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Blair praises Pakistan's decision

Blair and Mussarraf held a summit in Pakistan
Blair and Mussarraf held a summit in Pakistan  


ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (CNN) -- British Prime Minister Tony Blair says Pakistan has "made the right choice" in joining the international coalition fighting terrorism.

"The result will be a significant and lasting strengthening of the outside world's relations with Pakistan," Blair said on Friday.

Blair and Pakistani leader Pervez Musharraf met to discuss the U.S.-led war on terrorism.

Speaking at a joint news conference afterward, Musharraf expressed gratitude to Blair for understanding the nature of Pakistan's position on the crisis.

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CNN's Walter Rodgers details British Prime Minister Tony Blair's trip to Pakistan and his meeting with Gen. Pervez Musharraf (October 5)

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Pakistan is cooperating with the coalition of countries fighting terrorism but Musharraf has come under pressure at home for his decision to side with the coalition.

Pakistan is the only nation that has diplomatic ties with Afghanistan's ruling Taliban regime and the Taliban have many supporters in Pakistan.

Osama bin Laden, labeled by the United States as the "prime suspect" in the September 11 terrorist attacks, resides in Afghanistan as a "guest" of the Taliban.

Pakistan has been briefed by the United States on evidence that U.S. officials say links bin Laden and his al Qaeda network to the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

"There is evidence that is leading to an association between this terrorist act and Osama bin Laden," Musharraf said.

"However, we are not here standing in judgment on the details of this evidence."

Musharraf reiterated that Pakistan's cooperation with the coalition is limited to sharing intelligence, allowing the use of Pakistani airspace and logistical support.

Blair, who said earlier this week that the Taliban must surrender bin Laden or surrender power, reiterated that any response to the attacks is not aimed at the people of Afghanistan.

The coalition, he said, wants "to see justice done, not revenge."

But Blair also said that any new Afghan government should be broad-based and include members of all of Afghanistan's ethnic groups, and take into account that Pakistan has a valid interest in any future Afghan government.

He specifically cited the Pashtun ethnic group, which is the dominant majority ethnic group in Afghanistan and makes up the primary membership of the Taliban.

Blair said Britain would provide financial aid to Pakistan to help cope with possible influx of Afghan refugees.

Many Afghans have been fleeing the country in fear of possible U.S. military strikes, in addition to the more than 1 million who have fled drought, famine and the country's ongoing civil war.

Because of the lack of television in Afghanistan, there is some thought that the country's ruling Taliban militia may not have heard Blair's strongly worded speech delivered on Tuesday to his ruling Labour Party conference in Brighton, England.

In the address, Blair warned the Taliban to turn in bin Laden and his followers or face military strikes aimed at the country's infrastructure and military hardware.

He blamed bin Laden for the U.S. attacks that left thousands of people dead or missing.

"Surrender the terrorists or surrender your power," he said, referring to the military targets as "the machinery of terrorism."

The Taliban have maintained that they are willing to negotiate with the United States on handing over bin Laden, if they are provided with evidence that linked him and the al Qaeda network to the terrorist attacks on the United States.

The United States has rejected the idea of negotiating with the Taliban.

Blair told an emergency session of Parliament on Thursday that three of the 19 hijackers involved in the attacks on the United States were positively identified as "known associates" of bin Laden.

Blair said that of those three, one had played a key role in the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa and last year's attack on the USS Cole in Yemen.

In Moscow, Blair met with Russian President Vladimir Putin and is believed to have presented him with evidence against Islamic militant Osama bin Laden, Washington's top suspect in the September 11 terror attacks.

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld also has been visiting the Middle East and Central Asia to reassure key regional allies ahead of expected military action against Afghanistan.

In Moscow, Putin said he was confident that the U.S.-led military action in Afghanistan could be successful.

"We will be able to tell this once the actions become a reality," Putin told a news conference. "But I have no doubt at all that they can be effective.

"The main condition is the joining of efforts of many countries and sincere desire to work together effectively."

Russia has emerged as a key player in the crisis, with Putin expressing strong support for U.S.-led military strikes against bin Laden's terrorist network and their Afghanistan hosts.

The Russian leader is also seen as an influential figure in the former Soviet states bordering Afghanistan, such as Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, which could provide a launch pad for military action.

Following a summit at NATO headquarters in Brussels on Wednesday, Putin spoke of the need for "closer ties" between Russia and the alliance in the wake of events in America as part of a new security structure evolving across Europe.



 
 
 
 


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