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Blair on fresh coalition tour

Tony Blair is heading for Geneva and the Middle East
Tony Blair is heading for Geneva and the Middle East  

LONDON, England -- British Prime Minister Tony Blair has embarked on another tour of shuttle diplomacy.

Blair left London on Tuesday evening for a hectic three-day diplomatic mission, beginning with talks in Geneva, Switzerland, with the leader of the United Arab Emirates.

According to the UK Press Association, Blair will have about 45 minutes of talks with UAE President Sheik Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who backs the international coalition against terrorism.

His country had been one of only three nations to officially recognise Afghanistan's Taliban regime before cutting ties last month.

Downing Street officials told PA that the UAE leader was in Geneva "for personal reasons."

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Blair's spokesman added the prime minister would fly on to the Middle East for talks with two other leaders. No further details of the visit have been disclosed.

"The purpose of the visit is to continue to deepen the international coalition against terrorism. That job did not end when military action started on Sunday," the spokesman said.

The UAE strongly condemned the September 11 atrocities and broke off diplomatic relations with the Taliban on September 23, the spokesman said.

"The sheikh is somebody who has been in power for a considerable length of time and is somebody who will have particular insights in terms of regional issues, and also into Afghanistan and the Taliban.

"The prime minister will also want to use his meeting with him to discuss what sort of government there might be in Afghanistan if the Taliban were to fall."

Blair's international mission follows a trip to Russia by his defence secretary, Geoff Hoon, for a meeting with his counterpart, Sergei Ivanov.

After talks in Moscow, Hoon said a ground operation after the air strikes was only one of a number of options being considered.

"As far as any ground operations are concerned, clearly we are preparing plans to allow us to look at that as an option," he told reporters.

"But they are options. We have taken no decision on a ground campaign. We have only just started the very first part of the military campaign (in Afghanistan)."

Ivanov said Russia remained solidly behind the U.S.-led anti-terrorism coalition.

But he said Moscow believed it would be foolish to try to impose the Northern Alliance, which opposes the ruling Taliban and controls some territory in the north of the country, as Afghanistan's next rulers.

He said: "We support the use of any force in the fight against international terrorism, wherever it be.

"It is not just a question of Afghanistan; the so-called terrorist cells, their organisations (and) financial support cover the entire world."

Hoon said that no timetable had been set for the current allied strikes, but he added: "I anticipate that it is more likely to be a matter of days rather than weeks."

Before he left London, Blair warned the Western coalition that they must not repeat the mistakes of the past and abandon Afghanistan once the current war against terrorism was over.

"Once the conflict is over, we have then got to sit down with the people in Afghanistan and try and work out a stable and coherent plan for the future," he said in an interview for the BBC World Service.

"We are not going to walk away again. We made that mistake in the past."

He added: "At the end of the '80s and early '90s we, in a sense, walked away from the people of Afghanistan after the Russians had left.

British Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon said ground troops remained an option  

"We really should, at that point in time, have put together a proper rescue plan for the people of Afghanistan -- but we didn't."

Blair, who held the first meeting in Downing Street of his war cabinet on Tuesday, left behind a simmering domestic political row over a government adviser who urged colleagues to rush out bad news under cover of the September 11 terror strikes.

Jo Moore, special adviser to Transport Secretary Stephen Byers, e-mailed the advice just an hour after the two hijacked airliners slammed into the World Trade Center.

"It's now a very good day to get out anything we want to bury," she wrote as the Twin Towers burned.

Moore has been reprimanded by Byers and has publically apologised, but politicians across the political divide are calling on Blair to sack her.

Blair's official spokesman said: "The prime minister shares Stephen Byers's view that this is a mistake. Equally he has a very high regard for Stephen Byers and trusts his judgment."


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October 9, 2001

• 10 Downing Street
• Russian Government
• Ministry of Defence

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