MPs say Blair is urging restraint on America

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Indy Politics

Tony Blair is urging President George Bush to show restraint in America's response to the terrorist attacks, according to MPs who were briefed by the Prime Minister yesterday.

Mr Blair held private talks at Downing Street with 40 MPs from four Commons select committees as he sought to ensure the widest possible cross-party support for Britain joining the military retaliation planned by the United States. He briefed the MPs on his talks at the White House with President Bush last week.

Chris Mullin, a former minister who chairs the Home Affairs Select Committee, said after the meeting that he believed the Prime Minister was acting as a "moderating influence" in discussions over the response to the terrorist acts.

The same impression was gained by other MPs. Bruce George, chairman of the Defence Select Committee, said: "I am comfortable with the fact that the Prime Minister is at the helm. I think he is an influence on the United States." He was "reasonably confident" that MPs' demands for the US response to be proportionate and based on evidence would be met.

Downing Street has denied that Mr Blair has been seeking to restrain President Bush, describing their talks as "consultations". But it is understood the Prime Minister urged the President to assemble a wide international coalition of support before launching military strikes against Osama bin Laden and his followers.

At yesterday's briefing, the MPs were told that Britain's intelligence services had their own evidence that Mr bin Laden was the prime suspect for the atrocities of two weeks ago. But they were not shown any of the evidence or told the precise role that British servicemen would play in the American response.

Downing Street denied that a final blueprint had yet been drawn up, saying that Sir Anthony Piggott, the Deputy Chief of Defence Staff, had returned from talks in Washington with a series of options. However, Mr Blair appeared to suggest to the MPs that Britain wanted to see the Taliban regime in Afghanistan replaced as a result of the American retaliation.

Mr Mullin said: "I am fairly confident that Tony Blair is thinking long term and that some thought is being given to what kind of regime may replace the Taliban. I think that's one of the most important issues. If we hand the wretched people of Afghanistan over to a lot of shooting warlords at the end of all this then we won't have made much progress."

Mr Blair's spokesman added: "It has always been our wish to see a democratic regime in Afghanistan. The Taliban's disregard for the basic human rights of its population is legendary."

The Prime Minister gave the MPs the impression that the military action would be in Afghanistan and would not be widened to include countries such as Iraq. Mr George said: said: "It seems increasingly likely that the target is in Afghanistan." He welcomed the "unprecedented meeting" with the Prime Minister, which he said MPs had found "very useful".

Last night, Mr Blair met Labour's parliamentary committee, which represents the views of backbenchers. Some members of the committee have urged the Prime Minister not to give President Bush a "blank cheque".