Listen to the world's fears, Blair tells US
Michael White and Ewen MacAskill
Wednesday January 8, 2003
Tony Blair yesterday warned President George Bush to "listen back" to the international community's fears over Iraq and other global concerns or risk "pent-up feelings of injustice and alienation" pushing mainstream world opinion into the anti-US corner.
In a major foreign policy speech, the prime minister made an ambitious bid to woo sceptics about the looming war with Iraq at the same time as he reminded Washington that global interdependence must work both ways if progress is not to be overwhelmed by "the common threat of chaos".
That chaos, threatening to replace reform with "change through disorder", could be triggered by rogue states or by terrorist acts that deliberately pit nations against each other, he predicted - a clear reference to al-Qaida's hopes of fomenting a clash between Islam and the west.
Affirming the bridge-building role which Britain has tried to sustain since 1945, Mr Blair then delivered a warning to the US about what might happen if chaos engulfs the "shared agenda" that has emerged since the cold war ended. "It can come from the world splitting into rival poles of power; the US in one corner; anti-US forces in another. It can come from pent-up feelings of injustice and alienation, from divisions between the world's richer and its poorer nations," he said.
He cited issues of global warming, poverty, the stalled Middle East peace process, in which Britain's initiative has been blocked by Israel, and the status of the United Nations itself as areas where the US must show that "the desire to work with others" is in its own interest too.
Mr Blair's speech came three weeks before the UN's deadline for progress on weapons inspection in Iraq and two days before the head of the UN weapons inspectors, Hans Blix, is due to give his interim report. Today a German newspaper Die Tageszeitung will claim that Mr Blix will reject many of the claims made by the Blair government in its dossier against Saddam Hussein. The report said UN in spectors had failed to find evidence of claims by the British government that Iraq had resumed production of biological warfare agents at key sites.
Meanwhile, the defence secretary, Geoff Hoon, speaking on Radio 4's PM programme, criticised the foreign secretary, Jack Straw's "unhelpful" suggestion that the chances of war have fallen to 60-40 against.
Earlier Mr Blair had said: "I would never commit British troops to a war I thought was wrong or unnecessary. But the price of influence is that we do not leave the US to face the tricky issues alone.
"By tricky, I mean the ones which people wish weren't there, don't want to deal with and, if I can put it a little pejoratively, know the US should confront, but want the luxury of criticising them for it."
That is how No 10 sees opposition to any war to force President Saddam to give up his alleged arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. The Muslim world must be courted, and Islamic fundamentalism engaged "at a theological as well as political level".
Mr Blair also called North Korea's threat to restart its nuclear programme "a wake-up call" and made a passing reference to yesterday's arrests in north London: it was, he said, proof that the danger was "present and real" and that it is "only a matter of time" before terrorists acquire a nuclear capability.
Addressing more than 100 British ambassadors and high commissioners in London, he scornfully rejected the complaint within Labour's own ranks that he acts as Washington's loyal poodle over Iraq, al-Qaida and the war on terror.
He said that as America's closest ally, Britain could "influence them to continue to broaden their agenda" not simply because the US is so powerful, "but because we share their values".
"I am not surprised by anti-Americanism, but it is a foolish indulgence," he added. "For all their faults - and all nations have them - the US is a force for good."
He added that Britain's place was to build relationships of "equality, trust and partnership" with other countries.