Blair flies in for peace mission

Tony Blair today touched down in the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka, for the first leg of a six-day diplomatic mission to the subcontinent, warning that he had "no blueprint for peace" in the disputed territory of Kashmir.

Tony Blair today touched down in the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka, for the first leg of a six-day diplomatic mission to the subcontinent, warning that he had "no blueprint for peace" in the disputed territory of Kashmir.

After meeting the Bangladeshi prime minister, Khaleda Zia, Mr Blair is expected to travel on to India and Pakistan in an effort to cool a crisis, which is at the point of boiling over between the two nuclear powers.

Before landing at Dhaka, Mr Blair told journalists travelling on the chartered plane that the dispute over Kashmir was a "very serious issue with potentially far reaching and damaging consequences if the tension gets out of hand".

"I can't solve the Kashmir problem just by going to India and Pakistan. But I hope by putting views on behalf of everybody in the international community, we can have a calming influence," he added.

"The most important thing is to try to exert as strong a calming influence as possible on a situation that is obviously potentially very serious in its consequences for the stability of the region, and of the wider world," the prime minister said.

Mr Blair, during talks with Mrs Zia, urged Bangladesh to contribute troops to the international stablisation force in Afghanistan.

He said: "We would like to see [Bangladesh] as part of the stabilisation force in Afghanistan."

"Having led this mission, as far as we are concerned it is important to have regional partners to take a share of the burden sharing in the future.

"I am sure it is right to have Muslim countries involved," Mr Blair said.

Mr Blair added that "over time" Britain wanted to reduce its own commitment to the international stabilisation force and "allow others to step in".

Mr Blair also told reporters that he had conducted a long telephone conversation with the US president, George Bush, before embarking on his long-planned mission to south Asia.

The prime minister's visit to Bangladesh, while primarily concerned with the international situation, will also take in British aid to the country, which is one of the biggest recipients of international humanitarian relief.

Speaking on board the plane, Mr Blair also touched on the euro, saying Britain could no longer adopt a "head in the sand" attitude to the single currency, but stressed that the government's policy on the euro had not changed since its launch on January 1.

Mr Blair went on: "We have got to prepare for it, but the eventual decision is for the British people.

"I think the important thing to recognise is that for 12 out of 15 of the European Union countries it is now there. It's the currency people are using in their daily lives."

Asked why he is in favour in principle of joining, Mr Blair said it offered the "potential for stability".

However, he added: "But there has to be convergence for us to make the single currency work for Britain."

His comments are bound to be seized upon by the Tories as further evidence of the government trying to "bounce" Britain into euro membership.

Mr Blair will meet the Indian prime minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, and Pakistan's president, Pervez Musharraf, over the next few days, although advance details of the itinerary are not being publicly disclosed for security considerations.


Matthew Tempest, political correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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