London, Dec 24, IRNA-Prime Minister Tony Blair fulfilled his pledge to travel to the Middle East before the end of the year but his visit only underlined that the British leader has become part of the region's problems.
Notably missing from his itinerary were visits to Syria and Lebanon, following the recent Israeli re-invasion, or any talks with the elected Hamas-led Palestinian government.
Instead, Blair started his journey with a visit to Turkey, where he gave a message of support for Ankara's faltering bid to join the European Union.
"If we don't get a new sense of urgency and momentum to the situation, it will continue to go backwards," he said about the Middle East. "The next few days and weeks are critical moments of decision for the whole process," he said.
After a stopover in Cairo, the British premier travelled to Iraq, but there was no sign of humility, let alone regret, for the chaos created following the joint US-UK invasion in 2003.
In a meeting with Prime Minister Nouri Maliki, he tried to assure that there would be no sudden withdrawal of troops following the publication of the Iraq Study Group in Washington that called for fundamental policy changes.
Travelling onto the Israeli-occupied West Bank, Blair persisted with his policy of boycotting the Palestinian government despite the humanitarian crisis it is causing, when only meeting President Mahmoud Abbas at his former British Army fort compound in Ramallah.
According to the BBC, the British premier found himself at a press conference "defending his beleaguered Middle East envoy Lord Levy, in respect to unnamed Israeli officials suggesting he was only here in the Middle East because his position at home was so weak." Asked how he thought about the position of Levy, who like Blair is embroiled in a scandal over party funding, he was quoted saying "he was doing an excellent job in difficult circumstances."
At a Jewish ceremony in Jerusalem, BBC News 24 chief political orrespondent James Landale said that he wondered what the Palestinians must be thinking of the British premier "standing behind a menorah, skull cap on his head, alongside the Israeli prime minister." Instead of delivering customary statements at a news conferences, Blair was seen striding up to the podium with Ehud Olmert, putting on kippah skull caps, lighting candles and listening to a rabbi sing a hymn.
Flying onto Abu Dhabi, the British premier went on to provoke a diplomatic incident as apparently his officials were not aware of a law banning all flights from Israel and resulted in his aircraft circling the skies for 20 minutes waiting for special clearance.
In his unannounced trip, there was surprisingly to be no visit to Syria or Lebanon, where Blair was discredited when refusing to call for an immediate ceasefire to Israel's month-long invasion, in which over 1,200 civilians were killed and up to a million displaced.
Analysts were puzzled why the British leader did not visit Syria following the recent secret talks his most senior foreign policy adviser Sir Nigel Sheinwald held with President Bashar al-Assad in November.
The Iraq Study Group report also called for the opening of talks with Syria and Iran to help secure peace in Iraq and the wider Middle East, which Blair has confirmed that he supported such a dialogue.
The British premier has made annual pledges to resolve the Middle East conflict since the 9/11 attacks in the US in 2001. This was renewed again this year, when he promised to give the peace process the same priority as in Northern Ireland before he leaves office.
But time is running out for any real or balanced initiatives in what could be his last visit to the Middle East, with only months remaining and appearing more and more as a lame-duck leader with the debacle of the Iraq war as his main legacy.
... Payvand News - 12/24/06 ... --