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Last Updated: Saturday, 16 December 2006, 16:15 GMT
Middle East at 'critical moment'
Tony Blair
The prime minister is hoping to reignite the peace process
The Middle East faces a "critical moment of decision", Prime Minister Tony Blair has said.

Speaking in Cairo, Mr Blair also said it was important that the international community offered support to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

He spoke after talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in his continuing Middle East diplomacy tour.

Mr Blair said the president needed help to build his authority and his ability to raise Palestinian living standards.

We can't be constructive if that's the way they [Iran] are playing things
Tony Blair

Hailing the president's call for early elections in the Palestinian territories, Mr Blair said: "What it shows is the desire of the Palestinian president to improve the lot of his people, who are suffering in a terrible way and have been for a long period of time."

He also said the president had worked hard to try to bring about a unity government.

President Abbas believes early elections may defuse rising tensions between Hamas and Fatah.

However, Mr Blair offered words of warning on the prospect of an increased role for Iran in the region.

He accused Iran of wanting to "derail" peace prospects and said it was "difficult to see" how it could be a constructive player in the region.

Bleak prospects

Mr Blair said: "It is up to Iran to decide. If Iran wants to reach out, we are there.

"But if what they are going to do is undermine the government in Iraq, the government in Lebanon, the Palestinian authority in Palestine, what can we do? We can't be constructive if that's the way they are playing things."

Speaking earlier in the Turkish capital Ankara, Mr Blair said nothing was more important in the Middle East and the rest of the world than the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

Referring to recent violence, Mr Blair said: "As you can see from the events of the last 24 hours, the next few days or weeks are a critical moment of decision for this whole process."

We have just swapped the icy cold of the central Turkish plain for the dusty heat of north Africa
BBC correspondent James Landale

He believes the most important thing is to establish "a fully functioning authority" which will "start to create the structures on the Palestinian side that then allow a negotiation for peace with Israel to go forward".

Worsening violence was a reason for going there, not for staying away, he said.

Mr Blair added: "If we don't get a new sense of urgency and movement in this situation, it will continue to go backwards and the suffering of the Palestinian people and the implications for the region and for the security of Israel are dreadful."

Meanwhile, the prime minister also said he was a "strong supporter" of Turkey's bid to join the European Union.

He said it could play an important role as part of an "arc of moderation" in the Muslim world and as a bridge between Europe and the region.

His counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said he was committed to finding a solution to the conflict.

Mr Blair also praised Turkey's leadership and said the country's membership was also "of fundamental importance to the future of Europe".

Mr Blair will also go to Israel, the Palestinian territories and the United Arab Emirates during his visit.

Tony Blair stops off in Turkey and Egypt

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