LONDON – One of former Prime Minister Tony Blair's top advisers, in an interview published Saturday, said the Northern Ireland peace settlement was made possible through a secret channel the government established with the Irish Republican Army — and that similar lines should now be created with other terror groups.
Jonathan Powell, Blair's chief of staff from 1995 to 2007, said Western governments must talk to terror groups including Hamas, Al Qaeda and the Taliban to persuade them to stop their campaigns of violence.
"There's nothing to say to Al Qaeda and they've got nothing to say to us at the moment, but at some stage you're going to have to come to a political solution as well as a security solution. And that means you need the ability to talk."
Powell told Britain's Guardian newspaper that the secret back channel to the IRA, which was opened in the 1970s was instrumental in achieving a peace deal three decades later.
He appeared to be referring to well documented communications between the British government and the IRA that took place through intermediaries, but were officially denied for years.
"It's very difficult for democratic governments to do — talk to a terrorist movement that's killing your people," he said. "(But) if I was in government now I would want to have been talking to Hamas, I would be wanting to communicate with the Taliban; and I would want to find a channel to Al Qaeda."
Prime Minister Gordon Brown's adviser Mark Malloch-Brown has clashed with government officials after suggesting Britain could hold talks with Hamas or Hezbollah — both designated foreign terrorist organizations by the U.S. State Department.
In December Brown ruled out talking with the Taliban, saying he would support Afghan President Hamid Karzai's reconciliation efforts.