Blair Praises U.S. Presidential Candidates Though he refused to endorse either candidate, the former British prime minister told NPR, "I think you have two very good people standing to be your president." He also offered his approval of the federal government's decision to bail out Wall Street.
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Blair Praises U.S. Presidential Candidates

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Blair Praises U.S. Presidential Candidates

Blair Praises U.S. Presidential Candidates

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This is Day to Day from NPR News. I'm Alex Cohen.


I'm Alex Chadwick. Today, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown is in Washington for an emergency meeting with President Bush to talk about the economy and his predecessor, that's Tony Blair, is also in this country this week. He was in southern California yesterday for the Tony Blair Faith Foundation. It says that faith can promote good in the world.

COHEN: The foundation is one of many things that's keeping the former prime minister busy these days. He is also the envoy to the Middle East Quartet, the quartet being made up of the United Nations, the European Union, the U.S. and Russia. A report released yesterday by a coalition of 21 charitable organizations said, that Quartet is failing to make progress. When I met with Prime Minister Blair in a room that, as you will soon hear, was undergoing a bit of construction, I asked him to respond to that criticism.

Mr. TONY BLAIR (Former Prime Minister, Britain): On the West Bank, things have got, better but not nearly better enough. And in Gaza, the situation, despite the ceasefire, is very, very difficult in humanitarian terms. But you know we've got to be careful of ending up in a situation where we just obliterate hope for people. The fact is, you know there are real changes happening. Up in Jenin, for example, in the north of Palestine, where the Palestine security forces are now providing better security. We will, over time, establish the right economic and social development there as well. We've got a whole series of economic projects that will make a difference. Now if we could combine that, of course, with the right security capacity for the Palestinians, and then progressively lift the occupation of the Israelis, then we're in business to create the circumstances for a political peace. And so, I think it's perfectly possible for people to be relentlessly negative about the situation. I understand all the reasons for that negativity, but I prefer to look at the situation and say that there is cause for some hope and actually medium, the long-term, I'm relatively optimistic we can make something happen.

COHEN: Here in the United States, we're about to embark upon a series of presidential debates. I'm wondering if you have any advice, for the candidates, how they should approach these debates.

Mr. BLAIR: No. (Unintelligible) a simple answer to that. I think your election is for you guys.

COHEN: So I take it then you don't care to share your opinion on the two candidates, Senator McCain, Senator Obama which you think might make a better leader for this country right now.

Mr. BLAIR: You're absolutely correct, and I don't care to share my opinions on that because I think - actually, the one thing I will say to you is I think you've got two very good people standing to be your president and I think, you know, you can actually take a lot of comfort from that.

COHEN: Right now, we're in the midst of a major economic crisis. One of the many hats you wear is as an adviser to JPMorgan. How would you best deal with the situation we have at hand right now? What do you see as possible solutions?

Mr. BLAIR: Well, I mean, first of all, let me disown any sense in which I'm a great financial expert, but I think there are two issues here. I mean, the first is, obviously, when government and the administration are faced with the situation where there's a crisis of confidence and that crisis of confidence threatens to overwhelm the system, there comes a point, and this point was reached, where the full force of government, the state, the country in other words has to be put behind the economic system. In that sense, I think what Secretary Paulson did was right. Now, you then got to work out the details. And that's obviously something that your politicians are debating at the moment. But I frankly don't think there was any alternative but to make it clear that that crisis of confidence in the market was going to be stopped and it was going to be stopped by putting the full weight of government behind.

COHEN: You've got a very close personal relationship with our current president. He is about to no longer be president. How do you think that's going to change your personal relationship with President Bush, the fact that you will now both be in different roles, not leading huge nations?

Mr. BLAIR: You know, one thing I always say to people about this, however much people like the answer or they don't like the answer, is I've never been a fair weather friend. I work closely with President Bush, as indeed I did with President Clinton. I like him and I found him very straight and clear to deal with and that's what you like in another leader when you are the leader of a country and I've no doubt at all he'll do many productive things after he stops being president as well.

COHEN: As prime minister, you had a responsibility to deal with so many issues. Now, you get to choose and select the issues that you get to deal with...

Mr. BLAIR: Great.

COHEN: How is that- yeah, I bet. How does that feel having that evolving sense of responsibility, getting to choose what you devote yourself to?

Mr. BLAIR: Well, it's the big change and I- find now, you know, I concentrate on those critical things and really- what I think the world is about today is essentially it's become a global community and that's a cliche because it's true. The world is therefore far more interdependent and the question is, how do you make that process of globalization that isn't just economic? It's also cultural, it's political, it's social. How do you make it work?

And the bits of work that I do therefore are Middle East-peace process, which is in my view, the single most important thing. You've got people of religious faith being brought together in the inter-faith foundation. You've got climate change that deals with the long-term - biggest long-term threat, which is the damage to our environment through global warming, and poverty in Africa, which is the single, biggest moral cause in my view today. So, you know, I kind of see myself able to concentrate on those things, which I think all have a common theme to them.

How do we make sure that in the world that is bringing people together, we make that world of values that are meaningful, that we bring equity and justice, and that we give hope and prosperity, not just to the wealthy part of the world, but to all of the world and do so within a framework where we can live together, not just as people, but as different faiths and with different cultures.

COHEN: Having done so much already in your life, you might think that at some point it might be nice to retire, go to the coast for a bit, play a little bit of golf. Do you see that anywhere in your future?

Mr. BLAIR: No. I'm afraid not. I'm absolutely - it's totally alien to my nature. I think the day you retire is the day you die, really. So, I'm going to keep going. Of course, I enjoyed being prime minister. It was a huge privilege and a great honor. But now, I've got these things that I'm passionate about, and I want to see done. And so I think the golf course still have to be put off a little bit longer.

COHEN: Prime Minister Tony Blair, thank you so much.

Mr. BLAIR: Thank you.

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