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Friday, 12 October, 2001, 02:58 GMT 03:58 UK
Blair completes Middle East mission
Tony Blair with President Mubarak
Blair held talks with the Egyptian president
Prime Minister Tony Blair has returned to the UK from talks in Egypt, where he said the Middle East peace process was crucial to defusing tension in the wake of the US terror attacks.

It is important that we put this peace process back on track

Tony Blair
Speaking earlier as he flew to meet President Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, Mr Blair said the UK, US and perhaps other countries were prepared to use their ground forces in Afghanistan.

Mr Blair's latest three-day tour to shore up support for military action ended as a new opinion poll suggests his popularity during the international crisis matches that of Winston Churchill in World War Two.

During a break in their talks, both Mr Blair and President Mubarak stressed the importance of reinvigorating the Middle East peace process as they pledged to stand united against terror.

Getting back on track

Mr Blair, who spoke to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat via telephone in Oman on Wednesday, said: "It is important that we put this peace process back on track so there aren't generations of people who then go and abuse the Palestinian cause to commit acts of terrorism."

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Middle East states: Where they stand

President Mubarak argued there would be no safety without a comprehensive settlement in the Middle East.

He said he appreciated Mr Blair's support for the establishment of a Palestinian state to stand alongside an Israeli state.

Soldiers in Oman
UK troops in Oman could be called upon

The two leaders also outlined plans to hold an international conference, under the auspices of the United Nations, to address the underlying causes of terrorism.

And reiterating a constant theme of his trip, Mr Blair said the campaign should not be seen as "a struggle of western countries versus Islam".

The BBC's political editor Andrew Marr says he believes Mr Blair has been "stunned" by the lack of understanding between many Muslims and the west and feels it is a "huge job" to tackle.

The BBC correspondent says the prime minister has spent the last few days "doing deals" - on behalf of both the US and the UK - with states willing to support the coalition, but which also want something back in return.

Ground troops

The visit to Egypt came at a time when the UK has been keen to downplay the prospect of military action being targeted at countries other than Afghanistan.

Mr Blair said: "I cannot say how long it (the bombing campaign) will go on for.

"The precise nature of the next stage of action is something that's not sensible to discuss at the moment but we have always been aware that you have to back up air strikes with other forms of targeted action."

Downing Street has played down reports that Saudi Arabia declined a request for a visit from Mr Blair during his current tour.

A spokesman said it was difficult to fit the visit into the tour itinerary but it was talking to the Saudi government about a longer trip when there was time.

From the fringes

UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw told the BBC on Thursday that the US and UK governments were agreed that no action would be taken against other countries, such as Iraq, at the moment.

He said there would have to be as much evidence against other regimes as there was against Osama Bin Laden and the Taleban, before action was taken.

Blair in Oman
Blair was met by the Sultan of Oman's special representative Dr Zawawi
United States air strikes have continued on the Afghan capital, Kabul.

While in Oman Mr Blair met Sultan Qaboos of Oman, as well as some of the 20,000 UK troops currently involved in the biggest British military exercise since the Gulf War.

An ICM opinion poll for Friday's Guardian newspaper says 88% of those questioned said the prime minister has handled the crisis very well or quite well - higher than the backing given to John Major in the Gulf War or Margaret Thatcher in the Falklands conflict.

And it suggests 74% of the UK public approves of the military strikes in Afghanistan, while 16% said they disapproved and 10% undecided.

The BBC's Andrew Marr
"The propaganda war is certainly important"
The BBC's David Bamford
"Mr Blair sought to give the reassurances that might help sustain Arab support"
Abdul Bari Atwan, Editor of Al Quds
"I do not think that many Arabs were reassure by what Blair said"
See also:

11 Oct 01 | UK Politics
Straw denies split with US over Iraq
10 Oct 01 | UK Politics
UK signs pact against bioterrorism
11 Oct 01 | UK Politics
Blair in the spotlight
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