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Putin, Blair pledge war on terror

WASHINGTON, Oct. 4 (UPI) -- British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday reiterated their support for the U.S. war on terrorism and Pakistan said it had seen evidence that proved Osama bin Laden was behind the Sept. 11 terror attacks on New York and Washington.

In Moscow, Blair praised Putin's response to the Sept. 11 attacks.

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"We would like to pay tribute to your leadership, which is of immense importance in bringing together a coalition against terrorism," Blair said.

Putin said: "I don't think that the Western leaders have remained indifferent to Russia's warning of the threat of Islamic terrorism or that they have failed to give it a meaning."

After the suicide hijackings that are feared to have killed more than 6,000 people in New York and Washington last month, Putin pledged Russia's full support to Washington as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was in the Middle East to gather support for the U.S. position.

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Last week, Putin said Russia would open its air corridor for shipping humanitarian supplies to Afghanistan and take part in international search-and-rescue missions. He also vowed to arm the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance.

As Putin prepared to meet with Blair, a Russian jetliner with 76 people on board exploded and crashed into the Black Sea under mysterious circumstances. There was the possibility that a Ukrainian missile downed it.

Putin convened an emergency meeting at the Kremlin and said, "It is possible that the crash was the result of a terrorist act," but sources in Kiev, Ukraine and Washington said a Ukrainian surface-to-air missile fired during Ukrainian military exercises on the Black Sea might have hit the aircraft; the Ukrainian Defense Ministry issued a formal denial.

Sibir Avia Flight 1812 was on a regular weekly charter from Tel Aviv, Israel, to Novosibirsk in south-central Russia.

From Moscow, Blair was to travel to Pakistan where he was to meet with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf.

Pakistan has emerged as a key ally in the U.S. bid to apprehend bin Laden. It is now the only country in the world that recognizes the Taliban, which harbors bin Laden, as the official Afghan government, a position it may not hold for much longer.

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On Thursday, the Pakistanis said they had seen the U.S. evidence against bin Laden and that it proved conclusively that he was behind the Sept. 11 attacks. It also said it might cut its ties with the Taliban.

"The United States should be confident that it has impressive evidence," Pakistani Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar said in an interview with CNN. "The United States should publicize it all over the world to let the people make their own judgment. People will be impressed by the good work done by the U.S. officials in a short time after the attacks."

The Qatar-based Al Jazeera satellite network showed new pictures of bin Laden Thursday, this time at a ceremony, which it said, was held to announce the unification of al Qaida and the Egyptian organization al Jihad. The move may irk the State Department, which has complained to the Qatar government, part owners of the network, about what it says is biased reporting of the crisis.

Pakistani officials also said they were seriously considering a proposal to ask the Taliban to close their embassy and to return to Afghanistan, sources told United Press International. The proposal was discussed at a meeting of the National Security Council in Islamabad on Tuesday, and Musharraf is backing it, the sources said.

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Musharraf, according to these sources, told the council that "the ground realities had changed since the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States and Pakistan should also change its Afghan policy."

He urged his colleagues to abandon the Taliban and get behind a possible multiethnic coalition that former Afghan King Zahir Shah is trying to form.

The heads of state of Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Romania, Macedonia, Albania, Croatia and Bulgaria were to meet in Sofia, Bulgaria, on Friday to adopt a counter-terrorism resolution.

A draft "declaration of solidarity" from the 10 heads of state -- obtained by UPI -- says, "The lesson we draw from the terrorist attacks in the United States is that the security of America and Europe is more intertwined than ever before and that the Atlantic alliance and its enlargement are more important than ever."

Diplomatic papers obtained by UPI show these Eastern European capitals are offering use of their airspace; setting up intelligence-sharing hot lines and, in some cases, even deploying special military protective forces for U.S. military and diplomatic assets.

The U.S. diplomatic effort continued with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's tour to the Middle East to shore up support for the U.S. position and possible military action.

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On Thursday he stopped in Egypt for consultations with President Hosni Mubarak.

Mubarak said the meeting was "only to consult with us" and was not over any U.S. request for "the participation of Egyptian forces in the expected military campaign against the Taliban movement in Afghanistan and strongholds of (suspected terrorist mastermind Osama) bin Laden."

Rumsfeld left Washington for the Gulf late Tuesday and spent Wednesday huddled with Saudi Arabian officials over President George W. Bush's plans.

At a joint news conference with Saudi Defense Minister Prince Sultan, the defense secretary said he had requested "actionable intelligence" to help shut down bin Laden and his al Qaida organization.

Use of a new command and control center at Prince Sultan Air Base, southeast of Riyadh, would be important in any U.S. military strike against bin Laden and Afghanistan. The Saudis had earlier expressed reservations about its use in an attack on a Muslim state, but Rumsfeld said "those kinds of things get worked out."

Egypt and Saudi Arabia are both struggling with Islamist extremist opposition, and there are fears that an attack on Afghanistan would inflame passions within their own counties, especially if they appear as stooges for the United States.

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In other developments Thursday:

-- President Bush announced the United States would provide $320 million in humanitarian aid for refugees fleeing Afghanistan. Bush said the funding for medication and food is to prove the United States is a friend of the Afghan people.

"In our anger we must never forget to be a compassionate people," he said.

-- Ronald Reagan National Airport reopened for the first time since the Sept. 11 terrorist hijackings and attacks. The airport is located across the Potomac River from Washington, and close to the Pentagon. Its proximity to the White House, Capitol Hill and other government buildings has raised safety concerns.

-- Blair and French President Jacques Chirac separately said the U.S. evidence that links bin Laden to the Sept. 11 attacks is solid. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder told CNN's "Larry King Live" that it was important to respect individual rights while hunting for terrorists.

"We're obviously defending values here ... values such as democracy, freedom, the state of law," Schroeder said. "And we must not let the terrorists have this victory (and) destroy these values."

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