EU leaders reaffirm war support
LONDON, England -- European leaders have met to reaffirm their support for the international coalition against terrorism.
The leaders of France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and Spain attended a dinner in London hosted by British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Blair has been at the forefront of international diplomatic efforts to shore up the coalition as the U.S. bombing campaign in Afghanistan entered their fifth week.
Sunday's dinner at Blair's official Downing Street residence followed a week during which criticism of the military campaign and calls for an end to the bombing began to be voiced by aid groups and politicians in many European countries.
Blair also updated France's President Jacques Chirac and Prime Minister Lionel Jospin and Germany's Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder on his controversial round of Middle East shuttle diplomacy last week.
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Spanish premier Jose Maria Aznar were present, as were Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt of Belgium, which currently holds the European Union presidency, European Union foreign and security policy chief Javier Solana and Dutch Prime Minister Wim Kok.
After the meeting, Chirac said the leaders agreed on the need for a solution to the problems in the Middle East. They also expressed support for the military action in Afghanistan, Chirac said.
"We reaffirmed our complete solidarity with the Americans, while being aware that ... military action is not the only way to fight international terrorism and that we must reinforce the means of finding a political solution to the organisation of Afghanistan," Chirac told Reuters.
Blair's official spokesman said the meeting was a chance for the leaders to "swap notes" on the current situation.
"The prime minister wanted to get together with the five major military contributors to exchange views on the military campaign," the spokesman told the Press Association.
The spokesman said Blair continued to believe that the bombing campaign was making "steady progress."
"It was a useful opportunity for the leaders to get an overview of the situation," the spokesman said.
There was said to have been "absolute solidarity" around the combined military, diplomatic and humanitarian strategy being pursued by the coalition.
The spokesman denied that American B-52 bombers were involved in "carpet bombing" Afghanistan, saying that the attacks were carefully targeted on the Taliban front-line positions.
Blair, who will travel to Washington on Wednesday to see President George Bush, also briefed his guests on his trip to the Middle East, which was aimed at shoring up Muslim support for the military campaign in Afghanistan and rekindling the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
During his Middle East tour, Blair encouraged moderate Muslims to "capture back the ground" from bin Laden and the Taliban, but admitted that a gulf existed between the West and the Muslim world.
Blair also acknowledged that he had only modest hopes of restarting genuine negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
"I think this is the possibility," Blair said when he returned from the trip on Thursday. "I wouldn't put it any higher than that -- that we can prepare the ground to move the Middle East peace process forward."
Blair's hopes of meeting Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in London later this month have been dashed after Sharon cancelled a planned trip to Britain and the United States, citing the security situation in Israel.
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Number 10 Downing Street
The European Union
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