Tony Blair telephoned Moammar Gadhafi and tried to persuade him to leave Libya as the Arab Spring erupted in February 2011, the former British prime minister revealed Friday.
Blair said he was not trying to “save” the Libyan dictator but “to get him out of the situation so that a peaceful transition could take place.”
Blair said he’d acted as a private individual and spoke to Gadhafi “two or three” times over a 24-hour period. He said it soon became clear Gadhafi would not leave.
Blair, prime minister from 1997 to 2007, was instrumental in ending Gadhafi’s international isolation in return for Libya abandoning its nuclear and chemical arms programs. He has faced criticism for his rapprochement efforts with the oil-rich state, which included a 2004 meeting in Gadhafi’s desert tent.
Under Prime Minister David Cameron, the U.K. participated in a NATO-led 2011 military intervention that led to Gadhafi’s ouster and his death at the hands of rebel fighters.
Libya has since descended into chaos, with rival militias battling for control and extremists linked to the Islamic State group gaining strength.
Blair told Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee that without the earlier deal with Gadhafi there was a risk IS in Libya would now have access to chemical weapons.
“If we had still had the residue of that chemical weapons program in Libya today, given the state of Libya today and given the presence of ISIS there — it would have constituted a real risk, even today,” he said.
Blair — whose decision to join the 2003 invasion of Iraq remains deeply unpopular in Britain — would not criticize Cameron for intervening in Libya, despite the messy outcome.
He said it would not necessarily have been better if “Gadhafi tried to cling on to power and others tried to remove him.”
“You can look at Syria today where we didn’t intervene, by the way, and say that is even worse,” Blair said.