Tony Blair to receive 2010 Liberty Medal

Tony Blair, the former British prime minister now serving as a special Middle East peace envoy, will receive the 2010 Liberty Medal.

The announcement - made Wednesday by David Eisner, president and chief executive officer of the National Constitution Center, and by Mayor Nutter - came three years after the charismatic politician resigned the post he had held for a decade, having charted a centrist path for Britain's Labor Party before his popularity waned over his support beginning in 2003 for the Iraq War.

Describing him as a man of "courage and conviction . . . who has furthered peaceful coexistence on a global scale," Eisner praised Blair for his international diplomacy.

Blair played a critical role, Eisner said, brokering the elusive power-sharing agreement in Northern Ireland that finally resolved the 30-year conflict. He helped bring the war in the Balkans to an end and continues against great odds, Eisner said, "to help untie the many Gordian knots in the Middle East."

Following his resignation as prime minister in 2007, Blair was appointed special envoy from the Quartet on the Middle East - the United States, the United Nations, Russia, and the European Union.

Blair is also credited with making important contributions to the world's spiritual and physical well-being through his humanitarian organization, the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, which promotes understanding among people of different religions and is working to eradicate malaria in Africa.

He leads the Africa Governance Initiative as well, which supports leaders in Rwanda, Sierra Leone, and Liberia in promoting economic development. And, Eisner said, he is leading an effort to promote international collaboration on environmental issues and climate-change policies.

"It is an honor to receive the Liberty Medal," Blair said in a statement. "I am deeply indebted to the National Constitution Center for adding my name to such a distinguished list of recipients. Freedom, liberty, and justice are the values by which this medal is struck. Freedom, liberty, and justice are the values which I try to apply to my work on governance in Africa and on preparing the Palestinians for statehood. They are the values which drive the work of my faith foundation as we try to show that people of different faiths can live together constructively, in peace and harmony."

The award ceremony, to be held at 7 p.m. Sept. 13, will be attended by former President Bill Clinton, chair of the National Constitution Center. The ceremony will be telecast live on 6ABC.

The Liberty Medal was established and first awarded in 1989 by We the People 2000 in celebration of the bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution. The medal honors those who exemplify the constitutional principles of justice, fairness, and a balance between individual rights and the good of the community.

The award has been administered by the National Constitution Center since 2006. Blair is donating the $100,000 in prize money to the Tony Blair Faith Foundation and the Tony Blair Africa Governance Initiative.

Joining Eisner at Wednesday's announcement, Nutter recalled meeting the former prime minister last year at the Four Seasons Hotel. He and Blair spoke at length about how the recession was affecting major American cities.

They also shared an epic Philadelphia moment, Nutter said, confessing that at Blair's request, he smuggled cheesesteaks into the hotel.

"He killed that cheesesteak," Nutter said, eliciting laughter from mostly journalists in attendance.

No mention was made during Wednesday's announcement of Blair's part in the war in Iraq, where his alliance with former President George W. Bush and consequent commitment of British troops damaged the prime minister's popularity at home.

The 57-year-old Blair has also been criticized recently for profiting from his stature after a decade in office, accepting handsome fees for consultant work and speaking engagements.

"You're not going to find a world leader who isn't going to be criticized," Nutter said later during an interview. "You have to look at a person in the totality of their career."

Recalling that in 1993, F.W. de Klerk, once an advocate of apartheid, and Nelson Mandela received the Liberty Medal jointly, Nutter said many of those who achieve greatness have made controversial decisions along the way.

"When you look at the totality of who Tony Blair is and what he has done," Nutter said, "he is more than qualified for this prize."


Liberty Medal Honorees

2009 Steven Spielberg, film director.

2008 Mikhail Gorbachev, former Soviet leader.

2007 Bono, U2 lead singer, activist, and head of DATA (Debt, AIDS, Trade, Africa) advocacy organization.

2006 Former U.S. Presidents George

H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

2005 Viktor Yushchenko, president of Ukraine.

2004 Hamid Karzai, president of Afghanistan.

2003 Sandra Day O'Connor, U.S. Supreme Court justice.

2002 Colin Powell,

U.S. secretary of state.

2001 Kofi Annan,

United Nations

secretary-general.

2000 Dr. James Watson and Dr. Francis Crick, discoverers of DNA structure.

1999 Kim Dae Jung, president of South Korea.

1998 U.S. Sen. George J. Mitchell, Irish peace negotiator.

1997 CNN International.

1996 King Hussein I

of Jordan and Shimon Peres, former prime minister of Israel.

1995 Sadako Ogata, United Nations

High Commissioner

for Refugees.

1994 Vaclav Havel, president of the

Czech Republic.

1993 F.W. de Klerk, South Africa's president, and Nelson Mandela, president of the African National Congress.

1992 Thurgood Marshall, U.S.

Supreme Court justice.

1991 Oscar Arias, president of Costa Rica, and Medecins sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders), humanitarian group.

1990 Jimmy Carter, former U.S. president.

1989 Lech Walesa, founder of Solidarity, the Polish trade union.


Contact staff writer Melissa Dribben at 215-854-2590 or mdribben@phillynews.com.