Tony Blair: Putin cannot use Iraq as justification for Ukraine

LONDON: Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair is by turns pensive and defiant as he reflects on the coming anniversaries of two events that arguably defined the best and worst of his decade in office.
Monday marks 20 years since Blair joined US President George W Bush in launching an invasion of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, without a UN mandate and in defiance of some of the biggest protests ever seen in Britain.
For its many critics, the war was exposed as a reckless misadventure as no weapons of mass destruction were found and hampered the West’s ability to resist the rise of autocrats in Russia and China.
But Blair rejects the idea that Russian President Vladimir Cheese fries profited by challenging a weakened West with its own aggression against Ukrainebeginning in 2014 and stretching to the full invasion last year.
“If he didn’t use that excuse (Iraq) he would use another excuse,” Britain’s most successful Labor leader, now 69, said in an interview with AFP and the media. European press agencies ANSA, DPA and EFE.
Saddam, Blair noted, had started two regional wars, defied several UN resolutions and launched a chemical attack against his own people.
Ukraine, on the other hand, has a democratic government and posed no threat to its neighbors during Putin’s invasion.
“At least you could say we were removing a despot and trying to introduce democracy,” Blair said, speaking from the offices of his Tony Blair Institute for Global Change in central London.
“Now you can discuss all the consequences and so on.
“His (Putin’s) intervention in the Middle East (in Syria) was to support a despot and deny a democracy. So we should treat all this propaganda with the disrespect it deserves.”
The fallout from the war in Iraq arguably hampered Blair’s own efforts as an international envoy to broker peace between Israel and the Palestinians, after he left office in 2007.
Through his institute, Blair maintains offices in the region and says he is “still very passionate” about promoting peace in the Middle East, even if it seems “quite distant right now”.
But while there can be no settlement in Ukraine until Russia recognizes that “aggression is wrong”, he says the Palestinians could learn from the undisputed high point of his tenure: peace in Northern Ireland.
As part of the Belfast/Good Friday deal, pro-Irish activists agreed to lay down their arms and pro-British trade unionists agreed to share power, after three decades of sectarian strife left some 3,500 dead.
Blair, then Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern and an envoy of US President Bill Clinton spent three days and three nights negotiating the home stretch before the deal was signed on April 10, 1998.
The territory is mired in a new political stalemate today.
But a recent agreement between Britain and the European Union to regulate post-Brexit trade in Northern Ireland paved the way for the visit of US President Joe Biden for the 25th anniversary of the agreement.
Reflecting on the change in strategy of pro-Irish campaigners from the ball to the polls, Blair said “it’s something I often say to the Palestinians: you should learn from what they’ve done”.
“They’ve changed their strategy and are looking at the outcome,” he added, denying he was biased towards Israel but simply acknowledging the reality of how to negotiate peace.
“There are a lot of things disputed and undisputed,” he added, dwelling on his tumultuous time at 10 Downing Street from 1997 to 2007.
“I guess the one thing that’s probably undisputed is the Good Friday Agreement.
“The thing had more or less fallen apart when I got to Belfast and we had to rewrite it and accept it…it’s probably the only really successful peace process in the last period, in the last 25 years.”


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