Blair named for American honour but ignores gold medal

January 6th, 2009 - 4:56 pm ICT by IANS  

London, Jan 6 (IANS) Former British premier Tony Blair is to be presented with one of America’s highest civilian honours but is yet to pick up a Congressional gold medal awarded to him in 2003.Blair will be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom Jan 13 along with President Alvaro Uribe of Colombia, and former premier John Howard of Australia.

“All three leaders have been staunch allies of the United States, particularly in combating terrorism. Their efforts to bring hope and freedom to people around the globe have made their nations, America and the world community a safer and more secure world,” Whitehouse spokeswoman Dana Perino said.

However, Blair will not be collecting a Congressional Gold Medal of Honour, which was awarded to him in July 2003, the Times newspaper reported, describing the long delay as a “source of puzzlement and intrigue.”

According to Sir David Manning, former British Ambassador to Washington and a Downing Street adviser, Blair felt if he picked up the medal while in office, he would be seen as “some sort of poodle”.

“You reach the point where if he had collected the medal, people would say that proves their point,” Manning told The Times in 2007.

Manning said Blair “always had inhibitions” about being handed a medal so soon shortly after the invasion of Iraq.

Blair was the first Briton to be awarded the gold medal since Winston Churchill and will be the second former Prime Minister to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom after Margaret Thatcher.

However, the honour was criticised by anti-Iraq war campaigners.

“Tony Blair should be spending next week helping to fix the mess in Gaza, not receiving an award for the biggest foreign policy disaster in recent history and his silence over Guantanamo Bay,” said Edward Davey, the foreign affairs spokesman for the Liberal Democrat party.

“It is not surprising that this announcement has been left until after Tony Blair has left office and when [US president] George Bush is packing his bags. It is simply too controversial to be sold to voters.”

Former cabinet minister Clare Short, who quit over the Iraq war, said: “It is for services rendered… It symbolises the whole thing. They [Blair and Bush] have been glued at the hip all the way. It is all very sad and fitting.”

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