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Monday, 17 September, 2001, 19:20 GMT 20:20 UK
Blair steps up talks on terror attacks
Part of the Twin Towers complex at the World Trade Center
President Bush has vowed to avenge the attacks
Downing Street has warned that "difficult decisions and choices" lie ahead in the battle to catch those responsible for the terror attacks on the US and to prevent further atrocities.

Prime Minister Tony Blair's official spokesman was speaking as EU leaders announced plans for an emergency session on Friday in Brussels.

There will be a response and that is likely to lead to difficult decisions and choices - but as in Kosovo this government will remain united

Government spokesman
Ahead of that summit, it is understood Mr Blair hopes to fly to America on Thursday to meet President Bush in Washington and to visit New York, although Downing Street has yet to confirm news of the trip.

Meanwhile, new Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith says he would put Tory shadow ministers on Cabinet sub-committees handling sensitive security or domestic issues.

In the rare move, he offered a virtual suspension of party politics while the assault on terrorism goes on.

Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy said he too would enter cross-party talks about the UK response to the attack but argued there should not be an end to all domestic democratic activity.

Diplomatic drive

Amid a hectic series of diplomatic efforts on Monday, Mr Blair spoke to the president of Pakistan by telephone, and then met Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Those talks came just hours after Foreign Secretary Jack Straw confirmed that UK intelligence had independently identified Afghanistan-based Osama Bin Laden as prime suspect.

Mr Berlusconi, currently chairman of the G8, said the group of leading industrialised countries was likely to travel to America for a special meeting on last week's atrocities.

Mr Blair will be meeting with African leaders on Tuesday before going to Germany on Wednesday to meet with Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.

Cuban missile crisis

His official spokesman said: "We do need to bring those responsible to account because of the horrific deed of last week, but we also need to prevent future atrocities.

Tony Blair and Silvio Berlusconi
Mr Blair held talks with the Italian prime minister
"So there will be a response and that is likely to lead to difficult decisions and choices - but as in Kosovo this government will remain united."

The spokesman said that talk of "blank cheques" or "vetoes" on US action "misrepresented" the position, adding that the prime minister was delighted by the levels of consultation.

Earlier, the foreign secretary said the world was facing its most worrying times since the Cuban missile crisis of the 1960s.

Mr Straw's comments and warnings of "difficult decisions" ahead appear designed to maintain a united front after International Development Secretary Clare Short specifically urged the US not to do anything to make life worse for the ordinary people of Afghanistan.


Mr Blair has given his backing to President Bush over any US response to the attacks, which are thought to have killed 200 to 300 Britons.

Mr Straw reiterated that position on Monday, saying people like Osama Bin Laden did not "subscribe to even the most basic moral tenets".

"The answer to that threat is be determined, but also to make very cool and intelligent decisions and to recognise people's anxieties," he added.

Mr Straw also thanked the Pakistan government, who have sent a delegation to Afghanistan to try to persuade the Taleban to give up Bin Laden.

It emerged on Monday that troops from Suffolk air base RAF Honington, which is home to British and American service men and women, have been deployed to Kuwait.

UK intelligence says Bin Laden is prime suspect
They will guard an air base containing British and American personnel in what a RAF Honington spokesman said was a precautionary measure and not a response to any specific threat.

Clare Short said on Sunday that the lives of ordinary people in Afghanistan should not be made worse, following 20 years of war and four years of drought.

But she did stress that "very serious international action" was necessary to ensure the perpetrators behind the New York attacks could not strike again.

An ICM poll for Tuesday's Guardian newspaper suggests 66% of British people want military action, with 14% opposed to strikes.

But a lower proportion - 49% - favour military action if it meant America and Nato entering a prolonged war, the poll suggests.

The BBC's Andrew Marr
"Leaders are going to be taking decisions of enormous complexity"
See also:

17 Sep 01 | UK Politics
Blair's balancing act
17 Sep 01 | Business
Job fears at UK airlines
17 Sep 01 | Business
UK airlines 'need government aid'
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