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Diplomats turn on Blair over
• More than 50 former diplomats
signed a letter to Tony Blair criticising his policies in the Middle East
They urged Mr Blair to either persuade the US to change its approach in the
region, or to withdraw his support from America
• The officials described the
current policies regarding Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as both
"doomed to failure"
Key quote: "We the undersigned
former British ambassadors, high commissioners, governors and senior
international officials, including some who have long experience of the Middle
East and others whose experience is elsewhere, have watched with deepening
concern the policies which you have followed on the Arab-Israel problem and
Iraq, in close co-operation with the United States."
full: THE Prime Minister’s policy in the Middle East came under
unprecedented attack yesterday, when 52 former diplomats warned Tony Blair it
was time for Britain to start influencing the United States’ "doomed" approach
or withdraw its support.
A letter signed by former ambassadors, high
commissioners and governors urged the Prime Minister to intervene to change US
policy in the region as "a matter of the highest urgency".
They told Mr
Blair they had "watched with deepening concern the policies which you have
followed on the Arab-Israel problem and Iraq, in close
co-operation with the United States".
The diplomats, who include former
ambassadors to Iraq and Israel, highlighted two key initiatives dominated by
Washington - the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations and war in Iraq - and
wrote off both as "doomed to failure".
Oliver Miles, the diplomat behind
the letter and Britain’s former ambassador to Greece, said that never before had
government foreign policy been so controversial. "It is an indication of our
serious concern that what is probably the biggest ever such collective group has
gone straight to government in this way," he said.
The letter came after
Mr Blair followed the lead of George Bush, the US
president, in backing Israel’s plan
for partial withdrawal from the occupied territories. Critics argue the
proposals have effectively killed the internationally-agreed "road map" to
Mr Blair was last night urged by Sir Menzies Campbell, the
foreign affairs spokesman, to heed the advice.
"This is a most
remarkable intervention in the debate about the Middle East from a group of
people who are almost certainly the most expert in Britain on the issue," he
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said Downing
Street was aware of the criticisms.
"They are entitled to their views," he said. "What I would stress is that our
objectives both in Iraq and the Palestinian conflict remain stability, peace and
freedom in the Middle East."
The letter was delivered against a backdrop
of continued violence in Iraq, with two US soldiers killed and five wounded when
an explosion levelled part of a building in Baghdad as troops searched it for
suspected production of chemical munitions. Cheering Iraqis looted their wrecked
Humvees, taking away weapons and equipment.
In Basra, a British soldier
was injured when an improvised bomb went off as a convoy of vehicles drove past.
And the Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who has been linked to
the al-Qaeda terror network, claimed responsibility for suicide boat attacks
against Gulf oil terminals that killed three Americans and disabled Iraq’s
biggest terminal for more than 24 hours.
Discussions were continuing
yesterday about who should replace Spanish troops in and around the city of
Najaf. One possibility is for Britain to send more troops to take over, although
US troops yesterday took charge of a base in Najaf to increase pressure on the
militia of the anti-US Shiite cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr.
In the House of
Lords Baroness Symons, a Foreign Office minister, said that Britain would retain the chain of command
over any of its troops deployed outside the British-controlled area of southern
Yesterday’s letter to Mr Blair was signed by former ambassadors to
Baghdad and Tel Aviv, top Arab experts and non-regional specialists who served
in other key embassies.
They urged Mr Blair to use his alliance with Mr
Bush to exert "real influence as a loyal ally... If that is unacceptable or
unwelcome, there is no case for supporting policies which are doomed to
And they criticised the apparent lack of a plan for life in
Iraq post-Saddam Hussein.
"The Iraqis killed by coalition forces
probably total between 10,000 and 15,000," they said, estimating the number
killed in the last month in Fallujah alone at several hundred.
was no effective plan for the post-Saddam settlement… To describe the resistance
as led by terrorists, fanatics and foreigners is neither convincing nor
The Labour MP Tam Dalyell, the Father of the House of Commons, said
the missive could not simply be shrugged off. "These former diplomats deserve a
serious answer," he said.
It is well
worth remembering that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has
long-established "form" on the Israel issue. In short, all prime ministers have
to deal with the reality of the FCO preferring to take an "Arabist" line on
Middle East policy.
However, what is new is the very public nature of
this attack on Mr Blair and his government’s strategy.
The real impact
of this letter is likely to be on public perceptions of his leadership.
Assaulted on every side, his domestic agenda all but non-existent, he wanted to
become a foreign policy PM. On Europe, Iraq and now the Middle East, the
widespread view is that he is prone to miscalculation and cannot be trusted. No
matter how unfair that interpretation is, it will set the tone for the rest of