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Thursday, 20 September, 2001, 22:21 GMT 23:21 UK
We share grief, Blair tells America
Tony Blair at church service in New York
Tony Blair shared his grief with that of British families
By BBC News Online political correspondent Nick Assinder in New York

For just a few hours all thoughts of revenge were put to one side.

As speculation grew that military action against terrorist targets were only days away, Tony Blair flew to New York to stand shoulder to shoulder with relatives of those caught in the World Trade Center disaster.

This was an occasion for quiet reflection - on the meaningless loss of life and the grief of the thousands of families.

Tony Blair addresses church congregation
The prime minister drew parallels with the Blitz
The prime minister - fresh from warning that British forces may soon be involved in retaliation - joined with relatives from Britain and around the world in an interfaith memorial service in St Thomas' Church on Fifth Avenue, just north of the ruins of what was this city's vibrant heart.

Mr Blair, in a moving address, attempted to sum up the "shock and disbelief, anger and fear" felt over the atrocity.

He also spoke of the "surging human spirit" in the wake of the attack.

He then gave a reading of his own choice, the final words of The Bridge of San Luis Rey, written by Thornton Wilder in 1927.

'Love is enough'

The novel concerns a tragedy in Peru where a bridge collapsed over a gorge, killing five people.

"But soon, we will die and all memory of those five will have left earth, and we ourselves shall be loved for a while and forgotten.

"But the love will have been enough, all those impulses of love return to the love that made them. Even memory is not necessary for love.

Tony Blair and Rudolph Giuliani
New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani welcomed Tony Blair
"There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love. The only survival and only meaning."

The Queen echoed the theme with a personal message delivered by British ambassador Sir Christopher Meyer.

She told those grieving that: "Each and every one of us has been shocked and numbed.

"My thoughts and my prayers are with you now and in the difficult days ahead.

"But nothing that can be said can begin to take away the anguish and grief of this moment. Grief is the price we pay for love."

Message of unity

Joining in the prayers next to the prime minister were former US President Bill Clinton and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.

US and British flags were on display in the church and the message of unity was further underpinned by the singing of both national anthems.

Tears inside church
Many British families lost loved ones in the US attacks
Rector Andrew Mead led the prayers and spoke to the 1,500-strong congregation of the love and sacrifice displayed by the firefighters and other emergency services.

It was difficult to recall a more awful, yet unifying, occasion.

These were people still clearly struggling to comprehend not only the tragedy that has befallen them for no sane reason, but also the enormity of its consequences for the whole world.

The prime minister was determined to show his personal grief and share this moment of mourning with British families.

'You stood by us'

But he was also here to express Britain's solidarity with its ally. And later, speaking after the service, he recalled America's role in World War II.

"My father's generation went through the Blitz. They know what it is like to suffer this deep tragedy and attack.

"There was one country and one people which stood by us at that time. That country was America and those people were the American people.

Blair with French President Jacques Chirac
Shuttle diplomacy has taken Tony Blair around the world
"As you stood by us in those days, we stand side by side with you now,"

Later, Cherie Blair stayed on in the city to meet firefighters of Batallion 8.

The visit was part of the prime minister's frantic bout of global diplomacy which will also see him meeting President George W Bush in the White House.

Mr Blair has already held meetings with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder in Berlin and President Jacques Chirac in Paris.

And on the way to New York he held a mid-air telephone conversation with Iranian President Mohammed Khatami and received his full support in the fight against terrorism.

Military strikes expected

The prime minister welcomed the new friendship with Iran, saying it was a remarkable telephone call he could not imagine having taken place only weeks before.

Throughout his flight the prime minister kept a copy of the Koran at his side and time and again insisted that he was not at war with Islam.

But he also intensified the rhetoric concerning possible retaliation against prime suspect Osama Bin Laden and even Afghanistan.

There is now widespread speculation that military strikes, including British personnel, are imminent.

See also:

20 Sep 01 | Europe
Blair confident on coalition
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