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Blair Urges Renewed NATO Commitment to Afghanistan, Sudan


British Prime Minister Tony Blair pledged Wednesday to push for increased NATO participation in Afghanistan. Speaking in parliament, he also said Sudan must sign off on all outstanding issues that would allow for U.N. peacekeepers to enter Darfur. For VOA News, Tom Rivers reports from London.

Prime Minister Tony Blair told members of parliament that he would be pressing his NATO colleagues to do more at an important alliance gathering next week in Riga, Latvia.

"At next week's NATO summit, we have to make sure that not just the United Kingdom, but all our NATO partners are doing their utmost to stabilize the situation in Afghanistan and give that government the prospect of success that it deserves and the Afghan people deserve," he said.

Mr. Blair has just returned from a trip to Afghanistan where he met with British troops in restive Helmand province and government officials in Kabul.

He says he will urge other NATO members to increase their commitments.

"Even if they retain some caveats on the deployment of their forces particularly in a fighting situation, but nonetheless there is much more that could be done for example to give support to reconstruction and development," he said.

"And the truth is I should say that the British troops are doing a fantastic job there. As I saw myself the other day they have troops of other countries working alongside them. The Americans and Canadians in particular who also have lost troops sadly in defense of the Afghan mission. They also are working extremely well with our forces there," he added.

Over 40 British soldiers have lost their lives in Afghanistan, with most of the deaths coming this year.

The prime minister says Britain will stay in the country for as long as required and as he sees it, the reputation of the alliance is now on the line in Afghanistan.

"It is important the NATO recognizes that the credibility of NATO, not just the security of our world, the prospects of Afghanistan, but the credibility of NATO rests on us doing everything we can to help the people of Afghanistan in the search away from the Taleban and in favor of democracy," he said.

On the issue of the crisis on Darfur, Tony Blair stressed he would do all he could to persuade the Khartoum government to quickly resolve all outstanding issues that would pave the way for United Nations and African Union peacekeepers into Darfur.

"We have the outlines of an agreement, the point is to get it implemented. And all I can say to him is that we will be working very, very closely with out allies, in particular the United States, to make sure that that is done," he said.

An estimated 200,000 people have died in the conflict and more than 2.5 million have had to flee their homes.

Although the prime minister was not asked about Iraq, shortly after Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett announced in parliament that Britain may be in a position to hand over security duties to Iraqi forces in Basra, where most of the British contingent is based, in the spring.

Just over 7,000 British troops are stationed in Iraq.

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