Global Policy Forum

Blair Urges Iran, Syria to Help

Der Spiegel
November 14, 2006

Are cracks appearing in the staunch alliance between Tony Blair and George W. Bush? With Bush weakened by last week's midterm election defeat, Blair has called for a rethink on Iraq. It's time to focus on peace between Israel and the Palestinians, he says. British Prime Minister Tony Blair urged US President George W. Bush to recognize that a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was the key to any hopes of achieving wider peace in the Middle East, including Iraq.

In a major foreign policy speech in London on Monday, Blair also offered Iran and Syria -- once identified by Bush's as part of an "Axis of Evil" -- the prospect of dialogue over the future of the Middle East. "A major part of the answer to Iraq lies not in Iraq itself but outside it, in the whole of the region where the same forces are at work, where the roots of terrorism are to be found, where the extremism flourishes," Blair said in a speech at the Lord Mayor's Banquet. He urged Syria and Iran to choose whether they wished to join the dialogue and become partners in a wider Middle East peace.

Commentators have interpreted Blair's remarks as a bid to exploit indecision in Washington following the Republicans' loss of control in the House of Representatives and Senate last week and to persuade Bush to see the central importance of the Palestinian peace process. Blair argued: "We should start with Israel-Palestine. That is the core. We should then make progress on Lebanon. We should unite all Arab and Muslim voices behind a push for peace in those countries, but also in Iraq."

But Blair insisted the West should not talk to Iran or Syria unconditionally. He repeatedly condemned Iran's stance, saying "They are using pressure points in the region to thwart us. So they help the most extreme elements of Hamas in Palestine, Hezbollah in the Lebanon, Shia militia in Iraq". Blair said Iran was putting "obstacles in the path to peace." The only way to defeat such barriers was to "relieve these pressure points one by one" and offer Iran the choice of abiding by their international obligations or face isolation, Blair said.

Downing Street denied suggestions of a major shift in foreign policy and said Blair was not going "cap in hand" to Damascus and Tehran asking for help. Instead they were being told that they had to make a "strategic choice," giving up support for terrorism and nuclear ambitions in return for being brought in from the cold. It added that Blair was repeating the message that he first gave the countries in a speech in Los Angeles in July.

Bush said he rejected dealing with Iran unless it suspends its uranium enrichment activities. "Our focus of this administration is to convince the Iranians to give up their nuclear weapons ambitions. And that focus is based upon our desire for there to be peace in the Middle East... an Iran with a nuclear weapon would be a destabilizing influence," Bush said.

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