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Wednesday, 3 October, 2001, 02:02 GMT 03:02 UK
Allies on collision course with Taleban
gulf
US forces are already massed in the Gulf
American Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is visiting the Middle East to bolster support for any military offensive against Osama Bin Laden's network.

US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld
Rumsfeld: Building the coalition
UK Prime Minister Tony Blair has made it clear that military action is inevitable against Afghanistan's Taleban regime if they do not hand over Bin Laden, the prime suspect of the bombings in New York and Washington.

The Taleban's ambassador to Pakistan, Abdul Salam Zaeef, said the Afghan authorities were still prepared to negotiate with Washington on the issue but President Bush has ruled out any talks.

In a trip arranged at very short notice at the request of Mr Bush, Mr Rumsfeld will visit Saudi Arabia, Oman, Egypt and Uzbekistan, which borders Afghanistan.

In other developments:

  • US issues warning that "symbols of American capitalism" may be targeted in Italy in the coming month
  • A French-Algerian man held in France reportedly implicates Bin Laden in a separate plot to attack the US embassy in Paris
    Abdul Salam Zaeef, the Taleban's ambassador to Pakistan
    Zaeef says the Taleban is still ready to negotiate
  • President Bush announces the reopening of the Reagan National Airport in Washington - the last airport to remain closed since the attacks
  • American Airlines said it would immediately start reinforcing its cockpit doors
  • Russian relief supplies are expected to arrive in Afghanistan, while a shipment of hundreds of tents is set to leave from the UK
  • The World Bank warns that 10 million more people will be reduced to poverty around the world as a result of the attacks
  • Russian President Putin says Moscow "needs no proof" of Bin Laden's guilt.
A Pentagon spokeswoman would not disclose what Mr Rumsfeld would be discussing, but BBC Washington correspondent Tom Carver says it is clear that he will be laying out the case for military action.

Earlier on Monday Mr Blair told the Taleban to give up Bin Laden or face attack - his bluntest warning yet to the Afghan authorities.

Click here for map of possible targets

Mr Blair said: "I say to the Taleban, surrender the terrorists or surrender power. That is your choice."

Mr Zaeef responded by saying that Bin Laden would not be surrendered without proof that he was involved in the attacks.

Nato's Secretary-General, George Robertson, has confirmed the organisation had seen "clear and compelling" evidence from the US that Saudi-born Bin Laden and his al-Qaeda organisation were involved in the devastating assaults on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Our correspondent says Mr Rumsfeld will be sharing some of that intelligence on his trip to the Middle East.

Support thanks

He says this will be particularly important in Egypt, where Islamic fundamentalism draws a lot of support.

His stops in Oman, Uzbekistan and Saudi Arabia will allow him to thank them for their logistical support to the US military.

Mr Rumsfeld said he hoped the meeting with Uzbek leaders would be useful given Uzbekistan borders Afghanistan. The former Soviet state has already allowed American special forces to operate from its airfields.

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair makes his speech to the Labour Party conference
Blair gave the most hawkish speech by any coalition leader so far
Condemning the Taleban as a regime that oppressed the people of Afghanistan and flooded the streets of the West with drugs, Mr Blair told the Labour Party's annual conference: "Be in no doubt at all, Bin Laden and his people organised this atrocity. The Taleban aid and abet him.

Mr Blair stressed: "The action we take will be proportionate and targeted, we will do all we humanly can to avoid civilian casualties."

The United States has maintained a major military presence in the Gulf since the end of the Gulf War in 1991.

Military presence

In addition it has massed about 30,000 military personnel in two aircraft carriers - the USS Carl Vinson and the USS Enterprise - and 350 planes in the Gulf and Arabian Sea.

Two more carriers are also heading for the region - the USS Theodore Roosevelt and USS Kitty Hawk.

Since the 11 September attacks, the Pentagon has sent more than 100 additional air force planes to bases in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain and other Gulf nations.

Britain has sent 24 Royal Navy warships, as well as 23,000 troops, to Oman, but military officials insist they are simply on a long-planned exercise.

The timetable for military moves remains unknown.

Mr Bush has said the United States will act in its own time.




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 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Paul Reynolds in Washington
"The timetable for military moves remains unknown"
The BBC's Richard Lister
says the US need the support of Saudi Arabia
UK Prime Minister Tony Blair
"I say to the Taleban, surrender the terrorists or surrender power"
See also:

02 Oct 01 | Asia-Pacific
Uzbekistan backs 'unnatural' ally
02 Oct 01 | UK Politics
Blair promises victory over terror
02 Oct 01 | Europe
Bin Laden 'named' in Paris plot
02 Oct 01 | South Asia
Race to deliver Afghan aid
02 Oct 01 | Americas
'Self-defence first' for US
01 Oct 01 | Americas
Bin Laden's 'cash link' to hijackers
01 Oct 01 | UK
UK freezes terror funds
01 Oct 01 | Middle East
Military build-up alarms Gulf Arabs
26 Sep 01 | Americas
When will military action begin?
02 Oct 01 | Americas
Nato backs US in anti-terror war
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