UK vows to extend hand to neglected allies

LONDON (AP) — British Foreign Secretary William Hague vowed Thursday to woo allies left neglected in London’s rush to cozy up to the White House over the last decade, promising a sweeping overhaul of the country’s “patchy” foreign policy.

In a first major speech since the country’s Conservative-led coalition government took office in May, Hague said he’d reach out to nations who felt snubbed under the Labour government led by both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

Mr.l Brown and Mr. Blair’s courting of successive U.S. presidents had led some links with historic partners “to wither or stagnate” and seen a dramatic fall in Britain’s clout in the European Union, Hague said.

“I think sometimes British politicians and British leaders have been so preoccupied by those ties, that they have neglected to build the wider relationships in the world,” Mr. Hague said.

Countries including India, Brazil and the Gulf states have claimed that Britain only came calling in times of global crisis — or when they needed to secure a key U.N. vote, he said.

“In recent years Britain’s approach to building relationships with new and emerging powers has been ad-hoc and patchy, giving rise to the frequent complaint,” Mr. Hague said, speaking at London’s Foreign Office. “This weakens our ability to forge agreement on difficult issues affecting the lives of millions around the world.”

Prime Minister David Cameron’s government has vowed to build a so-called “new special relationship” with India, suggesting it sees future trading opportunities with emerging markets as likely to be as important as ties to Washington.

Britain will send government ministers and the heads of leading U.K. businesses on trade delegations across the world in a bid to increase exports, Treasury chief George Osborne said this week. Hague said new government task forces are seeking to improve bilateral links — with work already under way on upgrading relations with the UAE.

Though Mr. Hague said bonds between London and Washington were “unbreakable” and represented Britain’s most important bilateral relationship, he added that both he and Cameron believed the partnership should be “solid but not slavish.”

Mr. Cameron and President Barack Obama held friendly talks at the G-8 and G-20 summits in Canada last month, but the British leader defended BP and asked the U.S. to give a better indication of the likely final cost of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Menzies Campbell, a lawmaker with the junior coalition partner party, the Liberal Democrats, told the BBC that Britain must prepare for more distant ties with the U.S.

“The relationship between Britain and the United States is going to change because Barack Obama is looking in a different direction,” Mr. Campbell said.

Mr. Hague pledged to continue pressing Iran to abandon its nuclear ambitions, and said Britain expects its troops to remain in Afghanistan until about 2015.

Though Mr. Hague’s party has often been accused of being skeptical over ties to Europe, he said Britain must halt a decline in the number of British diplomats working at the European Union.

Mr. Hague said that Britain represents 12 percent of the bloc’s population, but Britons make up only 1.8 percent of its staff. “It is mystifying to us that the previous government failed to give due weight to the exercise of British influence in the European Union,” he said.

The diplomatic chief also identified Indonesia, South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria as countries and all of Latin America as places where links need to be strengthened.

Mr. Hague said Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu will visit Britain next week as London seeks to upgrade ties to Ankara. Turkey “is a good example of a country developing a new role and new links for itself,” he said.

 

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