Blair Calls for 'Whole Middle East' Strategy, Pressure on Iran

By Kevin Sullivan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, November 14, 2006

LONDON, Nov. 13 -- Prime Minister Tony Blair said Monday that any solution to the Iraq crisis must involve a "whole Middle East" strategy that starts with addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and includes pressuring Iran to stop backing radical extremists across the region.

"Just as the situation is evolving, so our strategy has to evolve to meet it," Blair said in a foreign policy speech a day before he was to share his views in a videoconference with the Iraq Study Group, which is reviewing U.S. policy in Iraq.

Blair, who has been President Bush's chief foreign ally in the Iraq war, offered no dramatic new policy proposals on Iraq or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which he called the region's "core" issue.

But he placed new emphasis on the importance of confronting outside elements -- he singled out at length the government in Iran -- that are "trying to create mayhem inside Iraq."

"A major part of the answer to Iraq lies not in Iraq itself but outside it," Blair said during the speech at London's ornate Guildhall. He said Iraq policy must address the broader issue of a global anti-Western campaign of "terrorism based on a thoroughly warped misinterpretation of Islam."

"In Iraq, the pressure from such terrorism has changed the nature of the battle. Its purpose is now plain: to provoke civil war," Blair said, adding that Iran, al-Qaeda and other outside extremists were joining forces with Iraqi radicals to "foment hatred" and choke off development of Iraq's democratically elected government.

Blair said Iran was backing Shiite militias in Iraq, Hezbollah in Lebanon and the most radical elements of Hamas in the Palestinian territories. He said Iran was "using the pressure points in the region to thwart us."

"What is happening in the Middle East is not complex," Blair said. "It is simple. Iran is being confronted over its nuclear weapons ambitions. Its stock market has lost a third of its value in the last year, and foreign credit is increasingly hard to come by. The statements of the president -- such as wiping Israel from the face of the earth -- are causing alarm, even in Iran."

He said Iran's strategy has been to "put obstacles in the path to peace and paint us -- as they did over the Israel-Lebanon conflict -- as the aggressors. They inflame the Arab street. They create political turmoil in our democratic politics."

Blair said "a new partnership is possible" with Iran if it supports the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, stops supporting extremists and cooperates with U.N. demands to curb its nuclear ambitions.

"Alternatively, they face the consequences of not doing so -- isolation," Blair said.

Blair passionately defended his close alliance with Bush and the United States, which has severely damaged his popularity among the British public.

"We need America. That is a fact," he said, calling Britain's partnerships with the United States and the European Union crucial to the country's future strength.

"Take any problem Britain wants solving: global terrorism (assuming you don't believe that, but for George Bush, it wouldn't exist); climate change; Israel-Palestine; Iran and North Korea's nuclear program; world trade; or Africa right now, Sudan in particular; global poverty. We may agree or disagree with the United States' position on some or all of these issues. But none of these vital British concerns can be addressed, let alone solved, without America."

Blair also defended Bush, who is wildly unpopular in Britain. He said some in Britain profess that it is not America they dislike, but Bush personally.

"That's a comforting argument. It separates anti-America from anti-Bush," Blair said. "However, in my view it is also a cop-out."

He said the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks "would have changed any American president's foreign policy."

"Following 9/11, American policy was going to shift," he said. "It was going to get out after the terrorists with all America's might, and any president who didn't do it wasn't going to be president for long."

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