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Middle East

I could earn more if I wanted, says Blair after criticism of envoy role


Tony Blair has spoken out against "hurtful" allegations that he has profiteered from his diplomatic missions to the Middle East, saying that most of the work he does is unpaid.

Rising resentment against the former prime minister, especially from within Palestine, has dogged recent attempts to help push forward peace plans, and he has been accused of profiting from commercial deals.

"It's completely untrue. Even [for] me with my broad shoulders and thick skin after all these years, it's not pleasant to have people say that," he told an Indian television channel. "I probably spend two thirds of my time on pro bono activity. I probably spend the biggest single chunk of my time on the Middle East peace process, which I do unpaid.

"If what I was interested in doing was making money I could make a lot more and have a very gentle and easy life." On Libya he said: "I've never made any commercial deals out of Libya at all. I was very instrumental in bringing him in from the cold when he gave up his nuclear and chemical weapons, started co-operating in the fight against terrorism. I hoped he might shift internal policy to match external policy shifts, but he did not."

He also dismissed accusations of having too cozy a relationship with media barons. "If you're in a situation where these guys can literally take out any ministers and make your government rock, you've got no option to work hard and try to bring them around," he said

"This is not so much about a cosy relationship, it's a relationship in which you are dealing with people who have the capacity to do very great damage."

His comments came as the Palestinian Authority denied it plans to make a formal request to remove Mr Blair from his position as a Middle East envoy. The former Prime Minister has held the position of special envoy for the Quartet, made up of the US, Russia, the EU and UN, for four years. However, some Palestinians believe he is biased towards the Israelis.

A spokesman for the PA said while there was great unhappiness with Mr Blair's role as envoy, his removal was not a priority. He added there were no plans to formally ask for Mr Blair to be replaced. There has been a series of mainly anonymous Palestinian complaints about Mr Blair's role as a mediator in the run-up to President Mahmoud Abbas's application for UN recognition a week ago. And Nabil Shaath, a member of the delegation Mr Abbas took to New York, was highly critical 13 days ago of the draft Quartet statement, which Mr Blair presented to the Palestinian President a few days earlier.

Mr Shaath said on the record at the time Mr Blair seemed "sometimes" more like an "Israeli diplomat" than a neutral interlocutor.

Cherie turns to business

Cherie Blair has accepted the directorship of a company that hopes to make money from the opening up of the NHS to private firms.

The barrister wife of the former Labour Prime Minister is a founder director of Mee, a company that wants to open private clinics in supermarkets, which include Sainsbury's and Tesco. The company is believed to represent Mrs Blair's first foray into commerce.

The move will dismay the Labour Party, which used its conference this week to condemn Coalition plans to open up the NHS to private competition.

On Wednesday, the shadow Health Secretary John Healey told delegates the plans were a "betrayal of our NHS" and would "damage patient care".

The plans would, he added, "break up the NHS as a national health service and set it up as a full-scale market, ruled for the first time by the full force of competition law". Mee claims it will provide a "revolutionary new way of delivering health care".