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Blair: Israel-Palestine, Iran Key to Middle East Peace

13 November 2006

British Prime Minister Tony Blair says resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is at the core of bringing peace to the Middle East and he is urging Iran to join in the effort to bring peace to the region.

Speaking at a gala dinner in London's historic Guildhall, Mr. Blair spoke of the threat of terrorism and accused internal and external elements of deliberately trying to drive Iraq toward civil war. He said the conflict in Iraq has evolved and so, he advocates, must the strategy to resolve it.

Part of the effort, he said, must be what he called a "whole Middle East" strategy, which focuses on relieving "pressure points" throughout the region. First and foremost, the prime minister said, is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"We should then make progress on Lebanon," said Tony Blair. "We should unite all moderate Arab and Muslim voices behind a push for peace in those countries but also in Iraq. We should be standing up for, empowering, respecting those with a moderate and modern view of the faith of Islam everywhere."

Mr. Blair accused Iran of using these "pressure points," to hinder any Middle East peace efforts. He said Iran is following a clear strategy that must be answered with an equally clear one.

"We offer Iran a clear strategic choice: they help the Middle East peace process not hinder it; they stop supporting terrorism in Lebanon or Iraq; they abide by it, not flout their international obligations. In that case, a new partnership is possible," he said. "Or, alternatively they face the consequences of not doing so: isolation."

Mr. Blair's speech did not indicate any dramatic shifts in policy, rather it reiterated much of what the prime minister has been saying for some time - that terrorism is the scourge of the 21st century, that it can only be fought globally and that ending the violence in Afghanistan and Iraq can best be done through a broader regional approach, in which nations such as Iran and Syria can play a positive role.

On Tuesday, Mr. Blair will likely take much the same message to the Americans, in a video-conference session, when he addresses the bipartisan U.S. Study Group on Iraq.

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