Interview: Former UK PM Tony Blair

Having turned 60 this year, Tony Blair reflects on Iraq, Palestine and the battle to win hearts and minds in the Middle East

Tony Blair looks tired.

The lines on his face are a little deeper, the hair greyer. After an espresso and removing his bow tie, he leans back on the sofa at the JW Marriott Marquis in Dubai.

“Everyone has to reform in a changing world, you change or be changed. And that is true of a company or a country, or an ordinary citizen,” he says.

And it is especially true of Blair himself. He still has the confident walk of a man who dominated British politics for more than a decade, the same grin and the same charm that won him three successive elections. But, having turned 60 earlier this year, change has also come to the man who was once the UK’s youngest prime minister for 200 years.

Nowadays, he splits his time between his consulting company, Tony Blair Associates, which he says provides the funding for his philanthropic work; the Tony Blair Faith Foundation; the Tony Blair Sports Foundation; and the Tony Blair Africa Governance Initiative. Last, but by no means least, is his role as representative of the Quartet powers (the US, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia) that are trying to mediate the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians.

His Quartet position, an unpaid role he took on the day after he stepped down as British prime minister, is testament to Blair’s determination to stay on as a person of influence in global politics. And in light of his success in helping to broker peace in Northern Ireland — plus his strong personal relationships with negotiators both on the Israeli and Palestinian side — one might have hoped that his undoubted efforts would have paid dividends. Sadly, six years on, no substantive agreement has been reached.

 On the positive side, it’s now nearly four months into new negotiations, brokered by US Secretary of State John Kerry, between the two sides. But with a nine-month limit on those talks, there is already the feeling that time is running out, not helped by Israel’s mistrust of Iran’s recent overtures to the West over its nuclear programme. When questioned as how those talks are progressing, Blair doesn’t offer a direct answer.

“The important thing is that this negotiation is getting to grips with all the issues,” he says. “This is the most serious negotiation I think there has been for many years, and that is also giving people some hope, because it’s clear that all the difficult issues are all out on the table.

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