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Thursday, 8 November, 2001, 14:39 GMT
Analysis: Blair's Mideast aside to US
UK Prime Minister Tony Blair (L) and US President George W Bush (R)
Winning words: But did he get the message across?
Barnaby Mason

During UK Prime Minister Tony Blair's lightning visit to Washington, he is reported to have argued the need for the United States to make a new effort to get peace talks re-started between Israel and the Palestinians.

But there was a small but significant difference of emphasis in public remarks about the Middle East by Mr Blair and US President George W Bush.

Mr Bush said his administration was working hard to implement an existing plan to build confidence between Israelis and Palestinians.

But, he said, peace or no peace in the Middle East, they would bring to justice Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda network, which Washington blames for the September 11 attacks in the United States.

Colin Powell
Mr Powell is expected to stress US support for a Palestinian state

Mr Blair agreed that one issue was not conditional on the other. But he said it was in everyone's interest to make progress in the Middle East and it was worth straining every sinew to do so.

Privately, British government officials do make the link.

Movement

Mr Blair believes that some political movement between Israelis and Palestinians is vital to reduce Arab and Muslim resentment of the West.

Progress would also relieve some of the domestic pressure on Arab governments which have signed up to the international coalition against terrorism.


Mr Blair is believed to have argued against any move to extend military operations to Iraq, arguing that would destroy Arab support for the anti-terrorism campaign

To promote peace, many European governments believe that the United States should put overt American pressure on Israel.

But the American administration has shown no sign of being responsive to that argument.

There have been reports for some weeks that US Secretary of State, Colin Powell would make a delayed statement of policy on the Middle East.

Among other things, he is expected to amplify American backing for a Palestinian state.

Bush UN speech

Attention is now focused on Mr Bush's speech to the UN General Assembly on Saturday.

Mr Blair's advice carries some weight in the White House, partly because of his vehement and consistent support for the United States.

In his Washington talks, he is also believed to have argued against any move to extend military operations to Iraq, arguing that would destroy Arab support for the anti-terrorism campaign.

But Mr Powell has since warned that Iraq could be next on the American hit list, after the United States has dealt with al-Qaeda and the Taleban authorities in Afghanistan who have sheltered the network.

See also:

08 Nov 01 | UK Politics
Bush hails America's 'best friend'
08 Nov 01 | Middle East
Powell says Iraq may be next target
07 Nov 01 | Middle East
Analysis: Blair walks Mid-East tightrope
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