TONY BLAIR AND THE
SHAPESHIFTER SHUTTLE


By James Lyons, Political Correspondent, PA News

International support for the US war on terrorism is snowballing, Prime Minister Tony Blair said tonight.

Mr Blair was speaking after a hectic day of diplomacy aimed at creating the broadest possible coalition against those behind the World Trade Centre attacks.

He is playing a key role in rallying support for US President George W Bush's declaration of war against terrorist forces who killed more than 5,000 people in New York.

Mr Blair will take a break from his shuttle diplomacy mission to make a speech tomorrow at memorial ceremony in New York for the families of British victims killed in the terror attacks.

The Prime Minister's diary has been cleared so he can devote himself to the diplomatic mission he says Britain has a moral duty to undertake.

He held a telephone conversation with Chinese president Jiang Zemin and hosted a meeting of African officials as part of that continuing effort to help build a worldwide alliance.

And tomorrow he will meet German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder in Berlin before travelling on to Paris for talks with French president Jacques Chirac.

The Prime Minister will then report the progress he has made to Mr Bush in Washington on Thursday.

He delivered an up-beat assessment of his progress when he spoke to the BBC World Service in Downing Street tonight.

"That coalition is strengthening," he said.

Often the international community lost the sense of urgency for action once the initial shock at some disaster was overcome, Mr Blair continued.

"I don't think that has happened at all. I think the strength of feeling is gathering momentum.

"Right throughout the world people recognise we have to stand in solidarity with the United States not simply because it is the United States, but because the attack on it was an attack on the civilised world."

Mr Blair said he had personally seen evidence pointing to the alleged involvement of Osama bin Laden, the Saudi dissident hiding out in Afghanistan.

"What we have said so far, because people asked us and it is right because this is what the evidence tells, is that he is the prime suspect," he said.

Mr Blair said "there may be various other people" involved but would not be drawn on who they might be.

The US and its allies knew bin Laden was in Afghanistan but other countries should come forward with intelligence to help them pin-point him, the Premier said.

And he repeated President Bush's warning to the Taliban that military action would not distinguish between terrorists and those protecting them.

"This is a situation where those who have been harbouring him or helping him have a very simple choice.

"They either cease the protection of bin Laden or they will be treated as people helping him."

He also repeated President Bush's insistence that it would not be enough to target bin Laden, who is also accused of the US embassy bombings in Africa, and his military training camps in Afghanistan.

The whole machinery of terror that had been constructed must be destroyed, Mr Blair said.

The Prime Minister said the attack had been "fundamentally opposed" to the principles of Islam and said ordinary Muslims should not feel threatened.

"I have gone out of my way, as indeed has President Bush and others, to stress that we know that vast majority of Muslims are decent, law-abiding people.

"The doctrine and teachings of Islam are those of peace and harmony.

"I read the Koran. The god of the Koran is merciful and forgiving. It is a whole teaching dedicated to building peace in the world.

"Therefore those people who committed this atrocity, they no more represent the true spirit of Islam than does the Protestant or Catholic on the streets of Northern Ireland that murders someone of the opposite part of the Christian religion represent the true spirit of Christianity."

Mr Blair praised the US president's response to the attacks last week.

"We are proceeding and the United States is proceeding in a measured way. A lot of people might have expected the United States to have lashed out - to have acted first and thought afterwards - they have not done that.

"It is to the great credit of President Bush that he has not proceeded in that way."

But that did not mean the US, with Britain's support, would not act.

"Nobody should be in doubt about our total and complete determination to do what is necessary in order to bring to justice those that perpetrated this crime."

Mr Blair emphasised that the threat of international terrorism had to be tackled in the medium and long term, in addition to any immediate response to last week's events.

He said: "The limits now on the way that these people operate are not governed by any sense of morality at all.

"If they could have killed even more people in America, they would have. The limits are merely technical and practical.

"And therefore what we have got to do is to remove their ability to operate practically and technically."

Asked what he hoped to achieve by his forthcoming tour of Europe and the US, Mr Blair said: "The most important thing is to demonstrate that the coalition against international terrorism not merely has support, but that support is growing.

"That it encompasses nations in all continents, including Arab nations as well, that it has support from people of all faiths, and support from people of all democratic political persuasions.

"And I think there is a real chance of doing that.

"People have been both surprised and heartened by the sense in which the international community is coming together and recognising that it is right and necessary to pursue those responsible and bring them to justice for this terrible atrocity in America.

"We then need as an international community to sit down and work out in a systematic, clear-headed way how we take action against every aspect of this new phenomenon of mass international terrorism."

Mr Blair said he believed the growing coalition would put immense pressure on terrorist groups.

"Right around the world the effects will be felt, not just in the measures we will take, but also in any group that has previously held an attitude that terrorism is somehow an acceptable way of resolving grievances, will find themselves very isolated indeed," said Mr Blair.

Mr Ahern gave his full support to the international effort against international terrorism.

"Our Parliament yesterday unanimously stated, unequivocally, our support for the defeating of international terrorism, of coming to the root of where these people operate, and the terrible crimes they perpetrated against all humanity," said Mr Ahern.

"We remain firmly determined to support the initiatives taken and very much welcome the initiatives taken for a broad international coalition to come behind the efforts to try and root this out."

Mr Ahern continued: "If people are not prepared to listen, ignore UN Security Council resolutions, sanctions, everything else over the years, then people are left with no option but to try to defeat them."

Downing Street said that Mr Blair believed the growing international consensus would be strengthened by the Middle East ceasefire between the Palestinians and Israelis.

Mr Blair's official spokesman emphasised that there was broad support among British Muslims and that those who had spoken out against America and in support of Osama bin Laden were only a small, unrepresentative minority.

"The important thing is that we recognise that there is a broad consensus abroad and at home," he said.

The spokesman said that while bin Laden was the "prime suspect", they needed to deal with the wider terrorist threat.

"What we are talking about is not just one individual but a whole network that has to be dismantled," he said.

He said that the authorities were also alert to the potential threat of terrorist activity in Britain.

"We are continuing to monitor very carefully those who we believe pose any kind of threat. That process of threat assessment will continue," he said.

Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman Menzies Campbell said: "The Prime Minister has a heavy responsibility to ensure that Europe and the United States speak with one voice.

"A collective response is much more likely to be effective, whereas any unilateral action by the US would inevitably distance America from its allies.

"Tony Blair often describes Great Britain as a bridge between America and Europe.

"He needs to make sure that this principle is put into practice now as never before. It has never been more essential."



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