Tony Blair and George Bush defied the growing anger across the world
yesterday by seeking a UN resolution that fell far short of a ceasefire to
end the killing of Lebanese civilians.
Speaking after talks at the White House, Mr. Bush announced that on Monday
the UN Security Council will discuss the creation of a multinational force
to patrol a buffer zone on the southern Lebanon border. Mr. Bush said the US
would be tabling a UN Security Council resolution next week to seek an end
to hostilities "as soon as possible" but it failed to meet the
demands for a ceasefire in an open letter in the Independent yesterday,
signed by 42 leading figures in the arts, business, and politics.
Heightening fears that the war in Lebanon is being used as a proxy war
between the US and Iran, Mr. Blair said Iran would be mistaken if it thought
the war was an opportunity to step up its pursuit of a nuclear weapon. "
They risk increasing confrontation," he said.
U.S. President George W. Bush (R) holds a joint news conference with British Prime Minister Tony Blair in the East Room at the White House in Washington, July 28, 2006. REUTERS/Jim Young
Cabinet ministers warned that Mr. Blair's refusal to stand up to Mr. Bush
would hasten his own exit from power. "This whole episode is very
damaging for Tony," said one cabinet source. "They can cobble
together a resolution but it won't be a solution to the violence. Tony
thinks there is an arc of Islamic extremists like the Fascists in the Second
World War. But this war is acting as a recruitment sergeant for the
extremists." The source was dismissive about Mr. Blair's attempts to
influence the President. "The only special relationship the US has is
with Israel. This is all driven by internal US politics. I don't know why
Tony hasn't told Bush we have internal political pressures too."
Both Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair refused to discuss a ceasefire. Mr. Blair was
expected to claim their talks were a breakthrough but their commitment to a
peace plan was in danger of being dismissed by their critics as window
dressing and hot air last night.
Mr. Bush offered the prospect of reconstruction of the ravaged areas of
Lebanon to rehouse the thousands of refugees. But their plans failed to live
up to the Downing Street spin operation in advance of their meeting at the
White House which suggested there could be a call for a ceasefire next week.
Mr. Blair said the war was a "complete tragedy" but said it offered
an "opportunity" to force Hezbollah to abandon its campaign
against Israel. He said he wanted to see "a cessation of hostilities as
quickly as possible" but he refused to condemn Israel for the
indiscriminate bombing. He said: "The conditions have got to be in
place for it to happen. This can only work if Hezbollah are prepared to
allow it to work." He claimed the violence was "part of a bigger
picture" in the Middle East of reactionary groups trying to stop
progress towards democracy. "There should be no doubt at all that it
will be a temporary respite unless we put in place the longer-term framework," he said.
Mr. Bush described the conflict as "the calling of the 21st century." The resolution would set out the framework for a "cessation of
hostilities on an urgent basis" and the deployment of the mutlinational
force, he said. "Our goal is to achieve a lasting peace that requires
the free democratic and independent Lebanese government be in power to
exercise full authority over its territory."
Opening their joint press conference, Mr. Bush made a joking reference to his
overheard remarks to the Prime Minister at the G8 conference when a
microphone was left on and he said: "Yo Blair." "You share
with me your perspective and you let me know when the microphone is on ..."
Mr. Blair's aides outlined a proposed agreement that would see a UN
stabilization force police a buffer zone within Lebanon's southern border.
The UN would also call for the withdrawal of Iranian and Syrian personnel,
and the "progressive disarmament" of Hezbollah if the draft
resolution is agreed.
But Andrew Murray, chairman of the Stop the War Coalition, said: "It is
simply hot air. Despite the previous spin we have heard in recent days,
their position is exactly the same; they are still endorsing continuing
Israeli aggression against Lebanon. There is a huge amount of anger around
the country about that."
Mr. Blair's spokesman was dismissive of calls for a ceasefire without an
agreement on a new force as "just so much wind." Instead, said the
spokesman, Mr. Blair wants to step up the pace of diplomatic efforts. "
We want to increase the pace of diplomacy in identifying the steps necessary
to bring about a ceasefire on both sides," he said. "I believe
what we should be working towards is a resolution as early as possible next
week. We believe others are roughly in the same ballpark."
The British-backed draft resolution is designed to enable the Lebanese
government to fulfil UN resolution 1559 that calls for the removal of all
militias from its border with Israel, he said. "It would give a mandate
to a new, UN-backed multinational force." Downing Street does not rule
out the possibility that a NATO force could be deployed, so long as it has
A French suggestion that the security zone should straddle the border with
Israel was rejected. In return for the withdrawal of Hezbollah from Lebanon
and its sponsors, the UN would commit to a renewed attempt to secure the
two-state road map to peace. It was clear, however, that many questions
about the composition, size, mandate, and timing of deployments are
Downing Street again made clear it was unlikely that any peacekeeping force
including US or British troops would be deployed, leaving Mr. Blair to urge
more speedy action from the sidelines.
The Labour MP Phyllis Starkey a former Foreign Office aide said Mr. Blair
had a "far too rosy view" of the Israeli tactics. "I believe
that the Prime Minister does not take a strong enough line with them in
telling them when they are going against international law," she said.
Blair Apologizes For Preswick Flight
By Ben Russell
* Tony Blair was offered a "one line" apology from President Bush
over the United States' use of a British airport as a transit for weapons
shipments to Israel.
The Prime Minister's official spokesman said President Bush had limited his
apology to the US failure to observe the proper procedures for using
Prestwick airport near Glasgow as a stopover for an Israel-bound plane
carrying laser-guided bombs.
"It was just a one line. As part of the introduction, the President
said sorry there was a problem," the spokesman said.
Sir Menzies Campbell, the Liberal Democrat leader, said Britain should "say no" to any transfers, after it emerged this week that the US asked
for permission for more flights to stop in Britain over the coming weeks.
The Foreign Office said permission would be granted if the US observed
© 2006 Independent News and Media Limited