UK Labour Party ready to support Syria air campaign, with conditions

Friday 25/09/2015
\'Different views\' on Syria

LONDON - Britain's opposition Labour Party on Wednesday said it was open to the possibility of Britain joining airstrikes against the Islamic State (ISIS) group in Syria on condition of clear approval by the United Nations.

The party's annual conference approved, by a near unanimous show of hands, a motion on British participation in the air campaign.

The move threatens embarrassment for Labour's new radical leftist leader Jeremy Corbyn, who is a co-founder of the Stop the War coalition, which campaigned against the Afghanistan and Iraq wars and has opposed any British participation in Syria.

Prime Minister David Cameron wants to ask parliament to vote on Britain joining air strikes on Syria in the coming weeks but the conference vote does not compel Labour MPs to support such action.

The conference motion said that military action "can secure the assent of the British people" as long as there was "clear and unambiguous authorisation for such a bombing campaign from the United Nations".

It also said there should be a Europe-wide plan to assist an expected increase in refugees from air strikes, that strikes should be against IS targets and that diplomatic efforts should take priority.

In his first speech as leader, Corbyn had on Tuesday told the conference: "The answer to this complex and tragic conflict can't simply be found in a few more bombs."

Wednesday's motion was put forward by Unite, a trade union which supports him, signalling a possible compromise by the veteran pacifist socialist.

John McDonnell, shadow finance minister and a key Corbyn ally, signalled Tuesday that MPs could be allowed to vote in parliament according to their consciences rather than along party lines on the issue.

Ahead of Wednesday's debate, Corbyn acknowledged there were "different views" in his party on the air strikes during a BBC radio interview.

Parliament voted in favour of British forces joining air strikes on Iraq last year but Cameron did not call a vote on taking part in Syria due to a lack of opposition support.

Although no date has been set for holding a vote on joining the action against IS targets in Syria, it could be held in the coming weeks if Cameron can rally sufficient support.

There is no UN authorisation for the bombing campaign but the US-led coalition maintains that it does not need UN approval because the request for assistance to fight IS came from the Iraqi government.

No such request was made by the Syrian government.

Moscow launched its first air strikes in war-torn Syria on Wednesday after President Vladimir Putin won parliamentary permission to use force abroad.

Russia is presiding over a special UN Security Council meeting on Wednesday on "fighting terrorism" that is bound to throw up sharp differences of opinion between Moscow and Washington over Syria.