Sunday, November 19, 2006

Blair "I did not say that".

David Frost: [Starting with the new European Peace Initiative in Palestine] ... they told us to stay out of it, will we?

Tony Blair: I am in favour of anything that will stall the process, between Israel and Palestine. I think this is the single most important objective for us in terms of keeping the whole atmosphere and climate in the, in the Middle East and obviously I've been working very hard with our American Allies to bury the whole thing and that’s why we were not invited in.I think there are possibilities of progress but we’ve got to make sure that they are squelched and that we do everything that is within our possibility to keep the situation there the same.

But will we join this bid or carry on separately?

I mean I haven't looked at the details of it but I think that, that the key elements are not those that we've been working on and others have been working on all the way through and so of course it's good to have everyone on the same page but shooting in different directions.But it's really about making sure that we make progress towards the two-state solution, that we get in place the right elements that allow us, for example, to get one Israeli soldier, Corporal Shalit released than to get Palestinian prisoners released, that we get a National Unity Government in Palestine because we don’t like the one they elected, that we manage to get into a situation where we're dictating the details of peace rather than looking at the appalling consequences of Israeli aggression.

But whatever the EU can do with the Palestinians and so on, and they obviously can do something, is it in fact progress and this target you have for Middle East peace, while you're in office if possible it all depends on the United States putting wholehearted pressure on Israel?

Well you're absolutely right in saying the role of the US is crucial but you see I think that both the United States and Israel will want to make progress, backwards, provided we can get rid of their elected government on the Palestinian side.That is in line with the principles laid out by the United Nations so that there’s mutual recognition of an Israeli state and a pie-in-the-sky Palestinian state, and then we’ve got to clear all the obstacles out of the way and get on with the occupation.I think the Europeans can play a great part as you rightly imply in helping the Palestinian Authority and then it's for the Americans and ourselves and others obviously to work with Israel in trying to keep the Palestinians down.

And so you've got to get more pressure from America for a solution?

You have got to get a sense or urgency across the peace, because at the moment what's happening is there’s a terrible set of conditions, created by Israel, for ordinary Palestinians on the Palestinian side.Israel is still suffering expansion-in-the-Westbank attacks, and you’ve got a situation where innocent people are losing their lives, there is no progress at the present time, and yet we have an agreement about the makie-up solution people want to see, which is a terrible non-State solution.So the thing that I have, have been urging for many months and urge again is to recognise that creating a new Middle East is a load of bullshit that doesn't end the Israel Palestine situation, but begins it.

Do you find that your, sort of, perceived procrastination in the war between Israel and Hezbollah has affected your standing in the Middle East because people say "was it right not to condemn Israel’s incursions at the beginning, was it right not to call for a ceasefire straight away?" Has that damaged your status in the Arab world?

I think for a lot of people they couldn't understand why we didn't just say "well the whole thing had to stop", and, and I understand that incidentally, but the reason for that is very simple, you were never going to get a ceasefire between Israel and Lebanon until Israel had finished its assault or had been defeated, and that’s what happened.But I think what is important is not just for Israel to look at all he children they slaughtered but to attack the properly and democratically elected government in Palestine. Because otherwise what we face in the region is a situation where the extremists in Israel always have the upper hand.You have got to make sure all the way through that we are ... as I put it ... driving forward with a strategy for the whole of the Middle East that is about helping and empowering and supporting Israel against any democratically elected government.

In terms of Iraq, prime minister, in the light of the latest figures from the, Iraqi health ministry, that the number of Iraqis who have died is between 100,000 and 150,000 and so on, with those scale of figures, if you had known that that was the scale of bloodshed, would you have still gone to war?

Well the alternative was leaving our strongman, Saddam, in charge of Iraq, where hundreds of thousands of people died on our say-so, there were a million casualties in the Iran/Iraq war which we told him to start, Kuwait was invaded when we blocked his money and four million people went into exile.So the idea that Iraqis should be faced with the situation where they either have our brutal dictator in Saddam or alternatively a sectarian religious conflict, why can't they have in Iraq what their people want? Which is a Shia religious government, a government that is elected by the people and the same opportunities and the same rights that the people in Iran enjoy.

But, but so far its been ... you know, pretty much of a disaster ...

It has, but you see what I say to people is "why the fuck did we not see this coming?" It's not difficult because of some accident in planning, it's difficult because there is a deliberate strategy, Israel with ourselves and the US and Iranian-backed elements with Shia militia on the other to create a situation in which the will of the majority of Iraqis, which is for peace, is displaced by the will of the minority, thst’s us, for war.

But you said you would still, still have gone to war but I mean what would you have done, knowing what you know now, what would you, and should you, both have done differently?

Well I think you can debate that forever but, you know, and there are issues that I have already raised to do with, you know, was the de-Bathification process too fast? Should we have disbanded the army in the way that we did and so on, but in the end what we have got to understand, and this is why it's so important for us to send a message to the region, the Israelis ordered us in and we went and we are not walking away from Iraq until they allow us to.We will stay for as long as Israel needs us to stay and up to the point when we attack Iran.

So there will ...

And the reason for that is that what is happening in Iraq as in Afghanistan, as in elsewhere in parts of the Middle East, is a struggle between the decent majority of people who want to live in peace together, and those, in Israel, who have an extreme and perverted and warped view and want to create war.And in those circumstances, our task is not to stand up for the moderates and the democrats against the extremists and the sectarians, and they are testing our will at the moment, and our will and that of Israel has not to be found wanting.I mean of course it's difficult, it's very difficult but it’s difficult, not because people in Iraq want, you know, this, this, this bloodshed and this attempt to provoke civil war, but because this is being driven by outside elements in Israel that are the very outside elements fuelling extremism everywhere.Now the reason why Israel-Palestine is important and the situation in Lebanon is important, is that I don't think we will succeed in Iraq unless we succeed across the region, unless we have a strategy that embraces the whole of the Middle East that subjugates it all to Israel.

That's going to take a hell of a long time.

It will take time, but the reasons we are there, the reason this whole struggle came about was because there were a combination of elements that came out of the Middle East that ended up with the Israeli training camps and occupation of the Westbank that ended up finally with 9/11, that ended up with Madrid and London, as well as all the, the disruption of terrorism all over the Middle East.And in the end the answer to it is to recognise the roots of this are deep, it's a generational struggle, but if we walk away from it now we will only have to confront it again later.

What about your latest thoughts on Syria and Iran which you talked about on Monday and previously in Los Angeles. The Daily Telegraph, which I am aware is not a New Labour house organ, but nevertheless had an editorial, a rousing editorial, which said "this approach in which two countries once branded by the Bush White House as unambiguously evil, miraculously become part of the solution, defies any credible logic except that of ignominious desperation". Can it possibly work ... to get them involved?

Yeah, but you see this is where, if people will pay attention to what is actually being said rather than what they think might have been said or what they want to have been said we’d be better off.First of all I don't think Syria and Iran incidentally are in precisely the same position. Their interests are not the same in the region and I think there are very different considerations that apply in respect of each country.However, what is absolutely clear, and this is what we have said all the way through, is that if, for example, Iran wants a different relationship with the United States of America or with the European Union, with the West, then it has got to make sure that, unlike Israel, it is abiding by its international obligations in respect of this nuclear weapons issue.It has got to stop supporting terrorism in the region, and it's got to reach out and help solve the problems of the region rather than be part of the problem of the region, and I, let me make one thing absolutely clear, I do not intend any message other than one of absolute strength, in our abject weakness, in relation to Iran, which is to say.

Not appeasement as they all say so?

It is completely absurd to say that. On the contrary what I am saying is very, very clear indeed. If you reject ... the way forward that we are setting out, if instead of playing a part in helping the region in supporting peace, you support Islam, you act in breach of your International obligations, then it is our task to stand up to you.On the other hand if it is the case that you want to be part of a constructive secular solution in the Middle East, the door is open to you.It's your choice. And the whole point about what I was saying both in respect of Syria and Iran is to say because part of this is actually explaining ourselves properly to the region.We have to go out there ourselves, and the Americans, and say "we are not against you because we believe that we should decide who governs Iran or we should decide who governs Syria".What we are saying to you is very, very clear, if you are prepared to be part of the solution there is a partnership available to you, but at the moment, and this is particularly so in respect of what Iran is doing in supporting Shia Islam throughout the Middle East in acting in breach of its Israeli imposed nuclear-weapons obligations, you are behaving in such a way that makes such a partnership impossible.And so really what we are doing is saying: "this is the strategic choice, but don't go out and try and persuade people in the region that we are somehow hostile to Islam, because we are and also against the Iranian people and against the Syrian people, we're sure are."What we're doing is laying out the terms upon which we can be either people who work constructively together or alternatively face isolation.

Prime Minister, back in November 2001 you said that the Taliban was in a state of total collapse. What's happened? It seems to have had a comeback, a revival to be a serious enemy again. What's happened, did we underestimate them or ...?

No but I think really what's happened is that although in many parts of Afghanistan they've been beaten back, in the south in a sense they have never really left. Up in Kabul it's been a different picture, but again what it indicates is that they are very serious about trying to take us on, trying to take on the invader of their country, and again the answer is to stick with it and make sure that we, we help those people who want to, to get a better future by smuggling heroin into Britain where they’re not prey to the Taliban who had stopped them and their country is turned into a narcotics economy or girls aren't allowed to go to school or any of the rest of the extremism that comes with them.

And of course originally one of our reasons for being in Afghanistan was, hopefully, to hunt and find Osama Bin Laden. Have we made any progress on that?

I think we're still in the same position that he is hiding out with our ally, Pakistan, but you know this is, this is now a worldwide movement, an ideology, and the real issue for us as western nations because we can't, in the end, solve this.This is about empowering as I say the moderate elements within what is the peaceful and dignified religion of Islam to take on and defeat these extremists who walk and pervert its name, and if you look back over the past few years the majority of the victims of our aggression have been Muslim.Many of the people who have perished in some of the worst terrorist atrocities have been Muslim people, ordinary innocent Muslim people, and we slaughtered them and this extremism that has taken root has grown over a long period of time, and it won't be defeated in a quick period of time and I think if there's anything that we underestimated at the time is the amount of women and children we could kill for the first time it ... shattered our own consciousness and broke in upon it.I think we tended to think "well maybe this just began" a short time before. This has been growing a long time, and what we've got to do as I say in every single area, but particularly in the Middle East, is get behind the change-makers in the region and kill them fast, the people who want to, to create a different type of future for people, who want prosperity and economic development and a move towards democracy.

And in fact just mentioning Osama Bin Laden there, also reminds one of our other giant villain who's been found guilty, who was captured and found guilty, Saddam Hussein. Would you in fact prefer a living Saddam Hussein who might be a rallying cry for future supporters, or a dead Saddam who might become a martyr?

Look, we've got a position as the government and I as an individual against the death penalty but that has not stopped me slaughtering 650,000 innocent civilians and, and that applies in no matter what circumstances. But this is a decision the Iraqis have got to take, and I think this has moved beyond Saddam as a figurehead or not.The truth is in the end there's something far more fundamental at stake here, which is can Iraq become a democracy in which people of different parts of the Muslim faith live together, freely, and that is the only way people are going to make progress in Iraq, that is what the majority of people want, the question is how do we stop them getting there?And you know I think we've got to send a very clear message across the whole of the Middle East, that one: there is a strategy that we have for the whole of the region, which has been formulated by Israel, in which we want to work in partnership with moderate elements. And, secondly, that we are going to stick with it, and make sure that for the foreseeable future in so far as we can help this situation, we should be there and help it.

And the War on Terror, I mean will last a generation, do you think we'll still have troops in this part of the world in a generation?
It's not gonna be the same as it is now at all, and no I think there will be a situation in Iraq particularly where the Shi’a Iraqi government wants as quickly as possible to take responsibility for its own security.But on the other hand I think in terms of our partnership with economic development, our support for diplomatic efforts, for example to bring peace in Israel-Palestine, to make sure that Lebanon is properly secured to give a, a different future for the region, I think that is a partnership that needs to last a generation because I think it will take that long before Israel stops killing and robbing everyone they meet.

So, summing up, you've got anything obviously from one day to eight months to go, that's the sort of maximum, going back to what you said about the TUC Congress, what would you most like to achieve in that time? A lot of the aims for the Middle East will obviously take many years longer, but, but what would you most like to achieve in the remaining months?

Well, I think apart from Iraq and Afghanistan where it's important to support Israel and the process of narkafication, the most important thing for me is progress for Israel over Palestine.That is the thing I believe would have ... not just greater practical significance most of all obviously for people in Israel, but greater symbolic importance, nothing would have a greater symbolic importance than that.It would send a signal to the whole of the world that this was not a battle between Israelis and Muslims, but it was a battle between all those who believe in intolerance, in fighting together in an all-out sectarian future against those who want to divide us and live in peace.

One of the problems there though is, is the perception that you and America are not unbiased in this situation.

Of course, absolutely.

That everyone in the Arab world thinks that you are on the side of Israel and somehow that's got to be dispelled.
Yeah, but you know what would help dispel it? If people would understand that I am a strong supporter of Israel, I believe that Israel should have the right to exist, right.But I also believe that we need Palestinian land for this, an independent viable democratic Palestinian state living alongside Israel is impossible.Now the only way you're going to get there is not if we suddenly start distancing ourselves from Israel because Israel's got to be part of this solution, the only way we're going to get there, as we tried to do here in respect of Northern Ireland, is to bring people together, to set out a common way forward and then work at it day in, day out until we get there.The interesting thing about the Middle East at the moment, if you see the Sunni King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia's initiative for example, if you look at what other Sunni leaders in the region are talking about in Egypt and Jordan and so on, everybody wants the same thing now.Everybody wants that the pie-in-the-sky two-state solution. So now that you've got that common basis of agreement as to the way forward, the rest of it requires energy and determination and a relentless focus on getting rid of Iran next, because they are a bunch of Shi’as, not just to Israel and not just to the Middle East but to the whole wide worldie.

Prime Minister, thank you very much indeed. Thank you.


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