British PM Tony Blair Shares His Hopes for Mideast Peace

British Prime Minister Tony Blair joined President Bush at a joint White House news conference today to offer his support for a renewed attempt at Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.

Blair later sat for an exclusive interview with ABC News' Ted Koppel and shared his views on the legacy of Yasser Arafat, the potential for Mideast peace, and his own political future. The following is an excerpt of that interview:

Watch Nightline tonight at 11:35 p.m. for more of the interview.

TED KOPPEL: Just talk about Yasser Arafat for a minute, as one reflects back on his career, beginning as a terrorist, ending up as a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, a man who is regarded, at least in some circles, as a great statesman. How does Tony Blair regard him?

PRIME MINISTER BLAIR: I think former President Clinton put it rather well, actually, when he said, "Whatever people think of him, he was regarded by the Palestinians as the father of their people." And, I mean, I found his relationship that was difficult for all the reasons that we can go over because in the end I didn't feel that he was able to deliver the peace that the Palestinian people needed. But I think it would be churlish and wrong on this day of all days not to recognize that for the Palestinian people he was a major icon and a figure that they respected and admired.

I personally think what is important now is to make sure that we, as it were, recognize that in his passing there is also an opportunity to get a new start in the Middle East.

KOPPEL: Mr. Prime Minister, it was reported by some of my British colleagues before you left that you have really been rather impatient to get the Middle East peace process rolling again.

BLAIR: Well, I think we did make progress, and I do regard it as urgent, because I think that one of the things these terrorists are able to prey upon -- I don't believe they care much about the Palestinian cause genuinely, but they are able to use that as a source of recruitment for terrorists. When I was addressing your Congress, I called it a -- sort of, poisoned the atmosphere in international relations. And I think there is an urgency in getting at least started.

I think the president went as far as it was reasonable for him to go [during the press conference] today, because what he said was: I'm committed to doing this, to seeing a viable Palestinian state. I'm committed to doing it in my second term as president, but it has to be a state on certain terms with a proper democratic structure, with proper security for Israel, with an end to terrorism, and a system of political government that yields a stable partner.

KOPPEL: What optimism do you have that whoever takes over the leadership of the Palestinian people now, that they can keep those people under control?

BLAIR: Well, I think you're absolutely right in identifying this as the challenge, and that's why in the five steps we set out today, step three of that was drawing together a plan that we would organize with the international community to make sure that there was the agreement on the political, the economic and the security structure necessary for a viable Palestinian State.

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