WASHINGTON – President Bush and British Prime Minster Tony Blair, allies in the war on terrorism, confidently offered back-to-back pledges of victory on Wednesday, no matter how long it takes.
"We're patient and our close friends are patient, which is bad news for the Taliban and the people they harbor," Bush said at a White House news conference, following more than an hour of talks between the two men.
"The determination to see that justice is done is every bit as strong today as it was on Sept. 11," said Blair, who crossed the Atlantic aboard the supersonic Condorde, arriving less than two hours before making his way to the White House for a meeting with the president.
Even as they predicted victory over the Al Qaeda network in Afghanistan, Bush and Blair both said they were working to achieve peace in the Middle East. "There's no doubt in my mind. We'll bring Al Qaeda to justice, peace or no peace in the Middle East," said the president.
Blair, seconding that, said that Usama bin Laden wanted to "hijack" the Palestinian cause for his own purposes. "We will strain every sinew" to make progress in bringing peace to the Israelis and Palestinians.
Bin Laden is the suspected mastermind behind the terrorist attacks that killed thousands in Washington, New York and Pennsylvania. The shocking attacks prompted Bush to declare war on terrorism, and led to a series of financial, military and diplomatic steps to achieve victory.
Blair's visit to the White House was only the latest step in the campaign against terrorism, a war the British have backed both rhetorically and with the commitment of military resources.
The British prime minister, under pressure to halt the bombings, sped to Washington aboard a chartered supersonic jet for his second meeting with Bush since the Sept. 11 attacks. The two planned to meet and have dinner, then Blair was flying back to London to greet Gen. Pervez Musharraf, the leader of Pakistan.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Bush values Blair's advice and appreciates the loyalty the British leader has shown.
"He's very influential," Fleischer said. "The two work well together." He said Bush and Blair established a strong relationship when Bush took office earlier this year, "and I think it has done nothing but grow since then."
Back home, Blair has troubles of his own. An ICM poll for The Guardian newspaper, published Nov. 1, said support in Britain for the Afghanistan campaign had fallen by 12 percentage points over two weeks to 62 percent.
Calls were growing louder for a halt to the bombings. Lord Denis Healey, a Vietnam-era defense minister from Blair's Labor Party, argued Wednesday that the assault was alienating Arabs and Muslims and helping Usama bin Laden find more recruits for his Al Qaeda network.
And Charles Kennedy, leader of the Liberal Democratic party, urged Blair to press Bush to stop his forces from dropping cluster bombs, which humanitarian groups say heighten the risk of civilian casualties.
Blair defended cluster bombs as "legal and necessary in certain specific circumstances," noting that they were dropped once on a terrorist training camp and four times on front-line Taliban troops.
"There is no easy or pleasant way of fighting a conflict like this," Blair continued. "The single thing that is most important now is that we take whatever action we possibly can to make sure that the Taliban troops are weakened."
Britain is the only country to join the United States in the bombing campaign. Four other European nations — France, Germany, Italy and Spain — have committed military forces to the coalition.