Blair urges bold action against "extremism" in Iran

Iran Materials 20 December 2006 13:22 (UTC +04:00)

(Reuters) - British Prime Minister Tony Blair urged world leaders on Wednesday to be bolder in supporting leading moderates against "forces of extremism" in Iran and elsewhere and in advancing Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking, reports Trend.

Blair, on the final day of what may be his last Middle East tour, said Iran was openly supporting terrorism in Iraq, undermining the Lebanese government and blocking Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Iran has never recognized Israel and last year President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called for Israel to be "wiped off the map."

Tehran, under Western pressure over its nuclear program, also backs the Lebanese guerrilla group and opposition party Hezbollah, which is leading a drive for early elections after failing to obtain veto power in government.

Blair, who will leave office next year and whose popularity has been eroded by the Iraq war, rejected suggestions American or British action in the Middle East was fuelling terrorism.

"We should stop buying into this wretched culture of blaming ourselves," he told business leaders in Dubai. "If our policy has a fault, it is that we are too shy of acting boldly to bring about change, to give succor to those trying to live for the better."

Blair called on moderate leaders across the Middle East to join a "monumental struggle" between democracy and 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," he said.

Iran wants "to pin us back in Lebanon, in Iraq and in Palestine," he added.

Some Iraqi politicians, mainly Sunni Muslims, accuse Tehran of fuelling sectarian violence by supporting Shi'ite militias.

"Our response should be to expose what they are doing, build the alliances to prevent it and pin them back across the whole of the region," Blair said.

To do this "we need the open and clear backing of the countries in this region," he added, wrapping up a tour that began in Turkey and took him to Egypt, Iraq, Israel and the Palestinian territories.

Blair's spokesman earlier dismissed suggestions his comments on Iran were designed to pit the region's Sunni Muslims against Shi'ite Iran, saying the prime minister worked with all faiths.