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Friday, 5 April, 2002, 22:58 GMT 23:58 UK
Blair arrives for Bush talks
Tony Blair and George W. Bush
Blair has proved a strong ally of the US president
UK Prime Minister Tony Blair has touched down in the US for talks at President George Bush's Texas ranch.

The meeting is set to be dominated by the Middle East crisis, with both leaders agreed on a need for an end to the violence.

Ahead of the weekend talks, the prime minister echoed Mr Bush's call for Israel and the Palestinians to act to halt the current conflict.


When the hatred is this bad you've just got to try and understand what is happening out there

Tony Blair
UK prime minister
Plans for military action against Iraq over its alleged build-up of weapons of mass destruction had been expected to dominate the summit in Texas.

But the focus shifted to the Middle East conflict amid escalating violence and after President Bush called on Israel to withdraw from Palestinian areas and implement a ceasefire.

Arafat criticised

Mr Bush's unexpected decision to send Secretary of State Colin Powell to the region is being seen as evidence that he realises he must intervene there if he is to win international support for any future strike against Iraq.

President George W Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair
Mr Bush: Both sides must act to halt conflict
The president has also criticised Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat for failing to stop suicide attacks by militants.

On Friday, in an interview for ITV's Tonight with Trevor McDonald, Mr Bush said it was a "silly notion" to suggest that the US had not done enough over the Middle East, saying: "We acted strong."

He said he was sending Mr Powell to the region "because I began to worry that the foundations that are necessary to a lasting peace were becoming eroded".

Mr Blair, speaking to the BBC World Service, said there was an "obligation" to do everything possible through political dialogue to end the violence.

He said: "We understand that we've got an obligation to do everything we possibly can to stop the terrible, dreadful violence that is happening in the Middle East at the moment.

'Catastrophe'

"It's for that reason that President Bush made his speech yesterday - he set out very clearly the basic principles that have to underpin any process, the recognition of the right of Israel to exist secure in its own borders, and a viable Palestinian state."


I made up my mind that Saddam needs to go. That's about all I'm willing to share with you

US President George Bush
The prime minister warned earlier on Friday that the situation in the Middle East has "the makings of a catastrophe".

In an interview with NBC News, Mr Blair drew parallels with the peace process in Northern Ireland, saying the violence would not stop unless a "proper political process" was put in place.

He said: "When the hatred is this bad you've just got to try and understand what is happening out there."

He said any breakthrough could only come if the Arab world "positively and explicitly" recognised the existence of the state of Israel, with Israel accepting that "a viable Palestinian state" must emerge from the peace process.

'All options'

Mr Blair and Mr Bush are also expected to address the possibility of military action against Iraq during their meeting.

Mr Bush said in his ITV interview that they would discuss "all options" but there were "no immediate plans" for action.

He said: "I made up my mind that Saddam needs to go. That's about all I'm willing to share with you."

Downing Street has stressed that the trip is taking place with the full agreement of Buckingham Palace and that its tone "will be in keeping with the period of national mourning" following the death of the Queen Mother.

As well as the Middle East crisis, the two leaders will discuss Afghanistan, where the first contingent of Royal Marines have arrived for operations against remnants of the Taleban and al-Qaida.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Rob Watson in Crawford, Texas
"Everything is on the table"
The BBC's Stephen Sackur
"London and Washington are not entirely united"
See also:

04 Apr 02 | Middle East
Bush intervenes in Mid-East crisis
05 Apr 02 | UK Politics
First ladies team up for cancer fight
04 Apr 02 | UK Politics
Blair 'appalled' by Mid East violence
05 Apr 02 | UK Politics
Mid East crisis tests allies
03 Apr 02 | Middle East
Israeli tanks enter Nablus
03 Apr 02 | Middle East
EU proposes crisis diplomacy
03 Apr 02 | Middle East
US sends mixed signals on Mid-East
02 Apr 02 | Middle East
Analysis: Arafat under attack
02 Apr 02 | Middle East
Israeli anger after seven deadly days
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