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The US government has failed to produce a coherent foreign policy, undermined the fight against terrorism and impeded the search for peace in the Middle East, an outspoken member of Prime Minister Tony Blair's Cabinet said in an interview published Thursday.
Peter Hain, Blair's Northern Ireland secretary, departed markedly from the prime minister's support for US President George W. Bush and declared that the American leader's "neo-con mission has failed."
"The problem for us as a government ... was actually to maintain a working relationship with what was the most right-wing American administration, if not ever, then in living memory," Hain was quoted as saying.
"It's not only failed to provide a coherent international policy, it's failed wherever it's been tried, and it's failed with the American electorate ...
"So if neo-con unilateralism has damaged the fight against global terrorism and taken the world's eyes off the ball of solving the Middle East conflict, for example, we've got to really get back on that agenda," Hain was quoted as saying.
Hain, 56, has declared his candidacy to be deputy leader of Blair's Labour Party whenever Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott resigns from the post. He's expected to do so when Blair steps down sometime this year.
In a variety of roles in Blair's government, Hain has made a reputation for sometimes saying what he thinks rather than hewing closely to government policy.
Blair's official spokesman declined to comment on Hain's latest remarks.
"I have to recognize that Cabinet ministers are also party members, party figures and they make statements in that context, which I don't comment on," the spokesman said on condition of anonymity in line with government rules.
Hain said he was delighted by the results of the November elections in the United States, when the Democratic Party gained control of both houses of Congress.
"Our sister party is the Democratic Party, so for me the results in November were fantastic," said Hain.
"People forget that it wasn't just due to Iraq that the Republicans lost. It was also the fact that they had damaged middle- and low-income earners, their standard of living, quite seriously. ... I think the neo-con agenda for America has been rejected by the people and I hope that will be the case for the future."
In 2003, the Foreign Office blocked Hain from giving a speech in which he criticized the Bush government, but not before a draft had been circulated to the media.
"American-style free-marketism may have delivered higher productivity and growth in the US, but at a cost of poor public services, low social standards, weak communities, rising violence and high poverty. That's not an agenda for a progressive Europe," Hain's draft said.
Born in Nairobi, Kenya, and raised in South Africa, Hain differs from some of his Labour colleagues in not abandoning his youthful bent for speaking out. He first grabbed attention leading protests against South African rugby and cricket tours in 1969 and 1970.
In 1976 he was put on trial on a charge of bank robbery but was acquitted. Hain insisted he was framed by South African intelligence agents.