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Blair Seeks US Backing for Mideast Peace Moves


British Prime Minister Tony Blair will be seeking U.S. support for injecting new momentum into the moribund Middle East peace process when he meets Friday with President Bush in Washington.

Mr. Blair, who faces an election next year, needs to show Britons that he is capable of getting something in return for his steadfast support for Mr. Bush during and after the Iraq War.

Mr. Blair will be the first world leader to see Mr. Bush after the U.S. president's re-election victory last week. Diplomats in London say he will be looking for what one called a clear signal from the White House that it intends to revive the so-called "Roadmap for Peace" in the troubled Middle East.

Mr. Blair, who has described the Israeli-Palestinian impasse as the single most pressing political problem in the world today, has, in the past, come away empty-handed from his attempts to get Washington to step up its engagement in Middle East peace-building. But aides to Mr. Blair say that, with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat hospitalized and with Israel preparing to withdraw from its settlements in the Gaza Strip, new opportunities exist to re-start the peace process.

Mr. Blair told the House of Commons that peace between Israelis and Palestinians is crucial to fighting global terrorism. "And the important way to fight it is, of course, by security means, as we've done in Afghanistan and Iraq, but also removing the cause of so much discontent and a sense of injustice by making sure that we do make progress on the Middle East peace process and resolving the Palestinian issue," said Tony Blair. "And I think that, if we are able to combine the measures on security with those measures that let us understand some of the sense of injustice there is in the world, then I think we have got a better chance of defeating this terrorism and defeating it finally."

The Bush administration has supported Ariel Sharon's refusal to deal with Mr. Arafat, whom the Israeli leader accuses of sponsoring terrorism. Analyst Rosemary Hollis, at the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London, says only Mr. Bush has the power to persuade Mr. Sharon to negotiate with a post-Arafat Palestinian leadership. But she says she is not sure that Mr. Sharon really wants to negotiate with the Palestinians. "He may put the same stipulations on a new Palestinian leadership: until you stop terrorism, we're not going to do business with you," she said. "And then it will be down to a new Palestinian leader to try and stop terrorism when he's got no incentives for the Palestinians themselves. It goes round and round in a circle. The U.S. has the power to break that circle. We will see if it does."

British officials say it is premature to expect any dramatic changes in Washington's Middle East policy at this stage. But they say that Mr. Blair will argue that Mr. Bush should persuade Mr. Sharon that his unilateral withdrawal from Gaza can only be part of a broader process resulting in the creation of a Palestinian state, side-by-side with Israel.

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