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Blair: Coalition will stay united

Blair
Blair rallies British troops at a camp in north Oman  


LONDON, England (CNN) -- UK Prime Minister Tony Blair says the U.S-led coalition will "stand united" in the fight against terrorism.

Blair made the comments at a news conference in Egypt -- his latest stop during a three-day Middle East tour to lobby support for the international coalition.

Analysts said they expected Blair to face criticism from Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who has accused Britain of harbouring several Egyptians suspected of terrorism.

CNN's Ben Wedeman, in Cairo, said: "For many years the Egyptian Government has complained to Great Britain about the fact that Britain has harboured several Egyptians suspected of terrorism. This one point of contention has, to some extent, soured relations between Britain and Egypt."

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Questioned on the issue during the news conference, Blair said: "We tightened our law last year in part because of strong representations made from here. We intend to tighten our laws still further."

Wedeman said there was also intense concern in the region that the coalition could take action in the future against Iraq.

"Egyptian officials and other Arab officials have made it clear that while they are not particularly enthusiastic on the level of military action taken in Afghanistan, they do understand ... the reasons why the U.S. is going after the Taliban in Afghanistan.

"But they have made it clear that when it comes to Iraq, that is a whole different ball game, and that Arab support -- cautious as it may be -- for the U.S.-led coalition against terrorism, could collapse in the event that the U.S. and its allies turn their attention to Iraq."

On Wednesday, Blair visited British troops taking part in a military exercise in Oman and held a meeting and private dinner with Sultan Qaboos.

Blair and Zawawi
Tony Blair reviews a guard of honour in Oman, along with Special Representative for Foreign Affairs, Omar Zawawi  

Blair also spoke to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in a 10-minute telephone conversation, discussing the Middle East peace process.

A spokesman for Blair said Sultan Qaboos had made it clear "he sees the current situation in much the same terms as we do."

The spokesman added that the two leaders "talked at some length about Islam" and said the Sultan regarded Osama bin Laden's al Qaida network's so-called doctrine of Islam as "a perversion of the true teachings of the Islamic faith."

Blair toured the Al Sha'afa base, the command centre of Operation Swift Sword II, involving more than 20,000 British servicemen and women in the biggest deployment since the Gulf War.

The forces are not involved at present in Operation Enduring Freedom, but could be called on to take part in future.



 
 
 
 


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