Former US diplomats criticise Bush over Middle East

About 50 former US diplomats have followed the lead of British counterparts by putting their concerns about Middle East policy to US president George Bush, it was reported today.

The move echoes an unprecedented open letter written by 52 former British diplomats to Prime Minister Tony Blair last week, strongly criticising the Government's support for American policy in Iraq and the Middle East.

In their letter the retired US diplomats reportedly blast Washington's support for Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon and claim President Bush's approach is losing the US "credibility, prestige and friends".

Their opposition was due to be aired publicly at a press conference later today.

According to the BBC, the letter states: "We former diplomats applaud our 52 British colleagues who recently sent a letter to Prime Minister Tony Blair criticising his Middle East policy and calling on Britain to exert more influence over the United States...

"Your unabashed support of Sharon's extra judicial assassinations, Israel's Berlin-Wall-like barrier, its harsh military measures in occupied territories and now your endorsement of Sharon's unilateral plans are costing our country its credibility, prestige and friends."

Israel claims it has to kill militants planning suicide attacks and the West Bank barrier is for security.

Andrew Kilgore, who served as US ambassador to Qatar in the 1970s, told the corporation: "We thought American diplomats were as unhappy as British diplomats were over what the president did."

A spokesman for the American Educational Trust, which counts some of the diplomats among its members, said: "Early responses are staggering. Signatories are united by their belief that the US government is heading toward great danger."

Last week, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw issued a sharp warning against attempts to undermine Britain's relationship with the United States in the wake of the British diplomats' letter.

He said: "It is very important for us to try to work with the United States and not to have a polarisation that would weaken our influence and weaken the influence of Europe."

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