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banner Wednesday, 3 October, 2001, 03:04 GMT 04:04 UK
US welcomes Blair's strong stance
Taleban soldiers repair one of their tanks
But the US will not endorse Blair's comments that war will end the Taleban
By BBC Washington Correspondent Rob Watson

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair's tough talking speech has certainly been playing well stateside.

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair
Blair made the most hawkish speech so far by any of the allies
The UK Government and Mr Blair, America's closest allies in the "war against terrorism" since it was declared after 11 September, have never been so popular here as they are now.

Ari Fleischer, spokesman for US President George Bush, welcomed the prime minister's speech at the Labour Party conference and what he called "his firm commitment to combating terrorism".

There was perhaps some slight difference in emphasis however.

Sticking point

Asked repeatedly whether the president would support Mr Blair's phrase that the Taleban "should surrender the terrorists or surrender power", Mr Fleischer declined to do so.

He instead emphasised that it was not about the survival or not of the Taleban, but about protecting the USA.

"It's always important to remember the fundamentals here," he said, "that our nation has been attacked, and the president will lead an effort to defend our nation".

But he was also careful to add: "I don't think anybody should expect two leaders to give speeches that are carbon copies in every iota and every word.

"But the two have said, virtually, the exact same message. We are united. We stand strong together."

Rebuilding Afghanistan

The White House also appeared less enthusiastic about Mr Blair's promise to stay on in Afghanistan and help rebuild a government there if the Taleban should fall.

Although the US has said it is deeply concerned about the humanitarian plight of the Afghan people and would help anyone seeking to create a peaceful, stable, prosperous and terrorism-free Afghanistan, the White House has also repeatedly insisted it does not want to choose the government of the country.

US troops leave Somalia
The US had to make a humiliating retreat from Somalia in 1995
This is less of a major policy difference between the US and Britain, but rather reflects the sensitivity surrounding the idea of "nation-building", which to many policy makers in Washington has echoes of the debacle in Somalia in the early 90s where US forces failed to deliver peace and sustained heavy casualties.

Mr Blair's speech also went down well in unofficial Washington with analysts describing it as strong and well argued.

Although most of them agreed with the White House's description of there being "no light" between the position of the US and Britain, some did note Mr Blair's more upfront commitment to getting rid of the Taleban.

They also saw his speech as very Afghanistan centred, with less emphasis on those other nations the US has labelled as state sponsors of terrorism and which some Bush administration officials would also like to see on the target list.

See also:

26 Sep 01 | UK Politics
War 'could last a lifetime'
02 Oct 01 | Americas
When will military action begin?
02 Oct 01 | South Asia
Deal to oust Taleban sealed
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