The UK should "bloody American noses" over Middle East policy to limit the damage an Iraq war could cause to relations in the region, says an influential think tank.
The UK must overcome mistrust over Middle East policy, says the think tank
In a new report, the Foreign Policy Centre, says the UK needs to highlight how its Middle East policy differs from America's to counter mistrust of the UK and the West in Arab nations.
New efforts are needed to quell the idea that the UK is motivated by a "clash of civilisations", says the think tank, which has close links to Downing Street.
The report, commissioned by the British Council, also calls for a new BBC television service to be set up in the Middle East as part of a new push to get information to the "Arab street".
It comes after Prime Minister Tony Blair told MPs on Tuesday reiterated his commitment to Middle East peace efforts and said he hoped to announce "further steps" soon.
Government critics argue a war against Iraq could inflame Muslim public opinion and help extremists to recruit potential terrorists.
Foreign Policy Centre director Mark Leonard, who wrote the report with Conrad Smewing, said it was published at a key moment.
He said: "It might seem an odd time to try engaging with people in the Middle East as the troops are assembling and bombs preparing to fly.
"But this is exactly the time for suspicions and hatred between the West and the Middle East to be tackled with far greater effort and resources than ever before."
David Green, director-general of the British Council, said a better understanding between the UK and the Arab and Muslim world was "vital".
Some war critics say conflict could create "more Bin Ladens"
The report says British and particularly American Middle East policy must change in some ways if relations with the public in Arab nations are to thaw.
But it says the West is beginning to develop a policy, including commitments to a two-state solution in Israel/Palestine, which could win support in the region.
"But this policy is universally derided and mistrusted by those it should be winning over," it goes on.
The UK is also a less useful ally to America because it is seen as "apishly following every American lead", it suggests.
That means British ministers must work to highlight the differences with America, not only on Israel-Palestine but on engaging with Iran, Syria and Libya.
"The UK Government should be more openly critical of the policies of Ariel Sharon," says the report.
"It should not be afraid of 'bloodying the Americans' noses when discussing international attitudes to the peace process."
UK pupils should be taught more about Islam, says the report
Statements from either the Israeli right or the Evangelical Right in America against two-state solutions should be condemned, it continues.
The report says there is no "clash of civilisations" between the West and the Arab world - economic success is admired and democratic values are shared by Muslim youths, it says.
It warns politicians: "Until the dangerous myth of monolithic clashing civilisations is taken on, positive approaches to the Middle East region cannot have the public impact needed for their success."
The think tank urges the Foreign Office to have a "mantra" of facts and arguments refuting the clash to repeat at every opportunity.
The British Council can also help by stressing the shared problems caused by what has been called "McWorld" globalisation.
Anti-Islamic feeling in the West has fuelled hostility in the Arab world too, says the report.
It recommends the government set up a task force to produce teaching material about Islam as a religion.
The BBC did move to start an Arab-language television service in the 1990s - with its closure indirectly prompting the establishment of the al-Jazeera channel.
The report says the BBC is trusted and the provision of a "safe and neutral" place for political debate is vital for the process of reform for the whole region.