Alastair Campbell has revealed he was recently asked if he could work on behalf of the Syrian government to improve its global image.
Faced with mounting criticism over its handling of the civil war that has torn the country apart since 2011 and currently the subject of intense international debate following its alleged use of chemical weapons, the Assad regime once sought help with its publicity and media management from former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s former director of communications and strategy.
Mr Campbell told The Independent an approach had been made some months ago by a middle man in the UK.
“A while ago I was asked by a third party if I wanted to help the Syrian government with its communications,” he said.
Mr Campbell, who turned the request down, refused to say who the third party was, other than confirming it was not Portland, the PR company he provides ‘strategic counsel’ to.
“I don’t know if they got anybody,” he said. “Who you work for is an interesting issue. There was a point of course where, like Tony Blair and Libya for example, we got criticised for going out to meet Gaddafi. But it resulted in him giving up his weapons. People always say, ‘well how did he get the weapons?’ But big powers do try to develop relations at every levels with these governments.
"I can remember in 2001 when Tony did a press conference with Assad in Syria and Assad whacked him over the Middle East. We often talk about ‘doing an Assad’, which in communications terms means two politicians standing alongside each other and one whacks the other.”
Campbell said he is still in regular touch with Mr Blair who, because of his Middle East peace envoy and his experience in office means he has “an important role to play in this. He should say what he thinks”.
Campbell also spoke of his enjoyment working with Kosovan prime minister Hashim Thaci, while acknowledging that the latter had been accused of involvement in organ trafficking, which the prime minister strongly denies.
“I really enjoy the stuff I’m involved with in the Balkans. It’s an interesting part of the world, a government trying to make change. Let’s try and help them.”