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Thursday, 20 September, 2001, 12:33 GMT 13:33 UK
Blair heads for US terror talks
Tony Blair and Jacques Chirac
Mr Blair and President Chirac are standing by the US
UK Prime Minister Tony Blair has spoken of the "huge and heavy responsibility" weighing on him as he contemplates military action against global terrorism.

Speaking as he flew to New York, Mr Blair again insisted the world consensus behind such action was still growing and said he had just completed a "remarkable" conversation with Iranian president Mohammed Khatami.

I can't see how France and Britain would not be involved if it was appropriate

President Chirac
That conversation came after he and French President Jacques Chirac gave a strong indication that both their countries could be involved in military action alongside the US.

Mr Blair will continue his marathon diplomatic tour in America, when he meets President George Bush in Washington, having already met President Chirac in Paris and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder in Berlin.

The hectic schedule comes against the background of news that the US has moved 100 warplanes to bases within striking distance of Afghanistan, where chief suspect Osama Bin Laden lives.

Tony Blair and Gerhard Schroeder
Mr Blair and Mr Schroeder expressed support for the US
UK Home Secretary David Blunkett and his EU counterparts are also meeting to give their backing to tough new laws to help in the battle against terrorism.

Mr Blair told reporters he could not have imagined his conversation with the Iranian president happening a few weeks ago.

"It was a remarkable conversation, not only because he has given us his full solidarity in outrage at what happened in the USA and strong condemnation of terrorism but also to how we are tackling this," Mr Blair said.

The prime minister said the West was still carefully considering measures it would take and urged people not to "over interpret" any statements he made as suggesting action was imminent.

Mr Blair said every other leader he had spoken too understood the need "not to flinch from action".

Likely to be involved

Earlier, both the French president and Mr Blair were asked after their meeting about whether their countries would be involved in any US action.

President Chirac said: "I can't see how France and Britain would not be involved if it was appropriate."

Mr Blair agreed, saying the question of the precise response was not under discussion.

Mr Blair is due to meet emergency workers in New York later on Thursday and speak at a memorial service for British victims of the attacks, before travelling to Washington for talks with President Bush.

Blair's shuttle diplomacy
Tuesday - meeting with African leaders at Chequers, phone talks with Chinese Premier Jiang Zemin
Wednesday - talks in Berlin with Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder
Thursday morning - talks with President Chirac in Paris
Thursday - flies to Washington and New York
Friday - EU summit in Brussels
Between 200 and 300 Britons are thought to have died in the collapse of World Trade Center's twin towers as a result of the wave of attacks last Tuesday.

President Chirac was able to advise Mr Blair on the latest mood in Washington, having met his US counterpart on Wednesday.

Mr Blair will be accompanied to New York by his wife Cherie, where he will meet firefighters and policemen before speaking at the memorial service at the Anglican church in Manhattan.

Mr Blair flew with the backing of Michael Ancram, the shadow foreign secretary, who restated Conservative support for the government's stance against international terrorism, although he warned that any action had to be targeted carefully.

With military action now looking more likely, British religious leaders have repeated their calls for restraint in the response to the attacks.

Military preparations

The economic fallout from the terror attack has hit airlines heavily, with British Airways announcing 7,000 job cuts, following similar moves in America.

The prime minister is due to visit the White House before President Bush addresses a special joint session of Congress on the terror strikes crisis.

After those talks, Mr Blair will cross the Atlantic again for a special EU emergency summit in Brussels on Friday.

The US has already reinforced its insistence that it is ready for warfare by sending 100 military aircraft to the Gulf in preparation for possible attacks.

They will join a massive American strike force already deployed on two aircraft carriers in the Indian Ocean.

Troops withdraw

The Ministry of Defence confirmed on Thursday that the 1,900 British troops in Macedonia to collect weapons from ethnic Albanian rebels would begin next week.

A spokesman insisted the withdrawal was always intended and was not connected to operations in the Gulf.

But he acknowledged that it would leave them free for other operations, but said that as yet no detailed plan of action had been agreed with the US military.

  • A 24-hour helpline for British people affected by the terrorist atrocities in the United States has been launched by the government.

    The confidential US Tragedy Support Line is available on 0845 601 5743.

    The BBC's Bridget Kendall
    "Complete solidarity was the overiding message"
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