New Delhi: British Prime Minister David Cameron has revealed a plain-speaking streak during a tour of Turkey and India that raises questions over whether it is down to youthful inexperience or a bold new approach to diplomacy.
He caused anger in Israel by saying in Turkey that Gaza was a “prison camp”, and went on to offend Islamabad when he suggested in front of an Indian audience in Bangalore that Pakistan “promoted the export of terror”.
While in Ankara, he also dismissed opponents of Turkish membership of the European Union as “protectionist, polarised or prejudiced”, an analysis which will not be shared in Paris or Berlin. France and Germany oppose Turkish entry.
“I think it’s important, as I say, to speak frankly about these things to countries that are your friends,” Cameron said on Thursday in an interview with British broadcasters in New Delhi, adding that he would “do so in the future” as well.
At 43, Cameron is the youngest British prime minister in nearly two centuries. He has been in office since May. His comments on Pakistan delighted the Indian media, which devoted much of its coverage of his visit to the subject, to the detriment of his core message that he wanted to boost trade and business links between Britain and India.
But Pakistan’s high commissioner to Britain, Wajid Shamsul Hasan, said in a column in the Guardian newspaper that Cameron had “damaged the prospects of regional peace”. “He is new in government. May be he will learn soon and know how to handle things,” Hasan later told the BBC.
Great diplomat or loudmouth?
In a briefing with British journalists covering the tour, Foreign Secretary William Hague came under a barrage of questions on Thursday on whether Cameron might watch his words more carefully in future.
“The prime minister speaks the truth and we are all united and clear and happy about what he said,” Hague said. “The prime minister is a great diplomat and I see that in action every day when he’s dealing with foreign leaders. He is a natural at it, so I don’t think you need to be worried on that score,” he said.
David Miliband, who was foreign minister under the previous government, jumped on the opportunity to attack Cameron. “I think there’s a big difference between straight-talking and being a loudmouth,” he told BBC radio.
“It’s very, very important that the prime minister … understands we have got two ears and one mouth and it’s very important to use them in that proportion.”
Cameron will get a direct response from Pakistan when he hosts President Asif Ali Zardari at his Chequers country residence in Britain next week.
Asked in his interview with British broadcasters whether he regretted damaging relations with Pakistan ahead of the meeting, he said: “I don’t accept that they have been damaged … I look forward to discussing these and other issues (with Zardari).”