Blair Bowed to U.S. Pressure in Speech, Paper Says

By Kevin Sullivan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, May 29, 2006

LONDON, May 29 -- Prime Minister Tony Blair caved in to White House pressure by sharpening language on Iran and softening it on global warming in a speech he delivered Friday at Georgetown University, according to a British press report Sunday that Blair's office immediately denied.

According to the Sunday Telegraph, Blair made "significant" last-minute changes to his major foreign policy address and "objections by President George W. Bush's inner circle played a key role in the alterations." An official at Blair's 10 Downing Street office, speaking on condition of anonymity as is standard practice here, said it was "categorically untrue that any White House objective played any part" in the speech.

Blair is frequently criticized in Britain for his close relationship with Bush, who is extremely unpopular among Britons. The prime minister is particularly faulted for his alliance with Bush in the Iraq war. Critics have complained that Blair seems too eager to please Bush in what many here view as a lopsided relationship that has benefited Bush far more than Britain.

The newspaper, citing anonymous British sources, said aides to Blair told journalists three hours before the speech that Blair intended to say that "change should not be imposed" on Iran in the current dispute over its nuclear ambitions. The newspaper said the line reflected "the British view that bombing or invading Iran is not a realistic option."

Blair eventually used more subtle phrasing: "I emphasize I am not saying we should impose change" -- which the newspaper said was altered to reflect the White House's desire to keep the military option "on the table" to exert maximum negotiating pressure on Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The newspaper also reported that Blair backed away from a plan that called for the United States and Europe to consider giving up their traditional arrangement of having an American head the World Bank and a European run the International Monetary Fund. Instead, Blair simply said there was a "powerful case for reform" in the international financial institutions.

Blair had also planned to "take a tough line" on global warming and the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, which he supports and Bush opposes, the paper reported. In the end, Blair said only that "we must act on climate change," and international negotiations provide "a way forward, building on Kyoto, which can involve America, China and India."

The paper reported that during the climate change section of the speech, a cellphone rang in the audience and Blair quipped, "I hope that isn't the White House telling me they don't agree with that. They act very quickly, these guys."

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