Blair and Bush to discuss ground war delay

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Tony Blair will fly to Washington tonight for a lightning visit to discuss the next moves in the military operation in Afghanistan with President George Bush. Over dinner in the White House, they will plan a ground offensive and debate whether it should be delayed until after the looming Afghanistan winter. There is concern that the allies do not have enough on-the-ground intelligence to press ahead now.

British service chiefs briefed Mr Blair yesterdayand officials hinted at a delay. One said: "This will go at its own pace. Obviously we will be mindful of the different circumstances." Mr Blair's official spokesman said: "The military campaign is progressing. It is hurting the Taliban. It is working."

Another key issue on tonight's agenda will be the make-up of a broad-based, representative government to replace the Taliban. And the two leaders will assess the prospects of reinvigorating the Middle East peace process following the Prime Minister's tour of the region last week. Previous attempts to revise the sanctions in Iraq were blocked by Russia. Mr Blair had a 20-minute phone conversation yesterday with Vladimir Putin, the Russian President Mr Putin is visiting London before Christmas.

Mr Blair, who will fly to Washington on Concorde, will return to London after dinner for talks tomorrow with Jordan's King Abdullah and Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf.

Further confusion over Britain's strategy emerged yesterday with two senior ministers appearing at odds. After the Foreign Secretary Jack Straw warned that terrorist acts could continue even if Osama bin Laden was captured or killed, Geoff Hoon, the Defence Secretary, said the demise of Mr bin Laden could spell the end of his network.