'Persuader' Blair seeks coalition
By CNN European Political Editor Robin Oakley
LONDON, England (CNN) -- Tony Blair has earned the nickname "The Persuader" for his tireless efforts to help the United States assemble a worldwide coalition against terrorism.
Some see Britain's European Union membership and its special relationship with the United States as mutually exclusive. But not Blair.
The British prime minister has always argued the dual role lets Britain act as a bridge-builder between the EU and U.S. In recent days he has been able to give substance to the boast.
He was the first EU leader to insist his country stood "shoulder to shoulder" with the United States following the terror attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.
He was also the first to make it clear his stance involved military support as required. Britain and France are the two EU nations able to deploy considerable military force comparatively swiftly.
Some European leaders have been uneasy at Blair's readiness to echo U.S. President George W. Bush's use of the word "war" to describe the current situation. But even Blair's aides made it clear he was uncomfortable with Bush's expressed desire to have Osama bin Laden "dead or alive."
In fact, while Blair has been seeking to bolster European input into a coalition against terrorism, he has also used his White House access to urge Bush to avoid hasty or pointless "bombs in the sand."
Significantly, in his first statement to an emergency session of Parliament, Blair praised Bush for not acting first and thinking afterwards.
The "don't get mad, get even" response, urging limits on any immediate strike action, is an intriguing contrast to Blair's role two years earlier, when he was the European leader pushing a reluctant President Bill Clinton for U.S. ground troops in Kosovo.
Blair is also anxious to curb any backlash against Muslims in Britain and Europe, and to avoid any impression of a battle of Europe and America vs. the Islamic community.
To that end, he has stressed that any retaliatory action against the terrorists must be proportionate and carefully targeted on the basis of firm evidence.
In addition to contacting fellow EU leaders, Blair also has been in touch with Pakistani leader Gen. Pervez Musharraf, a group of African leaders whom he had invited to Britain for other reasons, and Russian President Vladimir Putin, with whom he enjoys a good relationship.
Blair and other European leaders -- including French President Jacques Chirac, Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder -- agree that a multi-faceted action against terrorism is needed.
Such action, they say, would go way beyond any immediate military strike and last for many years in an attempt to cut off terrorists' funding and destroy their organisations and communications.
European leaders have been agreeably surprised by the degree of consultation America has offered through the crisis.
They have also been pleased to see Bush pressure Israel and the Palestinians into a cease-fire, which they hope will increase the number of Arab states willing to join the anti-terror coalition.
One silver lining they see: A U.S. president initially inclined to listen to isolationists such as Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is now taking his tone more from integrationist coalition builders such as Secretary of State Colin Powell.
At first, many Europeans shared the worry expressed by French commentator Dominique Moisi that "we are all in the same boat but we fear what the captain of the boat will decide to do."
But the frantic round of diplomacy undertaken by Blair and others has rounded off some raw edges.
Last week it seemed likely that any action would be led by NATO after it invoked Article 5, declaring the attack on the U.S. to be an attack on all 19 alliance nations.
But now there is a growing expectation such action would be taken by a U.S.-led "coalition of the willing," including some but not all NATO nations, as well as many others from outside -- whether they participate in a military, diplomatic or economic way.
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UK Prime Minister's Office
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