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Page last updated at 13:50 GMT, Sunday, 13 February 2011

Transcript of Tony Blair interview

On Sunday 13th February Andrew Marr interviewed the former Prime Minister and current Middle East Peace Envoy Tony Blair.

Please note 'The Andrew Marr Show' must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

ANDREW MARR:

Well since he left office more than three years ago, the former Prime Minister Tony Blair has spent a good deal of time in the Middle East as the Special Envoy of the Quartet - of the European Union, Russia, United States and the United Nations - talking to key figures such as President Mubarak and trying to push forward the peace process. Well it hasn't budged very much, but what do the events in Egypt mean for the Palestinians and the Israelis and the wider Middle East? Mr Blair is with me now. Welcome.

TONY BLAIR:

Thanks, Andrew.

ANDREW MARR:

Let's start by hearing your assessment about Mr Mubarak himself because, as we were hearing from the Ambassador, under his regime Egypt did become wealthier and he has been you know a loyal ally and a supporter of the West, including during your time for a long time.

TONY BLAIR:

Sure. And, look, you can't invite him to the White House five months ago - and I was there with President Obama as a partner in peace - and then simply forget all that. He was a force for stability in the region, in the peace process; there were economic changes in Egypt that were beneficial over the past years. But having said that, the reason why this is a moment of huge exhilaration and excitement and opportunity is that there were a whole lot of forces for democracy, for change, for economic and social reform in Egypt that were held back, and those are now unleashed. And …

ANDREW MARR:

So "a bastard but our bastard" is the phrase that's used.

TONY BLAIR:

No, well I wouldn't describe it like that. But, look, this is a moment where it's hard to have a balanced assessment and that will probably come at a later time. You know I think the single most important thing now is to accept that this is a moment of huge opportunity not just for Egypt, and I'm on balance - although I see all the uncertainties and you have to manage this process of change very carefully, I think the Military Council will do that by the way - but despite all those challenges, this is a moment when the whole of the Middle East could pivot and face towards change and modernisation and democracy, and that would be a huge benefit for all of us.

ANDREW MARR:

Which it certainly needs to do because I mean you've been battering away at this peace process, but really very little has changed on the ground. William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, said it was hanging … it was "on life support", hanging by a thread pretty much, the peace process at the moment.

TONY BLAIR:

It's blocked. It wouldn't be true to say there had been no change on the ground. I think as a result of the work of the Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, under President Abbas, on the West Bank in the Palestinian authority they've had double digit growth probably for the last couple of years. Actually there is a lot of change going on there. They've provided security. For the first time the Palestinians have been sweeping the militia off the streets and trying to make sure that they actually govern their country properly. Even with Gaza, although there's still an enormous amount of challenges there, there's been an easing of the blockade and so on. We have to do far more. So it's not that it's without change. But where you're right is that whether the Middle East peace process moves forward or not, I do think depends dramatically, fundamentally on whether the region as a whole goes with a process of change that leads to greater freedom and greater democracy because in the end I think that is the best guarantee of stability for Israel and of course for the Palestinians.

ANDREW MARR:

How frustrated have you been by the way that the Israeli government has dealt with the issue of settlement because Benjamin Netanyahu has simply kept pushing them forward? I mean you know they carry on expanding in some of the most sensitive and difficult areas around Jerusalem and elsewhere.

TONY BLAIR:

This has been going on for many years though. The important thing is to get to an agreement on territory, as well as security and the other questions, because then that resolves the settlement issue. Now I actually think at this moment there are two things that we need to do as the West because I think it's all very well for us to be commentators on what's happened in Egypt, in the Middle East. The question is where do we now go?

ANDREW MARR:

What are we going to do.

TONY BLAIR:

The first thing is that we should have a strategy of engagement with the democratic and modernising forces across the region. We should be helping countries evolve and move in the direction of change. If there's one thing we've learnt from Egypt …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) So when people are on the streets in Tunisia or Morocco and so on, we should be in spirit with them?

TONY BLAIR:

We should be engaging not just with them, but also with the leadership of those countries to help bring about a process of change. Some of these issues are to do with economic and social change, by the way, as well as political change. But in each respect, we should take from Egypt and learn from Egypt that what appears to be static and immovable actually isn't; and, believe it or not, people in that region want what everyone else wants.

ANDREW MARR:

And to be absolutely clear because some people around the world suspect that the West wants to cling onto as many as possible of the old regimes because it's convenient in terms of geopolitics or whatever, but you're saying that isn't and shouldn't be the case; that we should be absolutely on the side of reform and change and democracy?

TONY BLAIR:

Yeah and we should be engaging with those who want to move their countries in that direction in order to help them do so. And by the way the West …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) Including in places like Yemen and Saudi Arabia where …

TONY BLAIR:

I don't think there's anywhere in the Middle East that if you look at it at the moment, you don't need to see a process of change. Now some of that change is going to be evolutionary, by the way. For example King Abdullah in Saudi Arabia has made significant reforms and there are conservative forces in each of these societies that would either push back against change or, if the society opens up, try and take the society in a different direction.

ANDREW MARR:

Because the big danger for a lot of people would be a group like the Muslim Brotherhood actually stepping in in Egypt with what they have said in the past about the peace treaty with Israel, which they're deeply against.

TONY BLAIR:

Yeah, yeah, and therefore the sensible thing about the Muslim Brotherhood (in Egypt particularly) is not to be hysterical about them - you know they're not extremists or terrorists in that sense - but not to be complacent about it. You know this is a political party that is not the type of political party that you or I would recognise. So however, having said that, what you've seen in Egypt is an explosion of popular feeling that is basically about democratic and modernising forces. And so what I'm really saying is you know I'm not suggesting in each case you're going to have rapid you know or immediate change, but we need to get from the point of view of commentating on this situation to the point of view of …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) To pushing people a bit further.

TONY BLAIR:

Well of engaging. You know a few years back, we were talking about a greater Middle East strategy in which we tried to engage countries in a process of change. I think that is the sensible thing for us to do. I think there's one other thing, by the way, that may seem a bit quixotic to say - you know I've got a foundation that is about religious inter-faith now - I do think we need to engage with the religion of Islam as well from the outside and we need to be also understanding the importance (and I understand this far more now having spent the last few years working in the region) the absolute fundamental importance of religion in that region.

ANDREW MARR:

What about the effect on the Palestinians particularly of what's happened in Egypt because President Mubarak was a huge supporter of Mr Abbas and that's suddenly been removed?

TONY BLAIR:

Yes and it's fantastically destabilising for them. They've also had these leaks of negotiations that are put out by Al Jazeera, which have also I think been very destabilising.

ANDREW MARR:

This is why their negotiator, Saeb Erikat, has had to resign.

TONY BLAIR:

Well he's tended his resignation now, so we'll wait and see what happens there. But I think again if you get a benign outcome in Egypt, I think curiously that could actually help those modernising forces within the Palestinian politics as well because you know they face the same challenges that the rest of the region faces. And in the end for Israel, I would say you know looking at this from the inside now - as I say with far greater depth than before - the key thing for Israel is not that they couldn't do a deal on territory and borders and all that. The key thing is Israelis need to know that if they in this very small bit of territory, you know which would fit into the average American state - Israel and Palestine together - that there will be a state that is securely and properly and democratically governed. If Israelis were more certain about the nature of the Palestinian state, I think it would be a lot easier to push forward the process of getting one.

ANDREW MARR:

And is there a sort of simplistic thing going on here, which is that a democratic, more self-confident Egypt simply nudges things forward - I mean creates, you know unblocks the blockage?

TONY BLAIR:

It could be, and that's why this is a moment obviously of excitement but uncertainty. But it could be. And certainly the Egyptians I've spoken to in the last you know couple of days or so, who are pretty much in a position to know, I think, have been more optimistic than pessimistic.

ANDREW MARR:

The last time we talked, you were very concerned about Iran - the other huge power in the region - and nothing has got better there. I mean there was a moment where it seemed as if there was going to be people power expressed successfully on the streets, but that was repressed. What's your feeling at the moment?

TONY BLAIR:

My feeling is that if that people power was allowed to be given expression, that that would be again something huge for the region. I mean essentially if you ended up with the Iranian regime instead of being destabilising force in the region (which is what it is) was then a force for peaceful interaction with its neighbours, wanted to open up its economy, exploit the enormous potential of Iran as a country, that would be an immense positive. So you know to go back to the basic point, this is a region in transition. The question is where's it transiting? It can either go towards an open-minded, modern type of democracy - let's hope that it does - or it could be swung into something narrow and extreme and close-minded. I think there's every possibility that we get the first and not the second, and our purpose as the West should be to engage in so far as possible to bring about that more benign scenario.

ANDREW MARR:

Historically Britain has not had a great record with Egypt, it could be said. If we're going to use this opportunity, what should be the British position about Mubarak, for instance, and his money? Would it be wise to offer him a place here or should we be pursuing him and his billions around the world?

TONY BLAIR:

(over) I really don't know. I mean I don't know about his money and I don't know what our position should be. I think you know out in the region what you find with Britain is that it's you know yes in one sense. I mean one of the things that people always say - they always say everything goes back to the British in the …

ANDREW MARR:

King Farouk.

TONY BLAIR:

… yeah in the 1920s and so on and so forth, but there's also a respect and affection for Britain at the same time. So you know I think we've played it right in this past few weeks or so. I think Britain's had a pretty sensible position and the important thing now is to engage with those forces of change in Egypt and we should play our part in that.

ANDREW MARR:

Right, there's so much else we could be talking about …

TONY BLAIR:

(laughs) I should think there is.

ANDREW MARR:

… but we agreed to talk about the Middle East just now and we'll no doubt have another opportunity. But for now, thank you very much indeed Tony Blair.

TONY BLAIR:

Thank you.

INTERVIEW ENDS




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