Q&A: Brown's foreign policy

A look at how the Brown premiership could affect the Middle East and beyond.

    Some have already told the new British leader what his priorities should be [EPA]

    Britain has its first new leader in a decade and although Gordon Brown has been a key political figure for all of that period, relatively little is known about his prospective policies in foreign affairs.

    Al Jazeera looks at what a Brown premiership could or could not mean for the Middle East and beyond.

    Will Brown's policy towards Iraq attract as much criticism as Blair's?

    Brown fully backed Tony Blair's decision to go to war in Iraq and, as finance minister, has provided the necessary funding and signed the cheques when required.

    He is not, however, seen as being as personally entwined with the current quagmire in the country as his predecessor.

    On a visit to Iraq this month he said "lessons needed to be learned" and, in what many analysts saw as an attempt to distance himself from Blairite policies, described the so-called "dodgy dossier" from the country's Joint Intelligence Committee that exaggerated Iraq's weapons programme, as a mistake.

    Upon assuming the leadership of the Labour party last week, he acknowledged the war had been a "divisive issue for our party and our country".

    Although he has ruled out any immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq, Chris Doyle of the Council for British-Arab Understanding, says Brown does have a little more "wiggle room" on the issue than Blair.

    "Brown hasn't lost all the support of the Labour party over the Iraq war, he wasn't really identified with this policy and he hasn't had fallings out with close political colleagues, he has a little more wiggle room. He can actually decide to shift the policy."

    How much he will need to use that room is doubtful as Blair has essentially put a timetable for partial British withdrawal in place. Troop numbers are down to 5,500 and by August they are expected to have withdrawn from their base in the southern city of Basra.

    "In a way, much of the dirty work has been done for him," Doyle says. "So Blair has actually already started that timetable for withdrawal that Brown will continue and he won't want to be seen to be changing that approach."

    How will he approach the Israeli-Palestinian issue? 

    Brown, right,  has ruled out an immediate
    withdrawal of troops from Iraq [GALLO/GETTY]
    While Brown again has limited experience of dealing directly with the Israelis and Palestinians, he has put in tentative measures towards defining his policy.

    Political sources in Israel have welcomed Brown's appointment of Simon McDonald, the UK's ambassador there between 2003 and 2006, as a policy adviser calling him "a friend to Israel".

    In 2005, Brown tasked one of his closest advisers, Ed Balls, with drawing up an economic road map for the Middle East.

    Balls said last week that "Achieving lasting stability and security in the Middle East will be a high priority for the next prime minister," and that "in the longer-term, a macroeconomic crisis can only be averted through a credible Palestinian Authority-led budget plan".

    However, Doyle believes such an economic plan will be unfeasible in the near future.

    "Quite frankly they [Brown's ideas] seem very out of date given the situation we are in at the moment."

    "How can you implement an economic road map in a situation where the West Bank and the Gaza Strip are frankly divided between two different leaderships?"

    More realistically, Brown will model his approach to Israeli-Palestinian problems on that adopted by the Middle East Quartet.

    This is likely to mean shoring up support for Fatah, consolidating the situation in the West Bank and a reluctance to negotiate with Hamas in Gaza.

    Were, as expected, Blair to be named as the Quartet's envoy, then Brown's policy could even closely mirror their decisions.

    Will his arrival be welcomed by leaders in the Middle East?

    Brown is regarded as an "Atlanticist" and has said his country's "special relationship" with the US needs to be maintained.

    He has, however, indicated that he will be less slavish to the policies of George Bush and this could play favourably with some leaders in the Middle East according to Marwan Bishara, Al Jazeera's senior political analyst.

    Brown is likely to continue his work with 
    African countries on debt relief [GALLO/GETTY]
    Bishara says it is hard to generalise regarding leaders in the region, since they differ in their politics and ideology, but Brown will be seen as a less passionate defender of Bush than Blair, and therefore to them a more objective judge of the current escalation in Iraq and over the Middle East.

    "When it comes to Palestine and to a lesser degree to Iraq and the global 'war on terrorism', they would welcome Brown as a British premier that is less Atlanticist and more European in his approach to Middle Eastern policies," he says.

    "This applies especially in terms of a 'soft power' rather than a 'hard power' approach involving, if need be, security measures but less enthusiastic about triggering a new war adding to the complex problems in the region."

    What will his strategy be elsewhere?

    Brown is expected to support the UN's current sanctions against Iran over its nuclear programme, but has said he wants to see a "peaceful solution" to the crisis.

    He is not expected to alter the British policy in Afghanistan as the number of UK troops in the country increases up to nearly 8,000.

    He is expected to support the UN Security Council resolution's plans for harsher sanctions against Sudan over Darfur.

    Brown is also expected to continue with his focus on debt relief in developing countries, particularly in Africa.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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