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Saturday, 6 April, 2002, 08:02 GMT 09:02 UK
Blair flies in with ceasefire agenda
George Bush drives Tony Blair in his truck at the Prairie Chapel ranch
The leaders will talk in an informal atmosphere
UK Prime Minister Tony Blair has arrived in the US for talks at President George W Bush's Texas ranch.

Discussions are likely to be dominated by the Middle East crisis, with talks on possible military action against Iraq only a second priority.

Mr Blair was met in Waco by Mr Bush's National Security Adviser, Condoleeza Rice, before boarding a helicopter to the President's private Prairie Chapel ranch in nearby Crawford.


We can't pick and choose the interlocutors we have, but it's important to make sure the dialogue is resumed

Tony Blair
On Arafat and Sharon
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.

Mr Blair told reporters travelling with him: "We will obviously be looking at ideas that can lead to a ceasefire, which is the essential precondition so that they get back into a process of political dialogue."

'Few grounds for optimism'

The prime minister confirmed the focus would now be on achieving the pause in Israeli-Palestinian violence needed for US Secretary of State Colin Powell to hold productive talks in the region.

"What's important is to make sure that we have the minimum agreements necessary in order for this influence to happen," Mr Blair said.

He added there were "few grounds for optimism", but said he believed neither Israel nor the Palestinian authority wanted the current situation to continue.

President George W Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair
Mr Bush: Both sides must act to halt conflict
Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman Menzies Campbell urged President Bush to do more to put pressure on the Israelis to pull out of the West Bank.

"There are three people who hold the fate of this whole business in their hands. They are President Bush, Ariel Sharon and Yasser Arafat," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

Mr Campbell said he expected Mr Blair to make a statement to an "anxious" Commons on his return from Texas.

Challenged over whether Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon could ever deliver peace, Mr Blair told reporters on board his chartered British Airways jet: "We can't pick and choose the interlocutors we have, but it's important to make sure the dialogue is resumed."

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.

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."

'No immediate plans'

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 Bush said in his ITV interview that they would discuss "all options" over action on Iraq 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-Qaeda.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Nick Robinson in Texas
"No grand summit this, just Bush and Blair"
Tim Reid, Washington Post
"The US sees Israel as a fellow victim of fundamentalist terror"
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
06 Apr 02 | Middle East
Powell calls on Israel to withdraw
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