Tony Blair: West must prepare to confront Iran

The Quartet representative to the Middle East says he can see the "impact and the influence of Iran everywhere.

January 22, 2011 12:01
Quartet envoy to the Middle East Tony Blair.

tony blair 311. (photo credit: AP)

The West should stop its apologetic policy toward Iran and be prepared to use force if necessary to halt Teheran’s nuclear program as well as its destabilizing activities and support of terrorist groups, former British prime minister Tony Blair said on Friday in an impassioned appearance before a British investigative panel on the Iraq War.

“I say this to you with all the passion I possibly can,” said Blair, who was making his second appearance before the panel led by Sir John Chilcot. “The West has to get out of this – what I think is a wretched policy, or posture of apology, for believing that we are causing what the Iranians are doing, or what these extremists are doing. We are not [causing this].

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“The fact is that they are doing it because they disagree fundamentally with our way of life, and they will carry on doing it unless they are met with the requisite determination and, if necessary, force.”

He spoke a day before Saturday’s failed talks between the so-called P5+1 – England, France, Germany, the United States, Russia and China – and Iran in Turkey.

The countries had put offers of confidence-building steps on the table that they hoped Iran would seize.

These included an updated deal over a nuclear fuel exchange program agreed between the sides in 2009 but never implemented, and a better means of monitoring Iran’s nuclear activities.

But the two days of negotiations ended Saturday without any progress. No date was scheduled for a new round of talks.

In Jerusalem, the Prime Minister’s Office had no response to the breakdown of the talks, or to Blair’s statements.

But an Israeli official noted that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu had said on a number of occasions that a military option with respect to Iran should be on the table.

Netanyahu is of the opinion that for Iran’s nuclear program to be halted, Teheran must believe there is a credible military option, the official told The Jerusalem Post.

In his testimony Friday, Blair, who is the Quartet envoy to the region, said he spends a great deal of time in the Middle East, where he sees Iran’s impact and influence everywhere.

“It is negative [and] destabilizing.

It is supportive of terrorist groups. It is doing everything it can to impede progress in the Middle East peace process and to facilitate a situation in which that region cannot embark on the process of modernization it urgently needs,” he said.

In March 2009, US President Barack Obama delivered a speech in Cairo, “in the heart of Islam,” in which he made an overture to Iran, said Blair.

Obama told Iran: “I am now offering the hand of friendship. You, Iran can come into partnership. You are an ancient, proud civilization.

We will welcome you in,” recalled Blair.

“What’s the response he gets? They carry on with the terrorism. They carry on with the destabilization. They carry on with the nuclear weapons program. At some point we have to get our heads out of the sand and understand they are going to carry on with this,” said Blair.

Asked by Sir Roderic Lyne if the West’s military invasion of Iraq sent a signal to Iran not to develop its own nuclear weapons, Blairreplied, “Obviously, it sent a signal to everyone.”

“Well, how did the Iranians react?” asked Lyne.

“Initially they felt that pressure, now they don’t feel the same pressure,” Blair responded.

The bulk of Blair’s testimony Friday, however, dealt with Britain’s involvement in the war in Iraq.

Britain’s inquiry won’t apportion blame, or establish criminal or civil liability. Its recommendations, expected by the end of the year, will focus instead on how better to handle situations like the tense runup to the war, and the bloody attempt at nation-building that followed.

Earlier this week, British authorities refused to publish notes – seen by the panel – detailing discussions between Blair and former US president George W. Bush.

Blair insisted the decision had been made because leaders “have to be able to communicate in confidence,” rather than to hide evidence of any pact.

“I was telling Bush, you can count on us, we’re going to be with you in tackling this, but here are the difficulties,” Blair said.

Blair largely deflected questions over apparent inconsistencies in his earlier evidence.

He acknowledged that in phone calls and messages in 2002 – months before Parliament approved Britain’s role in the conflict – he had reassured Bush, telling him: “You can count on us.” Alongside his evidence, the inquiry published a previously unseen 2002 memo from Blair to his chief of staff, in which the leader called for a “gung-ho” approach toward Saddam Hussein’s regime.

Critics of the war hope the inquiry will conclude that Blair had been determined to back the US invasion, whether or not it was supported by the public, Parliament or legal opinion.

Following his initial hearing, Blair was sharply criticized for suggesting he had no regrets over the decision to join the 2003 US-led invasion.

“That was taken as my meaning, that I had no regrets about the loss of life,” Blair said Friday, his voice faltering with apparent emotion.

“I want to make it clear that of course I regret deeply and profoundly the loss of life, whether from our own armed forces, those of other nations, the civilians who helped people in Iraq, or the Iraqis themselves,” he said.

Some bereaved relatives heckled the former prime minister as he expressed his remorse.

Members of the audience shouted: “Too late, too late,” while two women turned their backs on Blair, then walked out. An official brought tissues into the hearing for another woman who burst into tears.

“Your lies killed my son – I hope you can live with yourself!” Rose Gentle, whose 19- year-old son Gordon was killed while serving in Basra, southern Iraq, in 2006, shouted as Blair completed about four hours of testimony.

“You’re a disgrace to your office and our country!” Reg Keys, whose son was killed in 2003, shouted as Blair left.

A note prepared by a senior adviser in December 2001 – and published Friday – warned Blair that the legal case for military action would be “threadbare.”

In the newly published March 2002 memo to his chief of staff, Jonathan Powell, Blair – aware that the United States was pushing the case for regime change – said Britain “should be gungho on Saddam.” But he acknowledged it would be difficult to convince skeptics, and said that Iraq’s weapons program – later to become a key justification for military action – didn’t “seem obviously worse than three years ago.”

“The persuasion job on this seems very tough. My own side are worried. Public opinion is fragile. International opinion – as I found at the EU – is pretty skeptical,” Blair wrote.

“People believe we are only doing it to support the US, and they are only doing it to settle an old score,” he wrote.

Blair’s administration has been repeatedly criticized for allegedly overstating the case for war. In his note, the exleader told Powell: “We have to reorder our story and message,” in order to sway opinion.

Hilary Leila Krieger and AP contributed to this report.

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