Sunday, May 28, 2006

British Prime Minister Tony Blair made several last-minute changes to a major foreign policy speech last week after American objections, according to British sources.

Deleted or altered passages in the speech delivered Friday night at Georgetown University would have ruled out military action against Iran, called for stronger action on climate change, and proposed a shake-up of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

The British sources, who spoke on the condition that they not be identified, said complaints by members of President Bush’s inner circle played a key role in the alterations.

Three hours before the speech, aides to Mr. Blair were briefing journalists that the prime minister would stress that “change should not be imposed” on Iran, reflecting the view that bombing or invading Iran is not a realistic option.

However, U.S. officials insisted that the possibility of military action remained “on the table,” arguing that this helped to exert maximum pressure on President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

By the time he made his speech, Mr. Blair had significantly bowed to the U.S. position, saying merely, “I am not saying we should impose change.”

He also backed away from a planned demand for a major change in the running of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

Mr. Blair had intended to spell out a plan for the United States and Europe to give up their traditional rights to install their own nationals as heads of the two institutions. This would help persuade smaller nations to give up their effective right to choose the secretary-general of the United Nations in favor of a move to install a leading international figure.

Instead, Mr. Blair’s speech glossed over the issue, merely citing a “powerful case for reform.”

Another planned section of the speech was intended to take a tough line on global warming and the Kyoto treaty, which Washington has not signed.

Mr. Blair said, “We must act on climate change,” but he did not go into detail.

When a cell phone rang in the audience, he even made a joke about U.S. interference.

“I hope that’s not the White House telling me they don’t agree with that,” he said. “They act very quickly, these guys.”

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