Blair says Iran is main foe

(AP)
Updated: 2006-12-21 09:40

ByDUBAI, United Arab Emirates - British Prime Minister Tony Blair wrapped up a Middle East tour Wednesday with a blunt speech warning that the world faces a monumental struggle between moderates and extremists - and labeling Iran the main obstacle to hopes for peace.

Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair, left, talks to Sheik Ahmed Bin Saeed Al Maktoum, second left, as he walks to his plane at Dubai airport in Dubai, UAE, Dec. 20, 2006.
Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair, left, talks to Sheik Ahmed Bin Saeed Al Maktoum, second left, as he walks to his plane at Dubai airport in Dubai, UAE, Dec. 20, 2006. [AP]

In an address to business leaders and journalists in Dubai, Blair said combating extremism and the violence it foments was the greatest challenge of the 21st century. He said the lesson he had drawn from his five-day Mideast trip was "startlingly real, clear and menacing."

"There is a monumental struggle going on worldwide between those who believe in democracy and moderation, and forces of reaction and extremism," Blair said.

"We have to wake up. These forces of extremism - based on a warped and wrongheaded misinterpretation of Islam - aren't fighting a conventional war. But they are fighting one, against us - and us is not just the West, still less simply America and its allies," Blair said.

"We must therefore mobilize our alliance of moderation in the region and outside of it to defeat the extremists."

Blair has repeated that message throughout his trip - in Turkey, Egypt, Iraq, Israel, the Palestinian territories and the United Arab Emirates.

He identified his chief foe in the region - the government of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Iran is a sponsor of the Palestinian militant group Hamas and Lebanon's Hezbollah. Western countries claim Tehran is seeking to develop nuclear weapons, and Blair has accused Iran of backing Shiite insurgents in Iraq.

Blair said there were "elements of the government of Iran, openly supporting terrorism in Iraq to stop a fledgling democratic process; trying to turn out a democratic government in Lebanon; flaunting the international community's desire for peace in Palestine at the same time as denying the Holocaust and trying to acquire nuclear weapons capability; and yet a large part of world opinion is frankly almost indifferent. It would be bizarre if it weren't deadly serious.


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