Diplomats attack PM's Middle East policies

Fifty-two former senior British diplomats have published an open letter to Prime Minister Tony Blair as a public critique of his "doomed" policy on the Middle East.

The co-signatories, many of whom are former British Ambassadors who have served in the Middle East, sent the letter to Mr Blair expressing their "deepening concern" the policies followed with regard to the Arab-Israel problem and Iraq "in close co-operation with the United States".

The event that prompted the letter was attributed to the radical change in policy towards the Arab-Israeli problem supported by Mr Bush after the meeting with Mr Sharon in Washington.

The former diplomats have pointed out that the Sharon policy, apparently endorsed by Mr Blair, was not the US, EU, Russian and UN "road map" that they said had "raised hopes that the major powers would at last make a determined and collective effort" to resolve the Israeli/Palestine conflict.

The open letter condemns the US-backed policy announced by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon as "one-sided and illegal". The letter condemned the British Government for a wait and see policy that relied "in vain" on "American leadership".

Regarding the policy on Iraq the diplomats told the Prime Minister: "The conduct of the war in Iraq has made it clear that there was no effective plan for the post-Saddam settlement."

In respect of the post-Iraq war conflict Mr Blair was told: "Heavy weapons unsuited to the task in hand, inflammatory language, the current confrontations in Najaf and Falluja, all these have built up rather than isolated the opposition. The Iraqis killed by coalition forces probably total 10-15,000 (it is a disgrace that the coalition forces themselves appear to have no estimate), and the number killed in the last month in Falluja alone is apparently several hundred including many civilian men, women and children."

The letter ended: "We share your view that the British government has an interest in working as closely as possible with the US on both these related issues, and in exerting real influence as a loyal ally. We believe that the need for such influence is now a matter of the highest urgency. If that is unacceptable or unwelcome there is no case for supporting policies which are doomed to failure."

The full text of the Diplomats' letter to Mr Blair.

The letter from the top diplomats, many with significant relevant experience in the Middle East region, is viewed as a severe embarrassment to Mr Blair.

Among the most senior former diplomats named as signatories - in all 52 co-signed the letter - are:

Sir Graham Boyce (former Ambassador to Egypt); Sir Terence Clark & Sir Harold (Hooky) Walker (former Ambassadors to Iraq); Francis Cornish (former Ambassador to Israel); Sir James Craig (former Ambassador to Saudi Arabia); Ivor Lucas (former Ambassador to Syria); Richard Muir (former Ambassador to Kuwait).

Downing Street sought to play down the significance of the letter saying only that the signatories are "entitled to express their views" and that peace and stability remained the goal in the region.

Today, a Foreign Office Minister described the attack on government policy as a "cry of frustration".

In an interview for the BBC Radio 4 Today programme Mike O'Brien claimed that there had been no change in Middle Eastern policy and that Sharon's decision to withdraw from Gaza represented a break in the "logjam".


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