Blair brands Iran a sponsor of terrorism

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AFP: British Prime Minister Tony Blair called Iran a state sponsor of terrorism on Tuesday, and urged the Islamic republic to meet EU demands to renounce its suspected pursuit of nuclear weapons. “It certainly does sponsor terrorism. There’s no doubt about that at all,” Blair told a parliamentary committee, agreeing with US President George W. Bush’s view of Iran as a leading backer of terrorists.
AFP

By Robert MacPherson

LONDON – British Prime Minister Tony Blair called Iran a state sponsor of terrorism on Tuesday, and urged the Islamic republic to meet EU demands to renounce its suspected pursuit of nuclear weapons.

“It certainly does sponsor terrorism. There’s no doubt about that at all,” Blair told a parliamentary committee, agreeing with US President George W. Bush’s view of Iran as a leading backer of terrorists.

Asked if a military strike on Iran might be necessary if it has nuclear weapons, Blair replied: “I’m not saying that. I think it depends what the evidence base is.”

“I hope very much that if we can make progress in the Middle East, that Iran realises that it’s got an obligation to help that, not hinder it,” he said, referring to Iran’s support for Palestinian militant groups.

Blair said it was a “good sign” that the United States and Europe were “working together” to convince Iran to abandon its feared pursuit of nuclear weapons.

It was equally a “good sign” that France and Germany — which opposed the US and British invasion of Iraq — were, together with Britain, striving to reach a diplomatic solution with Tehran.

“Iran has now been given a set of obligation that it’s got to fulfill,” the prime minister added. “I hope they fulfill it.”

Blair, in shirtsleeves, appeared before the British parliament’s liaison committee for more than two hours as Iranian and EU diplomats met in Geneva to discuss Iran’s nuclear programme.

Iran agreed in November with Britain, France and Germany to suspend all uranium enrichment-related activities in order to ally fears of a weapons drive and in return for talks on trade, security and technological incentives.

The Iran-EU talks began in Brussels in December, then moved to Geneva in January before resuming this week, still in Geneva.

“This week’s negotiations with the Europeans are the most important part of the nuclear negotiations,” Iran’s vice president and atomic energy head Gholamreza Aghazadeh told state television.

But there is a risk of deadlock, with EU negotiators demanding Iran totally dismantle its nuclear fuel programme, including enrichment, to provide the necessary “objective guarantees” that it does not seek atomic weapons.

Bush branded Iran “the world’s primary state sponsor of terror, pursuing nuclear weapons while depriving its people of the freedom they seek and deserve”, in his February 2 State of the Union address.

Four days later his Vice President Dick Cheney said Washington supported Europe’s “good-faith effort”, but added that it had not eliminated “any alternative”.

Cheney did not elaborate, though he indicated that if Iran failed to back down, the UN Security Council would be asked to impose international sanctions.

Last week in London, at the start of a European and Middle East tour, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said a military attack on Iran was not on the agenda.