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European leaders express support for war

LONDON, England (CNN) -- Prime Minister Tony Blair held a dinner meeting Sunday in London with several European leaders, where they affirmed their support for the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan, according to reports.

The dinner was held to discuss "current events," Blair's office said. Invited to dine with the United Kingdom prime were French President Jacques Chirac; German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder; Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi; and Spanish premier Jose Maria Aznar.

Their countries, along with Britain, have offered military support for the war against Osama bin Laden and Afghanistan's Taliban regime.

Officials extended the list include Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt of Belgium, which holds the European Union presidency. Also included were Javier Solana, the EU's chief of foreign and security policy; Dutch Prime Minister Wim Kok; and French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin.

Blair was expected to brief his guests on his trip to the Middle East last week, which was aimed at shoring up Muslim support for the war against bin Laden and the Taliban, and rekindling the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

After the meeting, Chirac said the leaders agreed on the need for a solution to the problems in the Middle East. They also expressed support for the military action in Afghanistan, Chirac said.

"We reaffirmed our complete solidarity with the Americans, while being aware that ... military action is not the only way to fight international terrorism and that we must reinforce the means of finding a political solution to the organization of Afghanistan," Chirac told Reuters.

Visit to Washington

Blair is expected to fly Wednesday to Washington for a meeting with President Bush. Blair also hoped to meet Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar in London later this week, his office said.

On his quick tour of the Middle East, Blair encouraged moderate Muslims to "capture back the ground" from bin Laden and the Taliban, but admitted that a gulf existed between the West and the Muslim world.

Blair also acknowledged that he had only modest hopes of restarting genuine negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

"I think this is the possibility," Blair said when he returned from the trip on Thursday. "I wouldn't put it any higher than that -- that we can prepare the ground to move the Middle East peace process forward."

Blair had hoped to meet Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in London later this month, but Sharon on Saturday canceled a planned trip to Britain and the United States, citing the security situation in Israel.


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