Taliban must surrender terrorists or surrender power, Blair says
BRIGHTON, England (AP) – Prime Minister Tony Blair forcefully made the case for an assault on Afghanistan’s Taliban regime, warning Tuesday that they must ”surrender the terrorists or surrender power.”
In an emotional speech to his Labor Party, Blair positioned Britain squarely with the United States and delivered the toughest warning yet by a European leader.
The Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, Abdul Salam Zaeef, dismissed the threats by the United States and its allies, telling a news conference in Quetta, Pakistan, ”Only Allah changes the regime, and only Allah brings the others instead of us.”
The White House welcomed Blair’s remarks.
The British prime minister spoke just hours after President Bush had warned that ”there will be a consequence” if the Taliban fails to turn over Osama bin Laden and his network and destroy his training camps. U.S. officials said the White House had coordinated with Blair about what he would say.
Speaking to 3,000 delegates at his party’s annual conference, Blair said the Taliban had ignored demands to hand over bin Laden, prime suspect in the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington, but he stopped short of declaring that military strikes against Afghanistan were inevitable.
”I say to the Taliban: surrender the terrorists, or surrender power. It’s your choice,” Blair said.
”Be in no doubt, bin Laden and his people organized this atrocity,” the prime minister said. ”The Taliban aid and abet him. He will not desist from further acts of terror. They will not stop helping him.”
”Whatever the dangers of the action we take, the dangers of inaction are far, far greater,” Blair said.
Blair’s speech came as NATO’s secretary-general said Washington had presented its allies with ”compelling” proof that bin Laden and his al-Qaida organization were behind the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The attacks left more than 6,000 people, including at least 200 Britons, killed or missing.
In response to Blair’s comments, Zaeef replied: ”We don’t want to surrender (bin Laden) without any proof, any evidence.” He also dismissed NATO’s claims that Washington had presented the alliance with conclusive evidence.
”If they are giving it (evidence) to the other countries, it belongs to them, not to us,” he replied. ”They haven’t given it to us.”
In his speech, Blair gave no indication of when military action might start, and he sought to reassure anxious members of the left-leaning Labor Party that humanitarian aid would be as important as military strikes.
Drawing on themes of community close to his heart, Blair called the aftermath of the attacks in the United States a chance to ”reorder this world around us.”
”There is a coming together,” he said. ”The power of community is asserting itself. We are realizing how fragile are our frontiers in the face of the world’s new challenges.”
He called for campaigns to lift Africa out of poverty and halt climate change, and said the world would not abandon Afghanistan once the Taliban was removed from power.
Pledging Britain’s support for the United States during its time of crisis, Blair said the international coalition being formed to combat terrorism would win.
”This is a battle with only one outcome – our victory, not theirs,” he said.
Blair said the Taliban regime had no ”moral inhibition” about slaughtering innocent people and added: ”There is no compromise possible with such people, no meeting of minds, no point of understanding with such terror.”
”There is just a choice: Defeat it or be defeated by it and defeat it we must,” he said.
Blair stressed that any military strikes against the Taliban would be ”proportionate, targeted” and would strive to avoid civilian casualties.
”We are not the ones who waged war on the innocent. We seek the guilty,” he said.
The specter of military action has cast a pall over the three-day meeting. Labor conferences are traditionally combative affairs at which the party’s still-active left wing takes the government to task over its alleged betrayal of Labor’s social-democratic roots.
A peace protest on Sunday drew fewer than half the 10,000 demonstrators organizers had predicted.
On Tuesday, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw accused opponents of strong action against terrorism of acting like those who sought to appease the Nazis in the 1930s.
”If we believe that those who planned, organized and perpetrated the attacks in New York, Washington and Pittsburgh can be dealt with by negotiation and reason, we wholly delude ourselves,” Straw said. ”Like fascists, these people are driven by hate, violence and destruction.”
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