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Thursday, 4 October, 2001, 22:00 GMT 23:00 UK
Strengthening the coalition
US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld meets Sultan Qabous of Oman
Cementing ties: Rumsfeld meets Sultan of Oman
By BBC diplomatic correspondent Barnaby Mason

The United States and Britain are working together in shuttle diplomacy to try to consolidate the international coalition against terrorism.

The aim is to make it robust enough to stand the strains of military action in Afghanistan - now regarded as almost inevitable.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow
A new relationship: Blair and Putin
The US Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, has been visiting key Arab states - Saudi Arabia, Oman and Egypt. He is going on to Uzbekistan.

His discussions have a military bent, though this is hardly spoken of in public.

The Saudi Defence Minister, Prince Sultan Bin Abdelaziz, claimed improbably that they had not discussed American military operations.

And Mr Rumsfeld said the role of Uzbekistan, a northern neighbour of Afghanistan which has offered military facilities, was still an open question.

Boosting morale

His tour also has a political dimension: an opportunity to boost the morale of key allies and an exercise in reassurance.

That is the role too of the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair.

From talks in Moscow with the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, he is expected to go on to Pakistan, Afghanistan's key neighbour to the south.

Mr Blair is taking on an increasingly high-profile role in the crisis.

On Tuesday, he made a speech setting out ambitions not only to defeat terrorism but to resolve conflicts all over the world.

Before leaving for Russia, he told Parliament that the Saudi-born Islamic militant, Osama Bin Laden, had given his associates advance warning of the 11 September attacks on New York and Washington.

Blair's Pakistan trip

Mr Blair was the first western leader to state publicly intelligence evidence of this kind.

It is likely to be welcomed by the governments of Muslim countries like Pakistan, which want as much convincing evidence put before their own people as possible to head off angry protests at any forthcoming military action in Afghanistan.

Mr Blair would not be going to Pakistan at all in normal circumstances.

It is under military rule and is suspended from the Commonwealth.

But it is important for the cohesion of the international coalition to keep Pakistan on side.

Avoiding civilian deaths

Mr Blair will no doubt seek to reassure the government that any military action will be carefully targeted and every effort made to spare the lives of civilians.

In this he is speaking on behalf of the US too.

Mr Rumsfeld is not going to Pakistan: such a visit might be seen as provocative by some sections of Pakistani opinion.

Mr Blair's trip to Moscow is partly to recognise President Putin's crucial support - quite different from the situation during the Kosovo crisis, for example.

It will be a public acknowledgement that Russia's role is valued by the West - not least because of its influence in the former Soviet republics of central Asia.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
UK Prime Minister Tony Blair
addresses the emergency meeting of the House of Commons
The BBC's Paul Adams
evaluates the evidence Blair has presented on Bin Laden's guilt
Michael Emerson, Centre for European Policy Studies
explains what Blair might be hoping to achieve by his visit to Moscow
See also:

04 Oct 01 | Europe
Analysis: Moscow's mood shift
03 Oct 01 | Europe
Analysis: Putin looks West
04 Oct 01 | UK Politics
Blair puts case against Bin Laden
04 Oct 01 | UK Politics
The UK's Bin Laden dossier in full
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