It is in our interests – those of Britain and America together – to stand strong together to defend our values, our interests and the very ideas in which we believe. This cannot mean a return to the of the past. .
When it comes to Russia, as so often it is wise to turn to the example of President Reagan who – during his negotiations with his opposite number Mikhail Gorbachev – used to abide by the adage “trust but verify”. With President Putin, my advice is to “engage but beware”. There is nothing inevitable about conflict between Russia and the West. And nothing unavoidable about retreating to the days of the Cold War. But we should engage with Russia from a position of strength. And we should build the relationships, systems and processes that make cooperation more likely than conflict – and that, particularly after the illegal annexation of Crimea, give assurance to Russia’s neighbouring states that their security is not in question. We should not jeopardise the freedoms that President Reagan and Mrs Thatcher brought to Eastern Europe by accepting President Putin’s claim that it is now in his sphere of influence.
Boris Johnson has conceded that President Assad should be allowed to run for re-election in Syria, a reversal of British foreign policy on the eve of the prime minister’s visit to Washington.
The foreign secretary said Britain would have to “think afresh” about how to handle the Syrian crisis in the light of Russian intervention and Donald Trump’s election, abandoning its longstanding position that Assad must step down. Mr Johnson said that he, like Mr Trump, was open to working with Russia to defeat so-called Islamic State, another sharp policy reversal.
“It is our view that Bashar al-Assad should go,” he told the Lords international relations select committee. “It’s been our longstanding position. But we are open-minded about how that happens and the timescale. I have to be realistic about how the landscape has changed. It may be that we will have to think afresh about how we handle this. The old policy, I am afraid to say, does not command much confidence.”
Mr Johnson said that he still hoped for a “democratic resolution” in Syria which could include a UN-supervised election allowing the country’s displaced millions, mostly Assad opponents, to vote. Asked if that meant allowing Assad to contest the vote, he replied: “Yes.”
Before becoming foreign secretary, Mr Johnson praised Russia and Assad for retaking the ancient city of Palmyra from Isis, and suggested Britain join forces with them against the jihadists. Whitehall sources said he changed his mind as early as his in the foreign office, becoming one of Assad and Putin’s most vocal critics, accusing them of war crimes against Syrian civilians. British officials hoped that Mr Trump would . Thus far, he has not. Yesterday’s events, however, suggest Mr Johnson’s thinking has evolved again, back towards Mr Trump’s.