Blair's defence of special relationship with US has hollow ring

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Indy Politics

Tony Blair was accused of "delusional" behaviour after he mounted a strong defence of making Britain's special relationship with the United States the cornerstone of his foreign policy.

An unrepentant Mr Blair told MPs the relationship had given Britain more clout at the world's top table during his 10 years in power and insisted that it had resulted directly in progress on climate change, the Middle East and Africa. But his critics said little progress had been made on these issues and that Mr Blair had enjoyed little influence over President George Bush.

On the day that the family of the 100th British serviceman to die in action in Iraq spoke of their grief, the Prime Minister defended the use of force to oust Saddam Hussein. Second Lieutenant Jonathan Carlos Bracho-Cooke, 24, of the 2nd Battalion The Duke of Lancaster's Regiment, was killed when a roadside bomb hit a patrol in Basra.

Mr Blair expressed confidence that Gordon Brown, his most likely successor, would continue his approach to military intervention after he stands down - even though the Chancellor has hinted at a more multilateral policy with an enhanced role for the United Nations in the wake of the Iraq disaster.

The Prime Minister admitted the special relationship had damaged him personally because of Iraq, but said Britain should not "drift" into giving it up because of hostile public opinion. "I am the person who above all can give evidence as to the difficulty and sometimes the political penalty you pay for a close relationship with the US, but we shouldn't give that up in any set of circumstances," he said. Mr Blair told the Liaison Committee of senior MPs that the links were an advantage rather than a problem for Britain in the Middle East. "The relationship with America is what opens lots of doors everywhere, including the Middle East. For better or worse, this country for the last 10 years has been right at the heart of every single major international agenda - whether it is terrorism, climate change, Africa, whatever it is," he said.

"At the G8 [summit] at Gleneagles [in 2005], we put Africa and climate change on the map. In my view, without the strong relationship with the US, we would never have had those two issues on the agenda in that way."

Defending the use of "hard" or military power, he said: "You have to be prepared in these circumstances to be engaged with hard power where it is right and necessary to do so. You only get the ability to use 'soft' power properly if you are prepared to do the other difficult things." In a sideswipe at countries like France, he said some nations had "retreated" from being ready to use "hard" power.

Labour MPs reacted with disbelief to Mr Blair's claims about what the relationship with America had achieved since 1997. Peter Kilfoyle, a former defence minister, said: "It is delusional. It could be self-justification. It is a special relationship in one sense - it is one-way traffic. In the depths of night, he must realise how very wrong he has judged where Britain's national interests lie."

Alan Simpson, the MP for Nottingham South, said: "This is the politics of dangerous self-delusion. Even the White House laughs at the notion that Britain has influence over American foreign policy. The only door Bush opens at the moment is the one marked 'exit.' He [Mr Blair] has clearly entered the David Icke phase of his political career."

Sir Menzies Campbell, the Liberal Democrat leader, said: "Tony Blair talks about his closeness with the United States with regards to climate change and poverty in Africa. But there is not much to show for it." He questioned the value of the relationship when it had taken America so long to release the video tape of the "friendly-fire" incident in which L/Cpl Matty Hull was killed in Iraq in 2003.

Mr Blair played down speculation that military action might be taken to stop Iran's nuclear programme.

On climate change, the Prime Minister said there was a "changing mood" in the US and said it was "possible" but "not yet probable" that there would be a new global agreement when the Kyoto protocol expired in 2012.

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