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Thursday, 1 November, 2001, 10:38 GMT
Blair the 'quiet American'
UK Prime Minister Tony Blair during a lighter moment with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Tony Blair had a tough meeting with President al-Assad.
Andrew Marr

The headlines in Thursday's papers in London will not be pleasing to Mr Blair.

This is the price you pay for preparing the ground for others

This was absolutely and completely expected after the mood of the trip yesterday.

It wasn't simply Syria, it was coming out of the meetings with the Saudi Royal family without anything specific to say about that, other than that they had all agreed, as they had all agreed before, on 11 September.

But the view from the Blair camp is that this is the price you pay for preparing the ground for others.

You can either stay at home and do Prime Minister's Questions and avoid this kind of embarrassment - because it was certainly embarrassing yesterday with the Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad, - or you can get in there and start to negotiate.

He is, as it were, the quiet American in all of this

I think the absolutely crucial thing here is that he is not doing this on his own part. He is as it were, the quiet American in all of this.

He is going round, sending messages back almost constantly to Washington, because none of this, of course, is going to move until the Americans change policy and really start to put some pressure on the Israelis.

Mr Blair is preparing the ground for others. I think he is having very different conversations sometimes in private than what then happens on the grand standing of the public press conferences afterwards.


And there is visible frustration around his people that no interesting and important propositions are being made in public - there is no blue print - and it will be back to Mitchell (Middle East peace plan).

Nonetheless, things are perhaps moving in private much more than you are seeing in public.

Once you get into the situation that you have got Arab journalists, you have got public press conferences, people will repeat entrenched positions.

They will be talking to their own public opinions. That's not necessarily what they are saying behind the scenes.

Difficult day

Having said that, I think the feeling is that he is going in for a third very, very difficult day in Israel.

I think people expect the Sharon press conference, for instance, to be very difficult and I would expect some kind of announcements coming later today.

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