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Last Updated: Thursday, 3 August 2006, 12:33 GMT 13:33 UK
Key points: Blair's news briefing
Here are the key points from UK Prime Minister Tony Blair's monthly Downing Street news conference.

Middle East

  • Mr Blair began by saying the US, UK, France and others had been working "very hard" towards a UN resolution on an immediate ceasefire in Lebanon, which they hoped would come into force in "a matter of days".

  • He hoped not just for a genuine ceasefire on both sides but a way of addressing the medium-term and long-term security of Lebanon.

  • This was a "very critical time" but things were coming together now and the remaining differences were "very slight".

  • He said he could easily call for an immediate ceasefire provided both sides agreed on it - but unless the international community, the governments of Israel and Lebanon were all "in the same place", this could not happen.

  • The reason why this problem had arisen was that Hezbollah had continued to operate outside the control of the Lebanese government - and this issue had to be dealt with.

  • The Lebanese government was making a genuine attempt to end the conflict and reconstruct the country through its seven-point plan, and the international community should do all it could to support this. Countries such as Iran and Syria had to help in this process, he said.

  • Mr Blair was asked about the claim by Jack Straw, his former foreign secretary, that Israel's response had been "disproportionate". The prime minister said a solution would come only by agreeing a ceasefire and by bringing people together to find a common solution, and not by condemning one side in the conflict.

  • He said it would be wrong to try to change the rules preventing flights which carried bombs or weapons - such as those from the US heading to Israel - from landing at UK airports.

  • He said the loss of human life in Lebanon was unacceptable but it was his job to make sure that this stopped.

  • The government of Lebanon had to be able to control the whole of its territory in a true democracy.

  • It was not his desire to have "bad relations" with Syria or Iran. There had not been any understanding in recent media coverage of how Syria and Iran financed, supported and armed Hezbollah - and he didn't think it was wrong to say that the world had to face up to this.

  • He said that once the crisis in Lebanon was resolved, it would then be very important to return to the major underlying issues in the region, particularly the revival of the Middle East peace process.

  • Recent comments from the Iranian president about the "elimination of Israel" had been "deeply unhelpful", said Mr Blair.

  • He said the issue was whether you wanted Jews, Muslims and Christians in the Middle East to live peacefully with each other, as they did in the UK, with diversity considered a strength, not a weakness.

  • He believed there had been progress in the search for peace between Israel and the Palestinians but there were not "facts on the ground" as yet which indicated an immediate solution.

  • People trying to push and export extremism across the region must be "pushed back", he said.

  • The prime minister added he would regard it as a failure if there was not a "re-energising" of the peace process, which would lead to "a different vision for the Middle East".

    Disagreement within Labour

  • The idea that he was at odds with Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett over the Lebanese conflict was wrong.

  • He didn't doubt that there were people "within the system" who disagreed with his approach toward the Lebanese crisis, but it was wrong to say that the Foreign Secretary or officials at the Foreign Office had been telling him to act differently.

  • It did not surprise him that voters and members of the Labour Party were concerned about his policy on what was "a terrible, terrible situation" but he understood what they said and was working hard to bring it to an end through "a practical solution".

    Iraq's future

  • Mr Blair was asked about the warning from William Patey - leaked to the BBC - that it was more likely that Iraq faced civil war than democracy.

  • Mr Blair said Mr Patey had done a fantastic job as British ambassador for Iraq. He said Mr Patey's leaked comments were in line with what he had said publicly before.

  • The government had to stay the course in Iraq, stand up for people who were fighting for democracy, liberty and the rule of law - and this was precisely what Mr Patey was saying in his leaked memo.

  • It was important to continue the fight against extremists in Iraq and Afghanistan and he hoped everyone in the Middle East region would work towards that.

  • The Iraqi forces had to have the capability of dealing with milita groups and it was better that the Iraqi army "was in the lead on it".

  • The main threat came from extremists with a perspective which was "against everything we stand for", he said.

  • They represented a global movement with its own ideology which now had roots in many countries and was determined to disrupt "those of us with a different vision of the world".

    ID cards

  • Plans to introduce compulsory ID cards were definitely proceeding as "a major plank" of Labour's next manifesto at the next election, Mr Blair said, as ID cards were a way of fighting illegal immigration and major crime.

  • As passports and visas had to be biometric for countries such as the US, there was a "huge opportunity" to introduce a biometric identity card which also had a passport on it.

    Domestic agenda

  • There would be a white paper in the autumn looking at the efficiency of local government.

  • Mr Blair will also be giving a speech on social exclusion to address the section of the population currently not benefiting from government policies.

  • There would be further proposals for business on planning, regulation and how to develop bioscience and technology in the UK, "a major part of our industrial future".

  • There was also the on-going shake-up of the Home Office - terrorism remained an active threat which had to be dealt with.

  • He said the government was trying to modernise the UK in the rapidly-changing world on the principles of fairness and social justice. This was so the public could access services on the basis of need, irrespective of their wealth.

  • Mr Blair said he was proceeding with his summer holiday plans and he believed his deputy, John Prescott, would run the country "perfectly well", as he had done in previous years.

    Prime Minister's future

  • Asked about his departure date from Downing Street, he replied that the situation had not changed.

    The environment

  • The differences between the US and UK on the Kyoto treaty were "well documented".

  • Mr Blair believed it was possible over the next few years to reach an agreement which would join together those involved in the European carbon trading system with at least some of the US states.

  • This could "play a great part" in securing international consensus on the way to reduce emissions and protect the planet.

  • He said the business figures he met this week in California along with the state's governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, indicated their support for his strategy on the environment.




  • SEE ALSO
    ID cards 'in Labour's manifesto'
    03 Aug 06 |  UK Politics
    Ceasefire plan 'in next few days'
    03 Aug 06 |  UK Politics
    Ayatollah attacks US over Israel
    02 Aug 06 |  Middle East
    Airport curb on US 'bomb flights'
    01 Aug 06 |  UK Politics

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