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Wednesday, 7 November, 2001, 21:11 GMT
Blair arrives upbeat for US talks
Tony Blair steps off Concorde on Wednesday
Blair will be updating Bush in Washington
UK Prime Minister Tony Blair has arrived in Washington ready to tell US President George W Bush his tour to the Middle East has "sown the seed" for progress on peace.

Speaking as he flew to America on board Concorde at the beginning of more hectic hours of diplomacy, Mr Blair stressed diplomacy and humanitarian aid were as important as the military campaign.

The seed was sown, which I hope can bear fruit in the future

Tony Blair
Earlier, in the House of Commons, the prime minister defended the use of controversial cluster bombs.

Despite pressure from some MPs, Mr Blair said it was not an issue he would be raising with the US president.

'Everything vital'

Flying to Washington, he told reporters of the reasons behind his latest marathon diplomatic mission.

"Obviously, one of the reasons we consult and co-ordinate is that this is not a conflict that can be fought on the military front alone.

"There are the diplomatic, humanitarian and military tracks. Everything is vital."

President Assad of Syria
Criticism from Syria's President Assad proved embarrassing for Blair
Mr Blair witnessed Arab hostility to the bombing campaign first hand when he visited the Middle East last week in a visit that saw him acting as an envoy for President Bush.

He said: "Whatever people's hesitations, there was total condemnation of September 11, while no one supported Osama Bin Laden or the Taleban.

"There was every support for a broad-based successor regime in Afghanistan.

"There were things that we discussed privately, the seed was sown, which I hope can bear fruit in the future."

Comparing notes

Mr Blair and President Bush will also use Wednesday's meeting to restate their positions, "compare notes" and review the military effort, according to a spokesman for Mr Blair.

Back in the UK on Thursday, Mr Blair will meet with King Abdullah of Jordan and President Musharraf of Pakistan as the diplomacy continues.

The following day he will meet Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar.

But his aides deny suggestions that the prime minister has taken his eye off the ball on the domestic front.

Although recent diplomacy had been "highly intensive", Mr Blair had been out of the country for only nine of the last 57 days, he added.

President Musharraf of Pakistan
Musharraf will meet Blair on Thursday
Appearing at prime minister's question time on Wednesday afternoon, Mr Blair was pressed over the use of cluster bombs.

Mr Blair said the controversial weapon had been used once on a terrorist training camp and four times on Taleban frontline positions during the month-old military action.

"They are weapons that are legal and are necessary in certain circumstances," he told MPs during prime minister's question time in the Commons.

Cluster concerns

Mr Blair was challenged by Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy to also seek assurances from the US President that no more cluster bombs would be deployed.

Mr Blair replied: "No, I won't seek that assurance."

He said the weapons were not what are called sub-munition cluster bombs as they explode on impact.

"There is no easy or pleasant way of fighting a conflict like this," the prime minister told MPs.

Weakening the Taleban

"The single thing that is most important now, is that we take whatever action we possibly can to make sure that the Taleban troops are weakened and those that represent the forces opposed to them can move forward.

"That is happening."

The prime minister also told the Commons that he viewed as a "sound idea" French President Jacques Chirac's suggestion of a high level meeting between countries donating aid to Afghanistan.

Mr Chirac said the conference was needed to avert what he called a humanitarian catastrophe.

But Mr Blair said that, although money had been pledged and the World Food Programme had delivered 32,000 tonnes of food to the country over the past month, the Taleban was obstructing the aid from reaching the people who needed it.

The BBC's Stephen Sackur in Washington
looks at UK Prime Minister Tony Blair's influence within the White House
Richard Perle, former US Ass. Secretary of Defense
"Tony Blair is a close friend of the United States"

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