Blair expected to stand by US in continuing Iraq, Mideast issues

PM spokeman: Britain was willing to talk with Iran, but conversation must be "constructive."

blair 298.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
blair 298.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
UK Prime Minister Tony Blair was due to lay out his government's hopes for the future of Iraq and the Middle East and was expected to call for Britain and America to maintain their "special relationship" in a speech Monday evening at the Guildhall in London. At a 10 Downing Street press briefing before the speech, the prime minister's official spokesman said Blair would argue the "surest route to the destruction of our true national interest" was for Britain to fall victim to "anti-Americanism or Euro-skepticism." Blair's speech comes one day before he testifies in front of the Iraq Study Group, a US panel led by former secretary of state James Baker tasked with reviewing US policies in the Middle East, and less than a week after American voters turned out the Republican majorities in the House and Senate in part over disquiet over the conduct of the war. Backbench MPs in Blair's Labor Party and leaders of the opposition Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties have attacked the prime minister for the joint Anglo-American Middle East policy which they say has failed to bring stability to the region. The prime minister's spokesman said Blair would explain his government's stance of giving "equal weight to its relationship with America as with the EU" and would reject opposition calls for an "isolationist foreign policy." He stated Blair would say, "When people say, 'yes, but we want a British foreign policy,' I say, of course we do, but in today's world, a foreign policy based on strong alliances is the only British policy which works." The prime minister will also discuss the conflict in Iraq and the steps needed to bring peace to the region. However, the spokesman stated the "heart" of the prime minister's analysis of the Middle East was "the need for peace involving Palestine and Israel and the drive for a settlement there." In response to reporters' questions about Iran and Syria's attempts at destabilizing the region, the spokesman noted the West would put a strategic choice to Iran and Syria as to whether they played a positive or negative role in the peace process. "Did they continue to try to undermine the Lebanese Government, or support it as a sovereign country, and what was their attitude to Israel? Did they continue to support terrorism?" the spokesman said, but added that no deadline would be given for a response. Asked what Britain would do if Syria and Iran refused to participate in the peace process, the spokesman said they would "remain outside the international pale," and the "development of their countries will remain as they have been, hampered by that." Britain was willing to talk with Iran, the spokesman said, but the conversation must be on the "constructive" role Teheran could play in the region. Defense Secretary Des Browne told the BBC on Monday that while Britain had "been calling on Iran and Syria to do more to stop the flow into Iraq of foreign fighters, bomb-making equipment and know-how," it would "continue to talk to all of Iraq's neighbors and to make clear the importance of a solution in Iraq in a regional context." On Sunday, US President George W. Bush's Chief of Staff Josh Bolten stated the US might reverse course and possibly explore direct talks with Iran and Syria if the Iraq Study Group offered such a recommendation.