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Wednesday, 26 September, 2001, 12:50 GMT 13:50 UK
James Robbins in London


Sebastien Turner, London UK ask: Do you see a cooling of relations between the European allies and the United States if, in some months from now, it seems that actually we are fighting a selective war on the United States' behalf?

James Robbins:

I think it could be very difficult. I don't this is what lay behind the question but of course we have seen the first crack in the sense the Italian Prime Minister has said some things that have been deeply offensive to many people around the world when he has implied that the Christian civilization is superior to the world of Islam. Precisely the message that Washington, London, Paris, all the other capitals of Europe, do not want to send. So there are tensions already before, if you like, war has been joined.

It must be the case that if anything goes wrong in the way that this war is played out. If there are, for instance, innocent civilians among the casualties in this war, inflicted by the United States and her allies, then all sorts of questions will be asked not only in the Muslim world but also here in Europe about the justification for the war and whether it can be prosecuted for years on end without end.


Wynne C Paul, Goa, India asks: How strong and powerful are the combined British forces in the Gulf and are they ready for military action?

James Robbins:

Well curiously Britain has an unusual number of troops in the Gulf at the moment - a massive exercise is going on in Oman that has been planned for two years - it has nothing to do with this crisis. But it so happens that almost a quarter of the British Army is now in the Gulf and the Gulf State of Oman - some 24,000 troops backed up by a huge flotilla of naval vessels and aircraft.

So if it were the case that Britain joined the United States in a strike against Afghanistan, there is a huge force - far greater than, I think, the United States would ever call on, already in the area. But the messages we are getting in London echoing what Jane Standley has been saying from New York, - the buzz word here in the Ministry of Defence and I think it is coming out of the Pentagon too, is strategic patience. In other words, the planners want to be convinced that they can win the first battle and achieve real military aims against terrorism. It will be a disaster if the first battle of this long war were in any way to be lost.

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