- United States
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Question: Prime Minister, Jack Straw, before he moved on from being Foreign Secretary, and yourself have worked for an engagement with Iran for some considerable time. The Americans have been resistant to an engagement right up until last week. What role would you say that your government has played in changing American minds, and does Condaleeza Rice's victory in this matter in changing the policy represent to you a sign that perhaps the neo-conservative forces in play in Washington may finally be in retreat?
Tony Blair: Well first of all, look I don't think there is any point in getting into the details of what representations were made by me or anyone else. All I think is that it is very sensible for America to say that provided there is the suspension of the enrichment process then they are willing to enter into direct talks with Iran and join the Europeans in that. I think that is a big step forward, it indicates that America wants to find a diplomatic solution to this, and I can only say to you that in every discussion I have ever had with the President about Iran it has always been clear that although he is determined, as he should be, to prevent the acquisition of nuclear weapons capability by Iran, he nonetheless wants and believes a diplomatic solution can be found. And if we are able, I don't know, apparently the President of Iran has also made some comments today, if we are able to find a way through this that would be all to the better and it would show also an international community coming together on a common basis, which would be good for the future.
Question: But Jack Straw has pursued, this has been a possibility for 5 or 6 years. Why haven't we done it before? Is it simply because of American resistance?
Tony Blair: No, it has not really been because of that, it has been a very, very strong process, I mean France, Germany and the UK have been working really well on this together. There has been a whole set of negotiations with the Iranians, with the Atomic Energy Authority, with others, and I think all of us have felt it is right now to come together and make a clear offer to Iran and say look we want to find a diplomatic solution to this, there is one on offer, we understand why you may want to develop civil nuclear power but we do not want a situation where that is used to threaten the outside world. And look there is a very simple choice going on right round the Middle East at the moment, and you can see this very, very clearly indeed, and some of the most interesting things happening in the Middle East are the things that don't get any publicity at all.
For example in Kuwait where recently they took the decision to allow women to vote; where in other countries they are changing their constitutions in the Gulf states in order to engage in greater democracy; in some of the changes that have, albeit with a lot of difficulties, been happening in places like Egypt. There are two visions of the future going on in the Middle East at the moment: one is where people reach for democracy and government by democracy, not as a western value but as a universal value; and the other is where there is sectarianism, and terrorism, and attempting to resolve issues through violence and conflict. And I think in respect of Iran, people realise there is the possibility of managing to get a diplomatic solution to this and people want that if at all possible.
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Question: And a nuclear question. Could I just ask you whether you are encouraged by the fact that Iran has not rejected outright the proposals from the Permanent Security Council members and seems to be considering them?
Tony Blair: Yes, I think it is good that they have given the proposals serious consideration, and they should do that, and they should know that all of us are seeking a diplomatic solution to this, and whether we can get one I think depends to an extent on them, but it is an indication I think of our good faith that the Americans have made this offer which is after all for the first time in a quarter of a century that they would be in direct talks with Iran, and that is what Iran has constantly sought. So we should be able to manage this process properly.
Question: Prime Minister, a question on Iran. There are at the same time many indications that Iran may not accept the preconditions to come to the negotiating table. What would be your government's next step initiative if Iran doesn't agree to suspend its uranium enrichment?
Tony Blair: Well let us wait and see if that happens, but they should realise that obviously this was something that was discussed amongst those who have been closely involved in this before the Americans made their offer, and everyone agreed that that was the right basis upon which it should be made - namely that the enrichment is suspended and then the Americans join the talks, and I think it is possible others could come in on the back of that too. So I hope very much that they do not reject it because if they do it will cause a lot of difficulty.
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