Anne Penketh: Brown's message was clear... his foreign policy is all about multilateralism

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Gordon Brown has firmly nailed his multilateralist colours to the mast, by confirming he will conduct foreign policy in a different way from his predecessor Tony Blair. On every single foreign policy challenge he mentioned, the Prime Minister said Britain would act in concert with other players in support of a "hard-headed internationalism".

Mr Brown's first foreign-policy speech was short on detail and was similar to the message spelled out in Washington by his International Development Secretary Douglas Alexander in July, which troubled the White House and preceded the drawdown of British troops in Iraq. But Mr Brown stressed ties with the US "constitute our most important bilateral relationship".

Iran

He described Iran's nuclear ambitions as "the greatest immediate challenge to non-proliferation". The Bush administration and the new French government of President Nicolas Sarkozy have warned that Iran will not be allowed to obtain a nuclear weapon, by military force if necessary, although the preferred option remains diplomatic. Mr Brown left open the prospect of military action, saying ambiguously "Iran should be in no doubt about our seriousness of purpose." But he, too, stressed that the multilateral diplomatic route was preferable.

If Iran continues to refuse to halt uranium-enrichment, Britain would seek tougher sanctions, targeting its oil and gas sectors. But Mr Brown knows that Russia and China will not support such action at the UN. Mr Brown also offered support for a decades-old proposal for a central bank for nuclear fuel.

Pakistan

Again, Mr Brown framed the issue of how to deal with nuclear-armed Pakistan's flight from democracy as a multilateral challenge. General Musharraf has declined to specify when he will lift emergency rule, and Mr Brown did not say what should happen if the President continues to defy the rest of the world. Mr Brown did not mention possible sanctions targeting military or economic co-operation, reflecting Britain's aim of keeping President Musharraf as an ally in the US-led "war on terror".

Afghanistan/Iraq

Surprisingly, Mr Brown dealt with Afghanistan in a single sentence. But he stressed that support for economic and social development would match the military effort. In Iraq's Basra province, where British troops next month end their combat role, "we will support economic development to give the people a greater stake in the future," he said.

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