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Blair Calls Iran Nuclear Strike 'Absurd'
Ahmadinejad proposes 'new solutions'
In a press conference on Monday, Tony Blair stated that any consideration of a nuclear attack against Iran would be "absolutely absurd," and said the issue had no bearing on his decision to demote his foreign secretary. As reported in the China Daily, Blair said: "I don't know anybody who has even talked or contemplated the prospect of a nuclear strike in Iran and that would be absolutely absurd."
He also stated that the issue had no connection with the reassignment of the previous foreign secretary, Jack Straw. "Look, in the end I'm afraid as prime minister you do reshuffle your Cabinet from time to time."
The report continued with reference to U.S. officials who have left open the possibility of a military response if Iran does not end its nuclear ambitions. "Several reports published Sunday said the administration was studying options for military strikes; one account raised the possibility of using nuclear weapons against Iran's underground nuclear sites."
Blair's statement that considering nuclear weapons would be "absurd" would not prevent future support for military action that did not involve nuclear weapons.
Frances Beckett, the new foreign secretary, has been reported by CNN as saying "It's not anybody's intention to take the course of military action" during an interview with the BBC. However she refused to describe such a prospect as 'inconcievable', a word previously used by Jack Straw who had also described some policy options as 'nuts'.
Jack Straw is now Leader of the House of Commons and there have been reports denying statements over the weekend that pressure from the White House had contributed to his change in position. However the speculation was not limited to critics of Bush policy. The Wall Street Journal opinion reflected a view that the move indicated a change in policy.
"Friday's demotion of Jack Straw from leading the Foreign Office to managing Labour MPs in Parliament suggests that Mr. Blair doesn't think he's done yet -- which is good news if true.
Mr. Straw angered Number 10 by ruling out a military strike against the Iranian nuclear program as "inconceivable." Of all Western leaders, Mr. Blair has been most eloquent in warning that weapons of mass destruction in the wrong hands pose an existential threat. Iran is the next great challenge, and Mr. Blair's moral clarity could be a great asset in meeting it."
It is significant that the words "if true" are linked to whether Mr Blair thinks he is done yet rather than whether Mr Straw angered Number 10.
A previous story in the Wall Street Journal (April 28th) stated that "British Foreign Minister Jack Straw has reportedly told Cabinet colleagues that it would be 'illegal' for Britain to participate in any prospective military action against Iran." The quote marks around the word illegal are in the original WSJ report.
Among the various stories about Jack Straw and possible explanations of recent events there are suggestions that he has raised doubts about the legality of the war in Iraq and the possible case for military action against Iran. Some of this is based on the Downing Street memo that has been made public and suggests to some that military action had been decided on earlier than was made public. Whatever doubts were expressed by Jack Straw at that time, his defence of policy on Iraq has been consistent and sustained on the public record.
In a related story, Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has sent a letter to President Bush proposing "new solutions for getting out of international problems and the current fragile situation of the world". As reported by the BBC, Scott McClennan spoke for the White House in refusing to confirm whether Gearge Bush had actually read it. McClennan said "It doesn't appear to do anything to address the concerns of the international community."
The BBC report states that "The letter's contents have not been revealed, but it was said to run to 17 or 18 pages of history, philosophy and religion."
Although the White House appears to have chosen not to release the full text of the letter, a copy has become available to Reuters. As reported by Irwin Arieff on the Swissinfo website the letter claims that scientific research is "one of the basic rights of nations."
Arieff also reports on other points made in the letter, drawing analogies between the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq and U.S. threats against Iran, suggesting the United States lied to justify the war and is now suffering the consequences.
"On the pretext of the existence of WMDs (weapons of mass destruction), this great tragedy came to engulf both the peoples of the occupied and the occupying country. Later it was revealed that no WMDs existed to begin with," the Iranian leader wrote in the letter, translated from Farsi.
"Lies were told in the Iraqi matter. What was the result? I have no doubt that telling lies is reprehensible in any culture, and you do not like to be lied to."
The Reuters report begins by describing the letter as 'rambling' but it makes a case that could be considered in the context of diplomacy. There are references to religion but this is not outside the normal scope for political discussion in the United States. The following is an extended extract from the letter-
"The people will scrutinise our presidencies. Did we manage to bring peace, security and prosperity for the people or insecurity and unemployment? Did we intend to establish justice, or just support special interest groups and, by forcing many people to live in poverty and hardship, made a few people rich and powerful?"
"I have been told that Your Excellency (Bush) follows the teachings of Jesus and believes in the divine promise of the rule of the righteous on Earth."
"We increasingly see that people around the world are flocking towards a main focal point -- that is the Almighty God. My question for you is, 'Do you not want to join them?'"
The BBC report on White House response to the letter included explanation from Frances Harrison on the significance of the decision to open communication. It is suggested that Mr Ahmadinejad is reinforcing the point that he is willing to negotiate with anyone, including the US president, to avoid conflict over the nuclear issue.
The BBC points out that the US and Iran have not had diplomatic relations since Washington severed ties with Tehran after Iranian students occupied the US embassy there and took 52 Americans hostage in 1980.
It is widely believed in Iran that the CIA were involved in a coup in 1953 against Dr. Mohammad Mosaddeq who at that time formed a legitimate government. There is a history of this on the Iran Chamber website. Other versions of history are available, some in books, but this background suggests that there can be many views on what is 'rambling' and what is 'inconceivable'.
On the question of why Jack Straw was sacked as foreign secretary there are conflicting reports and opinions. One discussion continues as part of Comment is Free around an extended comment by Martin Kettle. This includes a current assessment-
"The real nub of the issue for London on Iran is whether Britain gives diplomatic and other support (like allowing overflying through UK airspace) to a possible (if now and for the immediate future, highly unlikely) but unilateral US non-nuclear bombing attack on Iran based on Washington's claim, under article 51 of the UN charter, that it would be acting in self-defence against a nuclear threat from Iran. All that, though, is way down the track, if it ever were to happen - and there are plenty of powerful post-Iraq domestic political reasons in both the US and the UK to suppose that it will not."
It can be noted that a "non-nuclear bombing attack" would be consistent with the Blair view on what would be "absurd". There has not yet been the kind of reassurance that would remove concerns raised by the circumstances in which there was a change in foreign secretary.
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