The Thin Thread of Unity Which Holds the Key to World War on Terrorism; ANALYSIS

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Byline: Jon Smith

THE twin-pronged assault on international terrorism being planned by President George Bush and his closest ally Tony Blair will depend on a patchwork global coalition being formed across continents and creeds.

It will be the most complex diplomatic and military task attempted since the Gulf War which ejected Saddam Hussein's Iraqi troops from Kuwait.

The White House will attempt to link the US, Western Europe, Russia, Israel, the Arab world and South Asia, with at least the acquiescence of China, in first supporting lethal military strikes against selected targets and then joining long-term concerted action to extinguish the "multi-headed hydra" of international terrorism.

Europe "will stand with America on this", Mr Blair insisted yesterday in an interview for the US news network CNN designed to spread his message across the globe.

He said he had spoken to French President Jacques Chirac yesterday - traditionally America's prickliest ally in Western Europe - and has also been involved in talks with his Swedish, Spanish, Irish and German counterparts, among others, since the crisis began.

On Wednesday, Mr Blair will fly to Berlin for talks with Germany's Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, with some unease there already apparent. Defence Minister Rudolf Scharping has urged a "measured response" to the terrorist attacks.

British officials believe that despite the problems some EU governments may have - not least because of their coalition politics, or their status as neutral countries - the unity of the bloc can be guaranteed in practice, as it was during the Kosovo conflict.

How that translates into offers of military hardware will not be known until targets are chosen. Britain will pledge whatever assets may be required.

The EU's co-operation in the long-term fight against terrorism, involving increased security measures to clamp down on groups of exiles, reform of extradition laws, banking transparency and possible asset seizures, is assured, at least in principle.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has already promised support for the US, although that will stop short of allowing a land invasion of Afghanistan to be launched from its territory.

Given the history of Russia's disastrous invasion of Afghanistan, the West would not expect it to contribute forces for a ground-based strike there.

But its intelligence and experience of the region could prove invaluable, if only to prevent an allied force making the same mistakes that led to Moscow's humiliating retreat.

Moscow could also offer the use of two bases in Tajikistan, bordering Afghanistan, and another at Bagrame, north of Kabul.

Russia is also already committed to international co-operation to stamp out moneylaundering and other practices which aid both international terrorism and its own mafia-style racketeers Israel's support for the White House will be wholehearted. …