why do you think that?

HAGUE: We're in the 21st century, we're in a period of… in the case of the countries like the U.K. and Canada we're in a period of equal partnership. That is the way we have to approach things, in a networked world there are more centres of decision making than ever before in the world. The world doesn't consist of blocks and hierarchies, wherever you look in the world, networks are defeating hierarchies and so countries like ours major economic nations, but also major nations in trying to keep peace and security in the world have to have a spirit of equal partnership. That is different from centuries past.

MANSBRIDGE: And we could see then if this goes ahead as many Canadian embassies with operating in a way that helps the British in a certain level as we'll see British embassies and the reverse.

HAGUE: Absolutely.

MANSBRIDGE: It's not a one way street.

HAGUE: No, no, no, most definitely not, and I gave you earlier examples in both directions how we can assist each other without in any way constraining or binding in any way the policies of that nation.

MANSBRIDGE: OK let's talk Syria, because I know it's of a major concern, major interest to you. You've stated that it's the number one issue on your agenda. A lot of Canadians, and I assume British citizens as well, are still puzzled. They understand it's a different part of the world than Libya, but they saw what happened last year when hundreds, if not thousands on Libyan civilians were being affected and in some cases killed by the internal strife that was going on with Gadhafi trying to hang onto power. Now they're seeing that tenfold in Syria, the difference being there was military intervention on the part of countries like yours and Canada in Libya, but not in Syria — that it's still looking, seeking for a diplomatic solution when everyday people are dying. What's the difference?

HAGUE: Well there are many differences. There are similarities first of all and you've just drawn attention to them. Innocent people are being killed it's a very powerful similarity. But the fact that we were successful in Libya must never make us gung-ho about other situations, we always have to appreciate when there are important differences too. I don't think in the case of Syria we should rule anything out. We don't know how this situation will develop, how grave it will become whether there will be a complete collapse.

MANSBRIDGE: Well it's pretty grave now.

HAGUE: No one talks about that more than I do or Foreign Minister Baird, or Secretary Clinton. We talk about that all the time, but in this case of course…

MANSBRIDGE: But what will happen, what are you concerned about that if there was a strike in Syria, against Assad, against the power base of Assad's control, what are you afraid of? Why wouldn't that end what we're witnessing now?

HAGUE: The reason this is a different situation to me, is first of all there is no unity on the United Nations Security Council and what we did in Libya had the clear legal mandate of the UNSC, that doesn't exist in this case. And that is a major barrier to such intervention. Other reasons include it would have to be on a vastly greater scale and other reasons are that the geography of that region and within Syria itself are entirely different. The dangers of instability spreading to neighbouring countries are much greater than in the case of Libya. And the conflict going on is much more complex, taking place in many different parts of Syria, not as straightforwardly, if you like as Libya where the country was pretty much geographically divided down the middle. So in that situation the dangers of military intervention are far greater than in Libya.

MANSBRIDGE: So what's the…

HAGUE: But it can't be ruled out. The solution is a transitional government, something we have agreed on the need for with the Russians, that's as far…

MANSBRIDGE: But how do you get to that point…

HAGUE: That's it, that's exactly the point. Everybody agrees, Russia and China agree with us, there should be a transitional government, members of the current government, members of the opposition formed by mutual consent. Our difference with Russia and China is we say let's pass a UNSC resolution which mandates that, which requires that and threatens consequences if it doesn't happen. That is what they feel unable to agree to, but that is still the best way forward. In the absence of that we are giving practical support to opposition groups, non-lethal support and particular sending assistance to the huge number of people who are displaced or who are refugees and I think this winter, if this continues, that will be an ever greater need.

MANSBRIDGE: But as time carries on, thousands continue to die.

HAGUE: Absolutely this is the urgency of it. This is why we've had special meetings of the Security Council a few weeks ago which I attended…

MANSBRIDGE: And you called again today… with Germany and France, within the last 48 hours anyway for new tougher, stricter actions against Syria on the diplomatic front, but like what can you get, what can you do?

HAGUE: Well there are many things we can do, there are many things we are doing. In the absence of that required solution we're trying for and clearly can't get so far, we're delivering that humanitarian assistance, we are helping the opposition but not to kill people, to organize and protect people.

MANSBRIDGE: But somebody's helping them on that front

HAGUE: Well that's not the United Kingdom or the European Union that does that, that is up to other nations. We are tightening the economic stranglehold on the regime through sanctions being implemented by other countries. We are helping to document human rights abuses so one day justice can be done. And we're preparing with others countries in what we call the "friends of Syria" group for the day after Assad falls, how we'll help Syrians to get things running one day when they are in a different situation. So we do all of those things and we can do all of those things, and they're all important things to do. We're not doing nothing, but are we able to resolve it with a single diplomatic move or resolution, well we're not without the agreement of Russia and China.

MANSBRIDGE: And as far as you're concerned, that day is inevitable? That he cannot remain in power?

HAGUE: Well that is my assessment. A government that has spilled so much blood that has oppressed people in this brutal way can never restore stability and order and popular consent in that country. So I think the Assad regime is doomed. The tragedy is the process of its doom is taking so many people with it and is spread out over this long period of time. So we have to keep working on all the things that I was describing and in foreign policy sometimes there isn't just a… the quick solution that works tomorrow. Because power is diffuse in the world because we do have to work with other countries and it's deeply frustrating and often distressing but we just have to stick at it.

MANSBRIDGE: Well let's move to Iran where the attempts have been going on even longer than Syria's stories. I can recall about a year ago you and Minister Baird standing there, talking about and defending the actions that we're being taken on the sanction front, that they were making a difference. Here we are almost a year later, situation doesn't appear to have changed other than the fact that Iran has, one assumes, one year closer to having the capabilities everyone fears and they're pals with Syria. In the past week watching their foreign minister and the Syrians together. What's been the accomplishment in the diplomatic, strategic effort to end Iranian threats of nuclear capabilities?

HAGUE: Two things have changed positively, while all the things you say are also true, and we must not pretend in any way to have solved the problem. We're trying to solve the problem in a peaceful way because of course there are great dangers in a military conflict arising from this and we're trying to avert that. Have we brought about the solution? No we haven't, but we have achieved two things in this last year. One is that the sanctions against Iran have has a very serious impact on their oil production on the revenues of the government, it hasn't yet, so it seems, changed their policy, but it is greatly intensifying the pressure on them and it will continue. Indeed in the European Union we're setting up to intensify that pressure. And I've discussed with Minister Baird today Canada's work to do that as well. And we also have brought Iran back to negotiations which is not unrelated to that sanctions pressure upon them. There have been several rounds of substantive negotiations that haven't brought a breakthrough, that haven't succeeded.

MANSBRIDGE: What do you mean by substantive? When your people are at the table with the Iranians and you're saying there are substantive negotiations, what are you hearing from the other side that would suggest to you that there is change possible here on their part?

HAGUE: We haven't yet heard enough from them. But…

MANSBRIDGE: So how is that substantive?

HAGUE: Because last year they weren't taking place. This year they are about actual issues. The Iranians come to negotiations and discuss 20 per cent enrichment and what they might do about it. What they want from the West and the rest of the world in return. That's why they have some substance, they don't have success, but again, as I was saying about the Syrian crisis — in foreign policy you often have to persist, sometimes on deeply frustrating courses of action. But the alternative to what we're doing now, sanctions plus negotiations is to allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons or to get itself into a position where it could easily have a nuclear weapon, or say to let Israelis conclude that they should make an attack on Iran. Well those are things we don't want to see.

MANSBRIDGE: Well let's pick it up on that point. On the Israeli position, you've seen as well as I've seen the Israeli prime minister in the last few weeks — seems like he's had it with these negotiations. As far as he's concerned they're just playing you along, that it's time for some form of action. You, however, are still advising the Israelis, "don't do it."

HAGUE: Yes we are, yes. We must try to find a peaceful outcome to this crisis. I don't need to list all of the disadvantages to a new military conflict starting in the Middle east, that is something to be avoided if we possibly can. We don't rule out any options for the future. We haven't taken anything off the table on this issue. But at a time when we're increasing the sanctions pressure and continuing to attempt to succeed in negotiations, it would not be the right thing to mount a military attack on Iran and we have said so to the Israelis.

MANSBRIDGE: Do you think it's harder to make that case to the Israelis now than it was a year ago?

HAGUE: No I don't think so because there are, because of, you can see from the discussion we're having there are things that have gone in the wrong direction in that time. Iran's nuclear program is continuing, as you say, but there are other things that have gone in the right direction.

MANSBRIDGE: But he doesn't seem to see that, Prime Minister Netanyahu.

HAGUE: Well you will have to conclude from his action, from the Israeli government's actions what they think about that, that will reveal what they really think about that. We must continue with what I say is the right policy and commands the support of European countries, or Canada and the United States and of Russia and China — as well, significantly in this case, which is to continue to try to succeed in negotiations.

MANSBRIDGE: Are you, Britain and Canada in sync on the approach with the Israelis? You're saying: "we're advising you not to do this." Do you sense that Canada is doing that, or is Canada saying, "whatever you do we're behind you."

HAGUE: Well it's for Canada to determine and discuss.

MANSBRIDGE: Well but it's…

HAGUE: Well the Canadian government I feel has been very supportive of the approach of sanctions and negotiations and it is part of that approach. Canadian sanctions on the Iranian economy are important as part of the pressure on the Iranian leadership. So I think this is the approach of most of our world at the moment and that includes Canada and the U.K.

MANSBRIDGE: But there is this sense, this feeling that Canada is basically saying to Israel, "whatever you do, we're 100 per cent behind you. You have the right to do whatever you want to do." You agree with that?

HAGUE: Well that's… of course Canada can make clear its own position. But Canada's co-operation with the E3 plus 3, with the six countries negotiating with Iran with the sanctions policies that we're trying is very, very strong and indeed it's one of the strongest countries in the world in placing that pressure on Iran. So I don't detect in our discussions a divergence of policy on this.

MANSBRIDGE: Well last point, and it's on discussions in general. You've been now at it for some time in terms of these bilaterals that take place with your counterparts in other countries around the world. When you're actually in those meetings, officials aside, do things actually happen in those meetings or are they all preset?

HAGUE: No they do really happen and I can tell you with Foreign Minister Baird we are able to have ideas, we're able to discuss anything we want to discuss, we don't have to stick to our agreed agendas. Politicians are allowed to…

MANSBRIDGE: Are you blunt with each other?

HAGUE: Yes we are… but also we are in a period as I described in the beginning of exceptional co-operation, of working together on these big issues, together as well as wanting to promote free trade, the prosperity of our countries. I think there is a stronger co-operation than we've seen for many years and I'm absolutely delighted to see that.

MANSBRIDGE: He wasn't upset that the story about shared services came out of London.

HAGUE: We have the same policy and the same approach and that is something that both of us have pushed forward in our respective foreign ministries, we want to see that, that good practical co-operation and I think that gives us something really strong to build for both countries in the years ahead

MANSBRIDGE: Foreign secretary, thanks for your time.

HAGUE: Thank you very much indeed.