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Iraq Transition

Blair: Timelines for Iraq pullout

Blair: Pace of handover to determine when coalition can leave altogether.
Great Britain
Tony Blair

LONDON, England (CNN) -- The U.S.-led coalition is working on "timelines" for gradually handing over control of large parts of Iraq to Iraqi security forces, British Prime Minister Tony Blair said in an interview published Wednesday.

After Sunday's elections are completed, Blair told the Financial Times, "we have got to sit down with the new government and look at how we manage the transition."

He said the timelines would indicate the pace at which Iraqi forces could take control of peaceful parts of the country.

"There are areas where we would be able to hand over to those Iraqi forces. Remember, 14 out of the 18 provinces in Iraq are relatively peaceful and stable."

The PM indicated that as this handover developed it would become clearer when the coalition could leave altogether.

"Both ourselves and the Iraqis want us to leave as soon as possible. The question is what is 'As soon as possible?' And the answer to that is: when the Iraqi forces have the capability to do the job."

Blair's main focus in the interview, the FT said, was to set out his intention to use Britain's presidency of the G8 leading industrial nations to build "an agenda of consensus" between the U.S., Europe and the rest of the world.

He argued that it was possible to build such a consensus because, following President George W. Bush's re-election, U.S. foreign policy was undergoing an "evolution . . . that has been underestimated by people".

A sign of that, Blair told the FT, was U.S. policy on climate change, due to be at the heart of the prime minister's address to the World Economic Forum in Davos Wednesday evening. (Full story)

He told the FT that the U.S. "does want to get back into a dialogue" on climate change, arguing that "the administration . . . [has] long since moved from the position that there is not an issue here".

Blair said Britain would use the G8 to set "a clear direction for global policy in the future."

He added that U.S. policy was evolving in other ways.

On the Middle East peace process he said "you will find in the next few weeks that there will again be a very clear direction set out by America."

He also sought to play down fears that the U.S. was contemplating an attack on Iran, saying that the idea that the Bush administration was planning to invade countries around the world amounted to "wild fantasies."

He added: "If Iran changes its attitudes in relation to things that concern us, then obviously people are prepared to look at things in a different way."

Later Blair told the House of Commons he knew of no plans by the U.S. administration to take military action against Iran.

However, he warned there was a "serious issue" about its development of nuclear weapons and said a "strong signal" must be sent about the need for compliance with international obligations.

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