UK Politics

US-UK intelligence-sharing indispensable, says Hague

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Media captionWilliam Hague: "Intelligence work takes place within a strong legal framework"

Britain and the US should have "nothing but pride" in their "indispensable intelligence-sharing relationship", the UK foreign secretary has said.

William Hague, speaking in Los Angeles, acknowledged recent controversy over intelligence gathering by the UK's GCHQ and the US National Security Agency.

But he said the nations operated "under the rule of law" and used information only to protect citizens' freedoms.

Mr Hague also praised the transatlantic "special relationship" as "solid".

In recent weeks there has been concern about the monitoring activities of GCHQ, the UK's eavesdropping centre.

'Strong legal framework'

It accessed information about UK citizens from the US National Security Agency's monitoring programme, Prism, documents leaked by American whistleblower Edward Snowden suggest.

He remains wanted for questioning by US authorities, but is currently in the transit area at Moscow airport.

GCHQ has insisted it is "scrupulous" in complying with the law.

"We should have nothing but pride in the unique and indispensable intelligence-sharing relationship between Britain and the United States," Mr Hague said in his speech at the Ronald Reagan Library.

"In recent weeks this has been a subject of some discussion.

"Let us be clear about it. In both our countries, intelligence work takes place within a strong legal framework.

'Special relationship'

"We operate under the rule of law and are accountable for it. In some countries secret intelligence is used to control their people. In ours, it only exists to protect their freedoms."

Mr Hague also sought to portray the UK coalition government's policies as an ideological continuation of those espoused by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s.

He said: "Not all countries are willing to exert themselves to defend the freedoms they enjoy, but in the United Kingdom and United States of America we are.

"There is no greater bastion of freedom than the transatlantic alliance, and within it the special relationship, always solid but never slavish."

Mr Hague added: "Some say it is not possible to build up our countries' ties in other parts of the world without weakening those between us. But I say these things go together.

'Win over global opinion'

"The stronger our relationships are elsewhere in the world, the more we can do to support each other and our allies."

On broader policy, Mr Hague said: "We do not need to accept sleepwalking into decline any more than Reagan and Thatcher did before us.

"We have centuries of experience in building up democratic institutions, from our courts to our free media, that other countries wish to draw on and adapt, from Burma to North Africa.

"We have the soft power and cultural appeal to attract and influence others and win over global opinion."

Mr Hague went on: "We have not yet exhausted all the means of building up and extending our influence. It is not so much the relative size of our power that matters in the 21st Century, but the nature of it, and how agile and effective we can be in exerting it."

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