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'Special relationship' with US may still need a bit of work, as John Kerry jets in as new US Secretary of State


John Kerry’s decision to make London the first destination for an official visit as the new US Secretary of State was seen as a matter of kudos by the British government. And today, on arrival, the former presidential candidate spoke of his determination to reaffirm the “special relationship”.

It was immediately apparent, however, after Mr Kerry’s breakfast with David Cameron and prolonged meeting with William Hague, that despite the change of personnel the US remains resolute in several differences of opinion with the UK on foreign affairs.

Britain had argued unsuccessfully at an EU meeting in Brussels last week for arming of the “moderate” rebel groups in Syria; London is now pressing for substantive help for the opposition at an international summit in Rome this week.

Standing with Mr Kerry at the Foreign Office, William Hague said that “an appalling injustice is being done to the people of Syria, which the world cannot ignore. In the face of such murder and threat of instability, our policy cannot remain static as the weeks go by, and it is an important opportunity in Rome on Thursday to discuss this with our allies and partners.”

The US Secretary of State for his part said that he was “determined that the Syrian opposition is not going to be dangling in the wind, wondering where the support is, if it is coming”. He was, he added, “not going to Rome just to talk”. But there was nothing to suggest that Barack Obama’s veto on arming of the rebels – despite advice from Mr Kerry’s predecessor, Hillary Clinton, to do so – will be reversed.

There was one bit of positive news for the organisers of the Rome conference. Moaz Khatib, the leader of the Syrian Opposition Council, who had stated that he would not be attending in a protest at the lack of meaningful backing from America and Europe, announced last night that he may turn up after all after a phone call with Mr Kerry.

On the Falklands, the US signalled that it would not recognise next month’s referendum among Falklanders on their future. The result, the British Government believes, will show that they do not want to be under Argentine rule. Mr Kerry stated: “The United States recognises the de facto UK administration of the islands but takes no position on the question of parties’ sovereignty claims thereto. We support co-operation between UK and Argentina on practical matters.”

Mr Kerry went on to talk about the importance of the EU while discussing a proposed trade agreement. “The fact is that Europe, free-standing, alone, is the largest economy in the world. When you join that together with the USA, we have a powerful ability to be able to affect the rules of the road and raise standards and, most importantly, create jobs for all of our people.”

A number of senior members of the Obama administration visiting London recently had warned the Cameron government against holding a referendum on leaving the EU, maintaining that a UK isolated outside would have much less influence in Washington.