Blair on CNN
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, HOST “AMANPOUR”: Tony Blair, thank you for being here in our Jerusalem studio.
TONY BLAIR, FORMER PRIME MINISTER OF ENGLAND: My pleasure.
AMANPOUR: You’re here to try and do everything you can to get this peace process jumpstarted.
I was interviewing the Palestinian prime minister, who I know you do a lot of work with on this issue, and he really was talking about a lot of frustration and worrying that since this is just going nowhere, it could lead to an explosion on the streets again. He was very worried. How worried are you?
BLAIR: I’m worried and frustrated, too. You know, I think we’ve managed to keep this whole process from collapsing but that’s not the same thing as getting it moving.
Now, if it does collapse, by the way, the consequences are really serious. You — it’s not just a question of sort of disorder and instability — although that’s always a risk — it’s also that people end up losing hope in the concept of two states.
And you know, this is a — one of the things that’s most frustrating about this process is that in some conflicts, there’s no real agreement as to the eventual outcome. So if you take the Irish conflict, even, even though we got a peace process, the United Kingdom or United Ireland, this is not a position of the international community.
The two sides still disagree. But they’ve found a way of living together. Here, you’ve got a stated agreement, a secure Israel, a viable state of Palestine, comprising West Bank and Gaza, and issues, of course, about Jerusalem still to be decided. But, there is a basic agreement as to the conceptual framework.
By the way, I’m still hopeful that at some point over these coming months, we’ll succeed. And the fact that it hasn’t collapsed when, frankly, after the breakdown last September everyone thought it would, gives us some, of course, hope.
AMANPOUR: We’re sitting here in Israel, and all around there is instability and change. Let’s look at one of the worst things that’s happening, and that’s Syria. Everybody seems to be wringing their hands, certainly in the international community.
What do you think should be the next moves by the international community in Syria? More than just calling out the Assad regime and saying, well, Russia has to get on board. What tangible steps can be taken to encourage defections, to try to organize the opposition?
BLAIR: The main thing that has to happen — and you know, I think we’re quite close to this happening, by the way — is that the regime knows that its days are numbered, that it — there is a way out of this, which is by an agreement.
But there isn’t a way of staying in power with a small minority running the country. And, you know, obviously the Americans are doing what they can to persuade the Russians, the Chinese to come to a consensual position on this.
But the only that’s going to work now is the sense that there is going to be a new dispensation, that the country will be governed differently and then, frankly, we’re going to have to work very hard, because the rancor and bitterness that there will be is very, very deep.
AMANPOUR: You say the regime’s days are numbered. But clearly Assad doesn’t think that or is not acting in that way, and we’ve been saying this, actually, for the last several months. And he’s still in power.
BLAIR: Yes, absolutely.
AMANPOUR: Lay out for me how you, and President Clinton, dealt with something very similar in Kosovo, and you actually did an end-run around the Russians, and you got a coalition of the willing, and you achieved a change in Kosovo. How does that happen, and why do people feel paralyzed today?
BLAIR: Well, I don’t think they’re paralyzed, but they’re worried about the consequences of acting in a way that precipitates something worse.
AMANPOUR: But even the Israelis say it would be worse if Assad stays in power. This is worse, what’s happening now.
BLAIR: Yes. And so I think you’ve got to do a combination of things. I think you’ve obviously got to carry on trying to get Security Council consensus, but I think you’ve got also to be taking the ruse, and as I say, creating sort of secure areas is one option, where as it were the regime knows that in the end we’re not giving up and going away. So it’s going to happen. The only question is how it happens.
And I think we’re quite close, actually, to the regime understanding this. And, we just need to keep ramping up the pressure all the time. But the way, you know, Kosovo, is a somewhat different situation, but in the end what was clear was that the way the persecution of the people was happening was unacceptable. And we were going to make sure it was not accepted.
AMANPOUR: So for somebody who took that decision, how much persecution of the Syrian people can the British government take, the American government take, the French government take?
BLAIR: Well, I think that their patience has run out a long time ago. The question is now what are the practical steps that you take?
AMANPOUR: So what would be — you talked about safe areas. Some of the defectors say we need those safe areas — to the north, to the south. (crosstalk) Exactly…so we can defect safely…
AMANPOUR: – so that we can get organized.
BLAIR: Well, I think this is — this is one of the things that’s got to be on the table and I think the reason why that is important is that it gives the opposition some sense that that support is there for them. But it also gives the regime a clear sense that their days are numbered.
Now, look, by the way, the aftermath is going to be very tough and, you know, as I know, having gone through Iraq and Afghanistan and so on, when you lift the lid off, these very repressive regimes, out comes religious, tribal, ethnic influences that are very difficult, that require enormous amount of management.
But, I think the sooner this happens now, the better, because as each day passes and more people die and, after all, you know, now the figure is around 17,000-18,000 people. That’s a lot of people and that’s a lot of families who are bereaved and a lot of bitterness and hatred.
AMANPOUR: You talk about the post-conflict situation. Again, here we are in Israel; next door is Egypt. You’ve got Mohammed Morsy, formerly of the Muslim Brotherhood, who’s now president. How do you think that is being seen here, when you talk to the Israeli prime minister and officials here, do they see a potential friend in Egypt? Or are they concerned?
BLAIR: I think the truth is they don’t know. And, by the way, that’s probably the same for all of us. Now, I think what’s important in Egypt is that we engage with the new president and the government there, especially on the economy.
The thing that worries me most about Egypt is how do they get their economy moving? How do they get young people with jobs with some prospects, some opportunity, you know, how do they revive their tourism industry? How do they get some strength back into the private sector? These are big questions, and we can help on those questions. I think we should.
AMANPOUR: How can you help?
BLAIR: Well, I think — I mean, first of all, there’s very direct aid that’s going to go in from the outside world to Egypt. But I also think we can help with expertise and also with, you know, there’s got to be a sense of engagement and a sense — and challenge is maybe the wrong word, but this won’t happen unless correct decisions are taken on the economy –
AMANPOUR: By them?
BLAIR: Yes, by them. I think for the politic, we’ve just got to remember there are, you know, as the election showed in Egypt, OK, the Muslim Brotherhood won, but you know, for the former prime minister of President Mubarak, to come back close, is also an indication there’s another constituency out there.
And I think one of the issues is going to be how do the more secular-minded people in this region start to organize themselves and start to get their politics in shape so that they can have a decent platform and program? And then you end up with what is — you know, I keep saying this to people in the region: democracy is not just a way of voting, it’s a way of thinking.
And the way of thinking is essentially open-minded and pluralistic. So one of the things we’ve got to encourage as well is a sense that – the person that wins the election doesn’t sort of win the country, you know. You’ve then got to have a lively, textured democratic debate about policy, about direction and so on.
AMANPOUR: And Iran, clearly there’s some — the prime minister’s played (ph) here. Do you think a military intervention in Iran is likely — an Israeli strike? Do you think diplomacy still has a way to go?
BLAIR: Well, I think it’s diplomacy we should try. And I think the sanctions are obviously biting. I think the new sanctions, the Americans are announcing will have a real impact on the Iranian economy. But, you know, part of the trouble with politics today, you can see this about the euro in Europe, you see, you come to a big choice and either way is ugly.
And the thought of a military intervention in Iran is, you know, very problematic, very unpredictable. Heaven knows what consequences flow from that. But, personally, I think Iran with a nuclear bomb is not something we should contemplate. So this is really tough.
AMANPOUR: So what sense do you get from talking to officials here?
BLAIR: Look, its lots of conversations, you have in this — not a lot of point in discussing it very openly, but I think everyone here recognizes what a profound decision it is, that the consequence is difficult either way.
But you know, you’re Israel. You’re sitting here. You’ve got a country that wants to acquire a nuclear bomb and says you basically shouldn’t exist as a state. I mean, you — you know, if you were an Israeli, you’d be worried.
AMANPOUR: Is there more public office in view for Tony Blair? Everybody’s talking about how you’re positioning yourself to make a comeback.
BLAIR: I’m not really. It’s just that people ask you the question in a way that says, you know, rule it out, and I kind of think, well, why should I? But that’s not the same as planning to do it. You know what I mean?
So I — I’m a public service person. You know, I would have liked staying as prime minister. I would have taken the European job had it been offered me. So that’s my preference. But I’m also enjoying the life I’ve got and doing lots of things and you know, I kind of let the future take care of itself.
AMANPOUR: You didn’t want to step down?
BLAIR: It was — you know, it became very difficult for me to stay, other than a lot of damage to my party, but also probably to my country. So I decided to go. And I’d done it ten years, you know, it’s a long time.
AMANPOUR: Sounds like you’re keeping the door open, though.
BLAIR: It’s literally — I mean, maybe I should just shut it, but I just kind of think, “Why?” I mean, you know, the — so, look, I’ve still got plenty of ideas and energy. But I can’t see anything happening on the horizon. I’m not planning or plotting or scheming.
AMANPOUR: All right. Tony Blair, thank you very much indeed.
BLAIR: Thank you. Thank you.Tagged in: tony blair
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