Tony Blair and the German chancellor, Gerhard Schrder, last night pledged to ensure that the global crisis triggered by the destruction of the World Trade Centre brings the United States firmly back into the international community – and isolates the isolationists in the Bush administration. At the start of a daunting 48-hour dash around key capitals on both sides of the Atlantic, the prime minister dined with Mr Schrder in Berlin before heading for breakfast with President Jacques Chirac in Paris. He will then fly to the US for dinner at the White House tonight via a memorial service for the city’s 5,000 dead in New York. He will be back in Brussels in time for Friday’s emergency EU summit. After talks at No 10 yesterday with the Taioseach, Bertie Ahern, on the US crisis and the peace process in Northern Ireland, Mr Blair spoke publicly of the urgent need to “set an agenda for the international community to attack the apparatus of mass international terrorism at every single level we can”.
Privately his ambition goes far beyond the immediate crisis, to the desire among President Bush’s Nato allies to ensure that Washington’s inevitable military retaliation against its presumed attackers is only part of a much wider policy package. He found a ready ally in the German chancellor, who told his guest last night that he strongly supports some form of military action, but believes the crisis represents a golden opportunity to reverse a dangerous trend towards American isolationism. Mr Blair and his policy advisers are increasingly hopeful that the Republican secretary of state, the widely admired ex-soldier Colin Powell, is getting the upper hand over the new administration’s hawks, notably defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s team and Vice-president Dick Cheney.
The shift in the isolationist instincts that marked Mr Bush’s early months in office – seen in its policies on missile defence and global warming – is being attributed to the changing attitudes of Condoleezza Rice, national security adviser. Like Mr Blair, Mr Schrder believes that Washington’s need to build an alliance against terrorism has forced it to recognise the limits of its superpower status. Nor do the two leaders believe it would be wise to “bomb sand”, a reference to what they believe would be a largely ineffectual air campaign in Afghanistan. The French president, Jacques Chirac, has been drawing gently back from his initial support. But Mr Schrder is said to be confident that the German consensus in favour of purposeful military action will hold, even among the coalition’s Greens.
Mr Bush and Mr Powell saw a succession of potential allies yesterday, including Igor Ivanov, the Russian foreign minister, the EU’s foreign policy chief, Javier Solana of Spain, and Louis Michael, the Belgian foreign minister, representing the rotating EU presidency. But the difficulties of building an international coalition against terrorism were also underlined when Mr Bush met the president of Indonesia, Megawati Sukarnoputri, leader of the world’s biggest Muslim country.
Hours before her meeting Islamic fundamentalist groups in Indonesia warned that they would attack US targets in the country if it launches an offensive against Afghanistan. Mr Bush has already won promises of support from Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia. But US diplomats see Indonesia as potentially an important player as a neutral arbitrator, Muslim but remote from the problems of the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent. Russian officials yesterday ruled out any participation in US military strikes against Osama bin Laden. They oppose US use of facilities in key former Soviet states bordering Afghanistan. “It’s America’s business,” the US was told. Germany sees Iran, along with Turkey, as a stabilising influence in the Middle East. It also wants European solidarity to strengthen US-EU ties on a host of issues. But the crisis is seen as a chance to promote the national interest too, in Germany’s case closer cooperation on intelligence sharing.