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Mintier: Blair visit to Pakistan sends strong signal

Tom Mintier in Islamabad, Pakistan
Tom Mintier in Islamabad, Pakistan  

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (CNN) -- British Prime Minister Tony Blair arrived in Pakistan on Friday for talks with President Gen. Pervez Musharraf and other government officials as part of a worldwide tour to build the U.S.-led international coalition against terrorism. Blair was in Russia on Thursday and has scheduled a stop in India on Friday night.

CNN Correspondent Tom Mintier is in Islamabad following developments and spoke with CNN.

CNN: Tom, is this a precursor to a military strike -- a last-minute diplomatic effort to stop any military action? What's your sense of this?

MINTIER: Well, it's really hard to say. It could be just about anything. What it is is a very important visit for the Pakistanis. By having Prime Minister Blair come here at the end of this week, it sends a clear and strong signal, equal to the one that was sent by the Pakistan government, that they would support the United States in the war on terrorism.

Now, Mr. Blair has been basically the point man on the international stage all of this week, delivering two major addresses: one to his party faithful; the other to an emergency session of Parliament that was called in London the other day.

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Now, in that speech, he basically outlined part of the case against Osama bin Laden, linking him to the activities that occurred on September 11 in the United States. Now, he has repeated the call that the Taliban must either surrender bin Laden or surrender power, and saying that three of the 19 hijackers had solid links to Osama bin Laden's network of operatives.

So he is going to be here only for a total of four hours, and then according to the foreign ministry of India, he will go to New Delhi. So it's interesting this visit coming -- the timing, but it's really difficult to say. But we expect to hear the call once again from the British prime minister for the Taliban to hand over Osama bin Laden.

And you have to remember: This is the only place where the ears are out and open, because the Taliban continues to have an embassy here in Pakistan, in Islamabad, so there is a very good possibility that if he wants to deliver a message -- a personal message, it's only here in Islamabad that he could do that.

CNN: Tom, we were reporting this on Thursday. We had heard reports that Tony Blair was, in fact, planning on meeting with the Taliban's ambassador. Do you have any more confirmation of that? Or what are your sources telling you?

MINTIER: It's really difficult. The security in this town is extremely tight. Security forces have been put out on the streets very, very early today. And, you know, the local press here was reporting that there was a possibility that Mr. Blair might, in a neutral location, meet with the Taliban ambassador. But there has been no confirmation of that.

The schedule of the British prime minister is a tightly guarded secret. We do know for sure that he is scheduled to meet with the Pakistani president. Beyond that, what he does the other four hours is pretty much tightly closed right now.

CNN: Pakistan has already said, given what evidence has been presented on the public stage -- evidence against Osama bin Laden and the ruling Taliban -- that there is enough evidence for an "indictment in this case."

What do you make of that statement, and what is it that Pakistan means?

MINTIER: I think it's a very strong statement coming out of the Foreign Ministry here that what they have seen -- what has been provided by the United States -- was a compelling case against Osama bin Laden.

You have to remember here that the president came out very early in support of the United States, and there was concern here in Pakistan that there would be domestic disturbances on the street. There had been some demonstrations, but not as large as analysts thought there would be.

But by coming out with the foreign minister making a public declaration that what they had seen -- what has been provided by the United States would be enough to bring a criminal indictment against Osama bin Laden -- is really quite a strong statement.

Now, you have to remember that the Taliban still have diplomatic relations with Pakistan. The Taliban have been really seeing Pakistanis as an ally of theirs. So this is a very, very strong statement to the Taliban that the person that they have been providing guest status for all these years would have enough evidence against him to basically issue an indictment.


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