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Conference Facilitator

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Negus Media International

Kirsty Cockburn
Sydney Office:
Ph: (61) 2 9818 3537
Fax: (61) 2 9818 3854
Mobile: 0427 122396

Regional Office:
989 Promised Land Road
via Bellingen NSW 2454


GEORGE NEGUS: You've been totally forthright about the fact that it's religious values that drive you? Can you tell me this as a 'pseudo-theologian'.

TONY BLAIR, MIDDLE EAST ENVOY: There's a lot of those around.

GEORGE NEGUS: Your Faith Foundation, which is dedicated to religious tolerance, how do you negotiate with Muslims and Jews, both of whom do not believe that Jesus was the Son of God?

TONY BLAIR: That is a really good question, but I think the thing about religious inter-faith, which is the area that the foundation works in, and tries to bring people of different faiths together, is that you can still respect and understand their faith even if your faith is different.

GEORGE NEGUS: But why have it if you think that everybody can be right?

TONY BLAIR: Because I think that, you know, I speak as somebody who is a Christian, but I don't disrespect...

GEORGE NEGUS: So it's OK that Muslims don't think Jesus is the Son of God, it is OK that Jews..?

TONY BLAIR: That's their belief. Obviously it's different from...

GEORGE NEGUS: Is that the core of your belief?

TONY BLAIR: Yeah, but I think it is possible for people even if they disagree at a certain level to agree at another level. To take a political analogy, in which two people are of different political persuasions, but at a certain level and on certain issues they can agree, and they can easily agree that they should tolerate each other and respect each other, and that's what the inter-faith space is about. And my view is very simple - that religion - it can be a progressive force in the modern world or it can be reactionary.

GEORGE NEGUS: Because a lot of people believe it is part of the problem and not the solution.

TONY BLAIR: Absolutely. And that's the reason for the Foundation - to say, hang on a minute, there was also fantastic work done by people with religious faith and the best of religious faith is expressed in social action, in compassion, in action for humanity, not in terrorism or extremism or isolation.

GEORGE NEGUS: As a Christian, are God and Allah one and the same?

TONY BLAIR: Well, Allah is simply the term for God that a Muslim uses. Do we believe in the same God?

GEORGE NEGUS: Or are there two, I guess, is the silly question.

TONY BLAIR: That is why I think one of the interesting things, one of the fascinations actually about being here in Jerusalem, where we are now, is...

GEORGE NEGUS: The big three are here!

TONY BLAIR: You see the rich common heritage. We are all Abrahamic religions.

GEORGE NEGUS: But the birthplace of those religions has almost become a battleground over those religions.

TONY BLAIR: Correct. Which is why one of the solutions actually to this issue is inter-faith understanding. Here in Jerusalem there is no political solution unless there is also a religious solution that allows people of different faiths to worship at the holy site of Christianity, Islam and Judaism.

GEORGE NEGUS: Well, as I say, good luck if you think you can convince people of that.

TONY BLAIR: You know the funny thing? I think most people accept that. So I think if you went out and asked most Christians, Muslims or Jews, should we all be able to worship our God in our own way at this centre of religious heritage, most people would say yes. It is the minority actually who are the extremists.

GEORGE NEGUS: It almost makes you feel like there is only a filthy rumour that the human race is intelligent. We think we've got the answer but we keep arguing about the question. How long will you plug away at this? Are you in there for the long haul? Because it could be a long haul.

TONY BLAIR: Totally. I am in for the long haul. I find it both compelling and fascinating, and in any event, absolutely critical to the future. If this issue were resolved its consequence would go so much wider than Israel and Palestine, and also in the religious inter-faith context it would be the visible expression that people of different faiths can live together.

GEORGE NEGUS: It seems to me that you are totally comfortable with what you're doing. Almost pleased to be out of that rat-race of Number 10 and Westminster.

TONY BLAIR: A bit of me feels like that from time to time. Look, I did 10 years, and it is a huge honour, it is a great privilege. But 10 years is a long time.

GEORGE NEGUS: How does it feel emotionally and psychologically for you to go from being the golden child of British politics to name your poison the people threw at you.

TONY BLAIR: That is just politics. It happens. But underneath all of that - and I always point out to people, I did actually win three elections.

GEORGE NEGUS: Not bad for a failure.

TONY BLAIR: Yeah. It is just the way...

GEORGE NEGUS: Was Iraq the beginning of the end for Tony Blair?

TONY BLAIR: No, and I think we will make a judgment about Iraq in time.

GEORGE NEGUS: There are a lot of people believe that was where it began to unravel for you.

TONY BLAIR: Of course, and there are also a lot of people who disagree very strongly. But here is the thing about being in these positions - when you are in opposition, when you are running for office, you can kind of choose your issues. You can choose where you take a stand and where you don't have to, and you can also weave - and I did it quite successfully as leader of opposition - a sort of panoply of creative consensus, where different positions can be masked, and everyone...

GEORGE NEGUS: It's called politics.

TONY BLAIR: Yeah, exactly. But it is the politics of opposition. So when September 11th happened for me, there was a decision - I either stood with America or not. Now, I took the decision then. I've never regretted it. I stood with America then, I believe in it, I believe in having got rid of the Taliban and Saddam as well as Milosevic and the gangsters in Sierra Leone, I believe in an interventionist foreign policy. But when you take those decisions a lot of people disagree with you, and they end up hating you for it.

GEORGE NEGUS: A lot of people did, you've had to put up with a lot of that.

TONY BLAIR: But in the end, what you come away with, and this is my advice to any politician who takes the reins of office, if you take those reins into your hand and expect to be loved for it, give up now, mate, because that is not going to happen. But it is a privilege to do it and your duty is to take the decisions that you think are right for your country, and if people vote for you, they vote for you, if they don't vote for you, that is their prerogative.

GEORGE NEGUS: I have to ask you this question. What ever happened to those weapons of mass destruction? Whatever happened to the 45-minute attack that could have been launched?

TONY BLAIR: Well, people don't know what happened to the WMD, because the one thing for sure...

GEORGE NEGUS: You still believe they exist?

TONY BLAIR: They certainly did exist, because they used them. There's no doubt they had them.

GEORGE NEGUS: Against their own people.

TONY BLAIR: Against his own people, yes.

GEORGE NEGUS: But the weapons of mass destruction that were going to take the entire region apart.

TONY BLAIR: Well, in the end, as we know, for whatever reason, he must have got rid of them, but we don't know that. But incidentally, that's not to say he wasn't a threat. I mean, history can get rewritten now that Saddam was really quite a nice, avuncular figure and why would we ever want to...

GEORGE NEGUS: Unfortunately, 16 people died today in Baghdad, so it's not over yet.

TONY BLAIR: No, it's not over yet, but who's killing them? The very same terrorists we are fighting everywhere in this region. And the answer is not to give in to them but to stand up to them.

GEORGE NEGUS: I have to ask you a domestic British question. You probably got out just in time...

TONY BLAIR: This'll be a quick answer actually.

GEORGE NEGUS: But you still are a politician, I know that. You could say that you got out at the right time. Would you like to be Gordon Brown at the moment, facing the problems he's got with the recession and the like.

TONY BLAIR: It's a huge challenge, this is the toughest - actually, I think it's the toughest intellectual as well as political challenge - I can remember in politics, which is a pretty big thing to say.

GEORGE NEGUS: Bigger than Iraq?

TONY BLAIR: Toughest intellectual. What I mean is, the thing that is really tough about this economic crisis - and people should just understand this about their leaders at this situation - most times, you have a crisis, you call in the experts, you more or less understand what's going on, you can choose this way or that way and so on.

GEORGE NEGUS: But with the financial crisis, we don't have a clue really.

TONY BLAIR: This will evolve and change the whole time. There is no shame in my view of governments evolving their policy at the same time, or saying, "Look, we've tried this, and that may not work, now we're going to try that." This is really, really tough. And so when things are really tough you want to engage with the issue, but I think Gordon has done a really good job in the UK on it, but it is a tough, tough challenge, it's big.

GEORGE NEGUS: Great talking to you, and all the best with your job as the envoy.

TONY BLAIR: I'll need that, thanks.