UK MPs launch inquiry into challenges of relations with Middle East and North Africa

Foreign Affairs Committee will look at how the UK can curb Iran's nuclear programme

Members of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps attend a rally in Tehran in April last year. Reuters
Powered by automated translation

The UK Parliament has begun an inquiry into the country’s relations with the Middle East and North Africa as well as the challenges the region poses to its foreign policy.

The House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee will look at how the UK can better work with its allies to curb Iran’s nuclear programme, as well as how to deter Tehran from engaging in hostile actions in the region, including supporting terrorist groups.

MPs will examine the prospects for the UK’s cooperation with allies such as the US and France in the region and for working with international organisations.

They will also look at the viability of a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine and how the UK can engage with all the parties involved to help bring about a peaceful resolution of the conflict.

They will also seek evidence on how the UK should respond to the growing engagement of major powers such as Russia, China, Turkey and India in the region.

Committee chairwoman Alicia Kearns said the UK government’s Integrated Review of security, foreign policy and development acknowledges the importance of the region to the UK.

But she added it is “light on the details of how it intends to grow relationships or its strategic ambitions in the region”, so the inquiry “will ask what the main challenges in the region are and what impact these have on UK foreign policy”.

“It will identify where the UK can best help reduce fragility, ask which countries the UK should focus its diplomatic efforts on, and how we balance concerns around human rights abuses with engagement,” the Conservative MP said.

“The Middle East and North Africa is a diverse and culturally rich region, the birthplace of some of the world’s major religions and the cradle of civilisation.

“The UK enjoys strong bilateral relations with many of its countries and has enduring ties to the region.”

But she said that while “there is good potential for co-operation between the UK and Mena countries, the region faces challenges”.

“Some of the most extreme effects of climate change will be felt in the Middle East and in North Africa, where water and food are already scarce and temperatures already high,” she added.

The committee will also look at how the UK can best perform its role as “penholder” on the UN Security Council for Libya and Yemen to achieve its objectives for the two countries.

Under the penholder system, the UK, France and the US take the initiative on all council activities concerning a situation, such as holding emergency meetings, organising open debates and leading visiting missions.

The penholder also heads negotiations over draft resolutions and speaks first whenever the council discusses the issue.

MPs will also look at how terrorism and malign private military companies, such as Russia's Wagner Group, are affecting stability in the region.

In a recent report, the committee accused the UK government of having a “dismal” lack of understanding about the threat posed by the Wagner Group.

It is calling for the urgent proscription of Wagner as a terrorist organisation, which western governments have so far shied away from.

Updated: August 01, 2023, 7:42 AM