Daily Telegraph: Tony Blair was accused by Iran last night of fuelling hatred across the Middle East after he called on moderate Muslim nations to unite against Teheran over its “open support” for extremists in Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories.
The Daily Telegraph
By Toby Helm in Dubai
Tony Blair was accused by Iran last night of fuelling hatred across the Middle East after he called on moderate Muslim nations to unite against Teheran over its “open support” for extremists in Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories.
The Iranian foreign ministry issued a furious response, claiming Mr Blair was promoting disunity among friendly nations in the region.
“The negative and divisive approaches of the British and the unilateral war mongering policies of Blair and Bush are factors of tension and extremism in the region and will spark hatred from the region’s public” said Mohammad Ali Hosseini, the spokesman for the Iranian foreign ministry.
On Tuesday Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the hard-line Iranian president, predicted that Britain, Israel and the United States would eventually disappear, like the Egyptian pharaohs.
“Any power that is close to God will survive while the powers who are far from God will disappear like the pharaohs,” he said, according to Iranian news agencies.
Speaking as he ended a five day tour of the Middle East aimed at cementing a moderate, mainly Sunni Muslim alliance, Mr Blair accused Iran of being an obstacle to peace in the region.
The Prime Minister, addressing businessmen in Dubai, said it was time for world opinion to “wake up” to the urgent threat posed by Iran and abandon an “indifference” that to extremism that “would be bizarre if it weren’t deadly serious.”
“We must recognise the strategic challenge the government of Iran poses, not its people, not possibly all of its ruling elements but those presently in charge of its policy,” Mr Blair said.
“They seek to pin us back in Lebanon, in Iraq, in Palestine. Our response should be to expose what they are doing, build up alliances to prevent it and pin them back across the whole of the region.”
As well as Iran’s nuclear programme, Blair is concerned about suspected Iranian backing for Shia militias fighting British forces in southern Iraq plus its support for the ruling Islamists in the Palestinian territories.
The attack by Teheran on Mr Blair followed claims that he had been “brainwashed” by President Bush into dropping plans to setting a timetable for troop withdrawal from Iraq.
Tareq al-Hashemi, Iraq’s vice President, suggested Mr Blair had supported his idea of announcing a timetable for pulling out Britain’s 7,000 forces in the country, but then changed his mind after discussing it with the US President.
Speaking in New York, Mr Hashemi said: “It is quite unfortunate that your president made a sort of blackmail out of Mr Blair.”
He later told the BBC: “I think he (Mr Blair) discovered that Mr Bush is still adamant that he’s not going to declare some sort of timetable for withdrawal to avoid passing wrong messages to terrorism.”
During a visit to Baghdad and Basra on Sunday, Mr Blair gave British troops no hint that they would be withdrawn soon, despite recent statements from ministers that the intention is to pull back many of the British troops to bases away from the front line and start drawing down numbers by spring next year.
At every stage of his tour which took in Turkey, Egypt, Israel, Palestine and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Mr Blair stressed the need for moderate nations to join an “alliance of moderation” against those who foment reaction and extremism.
He cited the oil-rich UAE – which was making initial steps to democracy and enjoying extradorinary levels of economic prosperity – an example to its neighbours of what could be achieved by supporting moderation.