Cameron's foreign policy 'gaffes' split opinion in Britain

8th August 2010, Comments 0 comments

Straight-talking or gaffe-prone? Britain's new Prime Minister David Cameron has divided opinion with some unusually direct public comments on foreign policy from Pakistan and Gaza to the US.

Cameron seems to have patched things up with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari after he accused Pakistan of promoting "the export of terror" on a visit to India last month.

The pair insisted relations between Britain and Pakistan were "unbreakable" and vowed to step up cooperation on security after meeting Friday for the first time since the controversy erupted.

But the dust has not yet settled on other controversial remarks made by Cameron, a centre-right Conservative, in his first visits to world leaders since taking office as head of a coalition government in May.

While in Turkey, he called Gaza a "prison camp" and said he was "angry" at the slow pace that Turkey's bid for European Union membership was progressing, seen as a jibe at France and Germany.

He also acknowledged that Britain was the "junior partner" in relations with the United States ahead of a trip to the White House.

Last week, in an apparent slip of the tongue, he even suggested that Iran had a nuclear weapon -- although Downing Street later insisted he was only talking about Tehran's pursuit of one.

"He is increasingly getting a reputation for being a foreign policy klutz, with two right feet, both of them firmly planted in his mouth," said Chris Bryant, a Foreign Office minister in the last Labour government under Gordon Brown.

Other commentators have suggested that Cameron might be better off conveying his stronger opinions in private, rather than through very public soundbites.

Cameron defended his comments on Pakistan by saying it was important "to speak frankly about these things to countries that are your friends" and this attitude also seems to extend to other nations.

And some experts suggest that, while there may have been some gaffes, Cameron's straight-talking could be linked to a shake-up of how British diplomacy works.

The 43-year-old prime minister wants to see greater emphasis on boosting Britain's ties with emerging economic powers like India and Turkey.

This means turning away from the interventionist policies pursued under the previous Labour government -- particularly prime minister Tony Blair, who took Britain into wars in Afghanistan and Iraq -- and, by implication, freeing up Cameron in his foreign policy declarations.

"I think there's a genuine shift of emphasis," Chris Brown, a professor of international relations at the London School of Economics, told AFP.

"I think the feeling that the present government has is that the last government had a rather exaggerated view of Britain's importance within the world and they want to say look, it's not like that, we're a medium power".

Whatever the motivation, Cameron's approach seems to have found favour with the British public -- for now at least.

Asked to sum up their view of his comments abroad, 49 percent agreed that he was "being plain speaking and other countries will respect that" while 27 percent said he was "being a loudmouth and risks upsetting relations with our allies" in a YouGov/Sun newspaper poll released earlier this month.

© 2010 AFP

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