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Wednesday, 10 October, 2001, 22:32 GMT 23:32 UK
Blair shores up Arab support
Tony Blair with British soldiers in Oman
Mr Blair queued up for a curry lunch with the soldiers
Tony Blair has been visiting British troops in Oman as he attempts to bolster morale and shore up Arab support for the coalition against terrorism.

On his three-day Middle East visit the UK prime minister is again stressing that the military action is a war against terrorism, not against Islam.

I say to him [Bin Laden] and those who follow him that the determination to defeat him is total and we shall prevail

Tony Blair

Mr Blair said it was vital people realised that a clash of cultures was exactly what was wanted by Osama Bin Laden, prime suspect for the US terror attacks.

He said the Taleban's announcement that Bin Laden was free to wage holy war should convince any doubters that military action was needed.

But the prime minister declined to give any clear indication about whether Britain would be prepared to back US-led air strikes against other Middle Eastern states.

He told BBC2's Newsnight on Wednesday: "The first phase of our war is against Afghanistan.

"What I am not going to do is say that if there is evidence that emerges in respect of other terrorist operations elsewhere in the world we are not going to take action".

'Need for action'

Earlier during his visit, Mr Blair said the Taleban's announcement had simply strengthened the west's resolve.

"Unless we stop Osama Bin Laden and his terrorist network they will continue to hijack, to kill, innocent people," he said.
Soldiers in Oman
British troops are on exercises in Oman

"We have always said that Osama Bin Laden and the Taleban are working hand-in-glove and this simply proves it."

Mr Blair added that he hoped those who doubted the "nature and importance" of the action in Afghanistan had "had their doubts removed".

Middle East concern

At a news conference and a meeting with Oman's Sultan Qaboos, the prime minister warned that any country found to be fomenting terrorism could face coalition strikes.

But amid concern in some Middle Eastern states that the scope of the coalition's military action could be widened to countries like Iraq and Syria, UK officials in Oman have published a detailed war book of the government's campaign aims.

That "policy bible" makes clear that the campaign centres around Afghanistan first and foremost.

The BBC's political editor Andrew Marr says it effectively sets out a whole series of "very high hurdles" which would prevent Britain from engaging in military strikes against other sovereign states.

Such action, he said, would need UN approval, 100% proof of support for terrorism and the international coalition would have to move together at the same "painstaking" pace.

The BBC correspondent believed the message from Downing Street appeared to indicate that, at present, Britain would not be prepared to "swivel round" to support the US if it decided to target other Middle Eastern states.

Total determination

Mr Blair himself has been giving similar reassurances on his Middle Eastern visit, which follows a meeting with the United Arab Emirates president Sheikh Zayd in Geneva on Tuesday.

In an interview for Abu Dhabi Television interview, Mr Blair spoke of his total determination to defeat Bin Laden.

The prime minister said that he did not believe Bin Laden spoke for the Palestinian people.

"Palestinians disown this, they do not want his fanaticism any more than they want Taleban fanaticism."

He stressed any further action against other countries would only take place where there was evidence of wrongdoing and any action would be in consultation with the Arab world.

"We have evidence in respect of Afghanistan.

"The second phase of this is to look at where else terrorists operate."

An official travelling with Mr Blair restated the UK's position that it has no evidence to link Iraq to the terror attacks.

Troop support

In Oman Mr Blair met some of the 20,000 UK troops currently involved in the biggest British military exercise in Oman since the Gulf War.

They have not yet been involved in the US-led military operations in Afghanistan but Mr Blair told them the experience they would have gained from the exercise would stand them in good stead if they were called to fight.

Before he addressed the troops, Mr Blair was given an extensive briefing on the exercise, which involves an imaginary Middle East conflict, from British controller Brigadier Adrian Freer.

He also had the chance to meet some soldiers on a more informal basis over a curry lunch as part of efforts to signal his support for British forces.

The BBC's Andrew Marr
reports on Tony Blair's visit to Oman
The BBC's Andrew Marr
reports from Oman
Sami Haddad, Al-Jazeera
"Mr Blair is an astute politician"
Prime Minister Tony Blair speaking on Abu-Dhabi TV
"We cannot settle problems with terrorism"
See also:

10 Oct 01 | UK Politics
UK signs pact against bioterrorism
09 Oct 01 | UK Politics
Allies want 'justice, not revenge'
09 Oct 01 | UK Politics
War cabinet meets for first time
10 Oct 01 | UK Politics
Tory leader to attack Bin Laden
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