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British-Iraqi Talks in London Focus on Lebanon


British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his Iraqi counterpart Nouri al-Maliki have met Monday, in London. Planned discussions on political and security developments in Iraq were instead dominated by the crisis in Lebanon.

Talks between Mr. Blair and Mr. al-Maliki were supposed to focus on British interests in the southern Iraqi city of Basra, the security situation there and the continuing efforts to build up Iraqi forces in the region. But the events in Lebanon overshadowed the Iraqi prime minister's visit.

At a joint news conference, Mr. Blair said the situation in Lebanon was terrible.

"As I said last week, the immediate cessation of hostilities, of course, we all want to see this on both sides. It is important that it happens," he said. " It is important that it happens because what is occurring at the present time in Lebanon is a catastrophe. It is damaging that country and its fragile democracy. But it is also important that we deal with the reasons why this conflict has come about."

Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki said it was bad for the entire region and that all reasonable people wanted the violence to stop. He also said he fears that fundamentalism will now grow in Lebanon.

"I realize that what is going on in fact has reflections and repercussions not only in Lebanon but also in the region and the whole region because it is unacceptable, and the excessive use of force cannot be accepted. It is directed against civilian targets and not military targets," he said.

Mr. Blair, meanwhile, said he was optimistic that a plan to end the violence could be reached within days. He also backed sending international troops into the area to safeguard security in the region.

"I believe we will need some form of international force in the south in Lebanon, which we must build up over time to make sure that that can act then as a buffer between those people on the Lebanese side who want to cause difficulty with Israel," he said.

This was Mr. al-Maliki's first official trip to Britain. He is expected to travel next to Washington for talks with President Bush.

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