New British foreign minister makes Afghanistan top priority

12th May 2010, Comments 0 comments

Britain's new foreign minister said Wednesday that Afghanistan would be his top priority, ahead of the first meeting of the new coalition government's US-style National Security Council (NSC).

"It is our most urgent priority here in my work to make sure we have a grip on what is going on in Afghanistan," Foreign Secretary William Hague told Sky News television.

"And I know that will consume a lot of our time and energy and effort. We have been fighting some political battles here but they are in a real battle out there."

Hague was named foreign secretary by Prime Minister David Cameron late Tuesday, shortly after a new coalition government took office made up of the Conservatives and the smaller Liberal Democrats.

Britain has around 10,000 troops in Afghanistan as part of an international force, largely fighting the Taliban in the southern province of Helmand. It has lost 285 personnel since operations began in 2001.

One of Cameron's first tasks since taking office was to set up a National Security Council to coordinate the work of the foreign, defence, interior, energy and international development departments to face national dangers.

It was to meet for the first time Wednesday, bringing together Cameron, Deputy Prime Minister and Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg and other ministers.

"The council will discuss the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and review the terrorist threat to the UK," the prime minister's office said.

Hague said he was confident the coalition could survive the two parties' constrasing approaches to the European Union -- the Conservatives are eurosceptic but the Lib Dems are strongly pro-European.

"All British governments sometimes face difficulties over European policy but given the discussions we have had... we certainly do not start off with it as a difficulty and I think we will work well together in ensuring that remains the case," he said.

The government would pursue an "active and activist" policy towards Brussels, Hague added.

© 2010 AFP

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