December 20, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- British Prime Minister Tony Blair, on the final day of a Middle East tour, urged world leaders today to step forward in support of moderates against "forces of extremism" in Iran and elsewhere in the region.
Speaking to business leaders and journalists in Dubai, Blair singled out Iran's leadership as the main obstacle to peace in the Middle East.
The British leader cited a number of ways in which the government of Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad threatens the region.
He said these include Iran's nuclear program, its support of terrorism in Iraq and of Hizballah guerrillas in Lebanon, not recognizing Israel, and Ahmadinejad's denial of the Jewish Holocaust and calling for Israel to be "wiped off the map."
'It Would Be Bizarre If...'
But the British leader also said the world appears largely indifferent to the Iranian threat.
"There are elements of the government of Iran openly supporting terrorism in Iraq to stop a fledgling democratic process, trying to turn out a democratically elected government in Lebanon, flaunting the international community's desire for peace in Palestine, at the same time as denying the Holocaust and trying to acquire nuclear-weapons capability, and yet, a huge part of world opinion is, frankly, almost indifferent," Blair said. "It would be bizarre if it weren't so deadly serious."
Blair rejected suggestions that U.S. or British military action in the Middle East has fueled terrorism. And he called on moderate leaders across the region to join a "monumental struggle" between democracy and Iran's extremism.
"We must recognize the strategic challenge the government of Iran poses -- not its people, possibly not all of its ruling elements, but those presently in charge of its policy," Blair said. "They seek to pin us back in Lebanon, in Iraq, in Palestine. Our response should be to expose what they are doing, build the alliances to prevent it, and pin them back across the whole of this region."
Blair has repeated that same message throughout his five-day trip, which has included stops in Turkey, Egypt, Iraq, Israel, the Palestinian territories, and the United Arab Emirates.
While short on specifics, Blair has pointed to ways that moderates could work for peace in what he calls a regional "arc of moderation."
He praised Egypt's role in mediating between Israel and Palestinians, and urged more countries to back the Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. He also pointed to Dubai as a model of economic development that could be followed in places such as Gaza and the Iraqi city of Al-Basrah.
Blair also called for an "early meeting" between Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, the relaunch of the peace process and support to bolster Abbas' authority in his struggle with the Islamic militant group Hamas.
The trip is one of the last major foreign tours by Blair, who is expected to step down by the middle of next year after a decade in office.
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