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Blair greets Arafat in London

Arafat is having talks with Blair at 10 Downing Street
Arafat is having talks with Blair at 10 Downing Street  


LONDON, England (CNN) -- Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has arrived in Downing Street for what he called a "very important" meeting with British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Arafat, who entered Blair's official residence at 11.30 a.m. local time (1030 GMT) said he hoped to discuss the whole situation in the Middle East in the light of last month's terror attacks in the United States.

Britain is Washington's strongest ally in the military campaign in Afghanistan.

Blair has provided the U.S. with moral and military support for the attacks that are aimed at flushing out Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda network -- blamed for last month's suicide plane strikes on the U.S. that killed nearly 5,400 people.

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"We hope we will discuss with the prime minister the whole situation in the Middle East and the whole situation internationally, especially after what has happened with the terrorist activities," Arafat told reporters on his arrival in London on Sunday night.

CNN's European Political Editor Robin Oakley said Blair and U.S. President George W. Bush are seeking to reinvigorate the peace process.

He said the British and U.S. leaders see that as "the key to ending a lot of Arab resentment against the United States, which is often seen as too much on the side of Israel."

"But a window of opportunity is seen for this now, the political demands for it are growing across the world all the time, and there is immense pressure on Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon," Oakley added.

Bush has sought to gain Muslim and Arab support for his war on terrorism launched after the September 11 hijacked airliner attacks.

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On Sunday Blair called on Palestinians to reject bin Laden's extreme form of Islam and join the fight against the Saudi dissident and his organisation.

Blair -- writing in the Jerusalem-based Arab newspaper al-Quds -- said the U.S. attacks were not based on faith but a desire for power through inflicting terror.

"Osama bin Laden likes to pretend he speaks for the Palestinian cause," he wrote.

"He likes to pretend that he is driven by faith. Neither of those claims, it seems to me, are true.

"They are a cover for his real motivation, which is power; power which he yields through terror.

"Let us be clear. If we don't take a stand against Osama bin Laden and his puppet regime in Kabul, he will seek to overthrow other Muslim states and put in place regimes of fear, terror and intolerance," Blair wrote.

"The question Muslims around the world have to ask themselves is: Do you want to live under the sort of regime we see today in Kabul? Because that is what bin Laden and al Qaeda want for you," he said.

Bin Laden has threatened the U.S. with terror until the Palestinians have found peace in their conflict with Israel, and he has accused the world of remaining silent in the face of bloodshed in the West Bank and Gaza.

Washington has been pressuring Israel and the Palestinians to end a year of fighting and to revive peace talks as it tries to keep Arab countries in its anti-terrorist alliance.

Former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State James Rubin told CNN: "Since we want the Arab world to be supporting us on another question -- the war on terrorism -- it would certainly make it easier to have things quiet on the Middle East front."

Blair has undertaken a round of shuttle diplomacy in an attempt to shore up the alliance.

UK Foreign Secretary Jack Staw said on Monday Britain wanted to see the creation of a Palestinian state as part of a long-term solution to the Middle Eastern conflict.

He stressed that this was a long-standing aspiration of the UK government, and was not adopted in response to the events of September 11 in the U.S.

Britain wanted to see both Israel and the Palestinian Authority adopt the recommendations of former U.S. senator George Mitchell in his peace plan, said Straw.

"Everybody knows that there is absolutely no justification whatever for what happened on September 11, but people also understand -- and it is a point understood by people inside the Israeli Cabinet as well -- that at the same time, we have got to reduce the tensions within which terrorism breeds and terrorism can hide," he told the BBC.

"That is why the meeting this morning between Chairman Arafat and our prime minister and the meeting I will be having with Chairman Arafat later in the day are part of a continuing process to try to secure peace in the Middle East, which is the area of the greatest conflict and tension across the world."



 
 
 
 


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