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Friday, 12 October, 2001, 00:45 GMT 01:45 UK
Blair's push for new world order
Tony Blair in Oman
Tony Blair's trip sought to shore up support from Arab nations
By BBC Newsnight's political editor Martha Kearney

The prime minister's trip to the Middle East was the first time we saw in practice the theme of his party conference speech about establishing a new world order.

The immediate priority was to shore up the international coalition against terrorism, strained to the limit over the bombing of Afghanistan.

I have no doubt at all that it is important not just for the stability in the region but for the stability of the world that we see this process succeed

Tony Blair

But Tony Blair added a new dimension by linking resolution of the Middle East peace process to the eventual defeat of terrorism.

Talking to journalists on the plane, he made a parallel with the Northern Ireland peace process - that when there is a political vacuum, it is filled with extremist violence.

It was a view shared by President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt whom the Prime Minister met in Cairo.

He warned that the Middle East problem could lead to many more generations of terrorist groups in the world and that unless there is a comprehensive settlement there would be no safety on the planet.

'Reinvigorate the process'

But Arab leaders can take comfort from recent developments.

There is no doubt that international pressure is building.

Tony Blair has certainly been urging George Bush to reinvigorate the process again - and it does seem that the pressure is heading in the direction of Israel.

President Bush talked recently for the first time about the idea of a Palestinian state which was not received well in Israel.
Yasser Arafat
There is mounting international pressure to restart the peace process

But the problem is that there is deep suspicion in the Arab world that this interest in the Middle East peace process - and particularly helping the lot of the Palestinians - has happened only because the US and Britain need to keep the Arab countries on side.

One Egyptian journalist asked the Prime Minister on Thursday whether the interest was just part of a tactical move - something which Mr Blair, of course, denied.

He said: "I have no doubt at all that it is important not just for the stability in the region but for the stability of the world that we see this process succeed.

"And this is not simply something we are saying because of the aftermath of 11 September and the need to keep a strong alliance, it is something we genuinely believe. And this has gone back a very, very long time."


But it is certainly true that the events of 11 September have added urgency.

A government document called Defeating International Terrorism, which was released on the trip, talks about "renewed efforts to resolve the conflicts which are the underlying causes of international terrorism".

But many people in the Middle East are sceptical.

The leaders Blair has met told him that they really had a problem with their own people who feel that the west has lost interest in the Middle East peace process.

There has also been the suggestion that a planned visit to Saudi Arabia has been cancelled because the political situation is so sensitive.

Propaganda war

So an important part of his trip has been to fight the propaganda war - to win over hearts and minds in the Arab world over peace process and against Osama Bin Laden.

There has been a rather New Labour way of framing the debate.

Tony Blair talks about "rebuttal" which has been a key weapon in their domestic success.

So the prime minister has been giving interviews and writing articles for the Arab media, including one on Thursday for the newspaper Al Hayat, which is distributed all over the world.

Mr Blair pointed out in his column that Britain, the rest of Europe and the US have always recognised that Palestinians face injustice, writing: "We have always supported the creation of a Palestinian state, through negotiation, which contributes to the stability of all the countries in the region including Israel.

"That is why in the last few days, we have exerted enormous pressure to get the Middle East peace process back on track."

The BBC's Andrew Marr
reports on Tony Blair's visit to Oman
Sami Haddad, Al-Jazeera
"Mr Blair is an astute politician"
Prime Minister Tony Blair speaking on Abu-Dhabi TV
"We cannot settle problems with terrorism"
See also:

11 Oct 01 | UK Politics
Blair completes Middle East mission
10 Oct 01 | UK Politics
UK signs pact against bioterrorism
09 Oct 01 | UK Politics
Allies want 'justice, not revenge'
09 Oct 01 | UK Politics
War cabinet meets for first time
10 Oct 01 | UK Politics
Tory leader to attack Bin Laden
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