Hypocrisy is forgivable, but refusing to learn from past experiences is notby Jonathan Powell / October 2, 2014 / Leave a comment
The following is an edited extract from Jonathan Powell’s new book Talking to Terrorists, published by Bodley Head (£20)
“All terrorists, at the invitation of the government, end up with drinks in the Dorchester,” said Hugh Gaitskell, the former leader of the Labour Party. What he meant was that governments of all political colours and in all countries repeatedly say they will never talk to terrorist groups and yet they nearly always do so eventually, and in the end usually treat their leaders as statesmen.
From 1997 to 2007 I was the chief British negotiator on Northern Ireland. On the basis of that experience, when I left Downing Street in 2007 I proposed publicly that we should talk to the Taliban, to Hamas, and even to al-Qaeda. A Foreign Office spokesman said: “It is inconceivable that Her Majesty’s Government would ever seek to reach a mutually acceptable accommodation with a terrorist organisation like al-Qaeda.” Only a few years later, NATO countries are now talking to the Taliban, and the US and Israel have talked to Hamas, at least indirectly.