Truth about Blair-Gaddafi ‘friendship’

iolafr gaddafi-blair AFP In a 2004 file picture former British PM Tony Blair, left, talks with former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi as they walk together after talks on the outskirts of Tripoli. Picture: Jim Watson

Ever since Muammar Gaddafi told Tony Blair “you look good” as they sat in a bedouin tent outside Tripoli in 2004, the relationship between the former Prime Minister and the Guide of the Revolution was defined by a certain mutual admiration.

The extent to which this respect was reciprocated was revealed on Thursday when transcripts of telephone calls between the two statesmen in 2011 revealed that Mr Blair repeatedly addressed the Libyan dictator as “the Leader”.

The documents released by the former Labour leader show how an irate Gaddafi lashed out at Mr Blair, accusing him of “colonisation” and supporting al-Qaeda, as he sought to persuade the despot to stand aside.

With some prescience, the Libyan also warned that Islamist extremists would attack Europe if his regime were allowed to collapse.

The remarkable exchanges during two phone calls in February 2011 took place as Libya stood on the brink of the civil war which eventually deposed Gaddafi and his regime had begun to crack down brutally on demonstrations in Benghazi and other cities.

Mr Blair, who left office in 2007, provided the transcripts to the Commons Foreign Affairs select committee after he gave evidence to MPs justifying his role in reversing Libya's status as a pariah state.

The phone calls show how the former Prime Minister sought to use his friendship with Gaddafi to persuade the dictator to flee to a third country.

The transcripts of the phone calls, which took place on 25 February 2011 and lasted 55 minutes, detail how Mr Blair repeatedly urged the Libyan leader to quit and hinted he could secure a deal on his behalf with America and the European Union.

Mr Blair told Gaddafi that if he had a “safe place” to go to he should depart to allow a peaceful transition.

Whether out of diplomatic convention, a desire to flatter or simple habit, the former Prime Minister is recorded in the transcript referring to Gaddafi as “the Leader” 14 times.

Mr Blair, who is understood to have cleared his calls with his successor David Cameron, also at times lapses into the third person when addressing his counterpart.

At one point, Mr Blair states: “I have tried to relay the message and I hope that the Leader can reflect on what I've said and we need him to take the initiative; I would like to offer a way out that is peaceful.”

In another exchange, the British politician, who was speaking from Kuwait, said: “The position of the Leader is crucial. If he indicates that... he will stand aside and go somewhere safe I think this will resolve this peacefully. If he wishes this to happen I can take this message back to the people I have been talking to.”

At one point, Gaddafi follows Mr Blair's lead and refers to himself in the third person when asked to flee, responding: “Where is he meant to go? He has no mandate.”

The transcripts suggest that if Mr Blair was trying to flatter his interlocutor, he did not succeed. Gaddafi responded to requests to halt the bloodshed by insisting that the violence was caused by al-Qaeda sleeper cells and suggesting that Britain and its allies were trying to “colonise” Libya.

He said: “There is no bloodshed here, it is very quiet but if you want to reap Libya we are ready to fight. It will be like Iraq.”

Warming to the theme of a “jihad situation”, Gaddafi added: “They have arms and are terrorising people in the street... They want to control the Mediterranean and then they will attack Europe.”

In a further exchange, the Libyan leader accused Mr Blair of supporting al-Qaeda, adding: “There is fighting in Algeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan etc - are you supporting terrorism?”

A slightly exasperated Mr Blair responded: “We are completely opposed to terrorism and al-Qaeda. The only way out is to allow a constitutional change process to take place now.”

Ultimately, the former Prime Minister's offers of help were to no avail as Libya descended into civil war, and Gaddafi was later lynched by a mob in his birthplace following an international campaign of air strikes to protect rebel forces.

The Gaddafi tapes transcripts

First call: 11.15am to 11.45am, 25 February 2011

Gaddafi: “It's a jihad situation. They have arms and are terrorising people in the street... Similar to Bin Laden... They want to control the Mediterranean and then they will attack Europe. Need to explain to the international community… We are all against terrorism. We have already made that alliance together.”

Blair: “The way to deal with this is the leader says and makes clear he wants a peaceful outcome to this. If he is agreeable I will relay this to the Americans and the Europeans. The leader has to say: 'He is prepared to have a peaceful outcome and engage with the international community, including American and European, to get a peaceful outcome.'“

Second call: 3.35pm to 4pm

Blair: “The belief is that there is fighting going on. If you have a safe place to go you should go there because this will not end peacefully...”

Gaddafi: “I will have to arm the people and get ready for a fight… There is no bloodshed and no fighting, come and see for yourself. People are spreading rumours through the TV stations... They support al-Qaeda - do you support al-Qaeda?”

Blair: “No - absolutely not… If people saw the leader standing aside they would be content with that... If we can't get a way through/out very quickly this will go past the point of no return.”

The Independent

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