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Ex-diplomats fault Blair on Middle East
Updated: 2004-04-27 14:09

More than 50 former diplomats have signed a letter to Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair, harshly criticizing his policy in the Middle East and calling on Britain to exert more influence over the United States.

In the letter, which the The Associated Press viewed on Monday, they say the U.S.-led coalition failed to plan adequately for the post-war phase in Iraq.

The letter, signed by 52 former diplomats, including ambassadors, high commissioners and governors, also attacks U.S. President Bush for endorsing Israel's plan to retain some settlements in the West Bank and criticizes Blair's public support for the policy.

"These things needed saying and have needed saying for some time," Oliver Miles, a former ambassador to Greece, told The AP on Monday.

Blair's office rejected the criticism.

"Our objectives in both Iraq and the Israel-Palestinian conflict remain stability, peace, freedom in the Middle East," said Blair's official spokesman.

Those who signed the letter include two former ambassadors to Baghdad and a former ambassador to Tel Aviv.

"We ... 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," reads the letter. "We feel the time has come to make our anxieties public, in the hope that they will be addressed in Parliament and will lead to a fundamental reassessment."

Miles, who coordinated the letter, said it was triggered by Blair's visit to Washington earlier this month when he publicly backed Israel's plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip but retain some settlements in the West Bank.

Bush's endorsement outraged Palestinians. Critics say the unilateral action proposed by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon undermines the "road map" drawn up by the so-called Quartet — the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations.

Blair stood united with Bush on the issue and stressed Sharon's plan was a step forward — not backward — for Palestinians' statehood aspirations.

The letter claims that the policy is "one-sided and illegal" and will "cost yet more Israeli and Palestinian blood."

Turning to Iraq, the letter says there was "no effective plan for the post-Saddam settlement." It is also critical of military tactics employed by the coalition, particularly the siege of Fallujah.

"We share your view that the British government has an interest in working as closely as possible with the United States on both these related issues, and in exerting real influence as a loyal ally," it says. "We believe that the need for such influence is now a matter of the highest urgency. If that is unacceptable or unwelcome there is no case for supporting policies which are doomed to failure. "

Blair's office said it would not rebut the letter point by point, but stressed the government remained committed to a two-state solution in the Middle East, as envisaged by the road map.

"We assume these former members of the diplomatic service welcome the removal of Saddam and it is that that has opened up the possibility of democracy and that is what we are determined to achieve in Iraq," he said, briefing reporters on condition of anonymity. "We have prepared for the aftermath. Nobody pretends that there are not difficulties."

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