Blair wants Syria, Iran to help on Iraq


  • World
  • Monday, 13 Nov 2006

By Katherine Baldwin

LONDON (Reuters) - British Prime Minister Tony Blair will call on Monday for Iran and Syria to back efforts to stop violence in Iraq as Washington and London review their strategy in response to growing opposition to their involvement there. 

Blair will argue the need for what he calls a "whole Middle East" strategy in which Damascus and Tehran help to crack down on terrorism in Iraq and the broader region. 

Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair places his wreath during the Remembrance Sunday service at the Cenotaph in Whitehall, London, November 12, 2006. (REUTERS/Stephen Hird)

"Just as the situation (in Iraq) is evolving, so our strategy should evolve to meet it," Blair will say in an annual foreign policy speech later on Monday, according to the text of the address. 

He will say Britain's policy on Syria and Iran has not changed: they must both renounce terrorism and in the case of Tehran, its nuclear ambitions. 

But Blair's official spokesman said the timing of his message was crucial, given "a recalibration of the American view" following last week's mid-term elections in the United States in which the Democrats seized both houses of Congress. 

President George W. Bush in the past has spurned engaging Iran and Syria and, only on Saturday, the White House branded Iran as part of a "global nexus of terrorism". 

But U.S. officials now say they are open to all new ideas on Iraq following the Republican Party's poll rout. 

Iran said on Monday it was ready to consider any official U.S. request to hold talks. "If they really want to hold talks with Iran, they should officially propose it and then Iran will review it," Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini told Reuters. 

However, diplomats said it would be difficult for the United States and Britain to seek Iranian help over Iraq at the same time as they are pushing for United Nations' sanctions against Tehran over its nuclear programme. 

ISOLATION 

Blair will say a broad strategy for the region must start with addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

Then Iran should be given a "strategic choice": "they stop supporting terrorism in Lebanon or Iraq; and they abide by, not flout, their international obligations," Blair will say. "In that case, a new partnership is possible." 

The consequences of not doing so are "isolation", he will add. Syria faces a similar choice, Blair's spokesman said. 

Australian Prime Minister John Howard, a staunch U.S. ally, said on Monday he was in favour of talking to countries such as Syria and Iran about ending violence in Iraq. 

Any U.S. and British overtures to Iran would risk getting mixed up with their dispute over Tehran's nuclear programme, which the West suspects is designed to produce atomic weapons but Tehran insists is for electricity generation. 

A British government source said the Iraq and nuclear issues were separate. "We are trying to impress on Iran that a stable Iraq is to (its) benefit. The nuclear issue is ongoing and that's got to be addressed separately. You can't simply stop discussion of any other topics," the source said. 

The Democrats are pledging a push to begin withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq in the next few months. Blair also faces demands to set a timetable for withdrawal of British troops. 

Blair, whose popularity has been undermined by his support for the invasion, will address a U.S. bipartisan panel exploring alternative strategies on Iraq by video link on Tuesday. 

Engaging with Syria and Iran on Iraq is an idea favoured by some members of the panel. 

(Additional reporting by Sophie Walker and Adrian Croft in London, Mark John in Brussels, Tabassum Zakaria in Washington and Michael Perry in Sydney) 

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