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(photo credit: AP [file])
The war on "global terrorism" will be won by the West only when there is peace between Israel and the Palestinians, British prime minister Tony Blair told the Lord Mayor's banquet at the Guildhall in London on Monday night.
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In a major foreign policy address, Blair rejected calls for Britain to pull back from its "special relationship" with the United States or to distance itself from the European Union. He also laid out his government's policies of support for the fledgling Iraqi government in its battle with internal and external aggressors.
But the prime minister placed Israel as the axis of his government's foreign policy, stating that for a lasting peace to come to the Middle East, the conflict between the Palestinians and Israel must be addressed first.
"A major part of the answer to Iraq lies not in Iraq itself but outside of it, in the whole of the region where the same forces are at work, where the roots of this global terrorism are to be found, where the extremism flourishes with a propaganda that may be, indeed is, totally false, but is, nonetheless, attractive to much of the Arab street," the prime minister said.
"That is what I call a 'whole Middle East' strategy," he explained.
"There is a fundamental misunderstanding that this is about changing policy on Syria and Iran. First, those two countries do not at all share identical interests. But in any event that is not where we start."
"On the contrary, we should start with Israel/Palestine. That is the core," the prime minister said.
Blair's speech does not indicate a change in his government's policies, his spokesman said Monday, and was consistent with his July foreign policy address in Los Angeles that called for a "re-appraisal" of current strategies and to "bend every sinew of our will to make peace between Palestine and Israel."
"Just as the situation is evolving, so our strategy should evolve to meet it," Blair said on Monday night.
The changing political climate in Washington, with the loss of Congress by the Republicans to the opposition Democrats, may present an opening for Blair's call for a tactical engagement with Iran and Syria while pursuing a strategic resolution to the Israel/Palestine conflict, to take the upper hand in Anglo-American Middle East policy.
On Monday night the prime minister, for the first time, ruled out using force against Iran, stating Teheran had "a genuine, if entirely misplaced fear, that the US seeks a military solution in Iran. They don't." Iran was engaged in a "perfectly straightforward and clear strategy," Blair said.
In response to Western pressure to abandon its "nuclear weapons ambitions," it was "using the pressure points in the region to thwart us. So they help the most extreme elements of Hamas in Palestine; Hizbullah in Lebanon; Shia militia in Iraq," he said.
"That way, they put obstacles in the path to peace, paint us, as they did over the Israel/Lebanon conflict, as the aggressors, inflame the Arab street and create political turmoil in our democratic politics," Blair said.
The Anglo-American response was also "clear": to "relieve these pressure points one by one" and from "a position of strength to talk" with Iran.
The West will offer "Iran a clear strategic choice: they help the Middle East peace process not hinder it; they stop supporting terrorism in Lebanon or Iraq; and they abide by, not flout, their international obligations." If Iran agreed, a "new partnership" with Britain and the US would arise; if not, it would face "isolation", Blair said.
On Monday US President George W. Bush echoed Blair's warning of isolating Iran if it failed to make a wise choice. In comments made before the Guildhall speech, President Bush told reporters following his meeting with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that "it's very important for the world to unite to say to the Iranians if you choose to continue to move forward you will be isolated."
However, hopes for an early rapprochement with Iran were chilled Tuesday by a report in the Daily Telegraph that stated Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was seeking to pull al-Qaida into Teheran's orbit by promoting pro-Iranian militants into the terrorist group's senior leadership.
The Telegraph stated that Iran was trying to place Saif al-Adel, a 46-year-old former Egyptian army colonel, currently living in Teheran, in the organizations number three slot.
In his Guildhall speech, Blair acknowledged Iran's part in destabilizing Iraq, saying the bomb which killed British soldiers last weekend was "a cruel and wicked reminder" that the terrorism there is designed to stop democracy flourishing in the Middle East.
However, "the basic point" of his address, he said was "that whether in Iraq, or Afghanistan or indeed combating terrorism here, these battles are inextricably bound together. It is a global issue. It needs a global response," Blair said.