The Syrian ambassador to Britain has had his invitation to tomorrow’s Royal Wedding withdrawn after his potential presence sparked outrage among some quarters.
UK government officials said inviting Sami Khiyami to the much-anticipated nuptials would be inappropriate given reports of the brutal crackdown of protesters by his government in Syria. At least 400 protesters have been killed state security forces over the past five weeks and many hundreds more have been detained.
In the light of this week's attacks against civilians by the Syrian security forces, which we have condemned, the foreign secretary [William Hague] has decided that the presence of the Syrian ambassador at the royal wedding would be unacceptable and that he should not attend,” the British Foreign Office stated.
Buckingham Palace shares the view of the Foreign Office that it is not considered appropriate for the Syrian ambassador to attend the wedding.
A spokesman for Downing Street said it agreed with the decision and that inviting the Syrian envoy would be “unacceptable.”
Kevan Jones, the shadow defense minister, warned Buckingham Palace of the horrific specter of killing on the streets of Syria while the Syrian ambassador is in Westminster Abbey for the royal wedding.
For once, Labour and Conservatives have something they can agree on.
The shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander, a Labour party member. said: William Hague took the right decision this morning to withdraw the invitation to the Syrian ambassador. It's crucial at this stage that we send a clear and unequivocal message to the regime in Damascus. [Dr Khiyami's presence] would also have distracted from the national celebration that will be the royal wedding on Friday.
Denis MacShane, the former Minister for Europe, said: “Rolling out the red carpet for petty tyrants who back home chop off people’s arms and hands, or, in the case of Syria, send tanks to crush peaceful protests, is bordering on the grotesque.”
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg (a Liberal Democrat) commented: I think the events in Syria are clearly the subject of huge concern, people are going to be very, very distressed and appalled by the heavy handed military tactics which the Syrian regime are now deploying on their own people.
As for Khiyami himself, he has described the situation as a bit embarrassing.
“I don't really understand it but I understand the influence of media on the government decisions,” he told British radio. But I don't consider it a matter that will jeopardize either ongoing relations or discussions with the British government.
He also expressed some sympathy for the husband-and-wife-to-be Prince William and Kate Middleton.
The bride and groom need not have their wedding distracted by other matters, he said.
Interestingly, two former Labour prime ministers Gordon Brown and Tony Blair, have also not been invited.
Michael Dugher, a shadow Defense Minister, said: “It seems odd that two former Prime Ministers are excluded but we have some quite dubious people being invited. The palace keeps saying this is a private wedding but it’s a huge national celebration. There should be extraordinary sensitivity in relation to the invitations.”
Two other controversial invitees, The Crown Prince of Bahrain, Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa, and the King of Swaziland, pulled out from attending the wedding. However, the UK government said it will not rescind the invitation to the ambassador from Bahrain, despite that country’s ongoing crackdown on protesters. In addition, the ambassador from Libya has been invited, but he is not expected to attend.
Guests from three other repressive states, Iran, North Korea and Zimbabwe, were also invited.
Indeed, the Foreign Office statement explained that: an invitation does not mean endorsement or approval of the behavior of any government, simply that we have normal diplomatic relations with that country.
However, the whole imbroglio raised questions about the nature of the Royal Wedding – is it a state function, or a private family ceremony?
A spokesman for Prime Minister David Cameron defused the politics behind the wedding guest list.
It is a family wedding, not a state occasion, she said. The guest list has been compiled by the couple and the royal household.
Regarding foreign countries, it is right that the Foreign Office has discussions with the palace.