British MP quits defence post on Lebanon issue

A spokesman said the Prime Minister would speak to other world leaders later on Wednesday.

india Updated: Aug 10, 2006 03:26 IST

A member of British Prime Minister Tony Blair's Labour Party quit his defence post on Wednesday to protest the government's handling of the West Asia crisis and its close alignment with the United States.

Lawmaker Jim Sheridan said he was stepping down as a parliamentary private secretary to the Ministry of Defence. "I can no longer support our government's close relationship with America and their objectives for the West Asia," he wrote in a resignation letter to Blair, which his office released.

Meanwhile, Blair, vacationing with his family in the Caribbean, spoke by phone to US President George W Bush about efforts to secure a UN resolution to stop the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah, Blair's office said.

A spokesman said the Prime Minister would speak to other world leaders later on Wednesday.

"He is working hard to find a compromise with all concerned," the spokesman said, speaking on condition of anonymity in keeping with government policy. "His priority remains getting a resolution as quickly as possible because he wants the violence to stop."

The United States and France appeared at odds over Arab demands to change the resolution they are co-sponsoring to call for a complete halt in Israeli-Hezbollah hostilities and withdrawal of Israeli forces, diplomats said.

Sheridan criticised the stopover at a British airport last month of two US flights carrying missiles to Israel.

Blair's office has said Bush apologised for the flights' stopping without declaring the cargo they were carrying.

But the Prime Minister says Britain did not act inappropriately, and dismissed some critics' calls for him to ban US military aircraft from landing on British airfields.

Sheridan criticised "the government's position of calling for restraint on both sides of the current conflict in Lebanon whilst facilitating the refuelling of aircraft in our country carrying real weapons of mass destruction."

"I do not expect my resignation to have any significant impact on your objectives for the West Asia, which I genuinely believe to be honourable on your part, but which do not reflect, in my view, the core values of the Labour Party or of the country," he wrote.

Blair has angered many in his party by refusing to call for an immediate end to the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah militants. Opponents said he was simply following Bush's lead, and perceived their stance as giving Israel tacit permission to pound Hezbollah, a charge Blair denied.

Both leaders have said it is more important to lay the groundwork for a lasting peace than to demand fighting stop right away. No ceasefire will last, they argue, unless it addresses the underlying problem of Hezbollah's ability to attack Israel.

First Published: Aug 10, 2006 03:26 IST