by Stephen Tall on August 5, 2010
There will be red faces in Number 10 tonight after the latest foreign policy gaffe from David Cameron. Speaking today at his one of his PM Direct events, the Conservative leader stuck up for Turkey’s application to join the EU, stating it would be able to help Europe address a number of issues:
I think [Turkey will] be a good political influence because they can help us solve some of the world’s problems like the Middle East peace process, like the fact Iran has got a nuclear weapon.”
Except Iran doesn’t have a nuclear weapon. His advisors later clarified that Mr Cameron “mis-spoke”, and had meant to say that Iran appeared to be trying to develop a nuclear programme.
This isn’t the first time Mr Cameron has shown a slightly flaky grasp of foreign policy. In the first leaders’ debate he well and truly gaffed by suggesting that China posed a major potential nuclear threat. If Nick Clegg had said it, the newspapers would have been all over him (except he woudn’t have made the error: Nick’s an international affairs geek).
More recently, he slipped up by mistakenly referring to the UK as the USA’s junior partner in the Second World War … in 1940, before the US had joined the war effort. I’m not sure it’s fair to refer to his remark that Pakistan appears to be “looking both ways” about exporting terrorism as a gaffe: whatever the rights and wrongs, the Conservative leader has stuck to his view on that one.
But the issue of nuclear states is – to state the obvious – a delicate one. His careless comments about first China and now Iran are not in themselves especially significant; but they suggest a superficiality of understanding on a major issue. The Prime Minister has slipped comfortably into the role of statesman abroad, looking the part. He now needs to work a bit harder on sounding the part also.