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Blair Russian Visit Follows NATO Show of Support for US


British Prime Minister Tony Blair flies to Moscow Thursday for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin on efforts to combat terrorism.

The visit comes after Mr. Putin and NATO officials met in Brussels to discuss future cooperation between Russia and the alliance.

Following those talks NATO Secretary General George Robertson said Russia is becoming a special partner of the alliance. For his part, Mr. Putin said Russia and NATO should share their experiences in both the political area and the fight against terrorism. The Russian leader said his country would reconsider its opposition to NATO expansion if the alliance becomes a more political organization. But later he appeared to step back from that comment.

The Russian leader compared the attacks on the United States to a series of attacks that took place in 1999 in Russia by suspected Chechen rebels who, he said, were supported by international terrorists. He called NATO's decision to agree to Washington's request to activate its mutual defense arrangement, "appropriate." That arrangement specifies that an attack on one member of NATO is considered an attack on all 19 countries of the alliance.

Both Mr. Putin and Mr. Blair have given strong support for the U-S led efforts against international terrorism following the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Russia offered to step up arms supplies to opponents of Afghanistan's ruling Taleban and said it would open Russian air space for the shipment of humanitarian aid.

Before leaving for Moscow, Mr. Blair is expected to address an emergency session of parliament. In a speech earlier this week the British Prime Minister warned Afghanistan's Taleban leaders that unless they surrender suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden they should prepare to be forced from power.

Mr. Blair's office has not revealed details of his trip but reports in the British press indicate it could include stops in Pakistan and Oman where some 20 thousand British troops are conducting long-planned military maneuvers.