BRIGHTON, England – The attacks on New York and Washington on Sept. 11 "marked a turning point in history," British Prime Minister Tony Blair said Tuesday, "where we confront the dangers of the future and assess the choices facing humankind."
As indications mounted that an international military assault upon Afghanistan's Taliban regime and its guest Usama bin Laden was closer than ever, Blair addressed a Labor Party conference in the coastal resort town of Brighton. He warned the Taliban that it must "surrender the terrorists or surrender power."
"This is a battle with only one outcome," Blair said. "Our victory, not theirs."
Three weeks to the hour after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon which killed an estimated 7,000 people, Blair referred to the devastation as "a tragedy, an act of evil."
"Let no one say this was a blow for Islam," Blair said, "when the blood of innocent Muslims was shed along with those of the Christian, Jewish and other faiths around the world."
"Think of the cruelty beyond our comprehension," Blair said, "as amongst the screams and the anguish of the innocent, those hijackers drove at full throttle planes laden with fuel into buildings where tens of thousands of people work."
"They have no moral inhibition on the slaughter of the innocent," he added. "If they could have murdered not 7,000 but 70,000, does anyone doubt they would have done so and rejoiced in it?"
"There is no compromise possible with such people, no meeting of minds, no point of understanding with such terror," Blair stated. "There is just a choice: Defeat it or be defeated by it and defeat it we must."
"From this nation goes our deepest sympathy and prayers for the victims and our profound solidarity for the American people," he said to applause. "We were with you at the first, we will stay with you to the last."
Blair said the Taliban regime had no "moral inhibition" on slaughtering innocent people and added:
He gave no indication of when military action might start, saying the main target would be bin Laden. But if the Taliban do not surrender the terrorists, Blair said, action would also aim to "eliminate their military hardware, cut off their finances, disrupt their supplies, target their troops, not civilians."
He added that the West must take action after the attacks on the United States.
"Whatever the dangers of the action we take," Blair said, "the dangers of inaction are far, far greater."
In Quetta, Pakistan, Taliban Ambassador Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef replied to Blair's speech by repeating his regime's main points: a demand for proof of bin Laden's complicity in the Sept. 11 attacks, and willingness to negotiate with the United States.
"Where is the evidence? Where is the proof?" Zaeef asked in English "We are part of the issue and we have not been provided with this."
"If they are giving [evidence] to the other countries ... they haven't given it to us," said Zaeef. "We are ready for negotiations. It is up to the other side to agree or not."
President Bush restated the American position. "There are no negotiations," he said at a meeting of congressional leaders in Washington.
House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, D-Mo., added his own summation: "I think the time's running short."
Blair's speech Tuesday was preceded by remarks by NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson in Brussels, in which he said that "it is clear that all roads lead to Al Qaeda and pinpoint Usama bin Laden as having been involved in [the attacks on the United States]."
Following a classified briefing by U.S. Ambassador-at-Large Francis X. Taylor to NATO's ruling council, Robertson said there is "clear and compelling evidence" that the attacks on the United States were "directed from abroad."
"The information presented points conclusively to an Al Qaeda role" in the Sept. 11 attacks," he said. "We know that the individuals who carried out these attacks were part of the worldwide terrorist network Al Qaeda headed by Usama bin Laden ... and protected by the Taliban."
Fox News has learned that European intelligence sources apparently intercepted a telephone call from bin Laden to his adoptive mother in Paris on Sept. 9, in which the exiled Saudi dissident said that "in two days you're going to hear big news, and you're not going to hear from me for a while."
Because the attacks were of external origin, NATO's Article 5, which stipulates that an attack on one member is an attack on all, has been "fully invoked" for the first time in the organization's history, added Robertson.
"The United States of America can rely on the full support of its 18 NATO allies in the campaign against international terrorism," he said. Robertson refused "to at the moment to discuss how NATO will translate this decision into operational action," saying the United States was still developing strategy.
Blair's speech and Robertson's comments echoed Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf's statements Monday that military strikes are inevitable.
Musharraf told the BBC that it "appears that the United States will take action in Afghanistan, and we have conveyed this to the Taliban." Asked if the Taliban's days were numbered, he replied: "It appears so."
The Taliban, an Islamic militia that controls the majority of Afghanistan, said Sunday they know where bin Laden is, and that he is under their control. Previously, they had said they didn't know the Saudi millionaire's location, but they could deliver messages to him.
"Let us be clear, the target of any military action that is taken is about the Al Qaeda organization, Usama bin Laden and those around him. The Taliban up to now have been sheltering them," British Foreign Minister Jack Straw said on BBC radio Tuesday morning.
Any government that might follow the Taliban in power may be imperfect, Straw said, "but I think everybody now knows that on any scale of relativities the Taliban are about the most evil, desperate, awful regime."
Blair's speech came as the United States continued a massive military buildup around Afghanistan. The aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk left its base in Japan on Monday to join other American forces being positioned for possible action.
The Bush administration has given few details of possible military action. "On the military front we're making progress," President George W. Bush said Monday.
On Monday, the former Afghan king and an alliance of opposition groups in northern Afghanistan agreed to convene an emergency council of tribal and military leaders as a first step toward forming a new government in Afghanistan.
Straw said the Northern Alliance "would be part of any government" which succeeds the Taliban.
"We want a broadly based ethnic government which doesn't just represent one ethnic group, it represents them all," he said.
Fox News' Paul Wagenseil and the Associated Press contributed to this report