- The Washington Times - Friday, May 26, 2006

British Prime Minister Tony Blair said yesterday a reformed and revitalized United Nations should be at the center of a new push to heal global divisions sharpened by the war in Iraq.

In a nearly hourlong speech to students and faculty at Georgetown University, Mr. Blair called for a policy of what he called “progressive pre-emption” — working through the United Nations and other international institutions to take on challenges ranging from global warming and AIDS to spreading democracy in the Muslim world.

As part of that effort, the British leader endorsed a series of fundamental changes for the United Nations, including giving Germany, Japan and India permanent seats on the Security Council, creating a single U.N. agency on the environment and greatly beefing up the U.N. secretary-general’s hiring and spending authority.

Efforts to reform the United Nations and streamline its bureaucracy have faltered in recent days amid sharp divisions among the leading powers, and also between blocs of developed and developing nations.

“I used to think the problem was intractable, the competing interests are so strong,” Mr. Blair said yesterday. “But now I am sure we need reform.”

A day after his joint press conference with President Bush in which both leaders acknowledged mistakes in the Iraq campaign, Mr. Blair gave a vigorous endorsement of the government of new Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, whom he met on a trip to Baghdad before flying to Washington this week.

“These are not stooges, or placemen. They believe in their country and in its capacity to be democratic,” Mr. Blair said. “They are fighting a struggle against the odds, but they are fighting it.”

Mr. Blair said the new government was far more impressive than the transitional Iraqi governments of 2004 and 2005, and called for an international “moment of reconciliation” to rally support for the fledgling Middle East democracy.

“The war split the world,” he acknowledged. “The struggle of Iraqis for democracy should unite it.”

But he repeated the argument he and Mr. Bush made against a hard deadline for pulling U.S. and British forces from Iraq while the security situation remains uncertain. No one in the new Iraq government is urging a quick pullout, and a hasty withdrawal would only embolden the terrorists, Mr. Blair argued.

“An arbitrary deadline” to withdraw “would be seen for what it would be: weakness,” he said.

He said the push for democracy and justice in Iraq could have spillover effects on Iran, whose Islamic regime is confronting the West over its suspect nuclear programs.

“I don’t believe we will be secure unless Iran changes,” Mr. Blair said, although he quickly added, “I am not saying we should impose change.”

Mr. Blair said the “moment of reconciliation” offered with the new government in Baghdad should extend to a far broader agenda of values and justice, an agenda he said was not just the privilege of the West.

“We must fashion an international community that both embodies, and acts in pursuit of, global values: liberty, democracy, tolerance, justice. … These are the values universally accepted across all nations, faiths and races, though not by all elements within them,” he said.

The address was the third and last in a series delivered by Mr. Blair on the challenges to the international community arising out of the war on terrorism. The speeches as a whole have had a valedictory air, as the British leader, his domestic popularity ebbing, nears the end of a momentous and contentious decade in power.

The receptive Georgetown audience gave him a standing ovation at the end of his remarks. A tiny band of protesters chanted anti-war slogans as Mr. Blair’s motorcade left the university campus.

After receiving a complimentary introduction from a recent Georgetown graduate, Mr. Blair joked, “Students are a lot more polite than they were in my day.”

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