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UK willing to lead peacekeepers

Blair, left, and Powell
Blair greets Powell in Downing Street  


LONDON, England -- Britain is willing "to play a leading role" in a multinational security force for Afghanistan, Prime Minister Tony Blair said on Tuesday, but added the details had not yet been worked out.

Speaking at a news conference with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, Blair said: "We have indicated in principle a willingness to take a leading role in any UN-mandated force to provide stability no formal decision had been made yet."

Earlier, Powell said the UK would lead a peacekeeping force in post-Taliban Afghanistan.

Blair said there was "still an immense amount of details that need to be had."

He said it would take time to build up the necessary forces, but a decision would be made "relatively quickly."

"Intense discussions are going on with our partners on how this is to be done. There are a whole host of things to be discussed and bolted down before we are in a position to do so," he said.

The meeting was the last Powell was undertaking at the end of his eight-day tour of Central Asia and the major capitals of Europe.

Earlier on Tuesday he had met French President Jacques Chirac during which the situation in Afghanistan had topped the agenda.

Powell met German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder on Monday after holding discussions with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow.

Schroeder has repeatedly expressed "unlimited solidarity" with Washington since the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington, though not without some domestic opposition to the policy.

He narrowly won a confidence vote last month after pacifists in his ruling coalition of Social Democrats and Greens threatened to veto a decision to deploy German troops.

During what was his first visit to the former Soviet Union since taking over U.S. foreign affairs, Powell had hoped to persuade Putin to accept Washington's missile defence plans.

Moscow has said a move towards a missile defence strategy would violate the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

But CNN's Jill Dougherty said the situation "looked pretty much the same" following the talks.

Talks between the two countries have stalled during the past year over the U.S. plan to move ahead with tests of its proposed missile defence system which go against Russia's wishes.

U.S. President George W. Bush has said the United States will exercise its right to withdraw from the ABM treaty -- negotiated with the former Soviet Union -- after six months notice, if nothing can be worked out with the Russians.

The Bush administration had hoped the treaty could be modified in time to allow it to begin constructing silos and a testing command centre in Alaska next spring.

Powell had also hoped to be given a specific figure for the number of nuclear warheads Russia is intending to scrap as part of ongoing arms reductions that are running in tandem with discussions on the ABM.

The two countries announced on Wednesday that they had slashed their stockpile to levels set by the START-1 treaty, signed by Washington and Moscow in 1991, to 5,518, well below the ceiling of 6,000 established by the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty.



 
 
 
 


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