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[casi] from today's papers: 26-04-02

A. I'm not a poodle and I'm not presidential, Blair insists, Guardian, 26
B. Blair: the interview, Guardian, 26 April [extract]


A. I'm not a poodle and I'm not presidential, Blair insists

Patrick Wintour, Emma Brockes and Jackie Ashley
Friday April 26, 2002
The Guardian

Tony Blair today denies he will be America's poodle over a strike on Iraq or
the war against terrorism, insisting that he will only assent to military
action if it is the right thing to do.
In a wide-ranging interview with the Guardian, marking his fifth anniversary
in power, he claims the portrayal of Britain as a poodle could be
destructive of the country's influence; he adds that a breakdown in trust
between the US and Europe could have "explosive consequences".

He also rejects suggestions that he runs a presidential administration or
that he resents the popularity of the chancellor, Gordon Brown.

Mr Blair's remarks came as Mo Mowlam, the former Northern Ireland secretary,
steps up her attacks on Mr Blair in a separate interview with the Guardian,
by asserting that he was behind covert poisonous briefings against her - and
claiming that she had "become ashamed" of the government during her time in

And in his first substantial intervention since his massive election defeat,
William Hague, the former Conservative leader, also offers a sharp portrayal
of Mr Blair's personality, with an article for the Guardian claiming his
downfall will be his willingness to say different things to different

In his interview, Mr Blair says: "There are forces inside America who do
believe that America should be just on its own, do it in its own way,
entirely unilateralist. It should be part of our job constantly to say, 'No,
there are good allies in the world who can work with you,' and where we have
disagreement, like we do over Kyoto or some of the trade issues, we will say

"Most people around the world envy enormously the position that we have with
America - my experience in five years is that where America and Europe work
at something together they can crack it; where they come on different sides
these issues become very, very difficult indeed and sometimes potentially

He adds: "In respect of Iraq or anything else, if I thought America was
wrong to do something I would say so."

Ms Mowlam denounces the decision to go into Afghanistan as "silly" and says
future military action against Iraq would be "very, very daft".

She accuses Mr Blair of sanctioning poisonous briefings against her, saying:
"I couldn't believe that he'd okayed it, but in the end, I came to the
conclusion that he must have done, because otherwise they wouldn't have got
away with it. He could have stopped it if he had wanted. But he didn't."

She also complains about Mr Blair's "presidential" style of government,
cutting out the party and the unions, which, she tells the Guardian, "could
bring the ultimate demise of the party and the government." She says Tony
Blair runs the government "like a law firm", with ideas discussed at the top
and then expected to "filter down into the party and the parliamentary
machine as it does in a law firm".

Ms Mowlam, who fell foul of Mr Brown several years ago, accuses him of
"using the Treasury as a power base against Tony and stands by her call for
the chancellor to be sacked, saying: "You get Blairites and you get
Brownites, so I think if they sorted that out, we would have a much more
effective and efficient government".

Mr Hague claims that Mr Blair's desire "to please as many people as possible
for as long as possible produces more and more dramatic disappointments".

B. Blair: the interview [extract]

The bloke at No 10

The PM tells the feature writer of the year about the Middle East, Gordon
Brown, George Bush and Iraq. Plus what he's reading, the problems of teenage
kids and why he thinks he winds people up

Emma Brockes
Friday April 26, 2002

I wonder if his heart sank when George Bush was elected. He denies it. But
when he's hanging out with Bush doesn't he think, well, what we all think:
that he's a bit of an eejit?

Blair looks cross. "No, because I think you would be wrong if you thought
that. The process to become president of the United States is the most
gruelling in the world. Believe me, you don't get many people who are fools
who come through it and survive." (It seems churlish to reopen the
did-Bush-actually-win debate.) "And secondly, he actually isn't like that. I
find him extremely able and focused. To be fair to the guy, after September
11 I think lots of people thought that missiles would be fired that night,
and they weren't. He proceeded in a very careful way and we were very much
part of the strategy for that."

Does it irk Blair when people keep on and on about Britain being America's
poodle? "It doesn't irk me but I do think people are wrong and potentially
very destructive of this country's influence. It is a good thing that the
British prime minister has influence with the American president. There are
forces inside America that believe that it should be on its own, entirely
unilateralist. It should be part of our job to say no, there are good allies
in the world who can work with you, and where we have disagreement, like
over Kyoto or some of the trade issues, we will say that. Most people around
the world envy enormously the position that we have with America."

Blair might be expected to feel frustration about Colin Powell's failed
peace mission to Israel and angry that Bush hasn't put stronger pressure on
Ariel Sharon to stop bashing the Palestinians. "First of all, America is now
engaging in the Middle East." Not terribly successfully. "Well, it is
difficult." He sounds weary. "I don't think we can simply blame them; it is
a very difficult problem." Does he think there is a moral difference between
a Palestinian suicide bomber and an al-Qaidaterrorist? "I think that morally
there is no difference. Acts of terrorism are appalling, and that is why at
the same time that we have made our criticisms of Israeli actions, we
shouldn't forget that Israel has had its citizens blown up in these attacks.
The blame game doesn't help anyone."

If Britain supports Bush on the war against Saddam Hussein it is not from
some loyalty pact, but because of the "renewed sense of urgency" brought on
by the events of September 11. "This guy is dangerous, let's not mess
about," says Blair, although with the Middle East the way it is, "action is
not imminent". Afghanistan, he says, was a wake-up call. "For years [the
Taliban and al-Qaida] were allowed to develop in Afghanistan and we did
nothing about it" - he stops short - "well, we did actually try to do
certain things about it and Britain specifically did, but we didn't really
focus on it."


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