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UK's Blair says door open to Iran if it changes ways

November 18, 2006

UK's Blair says door open to Iran if it changes ways

By Adrian Croft

LONDON (Reuters) - British Prime Minister Tony Blair said on Friday the door was open to Iran if it wanted to be part of a constructive solution in the Middle East but pledged a tough line if Tehran rejected his overtures. 

Blair has challenged Iran and Syria to help stabilise Iraq as London and Washington review their strategy in the face of relentless bloodshed and growing opposition to their presence in Iraq. 

Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair arrives for the annual State Opening of Parliament ceremony in London November 15, 2006. Blair said on Friday the door was open to Iran if it wanted to be part of a constructive solution in the Middle East but pledged a tough line if Tehran rejected his overtures. (REUTERS/Toby Melville)
Blair denied in a television interview his new tone towards Iran and Syria amounted to appeasement. 

"I do not intend any message other than one of absolute strength in relation to Iran," Blair told al Jazeera's English-language channel. 

"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 terrorism, 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 solution in the Middle East, the door is open to you. It's your choice," he said. 

Britain and the United States are pushing for U.N. sanctions against Tehran over its nuclear programme and President George W. Bush has in the past spurned talking to Iran or Syria, accusing them of supporting terrorism. 

Blair said both Syria and Iran faced a strategic choice. 

"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... -- you are behaving in such a way that makes such a partnership impossible," he said. 

NEW IDEAS 

U.S. officials have said they are open to new ideas on Iraq after voter anger over the war led to the Democrats seizing control of both houses of Congress from Bush's Republicans in last week's elections. 

Blair dashed speculation of an early troop pullout. 

"We are not walking away from Iraq. We will stay for as long as the (Iraqi) government needs us to stay," he said. 

"Our task has got to be to stand up for the moderates and the democrats against the extremists and the sectarians. 

"It's a generational struggle. But if we walk away from it now, we will only have to confront it again later." 

Blair said that moving forward the Israeli-Palestine peace process was "the single most important objective for us" in terms of changing the climate in the Middle East. 

"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," he said. 

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