Wed, Nov 15, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Blair urges US to shift focus to Israel-Palestine

THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

British Prime Minister Tony Blair gives a speech at the Lord Mayor's Banquet in London late on Monday. Blair said the West should press Iran to help stem bloodshed in neighboring Iraq and build stability across the Middle East in a major foreign policy speech.

PHOTO: AP

British Prime Minister Tony Blair made an open plea on Monday to US President George W. Bush to recognize that a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict lies at the core of any hopes for wider peace in the Middle East, including Iraq.

In his annual foreign policy speech, seen as a chance to recalibrate Britain's Iraq strategy, Blair said a solution to the conflict was central to a strategy that "pins back the forces trying to create mayhem inside Iraq."

Blair, famously cautious about pressing the Republican administration in public, is trying to seize the rare indecision in Washington in response to the Democrat victories to persuade the White House to acknowledge the central importance of the Palestinian peace process.

Blair is working towards a regional Middle East peace conference, but many of his advisers question whether Bush has the political will to make a renewed effort on Palestine.

"A major part of the answer to Iraq lies not in Iraq itself, but outside it, in the whole region where the same forces are at work, where the extremism flourishes with a propaganda that may be -- indeed is -- totally false, but is none the less attractive to much of the Arab street," Blair said in his speech at the Guildhall in London.

"We should start with Israel-Palestine. That is the core. We should then make progress on Lebanon. We should unite all Arab and Muslim voices behind a push for peace in those countries but also in Iraq," he said.

Blair insisted that the West should not talk to Iran or Syria at any price.

He repeatedly condemned Iran's posture, saying "they are using pressure points in the region to thwart us. So they help the most extreme elements of Hamas in Palestine, Hezbollah in the Lebanon, Shia militia in Iraq."

Blair's speech came as the British military in Iraq studied any Iranian role in the killing of four British soldiers on boat patrol on Sunday. Three other servicemen were seriously injured in the attack.

Their patrol craft had just emerged from under a bridge on the Shatt al-Arab waterway when it was hit by an improvised explosive device placed on the bank. As the boat headed for the second bridge, there was a large explosion.

"What caused it we do not know," one official said.

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