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At Israeli behest, Blair avoided linking Iraq

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    At Israeli behest, Blair avoided linking Iraq and the peace process in speech By Sharon Sadeh LONDON - British Prime Minister Tony Blair decided at the last
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 1 10:04 AM
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      At Israeli behest, Blair avoided linking Iraq
      and the peace process in speech

      By Sharon Sadeh

      LONDON - British Prime Minister Tony Blair decided at the last moment to delete, from the written text of a speech he gave this week, a connection between the Iraqi crisis and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

      In a speech delivered Wednesday at the annual dinner of the Jewish Community Security Trust in London, Blair implicitly criticized Israel over the harsh conditions under which the Palestinians are living.

      Haaretz has learned that in the original version of the speech, Blair intended to point to the link between the situation in Iraq and the need to achieve a cease-fire and make immediate progress in the peace process in order to settle the dust in the Middle East. He decided, however, to diverge from the text after Israeli sources who obtained a copy expressed fear that it could lead to a further deterioration in ties between the two countries.

      "We were relieved when we heard the final version," a diplomatic source said later.

      No. 10 Downing Street said, however, that different versions of the text did not exist, and they were not aware of changes in the content.

      At the gathering, Blair said: "Terrorism is a global threat... It is because of the threat from terrorism and weapons of mass destruction that I am clear on the need to disarm Iraq... But when people talk about the problems between the West and the Arab world, I don't think those problems are to do with Saddam. Most of the Arab world would actually rejoice if he went. The shadow over relations between the Muslim world and the West is the Middle East peace process.

      "There has to be an end to the violence and suffering on both sides: an end to Israelis being unable to travel by bus or visit a cafe without fear; an end to Palestinian child malnutrition now at levels found in Chad or Niger. We know the outcome: Two states based on the twin principles of an Israel secure within its borders and recognized within the Arab world, and a viable Palestinian state."

      In order to achieve this, Blair said, a number of steps are essential: "the unequivocal renunciation of violence on the part of the Palestinians, and the reform of Palestinian administrative structures," as well as "an end to settlement activity on the West Bank and in Gaza." He added that the "road map" prepared by the Quartet must be published and implemented as soon as possible.

      Turning to differences of opinion between London and Jerusalem over the past few months, Blair said: "Britian is a strong and close friend of Israel and always will be; not a fair weather friend, but a friend in the difficult times as well as in good times. Sometimes this means plain speaking - believe me, it goes both ways. But the friendship is firm and will always remain so."

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