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Bush Backs Blair Mission to Mideast


British Prime Minister Tony Blair will return to the Middle East in hopes of reviving talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. VOA White House Correspondent Scott Stearns reports Prime Minister Blair and U.S. President George Bush say solving that conflict is central to peace in the broader Middle East.

Prime Minister Blair believes it is possible to resolve what he calls some "very tricky issues" between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Doing so, he says, would send a massive symbolic signal.

"I believe that by moving this forward, we send a very strong signal, not just to the region, but to the whole of the world, that we are even-handed and just in the application of our values," Mr. Blair said. "That we want to see an Israel confident of its security and a Palestinian people able to live in peace and justice and democracy."

Mr. Blair spoke following White House talks with President Bush, during which they discussed this week's report from a bipartisan panel that proposed changes to military and diplomatic operations in Iraq.

The report urged Mr. Bush to launch a new peace effort in the Middle East to give the United States what it called "renewed credibility" in the region.

The president says he supports the prime minister's upcoming mission to advance work toward a two-state solution.

"One of the reasons why there has not been instant success is because radicals and extremists are trying to stop the advance of Palestinian state. Why? Because democracy is a defeat for them," Mr. Bush said.

President Bush says the United States and Britain are working to help Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas strengthen his security forces and form a government that accepts a two-state solution. The Palestinian government is currently divided between Abbas supporters and opponents from the militant group Hamas.

Prime Minister Blair says the lack of a national unity government among Palestinians is a major obstacle to resuming negotiations with Israel.

"You cannot have a government that everyone can deal with - and you can then negotiate a peace with between Israel and Palestine - unless it is on the basis that everyone accepts the others' right to exist. That is the difficulty," he said. "It is not a kind of technical point. It is absolutely at the heart of it."

While recognizing immensely tough challenges in the Middle East, the prime minister says there is no way to succeed unless one just keeps on trying.

Without resolving the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, Mr. Blair says the cycle of violence in the Middle East will remain unbroken.

"You leave a Middle East in which the Israel/Palestine issue is not solved, in which there is no moves towards democracy, in which Iraq goes back in its old state, in which the Iranian people have no chance to express themselves, maybe not in the months or one year, two years, but you will have the same problem," he said.

The prime minister says his Middle East mission is meant to explore ways to resume talks between the two sides and work around obstacles that include the release of Palestinians held by Israel and freedom for a kidnapped Israeli soldier held by Palestinians.

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