Throwing Colonel Gaddafi “under a bus” in Libya signalled to dictators such as Bashir Assad not to give up their chemical weapons, Tony Blair said today.
The former Prime Minister argued it was “not great for diplomacy” that having convinced the Libyan dictator to give up his weapons of mass destruction, the UK then assisted in his removal from office.
Giving evidence to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee this morning, Mr Blair admitted he called Colonel Gaddafi a number of times over a 24 hour period in February 2011 to try and persuade him to step aside during the Arab Spring uprising.
However, he was not trying to “save Gaddafi”, but instead hoping for “evolution, not revolution” in Libya.
Describing why he favoured that approach, Mr Blair said: “Let’s try and work for a transition because if you don’t then there’s someone who’s been your ally for a long period of time and you’re now going to throw them under a bus and that’s not in my view great for diplomacy and politics because of the message it sends elsewhere.”
Referring to Syria’s President Assad later, he said: “I think there’s evidence that Assad did take the view that Gaddafi having cooperated with the West and then being removed was a lesson that he should learn and he of course did not of course give up his chemical weapons because we know he used them against his own people.”
During the evidence session, Mr Blair said he had no business interests in Libya, and he contacted Gaddafi as a “private citizen”.
The American and British Governments were aware of his conversations with the dictator, but he did not contact Gaddafi again after those calls.
Mr Blair refused to say whether he supported the British bombing of Libya in 2011, which helped lead to Gaddafi’s removal from office, but he added: “In any event I think Gaddafi had to go and I don’t think there’s a way out of that.”
The former Prime Minister defended reopening diplomatic relations with Gaddafi during his time in office, saying it enabled compensation for the families of the victims of the Lockerbie bombing and the murder of PC Yvonne Fletcher – both incidents linked to Libya.
He also said that when Gaddafi handed over details of Libya’s WMD programme, it was far greater than he had realised.