Bloomberg : Prime Minister Tony Blair denied he is appeasing Iran by calling for diplomatic engagement across the Middle East, saying he won’t back down on the issues of nuclear weapons or terrorism. By Mark Deen
Bloomberg — Prime Minister Tony Blair denied he is appeasing Iran by calling for diplomatic engagement across the Middle East, saying he won’t back down on the issues of nuclear weapons or terrorism.
“I do not intend any message other than one of absolute strength in relation to Iran,” Blair said in an interview on Al Jazeera television in London.
Blair, faced with mounting calls to detail an exit strategy from Iraq, this week endorsed the idea of talks with neighboring Syria and Iran as a way to a broader settlement to unrest in the region. Such talks can only be held once Iran allays concern it is developing nuclear weapons and stops supporting terrorists, he said.
The message to Iran is that “if you reject the way forward that we are setting out, if instead of supporting peace, you support terrorism, then it is our task to stand up to you,” Blair said. “If it is the case that you want to be part of the solution in the Middle East, then the door is open to you.”
President George W. Bush has said any move by Iran to engage the U.S. on quelling sectarian strife in Iraq must be preceded by the Iranian government giving up efforts to enrich uranium.
Two weeks ago Blair sent Nigel Sheinwald, one of his top foreign policy advisers, to meet Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Syria, which borders Iraq and Lebanon, is under U.S. sanctions for refusing to sign a peace treaty with Israel. Assad says the country will only sign a peace accord in return for the Golan Heights, captured by Israel in the 1967 Six Day war.
`Not Walking Away’
Former Secretary of State James Baker, co-chairman of the panel reviewing American policy in Iraq, met with Syrian officials to urge their cooperation in quelling the violent insurgency, Syria’s envoy to the U.S. said.
Blair today defended his support for the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq, saying there’s no question of withdrawing troops until Iraqi security forces are ready to take over.
“ We are not walking away from Iraq,” Blair said. “We will stay for as long as the government needs us to stay. We have to stand up for moderates. They are testing our will at the moment and our will has not to be found wanting. It’s very difficult at the moment.”
Blair also denied his refusal to condemn the Israeli bombardment of Lebanon has damaged his efforts to negotiate peace in the Middle East.
Moving towards peace between Israelis and Palestinians is his highest priority during his remaining months in office, he said.
“Nothing would have a greater symbolic importance than that,” he said. “It would send a signal to the whole of the world that it is not a battle between Western and Christian and Muslim but all those who believe in tolerance, living together in harmony, a non-sectarian future against those who want to divide us.”
Blair said he had not examined the details of Spanish-led proposals for ending the conflict, but that he is “in favor of anything that moves the process forward.”