NewsSpecial WireBlair defends British presence in Iraq, warns Iran

Blair defends British presence in Iraq, warns Iran

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Iran Focus: London, Feb. 17 – British Prime Minister Tony Blair defended the presence of British troops in the southern Iraqi city of Basra on Friday after Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki demanded a withdrawal of British forces from the Shiite-dominated city. Iran Focus

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London, Feb. 17 – British Prime Minister Tony Blair defended the presence of British troops in the southern Iraqi city of Basra on Friday after Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki demanded a withdrawal of British forces from the Shiite-dominated city.

Speaking at a joint conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin, Blair rejected the demand.

“Let me just make one thing clear. British troops are in Iraq today under a United Nations mandate and with the consent of the Iraqi government. They stay as long as the UN mandate is in place and the Iraqi government wishes us to stay”, Blair said.

Mottaki said earlier on Friday while in Beirut that his government “demands the immediate withdrawal of British forces from Basra”.

Blair justified the British troop presence in Iraq as a contribution to the nascent democracy in that country.

“The reason we remain there is the desire of the Iraqi people to have a democracy, to elect their own government and to have the same rights and liberties that we enjoy, whether in Germany or in Britain”, he said.

“What I would say to the Iranians is that there is no point in trying to divert attention from the issues to do with Iran by calling into question the British presence in Iraq, which is there with a UN mandate and Iraqi support”, Blair said.

Merkel said at the conference that Iran had crossed a “red line” in its nuclear developments.

Iran began uranium enrichment work at its nuclear facility in Natanz despite pleas by the International Atomic Energy Agency to refrain from doing so.

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