WORLD / Middle East
Blair presses for rethink in Iraq, warns Iran(AFP)
Updated: 2006-11-14 09:01
LONDON - British Prime Minister Tony Blair called for a change in strategy in violence-torn Iraq, in particular warning Iran to stop aiding insurgents there and elsewhere.
In a keynote speech in London, he said the three-year-old conflict -- in which US and British troops appear increasingly mired -- needs to be seen as part of a "whole Middle East" strategy.
In advance of the speech, Blair's office had suggested he would focus his message on efforts to persuade Syria and Iran to help defuse the violence in Iraq, as well as elsewhere.
But the final version of the speech omitted almost all reference to Syria, while offering Iran a "strategic choice": essentially, help the West or face increasing isolation.
"There is a fundamental misunderstanding that this (strategy in the Middle East) is about changing policy on Syria and Iran ... in any event that is not where we start."
"On the contrary, a whole-region policy should start with Israel/Palestine. That is the core. We should then make progress on Lebanon. We should unite all moderate Arab and Muslim voices behind a push for peace in those countries but also in Iraq," he said.
In the wide-ranging address, he said a major part of the answer to the Iraq problem "lies not in Iraq itself but outside it, in the whole of the region where the same forces are at work."
"Just as it is, in significant part, forces outside Iraq that are trying to create mayhem inside Iraq, so we have to have a strategy that pins them back, not only in Iraq but outside of it too ...
"This is what I call a 'whole Middle East' strategy," he said.
Pressure for a change of direction in Iraq has been fueled by defeat for the Republican Party in last week's American mid-term elections, which led to the departure of Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and leaves Bush more vulnerable in Congress.
Speaking on Iran, Blair said Tehran's strategy was simple: to deflect pressure from the West over its nuclear plans -- which Washington suspects are a cover for developing atomic weapons -- it was helping extremists in Lebanon, Iraq, and in the Palestinian territories.
"It is a perfectly straightforward and clear strategy. It will only be defeated by an equally clear one," he said.
Under this, the West should "offer Iran a clear strategic choice: they help the Middle East peace process not hinder it; they stop supporting terrorism in Lebanon or Iraq; they abide by, not flout, their international obligations.
"In that case, a new partnership is possible. Or alternatively they face the consequences of not doing so: isolation," he said.
Blair's speech came a day before he is due to give video-link evidence to the Iraq Study Group, the bipartisan panel led by former US secretary of state James Baker, which is looking at current coalition policy in Iraq.
The British leader's testimony to the panel will come a day after the appearance of US President George W. Bush before the experts on Monday.
Speaking ahead of his testimony, Bush also warned the Iranians.
"It's very important for the world to unite with one common voice to say to the Iranians that, if you choose to continue forward, you'll be isolated," he said. "There has to be a consequence for their intransigence."